- Why do parents choose to homeschool their children?
- What are the laws about homeschooling in the UK?
- How do I homeschool my child?
- How can I prepare to homeschool my child?
- How can I know if homeschooling is right for my family?
As a parent, you recognise that no two children are the same. Even close siblings can have very different personalities, behaviours, and needs. Because of these differences, traditional schooling can pose problems for some students and families. While most parents work with the school system to meet their child’s social and educational needs, some families instead choose to opt-out and homeschool their children.
In many ways, homeschooling is still an unconventional choice for families. However, it shouldn’t be discounted, and many children thrive being educated at home. There’s still a lot of mystery around homeschooling, though. If you’re thinking of homeschooling your own child, or are just curious about what it’s like, we’re here to tell you all you need to know.
Why do parents choose to homeschool their children?
Officially known as elective home education (EHE) in the UK, homeschooling can be a good choice for some families. There are many reasons a parent would choose to homeschool their child. Sometimes, it’s ideological differences with the traditional schooling system, and parents wish their children to be educated in an environment that best reflects their family’s views, religion, or culture.
Even if they don’t have philosophical objections to the local school, some parents are just dissatisfied with the education provided by the government and prefer to teach their children themselves. For families who live a nomadic lifestyle and travel frequently, homeschooling is also the ideal option.
It’s not always about the school itself, though, and sometimes homeschooling is simply the best option for a child. For children who live with chronic illness, attending a traditional school may be difficult if not impossible. This can also be the case for children struggling with severe mental health issues or who have taken time away for rehabilitation, such as for addiction or an eating disorder. Some students live with special educational needs and disabilities (known as SEND) that can make a traditional classroom an ineffective learning environment, and need more personalised teaching to thrive. Educating your child at home can also be a more cost-effective option than sending a child to a private specialised school, too.
What are the laws about homeschooling in the UK?
If you’re wondering “can I home school my child in the UK?” the answer is yes! In the UK, parents fully have the right to educate their children at home. In England specifically, education is compulsory, but schooling is not. In 1996, the Education Act passed by Parliament declared that parents are responsible for providing their children an “efficient and full-time education” that is “suitable…[to their] age, ability, and aptitude.” The act specifies this does not need to be through traditional schooling. Under the law, students must begin schooling by either 31 March, 31 August, or 31 December after their 5th birthday, depending on which day comes first. Students must then continue education until the last Friday in June of the academic year they turn 16.
However, apart from these rules, there are no homeschooling requirements or regulations. There are also no legal definitions for what constitutes “efficient,” full-time,” or “suitable.” Parents are not required to adhere to the National Curriculum either, nor is there any curriculum established specifically for homeschooling education. When homeschooling a child, it’s not required that the child study any essential core subjects (e.g. maths, science, English, or history). Homeschooled students also don’t need to advance through typical year levels, nor do they need to be tested at any point. In short, there are no steps regarding applying for homeschooling.
Though the laws and regulations around homeschooling in the UK are quite loose, there are still recommended guidelines for parents who choose to take their children out of traditional schooling.
How do I homeschool my child?
If your child is not yet five years of age, you don’t need to do anything–instead of enrolling them in a local school, you’d simply begin their education at home. However, if your child has already entered the schooling system, it is advisable to inform relevant parties of your decision.
In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland it is not mandatory to inform your child’s school you are taking them out to instead educate them at home. However, sudden, unexplained absences are cause for alarm for teachers and school administrators, so it’s best to let them know your choice. If a child is withdrawn from school, schools are obliged to inform the local authority and provide a reason. That said, it’s also not compulsory for parents to inform local authorities themselves, but it is advisable, especially if you think you might be seeking out advice and support from the authorities in the future.
The rules are somewhat different if your child has special needs, is the recipient of an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan set out by local authorities, and is attending a special school as arranged by the local authority. In this case, the local authority must provide approval for parents to remove their child from the special school. (If approval is not given, parents can ask the Secretary of State to settle the dispute). Consent from local authorities is also needed if a child is attending school as a result of a school attendance order, which is issued if the local council suspects a child is not getting a sufficient education.
In Scotland, it is a bit different. You must get consent from the local authority before removing your child from school, regardless of the circumstances. They cannot withhold consent unless there are reasonable circumstances, such as a child being on the Child Protection Register.
How can I prepare to homeschool my child?
Apart from this, there are no formal steps parents need to take or homeschooling requirements to meet before educating a child at home. However, there are logistic steps that can help ensure you are well-prepped for homeschooling.
Check your finances
Parents homeschooling their children are solely responsible for any related costs. These costs can be direct, such as school books and computers. However, if a parent will be leaving the workforce to educate their child, it’s essential to budget for that loss of income as well. If your child is dealing with health issues or special needs, at-home education may be the only option that works for your family, regardless of any financial burden. You may also be wondering about homeschooling and UK tax credits or homeschooling and benefits in the UK. However, there are no tax benefits or credits for homeschooling, nor is there specific funding for homeschooling UK.
