Education is compulsory - school is optional

HE in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland parents have the primary responsibility for ensuring that their children receive an effective education. Although this responsibility is usually delegated to schools, some parents choose to exercise it directly by providing an education based at home.

The following summarises the legal responsibilities of parents and local education authorities in relation to elective home education of children of compulsory school age. However, it should be noted that there is no case law known to us about home education in Northern Ireland, and it is assumed that, should a case arise, England and Wales case law would be considered.

Parental Responsibilities

Responsibility to Ensure a Suitable Education

The responsibility of parents is clearly established in section 45(1) of the Education and Libraries Northern Ireland Order 1986 SI 1986/594

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

Definition of Suitable Education

The following again assumes that England and Wales case law would be relevant in Northern Ireland should a case come before the courts.

An interpretation of some terminology used in the Education Act 1944 (replaced by the 1996 Act) was provided by an appeal case which was brought at Worcester Crown Court in 1981 (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson). In this case, the judge defined a ‘suitable education’ as one which was such as

  1. to prepare the children for life in modern civilised society, and
  2. to enable them to achieve their full potential.

The diversity of modern society and styles of education give parents considerable freedom of choice in enabling children to achieve their potential. In the case of R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (1985) (Times, 12 April 1985) Mr Justice Woolf held that:

education is ‘suitable’ if it primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so.

Examining the meaning of the expression full-time shows the hours spent on teaching in schools are not relevant to home education, which generally takes place on a one-to-one basis, or in small groups, in very different conditions.

Provided the child is not a registered pupil at a school, the parent is not required to provide any particular type of education, and is under no obligation to

  • have premises equipped to any particular standard
  • have any specific qualifications
  • cover the same syllabus as any school
  • adopt the National Curriculum
  • make detailed plans in advance
  • observe school hours, days or termshave a fixed timetable
  • give formal lessons
  • reproduce school type peer group socialisation
  • match school, age-specific standards
  • seek permission to educate 'otherwise'
  • take the initiative in informing the Board
  • have regular contact with the Board


Education and Library Board Duties

Enquiries about Educational Provision

Schedule 13 Enforcement of duty imposed by article 45 place a duty upon the board to take certain actions if it appears that a child is not being properly educated.

Part 1

1(1) Where it appears to a board that a parent of a child of compulsory school age in its area is failing to perform the duty imposed on him by article 45(1), the board shall serve on the parent a notice requiring him, within such period not being less than fourteen days from the service of the notice, to satisfy the board that the child is, by regular attendance or otherwise, receiving efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

The Board’s legal duty is concerned solely with children who appear not to be receiving suitable education. There is no implication that a Board should be active where it appears that a child is receiving suitable education at home. Nowhere in the act is it stated that regular monitoring of suitable education is a legal responsibility of the Board.

Evidence of Suitable Education

Although the legal duty of Boards is concerned only with children who appear not to be receiving a suitable education, case law in England and Wales (Phillips v Brown, Divisional Court [20 June 1980, unreported] ) has established that an LEA (Local Education Authority, equivalent of Northern Ireland Board) may make informal enquiries of parents who are educating their children at home to establish that a suitable education is being provided. In Phillips v Brown, Lord Donaldson said:

Of course such a request is not the same as a notice under s37 (1) of the Education Act 1944 [now s 437 (1) of the Education Act 1996] and the parents will be under no duty to comply. However it would be sensible for them to do so. If parents give no information or adopt the course … of merely stating that they are discharging their duty without giving any details of how they are doing so, the LEA will have to consider and decide whether it ‘appears’ to it that the parents are in breach of s 36 [now s 7 of the Education Act 1996].

If a Board chooses to approach a family and informally ask for information, parents can provide evidence that a child is receiving an efficient and suitable education in a number of ways. Parents might, for example

  • write a report
  • provide samples of work
  • invite an inspector to their home, with or without the child being present
  • meet an inspector elsewhere, with or without the child
  • have the educational provision endorsed by a recognised third party
  • provide evidence in any other appropriate form


In their leaflet, "Educating Children at Home, England and Wales" (received June 1998), the DfEE state:

3. LEAs, however, have no automatic right of access to the parent’s home. Parents may refuse a meeting in the home, if they can offer an alternative way of demonstrating that they are providing a suitable education, for example, through showing examples of work and agreeing to a meeting at another venue.

It is assumed that the same would apply to Northern Ireland.

Occasionally, after examining the evidence, a Board may have genuine concerns about a child’s education, but the way the evidence is presented should not form the basis for these concerns. Parents need only present evidence that would, on the balance of probabilities, convince a reasonable person that a suitable education was being provided.

Disputes Between Parents and Boards

It should be possible to resolve most disputes without recourse to formal statutory procedures. However, where children of compulsory school age are not being educated at school and the Board has serious doubts about the parents’ educational provision, the following scenario will apply.

Initially the Board may make an informal request for information. If the parents provide such information and the Board is satisfied that it appears that a suitable education is being provided no further steps should be taken.

