More often known as home education, the homeschool scene in the UK is rather different than in the US. This article helps explain the UK system by showing how it contrasts with the homeschooling situation in the United States.
How the Law Differs
The system of home schooling in the US and the system of home education have a major underlying difference that shapes a number of facets of how they have evolved and what we know about them. The difference is in the education law and its view of where the responsibility for education lies.
The United States education system is underpinned by the states’ compulsory education laws. Though they differ a bit in the years during which they require a child to be schooled – children may be required to start school at age 5 – 8 and not allowed to leave until age 16 – 18 – they all require public schooling or acceptable substitutes (for example, private school, homeschooling), with criteria set by the state for how this works.
The situation in the United Kingdom is quite different because responsibility for a child’s education is posited to rest with the parents, not with the government: “The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents. In England, Education is compulsory, but school is not.” states the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities.
Contact between Home Educating Parents and the Government
While parents in the US – who are, in effect, replacing the state as the child’s educators – must be in contact with the state to have their curriculum approved and provide proof of the child’s achievements and attendance, parents in the UK are not under such obligations, and this is explicitly stated in the Guidelines document:
“Parents are not required to register or seek approval from the local authority to educate their children at home.”
That is, in the UK, the parents have the authority to determine who will teach their child. Whether or not to engage other educators in, for example, a state run school, to provide the child’s education if they do not wish to undertake the task themselves is entirely at their discretion.
Given what we already have seen, it is not surprising to learn that the UK does not provide a minimum course of study, curriculum frameworks, or mandatory state standards that home educators must follow. Instead,t he “Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities” says that parents are required to use their discretion in ensuring that their child of schooling age “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.” The education is deemed suitable if it “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member . . . 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.” Some elements of this may not be clear, but it is clear that this leaves parents a lot of leeway in deciding what to teach and how to teach it.
How the Statistics Differ
Given the legal situation, the United States Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences (NCES at IES) is obligated to track the students in the United States who are homeschooled. Therefore, we can know things such as that there were 1,096,000 homeschooled students in the United States in 2003: 2.2% of all K – 12 students in the country.
Because of the legal situation in the UK, no such obligation exists, and a study designed to gather such information and called “Prevalence of Home Education in England – A Feasibility Study” was forced to the conclusion that it is not possible to collect the data. It concludes that, “it is not feasible to reliably ascertain the prevalence of home educated children through a national survey.” The Local Authorities (LA’s) don’t have the information needed because parents needn’t report their choice to educate their children at home, they can just go ahead and do it. The number of students known to be home-educated varied between 0.09% and 0.42% of the total school population in the areas that were surveyed, and there was no hope, at the end of the study, of procuring better data.
National Center for Education Statistics, “Homeschooling in the United States: 2003,” Table 2 http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/homeschool/TableDisplay.asp?TablePath=TablesHTML/table_2.asp
Department for children, schools and families “2006041 – Prevalence of Home Education in England – A Feasibility Study” -dcsf.gov.uk/research
Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities –dcsf.gov.uk/localauthorities
Infoplease.com “State Compulsory School Attendance Laws” – infoplease.com/ipa/A0112617