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It is perfectly legal to educate your child at home in the UK. In fact, the government estimates that 0.6% of children are home educated. This means that up to 80, 000 children in the UK do not attend school and are taught either by their parents or private tutors. Reasons for homeschooling children vary, but parents most commonly cite concerns with the National Curriculum as the main issue affecting their decision.

The UK has experienced a steady decline in literacy and numeracy rates over the last 20 years. Many blame the rigid targets set by the government for the drop, which has resulted in it coming bottom in some league tables. While this remains a central concern to parents, others opt to home educate their children for financial reasons. Transport to and from school can cost parents thousands of pounds per year, and extracurricular activities can add even more to the bill.

This guide contains information on everything to do with home education, including: the law regarding home education, budgeting and curriculums. It is intended to help you to make an informed decision about your child’s academic future.

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Home Education vs Public Education

Modern home education began in the 1970s as reformers began championing more progressive forms of education. Religious parents were dissatisfied with secularist teaching adopted by most public schools and wanted to create an eclectic curriculum that incorporated their own beliefs, more creativity and life skills.

Since then, a number of studies have tried to find a correlation between test scores, teaching standards, and home and public education. Studies have produced very interesting results but have yet to prove that either is more beneficial. Of course, all children learn differently and can potentially benefit from any form of education. This paragraph discusses the research that has been conducted and what implications this research has for home education.The 1998 Rudner Study

In 1998 Dr. Lawrence Rudner conducted a study, The Achievement and Demographics of Home School Students, which produced some of the most convincing arguments for home teaching. Dr. Rudner does not advocate either form of education, yet his research did seem to suggest that privileged children from home schools generally perform better than students of an equivalent background at public and private schools. He did also say that one should not draw conclusions based on his research alone as he was only studying a limited number of variables.

Home Schooling and Social Development

Proponents of home schooling often quote research that suggests that home schooled children tend to become more successful in life (if one considers income as representative of success). One study also showed that adults who were home schooled are more content with their lives and see the world in a more positively.

Doctors in the USA – where home schooling is a lot more common than in the UK – recommend that parents make special arrangements to involve their children in social activities outside of the home. A lack of socialization can inhibit the development of certain emotional and social skills, like empathy. A lack of social skills will seriously harm a child’s prospects once they have finished school due to difficulties building and maintaining relationships, both professional and personal.

Qualifications for Home School Teachers

Parents who educate their children at home are not required to hold any formal qualifications; however, parents with a lack of qualifications will inevitably struggle to teach subjects they are not familiar with. This may sound obvious, but many parents who are confident with their school level mathematics and English skills could struggle to teach the modern curriculum. What children learn today differs greatly from that of previous generations, so attaining a qualification for the subject that you are teaching will be of a great benefit to both the teacher and student. Children learn from educators who have studied their subject in detail and can apply it to real problems, not from those who rely solely on textbook copy.

GCSE’s, A-levels and pretty much any qualification can be attained through home learning – and that includes teaching qualifications. Many companies offer courses designed to be taken over the course of 1 year rather than the nationally recommended times (2 years for A-level and GCSE). These courses all cover a syllabus designed to equip you with the knowledge to succeed in the exams. They do not, however, necessarily equip you with the ability to teach a subject. Even parents teaching their own children can suffer from a lack of charisma, lack of confidence, and lack of focus. To be a teacher requires other skills, such as planning, that can only be learned either through accredited teaching courses and/or through practice.

Teaching qualifications can be attained by completing mixed distance learning courses if time is an issue. Mixed distance learning requires students to attend a number of on-campus seminars and lectures, but they are largely completed through self-directed learning at home. A PGCE, or Postgraduate Certificate of Higher Education, is usually completed over 2 years and will equip someone with the skills to teach at a specific school level. The time taken to complete the degree will vary depending on the commitment of the student, whether it is full-time or part-time and on the university.

Early years qualifications are also available as distance learning courses, and the UK’s largest university, the Open University, offer a foundation degree that can be completed in as little as 3 years. Foundation degrees can be topped up to full bachelor’s degrees following a further year of study.

Qualifications to Look for in Tutors

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Section 7 of the Education Act (details of which can be found here) states clearly that home school teachers are not required to hold any particular qualifications (or any at all), but that a child’s education must be relevant to their “age, ability and aptitude.” Therefore, if parents do not have the necessary qualifications to teach a subject themselves then they should consider hiring a private tutor.

