Sark Parents Offered Option of Home Educating Teenagers

What’s been said?

The island of Sark, one of the Channel Islands, is a self-governing jurisdiction with a degree of independence. It lies within the Bailiwick of Guernsey and is one of the UK’s Crown Dependencies.

On 19th June 2019 an article appeared on ITV News website reporting that politicians on Sark were due to vote that day “in favour of scrapping the secondary school system”. The result is that “students aged 13 or over will no longer be able to receive an education in Sark”. The proposal was passed. An extended filmed report can be found on ITV’s Facebook page.

The situation leaves “young people who are beyond Year Eight [with] the option to live with a host family in Guernsey, to go to school there, or to be home-schooled.”

Sark’s only has one school and Romany Heartford, the headteacher’s wife said her family “feel so strongly against the reforms they are leaving the island.” She expressed serious concerns about “children going to live with a host family at such a sensitive time in their adolescence” and the potential dangers of children being “without the support network of their family.” She adds that for the families unable to leave Sark, “it feels like [their children] are being thrown to the wolves.”

The background to this story is found in a 2017 report regarding education provision and standards on the island. This was produced by REAch2 Academy Trust “as a ‘stand-alone’ piece of work”, with the underlying premise that “Sark has not kept pace with the rapid changes in Education in the UK” The Chief Pleas’, Sark’s government, Education Committee produced a series of proposals based on the report, including the cessation of secondary schooling for ages 13 plus.

Why does it matter?

It is rare to find a public body openly suggesting HE as an option. Sark’s government website now states that “students from ages 13 to 16 are able to attend Les Beaucamps High School in Guernsey or be home schooled in Sark; both options are supported by Sark’s Government.” [Emphasis added]

However, a look at the agenda for the Sark meeting shows the Education Committee proposal specifies that “if parents choose to home educate they will be responsible for agreeing an annual home education plan”, “providing a suitable level of supervision and tutoring” and “be subject to regular inspections (not less than three times per year).”

It is understandable that some parents may be relieved to have official support provided, especially given that home education has been thrust upon them. Yet three inspections a year is highly intrusive and a better approach would be to work alongside parents rather than impose potentially stressful inspections.

Interestingly, the Chief Pleas will, on request, arrange and pay for on-line GSCE-level study and exams for home educated children on Sark. Yet this study option has to be undertaken via the government’s chosen provider, rather than allowing parental choice in what best suits their children. One wonders if Sark is keen to discourage home education or simply being heavy-handed in its approach.

The decision to halt secondary education in Sark has also placed parents in a difficult position – send their child to host families or teach them at home. For some, neither option will be appealing.

Whilst the number of young people involved is very small, it nonetheless is unusual for a government to purposefully suspend education for its teenagers. The Chief Pleas’ debate on the matter reasserts that employing specialist teachers for a small number of children is not possible, and arguably this may not an unreasonable position in economically-pressured times.

However, it matters that a government does not value family relationships sufficiently to ensure children are able to remain with their parents up to and including their GCSE years. Many parents will feel pressured into sending their children to live with strangers – a situation to which they would otherwise never have agreed. It is concerning that, in response to parental emails [line 120ff] on this issue during the debate, at least one Sark Conseiller questioned “whether it is the parents who often create the problem [of emotional or psychological unreadiness to separation in children]”! [line 179] She is clearly overlooking the potential dangers outlined by Romany Heartford.

What can I do?

Be aware of unusual situations with regard to HE – the Byte Team tries to raise awareness as much as possible. It is helpful to understand the background to the journey other home educators are on.

Stand with the parents who have little option but home educate and do your best to provide them with encouragement and support when you meet at groups or on social media.