The seventh item on the agenda when Senedd met on 26 January was a debate initated by the Conservative party proposing “the Senedd: Regrets the adverse impact of COVID-19 restrictions on children and young people across Wales.”
The motion was proposed by Laura Anne Jones MS, a regional member for South Wales East and Shadow Minister for Education. After a stuttering start due to the Minister not being connected to the conference call, Jones’ speech lasted for around twelve minutes [transcript]. Much of it obviously had very little to do with home education; however about halfway through she made a passing reference to “home schooling.” [Paragraph 301]
Everyone wants the new curriculum to succeed, but the Minister must realise, as well as throwing in extra money, that more direction is now needed. With all the pressures of this pandemic, staff absences, pupil absences, the rise in home schooling and missed education, we now need this Government to throw everything it has at education to ensure that our children get the very best start in life, an education that gives them opportunities on a par at least with the rest of the UK, if not, hopefully, better. (emphasis added here and below)
She expanded on her concerns shortly afterwards. [305 & 306]
The lack of electronic devices and bad broadband are also major problems and barriers to learning that the pandemic has highlighted, amongst many other inequalities across this country. The pandemic has also thrown up and highlighted major problems of safety of children, and of the quality of education that children can receive at home. Also, the pandemic has made us all realise just how important school and school life is, not just in terms of education, but for the mental health of our children.
Many home schooled children do well, and it works for some families, including a colleague of mine, but there is now a worrying rise in home education, and I say ‘worrying’ as recently it is often being done by parents as a reaction to having to wear masks in schools, or worries about the virus, not as a choice about what is best for their children, their education, their family and future prospects. Due to this trend, I’d be very interested to hear stats from the Minister as to how this Government measure how qualified these parents wanting to do home schooling now are, how regular inspections are, how progress is monitored, and whether there’ll be anything done to encourage re-enrolling into schools. As recent data shows, 4,000 five to 15-year-olds in 2021 were home schooled, up 60 per cent from 2018-19. This is clearly a steep rise, so I look forward to hearing from the Minister how he’s going to address this urgently.
The video of this section of her speech is available here.
We have recently commented that negative remarks like these by politicians serve to “remind all home educating families in Wales (and elsewhere) of the need to stand together for freedom from unjustified interference in our private lives.” This has been further underlined through the making public of a letter from the Minister to a colleague in which he stated:
“I recognise the need for reform in the policy and legislative framework for EHE and I am keen for work in this area to progress at pace. Correspondingly, work on previous proposals, paused due to Covid19 in 2020, has re-started.
These proposals will provide new Statutory Guidance that will strengthen the framework in relation to a local authority’s duties under Section 436a of the Education Act 1996 and clarify what is considered a ‘suitable’ and ‘efficient’ education. This includes an expectation that a suitable education would incorporate provision in numeracy, literacy and language skills, appropriate to the child’s age, ability and aptitude and any ALN they may have.
To assist local authorities to discharge their duty to identify children not on a school roll, not already known by the local authority to be EHE or in EOTAS, there will be a database of children of compulsory school age in their area.”
It seems the narrative around home education in Wales shows little sign of being genuinely supportive.
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