What’s been said?
At the end of July the Welsh government launched a consultation on new guidelines for home education. The consultation closes on 21 October. If the proposals are implemented, they will, without primary legislation being passed, introduce mandatory inspections which include interviews by LA staff of all HE children.
We pointed out when the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams AM committed to this consultation that she stated, “I am confident that our draft guidance goes further in setting out expectations on local authorities than any other country in the UK.” Anyone who has read the relevant documents will confirm that they achieve such an outcome. This is unsurprising given Williams’ own political party, the LibDems, last year adopted a UK-wide policy which commits it to working towards biannual inspections and for HE children to be taught the National Curriculum.
There are three areas of particular concern which stand out across the documentation. These are: repeated references to the “rights of the child” (though these are selectively cited); a particular interpretation of the “safeguarding” role of LAs; and extensive new requirements for inter-agency data-sharing rather than a registration scheme as proposed in England.
Together these three areas present a significant threat to the right to privacy of HE children and their families in Wales, and, by precedent, across the UK. They therefore need to be resisted, but those parents who have found the time to read some or all of the associated documents (listed here), may be wondering how to respond effectively. In the coming days we will publish a series of Bytes commenting on each of these three aspects which we hope will encourage you to make a meaningful response to this consultation.
Why does it matter?
Whilst consultations like this one are often treated as a necessary part of the political process, and it is easy to gain the impression that the conclusion has been reached before the submissions have been read, they do present an opportunity for members of the public to express their concerns. Given the far-reaching nature of these proposals, it is important that as many HE families as possible use this opportunity to register their opposition to them.
Whilst the arguments used in the consultation documents make much of protecting the rights of children, the Welsh Government is very selective about which of their rights it chooses to protect. Recently the Byte team was sent a copy of a draft submission prepared by someone with a working knowledge of human rights legislation, along with permission to share it with our readers. The author makes it quite clear that the requirement to interview HE children “completely ignores several aspects of the UNCRC legislation.” Amongst the examples they cite is Article 16: “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.” They point out that this proposal arbitrarily interferes with the child’s privacy and family.
It is important that HE families do all that they can to resist the steady absorption of parental responsibilities into the state’s remit. The following statement is taken from the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling on the now abandoned Scottish Named Person Scheme; “The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world.” [Paragraph 73]
As recently as June this year, Amanda Spielman argued in favour of education being the means of training children in the prevailing world-view of the powerful. Speaking at the Wellington Festival of Education about the objectives of education being not simply to instil knowledge, but to shape lives, she continued,
“Education pioneers across the world knew this as they began to formalise state education systems. The founders of the common school movement in the United States in the 19th century wanted to mould fine upstanding citizens of the Republic, as much as they wanted to instil knowledge and a habit of reading and learning.” [emphasis added]
What can I do?
If you value your child’s right to be educated according to your philosophical convictions rather than indoctrinated by the state, then determine to make some type of response to this consultation wherever you live. If you are able to do so, we encourage you to make clear that these proposals do not uphold all the rights of children, but only those which support the prevailing political zeitgeist.
Try to read as many of the consultation documents as you can – linked from here;
Read the sample response we have received, but please do not copy and paste this into your own submission;
Please read our further comments over the coming days.
Finally, think very carefully about using the proforma form supplied by the Welsh government. The structure of the initial questions in each of the sections does not allow anyone who does not agree with the proposals concerned to properly register their objections. Earlier this year we reported on the situation in the Isle of Man concerning a consultation there. We highlighted comments by Rob Callister MHK who told the Minister that “if I answer ‘yes’ to that question as a home educator then I will be stating very clearly that I am happy with the proposals. But if I state ‘no’ then this indicates that the provisions are insufficient and therefore do not go far enough.” Hansard (p11) Beware of the same pitfall in this form – it is almost certainly best to use the further comments for each question or just to start afresh!