Home Education Law in England
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(2) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
Compulsory School Age
“Compulsory school age” is set out in Section 8 (2) of the Education Act 1996 which says that “a person begins to be of compulsory school age—
(a)when he attains the age of five, if he attains that age on a prescribed day, and (b)otherwise at the beginning of the prescribed day next following his attaining that age.”
Prescribed Days are defined in regulation by The Education (Start of Compulsory School Age) Order 1998 Statutory Instrument 1607 (Link) which states that “For the purposes of section 8(2) of the Education Act 1996 – (a)31st August and 31st December shall be prescribed days for 1998 and successive years; and (b)31st March shall be a prescribed day for 1999 and successive years.”
In other words, a child whose 5th birthday falls on September 1st does not attain compulsory school age until December 31st of that year. This is relevant to deregistration
Parents don’t have to request permission to home educate or notify anyone, but if your child is of compulsory school age and is attending school and you want to home educate, you need to tell the headteacher in writing to take your child’s name off the school roll. It doesn’t make any difference if your child has an EHCP unless it is a special school. Families aren’t required to produce examples of ‘work’ for inspection or meet anyone from the council. Parents aren’t eligible for funding when children are home educated.
Local authorities have a duty to make arrangements to identify children outside school who aren’t receiving education but there is no statutory duty to monitor home education on a routine basis. Suitable education is defined in law as education which is suitable to the child’s age, ability, aptitude and special needs.
DfE October 2014: “There is no minimum limit specified in law or in DfE guidance, beyond the basic requirement for full-time education if the child is of compulsory school age. 23 hours is about the length of time many school children spend in actual lessons, at least in secondary school, and someone may have seized on that as an indicator. But it has no legal basis…” More
No Duty to Ensure Home Education is Satisfactory
Section 437(1) is the first step in the School Attendance Order process and is framed in the negative. If and only if it appears to the LA that a child is not receiving suitable education, the LA shall serve a formal notice on the parent under section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996.
Prior to the formal notice, the law does not require the LA to “be satisfied”. The LA is NOT required to ascertain suitability in all cases, only to act where there is an appearance of problem or failure. Examples in the Guidelines of how parents can provide evidence only arise after a problem has already been identified (ie “if it appears…”)
There is no statutory duty to do anything at the outset, but if the LA chose to be proactive, it could take a general look (sometimes described as “informal enquiries”) to see whether there seemed to be a problem which might require further enquiry.
DfE ministers and civil servants have repeatedly stated that there is no overarching duty to investigate all home educated children or to pass judgement on the education of each child or to insist on seeing all home educated children More See also here
The Government Guidelines say that suitable education has not been defined in law, but this is not correct. A “suitable” education is defined in section 7 of the Education Act 1996 which says that education has to be efficient and full time, and suitable to the child’s age, ability aptitude and SEN. S7 is quoted in full in the Guidelines.
Section 437: School Attendance Orders
(1) If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education.
(2) That period shall not be less than 15 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served.
(3) If (a)a parent on whom a notice has been served under subsection (1) fails to satisfy the local education authority, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and (b) in the opinion of the authority it is expedient that the child should attend school,
the authority shall serve on the parent an order (referred to in this Act as a “school attendance order”), in such form as may be prescribed, requiring him to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order.
Education Act 1996
A School Attendance Order is only to be served after after all reasonable steps have been taken to try to resolve the situation. In most cases the SAO is threatened but not actually issued. Read more about SAOs here
New Home Education Guidance 2019
On April 2nd 2019 the Department for Education published new non-statutory guidance for local authorities which can be read here This replaces the 2007/2013 Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities. Read more here