Guidance for Parents Seeking To Educate Their Children At Home
|Last updated:||12 March 2019|
- Parents are under a legal obligation to ensure that their children receive an education, which is both ‘suitable’ and ‘efficient’. The vast majority of parents do this through education at a school. However, some choose to arrange education ‘otherwise than at school’ and there are a variety of ways in which this can be done. The general term used by the Department for Education (DfE) to describe a parental decision to provide education for children at home instead of sending them to school is ‘Elective Home Education’ (EHE).
- The DfE requires every local authority to provide written information about EHE that is clear and accurate, which sets out the legal position and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of both the local authority and parents. This document is designed to ensure that Buckinghamshire County Council complies with that requirement. It is hoped that it will provide a helpful summary of the rights and responsibilities of parents, schools and Buckinghamshire County Council as far as EHE is concerned. It also sets out the procedure Buckinghamshire County Council will take in the event that it appears that a child of compulsory school age is not receiving ‘suitable education.’
- The DFE has repeatedly emphasised the importance of local authorities building “effective relationships with home educators that function to safeguard the educational interests of children and young people: relationships that are rooted in genuine mutual understanding, trust and respect.” Buckinghamshire County Council shares this philosophy. It wishes to respect the right of parents to educate their children at home rather than at school in accordance with section 7 of the Education Act 1996 but is also conscious of the need to ensure that all children in its area receive suitable education. It hopes that by establishing positive and effective relationships with families who elect to home educate it will be possible to satisfy both of these goals.
- Finally, please note that Elective Home Education is not to be confused with the home tuition which is sometimes provided for pupils who are on roll at a school and have medical issues. If your child is unable to access school as a result of medical issues please contact your child’s school who will be provide further information on home tuition.
Elective Home Education & the Law: Rights & Responsibilities
- The starting point for any overview of the law concerning EHE is Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK is bound by Article 2, which reads as follows:
“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.”
- The above right is, however, not absolute but conditional: therefore subject to various limitations:
- The UK has affirmed Article 2 only so far as it is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure. It is therefore subject to this reservation.
- In case law (the Belgian Linguistics Case) the European Court has held that Article 2 does not require states to establish at their own expense, or to subsidise, education of any particular type or at any particular level; it merely guarantees individuals the right, in principle, to avail themselves of the means of instruction existing at a given time.
- It has also been held (Ali v UK) that the rights conferred by Article 2 are potentially subject to a non-exhaustive list of limitations provided such limitations are legitimate and proportionate. In Ali, it was decided that the right did not necessarily entail a right of access to a particular institution.
- It has also been made clear (for example in Family H v UK) that parents do not have an absolute right to have their children educated in accordance with their philosophical convictions, but merely a right to respect for those convictions. Allowing parents to educate their children at home but requiring them to cooperate in the assessment of their children’s educational standards by the local authority in order to ensure that certain standards of literacy and numeracy are being attained, does not constitute a lack of respect for parents’ right under the second sentence of Article 2.
- In England, the responsibility for a child's education rests with his or her parents. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states 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.’ However, whereas education is compulsory school is not, for section 7 goes on to say, ‘This must be achieved either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.’ In other words, parents have a right to educate their children by means other than school so long as the education is ‘efficient,’ ‘full-time’ and ‘suitable’.
- A child becomes of ‘compulsory school age’ from the start of the first term commencing on or after his/her fifth birthday. A child continues to be of compulsory school age until the last Friday of June in the school year that they reach sixteen.
- The terms ‘efficient’ and ‘suitable’ are not defined in the Education Act 1996. In case law ‘efficient’ has been described as ‘an education that ‘achieves that which it sets out to achieve. ’ ‘Suitable’ has been defined as education 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’ and which is such as: ‘i. to prepare the child for life in modern civilised society, and ii. to enable the child to achieve his full potential
- The term ‘full-time’ is not defined in the Education Act or in case law. However, there appears to be broad acknowledgement that there would be difficulties in trying to establish a universal definition, especially in comparison with school hours and terms given that children educated at home are educated in vastly different conditions, often on a one-to-one basis, or at very least in very small groups. Pupils in school typically receive between 23 and 25 hours per week, depending on their age. However, the reality is that there is no easy comparison between school-educated and home-educated children as to what equates to full-time education, because the models are so different.
- Parents of a child registered at a maintained or an independent school must inform that school formally in writing of their intention to de-register. Parents of a child registered at a special school must request the consent of the local authority if it is their intention to educate them at home. The local authority may not withhold consent unreasonably. If the child has never been registered at a school, there is no legal duty for parents to notify the local authority of their intention to home-educate. However, it is generally considered helpful if they do.
