Home Education & The Law

Legal references on this page apply to England.

Home Education Law in England

New Home Education Guidance 2019

On April 2nd 2019 the Department for Education published new non-statutory guidance for local authorities which can be read here This replaces the 2007/2013 Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities. Read more here

Suitable education is defined in law as education which is suitable to the child's age, ability, aptitude and special needs.

Parents' Duty

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that:

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(2) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

Compulsory School Age

"Compulsory school age" is set out in Section 8 (2) of the Education Act 1996 which says that "a person begins to be of compulsory school age—
(a)when he attains the age of five, if he attains that age on a prescribed day, and (b)otherwise at the beginning of the prescribed day next following his attaining that age."

Prescribed Days are defined in regulation by The Education (Start of Compulsory School Age) Order 1998 Statutory Instrument 1607 (Link) which states that "For the purposes of section 8(2) of the Education Act 1996 - (a)31st August and 31st December shall be prescribed days for 1998 and successive years; and (b)31st March shall be a prescribed day for 1999 and successive years."

In other words, a child whose 5th birthday falls on September 1st does not attain compulsory school age until December 31st of that year. This is relevant to deregistration


Parents don't have to request permission to home educate or notify anyone, but if your child is of compulsory school age and is attending school and you want to home educate, you need to tell the headteacher in writing to take your child's name off the school roll.

It doesn't make any difference if your child has an EHCP, unless it is a special school. Families aren't required to produce examples of 'work' for inspection or meet anyone from the council. There is no entitlement to funding when children are electively home educated.

Children Missing Education

Local authorities have a duty under section 436a Education Act 1996 to make arrangements to identify children outside school who aren't receiving education. This may be referred to as children missing education or CME.

Government home education guidance [April 2019] says "Until a local authority is satisfied that a home-educated child is receiving a suitable full-time education, then a child being educated at home is potentially in scope of this duty. The department’s children missing education statutory guidance for local authorities applies. However, this should not be taken as implying that it is the responsibility of parents under s.436A to ‘prove’ that education at home is suitable. A proportionate approach needs to be taken. [my emphasis]"

CME guidance refers to investigation in situations where it is not known if a child is home educated; here is the relevant extract :"Children who cease to attend a school – there are many reasons why a child stops attending a school. It could be because the parent chooses to home educate their child. However, where the reason for a child who has stopped attending a school is not known [my emphasis] ,the local authority should investigate the case and satisfy itself that the child is receiving suitable education."

No Statutory Duties Routine Monitoring

The phrase about routine monitoring no longer appears in the 2019 guidance but was nevertheless affirmed in this written parliamentary answer on May 10th 2019 :"Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis."

No Duty to Ensure Home Education is Satisfactory

Section 437(1) is the first step in the School Attendance Order process and is framed in the negative. If and only if it appears to the LA that a child is not receiving suitable education, the LA shall serve a formal notice on the parent under section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996.

Prior to the formal notice, the law does not require the LA to "be satisfied". The LA is NOT required to ascertain suitability in all cases, only to act where there is an appearance of problem or failure.

There is no statutory duty to do anything at the outset, but if the LA chose to be proactive, it could take a general look (sometimes described as "informal enquiries") to see whether there seemed to be a problem which might require further enquiry.

Section 437: School Attendance Orders

(1) If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education.

(2) That period shall not be less than 15 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served.

(3) If (a)a parent on whom a notice has been served under subsection (1) fails to satisfy the local education authority, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and (b) in the opinion of the authority it is expedient that the child should attend school,

the authority shall serve on the parent an order (referred to in this Act as a “school attendance order”), in such form as may be prescribed, requiring him to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order.
Education Act 1996

A School Attendance Order is only to be served after after all reasonable steps have been taken to try to resolve the situation. In most cases the SAO is threatened but not actually issued. Read more about SAOs here

Local Authorities

There are 152 local authorities and there is a big difference between the number of home educated children in each LA area and in attitudes to home educating families. Local authorities don't get any funding for home education services.

23 Hours

DfE October 2014: "There is no minimum limit specified in law or in DfE guidance, beyond the basic requirement for full-time education if the child is of compulsory school age. 23 hours is about the length of time many school children spend in actual lessons, at least in secondary school, and someone may have seized on that as an indicator. But it has no legal basis..." More