Monday, 5 November 2018

Dealing with your Local Authority as a homeschooler

how to start home schooling in the UK

One of the first questions which comes to mind when deciding to educate your family at home is what are the legal requirements of home schooling?

Depending on where you are the world, your rights and responsibilities as a home educator will differ. In some countries such as Germany and Greece, home-schooling is illegal. So the first thing you need to do, is establish whether the country you reside allows home education or not. (you may find this chart listing the legality of home schooling in different countries helpful).

Home Schooling in the UK


Since I'm in the UK, my focus will be on the legal rights and responsibilities of a home educator here. This post is not at all professional legal advice, rather just information I've come to understand and learn from my own experience as a home schooler over the years.

Just to note, if you're reading from across the big pond over in America, then know that each State has their own laws and regulations. You can read more about your State and homeschooling here.

Alhamdulillah we're blessed in the UK in that we can indeed choose to educate our families at home, and the law gives us the freedom to teach our children without specifying any particular curriculum, program or learning philosophy. You do not have to follow the National Curriculum.

There is a well known phrase which goes around the homeschool world:
 "Education is compulsory, schooling is not."

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 which you can find on the Government website, informs us that every child must receive a full-time education suitable to his age and ability: that could be by attending school or "otherwise". It is this "otherwise" where home education fits in.


What do I need to do to start homeschooling in the UK?


This will depend on whether your child has already attended school or not. 

Compulsory school age is 5 years old.

If your child has never applied for or attended school, then there is nothing you need to do from a legal point of view. 
You are not required to contact your Local Authority to inform them of your choice to home educate. You can by all means let them know if you prefer, but it is not a legal obligation. Many families choose not to.

However, if you come across certain professionals such as your GP, midwife, nurse, health visitor etc, then they will more than likely pass that information onto your Local Authority, and in which case you will receive contact from them (I'll discuss what happens then further ahead inshaAllah).

If your child is in school, then what you are required to do is submit a deregistration letter to the headteacher of the school informing of your decision to educate otherwise (home-school) and instruct that your child's name is removed from the register. 

This is important, because if you don't do this, your child will still be enrolled in that school and will be recorded as missing from education. Thats when social services will become involved and potentially you could get into serious trouble.

Education Otherwise, a homeschool charity has a sample deregistration letter that you can edit and use. This is what I used when we decided to home educate our then 4 year old eldest, who had just completed the first term of reception class.

I would recommend that you send your letter either with a recorded mail delivery, or take a receipt of acceptance from the reception if you deliver it in person, or alternatively have an email record.

You do not need the school's permission to home educate, although sadly some heads and teachers lack the understanding and knowledge around home schooling and the law, and may try to bend it to put pressure on you to not leave the school. Once they have received your deregistration letter, it is their legal duty to now inform the Local Authority. If they don't, it is they who are breaking the law.

Your school may want to discuss with you your reasons for wanting to home educate, and it is entirely up to you whether or not you would like to meet with them.

Dealing with your Local Authority as a homeschooler


Some families who have never attended school, may never hear from the Local Authority. You may like to keep it this way, or you can inform them of your situation if you choose. Some people like to have their family's work looked at whilst others may not want to answer to any authoritive body. So its more of a personal preference.

However, once your Local Authority are aware of your decision to home educate your child/ren, they will contact you.

Depending on how they obtained your information and what contact details they have for you they may turn up on your doorstep unannounced, telephone you or send a letter.

If anyone from the Local Authority turn up at your door without a prearranged appointment with you, you are not at all obliged to let them in. I've not heard of any home schooler who has welcomed an unannounced visit (although there may be some) and instead most, politely decline the unscheduled door-stepping, and request that a mutually agreed appointment be arranged in writing.

Remember, it is your home, not an office. 

It is up to you whether you agree to a meeting with them or not. You can meet  at your home, or at any other suitable place such as a Public Library for example. You can meet with your children or without.

However, I will say that Local Authorities, although you're not obligated to meet with them, they  certainly prefer to and may be quite insistent on it. This is why I advise you to take the time to understand what your rights and responsibilities are so that you are able to make informed decisions.

From what I have heard from different home educators across the country, it appears that different counties have slightly different attitudes to home schooling. Some appear to be more supportive than others.

During the meeting, generally you will talk through your education provisions, and possibly look through some work samples.

