First, the myths. Home education isn’t illegal in the UK (though it is in some other countries such as Germany).
Nor is it deviant or something undertaken only by weirdos whose extreme religious or dietary views put them at odds with society. You’ll definitely encounter a few distinctly quirky perspectives among home educating parents but probably no more so than in any other community defending strongly held views that set it apart from the mainstream.
That said, home education has a pretty dismal public profile. As many parents will testify, announcing that you don’t plan to send your child to school is to lay yourself open to uninvited comment, not just from strangers but from close friends and family members who should know better.
Yes, some children who have been removed from school under the guise of home education go on to be educated in illegal and unregistered schools (something that Ofsted is currently meant to be tackling) or end up neglected, or worse. However, the vast majority of home educators (at least the ones that we’ve encountered) are sane, thoughtful people who only want what’s right for their child and feel that educating them at home is the best way of supporting them.
They are also growing in number. Research found that in 2015, there were almost 37,000 home-educated children in the UK, a rise of 65 per cent in six years. And this only counts the number of children who de-registered at schools. There are many others who have never attended school and thus aren’t officially recorded.
Why put yourself through it?
As with power, some parents are home educators through choice, others have it thrust upon them. The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants hears from families who opt for home schooling because they feel that the emphasis on targets and formal learning in schools makes learning a negative, stressful experience, particularly for very young children.
Some will home educate while waiting for a place at their preferred school, including those who would rather opt out altogether than accept the place they’ve been offered. Other parents favour a low/no tech approach and shun the digital revolution. There are those who are concerned about bullying or worry that class sizes, particularly in state schools, make for a ‘one size fits all’ education that squashes individuality. Then there are families with children whose needs aren’t being adequately supported in mainstream schools, including children who have become too anxious to attend. Finally, there are gifted children who may find school immensely stressful or just need more hours of, say, music practice than can be comfortably accommodated in a conventional school day.
Having an Education, Health and Care Plan is no bar to home educating, although the rules are different if the child currently attends a special school. edyourself.org/articles/newcode.php and www.he-special.org.uk/content/joinhere.php are good sources of information on this specialist area.
Home education: weighing up the pros and cons
It’s liberating. Freed from the constraints of state imposed curricula, you are free to educate your child as you wish. The government leaves it completely up to parents as to how, when, where and what they teach. Learning can be completely personalised. If particular subjects don’t appeal (and that includes the core areas of maths and English) you can leave them out altogether or come back to them later.
… up to a point. If you take your child out of school, your details will be passed on to your local authority. What happens next depends greatly on where you live, in terms of being asked for 'evidence' of the education you are providing, or of having someone you can turn to for advice and support.
It’s individual. ‘Some home educators are autonomous, some follow the UK curriculum. Some feel home education must follow a school timetable. Others leave it to the kids to do their own thing. They can end up very resourceful, good with their hands and at exploring ways of learning. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. Children are naturally curious,’ says a home schooling parent.
Anywhere can become a classroom. Opportunities for learning never stop. Museums and libraries make excellent ad hoc classrooms – but so do supermarkets and garden centres. A child can learn about geology at the seaside, chemistry in the kitchen and biology at a wildlife centre.
Children are involved in their own learning. There’s even a movement – ‘unschooling’ – that formalises the process, letting children take the lead in their own education with the support of parents. It sounds like a recipe for non-stop time wasting but that’s not necessarily the case. One survey (though admittedly small scale) found that over 80 per cent of now adult unschooled children went on to higher education. And as to later life success – look no further than Times columnist Caitlin Moran.
Children can miss out academically if you change your mind… All that freedom can come with a price. ‘One bright prospective pupil [who has been home schooled] has some academic gaps that are likely to impede his admission to university,’ says a GSG insider who works as part of a school admissions team. ‘If they plan for their children to reintegrate into traditional schools, they need to consider how they can ensure students meet the criteria for admission through external exams, assessments, or references from tutors.’
…and socially if you don’t. Schools offer more than just education. ‘There’s lots of emphasis on collaboration and group work – these are facilities that can’t easily be provided at home,’ points out a tutor, parent and year 6 primary school teacher. However good the online resources, they can’t fill a garden with real people for an impromptu kick about. So it’s essential to have back up in the form of local friendships and local groups who meet up regularly.
You’ll need plenty of time, commitment and/or money. From swimming lessons to school lunches, school orchestra practice to sports fixtures, schools pack an awful lot into the day. Opt for home education, and you’ll be taking up the slack. It helps if one parent can be home-based for at least some of the time to check that the education your child is receiving is fulfilling, enjoyable and a demonstrable improvement on anything they would be receiving at school. And this should still be the case even if you plan to outsource the coordination and tuition to a team of tutors.
What's out there to help you?
If you don’t want to break completely with formal, school-based education, flexi schooling could one day be just what the teacher orders. One day, because it’s only just in its infancy now.
Flexi education involves a combination of home education and part time attendance at school. Though technically possible, schools need to give their consent – and with little incentive to say yes, especially as it can impact on their school absence statistics, there’s little sign of this spreading, so far at least. We’re currently aware of just a handful of UK schools, state and independent, that are flexi-education friendly (if there are others out there, please let us know).
Still at an embryonic stage, online schools promise to develop into a potentially brilliant resource. One of the most promising developments, a free on-line school for 10-19-year-olds, has yet to secure government backing and funding. There are currently several others, most also geared towards older children. Children are allocated classes, register at the start of each day, greet their teacher, have discussions – but each pupil could be based anywhere in the country, though schools are increasingly introduce ‘real world’ meetings and events to create a sense of community.
Several companies specialise in distance learning. Their courses are normally linked to formal qualifications (GCSEs and A levels). You pay per subject/level and receive all the literature and coursework you need together with a dedicated tutor who will call/Skype to support you and will mark your assignments. You’ll have to arrange to sit exams yourself (but in helpful local authorities will be given a list of exam centres that are happy to accept external candidates).
Many of the tutor firms reviewed by The Good Schools Guide are experienced in supporting children who are being home educated. At the top end, they can provide full time, live-in tutors who are companions and mentors as in addition to their formal teaching role.
Most UK areas have groups of home educators, many on Facebook, mostly invitation only (sensibly, they vet every new member). They organise get-togethers and educational trips and swap tips on local classes and activities. You should find them an invaluable source of friendship and help. There are also reputable national online groups for parents of children with special needs or those who are preparing for exams.
Home education organisations
Home Education Advisory Service
PO Box 98
Welwyn Garden City
Tel: 01707 371854
UK based charity offering advice and practical support, founded 1995 by group of home educators. Subscription-based. Subscribers get information leaflets, the Big Book of Resource Ideas and the Home Education Handbook and a list of local contacts.
PO Box 63, Swaffham, PE37 9AT
Tel: 08454 786345
One of the UK’s longest-established home education organisations with links to other groups. Site includes information on legal situation for home educators.
How The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants can help
Our consultants can support families who are considering removing their children from school and those who plan to home educate from the start. Some of our consultants have direct experience of home educating their own children and so have first hand experience of the benefits and difficulties.
For more information, please call 0203 286 6824 from the UK or +44 203 286 6824 from overseas or email [email protected]