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Home education: your FAQs answered

Learning to write at home
Thinking about home educating your child in the UK? We tackle some of the burning questions.

Starting out with home education can be a big and daunting step. We answer your most common questions on how to make it work.

Who is allowed to home educate?

Anyone who is a parent or carer of a school-age child. It's your responsibility to provide a 'suitable education' for your child between the beginning of the school term after their fifth birthday and the last Friday in June in the school year they turn 16.

You can choose what sort of education to give your child – whether that is sending them to school; educating them entirely at home yourself or with help from a tutor; or flexi-schooling, where your child attends school part-time and is home educated the rest of the time.

What if I don’t have any teaching experience?

This is one job you don’t need qualifications or experience for – although enthusiasm and commitment is essential!

How do you plan what to teach your child?

It's up to you what subjects you cover and how you teach them: one of the benefits of home education is that your child can learn at their own pace. The law simply says the education you provide should be balanced, relevant and broad, to offer a wide range of skills and knowledge. 

At school, English and maths are compulsory until age 14, with science also considered a core part of learning. Other subjects include history, geography, art, music, PE, religious studies and modern languages. However, you don't have to teach your child these subjects, and you don't have to teach them all at the same time: you might decide to devote a whole month to one particular geography project, fuelled by your child's interests.

Drawing up a timetable can help organise your child's learning, although home educators tend to become more flexible and less reliant on a timetabled approach as they gain confidence. 'Much of a child's home education takes place during conversations with knowledgeable adults,' says Edwina Theunissen of the support charity Education Otherwise.

How do you make sure you’re pitching the work at the right level?

For some families, home education is about allowing children to find out about the world at their own pace and in the way they choose: an autonomous way of learning, directed by the child's interests and academic ability. 'Home education is more about learning than teaching, says Edwina. 'Children can learn what they’re interested in, often learning more formal subjects such as maths through their interest. There's no need for standards or levels: children work at their own pace and it’s easy to see whether they’re interested or not.'

If you want to follow a more structured approach, using the National Curriculum as a guide to what your child would learn in each school year can be helpful in pitching work at the right level.

How do you monitor your child’s progress?

'With no standards or levels, progress doesn’t really come into it,' believes Edwina. 'It’s fairly obvious when a child is interested in a subject, and then parents can provide opportunities to learn more.' If your child is keen to learn, regularly asks questions and is confident and happy, then they are making their own progress. You might notice they are asking more complex questions on a day out, or that their vocabularly has expanded, or they are pointing out greater details when reading with you.

If your child responds well to a more structured pattern of learning, you could try consolidating learning through self-assessment tests and assignments.

Do you have to follow the National Curriculum?

No, although some home educators find it a useful guideline. You can access it through the Department of Education’s website.

Does my child need to take SATs or other tests?

No, but they can take these exams as an external candidate at exam centres such as colleges – you can contact them directly to find out how.

Do you have to do it all by yourself?

No. In the UK there are support organisations such as Education Otherwise, which has groups and local contacts in most counties, and the Home Education Advisory Service: a national charity which provides advice and practical support, including putting home educators in touch with each other.

Distance learning programs such as Oxford Open Learning can help by providing syllabuses and teaching materials. You can choose from individual courses or a full timetable and have access to a tutor. 'Our students do brilliantly well,' says Sue Ray, home education coordinator with Oxford Open Learning. 'Providing they do all the work, they will be well prepared for their examinations. Studying with us means students have access to a tutor to help with any difficulties, and because you've adopted a syllabus, local education authorities know you're providing a suitable education for your child.'

There are many local home education groups where parents can pool their resources and expertise – for example, you might give another child language lessons, while their parent can tutor yours in maths. Learning can also take place through visits such as to museums, art galleries, libraries or nature reserves, or by joining groups and clubs such as drama groups, gym clubs, music group, Guides or Scouts or sports clubs.

How do you make sure your child still socialises?

'There are home education groups in most areas,' says Edwina. 'Some arrange courses, some are just for socialisation. Of course, home-educated children mix with people of all ages rather than just their peer group because they are part of real life.' Taking part in out-of-school clubs will also help your child build friendships.

Do you need to keep evidence of what your child is doing at home?

Not by law, although the local authority needs to be satisfied that a suitable education is being provided and can intervene if they have concerns, so it's worth keeping some evidence of what your child is learning, whether that's through photos, copies of their work, a diary or an educational philosophy

How do children get back into the school system if they’ve been home educated?

It's quite common for children to go back to school after a period of home education. For example, you might have felt equipped to home educate while your child was of primary school age, but want them to go to secondary school, or have withdrawn them while they were suffering from an illness that they've now recovered from.

If you're considering sending your child to school, try to listen to their opinions and involve them in the decision. 'Often children ask to go school, and they often ask to come back out, too. Many children who have been home educated seem to be ahead of the level at which their age group is working,' says Edwina. 'As for a successful transition, I think it very much depends on whose decision it is.' 

Contact your local authority to find out about which schools have places – there is an obligation to provide a school place for your child, but it may not be in a school of your choice.

Is there any funding available for home educators?

No. This is something worth thinking about carefully, as one parent will usually need to sacrifice an income to home educate – although some parents are able to combine working, usually from home, with home educating. You'll be responsible for providing all the materials, resources and equipment your child needs, and for paying for any public exams they take.

Depending where you live your council might offer you access to school resources, a discount to your local sports centre and/or library privileges. In some areas, charitable trusts might offer funds to families with children of special educational needs.

If you're eligible for Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits, these will be paid until your child is 19 as long as they're in full-time education, even if it's at home. And in Scotland, eligible children aged over 16 can claim Education Maintenance Allowance.

Home education planning help

TheSchoolRun's home education planning pack offers templates, advice and information to help you start your home education journey.

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