Many new home-educators are unsure as to their legal position when choosing to home-educate their children. Hopefully the information offered below will help to clarify the legal aspects and your responsibility as a parent.
The responsibility of parents is clearly outlined in section 7 of the Education Act 1996 (England and Wales) (previously section 36 of the Education Act 1944):
- Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable –
- to his age, ability and aptitude, and
- to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
What is the legal definition of a ‘Suitable Education’?
A clarification of some of the language used in the Education Act 1944 (replaced by the 1996 Act) was provided by an appeal case at Worcester Crown Court in 1981 (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson). In this case, the judge defined a ‘suitable education’ as one which was:
- to prepare the children for life in modern civilised society, and
- to enable them to achieve their full potential.
Modern society and its diversity, and the numerous methods of education offer parents a lot of freedom in order to help their child to reach their full potential.
In the case of R v Secretary of Stage for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (1985) (Times, 12 April 1985) Mr Justic Woolf stated that:
Education is ‘suitable’ if it primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so.
What constitutes as a ‘full-time’ education?
The set hours spent teachings within a school environment are not applicable to home-educators. Home-education usually consists of one-to-one communication or small groups of children in a very different situation to that of in a school.
As long as the chid is not a registered pupil at a school (ie. has his or her name on a school register to attend full-time school), the parent is not required to provide any one particular method of education, and is under no obligation to:
- Inform the Local Authority or request permission to home-educate.
- Have any specific qualifications or educational background.
- Have any teaching experience in whatever form.
- Have a specific minimum family income.
- Have a designated ‘school room’ or area where education will take place.
- Provide formal lessons and adhere to a fixed timetable.
- Follow the National Curriculum, ensure a child studies for SATS or examinations, or push towards attaining age-specific standards and targets.
- Make detailed plans or give details of educational goals in advance.
- Adhere to school term times, days or hours.
What is the legal duty of the Local Authority?
Sections 437 to 443 of the Education Act 1996 (England and Wales), gives local authorities permission to take set actions if they have reasonable suspicion that a child is not being properly educated.
If it appears to a local authority that a child of compulsory school age is not being provided with a suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, a notice will be served in writing to the parent. This notice will request that the parent satisfies the local education authority, within the time limit specified in the notice, that the child is receiving an education suitable to his or her age, ability and aptitude (s 437 (1)).
The legal duty of the local authority is solely applicable to children appearing not to be receiving a suitable education. Other than this educational provision responsibility, nothing in the Education Act gives permission for a local authority to insist on regular monitory where a child is being home-educated.
However, there is a legal case (Phillips v Brown, Divisional Court – 20th June 1980) where it was established that a local authority may make initial contact with parents that are home-educating their children in order to request information. This requested information should be for the sole purpose of ascertaining whether a suitable education is being provided.
In Phillips v Brown, Lord Donaldson said:
“Of course such a request is not the same as a notice under s37 (1) of the Education Act 1944 [now s437 (1) of the Education Act 1996] and the parents will be under no duty to comply. However it would be sensible for them to do so. If parents give no information or adopt the course… of merely stating that they are discharging their duty without giving any details of how they are doing so, the LEA will have to consider and decide whether it ‘appears’ to it that the parents are in breach of s36 [now s7 of the Education Act 1996].
There are various ways that parents may provide evidence that a child is receiving a suitable education. Two common ways of parents doing this are:
- Via a written report – sent alone or accompanied by a educational philosophy and/or samples of work.
- By arranging a meeting with the local authority representative. This meeting can take place at home or elsewhere (such as a local library for example), and either with or without the child/ren being present. It is also perfectly acceptable to have a third party present to witness the meeting and make notes where appropriate.