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Senedd Plenary – 13 March 2024

Education Minster takes oral questions at Senedd Plenary before moving to new role

As widely reported, Vaughan Gething was appointed First Minister of Wales on 20 March and has since announced his “new look cabinet.” (We note that Mr Gething has chosen to return to a previous practice of calling his senior Ministers Cabinet Secretaries.)

Runner up in the Welsh leadership campaign and former Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, now takes up the post of Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy, and the Welsh Language.

Lynne Neagle, formerly Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, steps into Miles’ shoes as Cabinet Secretary for Education. Neagle was Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee in the Fifth Senedd, from 2016 to 2021.

Just a week before the result of the Labour Party leadership election was announced, a Senedd Plenary on 13 March saw Jeremy Miles being thanked for his work at Education by various party spokespersons during his last appearance to answer questions as Minister for Education and the Welsh Language. (Agenda item 2)

Question topics were varied, including school nurses, Welsh language teaching and zero-tolerance bullying. Tom Giffard, Conservative, South Wales West, asked what steps the Welsh Government was taking to improve pupil attendance, then Mark Isherwood, Conservative, North Wales region, asked [video]:

“What is the Welsh Government’s policy on children missing education?”

Miles referred him to the statutory guidance to be found on the Welsh Government website, but Isherwood was not deterred. He went on to raise the Children Missing Education Database currently under consultation, asking some very direct questions about the impact of these proposals on home educated children: [§142]

“Currently, the issue of the Children Act 2004 (Children Missing Education Database) (Wales) Regulations 202X is under consultation. This states that a local authority must establish and operate a children-missing-education database, and that the database must include a child who is not a registered pupil and it appears to the local authority that the child is not, or may not be, receiving a suitable education. The vast majority of children missing education are registered school pupils, and many of those are children in the care system. These are not home-educated children. Why, therefore, are these regulations directly targeted at home-educated children rather than children who are genuinely children missing education?” [Emphasis added]

Isherwood followed this up with a supplementary question about the confusingly titled Children on the Margins enquiry presently being undertaken by CYPEC, pointing out that home-educated children are not at risk of criminal exploitation as implied by the way they had been grouped together with a varied cohort of ‘children not enrolled in mainstream education.’

“And why has the Welsh Government recently issued a consultation under the title ‘children and young people on the margins’, in which it describes children not enrolled in mainstream education as at risk of criminal exploitation, when evidence shows that home-educated children are not at such risk?”

[§143-4] Miles did not choose to address Isherwood’s points about this enquiry, though by then some of the sting had been taken out of the situation as the Committee had adjusted the wording in response to vociferous complaints from home educating parents. [This welcome development was noted here in a postpublication update.]

Miles chose rather to encourage Isherwood to submit his own response to the consultation. He then strongly refuted the Member’s assertion that the database was effectively “an elective-home-education database,” retorting:

“I don’t accept the characterisation, which the Member gives to this, that this an elective-home-education database. I think the proposals are both proportionate and reasonable. They’re there to help local authorities effectively carry out their functions. If a local authority has been unable to determine that a home-educated child is in receipt of a suitable education, then that child is potentially missing education and will then be included in the database. That seems to me a reasonable step to take in the context of the challenge that the database regulations are there to solve.”

We know that the vast majority of home educating readers take a very different view to Miles, but Mr Isherwood’s interventions will be both an encouragement and an inspiration to them. Senedd and Regional Members are there to represent their constituents and communicate their views in the chamber, and he has done that admirably.

It remains to be seen what approach Ms Neagle will take to education and databases, but alongside completing consultation responses before 25 April, lobbying their Senedd representatives will continue to be a worthwhile exercise for any home educating parents who wish to make their voices heard.


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