There’s already an active community of homeschoolers in Ireland and getting started is not a difficult process, writes teacher and homeschooler Cliona Brophy.
DO YOU REMEMBER the feelings of horror the phrase ‘Back To School’ stirred up when we were kids, as shops, television and radio ads gleefully advertised the end of the summer holidays almost as soon as we had our first lie-in?
Well, for once, many parents who would usually be counting down the days until their child gets back into the routine of school are dreading ‘Back to School’ 2020 and seriously looking to homeschooling as an alternative.
I am a homeschooling parent of two children now aged 12 and 10 and as such I have gone through the process of registering them as home educated.
If you would like to know what you need to do in order to start homeschooling officially, then read on… (the information you need to know on how to get the process started is contained below).
Firstly, homeschooling/home education (the terms are interchangeable) is fully legal in Ireland, enshrined in Article 42 of our Constitution. Some parents replicate school at home following a curriculum and timetable but there is no requirement to actually do so; parents are free to follow their children’s interests and aptitudes, as long as they provide a ‘certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social’ (Article 42.3.2).
Secondly, before Covid there was already a growing, active community of homeschoolers. Many Facebook groups exist to support parents and provide in-person social outlets for children all over the country. Of course, Covid put paid to many events but the communities still exist and meet-ups will happen again.
Thirdly, the process you go through in order to officially home educate, currently overseen by Tusla, simply requires a form and a meeting to show how you will provide your child’s education. It’s not a difficult process and these meetings are currently being done by phone.
All children in Ireland are required to be in education between the ages of 6 and 16. If your child is under the age of 6 and you are considering not starting them in school this September – or not sending them back to a school you had them in – you do not legally need to inform anyone (although it would be advised to inform the school if you had been allotted a place for them).
If you want to homeschool your child aged from 6 to 16 you legally need to contact Tusla to add them to the ‘register of children being educated at a place other than a recognised school’ (which is maintained in accordance with Section 14 of the Education Welfare Act 2000).
If they already have a school place, the school must keep their place until informed by Tusla to remove them from their register. (The child will not be on a class roll-book, however, and so not marked absent.)
To get everything going, you inform Tusla by sending in a short form, available from the Tusla website at this link. It’s also possible to initially send a letter instead.
What happens next? Well, a Tusla representative, or ‘Approved Person’ (AP) contacts you to arrange the meeting/phone call, as mentioned above. This does not involve any interview or testing of your child and your child is not required to be present.
During the meeting/phone call, the Tusla AP goes through your answers to the questions on the form in detail. They will want to know that you have thought about methods and resources you could use in your child’s education. Many parents adapt their methods as the child’s interests and abilities develop and you can state you will do this.
You don’t need to follow the National Curriculum, you don’t need to have a teaching degree and you don’t need to cover every subject done in school.
For parents of children at secondary school age, the Tusla AP generally wants to hear of your plans to help your child reach further or higher education, should they so wish.
The meetings or phone calls last about 90 minutes per child. The AP usually makes detailed notes and at the end of the meeting advises the parent(s) that they are recommending that the child be put on the register, pending the meeting of the board of the relevant Tusla department. (Although it does occasionally happen that a meeting ends with the AP being inconclusive in this regard, reports of this are extremely rare.)
Shortly after the meeting you will receive the written report from the AP with the opportunity to amend anything you want; then after the board meeting you will receive official notification of the child’s name being added to the register. At this point your child will be taken off the school register if they were on one.
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Currently, Tusla has a backlog of people applying. Some prospective homeschoolers have reported waits of 12 to 18 months between the initial contact and the meeting/phone call with the AP.
This does not affect your start date – once you make initial contact stating your intentions, you are covered to start homeschooling. So, you can start in September if you wish and relax in the knowledge that no one will come looking to discuss how it’s going until well into next year.
Your Child Benefit Allowance and Back to Education Allowance is not affected. If your child is 16-18 and registered with Tusla as still receiving full time education they are still entitled to CBA and if you qualify for the Back to Education Allowance you will receive it.
There are, however, no grants available to home educating parents for any expenses.
There are many things to consider of course – your whole family dynamic changes. Not having to get children up and out on a dark winter’s morning is a huge attraction of homeschooling but there is no handy manual either. Parents need to be hands-on which can sometimes be overwhelming, but it’s also true that there are no tests, no bench-marking and no rules. Pyjama days are also learning opportunities!
Homeschooling may well be a liberation for you and your child, particularly at this time of uncertainty. If you do decide to go down this route this year, it doesn’t mean you’re committing to homeschooling forever – you can opt to send your child to school again at any stage.
In the meantime, if you do decide to take the leap or want to find out more, you’ll find the link to the Home Education Network website here.