GUIDE: Home Education 101

 

What is home education?

Sometimes I think it's probably easier to start by saying what home education isn't. So, it is not "school at home". Unfortunately, the pandemic crisis lockdown schooling at home has done nothing to help this misconception. Those outside home education, and those new to it, tend to think that home education is recreating school at home; with children confined to home, sat at the kitchen table, completing worksheets, being taught by a parent between 9am-3pm, 5 days a week during term times and following National Curriculum. None of that could be further from the truth from either a legal perspective or home educating reality.

Education – The Law

As it happens in English law, education is the responsibility of parents. Education is legally compulsory, schooling isn't. At this point it helps if we make the distinction between education and schooling. Education is a broader way in which children learn about, and how to interact in, the world about them; and schooling is one method of doing that. As we have now had generations of schooling, people have internalised an idea that the state is responsible for education, and that schooling and education are synonymous. None of this is true.

 

Home education is the legal default, parents (if they want) opt their children into the schooling system. The purpose of OFSTED is to ensure that schools that are providing a quality of education on behalf of parents. This is why home educators are not OFSTED inspected.

 

So, when you look at parental legal responsibilities under Section 7 of The Education Act 1996, it's the duty of parents to secure education for children:

 

"the parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his/(her) age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise"

 

Home education sits under the “or otherwise” bit.

 

Schooling model of education

There are lots of reasons why school is set up as it is. If you want to know more, John Taylor Gatto’s book, Weapons of Mass Instruction, is a good place to start. There are lots of legacy assumptions about how children learn, that form the foundations of the schooling model. These assumptions have stayed in place despite huge amounts of research in the fields of child development, neuroscience, motivation theories and human learning that show many of these assumptions to be false.

 

The current schooling model, is educating en masse, a whole range of different individuals in a one-size-fits-all model. It uses formal instruction by an "expert", with knowledge packaged up into set segments that are imparted onto a child, at a set pace, at a set time, with set standards, and a set progression rate: a one-size-fits-all model. The message from the state (which has also infiltrated into societal belief) is that this is the only way children become educated. The other message is that if you don’t do this they will fail. Once you step away from the fear created by this message and start to unpack this, you quickly realise that this simply is not true.

 

Within home education you are not required to recreate the schooling model. You are completely free to create an education that absolutely meets your individual child's needs. You do not need to follow a schooling paradigm, you follow the paradigm that works for your child, and the child that you have in front of you. The focus is education, not schooling.

 

Home Education models

Most of us have only experienced schooling, we only really understand that this is what education could look like. So, when we come into home education and other models of education become open to us, then most of us are flummoxed. I certainly was. If education doesn’t have to look like school, then what could it look like?

 

School at home

At the start, many people do replicate school at home. In fact, some children ask for “school at home”, as a comfort, reflexive response; my eldest certainly did. It lasted about 3 days. As lockdown crisis home-schooling however has showed, it is often very fraught, it doesn't tend to go very well and is marred with battles, frustration, resistance and high emotion.

 

Schools utilise a wide range of behaviour control mechanisms to lever children to do what schools want them to do.  These include, but are not limited to, the removal of “privileges”, removal from class, removing break time, extra work, public shaming (consequence ladders, names on display boards, red/green cards), peer pressure, threats of and actual sending to a hierarchy of authority figures for punishment. Some children find conformity and obedience easy. Some find it more challenging, but the levers are sufficient for them to internalise their feelings, moderate their behaviour, at least in the immediate and on the surface. Some children cannot conform, and this tends not to end well. At home however, rightly, our children can exercise their voices, preferences and opinions more freely…and they do. Most parents I think would be uncomfortable adopting the levers readily and freely used in schools within their own homes.

 

Where home educating parents start out recreating school at home several outcomes can happen, either:  

  1. School at home really works. If that works for your children, then great. If it does not work for you, that’s quite normal.  

  2. If it does not work, some parents decide that home education is not for them. Often, they will believe that “my child won’t learn”, “my child is lazy and unmotivated”, “my child won’t be taught anything”. Some parents in this situation decide a return to school is their next step.