- Parents must comply with notices served by the Local Authority under section 473 (1) The Education Act 1996. If a child is registered at a school as a result of a school attendance order the parents must get the order revoked by the local authority on the ground that arrangements have been made for the child to receive suitable education otherwise than at school, before the child can be deleted from the school’s register and educated at home.
- Although the legal duty to ensure children receive an education falls on parents, local authorities are also under a number of statutory duties. These include;
- A duty to make arrangements to enable them to establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable 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 or privately. (Section 436A of the Education Act 1996, inserted by the Education and Inspections Act 2006).
- A duty to take action if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education. If it appears that a child of compulsory school age in an authority’s area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they are required to take action (section 437(1) Education Act 1996).
- A duty, under section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002, to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Local authorities must act upon any concerns that a child may be at risk of significant harm, in accordance with its child protection procedures. Where a child is not seen for long periods of time, this may prompt discussion between various safeguarding agencies.
- Parents are under no legal duty to respond to enquiries from the local authority about the educational arrangements they have put in place. However, it is likely to be in their best interests to do so because if the authority cannot be satisfied that suitable education is being provided, it may have no choice but to issue a School Attendance Order. It is perhaps for this reasons that in case law (Phillips v Brown) it has been recognised that is it sensible for parents to respond to the local authority.
- Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996 requires a local authority to intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education. It 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. Prior to serving a notice under section 437(1), Bucks CC will do its utmost to address the situation informally.
- Section 437(3) refers to the serving of school attendance orders:
(a) a parent on whom a notice has been served under subsection (1) fails to satisfy the local education authority, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and
(b) in the opinion of the authority it is expedient that the child should attend school,
the authority shall serve on the parent an order (referred to in this Act as a "school
attendance order"), in such form as may be prescribed, requiring him to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order."
- A school attendance order will only be served after all reasonable steps have been taken to try to resolve matters. At any stage following the issue of the Order, parents may present evidence to the local authority that they are now providing an appropriate education and apply to have the Order revoked. If the authority refuses to revoke the Order, parents can choose to refer the matter to the DfE.
- In the event that the parents fail to comply with the Order, the local authority may choose to prosecute the parents in the courts, in which case it will be for the court to decide whether any education being provided by the parents is suitable and efficient. The court can revoke the Order if it is satisfied that this is the case. It can also revoke the Order where it imposes an education supervision order. Detailed information about school attendance orders is available elsewhere.
- Where a local authority imposes a time limit, every effort should generally be made to make sure that both the parents and the named senior officer with responsibility for elective home education are available throughout this period. Efforts should be made to ensure that the time limit does not expire during or near to school holidays when there may be no appropriate point of contact for parents.
- When a mainstream school receives written notification from a parent of their intention to home educate their child, it is the responsibility of the school to:
- Acknowledge the parent’s letter in writing. If no letter is received, the school should acknowledge the verbal information from the parent in a letter.
- Delete the child’s name from the school register. (Buckinghamshire County Council requires schools to do this within 3 working days of receiving the parents’ letter.)
- Inform the local authority immediately of the above, using the correct EHE form (found on School’s Web).
- Arrangements for Special Schools are different. (See Special Educational Needs).
- Schools must not seek to persuade parents to educate their children at home as a way of avoiding an exclusion or because the child has a poor attendance record. In the case of exclusion, they must follow the statutory guidance. If the pupil has a poor attendance record, the school and local authority must seek to address the issues behind the absenteeism and use the other remedies available to them.
Considerations for Parents
- There are all sorts of reasons why parents may choose to educate their child or children otherwise than at school. In most cases, the decision to home-educate will be taken after a great deal of consideration and planning. However, there are a number of factors which Buckinghamshire County Council recommends parents have regard to:
- Time and commitment: Educating a child is a tremendous responsibility which demands high levels of commitment, energy and time. Parents who choose to home educate their child or children themselves are likely to find it dominates their lives. It is important that parents are under no illusions about the level of commitment required.
- Issues at school: If your desire to educate your child otherwise than at school arises from a difficulty or disagreement with the school which he or she currently attends, it is worth attempting to resolve this with the school before you remove your child’s name from the register. For example, you may wish to invoke the school’s formal complaints procedure or to hold talks with the governing body. In some cases, Buckinghamshire County Council may be able to become involved and broker a solution. In addition, once your child’s name is removed from the school’s register there is no guarantee a place will be available at a later date.
