The summer recess for the Welsh Assembly was followed almost instantly by the period of national mourning for the late Queen. Together these made it feel as though Senedd had been closed down for much longer than usual. Consequently, August and a good part of September were remarkable for their lack of news about the politics surrounding home education.
The silence was broken by Laura Anne Jones, regional member for South Wales East and Shadow Minister for Education, in a Plenary session on 20 September. During questions to the Trefnydd (the Minister responsible for organising government business in the Senedd) following a Business Statement, she asked:
“Thank you, business Minister. I’d like to request a statement from the Minister for education – as he turns around. Over the summer, I, like many other MSs, have seen a deluge of e-mails from concerned parents who are fearful of the Welsh Government’s intentions when it comes to potential changes in homeschooling. There are real concerns that proposals laid down by this Government are over-reaching and negative towards the homeschooling community. Could I ask for an oral statement from the Minister for education that will provide clarity for homeschoolers up and down Wales on any Government proposals that could significantly impact them? Thank you.”
“Thank you. Well, no proposals have been published at the current time – they will be in due course – but I know the Minister for education is talking to the relevant organisations and partners.”
Nothing new in that except to point out that whilst the Minister for Education is speaking “to the relevant organisations and partners,” he is apparently not engaging with parents, nor is he hearing their voices or those of their children.
If reports of the Department’s Equity in Education Team’s recent round of correspondence are accurate, the evidence is that the Minister does not seem to want to engage with parents. It appears that the Department has, as it were, pulled up the drawbridge on communicating with HE families. That certainly looks to be the case from the latest correspondence Families First in Education has received.
At the start of August we reported that we had not received a reply to our most recent letter to the Minister’s officials. Two weeks later we received a short, and some may consider terse, reply from those officials. It was in the form of a PDF file, with no letterhead and no signature other than a generic, typed “Equity in Education Team.”
The full letter is available here, the key paragraphs being:
“In previous correspondence, we have set out the current Welsh Government position on the proposals for elective home education in Wales (following the consultation period, and the exercises carried out therein) and the legal framework for the proposals.
The Welsh Government has always actively encouraged an open exchange with home educators around the very personal issue of home education. We fully respect the right of Families First in Education to hold and voice opinions but as Welsh Government officials we cannot express opinion and can only comment on fact.”
We therefore ask who could possibly be more relevant than the families and children targetted by the proposed legislation? Instead of a hearing ear, they receive responses from aides who say they can only deal in fact not opinion and therefore cannot respond to what home educators are asking the Minister to explain.
Given that to date the Welsh Government has not responded to the two legal opinions it received in response to each of the 2019 & 2020 consultations, nor to our own submission to rebut the views of the previous Children’s Commissioner’s interpretation of UNCRC, there are serious questions remaining about the legality of the “framework for the proposals.”
Home educators are eagerly awaiting the moment when the Minister properly tables the proposals rather than announcing his intentions in Departmental replies to letters from home educators. Once he does so, they will be able to hold up the proposals to the light and see if they are indeed legal or whether they are as flawed as the Scottish Named Person Scheme proved to be.
In December 2019 the then Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, published a statement about the need to delay the consultation on the proposed databases, because “a significant number of the many responses [to the first consultation] also raised complex technical, policy and legal matters which require careful consideration, we need to ensure the final guidance and the draft regulations fully take these into account.” (Emphasis added)
To date neither the previous nor the current administration has announced what measures they have taken to resolve the matters raised by the responses to the 2019 consultation – not to mention other issues such as data protection, in relation to what became of the 2020 one.
HE families are looking for the Government to ensure that what they are intending to implement in regard to their children is in conformity with all relevant legislation. Until the Minister explains the proposals publicly, speculation remains the only available option for concerned parents. That is the clarity which Jones asked Miles to provide and which he has so far failed to deliver.
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