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New home educators – your questions, answered

The education of a child at home is a great responsibility for a family. It demands a serious commitment of time, money, patience and energy.

If you are considering educating your child at home as opposed to in a school, it must be borne in mind that it is the decision of parents as to what and how the child learns and that it is your responsibility to provide your child with a broad and balanced curriculum. Schemes of work and resources are not provided by Devon County Council.

The following information will hopefully clarify the situation and help you in making your decision; as well as outlining the way in which Devon County Council carries out its duties under the 1996 Education Act.

Do children have to go to school?

The 1996 Education Act states that ‘it is the duty of parents to secure an appropriate full-time education for their children of compulsory school age’.

Most parents carry out this duty by ensuring their child attends the school which serves their local community. However, for a wide variety of reasons, some parents/carers decide to take on the duty to educate their children themselves. This is referred to as elective home education.

The Act places the obligation on local authorities to ensure that home educators are providing an efficient education for their children, which takes into account age, ability, aptitude and any special needs that the child may have.

Compulsory school age

The law requires a child to be educated from the start of the school term following their fifth birthday until the last Friday in June in the school year in which a child reaches sixteen. If the 16th birthday falls in July or August, compulsory school age ends on the June date before the birthday.

Under section 7 of the 1996 Act, the parents of every child of compulsory school age: ‘shall cause the child to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his/her age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he/she may have either by regular attendance at school or otherwise’.

If, when you decide to home educate, your child is registered at a state or independent school you should inform the headteacher, in writing, that you are home educating and they will inform us. Please note that if your child attends a special school you will need the consent of the SEN O-25 Team before your child can be removed from school.

How should I carry out home education?

Learning support may be provided by parents, small groups of home-educating families, or private tutors.

Irrespective of how the child’s education is arranged it will be up to the parent to demonstrate to us that a suitable education is being provided.

Some home educators have a timetable showing the normal planned activities over a period of time such as you would find in a school. Other parents choose to follow a form of ‘discovery’ education where the interests of the child are followed. Yet others use a mixture of these methods.

Our interest is in establishing that a suitable education is taking place, rather than endorsing any particular method.

What should a home-educated child learn?

When a child is educated at home it is the decision of the parent/carer as to what and how the child learns. The education should be such as to prepare the child for life in modern, civilised society and enable them to achieve their full potential.

There is no requirement to follow the national curriculum, which applies only to maintained schools; however, parents should ensure a broad and balanced curriculum is followed.

You may wish to be aware of the content of the national curriculum as it does provide a useful framework, especially if you intend to return your child to state education or to pursue more formal qualifications, such as GCSEs.

The national curriculum subjects are: English, maths, science (known as the ‘core’ subjects), ICT, history, geography, design and technology, art, music, physical education and a modern foreign language (from 11 years of age).

Many published textbooks in shops and libraries are also based on it. Some publishers will give reductions to home educators.

What support is available?

All new home educators are allocated an elective home education adviser who can offer any advice you may need in relation to your child’s home education provision.

You will be offered an appointment with your allocated adviser to discuss your proposed arrangements for your child’s education and address any initial queries you may have about home education.

Thereafter, support may be provided either through home visits, telephone or email contact, based on individual circumstances and preferences.

All families will be contacted at least on an annual basis for an update on the home education provision and to provide you with the opportunity to obtain any advice required. However, you are welcome to contact us at any other point if you need any help.

Home visits

Home visits allow you to present a wide range of evidence in context and to discuss your child’s work in a comfortable and private environment.

The visit will take place during the school term time and it is helpful to us if it can be arranged during the working day. No discussion or advice on the education you are providing will take place unless an appointment has been made in advance.

During the visit, you may wish to show examples of your child’s work, including such things as artwork, poetry, handwriting, maths, photographs, craftwork, or short plays.

If a structured approach is being followed then a timetable linked to programmes of study might be useful. If a less structured approach is being used then a record in the form of a diary might form extra evidence that would be of assistance. Indeed, anything that you and your adviser agree will assist in demonstrating the quality of the educational experiences for your child may be included.

Open discussion, without the need for parents to provide masses of paperwork, can be a simple and satisfactory way of demonstrating a suitable education provision.

There are alternatives to home visits, such as:

  • meeting at another venue – we can arrange for you to meet with an adviser, with or without your child being present at a mutually acceptable venue
  • sending in a report that sets out your educational plans with examples of work
  • demonstrating education provision in some other mutually acceptable way

Once we have received a report from your adviser or information from yourselves concerning the education of your child, we shall inform you if we require any further information to ascertain the suitability of your child’s education.

If we are not satisfied that a suitable education is taking place then further visits and/or consultations may be offered with the aim of helping you to overcome the difficulties within a mutually agreed time scale.

If, in the end, we still consider that your child is receiving a less than suitable education then it is our duty to issue a School Attendance Order. This will require you to send your child to a school named on the Order (Section 437, Education Act 1996).

Please note: At any stage during the School Attendance Order process you may present evidence that you are now providing a suitable education. This will be considered and if we are satisfied, the Order may be revoked.

What if I decide to educate at home and then change my mind?

If your child has been out of school for less than 6 weeks, they can return to the same school under ‘fair access’. We can offer advice and support regarding this, as well as finding a new school. You can also contact the School Admissions Team at Devon County Council on 01392 383000.

Attending school on a part-time basis

In Devon, children generally attend school full-time unless there is a planned programme of re-integration. However, a parent may request that a headteacher admit their child on a flexi schooling agreement. This arrangement would be at the discretion of the headteacher and governors of the school as the child would be on roll of the school.

Home-educated learners are able to access further education college courses on a part-time basis to supplement their home education provision. This is called 14-16 alternative provision and is available when your child reaches year 10. They can access part-time courses which are mainly practical in nature but some also offer English and maths. More details at Alternative provision 14-16.

Safeguarding

Devon County Council has a duty under section 175 (1) of the Education Act 2002 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This includes electively home-educated children.

All agencies that come into contact with electively home-educated children are required to consider whether children are being adequately safeguarded within those settings and, where appropriate, to notify other agencies of their concerns.

What checks should I do before employing a private tutor/enrolling my child at an unregistered setting?

If you choose to employ a private tutor it is your responsibility to ensure that this person has the right knowledge and skills to take on this role.

It is entirely appropriate that any tutor should also be able to demonstrate Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance and provide references if they are not known to the family. Details of DBS checks are available from the Home Office website.

Similarly, if you decide to enrol your child at an unregistered setting you will need to assure yourself that effective safeguarding processes are in place as the Local Authority does not undertake this role.

What should I do if I move house?

We would be grateful if you let us know your new address. If you are moving out of the county, these details will be forwarded to the new local authority where you will be living.

It is important that information is kept up-to-date to avoid your child potentially being listed as a child missing education.

What should I do if I’m still undecided about whether home education is right for my child?

Deciding to educate your child at home is a major step that not only involves commitment but also a tremendous investment in time and energy.

There are a wide variety of reasons for choosing to home educate, but if it is due to an unresolved dispute with a school, we strongly suggest a dialogue first with the school to attempt to resolve any dispute.

It is also well worth talking to someone who has experienced the highs and lows of home education before finally making the decision.

Independent support agency addresses are available on our website and we are also here to offer advice and support.