- A different school: In the event that you feel unable to keep your child at his or her current school, it may be possible to find a place at a different local school. Information about applying for school places, including applying out of the normal admissions round, can be found on the Schools Admissions Website.
- Cost: Parents who choose to educate their children at home must be prepared to assume full financial responsibility, including bearing the cost of any public examinations. See 29 for information relating to EHC plans.
- Competence: Parents are not required to have any qualifications, training, knowledge or competence to provide their children with an efficient and suitable education. However, it will be easier to show that the education you provide is efficient and suitable if you do. Therefore, before making a decision you may wish to research a range of topics (e.g. mathematics, grammar etc.) to ensure you are comfortable with the material.
- The National Curriculum: The National Curriculum (NC) is not compulsory for those children educated 'at home'. However, you may nevertheless find that it provides a useful framework. It can also be beneficial if a return to mainstream school is likely as your child may find it easier to settle back into school if they have covered the same topics, to a similar standard as their peers. Additionally, the GCSEs taken by most school children are based upon the NC and, if it is planned that certain of these may be taken in the future, it may help to follow the schemes of work for those subjects at least. The NC can be of help if parents want some comparative idea of their child’s progress. This can also be done by using age-targeted worksheets or tests (perhaps from the internet) or even by borrowing work / tests / worksheets from friends with children still at school.
- Socialising: It is important that your child has opportunities to mix with other children and to develop social skills. This might not be a problem, particularly if your child has previously been at school and keeps in touch with former school friends or if they have friends in the neighbourhood. However, the potential social consequences of home educating a child need to be born in mind. As well as being a good source of advice, ideas and support, contact with other home educating families can additionally provide opportunities for children to socialise. You may also decide to encourage them to join local groups, such as the scouts, sports clubs, music, dance or drama groups, wildlife or astronomy clubs etc.
- Other questions you may wish to consider are:
- Is your child positive about being home educated?
- Are you convinced it is the best course of action for your child?
- Do you have some support available?
- Do you have the space available for a quiet working area?
- Are there are opportunities for physical exercise?
- Are you in a position to meet any Special Educational Needs your child may possess? (For more detail on Special Educational Needs, see below.)
Special Educational Needs
- The right to educate children at home applies equally where a child has Special Educational Needs (SEN). It also applies irrespective of whether the child has a Statement of SEN/Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan.
- Notwithstanding the above, where a child is on the roll of a special school, that child’s name may not legally be removed from the school register without the Local Authority’s consent. Consent may not unreasonably be withheld. Buckinghamshire County Council will need to be satisfied that the proposed education is suitable before the child can be removed from the school roll and the EHC plan/Statement is amended accordingly. Additionally, we may seek the views of the designated medical officer for SEN where a child with an EHC plan/statement of SEN is educated at home because of difficulties related to health needs or a disability.
- If a child has an EHC plan/Statement of SEN and a parent/carer elects to home educate, then a joint meeting with the parents will normally take place which will consist of a SEN adviser and the EHE (Elective Home Education) Consultant, to offer advice and guidance and assess whether the education that is being or will be provided is ‘suitable and efficient’ and that the child’s needs are being met.
- Where a child has Special Educational Needs – with or without an EHC plan/Statement of SEN - and is home educated, it remains Buckinghamshire County Council's duty to ensure that the child's needs are met. If the child has a Statement or an EHC Plan, Buckinghamshire County Council continues to be under certain specific legal duties, for example:
- Buckinghamshire County Council will undertake annual reviews, even where it is satisfied that parents are making suitable arrangements. (Parents are welcome to attend annual review meetings but they are not obliged to do so.)
- A parent who is educating their child at home may ask Buckinghamshire County Council to carry out a statutory assessment or reassessment of their child's special educational needs and Buckinghamshire County Council must consider the request within the same statutory timescales and in the same way as for all other requests.
- Where it is satisfied that the provision being made at home is suitable, Buckinghamshire County Council will normally amend the child’s Statement of SEN/Education & Health Care Plan so that it specifies a type of school that Buckinghamshire County Council considers appropriate (rather than a particular school) and goes on to state that parents have made their own arrangements under section 7 of the Education Act 1996.
- Where a child with an Education and Health Care Plan is educated at home, the parents’ entitlement to request a personal budget is likely to remain unchanged. More information on personal budgets can be found in Buckinghamshire County Council’s Local Offer as well as its Personal Budget Policy
Procedures in Buckinghamshire
- The Elective Home Education team is a small team within the Fair Access & Youth Provision Service. Overall responsibility for the Elective Home Education team sits with the Education Entitlement Manager and the team consists of a Business Support Officer, an initial contact Officer, and two part-time Elective Home Education Consultants. Enhanced DBS clearance is mandatory for all Elective Home Education support workers/officers and specific EHE training will be delivered in addition to Buckinghamshire County Council’s standard training including: Induction, Safeguarding, Equality and Diversity and Health and Safety (including lone worker arrangements).
