Welsh home educators push back against Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations
What’s been said?
On 25 February Welsh Children’s Commissioner Sally Holland published her Review of the Welsh Government’s exercise of its functions. In it she addressed the Government’s handling of two education policy matters, namely elective home education and the regulation of independent schools, criticising the Welsh Government and making various recommendations.
On 23 March, the outgoing Welsh government issued its response to this. The Cabinet Statement from then Education Minister Kirsty Williams confirms that the pandemic had only slowed down rather than altered the Government’s intentions in regard to home education:
“The Government agrees that there is a need for reform in the policy and legislative framework for Elective Home Education (EHE). I believe that the work carried out to date provides a solid foundation for future work in this area. Whilst we are unable make a commitment for a future Government, it would be this government’s intention to implement the reforms in relation to EHE that we set out for delivery before the onset of the pandemic.”
Holland had called for ‘urgent’ legislative change in both policy areas. On home education, she had stated:
“In respect of home education, there can be no further missed opportunities. This Review concludes that the time has come to introduce primary legislation in order to avoid the pitfalls around identifying, seeing and speaking to children that the Government has unsuccessfully grappled with throughout this Term.” [Emphasis added]
The outgoing government accepted five of Holland’s recommendations, accepted a further three in principle, and rejected two. Their thinking regarding children’s rights (a major component in Holland’s reasoning) is evident here: “This statement confirms the current Government’s commitment to upholding children’s rights regardless of where they are educated…”
The incoming government has yet to respond to Holland’s Review, but Families First in Education – Wales [FFiEW] believe it is vital that all Members of Senedd are fully and accurately informed before any legislative changes based on the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations are proposed.
Therefore on 6 Oct they submitted to Education Minister Jeremy Miles a rebuttal of what they believe to be Holland’s unjustifiable use of the UNCRC in her Review, stating:
“We believe the Children’s Commissioner for Wales is in error in recommending that the home education model should be more closely overseen. We do not consider her reasoning to be justifiable, and have today submitted to Education Minister Jeremy Miles a formal rebuttal of her use of the UNCRC in her February 2021 “Review of the Welsh Government’s exercise of its functions.”
Shadow Education Minister, Laura Anne Jones, was sent the same documents, and at the same time the attention of all Assembly members was drawn to the issue via a brief email, accompanied by a copy of the open letter to the Minister and a summary of the rebuttal.
Protecting Home Education Wales, who did sterling work in response to the two most recent EHE consultations are encouraging everyone to support this latest initiative.
Why does it matter?
FFiEW stress the importance of parental primacy in all matters related to the raising of children. They recognise the need to engage both stakeholders and legislators about this when policy is being formulated.
Specifically, FFiEW advocate for politicians to recognise that alternative forms of education which are equal in the eyes of the law – and therefore have full equivalence – should be respected alongside the more familiar schooling models, rather than being discriminated against simply because they are “different.”
Their letter presses for a diverse and pluralistic approach to education, in line with the Welsh Government’s <stated desire>. Citing a recent Daily Mail article, they concur that “a register of home educators is completely at odds with a tolerant and pluralistic society.”
Their letter also highlights the need to adhere to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” by adopting a reactive stance to the investigation of any potential infringement of the law. Taking pre-emptive action against subgroups of the community without evidence “just in case” there might be a risk of harm to individuals is unjustifiable.
What can I do?
Find more about FFiEW by visiting their About page. Think about the issue of parental primacy which they raise.
Read the Open Letter and consider adding your signature via the website. Welsh residents or those with some connection with Wales will add particular value in the eyes of the Government, though you do not have to be Welsh or live in Wales to sign. Under-eighteens may also sign. (If you have concerns about anonymity, you may be reassured to know that names and personal contact details will not be made available to the Government.)
Remember FFiEW’s desire that all Senedd members be fully informed before any legislative changes based on the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations are proposed. Understand therefore that this could be a timely moment for as many home educators as feel able to make contact with the new government in some way.
Welsh residents could make use of this material to discuss the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations with their own Assembly Member, and ask them to look carefully into the issues raised in the summary rebuttal they should have received by the time constituents contact them.
The impact of circulating the rebuttal and open letter to them would be greatly enhanced if all Senedd members were also to hear about the same issue from their constituents during the next few weeks. (Please remember to remain courteous and measured in your words and manner in all such contacts, even though you may feel otherwise!)