Educating your child at home may be the right option for them, but it's vital to understand what's involved before making any decisions.
Why do some parents choose home education?
Home educating your child is a huge responsibility, but you do have the right to do this. Parents choose to educate their autistic child at home for various reasons, including:
- your child may have sensory sensitivities that make a school environment noisy, distracting or even painful to them. They may find it hard to concentrate or behave well, which may then stop them from reaching their full potential.
- you may feel your child's needs are not being recognised or supported at school. Many autistic children do succeed in school and benefit from the support of dedicated staff, such as learning support assistants. But some find the school environment difficult, as it has an emphasis on social interaction and group learning.
- you may feel you can provide a more appropriate education for your child. This will depend on the educational options for autistic children and young people in your area.
What would home-educating my child involve?
Choosing to home educate your child means that you have to fulfil the role of teacher and you will have full-time responsibility for your child. You can ask social services for a community care assessment to evaluate if you are entitled to short break provision.
You may also feel overwhelmed by all the decisions you will need to make about your child's home education, especially if you have no previous knowledge about teaching or the education system.
A number of organisations can help. For example, in England you can contact Education Otherwise or the Home Education Advisory Service. Parents living in Wales can contact the Elective Home Education service, parents in Scotland have Schoolhouse who can provide support and in Northern Ireland parents can contact Home Education Northern Ireland.
What does the law say about home education?
Parents are legally responsible for educating their child. While many parents choose to fufil this duty by sending their children to school, home education is an equally valid and lawful choice.
If you choose to educate your child at home, the education must be suitable to your child’s age, ability and aptitude. Any special educational or additional support needs that he/she may have must also be considered.
If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland the education must also amount to efficient full time education. You do not need to have any teaching qualifications, follow a fixed timetable, school hours or have any set curriculum.
You do not need permission to educate your child at home.
If your child is not enrolled at school, you don't have to inform your local authority or education authority that you are educating your child at home. However, if they become aware of you child's existence they may need to be assured that you are fulfilling your legal obligation to educate your child.
There is no legal duty for you local authority or education authority to monitor your child's education at home routinely. Informal enquiries and annual updates should suffice, unless there are valid concerns about your child's education or wellbeing.
Home educating in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
If your child is already enrolled at a state school in any of these nations then you need to tell the school in writing that you wish your child's name to be removed from the school register. This will stop any misunderstanding about your child's non-attendance at school.
Although you don't legally need to let your local authority or education authority know, by doing so they may be able to give you some appropriate guidance and educational materials. They are unlikely to provide financial help.
If your child goes to a special school in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, you need permission from your local authority or education authority to withdraw your child's name from the school register. If they don't agree, then please contact our Education Rights Service for further information and advice.
In Northern Ireland, a draft Elective Home Education Policy has been prepared, this is now the subject of public consultation. Many home education organisations and supporters have expressed concerns over the draft content, as it may undermine the rights of home educating families.
Home educating in Scotland
If your child is already enrolled at a local authority school and you wish to remove or de-register them in order to begin home educating you must ask for consent from your local authority. However, they must not withhold consent unreasonably.
If you would like more information on the law as it relates to home education please contact our Education Rights Service.
Children with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales your child might have a statement of SEN, or under more recent law in England, an EHC plan. You still have the legal right to home educate your child and your local authority or education authority will be responsible for maintaining and reviewing the statement or plan for as long as it remains in force.
You do not have to make the provision set out in the statement/plan, but you do have to take account of your child’s special educational needs. You must make sure that your child receives an education that is suitable to their age, ability and aptitude.
If you would like more information on the law as it relates to home education for children with statements or EHC plans please contact our Education Rights Service.
Will I get any help from my local authority or education authority?
As they are not legally responsible for your child's education, it is unlikely that the local authority or education authority will provide financial or other assistance. However, there is nothing to prevent you from asking.
If you live in Scotland your local authority has a discretionary power to provide appropriate additional support for your child. They may also comply with a request made by you to establish whether your child has additional support needs or would be entitled to a coordinated support plan if the authority had been responsible for your child’s education. For further information please contact our Education Rights Service.
How should you home educate?
The law does not define how you should home educate. Most schools follow:
These set out the stages and core subjects your child would be taught at school. Some autistic children can find this way of teaching too rigid. However, when you design your child's education, you can concentrate more on the particular needs and interests of your child.
For example, if your child shows a particular talent for maths or music you could spend more time on these subjects. Your child could also go to classes that specialise in teaching these subjects.
You may decide that you should spend more time on subjects that your child does not do well in. We use the term 'subjects' loosely here. It does not necessarily refer to the areas covered by the National Curriculum.
Although the term 'home education' is commonly used, a child may be taught at home for just part of the time. You are not confined by the classroom and you don't have to teach a large number of children with different abilities.
You are able to combine 'academic' lessons with less conventional ways to educate such as visits to leisure centres, classes at colleges or other establishments as well as trips to historical places, botanical gardens, art galleries, zoos and other community-based learning activities. This can all help a child to learn a particular subject.
You also don't need to follow the hours of the standard school day. If your child is tired in the morning, but is energetic and has better concentration in the afternoon then plan the day to suit them. This also means that hospital or therapy appointments can be kept without your child missing their education as lessons can be planned around them.
Whatever 'timetable' you finally choose, you will need to make some specific decisions. You will need to decide whether to home educate your child throughout their school career, or just for a short time. You may feel that your child will benefit from a period of home education, but go back to formal education at a later date or at another level.
Getting ready for exams
Legally, no-one has to take any exams. This means that you and your child can decide whether to take exams.
If you decide to enter your child for exams, you will need to discuss whether your child goes back to school to prepare for their exams, or whether they are going to study for them at home.
You will need to arrange for your child to sit the exams. Exams are based on the curriculum of each UK nation, so you will also need to familiarise yourself with any changes to the curriculum to ensure that your child is well prepared. You find information about exams at:
Helping your child to socialise
Home education can suit autistic children and young people. However, this will mean a lack of opportunities to socialise, as home educated children are often taught alone or in a small group.
Depending on your child's existing social skills and needs, social interaction may be less stressful if you plan and watch carefully.
One way you can help your child's social learning is if you and your family act out or role play situations with them, explaining how and why people acted in a particular way. Your child may also be able to socialise with other children who are educated at home, or visit a local youth group or other clubs where they can practice their social skills in a controlled environment.
Or, they might like to go to classes that teach social skills. A combination of any number of these suggestions may help your child to socialise better.
For more information please see Social skills in young children and/or Social skills for adolescents and adults.
We run autism specific out of school clubs and social groups around the UK. You can find other opportunities in your area in the Autism Services Directory or by calling our Autism Helpline.
Education Otherwise provides information and resources for home educating families and those considering home education for the first time.
Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS) provides advice and practical support to families who wish to educate their children at home.
Schoolhouse Home Education Association is Scotland's national home education support charity.
Elective Home Education Wales offers free discounts, information on the law as it applies to Wales and support for families across Wales.
Home Education Northern Ireland (HEdNI)
offers support and information to home educators in Northern Ireland.
Do2Learn has a wide range of products to help with learning, including visual supports.
sells a range of books, assessment tools, software and resources for a range of conditions, including autism.
Simply learning tuition has a definitive guide to home schooling.
If you are reading this information from a print-out, you can visit the web page and find out more at: www.autism.org.uk/homeeducation.
Last reviewed: 26 November 2015.