What is Homeschooling?
This is what we call home education, in the UK. It’s where the parents (or other primary carers) take full responsibility for their children’s education; the parents fund, teach, enable, and otherwise privately facilitate all aspects of their children’s education without reliance on the government.
Homeschooling is legal throughout the UK – indeed, throughout the British Isles. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996* says: “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”
The key phrase is “or otherwise”. This simply means that education is compulsory but school is not mandatory. State (government) schools are free, at point of access, for any school aged children but parents must choose to enrol their children as students. The default education, in the UK, is therefore home education – and it is increasingly gaining widespread popularity.
Compulsory School Age
This is actually a misnomer. Compulsory school age refers to compulsory education age: the academic term after the child’s 5th** birthday. While homeschooling may commence prior to CSA, it is not necessary until that point. (This simply means that nursery school, or pre-kindergarten, is completely optional – whether at home or at school.)
Curriculum & Monitoring
There are no compulsory curricula in the UK; home educators are free to follow any curriculum of their choice – including one they devise themselves. Some homeschoolers opt to follow parts of the English National Curriculum. Personally, I take parts that I like from the NC and mix in different elements that better suit my students.
There are official guidelines for Elective Home Education, which set out the limits of government interaction with lawful homeschoolers. According to section 2.7: “Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis. However, under Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education.” This means that the Local Authority cannot interfere unless they have valid reason. Moreover, the parents must be given the opportunity to refute any erroneous record.
While the LA has a reasonable amount of power to safeguard children and young people, they do not have the right to enter private homes or inspect students. Section 2.12 of the EHE guidelines states: “[The law] does not, for example, give local authorities powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education.”
There are many different methods of home education. Some homeschoolers choose to be very structured; some choose to follow a child-led autonomous learning path. We are quite structured, although we still make time for field trips, homeschool meets, and social activities. We also have our own mini “classroom”, with child-sized furniture and ample storage for our resources. However, some British home educators do not have specific learning areas, or any type of formal structure.
Point 3.4 of the EHE guidelines states: “Local authorities should acknowledge that learning takes place in a wide variety of environments and not only in the home.” I find it a wonderful and joyous thing that British homeschoolers enjoy so much freedom in their education choices. While I realise that some other countries do offer financial or other government support, to their registered homeschoolers, forgoing any such payment is a small price to pay for retaining our freedom and inherent flexibility.
Finally, referring to point 3.13 of the EHE guidelines, all that is truly required is: “An efficient, full-time education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child.” There is no legal definition of full-time – it is considered irrelevant to home education due to almost “one-to-one contact” and education occurring outside school hours. Homeschooling may occur in your garden, at a forest, via an online school, in your domestic schoolroom, or anywhere else. It does not have to include predominantly written work, or private tutors. However, the point is: it can. One man’s lavish theatre production is another man’s arcane textbook, to paraphrase an adage. We are all individuals with our own natural abilities and aptitudes – home education allows catering to our children’s unique strengths, and fostering their personal talents.
If you are a British home educator, or you’re interested in homeschooling in the UK, the following organisations may be useful to you:
Education Otherwise [UK]
HEdNI [Northern Ireland]
*Education is a devolved issue in the UK. The actual laws governing education vary according to the nation state in which one resides e.g. England, Scotland, etc.
**Compulsory school age is 5 years old in England, Wales, and Scotland; it is 4 years old in Northern Ireland, and 6 years old in the Republic of Ireland.