What parents need to consider before choosing to homeschool their child

As a report shows UK homeschooling figures have doubled since 2019, an expert tells Lisa Salmon the important factors parents need to know.

The pandemic is thought to have increased the number of children being homeschooled
A father teaching his child (Alamy/PA) The pandemic is thought to have increased the number of children being homeschooled (Alamy Stock Photo)

There has been a major rise in the number of children being removed from school to be home educated since the Covid pandemic.

Figures obtained by the PA news agency show the number of children in elective home education (EHE) has more than doubled in some council areas since 2019, suggesting that the homeschooling experienced by parents of school-age children during the Covid lockdowns prompted many to opt out of the school system permanently.

Wendy Charles-Warner, chair of the home education charity, Education Otherwise, confirms there’s been an “ongoing, steady rise” in the number of children being home educated, even from before the pandemic, and she says numbers now rise steadily year after year.

There are many reasons for this, she says, explaining that many parents feel home education provides a better education for their child than school, or they may feel school “isn’t fit for purpose.” She says a few parents also home educate because their child was bullied at school.

The ultimate effect of the lockdown-enforced home education, she says, was that it demonstrated to parents that children could thrive without 100% school attendance.

“Parents also started to question ‘My child’s gone back and they’re not as happy as they were out of school’,  so that’s part of the driver,” says Charles-Warner.  “We’ve got parents who say, ‘Why is my child not happy and not thriving in this system? And they’re coming to the conclusion that the child’s needs are not being met within the school system.”

This is particularly the case for special needs children, she says, and for those with mental health difficulties. “Parents think, ‘I can actually do a better job’,” she says, pointing out that Education Otherwise research has found 54% of parents who’ve started home educating their children in the last 12 months have done so because they felt their child’s needs were not being met in school.

You’re thinking of home educating your child, so what do you need to consider?

Do you need any special qualifications?

No, stresses Charles-Warner, who has educated her own children and grandchildren. “What the law says is that if a child attends a state school, they will receive education through the National Curriculum. If the child is in an independent school, they have to receive a broad and balanced curriculum, but if a child is home educated, the parent has to provide education that is suitable to the child’s individual age, ability, aptitude, and any special needs they may have.

The parent doesn’t have to be qualified to do it.

“School is curriculum-centric, but home education is child-centric. So the parent builds the education around the child, and very often, parents learn alongside the child – the parent is facilitating the child’s learning, and often learning at the same time.”

Do parents need to quit work to home educate their child?

“This is part of the home education world that parents often don’t understand,” comments Charles-Warner.

“A lot of parents are coming to home education reluctantly – they’d prefer their child has a good education in school, but they feel the school can’t provide that. When they make that decision, very often one parent will have to give up work to educate the child, or they’ll have to make arrangements for the child to have supervision during the day.”

Can parents fit home education around work?

Charles-Warner says this is “very unusual”, although it occasionally happens when parents are self-employed, so they can juggle work commitments more easily. This can work more easily with older children, but doesn’t work well with younger children, she points out.

But there may be other options, she says. “You also get parents who cannot afford to give up work, so the grandparent or an aunt educates the child – I have educated some of my own grandchildren. Parents these days often cannot afford to lose an income, but you cannot work full-time and educate a child full-time, because you can’t be in two places at once.”

Is it expensive?

As well as the financial burden of possibly losing one parent’s income, Charles-Warner says home-educated children may use online resources or outside tutoring, which cost money. “Parents either have to commit a huge amount of money to paying third parties to provide that education, or one of them will have to give up work, or perhaps both of them. If they’re self-employed, they sometimes share their workload.

“It can have a huge, huge financial effect on the parents’ household income.”

How much time does it take?

There’s no official definition of how many hours per day a full-time education takes, says Charles-Warner, who points out that most parents start home education by trying to replicate school at home.

“They very quickly become much more child-led in how they arrange their provision,” she says. “They become more and more aware that every moment of the day is a learning opportunity.

I can pick up an object and I can educate a child completely from a single object. Parents take learning from what the child is doing and interested in. Home-educating parents develop the approach of making everything a learning opportunity, and that’s a really good education.”

How well do home-educated children do in exams?

Children aren’t actually required to take exams, Charles-Warner points out, so home-educated children may never take them. But she says if they do, home-educated children are an average of roughly a year ahead of their school year with regards to exam performance.

“They take exams in different ways,” she explains. “One of my home-educated grandchildren, for example, decided at age nine-and-a-half that he wanted to do a GCSE. So he took GCSE maths, got it at 10 and decided to get started on a degree course in maths and science, and while he was doing that, he did some GCSEs. Then after he’d got his degree, he did another couple of GCSEs.”

Do local authorities check on home-educated children?

Local authorities will usually make informal inquiries about home-educated children annually, says Charles-Warner. “If the local authority has any concerns, or they’re not satisfied with the responses the parents make, the local authority can serve notice on the parents requiring them to satisfy the local authority.

“If the local authority remains unsatisfied, they can serve a school attendance order on the parents, requiring them to register the child at school. If the parent doesn’t comply, they can be prosecuted and fined.”

What about the social aspects of home education?

Charles-Warner stresses there’s a common misunderstanding that home- educated children just sit at home with nobody but mum or dad, and that they don’t have a social life. But she points out that because home-educated children are often out in the community mixing and learning with people of all ages, plus still keeping in touch with friends they might have made if they once attended school, they usually have a good social life.

“They are out in the world,” she says. “There are home-education groups all over the country, so they meet up with other like-minded families. In fact, research finds that home-educated children are at least as well-socialised as schoolchildren, and often better.”

Are there any other considerations?

“Think very, very carefully about whether it’s right for you and your family,” stresses Charles-Warner.

“Most parents will have to give up an income to do it, and even if you don’t, you have to give up an awful lot of your time, and be committed to making sure your child receives a suitable education. You can’t do a half-hearted job, you’ve got to do the right thing for your child, and that can be jolly hard work.”