Elective Home Education in Scotland
Please, please, please ensure that you use the correct terminology when referring to elective home education (usually known as home education). Please also be mindful of the fact that home schooling is an American term which is not generally used by home educators in the UK.
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Background to Schoolhouse
Schoolhouse was founded in Dundee in 1996 by a group of families from the Tayside area who found that there was a lack of information and support for home educators in Scotland. It quickly grew into a national organisation with members in every Scottish local authority area and now deals with 120-150 enquiries per month, with seasonal peaks and troughs. Schoolhouse is a recognised Scottish charity, which is funded by voluntary donations and small project grants. It is run by a co-ordinator and a small team of volunteers, all of whom are currently home educating, or have previously home educated, their own children.
What is the legal position regarding home education?
Parents have the legal duty to ensure that their children are suitably educated between the ages of five and 16 and may discharge that responsibility either by sending them to a state school or ‘by other means’, which includes the provision of a home-based education. For fuller information, please refer to our section about the law relating to home education in Scotland.
How many children are home educated in Scotland?
No definitive figures exist as there is no requirement for families to register with, or otherwise inform, their local authority if they decide to home educate, except when they seek to remove their child(ren) from a public (state) school. The Scottish Government publishes annually the number of children from each local authority area who are withdrawn from state schools to be electively home educated, but there are many more home educated children than official figures suggest. Based on enquiry numbers and independent research findings, there may be between 5000 and 6000 home educated children in Scotland.
Why do families decide to home educate?
There are probably as many reasons for home educating as there are individual families, but they fall broadly into two categories: those who decide from the outset not to send their children to school and those who have withdrawn their children, often due to problems with a particular school or the system in general. Some parents may be opposed to schooling in principle or hold particular beliefs or philosophies which cannot be reconciled with the education system, while others may feel that their child is too young to start formal education or has special needs that will not be adequately catered for in a classroom setting with 20+ other children. For those parents who remove their children from school, bullying (by other children or staff) and unmet special needs are the most cited reasons, but there are many different circumstances which lead families to home education. For example, some parents are concerned about poor academic or behavioural standards in schools and feel they can do better themselves, while others do not secure the school of their choice and opt for home education on a temporary basis until a place becomes available; yet others (and increasingly young people themselves) simply find out by accident or through research that home education is legal and decide to try it. Often families who make the choice for negative reasons find it so successful that they decide to continue indefinitely!
What sort of families home educate?
All sorts! Home educators come in all shapes and sizes, from all social classes and backgrounds. The only prerequisite is that parents have an interest in, and commitment to, their child(ren)’s education.
Do parents have to be qualified teachers?
No. Being a parent is the only qualification required, but research suggests that around one third of home educators are qualified teachers.
What if children have additional support or special educational needs?
Children with additional support or special educational needs often derive significant benefits from the individually tailored education parents can provide to suit their specific learning styles and needs.
What would be a typical home education day?
There is probably no such thing as a typical day as families approach home education in very different ways to suit their individual circumstances. Some may undertake formal ‘work’ for part of the day, allowing children to pursue their own activities and interests for the rest of the time, while others opt for a completely autonomous approach. Very few families do ‘school at home’ as most prefer to get out and take advantage of the many learning opportunities that are available in the wider community.
How do home educated children socialise? Are they not socially isolated?
Home educated children have a great advantage over their schooled counterparts in that they have the opportunity to mix with people of all ages and backgrounds, including their peers, in the real world. By contrast, school pupils are segregated for much of the day in same-age groups and are consequently much more limited in their opportunities for social contact. Home education is no longer a minority interest and there are now many more activities and groups dedicated to the needs of home educated children, including teenager-run groups. Additionally, home educated children can join the usual ‘out of school’ activities where they can meet and mix with schooled children if they choose.
Do home educators have to follow a set timetable?
No, but families often schedule in regular activities to suit their own particular routine. Timetables may be necessary in a school situation with several hundred children to accommodate, but they are irrelevant in the more informal and inherently flexible home education setting.
Do home educators have to follow the Scottish curriculum guidelines?
There is no requirement to follow Scottish curriculum guidelines, or indeed any formal curriculum, although some families may choose to do so.
How can parents teach a full range of subjects? Surely PE, Science and Languages are particularly difficult?
Home educating families can (if they choose) cover a broad range of ‘subjects’ but do not necessarily do so in the same way as in school. Parents, grandparents and family friends may share their expertise in specific areas; children may choose to enrol on distance learning courses or attend dedicated classes, groups, clubs and activities.
What about exams?
Young people are not obliged to take exams at all, although many choose to do so, sometimes earlier or later than their schooled counterparts. There are a number of options, including distance learning, evening classes and part-time courses. Home educated young people will find it difficult to obtain conventional Scottish school based qualifications, but can access the equivalent English-based GCSEs and A- Levels through open learning packages or via attendance at further education colleges. It is worth noting that home educated young people without the requisite formal qualifications may be, and have been, admitted to further and higher education institutions by interview alone.
What expenses are involved in home education? Can families access any state funding or other resources?
Home education need not be expensive as many free and inexpensive resources are available, e.g. through public libraries or the Internet. There is no entitlement to state funding for families who choose to home educate, but local authorities have discretion to offer resources and support. Child Benefit and the Education Maintenance Allowance may be available for home educated young people over 16 subject to their meeting the eligibility criteria.
Do children not drive the parents mad (and vice versa!) if they are together all the time?
Home educating parents like being with their children or they wouldn’t be doing it! There is no seam between life and learning for most home educating families, so there is no regular cultural change between home and school which can often create stress and exacerbate tensions within families.
Do families need permission from the local authority to home educate?
No parent (who has full parental rights and responsibilities) needs permission to home educate per se since the provision of compulsory education is essentially a parental responsibility. Consent is only required from the local authority when a parent seeks to withdraw a child of school age from a state school in Scotland, and this consent may not be unreasonably withheld. For fuller information, please refer to our section about the law relating to home education in Scotland.
Does it work? How do you know?
Research has consistently demonstrated that home education works very well, with many young people going on to pursue university degrees and successful careers. However, for most home educating families, what counts for success is their having achieved what they set out to achieve for their children, whether that is conventional academic qualifications or simply finding happiness and fulfilment by their own lights.