3. Withdrawing a child from school
3.1 Why parents choose to home educate
Parents choose to home educate their children for many different reasons. Parents do not have to give a reason for choosing home education when requesting to withdraw their child from school. Any reason given should have no bearing on whether or not consent is given, as the authority's interest lies in how the parents intend to educate their children not their reason for doing so. The following reasons are common, but not exhaustive:
- The wish to follow a particular educational or ideological philosophy.
- Religious or cultural beliefs.
- Dissatisfaction with the system.
- A child's reluctance to go to school.
- A child's problems when at school, e.g. bullying.
- Geographical - due to remoteness, or mobility for work or cultural reasons.
- The wish to deal with a child's additional support needs in a particular way.
- As a short term intervention for a particular reason.
It may be helpful for the local authority to know if the reason is dissatisfaction with the school, or problems, such as bullying, being faced by the child at school.
3.2 Who needs consent?
Under Section 35 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, parents of a child who has been attending a public school 4 must seek the local authority's consent before withdrawing their child from that school, and the authority must not unreasonably withhold consent. It should be noted that while consent is needed for withdrawal from school, consent is not needed to home educate in itself.
Consent is not needed in the following situations:
- The child has never attended a public school.
- The child has never attended a public school in that authority's area.
- The child is being withdrawn from an independent school.
- The child has finished primary education in one school but has not started secondary education in another.
- The school the child has been attending has closed.
Although there is no statutory duty upon parents to inform the local authority that they are home educating if they do not require consent, many authorities would prefer home educators in their area, or moving into their area, to contact them.
3.3 Withdrawing the child from school - the process
Procedures for considering a parent's request to withdraw a child from school should be fair, clear, consistent and without delay. Local authorities should remember that home education is a key aspect of parental choice, and that consent to withdraw a child from school should not be unreasonably withheld. On the other hand, sufficient time must be allowed for local authorities to take an informed decision on an important matter which will have an effect on the child's future learning.
The following checklists are suggested as good practice:
- Establish whether consent is needed.
- If consent is needed, write to the local authority to request their consent:
- as early as possible and, where reasonably practical, well in advance of the date you wish to withdraw your child from school
- include initial proposals as to how you intend to provide an efficient and suitable education for your child
- you are not required to indicate the reasons for your decision, but may choose to do so.
For local authorities
Is there anything in the child's record to cause concern?
- On receipt of a request from a parent, you should consider quickly whether there is any existing evidence, either in an authority's own records or from other services or agencies, indicating that there may be good reason to refuse consent. Previous irregular attendance is not of itself a sufficient reason for refusing consent. Specific instances where consent may not be able to be granted immediately are:
- where a child has been referred to social work or the police for child protection reasons, and the matter is being investigated
- where a child is on the child protection register
- where a child has been referred to the reporter on care and protection grounds, and the referral is being considered
- where the child is the subject of a supervision requirement.
Is there evidence of the intention to provide efficient and suitable education?
- If information exists casting doubt on whether an efficient and suitable education can be provided, or if the parent has failed to provide outline proposals on the proposed educational provision, the authority should seek to gather any relevant information that will assist them in reaching a decision. This should include seeking further information from the parents about their plans for education provision. Parents should be given the opportunity to address any specific concerns that the authority has. The child should also be given the opportunity to express his or her views.
- If no evidence exists of reasonable grounds to withhold consent, and parents have provided some indication of their educational objectives and proposed resources, consent can be granted immediately.
- The aim should be to issue a decision within 6 weeks of the receipt of the original application.
- The majority of applications can and will be dealt with well within this timescale.
- In a small minority of cases, where information has to be sought from various sources, it may not be possible for a decision to be issued within 6 weeks. The parent should be kept informed of the progress of the application, the reason for any delay, and the likely timescale to reach a decision. The authority should seek to issue a decision as soon as possible.
- Authorities should have regard to any problems a child is experiencing at school, and should endeavour to issue as quick a response as possible in those cases where a child may be suffering distress or experiencing some kind of problem as a result of continued attendance at school.
Points to bear in mind
- The local authority may not unreasonably withhold consent. The authority should notify the parents in writing of their decision, setting out reasons and the grounds for refusal if consent is withheld.
- If consent is withheld, the parents should be given the opportunity, within a reasonably practicable period, to address the grounds for refusal and resubmit their request for reconsideration.
- In reaching a decision the authority may wish to have regard to the suggested characteristics of an efficient and suitable education set out in Section 6 of this guidance. However, authorities should bear in mind that, in these early stages, parents' proposals may not be detailed and they may not yet be in a position to demonstrate all of the characteristics suggested.
- In the period between receipt of an application to withdraw the child and a decision being issued, the authority should take a reasonable approach to attendance procedures. In most cases it would be inappropriate to initiate or pursue attendance procedures in respect of a child awaiting consent to be withdrawn from school.
- Local authorities should acknowledge that potential home educators come from all social, economic, racial and religious backgrounds, and that these factors should not bear upon the authority's decision.
- Parents are not required to have any qualifications or training to home educate their children.
3.4 Appeals by parents against a local authority's decision
There is no statutory right to appeal against an authority's decision to withhold consent to withdraw a child from school. However, all decisions should be reviewed internally by local authorities on request. Local authorities should provide parents with details about their complaints procedure. Decisions made by authorities under their statutory powers are also generally subject to external review by the Court of Session through the judicial review process. Some local authorities have mediation services and the existence of these should be made known to home educating families. Parents may also choose to pursue the matter with the Scottish Public Services Commissioner (Ombudsman).
3.5 Movement between local authority areas
Some families may have lifestyles which mean they move or travel, sometimes seasonally, between local authority areas, sometimes for work or cultural reasons, for example Gypsies and Travellers. The same considerations for consent to withdraw from school, and for ongoing contact, apply to these families. Some Traveller families have arrangements in place whereby children are on a school roll and attend for part of the year, using means other than home education to maintain continuity in learning while travelling. Only where children do not attend any school, and where the education is provided predominantly by the parents, should the arrangement be considered to be home education.
3.6 Flexi schooling
Local authorities may occasionally receive a request to withdraw a child part time from school, e.g. for the child to attend school only on certain days, or for certain subjects. The feasibility of each request should be considered on its own merit, while taking into consideration that under Section 28 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 ' so far as is compatible with the provision of suitable instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents' . Ultimately, however, it is a decision for each local authority and school as to whether they can support such an arrangement.