Starting and Running A Cottage School

Starting and Running a Cottage School

Practicalities. We assume that you do not need support with the practicalities of starting the cottage school (acquiring learners, teachers, a building and a curriculum, and complying with municipal zoning restrictions). If you need to advertise , you may join the facebook group Cottage Schools to advertise your services. Another way in which to advertise is to join the Learning Centre Mailing List operated by the Association for Home Schooling.  When your email address has been added to the Learning Centre Mailing List on, you will receive messages from parents searching for a centre.  In order to get added to this mailing list, please send an email to The mailing list is confidential and will not be made available to third parties.

Legal and moral aspects. Besides the practicalities of starting and operating a cottage school, there are legal aspects that impact on everybody operating and attending a cottage school/learning centre/tutor centre/small private school, and which we explain below. The Trust is regularly contacted by the media and concerned parents who reported irregularities in certain cottage schools or tutor centres. The complaints include that these schools operate under false pretences of being “registered” either with the education department or with the Pestalozzi Trust (when no registration certificate from the education department could be produced, and when the school was not a member of the Trust); that exorbitant fees were charged; and that the learners were said to have been “registered” with the education department as home learners by the school, which was found to be untrue.

A cottage school is not home schooling. The law provides for home education (education in the child’s own home) and state or independent schools. If the learners spend their days at a place other than their own homes, they attend a private or independent school, not a “home school”, and the learners cannot be registered for home education. There are curriculum providers who promote their learning centres as “home education”, but this claim has no base in the law. The fact that the curriculum materials of a home education curriculum supplier are used does not change the legal situation in any way.

Registration with the education department legalises the cottage school. There is no separate provision for the registration of a small school or cottage school. A cottage school is seen by the law as an independent school, and to be legal you have to register the school as an independent school. All the requirements of the provincial education department then have to be met. One of the requirements for instance is that school must comply with CAPS. Another requirement which most cottage schools find difficult to meet, is that (in most provinces), in order to be able to register you have to have at least 20 learners, which makes it impossible to register if you do not have or intend to provide for so many learners.

Unregistered cottage schools. It is illegal to operate an unregistered private (independent) school, and the owner of such a school can be prosecuted and upon conviction be sentenced to 3 months in prison or a fine. Also, parents who send school-age children to such unregistered schools can be prosecuted and upon conviction be sentenced to 6 months in prison or a fine. Note that, despite the legal threat, there are thousands such “illegal” schools, because there are millions of desperate parents who want good education for their children. Also, such “illegal” schools are not often prosecuted by the authorities.

Legal support. We suggest that cottage schools join the Pestalozzi Trust, or use the services of their own chosen legal team, whether they register with the education department or not. Why is it necessary?

  • Because it is so important we reiterate what we said above: If a cottage school is NOT registered with the education department, the owner of the school can be prosecuted and upon conviction be sentenced to 3 months in prison or a fine. Also, parents who send school-age children to such unregistered schools can be prosecuted and upon conviction be sentenced to 6 months in prison or a fine.
  • If a cottage school IS registered with the education department, the owner and the parents may find that the requirements of the education department are so onerous as to make it impossible for them to act in the best interests of the learners involved.

What about tutoring? If a learner is taught/tutored in his/her own home, it is regarded as home schooling. If the learner is permanently tutored somewhere else, he/she is attending a (small) school. The tutor should then register as a private school. It might not be possible, if the number of tutored learners is too small, or if the tutor is unable to register, for other reasons. Whether the school is able to be registered or not, it is advisable to join the Pestalozzi Trust for legal support.

Zoning restrictions. A school will also have to check with the municipality whether there are any zoning restrictions on the property on which the owner intends to run the school.

Membership of the Trust. Whether they register as independent schools or not, cottage schools are welcome to apply for membership of the Pestalozzi Trust. Membership of the Trust will not legalise the cottage school, but at least the school will have someone to back them up in case of any conflict with the authorities (the education department, welfare or police). Membership of the Trust will cover the school, its personnel, the learners and their parents. A member school receives a 24/7 emergency number.