The home education officer who visited my family, told me the only thing they need to satisfy evidence of, is Literacy and Maths. So don't worry about having every school subject in order. Remember, as a home schooler you're not required to follow the National Curriculum, and instead provide what is suitable to your own family's needs.

If you choose not to meet, you will be required to provide information regarding your education provisions for your child/ren. 
You can do this by submitting a report detailing how you are providing an education for your family. Many include an Educational Philosophy with this and some samples of work (although providing samples of your child's work is not necessary but certainly helpful.)

Never ignore any requests from your Local Authority. Many veteran home educators do recommend that all communication is kept in writing (this helps prevent Local Authorities overstepping the mark, or bending the truth in regards to both yours and their legal rights and responsibilities).
 However, I have to say, from my own experience and that of families I know, alhamdulillah we have never had any issues with them directly. It is far easier to be co-operative and just give the information they require from the begining and save endless investigations.

Sometimes, you may requested to fill in a questionnaire and / or forms detailing your time table, lesson plans, hours schooling etc.
You do not at all have to fill this in. You can simply meet the home education officer from your Local Authority or submit a report as mentioned above.

To fully understand what your Local Authority can request from you as a home educator (and also what they may ask for but is not necessary to provide) you can read more at Education Otherwise.

My experience as a home schooler and my Local Authority


Alhamdulillah, I haven't faced any difficulties with my ex Local Authority (I have since moved and have yet to meet the new one). I think so long as you respond to all communications, and provide the information to satisfy their requests, they won't bother you.

I've read online forums where many homeschoolers are facing ongoing problems with the Local Authority because they (the LA) overstep what they ask for, and the family doesn't want to back down on what information legally they are required by law to provide. My own feeling on this, especially being a Muslim Home Educator, is its not worth the hassle. Just give them what they want to see, and they will be satisfied and move on. But thats your own call to make depending on your own values and what is important to you.

I initially deregistered my eldest from a local Islamic School (because it wasn't really very Islamic....my husband and I were naïve in our expectations) when she was 4 and had just completed the first term of reception class.

I received a phone call from an Education Welfare officer who was insisting that I had to meet with her and fill in a load of paper work (which I knew I didn't have to do). I remember she also told me she would speak with my daughter to ascertain if she wanted to home school!

My daughter was 4 years old. What kind of question that is for a 4 year old, I don't know.

Anyway, long story short, I declined her meeting, knowing that she was in fact a social worker coming out to see if we were genuinely home educating or missing from education.

Instead, I telephoned my Local Authority directly, and requested to meet with the Home Education Adviser instead, since home education was her remit, not the Education Welfare Officer.

She came out and she was really quite supportive. She was an ex headteacher herself if I remember right, and showed genuine amazement at what we were accomplishing, which I will admit gave me a lot more confidence because I really felt I didn't know what I was doing back then (I still don't truth be told!).

The following year, she was too busy to visit as I believe there was a huge influx of home educators in our city at the time, so instead made a telephone appointment to discuss my provisions.

The following year and years since, I've decided to decline a visit and instead submitted a report which detailed our learning provisions, education philosophy and some photographed samples of work.

I include lists of books and resources we use, classes and clubs my children attend (without naming where and with who), basic interests, and give examples of learning and learning progression over the past year.

I try to be thorough so that there will be no room for speculation. Alhamdulillah I have never been asked for any further information or questioning after any of my reports.

Useful Home Education and the law links


Education otherwise - easy to understand explanations around your rights and responsibilities as a home educator and the rights and responsibilities of your Local Authority. Find various sample letters responding to various Local Authority requests. This is definitely your first port of call to find out more.

Education Act 1996 Section 7 - Government website detailing the right to educate otherwise (home school).

Education Philosophy and the Local Authority - information sheet from Education Otherwise explaining what an Education Philosophy is and how to write one.

Sample Education Philosophies - this is to show you examples to help write one. I do not endorse or promote the website or content of the philosophies listed. I'm linking it just to show you examples.

Facebook group helping you deal with your Local Authority - a helpful group to ask questions and seek out experience based advice.

Your Local Authority will also have their own guidelines available online, so use a search engine to search those out, or make contact to request them.

Home schooling in the UK and the law

1 comment:

  1. JazakiAllahu khayer sister. MashaAllah, very informative.

    ReplyDelete

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