All You Ever Wanted To Know About Homeschooling (in the UK)
As a homeschooling family in the UK we get asked about homeschooling a LOT. A lot a lot. Like, most days. If we go to Tesco the cashiers wonder aloud if the kids have an inset day; parents at parks or soft-plays ask why the girls aren’t in school and whenever we meet anyone new the subject inevitably comes up about where our kids go (or don’t, in our case) to school.
We really welcome genuine questions from open-minded people about our homeschooling and lifestyle decisions; they are very much thought through so we’re happy and confident to talk with people curious about alternative education, or those considering homeschooling their own kids.
I recently asked our readers to hit us with their burning questions about homeschooling and gave them free reign to ask us anything. We got a lot of the same questions, and from the pile we got about 10 specific areas that people were really curious about when it came to homeschooling- so here are the answers to the 10 most asked questions!
Why did you decide to home educate?
There are several reasons and inspirations that led us to the decision to home educate our children.
Prior to becoming a parent I worked in a unit for teenagers who had been expelled from a local Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). A PRU is where kids go if they are expelled from normal school, so as you can imagine these kids were pretty challenging and had quite severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. The leader of the unit in which I worked had a very alternative, gentle and holistic approach to the students’ education and the way she communicated with them. This is what first made me realise how effective and positive an alternative way of approaching education (and indeed mutually respectful adult-child relationships) could be. We started thinking about home educating our own kids before we actually had any of the girls.
After leaving the PRU I had Esmae and we decided not to send her to nursery, to see how she got on and developed without a school-like environment in her early years. Of course she thrived and we loved taking the role of educational leaders. We also knew that if we home educated it would make travelling extensively, which we always planned to do with our children, more accessible and easier for our kids as they would already be used to not attending school.
We did visit a small private school to see if this appealed to us more than home education and although it was a good school we decided it wasn’t for us. This was for a few reasons but in the end we decided that rather than have me work all hours to afford the fees, we would do it the other way around and I would be the primary lead in the kids’ education. (Even if we could have afforded to send Esmae to the private school without sacrifice we would still have chosen homeschooling, and still would choose homeschooling over private schooling for our family today).
Another big plus to home educating in those early years was that Esmae got to spend a good amount of quality time with Patrick, as he worked shifts and long hours which often meant he would be out during mornings and evenings. If we had sent her to nursery she would hardly have seen her daddy for 2-3 of her early years because of his schedule. Good parent-child relationships are fundamental to healthy development so along with the other reasons I mention above, homeschooling was a no-brainer.
With regards to homeschooling itself, there are many things that attracted us to it. We love the flexibility it allows us so we can take opportunities as they come up and enjoy a fairly open diary. We love being able to explore museums, historical properties, parks, libraries, farms and theme parks when they are practically empty.
One of the benefits of homeschooling is having groups of mixed-age children to socialise with, so that our girls learn from older kids and develop compassion and gentleness with younger children. We love being able to flow with the weather, to take advantage of long sunny days outside and then stay inside with books, crafts and cooking on freezing days, or to have the park to ourselves in the evening.
We also enjoy being able to prioritise some areas or activities that might be harder to pursue in a school environment- sports and the arts are unfortunately facing heavy cuts in some schools and although we prefer to talk about ‘why we homeschool’ as opposed to ‘why we don’t send our kids to school’, the way that schools and teachers (and therefore students) are treated in some ways, is another reason why we chose to do things differently.
Homeschooling allows us to also facilitate a lot of autonomy for the girls in terms of their own schedule. We like to give them opportunities to practise decision making and essentially being in charge of their own lives (with guidance, support and boundaries) and to personalise their lives and learning journey. It’s easier to do this with a 1:3 adult to child ratio which we are lucky to have in our homeschooling family.
We love being able to stay out late if there’s something worth staying up for, and not having to rush in the mornings. We love having the time to stop everything we’re doing to explore a new area of interest, and being able to have ongoing projects to dip in and out of.
What are the hours like?
In the UK the law states that home educating parents must provide a “full time, age appropriate” education for their child, but it does not outline exactly what full time or age appropriate means exactly. If a council has to provide a tutor for a school child who is unable to attend school due to chronic illness, they provide a tutor for up to 6 hours a week as that is, according to local authorities, the amount of tuition that school children receive.
Some homeschooling families set themselves “school hours”, which are usually much shorter (2 or 3 study hours) than school hours due to the much higher adult-child ratio. Most families don’t and we do not have set studying hours, preferring to see how each day goes and also taking into account that learning rarely looks like studying from a textbook for a 6 or 7 year old. It is much more likely to look like paper and glue and pipe cleaners all over the table (homeschoolers know allll about mess!), or a pile of conkers and pine cones being pored over, or a birdhouse being built, or a group of children running through the grounds or gazing in the halls of an historic property.