  3. Some parents though, take a different next step.  They stop, assess, ask questions about different ways of doing education, they research, they pivot, and change, and start to learn about learning and adopt alternative ways to educate.

 

Semi-structured

While some people do “school at home” the vast majority adopt a kind of hybrid, semi-structured approach. Some people might choose to do some more structured work around English, Maths or Science, but be more child-led around other subjects and interests. There genuinely are as many ways to home educate as there are families out there doing it. There isn't a right and a wrong way, it's about finding what works for your child. I need to stress here it’s about what works for your child. At the start of our journey, I favoured semi-structured, it made me feel more comfortable. However, it became apparent that this was not working for my son. I then needed to find what worked for him and work on my discomfort in order to facilitate the right environment for him.

 

Recognised approach

Some people will adopt a well-known method such as a Montessori approach, Steiner approach, Emilio Reggio or a Charlotte Mason curriculum approach. There are lots of resources available for you to find out more about these approaches. Again, I would stress it’s about finding out what works for your child. It may be that you would like a nature-based education and curriculum, but this is unlikely to work well if your child is not interested in, or motivated by, or resonates with nature.  

 

Self Directed Education (SDE) or Unschooling

Some people choose what is called autonomous education, or self-directed education (SDE), or when you do it via home education, Unschooling. I'm going to very briefly touch on this now, but I will do an Unschooling 101 Guide. 

 

Unschooling is underpinned by the premise that all humans have an innate drive to learn. Learning is powerful and efficient when something is useful, interesting, relevant or needed. For young children we see this working and we trust the process. In the first few years of life they acquire a huge amount of understanding and knowledge about the world and people in it. They develop the extremely complex skills of walking and talking. All of this is done, and driven by, innate curiosity and a desire to meaningfully participate in the world around them. We also see self directed education in adults. We know that as adults we learn something if it’s useful to us, or if it's interesting or relevant or we need to know it. We might get a book, or we talk to knowledgeable people, we might do a Google search, or a course, or just give it a go, or more likely, a combination of these things. This is also self-directed education.

 

So, we know and trust young children, and adults, can control their own learning.  Within a school model though it has been decided that between the ages of 4 and 18 children cannot be trusted to control their own learning; in this model, adults take over, adults are in control. They impose upon children how to learn, and what to learn, and what pace, and what process to learn. When we Unschool school-aged children, we are facilitating and supporting that natural learning process, that starts when they're babies, to carry on seamlessly right through their “school years” and indeed their whole lives.

 

Within Unschooling, parents are not viewed as teachers who are going to impart expert knowledge. They are facilitators, and supporters, of their children's passions and interests and their understanding of the world. Parents are highly involved with their children, not in a way that controls, but in a way that facilitates. Unschooling results in very different paths for each individual child, which in turn increases diversity of knowledge and skills in society. There is no distinction between living and learning, it’s a seamless whole, and where the individual is actively engaged in driving their own learning and not a passive recipient.  

 

Self directed education (or Unschooling) is a very different way of looking at education.

 

When you home educate you have the freedom to change educational approach as and when it best suits the changing needs of your child and family.

 
 

But what about socialisation?

It is a myth that Home Educated children are locked up, like Harry Potter, under the stairs. Lockdown pandemic crisis schooling at home has sadly reinforced the idea that home educated children stay at home isolated from other children. When we home educate, yes a lot of it can and does happen at home, but a huge amount of it happens outside the home and with other people and children. Home education happens out in parks, visiting places, meeting for activities and events, being out in the real world, mixing with real people doing real jobs. Home educated children mix with lots of different children, of different ages, with different interests and different abilities and disabilities. Home educated children are building social skills, and being educated, in the real world.

 

Children learn social skills (like everything else) from being surrounded by, experiencing and interacting with, more experienced people. We are evolved to learn social skills by being raised/growing up in "a village" or being in "a village structure" where children are surrounded by, are observing and experiencing the social skills of, more proficient people. The younger children can learn the social skills from the older, more socially skilled members of the village e.g. siblings, older children, parents, grandparents etc. Conversely older children learn to nurture, care for and have a degree of responsibility for the younger children. Social skills are therefore learnt both ways.

