Information on this page is of a general nature only and has not been prepared by a qualified legal practitioner: you are advised to seek legal advice if in any doubt about your legal responsibilities.

Home Education is a legal alternative to school based education for children in South Australia. Families interested in teaching their children at home are urged to obtain a copy of the Education Act and Children's Services Act and become familiar with the regulations that apply to school attendance. Information about applying for exemption from attendance at school can be found on the Department of Education and Children's Services.

There are several homeschooling support groups in South Australia and these offer companionship and support for parents and children, as well as educational opportunities, excursions, activities and camps. Home educators seek the best education possible for their children and make use of the whole community, learning from many sources and in many different environments, as well as the home.

The newsletter is the best way to stay in touch with what is happening in South Australia with homeschooling. It contains a list of activities for the coming term and is a valuable networking tool. Please support and use the newsletter by sending news, announcements and information about useful resources to the editor for publication.

From birth to the age of 6 years there is no legal requirement for a child to attend a child care centre, kindergarten or pre-school.

Attendance at School

The SA Education Act requires enrolment (s75) and full time attendance for students aged 6-16; and/or enrolment in an approved course for those aged 16-17 unless they have already achieved the SACE or other approved qualification. Children of compulsory school age must be enrolled in SA. It is an offence to not enrol your children.

Enrolment requirements are easy to satisfy: parents are required to provide the principal or head teacher with the name and date of birth of the child, the place of birth of the child, and any other information required by regulations (of which there are none).

Compulsory attendance at school is required unless the child is exempted from attendance by the Minister of Education (see below). The SA Education Act does not explicitly mention home education. Home educators do not 'register' as home educators in SA,the children are 'exempted from attending school'.

Where a child is not attending school, each parent is committing an offence which is punishable by up to $500 fine (s76(3); UNLESS the failure of the child to attend school did not result from any failure of the parent to exercise proper care and control, S76(4). Families would need to keep home education attendance records, a diary of education activities showing progress in key learning areas, etc., as these are probably the minimum proof required to satisfy a court that 'proper care and control' has been exercised. It would be up to a court to decide what was required as evidence.

If a parent is removing a child from school to home educate the child, it is advisable to present a written explanation for that absence within a reasonable time. If this is not received by the school the principal is required to contact the parent. Although truancy is not an offence, parents who fail to ensure the attendance of their children of compulsory school age may be prosecuted and are liable to a penalty not exceeding $200. Persistent cases of non-attendance are referred to Families SA (FSA) (under Section 6(2)(d) of the Children's Protection Act 1993). Under this Act, truancy is defined as an 'at risk' factor for child protection, although it is not a mandated reason for reporting.

Home educating parents need to be aware that Police Officers and Student Attendance Counsellors are empowered to obtain a child's name and address and the reason for non-attendance if the child is observed in a public place during school hours. If the child does not have a proper reason for being absent, only the Police Officer (not the Student Attendance Counsellor) may take the child into his or her custody and return the child to someone in authority at the school, or to a parent or guardian of the child. If the child is accompanied by an adult, the Police Officer or the Student Attendance Counsellor may inquire into the reason for the child's absence. Police Officers and Student Attendance Counsellors have the authority to call at a home at any time, to seek the full names and ages of all children of compulsory school age living in the home and the schools at which the children are enrolled. However, this does not give them powers to enter and inspect the premises or children.

Exemption from Attendance

The Minister of Education may, by written notice, if the Minister considers it appropriate to do so, grant, or revoke, an exemption from the attendance provisions of the Education Act. There is a maximum penalty of $500 for failing to comply with a condition of the exemption granted by the Minister.

Principals have delegated authority from the Minister to approve applications for temporary exemption from school attendance for up to one calendar month. Parents need to apply in writing and Principals are required to provide their responses on the school letterhead.

Temporary exemptions exceeding one month, and exemptions for the purpose of home schooling, are approved by the Director, School and District Operations. Homeschooling students are entered into a separate roll class set, and are not marked absent.

Applications for exemptions must meet the criteria set by DECs in its guidelines. These guidelines are not enforceable by law, but the Department does has the power to require a child to attend school.

All applications for exemptions for home schooling are to be set out on form ED175 or in a letter and addressed to the Director, Schools and Children's Services. Procedures for the processing of applications for home schooling are available from the Home Education Project Officer (see contact details below).

Not all families who choose to home educate their children register with the Department of Education and Childrens' Services (DECS – commonly referred to as the Education Department) for an exemption from attendance at school. The reasons for this are many and varied – it is a personal decision.

Before deciding to home educate your children it is advisable to talk to local homeschooling families, and perhaps attend a few homeschooling support group meetings or excursions. This will give a much better idea of what homeschooling is, what it can be, and how different families teach their children at home. You will also glean much information about how to register as a home educator and what is required. This can save you time and worry!

