What’s been said?
The Tynwald, the Isle of Man’s government, consulted last autumn on major changes to education provision in a new Education Bill. All areas of the existing legislation (Education Act 2001 and Education [Miscellaneous Provisions] Act 2009) are being considered. Further restrictions on home education provision is one of the areas of proposed change. In addition, the Safeguarding Bill 2017 puts the safeguarding board on a statutory footing and protects it from any Freedom of Information requests.
Why does it matter?
Registration of home (and private) education has been a requirement on the Isle of Man since the 2009 Act. It is the responsibility of parents not just to ensure that their child is educated, but to notify the Department for Education and Children (DEC) of how this is achieved. Failing to register a child at one of 37 maintained schools or to notify the DEC of the alternative provision carries a maximum penalty of a £1000 fine.
The new proposal relates to the duty of the DEC to ensure that all education is “suitable” – that is currently defined as “efficient full time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude taking into account any special educational needs.” To ensure suitability, the Department wants to tighten existing regulations to secure the provision of evidence by parents of the education which they are providing. In a conversation which ranged across all areas of the new proposals, Children’s Champion Daphne Caine observed in her report that, “The prospect of more regulation on home educators is causing anxiety to parents and children who home educate on the Isle of Man.”
Taken together with the new statutory position of the safeguarding board, that is not surprising. Because in addition to granting the Department powers that supersede the right of parents to determine “suitability”, there is a suggestion that home educated children are at risk. The overview for the consultation stated that “Home education is not, in itself, a risk factor for abuse or neglect. However, there is potential that these children can become ‘invisible’ and in these cases there is a safeguarding risk of isolation from professionals. The aim is to establish an appropriate scope of duties for the Department to ensure that children do not go unseen.” The Department already has compulsory registration in place and it can already issue a school attendance order if there is evidence that a child is not being effectively educated. So why more power? In the words of Allan Norman, a social worker commissioned by families to comment on the framework for home education on the Isle of Man, “the appearance is that the Department is seeking new powers to allow it to look for a problem, it is not seeking new powers in order to address a problem”.
What can I do?
The Children’s Champion report says, “Recent correspondence between home educators and the DEC indicates that the Department will consult with home educators before the Bill has been drafted”. Watch for this consultation and make your views known.