Some ideas for people at different stages…
If you’re at the “thinking about it and finding out” stage
… a good next step is to connect with other “home ed” parents, locally or all over the internet, find out what meetups and activities are going on in your area, and chat about the many many different ways that people organise their days! It doesn’t have to look like “workbooks” and “timetables” – although of course you can still organise those kinds of schooly things, and exams in due course, if that suits your child.
There’s so much variety, you’re quite likely to find families in a similar situation to yours – including little or big families, rich or skint, with toddlers to teens, parents who work or are on benefits, single parents, parents or children with special needs, of many backgrounds, of various religions or none.
At the same time, of course listen to your child. If they had the choice, would they rather be in school or not? If they’re in school now, what do they love about school, and what would they change if they had the choice? What would they like to do if they didn’t have to be in school? If they have good friends in school, how else could they keep in touch with those friends, if they wanted to? Of the current local home ed activities, which would they most like to try out?
Also, take time to know your rights.
Short version: If your children are in an ordinary school in England (or no school), with no specially unusual circumstances, then it is legally up to the parent or guardian to choose an educational path which suits their child (see link for the exceptions). Which makes sense, because 99% of the time it’s the parent who knows the child best.
Unfortunately, it’s quite common for professionals to be in a muddle about the law on non-school education, and repeat things which aren’t actually true. For example, some parents have been given the wrong impression that it was up to the head teacher to decide whether to “let” them withdraw their child from the school, or that they had to have a meeting with the school, or with someone from the council, or be “approved” before they could start.
So in terms of the law, it’s a good idea to get your information direct from reputable sources such as Home Education UK. Don’t take on trust what someone else tells you, even if they work for the Council or the NHS or the school or somewhere that sounds official.
Ideally, it’s a good idea to get at least a little bit connected with your local home ed community before you take a big step. Then you’ve got support lined up for any future obstacles. Home ed community discussion groups online are a huge treasure-house of experience, including people whose home ed children are now grown up.
If your child hasn’t started school yet (or registered for a school place)
… then in a way, you’re already doing non-school education! There are no formalities in this case: legally, you were responsible for your child’s education all along, and you still are.
Of course things will change gradually as your child gets older, and if some of their friends go into school, you’ll probably want to make new ones through the world of home ed.
If your child is reasonably happy in school
… then you can take your time to check out local groups, and perhaps drop in and try some activities before making a decision.
If you and your child like the school your child is in, it may also be worth asking around about the current situation with school places or waiting lists. If places are plentiful, then it’s a low-stakes decision to try home-based education for a while, knowing the chances are you could backtrack later if you wanted to. If a non-school experiment meant you might not get back into your preferred school later on (if you ever wanted to), the risk is that bit higher. (Council staff are usually helpful if a child wants to go back into school at any point.)
If your child is suffering in school
A common reason for taking a child out of school is that they’re having a miserable time. Sometimes the parent has been “up to the school” dozens of times already to try to get things sorted out.
If you’re in this situation, consider taking your child out of school sooner rather than later, if that’s practically possible for you. Even if starting home ed feels “in the deep end” at first, it may well not be any harder than what you’re already dealing with.
Parents who have been through serious school difficulties often feel a great sense of relief as soon as they stop putting their child back into the stressful situation, and looking back, think “if only I’d known about home ed earlier on”.
Even if your child’s long-term future does include more school, that doesn’t mean you have to continue with school right now. Some non-school time could allow them to gain confidence and make friends in a much more relaxed environment. Unless they’re very close to taking an exam, it’s unlikely that they’ll miss something crucial and “fall behind” – especially as it’s usually much easier to learn when you’re not under stress.
You may have heard that your child “needs” to stick it out even though they are suffering, to toughen them up. This is a form of “BGUTI” – “Better Get Used To It”, often used to justify bad situations. Not everyone agrees:
… learning to submit to a poor environment doesn’t teach us to rise above it and overcome it, but to sublimate ourselves to it. It is not a character building experience, but a soul crushing one. … the answer that you should not get used to a bad situation, but you should in fact change that situation as quickly as possible, is a solution that is rarely suggested.
