Home education in the UK: FAQ

Home education means – not surprisingly – educating a child at home. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all his (or her) learning takes place in the home. Most home educators spend a lot of time out and about – at the library, the swimming pool, historic sites, camps, leisure centres… there are many places where education can take place.

Home education allows a child to learn from his own intrinsic motivation, rather than according to a pre-defined schedule such as would be found in a school. Home education allows him to ask questions and research things that interest him, and gives him freedom to progress as rapidly or as slowly as necessary for his unique ability and aptitude. Instead of having to follow a State or National curriculum, a home educated child and his parents can choose whatever learning methods and styles are most appropriate.

Is home education legal?

In most English-speaking countries of the world, everyone is allowed to choose to educate their children at home. In the UK, primary responsibility for education actually falls to the parents, according to the law, and not to the education authority or schools – although many people do not realise this.

Clearly, if parents are criminals, abusing their children, then their rights should be restricted, however they choose to educate them. Children need to be protected from harm, and this is a valid role of society in general – but, on the whole, more harm occurs in the school playground than in a normal home. See the page ‘getting started’ for details of what to do if you’re in the UK and want to begin home education, or home education abroad for links to sites with details of the relevant laws in some other countries.

Do home educating parents need to be teachers?

No. Teacher training includes a large amount of ‘crowd control’, as well as techniques for helping thirty or more children of different abilities to learn in a classroom. Knowledge is less important than understanding. Some home educating parents may not be as knowledgeable as specialist teachers, but they know where to find out more. They are usually familiar with the libraries, they take a lot of trouble to find appropriate resources, and increasingly they use the Internet to consult experts or discover more.

What is crucial is to open doors to new ideas, and to show children how to ask questions and research. Knowledge is only a small part of the whole lifelong education process. The page ‘What is education anyway?’ discusses this a bit more fully.

Are home educated children isolated?

A very extraverted child might find home education a bit lonely at first. But there are usually plenty of opportunities for social activities. Peer relationships are not necessary, so long as there are other friendships available. Suggesting that children should only mix with others born in the same year is very artificial, and most home educated children socialise happily with others of all ages, from toddlers through to adults. They are generally active in their community, perhaps taking part in church activities, or scouting groups. You can read the pages about socialising if you want to think further about this.

Many home educators belong to sports teams or play in orchestras, and are generally far more relaxed about these things than their schooled contemporaries because they have so much more time available – and less need to compete. In much of the UK there are home educators’ support groups, which both provide help to frazzled parents and regular meetings for both adults and children. The local groups page gives details of some of these, organised approximately by county within England, with the other countries in the UK at the bottom of the page.

Should home education be regulated?

Not in my view. In the UK, the education authority is allowed to make investigations if they believe that no education is taking place, but they are supposed to have at least some evidence of this. In fact many education authorities decide to ask informal questions or request home visits; some home educating families are happy with these, others prefer to send a report of their educational philosophy. As children learn in such different ways, and at such different rates, any kind of testing or regulation is pointless. It takes away from the intrinsic motivation of the child, and it suggests that ‘the system’ somehow knows more than the parents.

Further reading:

educating eclectically
socialising
getting started
not anti-school