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Homeschooling & the Law
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It is estimated that there are now over 50,000 and perhaps as many as 150,000 children between the ages of 5 and 16 who are educated at home in England and Wales. There is every indication that this number is growing in a trend which has been called "the quiet revolution".[1][2]. "Elective home education" is the term used by Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to describe parents’ decisions to provide education for their children at home instead of sending them to school.

Reasons for choosing HomeschoolingEdit

Parents may choose home based education for various reasons. The following reasons for home-educating are common but by no means exhaustive:

  • Distance or access to a local school
  • Religious or cultural beliefs
  • Philosophical or ideological views
  • Dissatisfaction with the system
  • Bullying
  • As a short term intervention for a particular reason
  • A child’s unwillingness or inability to go to school
  • Special educational needs
  • Parents’ desire for a closer relationship with their children

The Law and homeschoolingEdit

The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents, and education is compulsory, however schooling is not.

Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that:

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

This right is enshrined in English law. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996[3] provides that:

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable-

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

An “efficient” and “suitable” education is not defined in the Education Act 1996 but “efficient” has been broadly described as an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”, and a “suitable” education is one that “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so”.[4]

Unless a child has Special Educational Needs and attends a Special School, or has a school attendance order, parents living in England or Wales do not have to get permission from the local authority to withdraw their child from school but must, by law, inform the head teacher, in writing, that they intend to de-register their child and educate him or her at home. If parents simply remove the child from school, without informing them in writing, they could be prosecuted for non-attendance. Local authority consent is required to remove a child’s name from the school roll if he or she attends a special school or is subject to a School Attendance Order but consent from the authority may not be "unreasonably withheld". Neither the school nor the authority should try to oppose homeschooling: it is a parent's legal right to choose home education for their child if they wish. Parents also do not have to inform the local authority if their child is close to school age and they choose to home educate right from the start. Some families decide to home educate for a few years until they believe their child is more ready for school.


A young homeschooled student

Legal requirementsEdit

Parents are not obliged:

  • to register or seek approval from the local authority to educate their children at home
  • to follow the National Curriculum
  • to have a timetable
  • to have premises equipped to any particular standard
  • to have set hours during which education will take place
  • to make detailed plans in advance
  • to observe school hours, days or terms
  • to give formal lessons
  • to reproduce school type peer group socialisation
  • to match school, age-specific standards
  • to enter their child for GCSEs
  • to have any qualifications or teaching experience
  • to have visits from the Local Authority at home

Parents who choose to educate their children at home must assume full financial responsibility, including bearing the cost of any public examinations.

Local authorities have a duty under the Education and Inspections Act 2006 to identify children who are missing, or in danger of missing, education. The duty applies in relation to children of compulsory school age who are not on a school roll, and who are not receiving a suitable education otherwise than being at school (for example, at home, privately, or in alternative provision). The guidance issued makes it clear that the duty does not apply to children who are being educated at home.[5]

Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education. However, under Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities can intervene if they have good reason to believe that parents are not providing a suitable education. This section states that:

If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education.

Section 437(2) of the Act provides that the period shall not be less than 15 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served. Local Authority guidelines recommend that the most obvious course of action if such a concern were raised would be to ask parents for information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the same as a notice under s 437(1). Parents are under no duty to comply, but it would be sensible for them to do so.[6]

Parents' response to local authoritiesEdit

If the Local Authority contacts the parent, they can opt to explain their educational philosophy and any other information by letter. While not legally obliged to respond to queries or give the local authority access to their home, a prudent course of action might include:

  • Choosing to meet a local authority representative at a mutually convenient and neutral location, with or without the child being present
  • Writing a report
  • Providing samples of work
  • Inviting a local authority advisor/consultant to their home, with or without the child being present

The Elective Home Education ReviewEdit

The coming war against Home Schoolers
"I knew this was coming. The inflamed, all-seeing red eye of political correctness, glaring this way and that from its dark tower, has finally discovered that home schooling is a threat to the Marxoid project, and has launched its first open attack on it... What the modern left really don't like about homeschooling is that it is independent of the state, and threatens its egalitarian monopoly from below. If it became a mass movement, it would be very dangerous to their project of enforcing equality of outcome, while using the schools to push radical ideas on sex, drugs, morality and politics." - Peter Hitchens[7]

The Elective Home Education Review, led by Graham Badman, former Director of Children’s Services at Kent County Council and expected to conclude in May 2009, will investigate:

