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Elective Home Education and Unregistered Schools

Scope of this chapter

This chapter sets out key principles in line with Elective Home Education: Guidelines for Local Authorities (Department for Education).

Additional local information will be added to this chapter at the next update.

Related guidance

‘Elective home education’ is the term used by the government to describe the decision of parents* to provide education for their children at home instead of sending them to school. This is different to home tuition provided by a local authority or education provided by a local authority other than at a school.

The responsibility for a child's education rests with their parents. In England, education is compulsory, but school is not.

Parents may decide to exercise their right to home educate their child from a very early age and so the child may not have been previously enrolled at school. They may also elect to home educate at any other stage up to the end of compulsory school age. Parents are not required to register or seek approval from the local authority to educate their children at home. (The only exception to this is where the child is attending a special school under arrangements made by the local authority, in which case additional permission is required from the authority before the child's name can be removed from the register).

Parents who choose to educate their children at home must be prepared to assume full financial responsibility, including bearing the cost of any public examinations. Parents must also ensure that their children receive suitable full-time education for as long as they are being educated at home – see Section 2, ‘Suitable Education’.

Parents' right to educate their child at home applies equally where a child has SEN.

Schools must not seek to persuade parents to educate their children at home as a way of avoiding an exclusion or because the child has a poor attendance record. In the case of exclusion, they must follow the statutory guidance. If the pupil has a poor attendance record, the school must address the issues behind the absenteeism.

Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis. Their statutory duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996 to identify children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education (see Children Missing Education Procedure) does not apply to children who are being educated at home.

(*'parents' should be taken to include all those with parental responsibility, including guardians and carers).

Parents have a responsibility to ensure that their children receive a suitable education including where they elect to home educate. This is set out in Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act, which states that:

‘The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him/her to receive efficient full-time education suitable:

  1. To age, ability and aptitude; and
  2. To any special education needs he/she may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise’.

An ‘efficient’ and ‘suitable’ education is not defined in statute, but ‘efficient’ has been broadly described in case law as an education that ‘achieves that which it sets out to achieve’, and a ‘suitable’ education is one that ‘primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he/she 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/she wishes to do so’.

NSPCC (2014) has identified that while ‘Home-educating parents or carers are not more likely than others to abuse or neglect their children’, a number of Serious Case Reviews demonstrate that there is ‘a small minority of home educators who use elective home education as a cover to conceal child neglect and abuse’.

Local authorities have no statutory powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education.

Staff who come in to contact with families choosing to home educate should follow the usual Safeguarding Procedures should they have any concerns about a child.

An unregistered school is a setting that is operating as an independent school, without registration. Independent schools in England must be registered by the Secretary of State for Education before operating. It is a criminal offence to operate an independent school that is not registered.

An ‘independent school’ is defined as a school that is not maintained by a local authority or is not a non-maintained special school, and at which full-time education is provided for

  1. Five or more pupils of compulsory school age; or
  2. For at least one pupil of that age who is looked after by a local authority or has an education, health and care plan. See Regulating independent schools (GOV.UK) for more information

The term “full-time” is not defined in legislation but Department for Education guidance states that an institution providing education for more than 18 hours per week is considered to be providing full-time education

Where unregistered schools are  found to have been operating illegally, it may simply be because of a lack of awareness of legislation or an administrative oversight, however children in these settings are potentially at risk because there is no formal, external scrutiny of the arrangements for safeguarding, health and safety or the quality of education provided.

See also Unregistered Independent Schools and Out of School Settings:  Departmental Advice for Collaborative Working between the Department for Education, Ofsted and Local Authorities.

Last Updated: January 8, 2024