Starting to Home Educate in 2020: The Legalities of Home Educating in the UK
Starting to Home Educate in 2020 is a series running through August 2020 to support new British home educators.
Usually this is where I’d be saying ‘Congratulations! You’ve decided to home educate!’ but this year there are likely to be so many people home educating primarily to stay safe during the covid 19 pandemic, or because they feel like it’s their only option, that joy about it seems misplaced.
Whatever the reason that has lead you to decide to home educate, please know that you are not alone, and that there are plenty of us who are more than happy to help and encourage you. For however long you choose to home educate, you are part of the community and we value you and stand with you at this weird time.
In this post I am going to cover a load of important things to know when you are starting to home educate, especially if you child was previously in school.
- home educating when your child has not started school yet
- deregistering a child from school
- the different rules regarding home education in different regions of the UK (and links to major home education organisations in those areas)
- home educating a child who is in a special school and/or who has special educational needs (SEN)
- interacting with your local authority
- the idea of ‘invisible children’
- ideas for where to find local, national and international support, and inspiration
- a reminder that your will get overwhelmed, that rest is important and that it is going to be ok
How do I go about Officially Home Educating my child/children?
If you have a child who would be starting school in September 2020, or who is under the age of compulsory schooling (5 years old), then you don’t need to do anything specific to ‘officially start’. You don’t need to inform your LEA (local education authority) that you are planning to home educate.
If you have a school place set up for your child, but have now decided to home educate, you can chose not to accept it, and home educate instead.
I have a child/children who are currently in school but I want to Home Educate them
If you have a child/children in school then you need to deregister them. This is a letter informing the head teacher that you are removing your child from the school, and asking the school to take them off the school register. (This means that funding for that child’s place will be stopped, and it closes the school’s responsibility for that child’s education.)
You can find an example of a deregistration letter at Education Otherwise as well as information about deregistering in England.
It is worth looking at a sample deregistration letter (you can search for others online), as they often quote the exact bit of the education act that you are using to take your child out of school. This is useful if your particular school has not dealt with pupils deregistering to home educate, and where there can be some confusion about what the school needs to do.
Are there different rules depending where you are in the UK?
Yes. You are legally allowed to home educate, regardless of where in the UK you live, but some countries within the UK have different rules to others.
If you’re in Scotland there is advice on consent to remove a child from a state school on the Scottish Government website. Schoolhouse.org.uk is a leading home education organisation in Scotland and has plenty of advice about deregistering as well as how to communicate with local authorities when necessary.
Wales has very similar home educating rules to England. WalesHomeEducation.co.uk has a good summary of the law regarding home education specifically in Wales.
What about if my child is in a special school or has an SEN?
Children who have attended special schools and/or who have SEN can be home educated.
If you have a child in a special school you need to inform the local authority before you deregister.
The Child Law Advice website and Education Otherwise have useful information about this, and there is an example of a deregistration letter for a special school student at the end of this page.
Home Educators and the Local Authority
Once your child has been deregistered your local authority will be notified. You can expect some contact from the local authority as a reaction to this notification.
Home educating families, where the children have never been in school, are typically less likely to have contact with the LEA in this way.
Despite discussion over the last few years about a register for home educated children, this has not come into effect and is not law.
You do not have a legal obligation to have contact with your local authority, or have them come to your home to speak to you or your children. However it is generally seen as a good idea to reply to the contact letter you are likely to receive after deregistering, to inform them that you plan to electively home educate your child/children. This shows that you are actively taking the responsibility of educating your children.
Local authority involvement varies widely from county to county, and it is definitely worth being part of your local city or county home education groups, as these give you access to current and veteran home educators who know what their local authority is like, and how it operates.
(Many of these groups are currently found on facebook. Search for ‘your county/city’ and ‘home education’.)
Some local authories are pretty hands off. However some have been known to doorstep new home educators or insist that they must talk to you in person.
In some ways local education authorities are in a bit of a bind. They have a legal responsibility to make sure all children in their area are getting a suitable education but they don’t have the legal powers to enforce this without going through the courts. However the law says that the parents ultimately have the responsibility to educate their child (either by enrolling that child in a school, or ‘education otherwise’, which includes home education.) A local authority cannot insist that they ‘inspect’ your home education without good reason, but some councils have been known to try to make their own life easier by taking advantage of new home educators who don’t fully understand the law.
Your local authority (though this is not part of the LEA’s remit), will also want to uphold their responsibility to safeguard your children (as they do all children.) It is perfectly acceptable to retain your right to privacy as a home educating family. Your children will come in contact with lots of members of the community you live in, and will not live an isolated life. They will likely see local doctors, dentists, hair dressers, shop staff, library staff, sports coaches and swimming pool life guards to name just a few. The community will be able to oversee the welfare of your home educated children, in the same way that they oversee children who go to school. If there was a genuine problem that needed to be investigated then the people with a duty to report would do their duty.
(I wrote about this on @homeEdVoicesPodcast when the discussion about ‘invisible children’ was doing the rounds in the papers. Check out the tag #homeEdInSight which was created in reaction to the idea of invisible children.)
The local authority doesn’t need to visit your family to inspect it. They just need to know that you are taking responsibility for your child’s education, and that can be done via a letter.
Finding local, national, and international support
Home education does not mean going it alone. Local support is invaluable, even during a pandemic when many in-person groups are not able to meet. Many people are putting on local zoom classes that you might be able to get involved in.
Find your local group on facebook, but also do a search online. Many areas still have websites that can link you to local support.
Look for other UK based home-educators via social media like instagram or twitter. (There are over 1000 on @homeEdVoicesPodcast so feel free to go through our follower/following list to find people who you might want to follow.) Dig down through hash tags to find people who you can relate to, either due to community group or educational style.
Look for UK home education blogs run by home educating families or veterans. (Later in this series we will be posting a list of suggested people to check out, including blogs, podcasts, youtubers, and authors, and I will link to that list here.)
Don’t be afraid to look further afield, to the large homeschool communities in the US and Australia. Or to home educators elsewhere in Europe or around the world. They may have some resources that are difficult for us to get in the UK, but they will have a wealth of ideas and solutions to problems that you can tweak to make your own.
What is De-schooling?
Deschooling is the transition from formal schooling outside of the home, to home education. Usually it is a period of adjustment where the child is allowed to follow their own interests, and get used to the idea of an education without the strict boundaries of school.
It is also a time for the home educating parent to research, and get a feel for the sort of things they want to try within their home educating family. It is a period of thinking beyond the idea of what school is ‘supposed’ to be. Many home educators – me included – find that our own deschooling happens very slowly, and that we have to rethink our ideas and understanding of what education is, and what it could be, many times over the years.
No one should expect a home educating family to have everything planned out right at the beginning. Try things, and build on what works. Try to have sense of wonder about the world, and look for questions you as a family can find out the answers to. (If you need a companion on this journey, Good Ideas by Michael Rosen – which I wrote about here – is a comforting friend of a book you can turn to, that is packed full of interesting questions about everyday things.)
Try not to get overwhelmed.
Or rather, when you get overwhelmed – because you’re home educating in the middle of a global pandemic and you’re going to get overwhelmed – give yourself the opportunity for rest.
You’re not behind.
It’s going to be ok.