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The Welsh Government’s response to the Children’s Commissioner’s Annual Report 2020-21

Families First in Education – Wales is first and foremost concerned that primacy of all parents in the education of their children continues to be upheld. That is the reason why we wrote to the Education Minister, Jeremy Miles MS, in October with a submission to rebut Sally Holland’s use of the UNCRC to insist that electively home educated children must be interviewed by state employees on an annual basis.

The CCfW published her Annual Report 20/21 on 5 October. It contains a number of recommendations, of which only one is directly relevant to EHE children:

11. Home education

The Welsh Government must bring forward primary legislation to meet in full their commitments to the three tests for this policy area; that children are accounted for, receive a suitable education and their other human rights, and that to ensure this, every child should have the opportunity to be seen and their views and experiences listened to.

On 26 November Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice, published the The Welsh Government response to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales’ Annual Report 2020-21 and in the accompanying statement she said:

“I am pleased that as a Government we are able to accept, or accept in principle all but one of the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations. With the First Minister, I am today publishing our comprehensive response to each of these recommendations together with information about the actions we have already taken or intend to take.” (emphasis added)

It is encouraging to then read that it was the one concerning EHE which the Government rejected. In regard to the CCfW’s Recommendation 11, the statement reads:

The Welsh Government Response: Reject

The Welsh Government intends to use its powers under secondary legislation to implement the proposals previously consulted on in 2019 and 2020, subject to the final consideration of the consultation responses.

Work in this area was paused in 2020, solely due to the impact of Covid-19, and it has recently been re-started.

We believe that these proposals will provide the most proportionate and appropriate way forward to ensure that home educated children and young people receive a suitable education.

FFiEW welcomes the Government response to the CCfW’s insistence that primary legislation is necessary to ensure that “every child should have the opportunity to be seen and their views and experiences listened to.” We believe that this was never the intention of Article 12 of the UNCRC which she cited to justify her objectives.

However, we remain concerned that the Government continues to seek the implementation of “the proposals previously consulted on in 2019 and 2020.” The first of these consultations was on Home Education – Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities and a Handbook for Home Educators. The second, launched at the end of January 2020, concerned Local authority education databases of all children in Wales. However, it was clearly linked to the first (as in the recent statement above) and therefore directly relevant to HE families.

Amongst the responses to both consultations were the ones from Protecting Home Education Wales. Both of these contained legal opinions (obtained through crowd-funding appeals) and both questioned the proposals on the grounds of Human Rights legislation. These are available here and here. It seems that the first of these in particular contributed to the Government of the time being concerned about the legality of the proposals. In a statement made in December 2019 Education Minister Kirsty Williams, announcing the delay in the timescale for the implementation of the proposals, explained:

“However, because a significant number of the many responses 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.”

In June the following year she then announced that it would not be possible for that Administration to implement the proposals, because of the significant impact of Covid 19 on the work of her Department. Now that the new Government has stated its intentions to use “secondary legislation to implement the proposals” cited in both consultations, we trust that in so doing they will engage fully with the advice they received from Protecting Home Education Wales, and also our own more recent submission to rebut the CCfW’s use of the UNCRC.

We will continue our correspondence with the current Education Minister to seek reassurance that any future proposals will not interfere with the right to a private life and the primacy of parents in choosing the kind of education their children are provided with.