Northern Irish Consultation Closes 21 August

What’s been said?

Our comment “Hard Work Pays Off” (10 June) featured the Education Authority (EA) for Northern Ireland’s announcement of a twelve week public consultation on its draft Guidelines for Elective Home Education.

As this is due to close very soon now (Weds 21 Aug), here we highlight various items to encourage readers from both within and outside of Northern Ireland to stand with the home educating community there and submit a response of their own.

The consultation itself is not unduly long. After the usual preliminaries and the respondent affirming that they have read the Guidelines, the main question involves completing a multi-choice rating of various aspects of them, with opportunity for further comment at the end. Significantly, Part 4 invites comment on “the consideration of a register of children who are home educated,” whilst noting that “this is not currently required by law in Northern Ireland.” Part 5 concludes with two questions relating to the Equality and Rural Impact assessment.

The network for home educating families in Northern Ireland HedNI has provided several helpful resources. These are their initial announcement of the 2019 consultation, their Consultation Brief [pdf], and two recently added shared responses.

HedNI’s Consultation Brief is well thought through and balanced. Having commended the clarity and legal accuracy of the guidelines at the start, their view is that “This is the single most important factor for home educating families because it will empower them to insist on fair treatment.” They conclude:

“We support the adoption of this Draft Guidance because the core of it is clear and accurate. If properly implemented it will provide the basis for a better relationship between the EA and home educating families… Those elements which we consider problematic are a real concern but we believe that if they cannot be amended or removed, then they can be overcome with good training for EA staff and the provision of information to home educating parents.”

In her response Dr Harriet Pattison, specialist researcher into literacy and home education (and speaker at the 2019 Learn Free conference) said, “The Guidance sets out a clear and legally accurate framework through which families can clarify expectations regarding interactions with EA officials.”

Sarah Dickinson, a home educator, also supports the adoption of the Guidelines in her response, “because I believe they will encourage good practice in the EA and enable parents to insist on fair treatment.”

Why does it matter?

The preface to HedNI’s Consultation Responses section says it all: “Many thanks to all those who have responded to the consultation. Every single response is worthwhile and appreciated.”

Home educators throughout the UK cannot fail to have noticed the plethora of consultations about EHE, registration and monitoring over recent years, along with relentless (and frequently negative) media coverage and input from various official bodies or individuals.

Is one succumbing to paranoia if one begins to speculate about serial state overreach or a concerted campaign to rein in home education and curtail parents’ liberties? The answer to that may only become clear in the future, with the benefit of hindsight. In the meantime, monitoring the wider scene at the same time as engaging in more detail with local issues when opportunity arises might be one strategy which helps us to see the wood as well as the trees.

What can I do?

Here then is a specific opportunity to offer your practical support for fellow home educators in Northern Ireland.

They are undergoing similar pressures to those currently being experienced across the UK, as demonstrated by our dedicated pages for the Northern Irish, English and Welsh consultations and for the Isle of Man Education Bill. The situation in Scotland also merits careful attention, given John Swinney’s recent comment about “a review of the current Home Education Guidance during 2019” in a letter on the Scottish Government’s website.

Finally, remember that we also have a dedicated Responding to Consultations page which provides advice on how make constructive use of such exercises. It is listed under the Reference menu.