Elective Home Education in Scotland


Who can home educate?

Anyone can! In Scots law, parents are responsible for providing their children with education, either by ensuring that they ‘attend a public school regularly or by other means.’ It’s that simple. You can choose to send your children to school, or you can choose to educate them ‘by other means’. Thousands of parents all over the UK take full responsibility for their children’s education themselves. You do not need to have any teacher training (much of which is concerned with crowd control, anyway), or indeed any qualifications at all. Home educators can be in traditional families with one working parent, in single-parent families, in families with two working parents, or with both unemployed. They come from all income-levels, and all classes of society. If you want to educate your child at home, you can!

The most important thing you need to know about home education…

Is that you’ve been doing it since your child was born. There’s no mystery involved! Home education happens whenever you show your child how to plant seeds, play a card game or weigh apples in the supermarket. It happens when you answer a question – or scratch your head and say: “I don’t know! Let’s see if there’s a website or something.” It’s going on when you read a story together, make up a silly poem about the dog, or count out Maltesers. Your child learns from you and everyone around her all the time.

As the questions get harder, there are other sources of knowledge – books, the computer, other people – until, gradually, your child is gaining all kinds of knowledge by herself: she has grown into a competent and knowledgeable teenager who has learned how to learn, and nothing can stop her finding out whatever she wants to know.

It really is that simple. As long as you keep helping to find answers, looking for interesting things to try out and enjoying your child’s company, she will make you into the educator she needs.

But what if he never asks about things he ought to know?

If something is important to him, he will learn it! There’s no point trying to force your child into doing something that doesn’t interest him, because he won’t learn a thing and you will both end up at logger- heads. Think back to your own school days. How much can you remember now of the subjects you disliked – apart from a few isolated and trivial facts? Wouldn’t your time have been better spent on the things that interested you? Chances are that, unless you’ve been unlucky, these are what have been important in your adult life.

Your job is to make opportunities available, and then watch to see what happens. Did your child enjoy that book of logic puzzles, the batik class, the poetry reading at the library? If so, how can you help him to take his interest further?

Children learn so much faster when they actually need or want the knowledge. Actively choosing to play a musical instrument, speak Italian or take a chemistry exam makes it far more likely that, with your support, your child will work through the difficult or boring patches because he has a goal in mind. Even if he chooses to stop, he will still have had another valuable experience of learning.

My child has just come out of school. She doesn’t ask questions and isn’t interested in anything!

It can take time for a child who has been in school to regain confidence – particularly if she has been bullied or made to feel stupid. Perhaps she’s been very bored, and now anything that resembles ‘school work’ is a complete turn-off. Home educators call this period ‘de-schooling’, and it may be quite a while before a child recovers her curiosity and self-esteem. The most important thing you can do in this period is to protect your child from outside pressure. The more enlightened local authorities will (or should) understand, and as for interfering relatives, fend them off! Better still, point them in the direction of learning more about home education and how it works.

Don’t panic, or try to take charge with an ill-timed maths book. Concentrate on keeping in touch with your child – go for walks, chat, play games. Carry on with life and the things you enjoy, and gradually your child will recover. Think of it as convalescence.

So how do we do the ‘education’ side of things?

First of all, you don’t have to recreate school at home or follow a set curriculum, nor do you have to be a qualified teacher. ‘School’ is a way of educating lots of people at the same time, and teachers are skilled in doing this, but with home education you’re able to draw on your knowledge of your own child and choose whatever form of learning suits him best. You don’t need any kind of ‘classroom’ either in fact, you’ll probably find that some of the best ‘learning’ happens while you are visiting a gallery, or chatting en route to the shops.

It may be that your child prefers to have some kind of timetable, and to use workbooks or computer software, at least for some subjects. There are plenty of resources around – take a trip to your nearest big bookshop to look at what’s on offer and see which books appeal to your child. Check out this website for ideas about useful resources that other children have enjoyed using, browse the web and ask other home educators for recommendations.

Perhaps your child wants to follow the Scottish curriculum guidelines? If so, information is available from Education Scotland. Some parents feel that they should use the curriculum guidelines  if their child is likely to return to school at some point, but this really isn’t necessary. Home-educated children who enter school don’t usually have problems academically, even without previous formal education.

On the other hand, your child may be doing fine simply following interests on a day-to-day basis. Home educators call this ‘autonomous’ or child-led learning, and it’s astonishingly effective.

You will certainly find it useful to have Internet access and perhaps some basic resources at home – dictionary, atlas, art materials and so on. Access to a library is quite important. Not only can you borrow books, music and software: you can use the larger reference books there, and will probably be able to use the Internet if you don’t have a computer at home. Librarians are potentially helpful allies in helping you find information and resources.

