Dealing with the local authority
Parents whose children attend state schools are ordinarily required to obtain council consent to withdraw them (although exceptions do apply and it is worth reiterating that no consent is required for home education per se). The withdrawal process involves parents setting out and submitting their proposed home education provision, which may or may not resemble school education but will adequately demonstrate the discharge of their legal duty.
Parents who have never used council schools (and those to whom the list of exceptions apply) are under no obligaton to notify their local authority of their child’s home educated status as they are responsible in law for providing education in the compulsory years. However, councils may still reasonably enquire about the educational arrangements for children of school age who come to their attention.
While there is no duty to ‘monitor’ home education provision, annual contact is considered to be a reasonable form of engagement by the local authority with families who are known to be home educating, whether or not children have previously attended school. LA requests for updates of provision should always be made in writing, and can be responded to in writing or according to parental preference.
Too often, we hear from parents who have been misinformed or obstructed by councils misinterpreting the law and guidance, and in particular applying unreasonable conditions to withdrawal from school. Our forum has proved to be an invaluable source of support (and sometimes advocacy) for families faced with such over-zealous officialdom.
Some parents who are new to home education find themselves being channelled down the ‘home schooling’ or school-at-home route by local authorities who tend to view education exclusively through the lens of the outcomes-based Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). This is essentially inimical to rights-based educational philosophies and autonomous learning.
LAs should be (but most are not) familar with different approaches and should acknowledge that home educating parents are not classroom-based crowd-controllers; rather, they are experts on their own children, whose learning needs they are committed to meeting through a personalised approach.
The outline of provision
When formally requesting consent to withdraw a child from school, parents are advised to submit an outline of proposed home education provision to the local authority in order to expedite the process. No form-filling is required and an overview of how the child is to be educated ‘by other means’ will suffice.
Many parents are apprehensive about ‘getting it wrong’, but in reality it is an opportunity to focus on their own educational aims and objectives, often with active participation from their children who may have clear views on their own learning needs. The outline need not be detailed or set in stone as home education will evolve to suit the child, not the other way round!
Families who are preparing an outline of their educational philosophy may find it useful to refer to section 6.2 of the statutory guidance, which sets out some ‘suggested characteristics’ of efficient and suitable education:
In their consideration of parents’ provision of education at home, education authorities may reasonably expect the provision to include the following characteristics:
- Consistent involvement of parents or other significant carers – it is expected that parents or significant carers would play a significant role, although not necessarily constantly or actively involved in providing education
- Presence of a philosophy or ethos (not necessarily a recognised philosophy) – it is expected that the parents have thought through their reasons for home educating, showing signs of commitment and enthusiasm, and recognition of the child’s needs, aptitudes and aspirations.
- Opportunities for the child to be stimulated by their learning experiences.
- Involvement in activities – a broad spectrum of activities to cater for wide varieties of interests appropriate to the child’s stage of development.
- Access to resources / materials required to meet the objectives of the parents – such as paper and pens, books and libraries, arts and crafts materials, physical activity, ICT and the opportunity to interact with other children and other adults.
Making reference to the above suggested characteristics in the outline (or update) of provision may be helpful for both parents and the local authority.
Additionally, the following prompts (originally devised by an experienced home educator) may assist parents in formulating their home education proposals:
- Will you and/or your partner/other trusted adults be involved in the child’s education on a day-to-day basis? This may mean actively teaching or as a resource for the child to access for help as and when required.
- Presence of a philosophy or ethos: What do you hope to gain for your child from home education? Do you intend to follow a structured approach, an autonomous child-led style, or a combination?
- Do you intend to review progress by discussion, by being involved from day to day, or by testing? Do you plan to follow the Scottish curriculum guidelines (CfE), another formal curriculum, or be led by the child’s interests? Does your child have particular needs you plan to meet or interests you plan to facilitate?
- How will your child be stimulated by, and benefit from, these learning experiences? Will there be opportunity for individual learning?
- What kind of activities will your child take part in? Do they swim, attend clubs, meet with friends, enjoy particular groups and activities? Do they have hobbies you can encourage them to develop?
- What resources do you have available to help you? This might include computer and internet for access online resources, books, videos, DVDs, television programmes, sports centres, out-of-home / after-school classes, group activities, museums and libraries, children’s kits (eg science kits), art and craft supplies.
Unlike one-size-fits-all schooling, elective home education offers a real opportunity to ‘personalise’ every child’s learning. And just as there is no template child, there is no template for a parental outline (or update) of proposed (or actual) home education provision, which should always focus on the aptitude, ability, interests and needs of each individual child.