Making the decision to educate your child at home is a huge decision. It could be that a parent feels it is their only option when thinking about the health and wellbeing of their child, who may be experiencing difficulties at school. This section will look at what the law says about home education and will outline what rights and entitlements are available, if any.
Electively home educating a child or young person is naturally going to be difficult for any parent or guardian. Because of this any decision should be made with carefully, as failing to educate a child effectively and suitably at home can have a negative impact on their futures and in opportunities. Additionally, it can lead to criminal action against the family, with fines and even prison time available as a punishment.
We understand that families often feel they have little choice in deciding to home educate their child, possibly because they or their child have faced discrimination at a school. It is important to remember there is support out there for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families who find themselves in this situation. Home educating a child should not be seen as a stress-free option, as it often comes with a huge number of difficulties, such as engaging with a child to deliver their education, not to mention the legal liability families assume for the delivery of appropriate education from their child.
However, there are some families who believe that home educating children is part of their cultural tradition as a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller person, and whilst it is true that the estimated numbers of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children learning at home is high, we can also see that educational outcomes and life opportunities for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are the lowest out of any group.
Whatever the reason a parent is considering home education, the most important thing to do is to research and understand what educating a child at home entails. Sadly, it can often be too late for many children to catch up on education if they have spent too much time away from school, especially when thinking about how hard it would be for a child to reintegrate into a school after a period away.
What sub-section are available on this page?
- What is Elective Home Education?
- The Law About Elective Home Education
- What Help Is Available for Home Education?
- What Role Does the Local Authority Play?
- What Happens if the Home Education Isn’t Suitable?
What is Elective Home Education?
Elective home education is when a parent chooses to educate their child at home. Parents have a legal right to do this under the Education Act 1996. However, the education provided at home must meet the following criteria.
To educate a child at home the education must be:
- Efficient (it must achieve what it sets out to achieve)
- Suitable (relevant to the child’s age, ability, and aptitude, as well as catering to any special educational needs.
Local Authorities are responsible for ensuring home education meets the criteria above. Each local authority has their own definition of what is ‘suitable’, meaning that there is not a national definition, so expectations can vary from area to area. Typically, a parent can expect the following requirements to be enforced:
- consistent involvement of parents or other significant carers
- recognition of the child’s needs, attitudes, and aspirations
- opportunities for the child to be stimulated by their learning experiences
- access to resources/materials required to provide home education for the child.
The Law About Elective Home Education
What do parents legally have to do?
- If you want to educate your child electively home, you must inform your child’s head teacher in writing of your decision to do this.
- It is recommended that you inform your local authority of your intention to educate your child electively home, although this is currently not mandatory.
- You must liaise with the local authority to ensure that they are satisfied that you are able to provide a suitable education for your child. This includes checking in with you to see that the child is making suitable progress. You must comply with these requests.
- If the local authority is not satisfied that you are providing your child with a suitable education, then they can issue you with fines and order you to return your child to a school.
- You do not have to follow the national curriculum, but you do have to ensure that your child has access to a broad curriculum that develops all your child’s abilities and doesn’t prevent their options later in life.
It is important to remember that, should you wish for your child to return to school, you can apply for schools at any point during the academic year. This process is known as an in-year admission. For more information visit the Learn More: Starting School page.
What do schools have to do?
Schools should provide you with the legal information around elective home education, including that you are legally and financially responsible for this undertaking. Once you have decided to educate electively home, the school will remove your child from the attendance roll. Under no circumstances should schools be encouraging or pressuring families to opt for home education. This is unlawful and advice should be sought under these circumstances.
If your child has special educational needs (SEN)
If your child has SEN and attends a special school, you’ll need to get the council’s permission to educate them at home. You do not need the council’s permission if your child attends a mainstream school, even if they have an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP).
What Help Is Available for Home Education?
The government’s website states that information and support may be available from your local authority, although genuine support for home education is unlikely, it is worth speaking to your local authority before making any decisions.
In most cases, the parent assumes full financial responsibility for the home education of their child, including the costs of any public examinations. However, Local Authorities can provide support in some circumstances, for example:
- a library to lend books
- free/discounted admission to Local Authority sports facilities
- national curriculum materials
- information about educational visits and work experience.
What Role Does the Local Authority Play?
Local authorities are responsible for identifying children of compulsory school age in their area who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education. Whilst there is some debate over what role local authorities play, and the rights they have to inspect parents and children in their home or elsewhere, it is advisable to work well with local authorities. However, parents who feel pressured or intimidated by local authority inspectors should seek advise and should limit their engagement with the local authority whilst the matter is resolved.
Generally, local authorities are allowed to make informal enquiries about education provided at home but cannot insist on evidence from the parents in any prescribed form, without suitable reason to do so. This means that local authorities cannot inspect or demand access to a family home without a suitable cause for concern, or simply because the family is part of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
It is important to remember that every local authority will have a clear written policy about elective home education, which should be available on their website. If you do not have access to the internet, you can always call or visit your local authority office to access and public information or documents.
What Happens if the Home Education Isn’t Suitable?
Once a home visit or inspection is carried out, should the local authority have reasonable grounds to be concerned about suitability of education being provided, that may make recommendation and want to visit again. At this stage, a local authority does have the power to inspect, or to issue a School Attendance Order (SAO) as they will have collected evidence that suitable education is not being provided. Local authorities may also offer some support, or access to local charities or advice centres who can help improve the suitability of home education. Should the education not improve to a reasonable level, or if a family refuses to engage with the inspections, the local authority can and often will begin formal actions.
By law local authorities shall intervene if it appears that the parents are not providing a suitable education. They can serve a notice in writing on the parent asking the parent to demonstrate that the child is receiving a suitable education and setting a specified period, in which the parent must demonstrate this. That period should not be less than 15 days from the date on which the notice was served.
If the family fail to satisfy the local authority within the notice period that they are providing the child with a suitable education, the local authority can serve a School Attendance Order (SAO) on them. The SAO can name a school that the child should attend. This is usually a last resort and should only be done when all reasonable steps have been exhausted.
The parent can provide evidence at any time to request that the order is revoked, as the SAO does not remove the right for parents to home educate their children, providing the education is suitable and that parents can evidence this.