If, after making informal enquiries, and then giving the family reasonable time and opportunity to explain or improve on their arrangements, it still appears to a Board that a child is not receiving a suitable education, then it may decide to serve a school attendance order. The Board should bear in mind, however, that should the case proceed to court the action will fail if the parents can satisfy the court that they are providing a suitable education. The court will accept evidence in a number of forms and will be looking for evidence that would convince a reasonable person on the balance of probabilities (rather than beyond all reasonable doubt) that a suitable education is being provided.

Schedule 13 Enforcement of duty imposed by article 45

2(1) Where, at any time whilst a school attendance order is in force with respect to a child, the parent of the child makes an application to the board by whom the order was made requesting ... that the order be revoked on the ground that arrangements have been made for the child to receive otherwise than at school education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have, the board shall amend or revoke the order in compliance with the request unless it is of the opinion that - ...

(d) no satisfactory arrangements have been made for the education of the child otherwise than at school.

De-registration

There are no known cases where parents have had difficulty deregistering a child from school.

The parent does not need to ask permission from the Board to begin home education and, as long as the parent has notified the governing body of the school, usually through the head teacher, of the intention to home-educate, the parent is under no obligation to inform the Board of their intention.

Procedures for deregistering a child are mentioned in Section 48(3) of the Education and Libraries Northern Ireland Order 1986, although it has not been possible to trace the procedures at this time.

Parents seeking to home educate children registered at a special school, however, must obtain the consent of the Board to withdraw their child from the school. Again, there is no case law to indicate that consent has been with-held.

Home Educating Children with Special Educational Needs

The right to home educate a child with special educational needs is also given in section 45(1) of the Education and Libraries Northern Ireland Order 1986 SI 1986/594

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

Parents of children with special educational needs do not need to have any special qualifications or training to assume direct responsibility for their children’s education. Furthermore, they do not need to inform the Board of their intention to home-educate unless the child is registered at a special school when the consent of the Board is necessary to withdraw the child from the school.

Deregistration from school

In England, when you want to remove a child from the school roll in order to home educate you need to go through the deregistration process. This involves writing to the headteacher or proprietor of the school.

Sample deregistration letter England

(also available as downloadable document - see menu)

Here is a suggested brief de-registration letter for those deregistering a child from a school in England. It doesn't need to be long or give any reasons for your decision or any details about your plans. If you have had a friendly relationship with the school you may like to add a note of thanks or give reason for your decision, but this is not necessary

Your address
The Date
Head teacher's Name

Dear Mr Taylor

Re: Catherine Jones (date of birth)

After careful consideration I/we have decided to withdraw my/our daughter from school in order to take personal responsibility for her education. Please delete her name from the register in accordance with Education (Pupil Registration) Regulation 8(1)(d) 2006, as she is now receiving education otherwise than at school.

Please will you confirm receipt of this letter and inform us of the date that our daughter’s name was removed from the register.

Yours sincerely etc.

It is advisable to include the reference to the Pupil Registration Regulation as there have been instances of schools failing to know or obey the law, imagining wrongly that they have some discretion over whether or not to "allow" de-registration. Local authorities are not entitled to stipulate that the home education must be "approved" before the child's name can be taken off the school register.


The relevant regulations in England are The Pupil Registration Regulations (England) 2006.

Education (Pupil Registration) Regulation 8, 2006

Under regulation 8(1)(d), a 'school-age' pupil's name is to be deleted from the admissions register if:

He has ceased to attend the school and the proprietor has received written notification from the parent that the pupil is receiving education otherwise than at school.

No Delay in Removing Child's Name from Register:

The 2006 Registration Regulations do not permit a delay in removing the child's name from the school roll. Please read 12 (3) on pages 6-7 of the statutory regulations. In the case of pupils who are being taken out of school for the purpose of being home educated, the "ground for deletion" is met under paragraph 8(1)(d) when " the proprietor has received written notification from the parent that the pupil is receiving education otherwise than at school." It should be noted that the 2006 statutory regulations specify that these are the necessary and sufficient "ground for deletion" under 8(1)(d).

Paragraph 12(3) reads as follows:

(3) As to the contents of the admission register comprising particulars relating to a pupil whose name is to be deleted in accordance with regulation 8(1)(d), (e),(g),(i) or (m), the proprietor shall make a return to the local authority for every such pupil giving the full name of the pupil, the address of any parent with whom the pupil normally resides and the ground upon which their name is to be deleted from the admission register as soon as the ground for deletion is met in relation to that pupil, and in any event no later than deleting the pupil’s name from the register.

Government Guidance says No Requirement to Obtain Agreement from School or Local Authority

163. School and local authorities should not seek to prevent parents from educating their children outside the school system. There is no requirement for parents to obtain schools and local authorities agreement to educate their children at home. Further information on local authorities’ role in home education is available on teachernet.


