What’s been said?
The Children, Young People and Education Committee of the Welsh Assembly met on Thursday 18 July. The main topic of discussion was Higher Education, but EHE was mentioned twice in the final two minutes (video). Agenda item 6 was “Papers to note” and in the list were two letters which focussed on HE. 6.4 was a letter from the Children Commissioner for Wales to the Committee in response to one from its Chair, Lynne Neagle AM (Lab. Torfaen). The latter requested a written update on progress towards “arrangements to ensure that children educated at home are seen and spoken to about the education they are receiving, and that they are happy, healthy and safe.”
The same day (19 June) Neagle had also written to the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams AM (LibDem. Brecon and Radnorshire), with a similar request, adding “The Committee would also welcome an indication of the timescales for future milestones in this policy area.” Though not discussed publicly at the meeting, the Minister’s reply is available on the website as item 6.7. In her letter Williams made it known that there are two consultations relevant to EHE planned for this year.
Echoing the DfE in England, Williams assures the committee that her department is seeking to “assist local authorities in undertaking their duties under section 436A of the Education Act 1996 to identify children not in receipt of suitable education and to take appropriate action to rectify this situation.” The information which follows is divided into four sections: Statutory guidance; Handbook for home educators; Database; and Next steps.
With regard to new statutory guidance, the Minister states that this has “been developed and represents a significant shift in current expectations of local authorities.” She also adds that the new guidance reflects her personal view that it would not “be possible to make an informed judgement about whether a child is in receipt of suitable education without seeing the child.” Williams also explains that the guidance has been developed in consultation with all twenty-two Welsh LAs and with the Children’s Commissioner. Her assertion, “I am confident that our draft guidance goes further in setting out expectations on local authorities than any other country in the UK,” is worrying.
The planned handbook, the Minister explains, “has been developed because a number of universal health, care and support services and youth services are facilitated through school and as a result, some home educated children and their families may not be aware of their entitlements and potentially miss out on key initiatives and services.” She adds that her officials “have engaged with home educators on the development of the handbook,” which will also explains the implications of new statutory guidance.
Williams states that the new database is intended to enable “the exchange of information between local health boards and independent schools to local authorities.” She acknowledges that work has yet to be undertaken to ensure this is established “in a lawful way.”
Against this background, the Minister sets out her timetable in the final three paragraphs:
- “The consultation on the draft statutory guidance and handbook for home educators will commence on the 29 July for 12 weeks.”
- There will be an eight week consultation on the draft regulations regarding the database, which is planned for November.
- It is her department’s intention that “the statutory guidance and regulations will come into force in May 2020.”
Why does it matter?
The first of these consultations was initially mooted for late spring this year, which is why Sally Holland expresses frustration in her letter at the eighteen month delay since the Minister first committed to these. It could be that the Welsh Government has been waiting to see the direction of travel in the English DfE though, as highlighted, the promise is to go beyond this! In any case, neither home educators nor other respondents are likely to find a starting date in the middle of the summer holidays particularly helpful.
The second consultation is of equal importance. Regular readers should not need reminding that the Scottish Government’s Named Person Scheme fell foul of the Supreme Court on its data sharing short-comings.
However, the most important point to recognise from this exchange of letters is that the relentless determination of officialdom to usurp natural parental responsibility is continuing. Each move by politicians or civil servants seems to want to outdo all previous attempts to impose state control on where and how children are taught. These objectives are manifesting themselves in other aspects of education as well; as Lord Agnew stated in May, the DfE is working “to reinforce the values that children should learn. ” [Emphasis added]
What can I do?
In regard to the final point above, note carefully the Children’s Commissioner for Wales’ third objective for every child in Wales, that they “should have the opportunity to be seen and their views, including their views about their education, and experiences listened to.” That fact that she lists this as an objective for the state, means that she is not seeking to encourage parents to ensure this takes place. It shows she does not trust parents and is therefore seeking to interpose a government employee between children and their parents.
Finally, please don’t adopt the fabled ostrich response to all that is happening. The move to disenfranchise parents will not stop with new guidance in Wales or anywhere else. Wherever you live, parents need to realise that as the sub-set least influenced by governments’ educational objectives, the EHE community now stands out like a sore thumb.
Update: Following the publication of the consultation we have added a Welsh Consultations page under the Reference Menu. Links to the consultation documents are available on it and when we comment on the consultation links to relevant Bytes and supporting material will be added to that page. The consultation closes on 21 Oct. 2019.