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Children, Young People, and Education Committee – 18 November 2021

The first significant item on the agenda of this meeting was “Scrutiny of Children’s Commissioner for Wales Annual Report 2020 – 2021.” This was Sally Holland’s final appearance in front of the committee before her term as CCfW comes to an end in April 2022. The full transcript and recording of this meeting are available on the Senedd’s website.

The CCfW’s Annual Report was published on 5 October and repeats her established assertions concerning home education. A summary is available on the above page. Alternatively the full PDF is available from her website.

It was inevitable that home education would be raised and it was, initially by Sian Gwenllian MS.  Gwenllian’s question, her response to the CCfW’s answer and the relevant parts of that answer are reproduced below. This short exchange can also be watched in this clip.

Sian Gwenllian MS

Thank you very much. Maybe you could talk briefly about the things that have disappointed you the most during this period. In other words, what would you have liked to have seen more progress on? And could I also ask you, do you think that you’ve used your statutory powers effectively? You know what I’m referring to, I’m sure. Did you make the best use of the powers that you have in order to create change in the area of elective home schooling? You know that I’ve raised this in committee many times, and I’ve raised concerns about the fact that you haven’t succeeded in making progress on this issue.

Professor Sally Holland

I’ll just talk about a couple of other things first, and then come on to elective home education….

So, to go to home education, I would say there are two key areas where the Government and I just haven’t agreed on ways forward. One is the childcare offer, which I think should have been more universal and particularly have been available to—. I’ve taken a child’s view of the childcare offer rather than a parent’s view. I do think it’s important for parents to have access to good quality childcare, especially as an anti-poverty measure, but, actually, I think that, when you think about the child’s experience, and parents who are not working, their children actually—[Inaudible.]—probably more than anyone. So, we haven’t agreed on that, but I do think the Government has softened its stance on it and I do think they’re going to work on that this term.

The second thing has been how much to regulate home education, elective home education, as you know. I’ve used a range of tools in my toolbox, as commissioner, on that. So, I’ve tried to persuade; I’ve got case studies; I’ve scrutinised plans from the Government. But we got to the point, actually, during the pandemic, when the Government paused progress on it. I do think they had a real argument to make on competing priorities during the pandemic, but I was really concerned that we were seeing this cycle, again, where we’d actually gone a very long time without making any progress on this, and, in fact, there’s been a lot of that. So, I launched the statutory review; I completed the statutory review. I reported on it in February. So, that was the strongest power I had in my toolbox. Whether I should have done it earlier—. I know some committee members think I should have done, but, up until that point, I’d gradually chipped away at the Government and they had agreed that the three priorities I’d set were ones they agreed with. They put forward plans. They said it would be quicker using secondary legislation, so I went along with it and scrutinised very hard to make those as successful as they could be. But, when those plans were paused, I reviewed the whole thing and said that, actually, I felt it had just been a stop-start issue for years, without actually any change for children since the tragic death of Dylan Seabridge and a number of other difficult cases we’ve had since. And we still haven’t seen that change, which is why I’ve called for it again.

As commissioner, I cannot make the Government do anything, actually. And I think, to be honest, that’s the right thing, because it’s the Senedd, and the Government that comes from the Senedd, that is the democratically elected institution. But I do expect the Government to take me seriously and to take particularly my statutory reports seriously. And they, in a decision published last month, so, it’s in the list of decisions, have declared—. Although I’m waiting for the formal response to this year’s recommendation, there has been an indication that they will carry on with the secondary legislation route. So, I do expect there to be progress on this this Senedd term and I think it will be better than what we had before. But they haven’t, by the look of it, taken my advice to move forward to primary legislation, which I still think would be the most effective route in getting that balance between the state’s role in ensuring children have their right to an education and the family’s role in doing so, which I think is currently unbalanced.

Sian Gwenllian MS

Thank you very much, Chair. That’s the end of my questions, but I do think that we, as a committee, should keep a watching brief on what’s happening in terms of elective home education. Thank you very much.

Holland also made passing comments about HE in response to two questions from James Evans MS. Her comments are recorded in paragraphs 63 and 71.

In her reply to Gwenllian’s question, the CCfW said she was waiting for a formal response to her Annual Report from the Government. Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice, published this on 26 November. The full PDF confirms that this Administration does not intend using primary legislation to makes changes in regard to elective home education. Families First in Wales will consider the response in greater detail before commenting further.