Further myths regarding home education have been perpetuated in Senedd, with the new Children’s Commissioner expressing “concern” regarding the lack of regulation and oversight of home education, whilst paradoxically highlighting a State school system where around a third of children are considered to “fail”, and emphasising that approaches in education need to be “individualised”…
The Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee met virtually on 16 June. Agenda items 3 and 4 took the form of evidence sessions as part of the Committee’s Inquiry into absenteeism of school pupils, with members seeking to understand the main reasons for the increase in pupil absence since Covid. The transcript and recording are available on the Senedd’s website.
What this has to do with home education? Well, very little actually, apart from the fact that throughout both sessions there was conflation of home education with enforced pandemic home learning, and a blanket reiteration that “school is the best place for children”. [See paragraphs 55-56 and 132-139.]
Laura Doel, Director, National Association of Headteachers Cymru (perhaps unsurprisingly, given her role) believed there was “no replacement for being in school with your peers, with those teachers in front of you,” and that “the best place for learners is in the classroom” for educational attainment and also for mental health and social well-being. Home educated children lacked “peer-to-peer support” and “social integration” she said, although there is no evidence for this.
The new Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Rocio Cifuentes, had submitted a response to the Inquiry on 6th June (Paper to note 3 in the agenda). On pages 7-8 she had addressed the matter of absenteeism and any potential crossover with home education. She and her Policy Adviser then attended this evidence session as witnesses.
In answer to a question from Laura Ann Jones MS about the increasing number of children being educated at home, Cifuentes spoke of support and complained that local authorities could not know what support was needed because they do not know which children are being home educated. She added:
“the lack of regulation means that, although many children will be thriving, it’s just not always possible for local authorities to know who is and who isn’t and therefore who may need more support. And even now, there’s no legal obligation for families to meet with the local authority, so, professionals just don’t know what support is needed.
We are aware of very positive impacts that have been reported about increased funding that Welsh Government has made available to home-educated learners and families, which, from what we’ve heard, has been really positive both from the point of view of local authorities, but also from parents and learners, because it’s enabled increased opportunities for engagement and learning, and any increased engagement is positive as far as we’re concerned because it enables those learning needs and the child’s needs to be more effectively identified and supported…”
Laura Ann Jones continued bemused by the increased numbers of home educators, wondering if the cost of travel and school meals was a contributing factor!
To which the Commissioner replied:
“It is possible that it’s because of positive reasons, because some children have found that they enjoy learning from home, enjoy the relative freedom that it affords. But it’s also possible that some children have almost fallen on that other default option because of perhaps lack of flexibility and a lack of other options. Because we actually don’t know fully the answer, that’s our concern. If there were more opportunities for that engagement and for those conversations to take place, then that would provide a fuller picture.”
Laura Ann Jones swiftly added, “for safeguarding too also,” once again conflating home education and possible abuse by implication, although there is no evidenced link.
Home educators who have struggled to have their concerns heard by their Senedd Members and by Education Minister, Jeremy Miles, will find the Commissioner’s comment about “opportunities” for “conversations” ironic.
The Children’s Commissioner continued:
“The GCSE system has an overall failure rate of around 30 per cent, overall. Any system in which around a third of learners are not currently succeeding, in that definition, is going to have an impact on learners’ own self-esteem, and potentially their mental health.”
The contradiction and irony are quite remarkable. School is the best place for a child when a third of the learners “are currently not succeeding”. And the members of the committee are puzzled by the increasing number of home educated children, without noticing such obvious reasons and without hearing the voices of home educated families.
These sections of the CYPEC meeting concerned school absenteeism, not home education. Home educated children are neither absent from school nor from education, but politicians do not seem to understand this. So the usual myths about home education surfaced nonetheless, and the mantra, “school is the best place for children” was reiterated without challenge. The unevidenced assumption was trotted out that home educated children lack “peer-to-peer support” and “social integration.” Rhetoric of this nature continues to be a matter of concern, as it serves to reinforce existing misconceptions and prejudices.
The Commissioner spoke of more support for children deemed not to be thriving. However, the only steps that the Welsh Government’s draft proposals offer if education is found to be “unsuitable” is a Notice to Satisfy and a School Attendance Order within days. This is hardly supportive.
Cifuentes opposed the stigmatisation of schooled children struggling with absence issues, yet home educated children are continually “stigmatised” by the authorities by demeaning stereotypes and presumption of neglect unless proven otherwise.
How might home educators respond?
Starting in May and continuing until November, the Children’s Commissioner’s Office is asking children and young people about their Ambitions for Wales – the things they want to change to make Wales a better place for children to grow up. Cifuentes says they will meet in person with children and young people from across Wales, and also “their parents, and the professionals who work with and for them.”
They are also working towards a Ambitions for Wales survey this autumn. You can sign up here to be sent a link to the survey when it is published.
Can you take advantage of this opportunity to put forward the case for family-based education?
Could you invite the Commissioner and her aides to your home education group?
Have you written to your Senedd members? Have they engaged helpfully with your concerns, or does it feel as if they and the Welsh Government are ignoring you and your children? If so, consider whether you would be prepared to engage with her and ask her to listen to your children’s voices.
If you have not yet contacted your Senedd Members, you can find who they are here.
Consider raising with them some of the following points:
- The benefits of home education for your family;
- Concern about the stereotypes and misunderstanding of home educators in the Senedd;
- Reasons why proposed increased state control is the opposite of “support”;
- Intention to introduce mandatory meetings with home educated children without consent;
- Dangers of proposed database and the sharing of data.
See this page for what is known so far of the Welsh Government’s draft proposals.
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