– Alfie Kohn Confronts BGUTI, by Laurie Block Spigel
Bullying in home ed circles seems to be very rare. The social environment is far less pressured than school, and there’s far more chance of adults noticing anything dodgy straight away.
Academic pressure in home ed is usually much less than school. You and your child can take your time exploring which exams or qualifications will be genuinely useful to them in the future. You can decide together on a course to do, or another way to learn the skills, and how much time to allow.
If you’re on the point of taking your child out of school
Listen to your child, connect with other home ed parents, and know your rights! … as discussed above.
You will need to write a deregistration letter. It’s often recommended to either deliver it to the school in person and get a receipt, or send it recorded delivery. You don’t need to tell anyone else, although the school is meant to tell the local council.
If it’s a “special school” paid by the council, there’s another step in the process and you still have to wait for that. If it’s an ordinary school, then as soon as you deliver the letter, your child is deregistered and you are no longer obliged to interact with the school.
If you haven’t already, now’s a good time to read about deschooling. It can take a while to shake off the “schooly” rules that most people have got used to, and relax into the new freedom. Don’t feel you have to run around straight away joining lots of local groups or buying workbooks. Don’t feel you have to know straight away how you’re going to do everything; you’ll find out as you go.
An often-quoted “rule of thumb” is to allow one month of deschooling for every year a child’s been in school. But it can vary a lot. Some children are full of energy for new things straight away, some take much longer before you notice the return of the curiosity of their early years.
Parents find themselves deschooling too – questioning old ideas about what learning looks like, or what counts as education.
It’s not uncommon to encounter opposition from friends or family. This is usually because they don’t know other home ed families, and can’t really imagine how it could work. Sometimes there’s also a feeling of “school is good enough for my child, why not yours?”
With people who are worried or critical, it can help to talk in terms of “this is what seems right for my child right now”. You don’t have to get into “what’s wrong with the school system”, even if in reality, being iffy about school did play some part in your choice. It can also help to talk about things in the short term – “we’ll give it a try and see how it goes, we can always go back to school if it doesn’t work”. Which is true!
Over time, most people will relax. And even if they don’t, you’re likely to find new friends who understand, and get better at not minding.
The first days
Because of allowing time and space for deschooling, it can be helpful to start out by doing things you’d normally do in the holidays. Instead of anything that feels “schooly”, perhaps try a visit to somewhere outdoors, and some days where you wait and see what you & your child(ren) feel like doing on the day.
At some point, it’s well worth dipping a toe into one or two local home ed groups for a while. Even if you don’t carry on with those same groups, it’s a way of getting to know a few other people in your area. A lot of non-school socialising is families fixing informal meetups with other local families they’ve got to know.
Because your ideas can change and evolve as you “find your feet”, it’s a good idea not to box yourself in too much at the early stages.
If you spend lots of money on courses early on, you might think later “wow, what a waste of money that was, when we actually learn much better by these other paths which are free!” There’s an incredible amount of wonderful stuff on the net nowadays, as well as in libraries, or at things like the British Geological Survey’s Family Fun Day or Nottingham University’s Mayfest.
It’s very common for families to start out thinking in terms of workbooks and timetables; then, as they settle in over the months, they do less of those and move gradually more towards outings, making things, and long conversations sparked by curiosity.
(Conversely, people who’ve been very experience-led in the early years often swing more towards “formal” / book / written methods if working towards exams.)
If you write lots of details and plans in answer to a council enquiry letter, or if you give some particular explanation of your future plans to reassure relatives or friends, then you might have to backtrack awkwardly later on.
To keep your options open, start with the free or cheap resources unless you’re really sure the expensive thing is what your child needs. And when explaining, stick to the essence of what you’re about, rather than forecasting lots of details into the future that you might not end up doing. Don’t forget to add that you’ll change over time to suit your child!