Ensuring that Politicians Act within the Law

A second legal opinion is being sought to scrutinise the Welsh Government’s proposals for data-sharing on EHE children

What’s been said?

The Byte which has received the most views in the last year, “When Good Parents Do Nothing” encouraged HE families to support a new small charity Protecting Home Education Wales [PHEW]. PHEW’s objective at the time was to raise sufficient funds to obtain a legal opinion from a QC in response to the first of two consultations relevant to HE being held by the Welsh Assembly Government [WAG].

The first consultation focused on new HE statutory guidance for LAs and ran from 29 July to 25 October. Despite serious concerns about the legality of the proposals, there was little practical action taken to challenge them from within the HE community, which is why the parents behind PHEW decided to act.

The funding for the legal opinion was successfully raised and this was submitted before the consultation closed. Those who have read it will recall how well prepared it was. Though the WAG have not specifically referred to it to date, when Education Minister Kirsty Williams published a statement in mid-December announcing that the response to last year’s consultation would be delayed, she acknowledged that this was because responses received “raised complex technical, policy and legal matters which require careful consideration.”

Further pressure has been asserted on the WAG by a petition initiated by Wendy Charles-Warner calling for the withdrawal of the proposed guidance, which references the legal opinion obtained by PHEW. At a Petitions Committee meeting on 4 February, members called for an evidence session with the Minister. One member, Michelle Brown AM specifically said that she wanted to hear from the WAG about why they did not appear to be giving the QC’s legal opinion the attention it merited.

A few days before that meeting the WAG launched its second promised consultation on Local authority education databases. We have already highlighted that whilst the proposals seek to pave the way for cross-agency data-sharing in order to trace children who are not receiving a suitable education, the data collected under these proposals will also enable the monitoring of EHE children who are receiving a suitable education. This seems to be a serious breach of a child’s right to privacy.

Given this further threat to parental responsibilities and children’s rights, PHEW recently announced its intention to obtain a legal opinion on these new proposals and has launched a crowd-funding appeal to enable it to do so. This is to be welcomed, because there is a clear need for the WAG’s data-sharing plans to be properly scrutinised.

Why does it matter?

Data-sharing is now big-business and education is no exception. Today, as never before, individuals’ right to privacy is being surrendered either for convenience (as in access to social media) or unknowingly. Children are particularly vulnerable to this, as highlighted in Defend Digital Me’s article on the National Pupil Database in England.

On their page announcing their plans for a further legal opinion, PHEW state that the WAG’s proposals raise serious concerns and list the following examples:

  1. a breach of the right to privacy and private family life;
  2. a breach of the right to home educate; the Education Act 1996 does not impose an obligation to be registered or form part of a database;
  3. the right to health and to receive medical assistance; there is a concern that many home educating families may not avail themselves of NHS’s services so as to avoid being dragged into the proposed database;
  4. it will create an involuntary register of a minority group of children in Wales (the only other involuntary register of a group of people being that of criminal offenders); and
  5. further stigmatisation of home educated children/families.

These issues are too important for parents to ignore in the hope that they will be able to lead a quiet life if they comply.

What can I do?

You don’t have to live in Wales to be concerned about these proposals – any precedent established by one devolved government will soon be followed up by others, including the DfE in England. Wherever you live please make sure you are informed about the WAG’s education databases proposals (links here) and try to find some time to respond to the consultation.

Please also consider supporting PHEW in their intention to obtain this second legal opinion. Response so far has been positive – over half of the required total of £1,250 required has been raised at the time of publication. You can donate here.

Keep yourself informed about what is happening across the British Isles in regard to EHE, and the need to defend our children’s rights to a suitable education of their parents’ choosing. Following The HE Byte on social media (Facebook/Twitter) or subscribing to our email notifications/RSS feed are ways you could do this.

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  1. Pingback: Only £341 to go – Protecting Home Education Wales

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