Education is compulsory - school is optional

The current legal status of HE

In November 2009 the Department for Children Schools and Families introduced measures in the Children Schools and Families Bill that attempted to change the law on home education in England. The Government was not successful, and the Children Schools and Families Act 2010 received Royal Assent on April 8th without any of the home education clauses passing into law.

The current legal situation in the UK with regard to home education can be summarised in the phrase, "Education is compulsory, schooling is not".

However, the processes and details do differ in different parts of the UK. The information on these pages relates to England and Wales. Please see our Scotland page or Northern Ireland page for information appropriate for those countries.

Home Education Guidelines

In 2007 Education Otherwise responded to the Government Consultation on Home Education Guidelines.

Education Otherwise recommends that the Department consider a number of innovative pilot projects aimed at promoting positive working partnerships across a range of urban, suburban, rural and metropolitan borough areas. The authority's role in these pilot schemes will evolve from a one-to-one inspection and monitoring role, which is neither cost-effective nor equitable, and move towards an advisory, information, and resource-based support role.

Introduction of new guidelines will go some way to addressing the current situation. However, lack of funding to local authorities continues to be a major impediment to the proper implementation of the law.

Any move to make a child's education the responsibility of parties other than the parent's strikes at the very heart of the legislative framework for education in England and would expose those other parties to formal legal responsibility enforceable and actionable in the courts."      Education Otherwise June 2007

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 applies to England and Wales:

Compulsory education

7: Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age

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.

Home education is covered under "education otherwise", Section 7 and ensures that every parent has the right to choose not to send their child into the state schooling system.

At the end of 2006, section 4 of the Education and Inspections Act introduced the "Duty to identify children not receiving education", whereby section 436A was added to the 1996 Education Act.

Extract from the guidelines:

2.15 As outlined above, local authorities have general duties to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (section 175 Education Act 2002 in relation to their functions as a local authority and for other functions in sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004).

These powers allow local authorities to insist on seeing children in order to enquire about their welfare where there are grounds for concern (sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989). However, such powers do not bestow on local authorities the ability to see and question children subject to elective home education in order to establish whether they are receiving a suitable education.

Download the Government's Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities below.


Education Otherwise frequently receives enquiries from parents about home education, often relating to how they should engage with their local authority. This has been particularly concerning for parents since the publication of the Elective Home Education Departmental Guidance for Local Authorities (EHEDGLA), in April 2019.

Education Otherwise, in conjunction with the Centre for Personalised Education charity, has obtained advice from a Queen's Counsel (or QC, a title given to a senior barrister) in order to help us provide accurate information to parents. The QC we instructed specialises in public law and education law, and is a former part-time Chair of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, and a current member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's panel of counsel. The QC also trains lawyers and others in education and public law.

Education Otherwise is revising its information in line with the advice received from the QC. The revised information will be posted on the website when ready. In the meantime, but also as a matter of good practice, parents should of course always obtain their own legal advice if they have concerns over any issues.