- The Elective Home Education team will explore the options for access/signposting to other Local Authority services and facilities, within available resources.
- Elective Home Education officers understand that there is no one ‘correct’ educational system. All children learn in different ways and at varying rates. It is vital that parents and children choose a type of education that is right for them and it is important that EHE officers understand and are supportive of many differing approaches or ‘ways of educating’ which are all feasible and legally valid.
- Buckinghamshire County Council will review these guidelines and practice in relation to home education on a regular basis. The initial review will be within 12 months of the first date of publication and thereafter at least every two years. Home education organisations and parents will be involved in the process of review in order to ensure the most effective practice and strengthen partnerships.
Removing a Child from the School Register
- Parents may decide to exercise their right to home educate their child from a very early age and so the child may not have been previously enrolled at school. If this is the case, parents are not required to inform Buckinghamshire County Council that they have elected to home educate, although it is likely to be helpful for everyone if they do so.
- Where a child has been registered at a mainstream school, parents are required to notify the school in writing when withdrawing him/her for EHE. This is to confirm that provision is being made for the child's education otherwise than at school and to request that the child be taken off the school roll. The parents are not required to notify Buckinghamshire County Council directly, although the school must to do this.
- Upon receipt of written notification from the parents that the pupil is receiving education otherwise than at school, a mainstream school must delete the child’s name from their admissions register. The school must then make a return (giving the child’s name, address and the ground upon which their name is to be deleted from the register) to Buckinghamshire County Council as soon as the ground for deletion is met and no later than the point at which they delete the pupil’s name from the register.
- By contrast, in the case of children placed at special schools under arrangements made by a local authority, the consent of the local authority will be required in order for de-registration to take place. Buckinghamshire County Council will require a meeting with both the school, SEN officer, EHE Consultant and the parents before it gives such consent.
- Additionally, where a child is registered at a school as a result of a school attendance order parents must ask Buckinghamshire County Council to revoke the order.
- Once Buckinghamshire County Council becomes aware of a child in its area who is being educated otherwise than at school, it will add that child’s name to its home education register.
Forming a view as to Suitability of Education
- Where parents have indicated their wish to home educate, Buckinghamshire County Council will make enquiries in order to satisfy itself that the child is in receipt of suitable education.
- In the case of children other than those registered at a Special School, Buckinghamshire County Council will make contact with the parents once it learns that the child has come off roll. After allowing the parents a reasonable time in order to put in place the provision, an officer of Buckinghamshire County Council will normally seek to carry out a home visit in order to observe the education first-hand. However, given that parents are under no legal obligation to facilitate this, it may, as an alternative, be acceptable: for a meeting to take place at another venue (either with or without the child); for the parents to write a brief report to make Buckinghamshire County Council aware of the provision that they are making; to provide samples of work; or to provide evidence in some other appropriate form. Buckinghamshire County Council aims to ensure that the above takes place within 40 school days.
- In our consideration of parents' provision of education at home, we will typically be looking for evidence of the following:
- Consistent involvement of parents or other significant carers in learning.
- Opportunities to develop English (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and maths skills.
- Recognition of the child's needs, attitudes and aspirations.
- Opportunities for the child to be stimulated by their learning experiences.
- Access to appropriate resources and materials.
- Opportunities to partake in physical activity.
- Opportunities to develop ICT skills.
- Opportunities for appropriate interaction with other children and adults.
- The existence of a means of recording and assessing progress and difficulties/gaps in learning.
- Provision which allows for later access to further/higher education.
- Opportunities to develop skills for life as a member of the community they are part of.
- In the case of children on roll at Special Schools, Buckinghamshire County Council will aim to meet with both the school and the parents in order to obtain an up-to-date picture of the child’s needs and presentation; to ascertain why it is the parents wish to take the child out of the school; to ascertain what sort of provision the parents have in mind and to form a provisional view as to the suitability of this. A decision will then be taken at officer level as to whether the child should be taken off register. Once the child has been taken off the register, the same process will then be followed as for children who were not previously registered at a special school. (See paras 38 & 39 above)
- In the event of parents continually missing arranged meetings or failing to engage with Buckinghamshire County Council, Buckinghamshire County Council will be unable to confirm the suitability of the education provision and will need to advise the family that failure to attend future arranged meetings may result in a requirement to seek a place on roll at a local school and ultimately in a possible referral to Buckinghamshire County Council’s Litigation Team.
