Agenda item 5 of a Senedd Plenary session held on 8 February was a Debate on the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s Report – ‘Pupil Absence.’ This Report was tabled on 14 November 2022, and we have commented on it previously.
CYPEC Chair Jane Bryant opened the debate by reviewing the work done and recommendations made following last summer’s “short focused inquiry” undertaken by the Committee to “try to understand the impact of the pandemic on school attendance.” (Paragraph references [ ] in this post refer to the transcript of the debate.)
The next speaker was Conservative Shadow Minister for Education Laura Anne Jones. She touched on various aspects of persistent absence highlighted in the Report including the lack of “the right, timely support” for ALN pupils, a high absence rate for autistic students, poverty, and issues with learner transport. 
She emphasised the need for action as well as words with regard to measures concerning learners’ wellbeing, pointing out that where support was needed, it should be “urgently delivered on the ground to where it is needed. The data is meaningless without the proper support following it.” [250a]
Jones then asked the Minister to explain:
“how he’s ensuring that home-schoolers aren’t being conflated and bundled in with school absence, as it’s crucial we ensure this medium of education is kept open and untarnished.” [250b]
In her closing remarks, she reiterated the need for the Welsh Government “to understand why there has been such a significant rise in home schooling since the pandemic began.” 
Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles MS fielded Jones’ earlier questions about the need for realistic support by reassuring her that he would be investing £2.5 million into local authority education welfare services this year, to “provide much-needed additional capacity.” This to enable the service to provide “earlier support before issues escalate, and also provide more intensive support to learners with high levels of absence.” 
Miles failed to engage directly with Jones’ important point about the conflation of home education and school absence, acknowledging however that some parents’ move into home education may be connected to “a lack of appropriate support.”  He said :
“We know there has been an increase in the numbers of families choosing to home educate since the pandemic. For some, this has been an active choice, but I acknowledge this is not likely to have been the case for all. No parent should be deregistering their child due to a lack of appropriate support. Understanding the decisions that lie behind parents choosing to home educate is therefore important. We are working with Data Cymru to improve the quality and level of data we currently capture in relation to deregistration and the key demographics of this cohort, including the reasons for deregistration.”
But capturing more data about reasons for deregistration or learning more about the key demographics of the home educating cohort are not the same as listening to home educating parents. Jones was quite right – data on its own is meaningless. And if they suspect that one of the main reasons for gathering more data about them and their children is a covert attempt to oversee them more stringently or to herd more children back into the school system, then home educating parents should continue to be concerned about Greeks bearing gifts.
By contrast, Jones’ choice of words indicates that she is listening to the concerns of home educating families. Her representations on their behalf and her clear grasp of the important need for their chosen medium of education to remain “open and untarnished” will be very much appreciated.
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