Educating your child at home may be the right option for them, but it's vital to understand what that entails before making any decisions.

Here we look at why you may choose to home educate your child, what it in involves, the law and specific advice for England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. 

We also talk about socialising, exams and tutors.

Choosing 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:

  • their child may have sensory needs that make a school environment noisy, distracting or even painful to them. They may find it hard to concentrate or behave in the way school expects, which may then stop them from reaching their full potential
  • their child may not be able to cope with the social aspects of school life
  • they may feel their child's needs are not being recognised or supported at school
  • they feel they can provide a more appropriate education.

Many autistic children do succeed in school and benefit from the support of dedicated staff, such as learning support assistants. But some find it difficult due to the emphasis on social interaction and group learning.

What home-education involves

There are different approaches to home educating, ranging from self-directed learning to more structured teaching.

You may feel overwhelmed by all the decisions you need to make about your child's home education, especially if you have no previous knowledge about teaching or the education system. 

You can ask social services for a community care assessment to evaluate if you are entitled to short break provision.

Here are some organisations that can help:  

Home education and the law

Parents are legally responsible for educating their child. This can be done by sending them to school, but home education is an equally valid and lawful choice.

If you choose to educate them at home, the education must be suitable to their age, ability and aptitude. Any special educational or additional support needs that they have must also be considered.

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 your 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 your 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.

The law about home education is different in Scotland compared to that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.   

Home educating in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland the education must also amount to efficient full time education. You don’t need to have any teaching qualifications, follow a fixed timetable, school hours or have any set curriculum.

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, 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.

Children with a Statement of special educational needs (SEN) or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan

Your child might have a statement of SEN if you live in Northern Ireland or Wales. In England, they may have an EHC plan, or be due to transition from a statement of SEN to a 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 don’t 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.

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 mustn’t withhold consent unreasonably.

How to 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.

You may decide that you should spend more time on subjects that your child doesn’t 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. This means that you’re able to combine academic lessons with self-directed learning where your child can explore their interest independently.

Your child may benefit from less conventional education such as visits to leisure centres, classes at other education settings, trips to historical places, botanical gardens, art galleries, zoos and other community-based learning opportunities. 

You also don't need to follow the hours of the standard school day, giving you the flexibility to plan the day around when your child is most open to learning or when then may have a hospital or therapy appointment.

Whatever 'timetable' you finally choose, you will need to make some specific decisions such as whether to home educate your child throughout their school life, 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.

For further information or advice on home education please contact our Education Rights Service.

Exams

Legally, no-one has to take any 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 them, 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 familiarise yourself with any changes to the curriculum to ensure that your child is well prepared. You can find information about exams at:

Read more exam guidance.

Socialisation 

Home education can better suit autistic children and young people as they don’t have to spend the school day in social situations.

However, you may want to ensure that you child has opportunities to meet other children and develop their social skills. Here are some ways you can help:  

  • watch their social interaction carefully and plan how you can support them
  • act out role play situations with them, explaining how and why people acted in a particular way
  • try using a social story or comic strip conversation to see if that helps develop their social understanding in a structured way. 

The National Autistic Society provide autism specific out of school clubs and social groups around the UK. We also have local branches that often provide social opportunities for autistic children and young people. 

You can find other services in your area by searching our Autism Services Directory or by calling our Autism Helpline.

If you live in England, contact your local authority to ask what opportunities are provided in their local offer.

Tutors

We advise that you check that tutors have experience of teaching autistic pupils. You should also make sure that they have an up-to-date Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Certificate (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or a Criminal Record Check (Scotland).

Here are some tutors you can contact, although this is not a recommendation:

Further help from our charity 

Social skills in young children
Social skills for adolescents and adults
In the classroom
School trips

Useful resources

Do2Learn 
Winslow
Simply learning tuition
The Play Doctors 

Recommended reading

Home education guidance  Scottish Government (2007):
Elective home education Department for Education (2007):
Elective home education guidance Welsh Government
Home educating our autistic spectrum children: paths are made by walking.
Choosing Autism Interventions

Last reviewed: 10 July 2017.