 

In school, children are grouped with other children of almost exactly the same age. Due to school catchments, all children are very much likely in a same/similar socio-economic group. Some schools are even segregated by faith or sex. This age segregation creep is even extending to babies and toddlers in childcare, nursery and preschool settings.

 

Children in school tend to interact with, and socialise within, their own groups in their own classes. Interaction with other year groups tends not to be prevalent and, in many cases, would be a source of ridicule. The formation of cliques and reports of bullying within schools are commonplace, and one of the most common reasons why some parents choose to home educate. This is not to say that home education is immune to cliques and bullying but, unlike in school where parents are often powerless to deal with or create space from bullies, in home education this is more easily achieved, and parents can be more closely involved to support.  

 

It is arguably easier to find children to create friendships within a school because you have 30 children at the school gate openly available to you. However, here are thousands of children who are home educated who are looking for connection. Parents do however, have to make the effort to go and find those children, and to build those relationships, and go to groups and foster friendships. It requires more work on behalf of parents definitely, but it certainly should not be seen as a barrier to home educating.

 

It has been also my experience that many home educators can be more inclusive of neurodivergent children and their needs than schooling parents and children. Also, that quality of social interaction can be preferable to quantity.

 

But what about Exams and Qualifications?

Home educated children can and do gain qualifications such as GCSEs and A-Levels.  There are plenty of Facebook groups that can guide you through this process if this is the route you choose. Home educated children sit as private, external candidates, and parents are completely liable for all the costs associated. If your child wants to do these qualifications, broadly, you identify an exam centre, determine which exam board you would want/like/need to use, determine the subjects and you acquire the curriculum content. It is not unusual that home educated children will run through that content quite quickly. You might get a tutor, you might not, you might choose to find other children doing the same exams and learn it together or do it alone. Your child might do online courses. The whole approach to learning is much more varied. When your child is ready, and the time is right, the exam is sat as an external candidate. Leaving the story here though is only a small part of the picture.

 

Even if your child chooses to go down the exams and qualifications route the fact they are home educate leads to much more flexibility than if you took them via school.

 

  • Firstly, and importantly, there is no law that compels home educated children to take GCSEs at 16 and A-Levels at 18 etc.

  • When your child is home educated, they can choose exactly subjects they want to do. They can follow their passions, strengths and interests. They are not obligated to take any particular subject, not confined to what is on offer in that school or subjects that fit into that school timetable.

  • When your child is home educated, they can do the exams at any age, when they are academically and developmentally ready. It is not the one-shot deal, in a vast array of subjects of which the child has little control, at 16 years.

  • When your child is home educated, they can take any number of subjects they want e.g. 1 or 2, or a whole raft. It is their choice.

  • When your child is home educated, they can take exams over several years, rather than all in one go. 

 

Having this increased flexibility is especially beneficial where, for whatever reason, a child may not be in a position to best showcase their academic knowledge in a one-shot attempt at 16/18 years. Particularly for autistic children, or children that might have SEND, they might not be developmentally ready at 16. They might not be able to show themselves to their best advantage at this point. So maybe waiting a few more years might be more developmentally appropriate for them. It may be that some for children, that the optimal time to take them is as an adult.  Home education gives you the flexibility to meet the needs of your individual child.

 

Once you start looking at home education, you soon realise that and there many different ways to showcase talent and knowledge. The more you look the more you see. We are told this story in school/society that it is imperative that you get GSCEs and A-levels at 16/18, and do really well, otherwise you are not going to be successful and ruin your life. Whilst that CAN be true, it is by no means a Truth. Once you start seeing and interacting with people that didn't necessarily follow the path through academia, you start to see that lots of other ways that people have been able to be successful in their lives.

 

There is a lovely story from an Unschooling Facebook page that always sticks in my mind. An Unschooled child had spent most of his childhood designing websites for friends and for family. When he was ready he applied for a job as a web developer, and despite having no formal qualifications, he got the job over some graduate candidates.  The reason he got the job was because he had a portfolio of websites that he had already built. He already could demonstrate that he was doing the job. So, despite the fact that he had no formal qualifications, that was not a barrier for him. Now in some jobs e.g. being a Doctor/Lawyer, not having good academic qualifications is likely to be a barrier to entry, but not everyone's going to be a doctor/lawyer. In addition, there is nothing to say that if you don’t get the right academic qualifications at 16/18 then you can never be a Doctor/Lawyer. It is only the schooling system that is rigid and set, home education, and life, is not.

