Teaching your child at home
Parents have a constitutional right to educate their children at home. If you choose to home-school your child, you do not need a formal teaching qualification or curriculum but you must ensure that your child receives a certain minimum education. You can adopt the approach you feel best suits the learning needs of your child to make sure that he or she is learning successfully and making reasonable progress, given his or her age, ability, aptitude and learning needs.
The Irish constitution recognises the family as the primary educator of the child and defines duties and responsibilities for parents and the State in the education of children. Section 14 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 makes provision for parents to educate their children in places other than recognised schools, such as in the home or in private schools where they are not required to follow a national curriculum. The Act states that parents must ensure their child receives a certain minimum education. Guidelines on the Assessment of Education in places other than recognised schools (pdf) have been published under section 16 of the Act. The guidelines provide a working definition of “a certain minimum education”, describe home-based education and offer guidance on how it may be assessed. They also cover the legal background of home education.
The State has a duty to ensure that children receive a certain minimum education, but parents are free to determine how this education is provided. The law does not define a “certain minimum education”. The guidelines provide a definition of the broad characteristics, which require that a child’s education should:
- Be suited to the age, ability, aptitude and personality of the child
- Be responsive to the child’s individual needs, should take cognisance of the areas of learning that are of interest to the child, and should ensure that his/her personal potential is enhanced and not suppressed
- Address the immediate and prospective needs of the child, in the context of the cultural, economic and social environment
- Provide a reasonably balanced range of learning experiences, so that no one aspect of the child’s learning is emphasised to the exclusion of others
- Develop the personal and social skills of the child and prepare him/her for the responsibilities of citizenship
- Contribute to the moral development of the child
- Provide opportunities for the child to develop his/her intellectual capacities and understanding
The guidelines also require that basic skills, without which a child would be placed at a serious disadvantage, should be taken into account in a definition of this minimum education. Development and progression in oral language, literacy and numeracy are vital for other areas of learning and for the child to participate in society and everyday life.
Role of the Child and Family Agency
The Child and Family Agency is obliged to maintain a register of children who are receiving education but not attending a recognised school. In effect, this register will show the names of children who are being educated at home or in private non-recognised schools. All parents or guardians who want to educate their children at home must register their child with the Child and Family Agency. Parents of children who attend private non recognised schools should make an application through the school. Registration is not automatic. It is a legal obligation and the onus is on parents or guardians to make an application on behalf of their child.
On 1 January 2014, the National Educational Welfare Board was abolished and its functions transferred to the Child and Family Agency.
The registration process
You can apply directly to the Child and Family Agency – see ‘Where to apply’ below. The Child and Family Agency will send you an application form and a copy of the guidelines Guidelines on the assessment of education in places other than recognised schools (pdf).
Assessment: when you return the application form you will be contacted by the person who will carry out the assessment to arrange a convenient time and date. This person is authorised by the Child and Family Agency and is experienced in education. The assessment will focus on the details of the education that is being provided to the child, the materials used in the course of the education and the time spent providing that education. The interview can take place in a venue of your choice and will be based on what you have said in your application. This is called the preliminary assessment. Your assessor will complete a draft assessment report and a copy of this is forwarded to you for comment. Following the report your child’s name will either be entered into the register or your case will be referred for a comprehensive assessment.
If the Child and Family Agency is not able to determine whether you are providing a minimum education, a comprehensive assessment will be carried out. This is more in-depth and involves the assessor spending some time with you, observing how you teach or work with your child, inspecting your educational materials and talking to your child.
The appeals process
If the Child and Family Agency decides that you are not providing a certain minimum education for your child, it can refuse to register or remove your child’s name from the register. It must inform you of its decision in writing and you have 21 days to appeal against the decision. The Minister will appoint a committee to hear the appeal and make a decision on the case. An appeal committee is made up of a District Court judge, an inspector and such other person as may be appointed thereto by the Minister. You and the assessor are invited to make submissions on the case. Depending on their decision, the committee will:
- Affirm the decision of the Child and Family Agency to remove or refuse to add your child’s name to the register
- Require the Child and Family Agency to add your child’s name to the register
- Require the Child and Family Agency to add your child’s name to the register, subject to your undertaking to comply with any requirements the appeal committee considers appropriate.
When it comes time to sit formal exams, arrangements can be made through Education and Training Boards (ETBs) or adult education classes. Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations can also be sat at any school by registering with the school in early January of the year that the exams will be taken. Further information is available from the State Examinations Commission.
If a child does not sit State examinations then entry to third-level education in Ireland is difficult. The normal route into Irish third-level institutions is through the Leaving Certificate. However, it may also be possible to enter third-level education at aged 17 or 18 without the Leaving Certificate by interview only. You would need to approach your chosen institution to discuss this possibility. There are a variety of courses for the 16-plus age group which are accepted as valid for entry to third-level courses. You can find out more about further and higher education and training courses from Qualifax - The National Learner's Database.
Mature students are not subject to the usual entry requirements. There are also a growing number of correspondence courses on offer, such as the Open University. Aontas - the National Association of Adult Education is a source of information on distance learning in Ireland.
Home Education Network
If you choose to teach your child at home, the Home Education Network is a support and lobby group for home educators in Ireland. It aims to help parents use the available resources to develop educational techniques suitable for each child’s needs. It also provides a means for the exchange of ideas and experience among home educators through regular meetings and newsletters. Its website contains links to research and online information about home education and it also operates a library service of books on home education that is available to members.