Legalities of Home Education

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Is home-education legal? Isn’t school compulsory? I’ve heard about parents being taken to court because their children didn’t attend school!

The law does not require school attendance; it requires educational provision. Here’s what it says:

“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.”

Home-education is legal throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. The prosecutions you may have heard about involve truancy, which is a a completely separate issue. Truancy involves children who are registered at school but who do not attend – by definition, a child who is not registered at school cannot be a truant.

You will find more information about the law and education in Northern Ireland on our Legal page and on the official NI Direct official information page.

Do we need permission to home-educate?

You don’t need anyone’s permission to educate your child outside school. If your child is registered at a school, you must inform the proprietor (that’s usually the principal) in writing that your child’s name should be removed from the register. Some teachers and principals believe that you need permission to home-educate, but this is not the case. The only exception is when your child is registered at a Special School. (See our Legal Information page for more info.)

Will I get any help from the Board of Education?

It’s unlikely. Few home-educators find that their Education and Library Board (ELB) is able to provide any assistance, and certainly there is no financial help available (though home-education does not need to be costly, so that shouldn’t put anyone off).

Will we have home visits or be monitored in some way?

There is nothing in Northern Irish law which says you must have home visits, provide samples of your children’s work or allow anyone to meet your children. There seems to be a great deal of variation in how home-educators are treated by ELBs, even within the individual Boards. You may be told that the Board have a legal duty to monitor your educational provision or visit your home, but there is nothing in law which states this.

In England and Wales, case law has established that if it appears to a Local Education Authority (LEA – the equivalent of ELB in NI) that no educational provision is being made, the LEA has the right to make informal enquiries; however this does not necessarily mean home visits or inspections of any kind. You can read these guidelines here.

No guidelines or case law exist in NI; it does, however, seem reasonable that similar guidelines should apply (especially since the relevant legislation is almost word-for-word the same as that for England and Wales).

Be aware of the recent use of a rather obscure regulation Statutory Rules for Northern Ireland, 1974, Number 78, regulation 14, which states that having satisfied the Board that the education is suitable, parents must continue to satisfy that Board every year.  According to our legal advice the above regulation would be triggered (if at all) only by the issuing of a formal notice to satisfy (the legal proceedings leading to a School Attendance Order), but it has been recently argued by one Board that an apparently informal visit triggered an ongoing monitoring scheme.  Make sure to clarify that any information given is on an informal basis and does not trigger this regulation, unless they are proceeding formally - in which case we would recommend seeking proper legal advice.

What if my child has a statement of special needs?

You can still home-educate. If your child attends a Special School, you may need to get permission to deregister him or her; however such permission should not be withheld without good reason (see our Legal and SEN pages). If your child has a statement and attends an ordinary primary school, you can simply deregister him or her.

Does my child have to take SATS?

No. SATS are intended to assess the educational provision made by schools, not the learning of any individual child, and thus are unnecessary for home-educated children. Many home-educators feel that not having to put their children through the pressure of SATS is a great advantage.