Whatever you decide to do, what really matters is your interest and encouragement. Learn with your child, and be prepared to stop whatever else you’re doing in order to help and answer questions.

Keep an open mind so that you can experiment and adapt to your child’s learning needs as he grows and changes. As he gets older, he may want to switch to a more formal approach, or take some correspondence or college courses. There again, he may decide to abandon the timetable he has followed for years in favour of painting or writing for days at a time. If you are home educating more than one child, you may well find that each child needs a different approach.

Above all, make decisions with your child. Any home educator will tell you that attempts to force children to ‘work’ will only lead to a lot of pointless arguments

How will my child socialise if she’s not at school?

Well, most home educators would turn this question around and ask: how can a child learn social skills when most of her day is spent in a large group of people who are all the same age? Home educated children tend to socialise much more widely, counting adults, younger and older children, and members of the opposite sex amongst their friends. A ‘peer group’ is more likely to consist of those who share the same interests, rather than the same birth year!

There are plenty of other home educators around, and in many areas regular group activities and meetings are organised – these give you the chance to get support and ideas too.

Look around your local area. Does your library or sports centre have details of clubs your child might like to join? Are there activities during the school holidays? Contact the leisure services department of your local council: what do they have to offer? Pick up leaflets from museums and arts centres – perhaps they have interesting workshops or courses.

If you have Internet access, you might like to join the Scottish home-ed email support group to find details of local groups and find out who lives near to you.

Doesn’t home education cost a lot of money?

It doesn’t have to! Many home educators are on low incomes, and gathering resources is largely a matter of ingenuity and experience rather than money.

Don’t rush out and buy stacks of books and equipment: you will probably find most of it languishing unused in a cupboard in a couple of years’ time! Buy things as you need them – and only if you can’t beg, borrow or hire them elsewhere. Order what you can from the library, and see if you can bulk-buy stationery and art materials with other home educators, or share the cost of any expensive items you might need.

Other things you can do: trawl charity shops and car-boot sales regularly. Find out if there’s a ‘scrap store’ near to you. Make the most of schools TV programmes. Keep an eye on the free software on the front of computer magazines. Ask if you can get reduced admission to exhibitions, or to school matinees of plays and concerts. Join a LETS scheme. Get an allotment… you’ll find that other home educators have lots more suggestions.

Home educators are not entitled to any financial support, but eligible children aged over 16 can claim the Education Maintenance Allowance in Scotland, and Child Benefit should continue until 18 so long as your child is in full-time, non-advanced education.

How do home educated children do exams?

Although it is difficult to take Standard Grades or Highers as an external candidate, GCSEs and A levels are an option, as are vocational qualifications or the International Baccalaureate.

It may be tricky to find course-work supervision and assessment, or an examination centre. Some local authorities are happy to arrange this, and Schoolhouse is working to ensure that this service will eventually be made available to everyone.

There are correspondence and online courses available, or your child may choose to go to college to take exams. Some colleges will allow children under 16 to enrol part-time or on a distance learning basis.

Think carefully about exams: does your child actually need to do them, or are you just assuming he should? There is no law that says you have to do them in a particular order or at a particular age – or at all! Some universities and colleges now accept home educated students on the basis of work portfolios or previous experience, and vocational qualifications can be gained through work.

For more information, see our Exams & Qualifications section.

What if my child has special educational needs?

Home education can be a highly successful alternative to mainstream or special schooling for children with a range of special educational needs, whether or not these needs have been formally recorded.

Children naturally thrive on individual attention, and as long as the home education you provide is suitable, the fact that your child has special educational needs (or additional support needs) should make little difference.

If you are home educating a child with special educational needs or any form of disability, Schoolhouse can help put you in touch with specialist support groups and other parents who are home educating their ‘special’ children.

And finally…

Home education is a partnership between you and your child, and that means it’s a two-way process. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect her to adapt to your priorities sometimes: to wait quietly while you see the dentist or try on a pair of shoes, and to let you have an uninterrupted phone conversation.

Look after yourself, and try to get some free time to do what you want. You don’t have to be a saint to home educate, and there are bound to be odd days when you are unwell – or wonder if boarding school wouldn’t have been a better choice! If you’re desperate, putting your child in front of the video with the biscuit tin for a couple of hours won’t cause irreparable damage to her IQ.

If you’ve only just started home educating, or are still thinking about it, the chances are that it all seems very daunting, but just take it a year at a time: the schools will still be there next year if you decide home education isn’t working out.

Give home education a chance, though, and you may well join the thousands who have discovered that not only is it perfect for their family – it’s great fun, too!