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Is school compulsory? These are the options for your child’s education.

“You have to go to school, it’s the law.”

I’m willing to bet you’ve heard someone say this. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. The thing is, it’s not quite true. The law does say that children of a certain age have to be educated, but going to school is only one way of doing that. So, if you’ve ever wondered ‘do I really have to go to school?’ or even ‘does my child have to go to school?’ then here’s the lowdown…

What the law says (in the UK)

It’s British law, so there’s bits and pieces about schooling all over the place, and some parts have been clarified by case law, others are still clear as mud, and if you really enjoy paying lawyers you can keep on arguing about the finer points. However, the key bit of legislation is the Education Act (1996), section 7, and it says this:

“7 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.”

This is your basic responsibility as a parent – to ensure that your child is educated appropriately, and you get to choose what the best way to do that is. In fact, you have a duty to do so.

Most people choose the ‘regular attendance at school’ option, which has several flavours – mainstream state school, free school, specialist state provision, independent school (including alternative schools, like Montessori or Steiner) – each of which has other legislation and regulation attempting to ensure that they will meet the basic legal requirement laid down here. While the ultimate legal responsibility for your child’s education remains with you, it’s generally considered that by delegating to a school, you’ve done your bit.

However, if you choose home education, then you are exercising the ‘or otherwise’ option, and taking it into your own hands to ensure these fundamental requirements are met. There’s nothing else in the legislation telling you how you have to do this – it’s up to you, so long as you are meeting the requirements.

There’s also another option – flexi-schooling, where children attend part-time at school. This actually comes under school education from a legislation point of view, with the school effectively re-delegating part of their educational responsibilities back to the parent. As such, there’s currently no defined legal right to be able to flexi-school – it’s up to the school to decide if they will do it or not.

So those are your basic options: state school, independent school, flexi-schooling, and home educating. You can mix and match these over a child’s educational lifetime, either through intention or by reacting to circumstance. Some children start off in mainstream school, find it isn’t working, and then move to home education. Some children begin with home education and always plan to move to school at a particular point. Some try out all the options as things change over time. It doesn’t have to be a once and done decision.

So what does this mean? A look at some different educational journeys.

Over the next few posts, I’ll walk you through the story of a few families’ choices, so you can see the different ways this pans out.

These stories are all based on the families I know, but each one is not necessarily the exact story of any one family – names are invented, stories have been smoothed out for emphasis, and families’ stories have been blended together to illustrate a point. It’s a way to give you an idea of what’s possible, not an in-depth exposé.

You’ll see families:

  • choosing their local state school,
  • home educating through GCSEs,
  • choosing an alternative independent school,
  • flexi-schooling, full time school and home educating, for different children at different times,
  • moving from mainstream school to home education,
  • home educating and then moving to state school,
  • and trying out a little bit of everything!

I hope these stories will encourage you to consider the different options that may be available to your family, and to choose what’s right for you. And I’d love it if you’d share your own story here in the comments!

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