Special Needs children in Special Schools

Although regulation 8 (1) (d) effectively allows deregistration on demand, it does not apply to children who have been placed by the LA in special schools. Regulation 8(2) provided that in this situation a child cannot be deregistered without the LA's consent. This restriction is meant to protect the interests of more vulnerable children by ensuring that their special needs are met. But using it to make it harder to home educate such children could be interpreted as discrimination and prejudice. Section 7 of the 1996 Act makes it clear that the right to "otherwise" education extends to children with special needs.

A sample letter which could be used in this instance is shown below.

Mr/Mrs
Director of Education
Anytown Borough Council
Education Department
Full Address and Post Code

Dear

Re - (Child's name - date of birth - special school attending)

We are writing as the parents of the above named child, who is a child for whom the LA currently maintains a statement of special educational needs and who is a registered pupil at (name) Special School, (address).

After very careful consideration, and following amicable discussions with staff and teachers from the above named school, we have now decided to take full responsibility for providing for our son's education, 'otherwise than at school' in accordance with section 7 of the 1996 Education Act.

We therefore seek the consent of the Local Authority to allow (child's name) name to be deleted from the admission register of the school, in accordance with Education (Pupil Registration) Regulation 8(2) 2006. Once consent has been given we will provide our son/daughter with an efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability, aptitude and to his special educational needs.

We look forward to consent for (child's name) name to be deleted from the admission register being given to the proprietor of (name) Special School in the very near future and request that confirmation of such action be forwarded to us within the next 14 days.

Yours etc


 

Deregistration from school: Wales

In Wales the Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations, 2010 set out the conditions under which a pupil’s name must be removed from the admission register of a school. Under Regulation 8(1)(d), the name of a school-age pupil is to be deleted immediately from the admission register if:

the pupil has ceased to attend the school and the proprietor has received written notification from the parent that the pupil is receiving education otherwise than at school;

Parents of children who have been registered at a school and who begin home education need to inform the school in writing that they are providing education otherwise than at school so that the child’s name can be removed from the register. Parents do not need to ask permission from the local authority to begin home education and, they are under no obligation to inform the local authority of their intention. Under Regulation 12(3), however, the proprietor of the school must report the deletion of the pupil's name from the admission register to the local authority within ten school days.

Parents seeking to home educate children registered at a special school, however, must obtain the consent of the local authority to withdraw their child from the school or, if that authority refuse to give consent, without a direction of the Welsh Ministers. The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010 s8(2). Consent is required in these cases only to smooth the transition to home education for children with complex special needs. The regulations are not intended to be a hindrance to these children being educated at home and any such suggestion would be discriminatory.

Home education in Wales is covered by the Welsh Assembly Guidelines. These refer to the Education(Pupil Registration)Regulations,1995 that originally applied to the whole UK, where deletions from Admission Register are covered under Section 9.(1)(c)

The current legal status of HE

In November 2009 the Department for Children Schools and Families introduced measures in the Children Schools and Families Bill that attempted to change the law on home education in England. The Government was not successful, and the Children Schools and Families Act 2010 received Royal Assent on April 8th without any of the home education clauses passing into law.

The current legal situation in the UK with regard to home education can be summarised in the phrase, "Education is compulsory, schooling is not".

However, the processes and details do differ in different parts of the UK. The information on these pages relates to England and Wales. Please see our Scotland page or Northern Ireland page for information appropriate for those countries.

Home Education Guidelines

In 2007 Education Otherwise responded to the Government Consultation on Home Education Guidelines.

Education Otherwise recommends that the Department consider a number of innovative pilot projects aimed at promoting positive working partnerships across a range of urban, suburban, rural and metropolitan borough areas. The authority's role in these pilot schemes will evolve from a one-to-one inspection and monitoring role, which is neither cost-effective nor equitable, and move towards an advisory, information, and resource-based support role.

Introduction of new guidelines will go some way to addressing the current situation. However, lack of funding to local authorities continues to be a major impediment to the proper implementation of the law.

Any move to make a child's education the responsibility of parties other than the parent's strikes at the very heart of the legislative framework for education in England and would expose those other parties to formal legal responsibility enforceable and actionable in the courts."      Education Otherwise June 2007

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 applies to England and Wales:

Compulsory education

7: Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

a: to his age, ability and aptitude, and

b: to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

Home education is covered under "education otherwise", Section 7 and ensures that every parent has the right to choose not to send their child into the state schooling system.

At the end of 2006, section 4 of the Education and Inspections Act introduced the "Duty to identify children not receiving education", whereby section 436A was added to the 1996 Education Act.

Extract from the guidelines:

2.15 As outlined above, local authorities have general duties to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (section 175 Education Act 2002 in relation to their functions as a local authority and for other functions in sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004).

These powers allow local authorities to insist on seeing children in order to enquire about their welfare where there are grounds for concern (sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989). However, such powers do not bestow on local authorities the ability to see and question children subject to elective home education in order to establish whether they are receiving a suitable education.

Download the Government's Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities below.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/elective-home-education