Home education for autistic children: first choice or last resort?

Sarah-Jane Critchley is the author of A Different Joy: the Parents' Guide to Living Better With Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD and more... Here, she shares her experience of home educating her autistic daughter and suggests what to consider before deciding to home educate.

Author: Sarah-Jane Critchley
Home education for autistic children: first choice or last resort?
"I had to drop out of school to get my 'A' Levels!" is how my autistic daughter explains the latest stage of her education. From the age of 5 she wanted to be taught at home, rather than go to school. It wasn't what we wanted for her at the time, but 11 years and 3 diagnoses later, she studies with an online school and is doing really well.
Like many parents, including many #actuallyautistic parents I asked online, we found ourselves in the hinterland of having a child who was too poorly to attend school, but for whom no suitable alternative had been offered by school or County.  It wasn’t until we did the research ourselves and found the solution that met her medical and autistic needs that the light at the end of the tunnel appeared. Our experience is common to many parents of autistic children whose children do not fit the provision available. Many autistic people I asked said that they would have preferred it for themselves and for their children, whilst others felt that being forced to endure school made them stronger.
Legally, it is the parent who is responsible for providing an education. In England, education is compulsory, but school is not. Parents have the right to home educate their child if they choose up to the age of 16. 
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that: "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."  Parents do not have to follow the National Curriculum and can tailor the education which is provided to meet the specific needs of their child. 
There are a number of considerations to think through before deciding on home education:
  1. Can you afford to do it? Many parents have to give up work in order to home educate their child. This may well mean the loss of a salary for a number of years. Parents will need to supply all of the costs of education out of their own pocket, including internet access, teaching resources, learning materials and the cost of taking exams. There is rarely support from the local authority (LA). 
  2. The age of your child and whether they will be able to re-enter school prepared to take public exams if this is what they want to do. It can be difficult to persuade a school to accept a pupil who has been home-schooled if they have not been following a traditional curriculum as they may not have covered the subjects or been taught the skills the school would expect, which might impact on the performance of the school. 
  3. How to create opportunities for social activities and time with friends.  Many families are part of home education networks, sports, arts or drama clubs or specialist groups like Potential Plus for children with ‘high learning potential’.   
  4. What to teach.  Although it is not compulsory to follow the National Curriculum, the law states the education you provide should ‘prepare your child for life in modern society and enable them to progress towards meeting their full potential’. It is recommended that you include study in core subjects such as English, Maths, Science and ICT provided that it meets their needs. Online schooling can offer access to traditional teaching subjects at home.
  5. Where your child has an identified Special Educational Need, the LA has a duty to make sure that those needs are met.  This may include visiting you in the home to see how you are meeting those needs, but there is no legal requirement for you to allow a home visit. If your child attends a Special School, the LA has to give permission for them to be home educated. 
  6. Safeguarding. The LA has a responsibility for safeguarding all children, wherever they are educated. Any tutors you employ should have completed a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Check and be able to show it to you. If the LA has any concerns about the safety of your child, they have a duty to act to protect them, as they do with all children. 
Home education can provide a safe and secure place for autistic children to learn in the way they need, away from the overstimulating sensory environment and bullying of school, but it also brings additional pressures on family relationships and needs to be matched to the needs of the family as a whole. 
Date added: 22 March 2018