Home Schooling – Regulations may soon be Tightened
Home schooling, or home education as it is actually termed in the UK, simply means a child receives all their education at home, either from tutors or (more likely) parents/carers. The choice to provide home education rests with the parents or guardians - no school can mandate that a child be educated at home, nor can the child themselves insist they do. The headteacher of the school does have the power to prevent a child being home educated, but this is a rare occurrence; the most likely scenario for a school refusing to cooperate is when the parents wish for their child to attend some classes at school, while receiving the majority of their education at home.
Section 7 of The Education Act of 1996 lays down a number of clear points regarding the parent/carer`s legal responsibility should they choose to home school their child, along with some helpful guidelines:
- Parents are not required to be qualified teachers.
- While their child is not required to strictly adhere to the national curriculum, or take standardised tests, the parent/carers are required by law to ensure their child receives `full-time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs your child may have.`
- Permission isn`t required from the school or education authority, but these institutions must be informed that the child will be homeschooled.
- Regular school hours, along with holidays and term times do not have to be adhered to.
- Fixed timetables are not needed, nor are formal lessons (which start at a certain time, and are of a certain duration) mandatory.
- There will be no funds provided for parents/carers who choose to provide home education for their child.
- The local EA (education authority) may be able to provide learning material and guidance throughout the year, and may also visit annually to check your child`s progress and offer advice.
Before conducting research for this article I believed that obtaining permission for your child to be homeschooled was an extremely difficult process, and one that was very likely to be vetoed by your school or education authority. In fact any parent or carer can request that their child be homeschooled, and it is incredibly unlikely that permission will be refused. I also believed that home educated children were mandated to adhere to the national curriculum, and were likewise obliged to take the same exams as their school educated peers. This is apparently not the case - as the second bullet point above shows.
One of the most common reasons for a child to be home educated is because of bullying at school. The only home educated child amongst my peer group had indeed been taken out of the school system because of excessive bullying, which teachers had done little to attenuate, much to the chagrin of his parents, who decided that he would learn more (and be safer) at home.
Another demographic of home educated children are those with special needs: children with autism or ADHD may find they are not receiving the specific help they need at school, and their parents may decide that teaching them at home is the best option. Support for children with special needs has long been a problem, and it was announced by the government earlier this year that £215 million would be allocated to address this issue.
The incidence of children with special needs being home educated is rising: over the last five years the numbers have grown by an astonishing 57% across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England the rise has been highest, with numbers up 64% compared to half a decade ago.
A germane piece of news is that the government plans to impose stricter guidelines on home educated children. Only last week (24th November) school system minister Lord Agnew, speaking in the House of Lords, said that the Department for Education would be strengthening the guidance on local authorities and parents.
The Department for Education has said this guidance will `help parents understand their responsibilities in delivering home education and make sure local authorities are clear on the action they can take`.
This potentially drastic shake up of the home schooling system may have precipitated out of the Birmingham `trojan horse scandal.` Colin Diamond, head of education at Birmingham City Council, has expressed concern about children being isolated from their peer group:
`The biggest risks in terms of exposure to any form of non-mainstream societal values is... if you are at home, because you are not part of the social group`.
The government will soon be publishing a draft paper, outlining any changes to the home schooling system. It may include regular compulsory visits by education officials, and the insistence that children adhere to the national curriculum, and participate in the assessments and coursework, as they would if they were being educated at school.