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Senedd Topical Question – 8 December 2021

In a Senedd Plenary session on 8 December, Jane Dodds MS asked a question arising from the tragic death of 6 year old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Two members of Senedd took this as an opportunity to add to the narrative of fear which has been manufactured against home educating parents over recent years.

The transcript of the full exchange, starting with Dodds’ question, is on Senedd’s website. However, we encourage you to watch the video of the section below as the tone of Alun Davies’ MS and Jenny Rathbone’s MS comments is not conveyed sufficiently in text alone. Their questions are answered by Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Social Services.

Alun Davies MS

I’m grateful to the Minister for her answers. One of the issues that has been troubling me for some time, as we’ve come through this pandemic, has been the disappearance of children from education, and the significant increase in the number of children being educated from home. We know from tragic history that, when children are taken into the home to be educated, we can lose contact with those children and that some terrible things can and have happened to children in those circumstances. Would the Government, both the social services department and the education department, consider an investigation into the growth of elective home education, and consider how contact can be maintained with children who are being educated at home, and also review the law governing home education? I have very, very significant concerns that the growth of home education is going to lead to a growth of abuse and the potential for further tragedies in future.

Julie Morgan MS

I thank Alun Davies for that very important question, and this is an issue that I have worked on closely—and am working on closely—with the Minister for education, because, obviously, it’s an issue that concerns both departments. We are developing proposals that will further strengthen the existing framework around elective home education to help ensure that children who are educated at home do get a suitable education to begin with and that their well-being needs are met. So, we are developing a framework, and the proposals that we have include new statutory guidance for local authorities and a wider package of support for home-educated children to enhance the learning experience and development opportunities, and, also, a handbook that will help and give information to home educators.

This year, we’ve made £1.7 million of funding available to support local authorities with administrative costs relating to home education, as well as to fund education resources and activities for home-educated learners. This is a unique fund to Wales, and I think that does answer his questions about having contact with children who are educated at home and who wish to make wider contact outside of the home. So, the Minister for education will be taking forward the proposals for the new statutory guidance in due course, but it is an issue that I’m working on very closely with him.

Jenny Rathbone MS

I note in Estyn’s annual report that Ceredigion had very interesting outreach work with home-educated students, which enabled a lot of those children to be reintegrated into schools.

I’m very pleased that you’re giving additional money to family support services for this really, really difficult subject, but I also just wanted to highlight the fact that Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was not in school at all, and that on the day before he was killed he was taken to the hairdressers by the woman who killed him, where he was made to stand with his face to the wall for up to seven hours. Therefore, I agree with you: it is up to the ears and eyes of the community to identify and speak out when child cruelty is obviously taking place, such as in that situation, because, at the end of the day, family support services, would you agree, cannot be everywhere all of the time? It is everybody’s duty to speak up for children’s rights.

For clarity, regarding Rathbone’s assertion that Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was not in school at all,” Arthur had been in school before lockdown started. Further, the BBC reports:

The court also heard Arthur had told others his “dad was going to kill him”, he expressed this to his wider family, his doctor and his school. (Emphasis added)

His grandfather, Peter Halcrow, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that warnings from other family members were “not acted on” by social services or police.

Exchanges like these between politicians should remind all home educating families in Wales (and elsewhere) of the need to stand together for freedom from unjustified interference in our private lives. You can help Families First in Education – Wales to resist attempts to impose registration and monitoring of home educated children, including mandatory interviews by LA staff, by signing our open letter to Education Minister, Jeremy Miles.

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