England and Wales

With the Elementary Education Act 1870 came attempts to formalise and regulate what had been an ad-hoc schooling system. Campaigners to establish a school system such as the National Education League had argued that schools were for children "not otherwise receiving education" and the 1870 act specified "a reasonable excuse for non-attendance at school : 1. That the child is under efficient instruction in some other manner".

In England and Wales, the law states that all children between the ages of 5 and 16 must receive a full-time suitable education as per their age, ability and aptitude and any special needs they may have must be met, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

With the growth of the schooling system came fresh theories and philosophies of education such as those of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi who would influence the likes of Herbert Spencer who in his essays on education (1854 and 1859) argued against the traditional authoritative classical form of education that disregarded the natural wishes, tendencies, and motives of the child In turn there were many further pioneers such as Charlotte Mason, Caroline Southwood Hill and Susan Sutherland Isaacs.

The twentieth century saw the opening of schools such as Summerhill and Dartington and the establishment of The Peckham Experiment. The government had set up consultative committees chaired by William Henry Hadow. The Hadow reports (1923-1933) with their suggestions such that "a good school 'is not a place of compulsory instruction, but a community of old and young, engaged in learning by cooperative experiment'. laid the foundations for the 1944 Education act which required that each child be educated according to their individual aptitude and ability either at school or otherwise. The plans for a liberal communal based education system incorporating schools, village halls and community centres floundered against local bureaucracy and finance and offered little more than a tripartite school system which itself would be abandoned as ineffectual in favour of comprehensive schools later to be dismissed as "bog standard"

During the early 1950s Joy Baker became one of the first parents to abandon the school based education system in favour of the otherwise path. She would spend ten years battling with the authorities who insisted her children should attend school. During the early 1970s Dartington school ran a scheme, known as The Terrace, with Yorkshire County Council overseen by Alec Clegg to provide education to pupils who were required to stay on at school due to the raising of the leaving age. The scheme was run by Dick Kitto who had been working at Dartington. Kitto set up an informal democratic system and was impressed by how well the pupils responded to such opportunities. Kitto planned to expand his ideas to cover more schools but he discovered that some parents had already moved beyond his ideas and had decided to abandon schooling for their children altogether. A meeting for these families was organised in the late 70's/early eighties (check date) which would lead to the establishment of Education Otherwise. The meeting included Iris and Geoff Harrison whose fight with the authorities to home educate their five dyslexic children was widely publicised in the media at that time. Education Otherwise is now a charity and organisation that helps families and children with queries relating to home education and resource-related issues. Other organisations such as AHED also exist.

Badman Review
In 2009, Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, commissioned Graham Badman, the former Director of Children's Services at Kent County Council, to review current practice of local authorities in relation to home educators, and to investigate if home education was used as a cover for some forms of child abuse.

When published in June 2009, the response was mixed. Balls himself accepted much of the review's recommendations in relation to safeguarding, however many home educators were extremely angry at the recommendation to force all to register. The Children, Schools and Families Select Committee announced its own inquiry into the handling of the Badman Review. It criticised both the Department and the Badman Review and made a number of recommendations against the thrust of the original report.

Although the Department framed legislation to implement much of the review, due to a lack of cross-party support it was quietly dropped by Balls before the 2010 General Election.