  • Whether local authorities and other public agencies are able to effectively discharge their duties and responsibilities for safeguarding and ensuring a suitable education for all children
  • Whether home educating parents are receiving the support and advice they want to ensure they provide a good, balanced education for their children
  • Consider what evidence there is to support claims that home education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude

Education Otherwise challenged the statements on links between home education, forced marriage and child welfare previously made in select committee hearings and by the London Safeguarding Board, and requested sight of the alleged evidence upon which the statements were made but no evidence has been forthcoming.[8] The allegations originally arose from the Home Affairs Select Committee's Sixth Report on Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and "Honour"-Based Violence.[9]

"It has become clear to us that the Department and many local authorities have a very poor understanding of home education and the law which applies to it. No other community would be expected to suffer the prejudice and discrimination which our community has to endure. Our community will be infuriated by these latest statements. Many hours of time and much public money has been expended in consultations. Ministers need to prioritise time to engage in meaningful discussions with our organisation which has thirty years of experience helping families who chose to exercise their right to educate their children at home." - Annette Taberner, Education Otherwise Government Policy Group[8]

Support and resources from the local authoritiesEdit

When parents elect to homeschool their children they assume financial responsibility for their children’s education. Local authorities do not receive funding to support home educated families, and the level of support will therefore vary between one authority and another. Many authorities will however offer free professional advice, support and guidance to parents and carers. In addition, they may offer access to some teaching resources at some of the County Councils' Education Centres and most county Library Services have ticket types for home educated children which allow more borrowing. They may also provide National Curriculum materials and curricula offered by other educational institutions and information about educational visits and work experience.

The National CurriculumEdit

Although homeschooled children are not required to follow the National Curriculum, many do. National Curriculum tests and assessment arrangements are developed and administered by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) on behalf of the Secretary of State. Information to support these arrangements is provided both electronically and in hard copy through the QCA's website or by telephoning their publications office on 01787 884 444.


“Flexi-schooling” or “flexible school attendance” is an arrangement between the parent and the school where the child is registered at school in the normal way but where the child attends the school only part time; the rest of the time the child is home-educated (effectively on authorised absence from school). This is sometimes done as a short term measure for a particular reason. "Flexi-schooling" is a legal option provided that the head teacher at the school concerned agrees to the arrangement.

Education Maintenance AllowanceEdit

Education Maintenance Allowance is a means-tested grant available to learners over the age of 16, if they stay on in education at school or college after GCSEs. It is not available to learners whose parents elect to educate them at home after the age of sixteen.

School Attendance and Exclusions SweepsEdit

Previously known as "truancy sweeps", School Attendance and Exclusion sweeps are carried out, during normal school hours, by partnerships of Police Officers and Education Welfare Officers. Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the Police have powers to pick up (but not arrest) children who are registered at a school and who are absent without permission and take them to a designated area or, sometimes, back to school. Generally this power will be used through occasional 'sweeps' where Police and Education Welfare Officers join forces for a day and target particular areas for example in shopping centres. The guidance issued by the Home Office recognises and provides for children who are homeschooled:

Children educated outside the school system
52. Home educated children and others educated outside the school system are not the target group for the sweeps. Often, these children are educated outside traditional school hours and access other local services such as libraries and PE/sports facilities as part of their education. Therefore, sweeps are likely to encounter home educated children. It must be remembered that these children usually will be out and about for legitimate reasons.
53. It is not always necessary to confirm a child’s status as home educated but there will be occasions when officers will need to do so. Although legally not required to, some families do register with their local authority as home educated and are given accreditation. This enables easy discussions between home educated children, their parents and those carrying out the sweep. Local authority officers can also telephone their colleagues to confirm children’s status if they doubt a child’s status.
54. Local authorities have a duty to identify children missing from education and to safeguard all children in their area. If those carrying out the sweep are satisfied that a child is being educated otherwise than at school and have no other concerns, there is no need for further discussions.[10]

Qualifications optionsEdit

There are several options available to homeschooling families who wish to provide opportunities for their children to study for recognised qualifications. You can find more current information about these on the Home-Ed Exams Wiki and the [http:// Home-Ed Exams Yahoogroup] .

GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) : the qualification taken by most school students in the UK at around age 16. In most cases it is not possible for home-educated students to take GCSEs because of the coursework element, which is now controlled classroom assessment and has to be done in school under exam conditions. It is difficult to find exam centres which will allow you to join them for this, although some families have managed. However, some GCSEs have no coursework element, and there is no obstacle to home-educated students sitting these exams. Such GCSEs include Maths, Law, Psychology, and Sociology.

