Education and the Law in England.
Last week, schools have reopened to reception, nursery and years 1 and 6. This begins the government’s phased reopening of schools in England. However, there is more at play here than the government’s advice. The degree to which parents are comfortable sending their children back to school is by no means uniform. One survey of school leaders found that only half of the 2 million students eligible to return were likely to do so on 1 June.
Though these are unique circumstances, it nonetheless highlights the balance between the three parties involved when discussing education. The parent, the child and the state each have rights and responsibilities of varying degrees and their legal equilibrium, or lack thereof, is a foundational political concept.
The balance between parent, child and state is invisible when functioning well. In recent years the most potent example of a breakdown in this parity was the recent controversy surrounding the teaching of LGBTQ issues to children in UK schools. In this case, parents protested the course material, asserting that it conflicted with their moral world view. They contended that the state ought not to have the right to teach their children things with which they profoundly disagreed. Put another way, they argued that their right to raise their children according to their own values was being overridden by the state.
This case is an example of one party calling into question the quality, nature or type of education provided by the state. But where does the law stand in regard to the desire to withdraw one’s child from formal education altogether? Home schooling, or ‘elective home education’, might not have been on the radar of many parents going into this pandemic. It’s probably safe to say that most are counting down the days until their children can return to school. For others however, home schooling might have revealed itself to be a more appropriate fit for their circumstances.
Education and the law in England states that from the age of 5 Education is obligatory. However this doesn’t mean parents have to send their children to school. This applies across all students, including those with Special Educational Needs (SEN). If a child with SEN already attends a school, removing their name from the register requires permission from a local council. If they have an education, health and care plan (EHC) the local authority must also be made aware of this. The local authority is legally obligated to assess home schooling arrangements for children with an EHC.
There is no legal obligation to follow the national curriculum. Indeed, the wish to deviate from the curriculum is often among the main reasons parents elect to educate their children at home. The natural extension of this it is not compulsory in England for children to take public exams like SATs, GCSEs or A Levels.
If a parent wishes to remove a child from a school, parents must contact the head teacher to ask permission for their child to be removed from the register. The head teacher is obliged to grant permission, the only exception being if the parents wish to ‘flexi-school’ their child, on a part home school, part regular school basis.
If parents choose to home school their child, there is no formal inspection process as with regular schools, and parents don’t have to have any teaching qualifications. However, while home schooling doesn’t fall under the purview of Ofsted, local authorities will contact parents to discuss plans. Evidence of home schooling can come in various forms. It can be a written account, the input of third party such as a tutor, evidence of work completed by the child, or through a meeting or home visit.
In a scenario in which the relevant local authority believes a child is not receiving an education, they have the means to compel parents to either provide evidence the child is being suitably home schooled, or send them to a regular school. This will take the form of a School Attendance Order. Under this order, the parents will have 15 days to provide evidence of home schooling or enrolment at the school listed in the order.
Failing this, the council can impose fines on parents, starting at £60 per parent, rising to £120 each if not paid in three weeks. If no payment is made after four weeks, prosecutions can be brought. This can take the form of a fine up to £2,500, a jail sentence up to three months, or a community order. Local authorities vary in how they monitor home schooling. You can enter a postcode on this government page to discover the arrangements in your area. Information from Oxfordshire Council can be found here.
If home schooling looks like it might be an option for you and your child, then supplementary online tutoring might be an effective addition. If you wish to discuss your specific requirement with regards to Education and the law in England, contact us and we will be happy to hear from you.