Preparing to Home Educate

To be exempted from attending for the purposes of home education, students must be enrolled.

•  For children not yet attending school: 
Enrol at a school. As you intend to home educate, your child doesn't actually have to attend. Advise the school in writing that enrolling is a requirement of ‘exemption from attendance at school' for the purposes of home education. Public schools are not permitted to deny acceptance of your enrolment if they know that you are going to home educate. You need not give information beyond your child's name, date of birth and residential address. School fees will not apply. Private schools are under no obligation to accept an enrolment if the child will be homeschooled and may will charge school fees, even if the child is not attending at all. There are a couple of private schools in SA that welcome homeschool enrolments and charge approximately $30 per annum).

•  For children currently attending school: 
Children are required to remain in school until the registration process is complete, however in practice many people withdraw their children when they make contact with DECS seeking information about the process. You must advise the Principal of your child's school, preferably in writing, that you have applied for exemption from attending school for your child. Keep a copy of your letter and any replies. If possible, organise your learning program and resources before withdrawing your child. Arrange to collect all of your child's belongings on her last day and inform the child's teacher/s that the Principal has been notified of your intention to home educate her. Record in your homeschool diary that you have done this: this is your official homeschool starting date!

Completing the Paperwork

A single application is used for all the children you intend to teach at home.

Always ask for confirmation in writing for any dates and times of meetings. In addition, ask for an agenda for each meeting. This will ensure that you will be adequately prepared and may save application processing time. Request that this information be advised in the letter from DECS which confirms the date of the meeting. You are able to negotiate a date that suits you: it is okay to put the meeting off if the date offered is inconvenient. Keep a dated log of any phone conversations together with brief comments about what was discussed or resolved.

If you find the Application for Exemption from Attendance At School forms a little daunting, make contact with local home educating families (see extensive list of contacts on the HEA online support group resource directory)who will be able to advise you, either by providing an example of a completed application form, or by putting you in contact with experienced home educators who can personally assist you. In SA home educators are allowed great latitude with regard to the choice of curriculum/program and educational style to use.

This form is to be used to assist the applicant in providing information required for assessing the application. It is not required to be completed and can be substituted with your own application materials and information. It is not prescriptive but does give an idea of the kinds of things on which your application will be assessed.

The form requires name, address, telephone and the names, date of birth and schools at which the child is enrolled and attending and the names of the person/s responsible for the education of the child/ren.

The form asks for a reason to be given for the request for exemption: it is usual to simply state that, after duly considering all other options, you consider home education to be the best educational choice for your child/ren.

You are then required to give 'an outline of the proposed program of work including areas of study and essential skills and understandings, resources to be used and methodology of teaching'. In essence this is a brief, half page summary of the curriculum you propose to use for your child/ren. It is not meant to cover everything: simply give an idea that you know what is involved in teaching your children at home. For the review, a separate form is provided which allows a paragraph detailing educational progress and resources used in each of the curriculum subject areas as well as one paragraph about directions and intentions for the coming year.

The form also asks for an outline of a typical day as well as your long term goals for the education of your child. You will also be asked how you will assess your child's educational progress and to give a description of the learning environment. The last question on the form relates to social activity with peers and other adults.

Most homeschooling families find their children social sphere is broadened by removing them from school. Social activities include regular interaction with people from all age groups. List cultural, religious, sport and personal interest social activities, as well as participation in homeschooling group activities. Make it obvious that you are a member of the Home Education Association or are regular in contact with local or state based homeschooling groups for support, advice and social opportunities.

The information you provide at this stage is added to a report written after the home interview. These are used to assess the application and are forwarded to the Director, School and District Operations (to whom the Minister delegates responsibility for granting and revoking exemptions) for approval.

The final section of the form is a declaration signed by you regarding responsibility of educational program, access to resources, and review. If you are not certain about signing this declaration prepare your own application in your own words and sign that.

The application for exemption from attending school needs to be signed by both parents, unless one parent of the child/children has guardianship of the child/children to the exclusion of the other parent by Court Order.

The Interview with the Project Officer

DECs guidelines for assessing applications for exemption from attending school include an interview. By law, an authorised person may at any time attend the residential home and request the full names and ages of all children of compulsory school age and compulsory education age (effectively 6-17 year) living at the house, as well as the schools in which they are respectively enrolled. This is the limit of what is legally required.

During the application process, a Project Officer from the DECS will either phone and/or send a letter advising a date they would like to meet with you to discuss your application paperwork further. If the date doesn't suit you then you have absolute freedom to negotiate a different date.

You are not obliged to invite DECs into your home (see above comment). DECs will push for the first interview to be held in the place where the learning will be occurring. It is up to you. Many families have had their first and subsequent interviews in a neutral location, and some at the Project Officer's office. Most home educators feel okay about a home interview.

