Home education

I’m giving a great deal of thought to home education at the moment. This is a fairly new area for me and I’ve been reading up about the law and some of the practical challenges it presents to parents and local authorities.

Parents have an legal right to home educate – as enshrined in the The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 which must be read in conjunction with relavant
guidance issued under Section 14 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000

.The Scottish Executive published
draft circular on home education which included the following introduction:

1.1 Parents have a legal responsibility to ensure that their children receive an education which is suited to their age, ability and aptitude. Most choose to do this by sending their children to school. Where parents exercise their right to educate their children at home, authorities have duties to ensure that the arrangements are suitable.

1.2 Parents may decide to home educate for a number of reasons. They may, for example, wish to educate their children in accordance with their own wishes, including any religious and philosophical convictions. In some cases, a decision to home educate is made when difficulties have been experienced at school.

1.3 Parents of children who have attended an education authority school are required to seek the consent of the authority before withdrawing them to educate at home. There is no such consent seeking requirement for children who have attended an independent school or who have never attended school.

1.4 Education authorities have a duty to ensure that there is an adequate and efficient provision of school education in their areas. They also have a duty to enforce school attendance if they have reason to believe that parents are not providing a suitable education for their child ; this applies equally to children who have been withdrawn from local authority schools and to children who have never attended school.

1.5 Decisions on home education should be made in light of the circumstances of the individual child. It is essential that such decisions meet the legislative requirements and that the policy and procedures adopted by authorities are based on best practice and advice.

1.6 This guidance is intended to promote a consistency of approach across the country by setting out the legislative position and by providing advice on the roles and responsibilities of education authorities and parents in relation to children who are educated at home. It has been drawn up in consultation with interested parties to promote an effective partnership based on a shared understanding of what is expected from each of the parties involved.

1.7 It is important that education authorities and home educating parents work together to develop mutual respect and a positive relationship which functions in the best interests of the child.

Schoolhouse – the home education association in Scotland – provides some very useful advice and offers some interpretation of the above law (I’ve added the bold highlights):

According to the law, the education authority may not 'unreasonably' withhold its consent for the withdrawal of a pupil from a state school (N.B. consent is not required to remove a child from a private school), but the law places upon it a duty to ensure that each child is receiving a full-time and efficient education suitable to his/her age, aptitude and ability (also taking into account any special needs he/she may have), though none of these terms is actually defined. It is worth noting that the Scottish Office (now the Scottish Executive) has consistently declined to provide guidance to local authorities, asserting that interpretation of the law is a matter for the courts, but in the absence of Scots legal precedent, it is likely that the landmark English case of Harrison & Harrison v. Stevenson (Worcester, 1981) might be influential. In this case, where the family successfully practised an unstructured and autonomous form of education, it was held that a 'suitable education' was one which 'prepares children for life in a modern, civilised society' and an 'efficient education' was one which 'achieves what it set out to achieve'. Although most Scottish local authorities now accept that home education need not be anything like school provision, some education officers are still inclined to pressurise families into conforming to a structured model, and it is worth noting that elected members in some areas remain highly resistant to home education and have been known to ignore professional advisers’ reports and recommendations.

I fully undertand that some families wish to educate their children at home for very personal, religious or philosophical reasons and would wish to uphold that right. There are other parents who wish to home educate due to problems enountered in school, e.g. bullying – although I’d like to think we could work together to tackle such a problem. The Act and the Guidance regularly refer to a partnership between the parents and the authority – it would be my hope that this would characterise how we support home education in East Lothian. However, we have a duty to ensure the rights of the child are upheld as much as the rights of the parents – and such a commitment will always guide our practice. What do you think?