Frequently asked questions about elective home education
Are parents qualified to teach children?
Home education is not the same as school. Some parents do choose to include some elements common to school based education but being child-led is common across all approaches. Research shows that many parents start off their home educating journey with more school-like provision but often move towards a more self-directed approach as their experience of how children learn grows. Self directed education can look very different for different children, some children like lots of structure or might choose to take more formal classes especially at older ages, for others it looks like discussion, experimentation, play (with other children, with board games, with computer games) and following their interests in a less formal way.
The aptitudes required for providing an education to a small number of one’s own children are very different to the skills required of teachers, that of getting approximately 30 children with different abilities and interests to stay on task.
Parents or carers choosing ‘education otherwise’ are in no way expected to provide all of a child’s educational requirements themselves, they utilise a variety of resources and opportunities such as museums, leisure facilities, art galleries, theatre, online resources, community groups, shared materials, games, meet ups, conversations, sports teams and so on. As children get older and many choose to gain qualifications some will choose to study in more formal groups, with tutors, classes or settings.
Do home educated children sit standardised exams like GCSEs and go on to higher education?
Many home educated young people sit standardised exams including GCSEs and many go onto higher education including some of the most prestigious universities in England. However, not all GCSEs can be accessed by private candidates, in some areas there are additional barriers and the costs of privately paying for exams can mount up. There is an excellent resource, HE Exams Wiki, which explains in detail what GCSEs can be taken, alternative IGCSEs which can replace inaccessible GCSE subjects and where in the country exams can be accessed.
Bar these barriers, home educated young people are able to choose the qualifications which are relevant and useful to them personally and are able to take them at a pace of their choosing. There is a wide range of needs and aptitudes and motivations for home educating and qualifications might not be right for every child, some children and young people choose more vocational routes. The taking and passing of GCSEs and other qualifications is not compulsory and it is still possible to earn a living in this country without them, for example through self-employment, which can be a good fit for some following a self-directed education.
Fair access to exams is something home educators have been campaigning for over many years.
How do home educated children develop social skills?
Mixing and socialising with others is a key part of home education. 2021 UK research by Albury provides detailed insight into the visibility and social opportunities for home educated children. Children attend a wide range of activities, meet ups, clubs and classes. Often with parents, especially when younger, but also without (for motivations which can include supporting child’s independence and development of their own identity) group experiences, to widen network of friends and social opportunities and indeed parental need for separate time or to work. It must also be remembered that different children, and of course different neurotypes, have different needs around socialising. Home education allows families to tailor it to socialise in ways that work for them.
Socialising in mixed age groups is far more common for home educated children than schooled children which is beneficial, being the older one in a group gives children the opportunity to be nurturing and to be the more experienced person, being younger gives children the opportunity to learn from older ones. Research shows that children also gain in having stronger relationships with parents and ability to interact with different adults as well as peers.
What information does the government have about numbers of home educated children and young people?
The government does not have exact figures. This is because education is the responsibility of parents and not the state. The Department for Education is not involved in home educated children’s education and therefore they do not need to hold information about them on a database.
We do have estimates. The 2020 Association of Children’s Services Directors EHE survey estimated that the total cumulative number of children and young people being home educated was 86,335. Research by Education Otherwise showed that on 1st October 2020 there were “69,791 home educated children known to their local authorities, considerably fewer than in reports published by public bodies”.
Going forward, numbers who choose to educate “otherwise” seem likely to grow. Children experiencing problems within the school system is a strong push for families to home educate. There will be accurate figures on numbers of these children who are deregistered, due to the legal responsibility of schools to inform local authorities at the point of deregistration. It also seems likely that numbers of parents who never choose to send their children to school will also grow. Factors such as increased coverage in the media, family experience during lockdown and more people knowing someone who home educates have all served to normalise the practice and to make families aware of the option. Some local authorities will have figures on these home educators as they include families who do not accept a school place but many local authorities do not collect this information and therefore will not have it.
Will a compulsory ‘not in school’ register identify illegal off-rolling?
No. Schools are already required by law to inform the local authority every time a child is removed from a school admissions register. The law is set out in The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 and explained in the Children Missing Education statutory guidance. A new register of home educators will not give local authorities any more information that indicates off-rolling than they already have.
What is the difference between elective home education and illegal schools?
There have been claims made by Ofsted and others that there are hundreds of ‘illegal schools’ attended by thousands of home educated children. There have only been four successful prosecutions for settings operating as unregistered schools.
The legislation stipulates that an establishment which provides full time care for five or more children of school age (or one with an ECHP), has a curriculum and a timetable of classes is legally required to be registered as a school.
When settings are investigated it is either into the number of hours a child is being taught or for pre-registration inspections. At times the term ‘illegal schools’ seems to be used to refer to registered schools which people believe should not be allowed to operate.
Some home educated children spend part of their week at learning communities, which can take many different forms, can include forest school outdoor provision, religious education or be to support children to follow a self-directed education with more of a group setting.
See also Compulsory Register Myth Buster