One family obtained the following advice from their lawyer regarding the interview process - it's worth considering, but if in doubt seek your own legal advice from a qualified practitioner:

"Our legal advice has been that if they have seen your home once they have no need to do it again and that all future interviews should be done at a convenient place outside the home and a third person should be present because if you invite someone into your home a lot of your legal protection disappears because of the "consent" implied in saying "come in..." You need to ensure that the third person is not a physical third person, such as a mother, husband or direct relative, etc, but a person who is not affected by any decision making on either side and who can take notes to support memory at a later date. You will need to inform the authorities a third person is present to take notes and help you remember the important points of the meeting."

There is no requirement for your children to be present during the interview with the Project Officer. Be firm and assert that it is the learning program that is under consideration – not the children's current educational abilities and understandings. As the approved home educator it is your, not the interviewing officer's, responsibility to monitor the progress of your child. Most families are happy to have the children greet the Project Officer, talk for a few minutes and perhaps showing a sample of completed or ongoing work.

Project Officers are not authorised to do any of the following:

•  Talk to your children without your permission.

•  Ask questions of the children which test or quiz their academic knowledge.

•  Ask to see examples of the children's written work (although most children seem only too keen to voluntarily show-off examples of their work to the Project Officers).

Meetings are usually quite relaxed. The Project Officer will go through each item, or just a few, from the form which you previously completed and returned to the DECS.

Project Officers should always be polite and professional – they are not authorised to do any of the following:

•  Enter your back-yard or house without your permission or knowledge.

•  Inspect your home – they are not allowed to take an unescorted tour of your home (nor even request a tour), open any doors that are closed, and neither open nor take any folders/books/calendars/etc off shelves/desks/etc.

The Project Officer is in your home at your invitation, therefore you have the right to instruct the Project Officer to leave at any time during the meeting and to request that a different Project Officer be appointed to complete the interview on a different date, either in your home or elsewhere.

Most families find that if they are prepared and know what to expect the application for exemption process is not as daunting as it first appears. The senior Home Education Project Officer is very familiar with the practice of homeschooling and understands that it takes a while for families to settle into a definite routine or find the best learning resources and methods to suit each of their children. Families should ask for copies of the South Australian Curriculum Guidelines (or National Curriculum Guidelines once they become available): these have been made available to home educators free of charge and are also available on the internet. Some Officers are less familiar with home education and may demand to see a school-like approach to home education: if you find yourself in this situation please get in touch with other homeschoolers as soon as possible for reassurance and help. HEA are happy to supply brochures and information for you to pass on to the Home Education Project Officer.

Exemption Advice

Some time shortly after the meeting/interview you will receive a letter advising the outcome of your application - the normal outcome is to be granted a 12 month exemption from attendance at school, however sometimes it may only be granted for 6 months (this is uncommon). Exemptions are available for up to 24 months. If you are only granted the legal minimum of a 6 month exemption, or your application is denied (this is rare), then you are within your rights to be given clear and detailed reasons why, and you would have the right to re-apply.

Annual review

You won't hear from the DECS again until about 10-11 months later when they will phone or write to you to organise your 12 month review. It is entirely up to you as to what date the meeting is set for – if they want to make an appointment prior to the end of your 12 months exemption period then it is justifiable to set a date that matches the month that your original interview was held.

If you wish, you can complete and return the forms prepared by the Department of Education, or you can prepare you own ‘progress report'. You will also be contacted to arrange an appointment with a Project Officer for the review interview.

At the review interview you will be required to demonstrate educational progress of the children. This necessitates some degree of record keeping, an essential element of a sound educational program. See Getting Started with Homeschooling - Practical Considerations for ideas you can use. Never give away original documents or children's work. In most cases a simple annual report prepared by you should suffice. When working through the review simply write brief summaries of what the children have done during the year, and then a brief outline of the next year's program. If you are feeling less than confident get help - many experienced homeschoolers are happy to assist or be present at interviews as observers.

Legal advice to one family in SA urged them to keep an attendance record of their children's homeschooling:

"The attendance diary should just be a very small week at a glance diary (my children's is about 10cm by 4 cm). Sign it each morning or at the end of the homeschool day. It is a legal record that on that day you did school work. If there are doctor's appointments for the individual child include a note about that, or if they were ill and didn't work say why. It's also a good idea to note when the children participate in social activities. This is the only record you need to show that the children have worked for a minimum of 200 days per year. It's good because if you need to present that diary to the department or a court you are only providing information relevant to the home education program and not your personal or family life."

Keep records, such as diaries and homeschool report until the child is past compulsory schooling age.

The HEA thanks Marina, Vanessa, and Sonia from SA for assisting with the writing of this page.

Author: Beverley Paine