Before choosing to homeschool your child, do some research and create a budget for what it will cost for the total of an academic year. This should include basic things like books and supplies, but also other costs, such as trips or excursions. If your child previously was receiving any meals at school, you’ll also need to budget for a higher grocery bill. In addition, keep in mind that if you have a teenager at home who will be sitting for pre-college or pre-university exams, you will also have to pay for those costs out of pocket.
As with any budget, it’s advisable to assume your costs will be higher than you think. It’s always better to have money left over than to not have enough!
Create a curriculum
One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling your child is that they can study in a way that caters to their needs and interests. Even with this flexibility, it can be helpful to create a curriculum. This way, you don’t have the stress of last-minute planning, and you can ensure your child’s homeschooling education is still sufficiently well-rounded.
Though it’s not necessary to adhere to the National Curriculum, using it as a guide is a great starting point for parents who aren’t accustomed to being educators. Starting the foundational subjects laid out in the National Curriculum is also a way to assess your child’s aptitude and interest in these subjects. Even if your child was vocal in sharing their experiences while they were in traditional schooling, you didn’t have the same insight as you do when they're learning at home. By going through these subjects with your child, you can gain a deeper understanding of how they learn, and create a more individualised curriculum.
If you prefer to opt out of the National Curriculum altogether, there are many homeschooling programmes in the UK and other resources available online to develop your own curriculum. You can structure this curriculum in any way you want, such as creating “themes” each month. You can also choose to adopt a certain educational philosophy, such as Montessori or Waldorf. Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to determine what kind of curriculum works best for your child. The benefit of homeschooling is that you can try things out as much as you want!
Determine if you’ll be enlisting outside help
Homeschooling doesn’t mean that you have to educate your child all on your own! Parenting is already a full-time job, and if you decide to become your child’s teacher, too, you certainly have your work cut out for you.
You can still be an efficient teacher for your child even if you don’t have an academic or professional background in education. However, it can be beneficial to employ the help of experts to ensure your child is getting the best education possible. This is especially true if there’s a particular subject your child struggles with–having an outsider’s help can prevent these tricky moments from escalating into something much more stressful! Even a once-weekly tutoring session can be a worthwhile complement to your child’s learning. (Psst–our GoStudent tutors are some of the best in the business, and your first lesson is free!)
There are also homeschooling groups throughout the UK. Organised by fellow home-educating parents, these groups are a great way to find support, advice, and new friends! Homeschooling groups are also an ideal way to ensure your child’s social development needs are met.
Educating your child at home doesn’t have to mean that they have to always study alone. You can meet up with parents in these small groups and educate your children together. This also helps break the monotony of homeschooling. If you’re unsure where to find these groups, Facebook is a great place to start.
There is also the option of flexi-schooling, in which children are educated both at home and in a traditional school, splitting their time between the environments. For some students, this can truly be a best-of-both-worlds solution. However, this method of schooling is still very unconventional, and there’s no guarantee you’ll find a local school that is okay with this arrangement. Still, if you think flexi-schooling would be the best solution for your family, it is certainly worth pursuing.
Prepare a space in your home
If you’ve ever worked from home, you know how important it is to have a designated area for work. If your child is doing at-home schooling, it’s just as essential that they have a designated “school” area. Creating a physical divide between school time and leisure time at home can help your child be more productive and more excited about learning.
If possible, create an entirely separate space for learning in your home, such as converting a basement or spare room into a classroom. Having extra space like this in your home is a luxury, however, so don’t despair if it’s not an option for you. Creating a specific homeschooling space can be as simple as adding a desk and a whiteboard to a corner of the living room. Don’t feel confined to the “home” part of “homeschooling,” though. You can take the lessons out of the home, such as to the local library. Field trips are also a great, fun part of homeschooling. If you’re studying nature, a trip to the park can be a lesson. If you’re studying history, why not go to your local museum? The options are endless.
Though you’re under no obligation to stick to a typical 8-3 school schedule, setting boundaries around learning time is important. Even if your child loves schooling, they still need adequate time to decompress and relax. Sticking to a schedule will also help you ensure that any learning goals or objectives are met.
How can I know if homeschooling is right for my family?
As a parent, you ultimately know what’s best for your child, and homeschooling may feel like the best choice for your kid. However, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. Being a teacher is not easy, and when you combine that with the stress of being a parent, you might get more than bargained for!
If you’re considering educating your child at home, weigh up the pros and cons. Have an honest conversation with your partner and any other adult decision-makers in your family and determine if it’s the right fit. Do you have the financial resources to educate your child at home? Do you have the time? Will homeschooling your child cause more stress in your family, or make you closer to your kid than ever? These are just some of the questions to consider before making the choice to homeschool your child.
The good news, though, is that homeschooling doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. If you try it isn’t the best fit for your family, you can always return to traditional schooling. As a parent, all you want is for your child to be happy and successful, and whether that’s through homeschooling or traditional schooling, it doesn’t really matter. You just have to do what’s best for your family.