The prospect of educating your son or daughter at home may sound like the answer to all life’s worries or like your worst nightmare, depending on you and your child. If you feel more in the former camp – or more probably, in the camp of ‘nothing’s ideal, but this is the best option’ – then what do you need to know?
Am I entitled to home school?
As long as your child is of compulsory school age you have a legal duty to make sure they have a full-time education. However, that doesn’t have to be done in a school, even if they have a Statement or EHCP. You simply have to make sure that they receive ‘efficient full-time education’ that’s suitable for
- their age, ability and aptitude
- any special educational needs they have
Going to school is the usual way to get this, but it’s acceptable to do it by other means. (The relevant law is Section 7, Education Act 1996.) You can be your child’s sole teacher, or you can have help from tutors, correspondence courses, family and friends. The Government’s guide to elective home education is a valuable reference here.
What if my son or daughter has a Statement or EHCP?
You can still home school, and you don’t have to follow the plan exactly as a school would if a different system would better meet your child’s needs. You will need to ask your local authority to amend the plan to record that he or she is getting ‘education otherwise than at a school environment’, which in this case would be described as ‘elective home education.’
A useful document to know in this situation is the Department for Education/Department of Health’s Code of Practice (PDF). When it comes to home schooling, the important parts are paragraphs 10.30-10.38, the section headed ‘Children and young people with SEN educated at home.’ This lays down all the rights and rules you’ll need to be familiar with.
How do we get out of school?
If your son or daughter is already on a school register, their name will need to be removed. The process varies depending on what kind of school they were attending:
- If you’re moving your child out of a mainstream school, the decision is entirely up to you. You will need to write to the Head teacher to notify them that you’re going to home educate and ask them to take your child’s name off the register. They don’t have the right to challenge this; they simply have to inform the local authority.
- If you’re taking your child out of a private school that’s not an independent or non-maintained special school, you deregister as you would for a mainstream school, and as for a mainstream school, it’s the school’s responsibility to notify the local authority. However, if you have a contract with the school, you will need to make sure you are complying with its terms.
- If your child is in a special school and you want to take them out, you have to seek permission from the local authority to remove their name from the register. Unlike a mainstream school, you can’t remove your child without the local authority’s consent – which they shouldn’t unreasonably refuse.
I don’t want to home school, but it’s that or nothing
Sometimes families find themselves in a situation where they may feel that home schooling is the only choice, even if it’s not what they’d prefer. Common situations are:
- The family is waiting for an assessment, or for another situation to resolve.
- Your child is suffering severe anxiety going to school, and you want them to learn in an environment where they feel safe.
- Your child is being bullied or the staff are failing the child, and you just want to take him or her out of harm’s way.
- Your child has been excluded, and you haven’t found a replacement situation yet.
It’s one thing to home educate your child because a school environment gets them overstimulated or because you have a particular autism-friendly system in mind that the school can’t provide, but it’s wrong, and the law recognises that it’s wrong, for a family to be forced to educate their child at home purely because their local provision isn’t good enough. Autism doesn’t stop a child from being a citizen of this country, and citizens of this country are entitled to have their country provide them with an education.
If you’ve taken your child out of school as a stopgap, you’ll need to make sure you get specialist advice and support from professionals to make sure they don’t fall behind academically.
If your ultimate goal is to get them back into school, though, and the local authority are failing to provide them with something suitable, your best bet is to seek legal advice, because the local authority are failing in their legal duty. The best place to start is to contact The Information, Advice and Support Services Network (IASS Network), IPSEA or another charity that offers legal advice; they can help you start working out how best to put pressure on the authority to meet your child’s needs and give them their rights.