It is a good idea to first check what experience and qualifications a private tutor has before hiring them. Tutors with no experience or relevant qualifications may not have the ability to develop a well-rounded syllabus and confidently teach a subject.

Below is a list of a few qualifications and a small explanation of what they are.

PGCE: Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education degrees are internationally recognised teaching qualifications that develops highly capable teachers. PGCE students are required to spend a number of months in a school to give them unrivalled experience.

All PGCE graduates hold FQTS (Fully Qualified Teacher Status).

Ma: Master of Arts qualifications are postgraduate degrees. They allow students to focus on a more specific topic of interest. Ma teaching degrees do exist but do not necessarily make someone a fantastic teacher. Many with Ma teaching degrees research teaching methods and do not actively teach themselves. A tutor with an Ma in a specific subject and a significant amount of teaching experience will be a good choice for a tutor.

Ba: Bachelor of Arts degrees are undergraduate degrees and are the most common type awarded in the UK. Ba teaching qualifications differ from the BEd (Bachelor of Education) in that that it features a single subject bias. The BEd is a more general teaching qualification. The Ba is often compared to the PGCE and is generally geared towards secondary school teaching.

Both PGCE and Ba courses usually focus on a particular level of education. This resource on the government website explains the different levels of education the National Curriculum.

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language. A lot of tutors will list a TEFL as one of their qualifications. Many teachers gain experience by completing TEFL courses, which are largely conducted overseas. Tutors with TEFL qualifications, whatever level they may be, will have been required to complete a certain amount of teaching. Quite often this includes teaching in third world countries and in dangerous situations.

It is worth enquiring about the tutors experience with the TEFL before employing them as it will provide an insight into their whole attitude towards teaching. TEFL is internationally recognised and highly regarded, but anyone can apply to the TEFL course – even those without a significant amount of academic qualifications.

Price of a Tutor

Whether a tutor is an expensive option or not depends largely on a parent’s financial situation. Lost earnings through not working could outweigh the costs of educating a child at home, making home school an unsustainable path for some. Creating a spreadsheet with projected costs and predicted lost income will help create a picture of the net loss/gain from educating a child at home.

Tutors prices generally range from £50 per hour to £75 per hour, but this figure differs depending on the location. Please note that most tutors will charge a premium for marking exam practice papers and other specialised tasks.

Budgeting for Home Education

Government help for home education does not exist. The Department of Education makes it clear that parents who teach their children at home are financially responsible for their education.

Obviously, the first thing that needs to be considered is the cost of things like stationery and tutoring. These form the very basic list of requirements for any student. Textbooks are relatively expensive compared to other non-fiction books as they are produced by university presses that usually charge a premium to private buyers.

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An effective working area will also be required. While whiteboards are not vital, they help to engage children by allowing the teacher to visualise some difficult concepts. So, to complement their exercise books, it is recommended that parents invest in a small whiteboard or smartboard.

Buying a computer and investing in a stable internet connection will benefit students significantly. Not only will it be vital if teaching IT, but it also opens up access to a host of free teaching resources on the internet and helps teach independent learning skills. Independent learning is an essential skill for students who plan to study at A-level and higher.

All of this may sound very expensive, and there is a common misconception that home schooling is only undertaken by middle class families. In fact, over 40% of home school children come from families earning less than the national average salary.

Below is a list of things that need to be accounted for when drawing up a budget for your home school.

  • Textbook costs
  • Stationery costs (pens, pencils, paper, exercise books, mathematics equipment)
  • Supplementary classroom equipment (projector, television, smartboard, whiteboard)
  • Tutoring prices per hour (and supplementary tutor services, such as marking)
  • Extra-curricular activities (sports, visits to museums) and travel costs
  • Income lost from unemployment
  • Computers
  • Software costs (word processors, spreadsheet software)
  • Exam entry fees
  • Exam centre fees
  • Exam board registration fees

The Home School Curriculum

Many parents decide to use the National Curriculum as a framework for developing their own. The National Curriculum, details of which can be found here, features levels in which certain subjects are mandatory. The more a child progresses through the school levels, the more focused their learning becomes.

Below is a table that details the mandatory subjects for each age group.

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Developing a curriculum around this is recommended because there is an abundance of resources available influenced directly by the National Curriculum. BBC Bitesize is one such website that features an array of resources designed by universities to follow the syllabuses set by the exam boards and is completely free to use.

Developing a Tailor Made Curriculum for your Child

Designing a unique curriculum is possible, and many parents decide to completely ignore the national curriculum in favour of a more vocational and practical education.