 

Benefits of Home Education (especially those with SEND)

When you have children with very individual needs then the flexibility is what makes it home education so powerful.

 

Not obligated to follow National Curriculum

You are not under any obligation to follow National Curriculum, you can if you want to, but you are not obligated to.

 

I think one of the things that parents have witnessed when doing lockdown crisis schooling at home is some of the utterly ridiculous and irrelevant things that children are required to learn at school.  Young children may need to know fronted adverbials and subordinating conjunctions in order to pass a test at school, but they do not need to know it for life. If you do not believe certain knowledge is meaningful or helpful for life you simply do not need to cover it. If these things are interesting or relevant for your child by all means cover it, but you have the flexibility not to.

 

Not obligated to meet National Curriculum “expectations” or progression.

Within home education, you are not obligated to conform to National Curriculum expectations or progression. 

 

National Curriculum and expectations are regularly changed, and content pushed to ever younger ages to the mantra of “increasing standards”. These decisions are made by politicians and are often against the recommendations of child development experts and teachers. If you have a child who, for whatever reason, is struggling to meet these standards and progression, the impact on self esteem, self belief and mental health can have a huge negative impact that lasts a lifetime. Schooling works on a deficit model, and stigma increases the longer you stay in “deficit”. In contrast home education has the flexibility to work in a positives model. Progression is at the child’s own individual pace and matches their development rates. Their successes are their own to be celebrated and not compared against national targets or peers. Within home education it doesn’t matter whether a child acquires reading at 3, 8 or 14. Early reading and writing are both necessary when you're mass educating in the schooling model. This is enforced whether a child is developmentally ready or not. In home education there are so many ways to learn that it does not become a blocker to learning if a child acquires these skills at a later stage.

 

Not obligated to follow Government approved approaches

Within home education you are not obligated to follow any explicit methodologies used in schools e.g. phonics for reading or mathematics

 

For example, the only method that schools can use to teach reading is phonics, and for some children phonics doesn't work. The use of synthetic phonics is relatively new in schools, Before its introduction after the Rose Report in 2006 other methods were used such as Look and Say, Analytic Phonics or Whole Language. Within home education you can use any method that works for your child, a combination of these approaches or no set recognised approach. You have the flexibility to meet your child’s individual needs and learning styles. This goes for all areas of learning and not just reading.

 

Focusing on what is useful in real life

Within home education you can make immediate decisions to focus on whatever knowledge is pertinent in society now and in the future.

 

National Curriculum includes many things that are there as a legacy of “that’s what we have always taught” and is very slow to change and adapt. Within home education you can focus on content and skills that are needed right now and into the future, at a moment’s decision. A simple example: learning to tell the time on an analogue clock face. In real life you would be hard pushed to find many analogue clocks. There is, however, an abundance of digital clocks…everywhere from phones, laptops, watches, public transport signs etc. It is required to learn to tell the time on an analogue clock face for National Curriculum but in the real world this is not a critical skill, a nice to have skill maybe, but not a critical skill. In home education you have the flexibility to focus on real world skills.  

 

Flexible and ready use of technology

Many children, especially those with SEND struggle with handwriting. It is often a source of shame, frustration and trauma in school where good penmanship is required. Academic learning and progression is often inhibited only because of issues with penmanship. For many of these children typing would be a solution to unblock learning and progression. This is not an option for all but a few children in schools. When we look in real life, how often do many of us write? I certainly mostly type, I occasionally make notes by hand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we don’t encourage and help children learn and develop penmanship. What I’m saying is that in school it’s a rigid requirement that leads to barriers. In home education, with the use of technology whether that be typing, or speech to text, later developing penmanship is not a barrier to learning and progressing.


