Positive News for Home Educators in Wales

Proposals for home education statutory guidance and draft database regulations put on hold as Welsh Government resources have to be prioritised in “unprecedented times”

What’s been said?

On 22 June 2020 Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education issued a written cabinet statement to update members on the Home Education Statutory Guidance and Draft Database Regulations.

As governments all over the world are discovering, responding to the Covid crisis is having “significant implications on resources.” In her statement Williams cites particular impacts for the Welsh government in the areas of “financial, policy and of course on the legislative plans for this Government term.”

Although developing the home education and draft database proposals has been a personal priority for her, Williams is forced to concede that time pressures on government business during the remainder of this term plus the “significant amount of resource to drive [the proposals] forward” mean they must be shelved.

“The new pressures on the day to day work within the Government and the significant impact of Covid 19 on our resources has meant some difficult decisions have had to be made. It will not now be possible to complete the planned work on the home education statutory guidance and database regulations within this Government term.” [Emphasis added]

Williams’ statement includes thanks to stakeholders involved in developing the proposals, in particular “those who took the time to respond to the consultations.” Home educators who experienced the entirely unfit-for-purpose Table Talk sessions may find this rather tongue in cheek, but nevertheless the value of labouring over another consultation response is officially acknowledged.

Why does it matter?

Before going to hang out the flags, readers should note well two points in Williams’ closing paragraph:

“While I am disappointed we cannot continue the development of these proposals I hope that the planned reforms can be taken forward by the next Government at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, Government officials will explore possible policy options for meeting the needs of home educated children.” [Emphasis added]

The intention to reform the landscape for home educating families is clearly still there in the mind of government officials. Changes have only been put on hold. They have not gone away for good.

Officials clearly believe they have a role to fulfil in “meeting the needs of home educated children.” Having failed in their current attempt to alter both primary and secondary legislation, they continue to seek other policy avenues for their agenda in the here and now. One has to wonder which “needs” of HE children it was that Williams perceives the WAG could legitimately meet.

In the light of the above, it’s important not to forget issues raised in consultation responses for example, being particularly vigilant in the matter of unwarranted data-sharing in the health sector. Keep a written record of any problems you have with this in your own experience for future reference.

Also, it’s not unknown for local authority staff to act as though draft or even abandoned legislation has already passed into law. This has been the experience of HE families in some parts of Scotland. Just before lockdown we commented on such findings as those reported in Scottish Home Education Forum’s Home Truths. So do be watchful in this area too, and if you find it happening in Wales please let Protecting Home Education [PHEW] know.

It’s helpful to note too that the issues being faced in Wales are in essence those being raised in other parts of the world. There is a growing global assumption that the prime responsibility for all children rests with the state.

In April we reported on the chain of events begun by American law professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s article in the Arizona Law Review. In outline, Bartholet views “homeschooling” as a threat to children and to society, and advocates “a presumptive ban… with the burden on parents to demonstrate justification for permission to homeschool.”

Despite taking place elsewhere, this story is worth following because it highlights very well the ideology lying behind the global hostility towards home education.

To follow up on some of the issues raised, the Cato Institute subsequently organised a debate. One of the participants, Kerry Macdonald, home educating mother and author, has now published an article entitled “5 Things I Learned Debating the Harvard Prof Who Called for a “Presumptive Ban” on Homeschooling”, listing the main issues as she sees them.

What can I do?

Be thankful for the well reasoned legal opinions (Oct. 19 & Apr. 20) crowd-funded and submitted to the Welsh government by PHEW, for all the consultation responses and, ironically, for this particular outcome of the pandemic itself. A combination of these factors – in proportions unknown to us – have all contributed to this delay.

Enjoy and be thankful for the period of respite, but do not take your eye off the ball. Be aware that May 2021 will see the installation of another Senedd government. Will they find themselves similarly hamstrung by more urgent priorities, or will they make another attempt to “take forward… the planned reforms… at the earliest opportunity?”

In the meantime, do not give unnecessary ground to your local authority. If your local officials are unaware that the proposals for EHE statutory guidance and database regulations were in draft form and have now been shelved, you can use Williams’ statement to enlighten them. Keep it bookmarked for easy reference.

In this lull in hostilities you could also use the opportunity to understand the wider scene, taking note of the similarity in the issues being faced worldwide by EHE parents.