Questions about aerodynamics or spirituality or maths or chemistry or emotions or rhyming or social justice get asked with a flying-jump-to-the-kidneys at 6am, or over cookies and juice, or shouted down from a tree, or asked semi-conscious as they’re drifting off to sleep. We know that all of these moments are vital in their educational journey and that learning simply can’t be constrained by time limits, so we don’t try to. In simple terms, we don’t have set study hours because our method of education doesn’t involve a whole lot of traditional studying at this age.
We are always evaluating how we home educate and if we decide that a more structured approach becomes more appropriate for any of our kids, we are open to introducing more of a timetable.
How does it work with the UK’s schooling laws?
In the UK, home education is technically the default position for every child as school is an “opt in” service- this means that you have to apply for a school place, it is not automatically given to each child. Home education is 100% legal and the requirements of parents are to provide a full time, age appropriate education. There is no requirement to follow the national curriculum (although this may seem shocking at first, it may be less so when you learn that every single private school also has zero obligation to follow it either).
Home educating families do not receive any assistance, practical or financial, from the local authorities- we fund and facilitate it ourselves in the same way as private education. I believe that some councils may provide a list of potentially helpful resources for parents who request it, although it varies according to area.
The local authority has a duty to ensure that every child in their region receives an adequate education and can request evidence of this. This can be provided in a written Educational Philosophy or as samples of what a child has been doing, or photos of activities; there is no legal obligation to have a home visit or to be interviewed.
If you live in England or Wales and wish to de-register your child from school, you simply need to hand a letter stating that you wish to have your child deregistered from their school, to the school office or administrative team. The school has a legal obligation to immediately deregister the child and there are no obligations to have meetings or any further contact with the school whatsoever.
The exception to the above is if your child has a statement and attends a special school due to additional needs; local authority approval to home educate may be required in these circumstances.
How much patience do you need to homeschool?
One bushel, three cubits, ten hands (if you’re into horses) or four square metres. Approximately. Seriously though, I think that patience is like a muscle- the more you train it, the stronger it gets. I’ve been with my kids every day since they were born; if I let the little things get to me I’d always be stressed.
If I had to give advice to any parent, especially those who find the constant-ness of homeschooling challenging, I would say fake it ‘til you make it. If I feel myself losing my cool I will sometimes ask myself, “what would a patient person do in this situation?” and then do that, no matter how I feel.
I would also say that I believe that the academic standards set for children are often unhelpful and can stress both parents and kids. If there is a point of tension in your home surrounding a piece of “work”, scrap whatever work it is that you are doing and just do something fun with them.
One of the joys of homeschooling is that you can design your children’s lives to meet their needs, so learning can always be fun- some parents considering homeschooling are put off by the idea of battles over worksheets at the kitchen table. There is no need for this to be the case at all; whatever your child’s personality and interests, you can tailor your days to suit them and you as a family.
Whether or not they can write in cursive or do quadratic equations really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things; having a happy, healthy child who has nurtured a love of learning that will stay with them for a lifetime is infinitely more valuable- they can always catch up on specific subjects if and when they need to.
I would also add that many, many parents have said to me that they could never homeschool their child because they’d find it too difficult to spend all their time with them. I completely understand this- however, if a child goes to school they have a lot of context-specific factors affecting their behaviour and character that may be completely different if they were home educated. It’s just something worth thinking about.
How do you motivate yourself to get up and do it every day?
This answer will be different for every homeschooling parent you ask, but in one way it will be exactly the same- we motivate ourselves to do whatever it takes to keep our kids happy, healthy and thriving because we are parents- it’s what we do. (Also, caffeine, and lots of it).
Whether you get up at 5.30am to get all the kids ready for and dropped at school/the childminder/ nursery, or spend hours of your time ironing uniforms, or use evenings to scroll through education and craft websites or miss your yoga session to attend another Parents’ Evening, or discuss the nature of Black Holes at 10pm- we are all doing it because it is the best thing we can do for our kid, in our specific set of circumstances, at that time.
Seeing the direct effects of home education provides its own motivating effects- hearing the kids talk about our recent trip around Asia as if it were as everyday as popping to Tesco, is pretty cool. Knowing that the girls aren’t stressed by tests and that they are developing self motivation and their own interests, without worrying about grades or how they’re going to “use it” in the future is also good. They are learning because they love learning and this sets them up for a lifetime of continuing education and self development.
What will you do about exams?
Homeschooled kids can and do pursue further education in the same way as children who have gone to school. GCSEs and A-levels can be booked and paid for privately and children can learn the material either at home with parents’ or tutors’ support, or at groups run by teachers within the home education community, or at college, or online. Flexi-schooling, where children attend school for just the lessons they wish to sit exams for, is another option if the family can find a school to agree to this.
There are, increasingly, University courses for people who have no prior qualifications. The Open University degrees, for example, do not require any prior qualifications so technically home educated children (or anyone else) can enrol on these degrees without taking GCSEs or A-levels, as long as they can competently do the work. There are access courses that can be taken prior to enrolling on a degree for people who need some academic preparation.
I don’t know yet what our children will want to do in terms of future studying and work, but we will support them fully in whatever study or work route they decide to take.
