In Spring 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak led to many families resorting to homeschooling. For the majority, this was stressful as people sought to juggle these additional teaching responsibilities with commitments related to their jobs as well as any additional household chores from spending more time at home.

For others though, it gave an opportunity to reconsider what they want their children to learn and devise alternative schemes of work. While this opportunity may not have been there during the second lockdown as schools remained open, there are some for whom homeschooling is a potential longer-term solution for a range of reasons. Let’s look at whether it is legal and viable.

Is homeschooling legal?

In the UK, homeschooling is a perfectly valid and legal means of educating your children. It may also be known as “home schooling”, “home education” or “elective home education”. The legality of homeschooling rests primarily on the notion that parents are responsible for ensuring that their children, of compulsory school age, are properly educated.

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 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.

What does homeschooling need to look like?

The guidance in this document would suggest that there is a tremendous amount of flexibility for parents and guardians going down the route of homeschooling.

As the guidance helpfully clarifies, home educating parents need NOT (among many other examples):

  • Follow the National Curriculum;
  • Aim for the child to acquire any specific qualifications;
  • Acquire qualifications for the task of educating;
  • Have premises that equipped to any particular standard;
  • Have a timetable;
  • Set hours during which education will take place;
  • Observe school hours, days or terms; and
  • Formally assess progress of the child.

The main requirements would appear to centre around the concept of “suitable” education (as per the quoted extract from Section 7 of the Education Act). Suitable education is not defined but the guidance in the document does point to the education:

  • Being age-appropriate
  • Enabling the child to make progress according to their particular level of ability
  • Taking account of any specific aptitudes

More generally, while the education may not retain a link to the National Curriculum, there should be an appropriate minimum standard aimed for. Suitability would also imply that education should not conflict with Fundamental British Values. There is also recognition that local authorities may use basic literacy and numeracy standards to determine the suitability of the education.

What does homeschooling often look like?

With all this flexibility, it’s certainly possible for people to be very creative and craft a bespoke curriculum for their child. This would not be without some significant effort, especially if the parent / guardian designing the curriculum has no teaching experience. Often parents may therefore simply default to covering the National Curriculum. There are a number of advantages to this in that, there are:

  • Resources such as books, courses, software that are aligned to the National Curriculum and can be readily acquired.
  • Private tutors familiar with the National Curriculum who can teach children in non-school settings and give at least a comparable quality of education if not better.
  • Opportunities to get the same qualifications as students attending school through private examination centres making it easier to pursue further studies at a later stage with a formal education institution.

Related to this point is that the costs associated with homeschooling are to be borne by parents although there may be some discretionary support from local authorities. While it is not necessary for parents of home educated children to let local authorities or schools know that the child is being withdrawn, it can be a good idea to do so. Your local authority has no formal powers or duty to monitor the provision of education at home but it is required to make arrangements to enable it to establish the identities of children in its area who are not receiving a suitable education. The local authority’s role is a bit more complex if the child has special educational needs (SEN) as the document points out.

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