On Tuesday 3 May, Education Minister Jeremy Miles MS, made a statement to the Senedd on school attendance. The transcript and video are available on the Senedd’s website. Most of what he said concerned the efforts being made by his Department to address “the increase in learner absence” as a result of the pandemic. However, in his penultimate paragraph he turned his attention to the subject of elective home education. Here he stated:
218 “The pandemic resulted in an increase in the number of children being home educated. The elective home education proposals we have under development will help to ensure that those learners have access to an efficient and suitable education. The wider package of support we’re making available is an essential component that will enhance their learning experience and development opportunities, and will include full access to the educational resources on Hwb. We encourage local authorities to work together with families through a supportive approach to enable a return to school.” [Video of this section ]
Given the context of his statement, it may be possible to excuse his reference to enabling “a return to school” as a matter of confusion between his main theme on this occasion and the legal option for parents to elect to educate their children outside of the school environment. However, this is now the second time he has used wording which implies he believes, and is working towards, all children being educated in school. We have previously reported on his 30 March response to a question in the Senedd, in which he made clear:
“And she’s right, obviously, to identify the fact that it is more challenging to be able to understand the experience of home-schooled children, which is why we are keen to make sure that children are being taught in school with their peers, subject to the safeguarding regime that all schools operate.” (emphasis added)
The following day the Minister responded to a written question from Altaf Hussain MS, though this wasn’t published until two days later, on 6 May. On 22 April Hussain had asked:
“Will the Minister instruct all education authorities to compile a list of children being home schooled so that proper welfare and education standards are being met, given that the number of children now being home schooled is increasing?”
The Minister’s reply is perhaps the least opaque statement he has made since coming into post, but it is still far from a clear outline of what they are proposing to implement:
In September 2021, I agreed to progress the proposals for elective home education (EHE) consulted on in 2019 and 2020, with the aim of ensuring that children and young people receive a suitable education, whilst making progress on identifying children missing an education.
These proposals will provide new statutory guidance that will strengthen the existing framework for local authorities to take action where a child is not receiving a suitable education and clarifies what is considered a ‘suitable’ and ‘efficient’ education. It also clarifies that where this appears likely to impair a child’s development, the local authorities should fully exercise their safeguarding powers and duties to protect the child’s wellbeing.
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 education other than at school (EOTAS), the intention is to create a database of children of compulsory school age in each area.
There will be a wider package of support for EHE children and young people to enhance their learning experience and development opportunities, and to complement this, a new home educator’s handbook that contains detailed advice and information to support home educators should they require it.
In developing these proposals, my officials will continue to work closely with other officials across government on safeguarding policy and practice.
In the current year we are supporting both the administration costs of local authorities in relation to home education and funding education resources and activities for home educated learners with £1.7m of funding available. This funding is unique to Wales.
There is no “new” content in this answer, but it is the most complete summary of the Government’s intentions published since last year’s elections. However, they emphasise a number of areas of concern not just to home educating families, but to anyone who sees civil liberties as being highly valuable.
For instance, the commitment to collecting data on all children in Wales in order to track down a small number of perfectly law-abiding families who have had no concerns raised about them, highlights issues around the right to a private family life. Whilst this can be overridden in exceptional circumstances, the state needs to show real evidence that doing so is both necessary and proportionate. To date it has not produced any, other than hearsay and “concerns” by children’s professionals.
Similarly it has to be asked how Jeremy Miles intends clarifying a suitable and efficient education. Does this mean standardised annual tests or something occasional more like SATs? Imposing anything of the kind would restrict parents from making choices in the best interests of their children.
Then of course there is the now all too familiar conflation of proactive safeguarding with education. It has to be asked if the Welsh Government thinks that offering home educating families a sugar-coated pill of “education resources and activities for home educated learners” – no matter how much it’s worth – will seduce them to acquiesce by allowing the state to invade their homes and dictate how their children should learn.
Perhaps they think that times have changed from twelve years ago when families across England pulled together in a remarkable way, and resisted the combined efforts of Minister Ed Balls and high ranking “children’s professional” Graham Badman to impose registration and monitoring on their EHE children. This short Telegraph article from June 2009 contains some pertinent points for parents today:
- The proposal is wrong in principle because it arrogantly assumes that state functionaries are better qualified than parents to decide what is right for their children.
- The Government seems routinely to assume that parents will do the wrong thing and must be protected from themselves.
- Of course, one of the reasons so many parents – an estimated 50,000 of them – are choosing to educate their children at home is that they have lost faith in the ability of the state system to deliver a high quality education. [Of course, the number of such families is far higher across both Wales and England today than it was in 2009.]
Remember, you can keep up to date with what the Government has said in regard to home education by visiting our Government page.
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