Outcome of Initial Assessment
- Following the above exercise, the officer with conduct of the matter will make a report to a panel of three senior officers. That panel will then consider the report and make a decision as to the way forward. Three outcomes are possible.
- Education Suitable: In the event that the Panel adjudges the arrangements to be suitable, it will issue a letter to the parents to this effect. The EHE Consultant will then contact the parents to review the arrangements through a visit.
- Education Requiring Improvement: The Panel may find that the arrangements are capable of being suitable but that they are currently lacking in certain areas. If this is the case, it will issue a letter with a list of issues it expects to see addressed. A deadline will be set for improvements to be made. After that deadline elapses, the officer will get back in contact with the parents, reassess the position and prepare a fresh report. The Panel will then re-consider the position and issue a revised decision.
- Education Unsuitable: The Panel may find that the education on offer is unsuitable and that there is no realistic prospect of becoming suitable. In such a case, the Panel will expect the parents to make arrangements to register the child/children in question at an appropriate school, on which see below.
- If it appears to a local authority that a child is not receiving a suitable education that authority has a duty to intervene and take further action.
- Where possible, Buckinghamshire County Council will seek to resolve any issues concerning suitability of education informally. Recourse to formal procedures and the law is rare, taken as a last resort and only if it is considered to be in the best interests of the child.
- In the event that it is necessary for Buckinghamshire County Council to have recourse to formal procedures and the law, the process is likely to be as follows:
- Buckinghamshire County Council will serve a written notice on the parents requiring them to satisfy it, within a specified period, that the child is receiving suitable education. In accordance with statutory requirements, the period specified will never be less than 15 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served.
- If a parent on whom a notice has been served under (i) above fails to satisfy Buckinghamshire County Council, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and (b) in Buckinghamshire County Council’s opinion it is expedient that the child should attend school, Buckinghamshire County Council will serve on the parent an order (referred to as "school attendance order"), requiring the parent to registered the child at a specific school named in the order. Parents must comply.
- At any stage following the issuing of an Order, parents may present evidence to Buckinghamshire County Council to show that they are now providing a suitable and appropriate education and apply to have the Order revoked. They may also refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Education via the Department for Education.
- In the event that the parents fail to comply with a School Attendance Order, it is likely that Buckinghamshire County Council will apply to the courts for an Education Supervision Order or bring a prosecution under section 443(1) of the Education Act 1996. This may result in the parents being convicted of a criminal offence.
Monitoring and Reviewing
- Buckinghamshire County Council has no specific duty to monitor the quality of home education on an ongoing basis, nor are parents legally obliged to cooperate should it attempt to, except those subject to an EHC Plan or Statement of SEN, however it would be sensible for them to do so (Phillips vs Brown 1980). Buckinghamshire County Council remains under a duty to ensure that education is suitable and for this reason Buckinghamshire County Council will contact families to review the position at least annually.
- In accordance with the above, Buckinghamshire County Council offers a general meeting with home educators once a year. The purpose of this meeting will be to maintain dialogue and discuss areas of mutual interest and need. In the event that parents are unable or unwilling to meet, they may be requested to supply information and/or materials to Buckinghamshire County Council so that it has an impression of the provision.
- Should any concerns arise as a result of a review, Buckinghamshire County Council may ask that steps, similar set out from para 44 above onwards, are taken to address these.
- Children who have Statements of EHC Plans or Statements of Special Educational Needs, will of course be the subject of a statutory Annual Review.
The team can be contacted by telephone on: 01296 382687, by fax on 01296 383948 or via email to email@example.com
Further information can be found on the Elective home Education page of the Buckinghamshire County Council website which provides links to exam centres, tutors and variety of other information.
National and Regional organisations
There are many websites that provide information for anyone considering Elective Home Education – some links to such sites are provided below.
- Education Otherwise: www.education-otherwise.net
- Ed yourself: www.edyourself.org
- Home Schooling: www.home-schooling-uk.com
- Ahome: www.ahomeeducation.co.uk
- Home Education Advisory Service: www.heas.org.uk
- Department for Education: www.education.gov.uk
- Home Education in the UK – special Education Needs: www.he-special.org.uk
If any parent/carer wishes to express dissatisfaction with any aspect of Buckinghamshire County Council’s management of EHE, they should firstly attempt to resolve the matter informally with officers. However, if this does not succeed, they are entitled to complain by writing to:
Feedback & Complaints