Mathematics and English should be taught as part of every curriculum and at every age level. All employers expect a certain level of mathematics and English, and adults without the necessary qualification in numeracy and literacy are seen as risky investments by employers.

There is a reason why young children are taught a wide range of subjects: peoples interests change as they grow older. A well-rounded curriculum that is designed to teach the basics of every subject and allows students to decide their future is therefore the most effective. To force a GCSE student to study art and design when they want to become a science teacher is probably a waste of time and resources.

Allowing children to pursue their interests will also help them develop a thirst for education. This is possibly one reason why home schooled children are often more accomplished in academic tests: they are given greater freedom to study subjects they enjoy.

Science and Mathematics

While some see science as a subject with no practical value in the real world, science actually helps develop awareness, critical thinking skills and enhances mathematical skills. Subjects like biology help children gauge their place in the world and help them to develop healthy interests in nature. These interests can then be developed even further in English classes.

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Science is a compulsory subject up to GCSE. Almost every industry recognises the importance of holding science qualifications, and the practical application of science knowledge is often overlooked. However, science teaching should become more focused as students get older. By focusing on one science subject, or a group of core topics (which may overlap the sciences), a syllabus can be developed that focuses on topics of interest and relevance.

Other Subjects

Not all subjects are deemed necessary for all levels. Design technology and physical education are subjects that can be taught as an extra-curricular activity, and priority should be place on core subjects that demand the greatest resources. This does not mean that you should neglect these subjects, but there are more imaginative ways to teach these subjects without draining resources from other areas.

History and geography are subjects that can open the doors to a wide variety of future qualifications. Both have significant importance to certain fields, such as politics and environmental science. These are academic subjects and can be taught in conjunction with other subjects, such as English and science respectively.

The main lesson to learn when developing a curriculum is to keep it well-rounded and adaptable. Developing a foundation in all subjects allows children to decide their own pathway and makes it easier for them to find their interests that might one day develop into further study or a career.

Entering Exams as an Independent Candidate

All children will need to be entered into exams at the end of the school year, and this always takes place in an accredited examination centre. Exam centres can be school halls, community halls or universities. Fees vary, but all exams centres charge something for invigilation and administration costs.

Please note that not all schools accept independent admissions.

Exam boards also require registration fees and exam fees. These cover the postage required for sending off the papers and the administration costs for marking them. Some exam centres will only accept entrants studying for the same exam board as their own students.

Contact the individual exam boards to enter your children into their exams. They will guide you through the process of entering an exam as a private candidate and give you advice on their syllabus and fees.

Alternatives to the A-level

A-levels have a few competitors, the most popular being the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the Cambridge Pre-U’s. Both the IB and Cambridge Pre-U’s maintain a very high satisfaction rate among their students and are internationally recognised qualifications.

International Baccalaureate

Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University, describes the IB curriculum as “less parochial than most American efforts,” and said that it helps students “think critically, synthesize knowledge, reflect on their own thought processes and get their feet wet in.”

The IB is recognised as developing a whole range of skills in students not often prioritised in state curriculums. The development of critical thinking skills is important in most subjects; however, some parents have complained that the IB doesn’t allow students to develop an in-depth knowledge of their chosen subjects. This is an important fact to consider, as the IB requires students study some core subjects that they may not want to take. A-levels, however, allow students to choose their own subjects and develop their own curriculum.

Both are respected qualifications, but the IB might possibly take a slight lead in terms of university approval. With university places so competitive, IB students with good grades really do stand out.

Cambridge Pre-U

Cambridge Pre-U’s are unique in that they are both linear, unlike A-levels, and do not require students to take any compulsory subjects, unlike IB’s. They are accepted in all UK universities, and they are also accepted in all Ivy League universities in America.

The Cambridge Pre-U examination board grades students on portfolios of coursework, as well as exams (taken at the end of the two year course). This linear approach reduces exam related distractions and helps students explore their interests more in-depth. As a qualification that allows students to choose their own subjects of study, it offers a high degree of freedom – and students are encouraged to develop other key skills as well.

Useful Information and Links

The Cambridge Pre-U Guide for Parents is a great resource for answering any difficult questions parents may have about one of the fastest growing A-level alternative qualifications in the UK.

This article in the Telegraph provides an insight into the debate between supporters of both the International Baccalaureate and the A-level.

Homeschoolbuyersco-op.org provides free resources to home educators. This website has a fantastic array of resources for helping to develop home school curriculums.

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