How do you homeschool full time and work / earn an income?
Prior to our year travelling around Asia, Patrick had a full time job in the sports industry and I worked from home ad hoc as a freelance writer and digital marketer.
Homeschooling does not have set hours so we don’t need to find jobs that allow us to be 100% available 9am-3pm, for example, but one of us needs to be at home full time as none of our kids are old enough to be home by themselves. I’m the full time at-home parent and I fit work in during the evenings and weekends while Patrick takes over with the girls, or during lulls in day when they are entertained and don’t need my involvement in whatever they’re doing.
When we went travelling our roles were reversed and I worked while Patrick and my Mum looked after the kids. Although it facilitated an amazing experience and I’m very glad they had that time with Patrick, we wouldn’t go back to that arrangement unless we had to- I really missed being with them and they missed me too, so our original set up works better for us.
So that’s how we homeschool and earn a living- it’s intense and hard work but we absolutely love it.
What would you do if you lived in a country where homeschooling was not allowed?
This is a tough one as obviously there are legal issues within this question- in several countries, Germany for example, home education in any form is not allowed. I find it insane that it would be dictated to parents that the only approved method of education is school, but that’s how it is for many families across the world. I am very fortunate to have been born and raised in the UK, where home education is legal and so I have never had to seriously contemplate whether or not to send my kids to school or attempt to homeschool them without the support of the law.
I would certainly not, if I could help it, move to a country where I could not freely home educate my kids. If I already lived in one or if for example it became illegal in the UK, the importance of home education to us is such that we would move to a country supportive of homeschooling if we were able to.
However I recognise that this is not reality for most people who wish to home educate. I think it is important that we protest injust/ oppressive laws and a law that forces parents to send their children to school against their will/s is certainly both of these. This might mean that parents decide to defy the law and home educate, and face the consequences like the mother who went to prison in Ireland for refusing to pay a fine for homeschooling. I personally can’t really say what I’d do as it depends on how the law was enforced and other possible education options, but homeschooling is not something that we would give up lightly.
Do you have to have a qualification to homeschool your own children?
No. There is a common misconception that you should be a qualified teacher in order to homeschool your own children. I am good friends with several qualified teachers who quit to homeschool their own children and who say that their qualifications does not help them in homeschooling.
This makes complete sense when you think about it: delivering the National Curriculum to a classroom of 30 children with hugely different backgrounds, abilities and needs, managing group behaviour and completing the related admin is vastly different to facilitating the educational needs of your own small handful of children.
People often worry they are not bright enough to homeschool their kids. I often remind them that teachers, especially in primary school, are not experts on a subject or subjects. They learn the curriculum material enough to be able to deliver it, in the same way that a parent only needs to be one step ahead of their child in order to facilitate their education (and often it is kids who will lead the way with their own discoveries and interests!)
Homeschooling can also be done with as much or as little support as you like, so online courses, tutors, co-op groups and subject classes or clubs can all be used if this is helpful for a family. The homeschooling community is huge so parents don’t need to feel that they alone are responsible for downloading all the information their child will ever need into their head – there are many resources that can help.
Where do your kids meet other kids their age/ how do they make friends?
Once a month, our kids are allowed to leave the house to meet friends (I’m JOKING, sheesh).
Firstly I’ll say what I always say- just because school is set up to have groups of the same age children together, doesn’t mean this is the best option. It is in all likelihood great for a few kids, ok for some and terrible for others. Placing children of the same age in large groups for extended periods of time is not due to it being based on developmental research, it is simply convenient for the system.
That said, it is obviously nice for many children to have friends of similar ages and my children do very much enjoy this aspect of life.
Places where my kids meet other kids their ages include homeschool meet ups at softplay and local nature reserves (at least once a week for the whole day); play dates (at least once a week and these usually last a while afternoon if not all day); a weekly homeschool academic group for 3.5 hours; weekly Beavers; Sunday school, and the park several times a week for as long as they like.
Prior to travelling we also took the girls to weekly Spanish and ballet lessons with kids the same ages and will be looking at more dance and sports classes when we’re a bit more settled. We also have friends whose kids attend school and family with similar aged children; it is only due to logistics that we don’t see each other as often as we’d like.
While travelling, meeting kids of the same ages was not a struggle as they were on every beach, but it was harder to make long term friendships. While in Bali we became close with two families with 4 kids of similar ages between them, and we hung out a lot. Being back in the UK means the kids have a larger friendship group which is really lovely as they are developing lasting and consistent friendships with children of similar ages.
One aspect of homeschooling that I really love is that kids mix with other children of different ages and don’t really notice it as anything relevant; our 7 year old has good friends who are 10, some who are 8 and others who are 5 and 6, and they all just get along. Our girls are also best mates; they have a very close relationship and love to play together as well as branch out with their other friends.
I hope this post on homeschooling FAQs has been helpful- do comment and let me know if there are more things about home education you would like me to talk about or answer. For more info on our style of homeschooling and home education generally, check out our other home education posts here. For positive parenting posts click here.