Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 explains what is meant by suitable education if a child is educated otherwise than at school.
“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” SOURCE
7 (a)Age Ability Aptitude
Age, ability and aptitude all appear on the same line and hence are clearly meant to be read together. For the individual child it will be a matter of balancing these three elements, not just focusing on the child’s age to the exclusion of the other aspects of 7 (a).
Ability and aptitude are given equal weight with age in 7 (a). Ability is obviously not the same as aptitude, otherwise there would have been no need to include both terms. Ability relates to what the individual may be able – or not able – to do whereas aptitude is about a particular skill, talent, knack or special interest.
The inclusion of “aptitude” rounds out and personalises section 7(a) and makes it unique to the child in question. If s 7(a) did NOT mention aptitude it would result in a more standardised form of educational provision.
7 (b) Special Educational Needs
Special educational needs gets its own line in the legislation. As well as balancing the three prior elements of age, ability and aptitude, consideration must also be given to the particular child’s SEN.
Section 20 of the Children and Families Act 2014 provides a legal definition of special educational needs.
“(1)A child or young person has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.” SOURCE
Section 20 goes on to explain learning difficulty and disability
“(2)A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she—
(a)has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or
(b)has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.”
If the child has previously struggled in school – a common reason for deciding to home educate – this is clearly relevant to the question of whether they might have special educational needs and therefore of what might be suitable for their needs once they are educated otherwise than at school.
There is no legal definition of full time for a child who is educated otherwise than at school. The Ombudsman notes that “Where councils make alternative arrangements for a child’s education, we sometimes see them offering what looks like a ‘standard package’ of alternative educational provision. This can be as little as five hours of tuition a week.”
One to one provision is regarded as much more intense than a typical hour in school. The Ombudsman goes on to say that “If councils provide one-to-one tuition, the number of face-to-face hours could be fewer because the provision is more concentrated.” My page on EOTAS and alternative provision includes links to many Ombudsman decisions where local authorities felt that a few hours a week was sufficient.
Children Missing Education
The same definition of suitable education appears in section 436A – children missing education – as in section 7.
436A Duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education
(1) A local authority must make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but —
(a) are not registered pupils at a school, and
(b) are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.
(2) In exercising their functions under this section a local authority must have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.
(3) In this Chapter, “suitable education”, in relation to a child, means efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have.”
School Attendance Orders
Again the same definition of suitable education appears in sections 437-443 dealing with school attendance orders, because these sections of the Act come in the same Chapter as s 436A cited above ie Part V1 Chapter II