International General Certificate of Secondary Education: The IGCSE is an international qualification for students, developed by University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) in 1988, and is currently offered as a qualification by CIE and London Examinations (Edexcel International). The IGCSE is typically taken by 14 to 16-year–olds, and it prepares students for further academic work, including progression to A Level, AS Level study and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Cambridge and Edexcel IGCSEs are recognised by academic institutions and employers around the world. The University & Colleges Admissions Service recognises IGCSE as equivalent to the UK GCSE. In many subjects, IGCSE can be taken without coursework, making it suitable for homeschooled students.

Vocational Qualifications are often accessible to home-educated students, and these may have official parity with academic qualifications.

Methods of studying towards qualificationsEdit

Self-Study: Some students and parents choose to work independently towards recognised qualifications. There are many home-educated students who have achieved high grades in GCSE and IGCSE exams after working through the textbook and practising past papers.

Correspondence Courses: These may be an option for students who prefer to work independently, though they will be required in most cases to follow a structured curriculum and programme of work. Correspondence courses offer a wide range of qualifications at different levels and the organisations offering these courses will advise about arrangements which need to be made for registering with an examination centre and for marking and authenticating coursework. The cost of this option varies depending on the organisation and the qualification chosen, but can prove expensive.

There are an increasing number of organisations offering open and distance learning courses:

The Open and Distance Learning Quality Council (ODLQC): An independent body which accredits open and distance learning courses. The ODLQC produces a free information leaflet which lists all approved organisations and their courses.

The Association of British Correspondence Colleges (ABCC): A voluntary association of colleges which comply with a code of ethics.

The quality and usefulness of correspondence courses varies greatly; there has been much discussion of this on the [http:// Home-Ed Exams Yahoogroup].

Enrolment at a Further Education College: Some colleges may, at the discretion of the Principal, be willing to accept children of school age for full and part-time courses. This approach has the advantage that all the work and entry for qualifications is organised by the college, but it does require at least some attendance at classes which will not appeal to all home-educating families. If a student enrols at a FE college, their parents will normally be liable to pay all of the course fees themselves unless the education authority or the Learning and Skills Council are willing to provide funding. Colleges also have the discretion to waive fees, which they may do for low income families.

Registering for an examEdit

Families who study for qualifications from home will need to:

  • Find out whether the exam is available to private candidates, and what the examination board's requirements are; the exam board websites generally provide all this information.
  • register with an approved centre for their child to be presented for the qualification; the Home-ed exams group may be able to help you find a centre near you.
  • pay a registration fee for each subject their child will take.

Coursework: Because of compulsory internal assessment components, there are many subjects and qualifications which are not available to external candidates unless an appropriate arrangement can be made with an approved centre which meets with the examining board’s requirements. Some centres and examining boards may be willing to accept coursework which has been marked and authenticated by a private tutor. However, this is not usually acceptable for GCSEs since the advent of Controlled Classroom Assessment.

Alternative qualificationsEdit

The internal assessment component of many UK qualification courses such as Standard Grades, National Qualifications and GCSEs can restrict the choice available to home educated students. The following qualifications have, however, been identified as particularly suited to home study students as they are not dependent on internal assessment and moderation:

International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE): Provides a graduated series of certificates, ranging from the equivalent of lower tier GCSE examinations (grades D-G) to A2 examinations. Examinations are conducted at home under the supervision of parents, but the Board has strict moderation procedures to ensure the validity of results.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. Why educate children at home? BBC Retrieved 5 March 2009.
  2. HEAS. Retrieved 5 March 2009.
  3. Official text of Education Act 1996 (c. 56) as amended and in force today within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
  4. Mr Justice Woolf in the case of R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (12 April 1985)
  5. Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities in England to Identify Children not Receiving Education available at
  6. Phillips v Brown (1980).
  7. The coming war against Home Schoolers. Daily Mail. 28 January 2009
  8. 8.0 8.1 Response to “Morgan: Action to Ensure Children’s Education & Welfare”. Press Release Monday 19 January 2009. Education Otherwise. Retrieved 5 March 2009
  9. Children Missing Education: Important Background Information. Freedom for Children to Grow. Retrieved 5 March 2009.
  10. School Attendance & Exclusion Sweeps: Effective Practice and Guidance. DCSF. 1 September 2007.