What’s been said?
30 January 2018: Kirsty Williams, Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Assembly, has announced the expected consultation about elective home education (EHE). Crucially, there is to be no compulsory registration or annual inspection for EHE parents. Instead, Ms Williams wants to place the onus on every local authority to maintain a database showing how each child in its remit is being educated. The aim is “Securing the Right to a Suitable Education for All Children”.
Why does it matter?
This decision signals a clear message for EHE families – that it is the responsibility of each local authority (LA) to maintain the database. It is not the responsibility of parents to tell their LA where, or how, their child is being educated. This is a vital protection of parental rights. The decision was taken, against the advice of the Children’s Commissioner, for the simple reason that if parents are determined to keep a child hidden, they can do so. A compulsory register therefore becomes unsustainable, but runs the risk of criminalising caring parents.
However, although this is an important step in acknowledging parental rights, one question is still left significantly hanging in the air. The Welsh government considers that it has a “moral duty” to ensure that every child in Wales receives a suitable education and LAs have the power to intervene if this is not felt to be the case. “Suitable”, though, remains undefined. The only legal definition is provided by English case law, which determines that it “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so” (R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzkei Hadass School Trust, 12 April 1985).
The key focus of the new legislation is to consider how “universal services, programmes and initiatives” can be offered to support home educated children. This will include access to Hwb, additional learning needs support, help with exam registration, options to learn Welsh and support from Careers Wales. Quite what form this will take for parents who have removed their children from school because of unmet special needs, or bullying, is not clear.
The time frame is not specific – work has begun on producing draft guidelines and policy documents for the consultation, but the end of 2018 was mentioned as a broad aim for amended legislation to be put into place. Costs of creating and maintaining the database are also currently being considered.
What can I do?
If you are a home educator and you live in Wales, watch out for the opening of the consultation and make sure that you respond within the given time frame – your views are necessary not just to protect your rights, but also to shape government thinking on EHE for the future.