Access to Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language services

People mistakenly assume that once you come out of schooling system you won't be able to access services such as speech and language therapy or occupational therapy. That is simply not true. They are often mostly deployed by schools, because that's where most children are educated and its easier and more cost effective. You can still access those outside of a school system. What has been really interesting, from personal experience and anecdotes, is that the need for these interventions commonly subside when you're not trying to get your child to conform into the schooling model. Once you step back and allow your children to develop at their own pace naturally, you may find that a lot of these interventions may not be required anyway.

 

Control sensory environment

I think another advantage of home education, particularly for autistic children, is the ability to control the sensory environment. Sensory issues that cannot be accommodated in schools can be very easily accommodated in home education. One of my children cannot stand still, so invariably when they are trying to communicate they are moving around, often with a football at their feet. At school, this is a problem, within home education it is easily accommodated. It is the same with clothing, noise, temperature, concentration of people in a room or any other sensory issue.  When you want to build up the sensitivity to these issues then you can do it in a managed and controlled way, as opposed to the sink and swim that it is in school.

 

Holistic view of education

Schools are almost exclusively academically focused. They may well bolt on a few bits of social, emotional and health elements but the core focus is academic learning. Home education allows you to focus on the things that are most important, and that goes well beyond academics. It can include building relationships, good mental and physical health, self-awareness, self-control, personal responsibility, collaborative working, understanding and meeting your needs in a way that is harmonious with others, problem solving, self motivation, self determination and many more. These are critical life skills which can be prioritised when you home educate but are often marginalised for academic achievement in school.

 

How to Start Home Educating

Each devolved nation in the UK has its own process. However, most people in the UK where children attend mainstream school (regardless of a child having an EHCP) a standard deregistration letter is all that is needed. Please check EducationalFreedom.org.uk for details in your nation and the format of the standard letter as this avoids potential issues in the future.

For a child who is in special provision paid for by the LA then you need permission to remove your child from school roll. The process for this can be found on EducationalFreedom.org.uk

If your child has never been registered on a school roll (i.e. opted into the school system) you just carry on. In this situation you do not need to inform, or require permission from, the LA to home educate (correct as of June2021). You may at some point be contacted by the LA at which point the advice is as above for people who deregister. Please seek advice from the Home Educating community to ensure you avoid misunderstandings and issues.

 

As per the DfE EHE Guidelines it is worth noting the following:

2.11 There are no legal requirements for you as parents educating a child at home to do any of the following:

• acquire specific qualifications for the task

• have premises equipped to any particular standard

• aim for the child to acquire any specific qualifications

• teach the National Curriculum

• provide a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum

• make detailed lesson plans in advance

• give formal lessons

• mark work done by the child

• formally assess progress, or set development objectives

• reproduce school type peer group socialisation

• match school-based, age-specific standards

A note on Local Authorities (LAs)

On deregistration (or if the LA becomes aware your child is home educated) you will be contacted by the LA regarding your provision.

It is strongly recommended that you respond (in writing, email is fine) to any communication from the LA. It is ESSENTIAL that you are aware of your obligations and rights, as well as the remit of the LAs. The LA only has a duty to identify any children not receiving suitable education.  They are allowed to make “informal enquiries” to you regarding your provision in order to do this, they are not allowed to monitor. It is not in their remit to “give you permission” or “a pat you on the back”.  

It is generally accepted, for the benefit of stable relations, that home educators provide a written report summary of provision yearly, or longer if the informal enquiries come further apart than that. We advise against verbal or in person updates as these can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications that can be very lengthy and stressful to correct.

It is strongly recommended you take advice from your local and/or National experienced home educators before you interact with the LA. See my “Home Education UK Information” page in the “Guides” section on this website for links to the DfE EHE Guidelines for Parents and Home Educators, see EducationalFreedom.org.uk for interpretation of these Guidelines and what they mean in practice and how to find local/national Facebook groups.  

 

Final Thoughts

Home education can be truly life enhancing and liberating. Connecting physically and/or digitally with other home educators is strongly advised for support, help, guidance, to build relationships and inspiration. Home education is however, not everyone’s cup of tea, and that is fine. This guide and website aims to empower people with the knowledge I didn’t have when I first had a child in school. It aims to show what is possible within home education, bust some myths, inspire as well as empower people with knowledge and resources to make informed decisions. It is about possibilities, not inevitabilities.