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Is home-schooling right for my child and my family?

As the end of the school year approaches, many parents will be wondering if their children’s education is on the right path. Might they be happier and do better with home schooling? It’s an enormous step to take, but former primary school teacher Catherine Lynch of PlanBee knows the advantages and pitfalls

The proportion of pupils in England getting into their first-choice secondary school has dropped to its lowest level for a decade as pupil numbers surge. And in areas where the school-age population has continued to grow, the pressure on primary school places remains strong, with the proportion gaining their first choice falling to under 93% in some areas.

Parents who have been thwarted in sending their child to the school of their choice may be among those who are considering home-schooling from September. This may have been ‘the last straw’ for some, already concerned about issues such exam stress, the limits of the National Curriculum, as well as bullying and mental wellbeing. Parents of children with special educational needs may opt for home schooling, feeling that their child is not receiving the attention they need in mainstream education. But for many, the overarching desire is to escape from what they may perceive as a ‘one size fits all’ education system.

What’s not in doubt is that the numbers of families in the UK opting to homeschool are rocketing. In 2018 there were almost 60,000 children in England being home educated at any one time, although the number could be as high as 80,000. The Children’s Commissioner has reported a 48% rise in the number of children withdrawn from schools into home education between 2015/16 and 2017/18. Across the local authorities she studied, from 2015/16 to 2017/18 there was a 32% increase in the number of primary school children moving from school to home education, alongside a 71% increase in secondary schools

Do I have to send my child to school?
From the age of five, all children in the UK must receive a full-time education, but can be provided by parents or private tutors. The English and Welsh education departments’ guidance is that it must be a “suitable education”. Consults the government website for up-to-date guidance.

The English government plans to release new “rights and responsibilities on home education” but nothing has been published yet. Councils also want more monitoring powers, so that could well shape the new guidance.

What qualifications do I need to homeschool?
The simple answer is ‘none’. You do not need to be a trained teacher and, in most cases, you don’t need any formal qualifications. This gets more complicated if your child has a statement and attends a special school, so make sure you know exactly where you stand by contacting your Local Authority.

Who do I need to tell that I plan to homeschool?
If your child is of statutory school age (five-to-16) and currently enrolled in a school, you must write to the headteacher to tell them you plan to remove your child. You can ask to homeschool your children part-time, but the headteacher may not agree to your request.
If you do decide to homeschool full-time, the school will not keep your child’s place. This means should you decide to re-enroll them at a later date, your child may end up in a different class or a different school.

Will I be inspected?
The current guidance varies a little between local authorities (LA) so make sure you check with them. Most LAs will want to have a meeting with you or ask for a written report of the provision you will provide. This is followed by an annual self-evaluation form. One of the aims of this is to show the LA that you are providing a suitable education for your child(ren). If you are unable to do this, the LA can get the Education Welfare Officer (EWO) involved. Initially, they will support you to improve your provision, but they ultimately have the power to order you to re-enrol your child in school.

The new guidance is expected to suggest that LAs will have to assess each child receiving elective home education in their area every year. This will involve assessing the educational development of each child and may include a home visit, an interview with the child, seeing the child’s work, and an interview with a parent.

Is there anything in particular I have to teach?
From the age of five, all children in the UK must receive a full-time education, but it does not have to follow the National Curriculum. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is that you can follow your children’s interests and be led by them. However, it is expected that your child will develop their knowledge and skills in English, Maths and Science. If you do choose to follow the National Curriculum, or wish to use it as a guide, you can find full details at https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum

What do I do if my children are interested in a topic or subject I know nothing about?
Internet searches will give you loads of ideas, resources and information. However if you want something more specialised, PlanBee have loads of prepared planning that is ready to use. All our lessons have been made by teachers with years of experience, and whilst they are designed for primary classrooms they are also perfect for homeschooling families. Get in touch if you’re a homeschooler and we will be happy to share our expert advice and ideas with you.

Where can I go for support?
Homeschool communities tend to be very active, so check out where your local one is or join some homeschooling groups on Facebook. The gov.uk website can give you homeschooling information specific to your local council.  Education Otherwise has a lot of helpful resources and links to local homeschooling groups, as does Home-Ed.info.

Six benefits of homeschooling
1. You decide what your children learn so you can cater to their needs and interests. You can also be as flexible as you need to be.

2. You can spend longer on a topic if it captures your child’s imagination. If something is proving a tricky concept to grasp, you can move on only when your child is ready to. You have the freedom to decide how and when you child learns.

3. There is more 1:1 attention for your child than at school.

4. You can go on as many educational trips as you want to, giving your child more opportunities for real-life experiences.

5. Homeschooling communities tend to be very active allowing you and your child/children to meet lots of new people and make new friends.

6. You are not bound by school holidays and can take family holidays whenever you want.

Six disadvantages of homeschooling
1. Responsibility for your child’s education means taking on the roles of teacher, mentor, curriculum designer and careers advisor. This can feel very daunting.

2. You don’t get a break, which can be difficult if you are finding some aspects of life or behaviour challenging so it’s important that you guard against burn-out. Constantly adapting to meet your child’s needs can be difficult and feel relentless at times.

3. Creating opportunities for your child to meet their peers is likely to cause some parents anxiety.

4. The LA has a duty of care to the children living in its area so it will carry out checks, which may feel like undergoing an inspection.

5. Applying to sixth-form college or university may prove tricky without standardised test results such as GCSEs and A-levels. Providing references will also be more complex.

6. It can be expensive. Take account of your potential loss of earnings as well as the expense of the educational resources and trips you will need to complement your child’s learning.

Catherine Lynch is a former primary school teacher. She now works at PlanBee, which provides ready-to-use lesson plans to primary schools.

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