Home education in England: the facts
In England, education is compulsory, but sending your child to school is not. This means that by law, you have the right to teach your child at home, including if your child has special educational needs (SEN).
You don’t need to be a teacher or have educational qualifications to home educate. You aren’t required to follow the national curriculum, and your child doesn’t have to take exams like SATs, GCSEs or A Levels. But you do have to make sure your child is receiving a suitable full-time education (although this doesn't mean you have to stick to school hours and term times).
Who do you have to notify if you want to home educate in England?
If your child is already at school, you must write to the head teacher to ask for their name to be removed from the register. The head must accept if you're taking your child out of school completely. But they do have the right to refuse requests to flexi-school (home educating part-time, and sending your child to school the rest of the time).
If your child isn’t yet at school but you've been offered a school place that you no longer want to take up, you must formally remove your child’s name from the register. This is usually done by filling in a form from your local authority.
If your child hasn’t started school and you haven’t applied for a school place yet, you don't need to do anything to officially begin to home educate. You must start providing an education once they've turned five.
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In all of these cases, there's no obligation for you to contact the local authority, although when they become aware that your child isn't registered at a school, they might contact you to ask what provision you have made for their education.
What if your child has special education needs?
If your child attends a special school, you'll need permission from the local council before their name can be removed from the register and you can start educating them at home. You'll also have to notify the council if they have an education, health and care (EHC) plan, even if they're currently at a mainstream school or haven't yet started school. This is to make sure that their needs are met, and you may be able to get help with teaching them at home.
What if you're divorced?
In families where parents have separated, either parent can choose to home educate their child without the other parent’s consent. The other parent can, however, challenge the decision in court.
What home education evidence do you have to provide?
If you withdraw your child from school, it's likely your local council will want to discuss your plans for providing a home education. This can be through a home visit or a meeting outside the home, or written evidence such as a report, samples of work that your child has done at home or verification from an independent tutor. You should be allowed a reasonable time to prepare this, and a reasonable time to get into the swing of home educating before they expect any evidence.
You don't have to provide evidence about how you're educating your child, but if you refuse, there's a risk that council will assume that you're not providing a suitable education. In this case, they can serve a School Attendance Order, compelling you to send your child to school, with a fine if you don't – so it's worth complying with their requests.
Do you have to be inspected?
Unlike schools, which are inspected by Ofsted, there's no legal obligation for home educating families to be inspected. However, in practice, many local councils do monitor home educated children. This could be through a one-off visit, or more regular monitoring (even on a yearly basis) to check that you're still providing a suitable education as your child gets older.
If the council wants to inspect the provision you're making for your child, they'll make what's known as an informal enquiry. You have the right to refuse to let them monitor you, but again, if they have concerns about your child's welfare or the education they're getting, they can issue a School Attendance Order.
Monitoring needn't take the form of a formal inspection: often, councils are satisfied with a written statement of how you're providing for your child.
If your child has an EHC plan, the council has a duty to assess your arrangements each year to make sure their needs are being met.
Does the process vary between counties?
Yes: there are guidelines provided by the government but, ultimately, local councils can make their own arrangements for how they ask home educating families to set up, and how they're inspected or monitored. You can find out about procedures in your area by entering your postcode here.
Is the law different throughout the UK?
It’s similar, but see our guides to home educating in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.