Whilst everyone’s attention has been focused on the Schools Bill’s progress through the House of Lords, the Welsh Education Minister signals their intention to quickly implement similar plans to supervise home educating families
What’s been said?
Whilst many home educators’ attention is currently focused on Westminster, we should not ignore events unfolding in the sixty member Welsh Senedd. Meeting in locations that could hardly be more different from one another, the two governments’ approaches to the regulation of home education and those who practise it have scarily similar objectives.
Education is a devolved matter in Wales, currently overseen by Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles. Families First in Education – Wales has been compiling a list of Senedd-related news items concerning home education since their website was launched in October 2021.
Home educators from Wales may recall two consultations from recent years. The first, “Home education: statutory guidance for local authorities and handbook for home educators” took place in July 2019. North Wales MS Mark Isherwood challenged the Government about their draft guidance at the time, claiming it was “unlawful.”
The next consultation ran in the early months of 2020. This concerned the establishment of LA databases to assist with identifying children not on a school roll of any type and not receiving a suitable education. It also proposed that local health boards should disclose to LAs non-clinical information about children ordinarily resident in that LA area.
In Jan 2020 the Welsh Government published an analysis of responses to the previous year’s Statutory Guidance consultation, but plans to move those proposals forward had to be shelved due to pandemic pressures.
The Government did publish summary documents in response to both consultations [ 2019 Guidance | 2020 Databases], but has never actually made an official policy statement of intent on the matters covered by either consultation.
However, a useful summary of where things stand at present may be found on the Families First Welsh Government page. Links to relevant Senedd speeches or correspondence are listed in date order, followed by a summary of what is known so far.
Why does it matter?
This makes frightening reading, but is worth citing in full:
“The Minister for Education intends to put his department’s proposals before the Senedd as secondary legislation [Ed Com: note echoes of the Schools Bill in England] in September 2022, with the intention of them being implemented them in April 2023.
The proposals intend to:
- “Clarify what is meant by a suitable education”.
- This has previously been at the discretion of parents.
- “Strengthen the existing framework for local authorities to take action where a child is not receiving a suitable education and clarify that where this appears likely to impair a child’s development, the local authority should fully exercise their safeguarding powers and duties to protect the child’s wellbeing”.
- This gives LAs more powers to intervene in home education.
- Establish Local Authority “databases” of all children.
- This means that more data will be collected about children for the government’s purposes.
- And produce a revised version of the proposed handbook on home education which they consulted on in 2019.
- This could severely limit the rights of parents to choose the type and method of education for their children.”
The page includes further details of the intentions stated in the original consultations, but it remains unclear how many of these are intended for inclusion in September’s legislation.
In any case, Families First’s advice is sound: “Now is the time to raise your voice.”
What can I do?
Familiarise yourself with what has been said, and try to keep up to date with developments. [Note: the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee are currently conducting evidence sessions as part of their short inquiry into pupil absence from schools. Given the common conflation of home education with children not receiving an education by politicians,these evidence sessions frequently feature discussions in which HE is raised.]
In the absence of a definitive policy statement, indications of the Government’s intent has been gleaned from Senedd meetings or correspondence. The Families First in Education Wales News section is helpful in that respect.
Engage with your Senedd Members. Find them here. Personal contact nearly always has more impact than an email, and may open the way for further engagement.
Your own story will help them to realise that these measures are not just theoretical; they affect real people. Tell them how you came to be home educating. If school failings featured large in that decision, tell them about that too. Tell them about the benefits of HE for your family. Raise your concerns about the stereotypes and misunderstanding of home educators within the Senedd, and the way HE is so frequently conflated with ‘not being in school’ or with children missing education. Show how factors like data collection and mandatory interviews with children enhance the lack of trust which already exists between many HE parents and their LA, and render any offers of “support” meaningless.
Connect with other concerned HE parents via social media groups such as the recently formed Community Action for Home Educators in Wales.