Throughout this guidance, ‘parents’ should be taken to include all those with parental responsibility, including guardians (and foster carers, although in this case the local authority may be the corporate parent).
According to the law, it is parents, not the local authority who are responsible for ensuring that their child, is properly educated (if they are of compulsory school age).
Despite the term ‘compulsory school age’, education does not have to be undertaken through attendance at school, even though the parents of any child living in England can request a state-funded school place (i.e. maintained or Academy mainstream) and the local authority is obliged to find one – or they must make alternative arrangements for education of your child.
What does the Law say?
Whilst there is no legislation that deals specifically with home education, 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 –Section 7 of the Education Act 1996
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
Note: We will refer to this duty in this and our other pages as ‘Section 7’.
In simpler terms, parents have the legal right to choose whether to provide this education themselves* or to ask the local authority (LA) to provide it for them (usually by completing the pupil admission application or an In Year application. You can see more information about how the LA deliver on this duty in our ‘School’s Admissions’ page(s).
*There are a couple of exceptions to this. 1) When a child has an EHCP and is already being educated at a Special School in which case permission must be sought from the LA (generally through an Interim / Emergency Review of the EHCP) and given before a parent can remove them from the school and 2) If your child is attending any school as a result of a school attendance order; this order must be revoked by the authority before you can have your child’s name removed from the admission register.
Where a parent has opted to provide education for their child or young person themselves, this is done either at home – or at home and in some other way which they choose. This is known as ‘Elective Home Education’ and is a form of the wider ‘education otherwise than at school’. The parent takes all responsibility (including financial) for this provision and the local authority is no longer obliged to find a school place or make alternative arrangements for the education of your child.
Where a parent has asked the LA to provide a school place, for most children this can be done through providing a full-time mainstream education in one of their schools or local Academies. However, where a child’s education cannot meet the ‘efficient, full-time’ criteria this way (for example if they have been excluded, the child is too ill to attend school, or a pupil’s SEN requires a more specialist placement), the LA would have a duty to provide an education either through a specialist placement or ‘education otherwise than at school’.
Whilst parents could be guilty of an offence if a pupil fails to attend school regularly (or known that the pupil is failing to attend and does nothing to change this), Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 also states that that parents have a defence if they can prove that there was reasonable justification for a child not attending regularly or they can prove that the child was prevented from attending by reason of sickness or any unavoidable cause. Exclusion would be a defence under these sections.
Educating children at home can work well when it is a positive choice and carried out with a proper regard for the needs of the child. However, as local authorities struggle to meet the increasing need for more alternative provision, specialist support and placements, many parent/carers feel they have no choice but to remove their child or young person from the school environment altogether. However, this decision should not be taken lightly.
The Department of Education’s guidance for parents and local authorities has been written:
‘in the hope that where those parents who wish to educate their children at home and do it well, are helped to do so. However, if parents are in a position where they are educating a child at home but would prefer not to be doing so – or feel pressure to start educating a child at home, but know this will present difficulties – the guidance aims to set out what they need to consider and when they should seek help’.Elective Home Education: Guide for parents April 2019
The following pages will consider this guidance alongside the parental and/or LA responsibility to provide an efficient, full time education for their child, paying special attention to the exceptions (as mentioned above).
Elective Home Education – Departmental Advice for Parents
Elective Home Education – Departmental guidance for local authorities