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Two Senedd committees inundated with correspondence from home educators – June 2023

When the Senedd’s Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee met on Monday 12 June, correspondence they had received from home educators about the Welsh Government’s Guidance on Elective Home Education featured as a separate item to note on their agenda.

Chair Huw Irranca-Davies introduced agenda item 5 during the public session, thanking those who had submitted their views, and saying:

“I invite Members to note the several items of correspondence received that relate to the Welsh Government’s elective home education guidance, which was published by the Minister for education on 12 May. Members will note that, within those items of correspondence, there are a number of concerns with the guidance raised within it. So, we do thank as a committee all those who have taken the time to submit their views to us, and I suspect to other committees as well. And again, we can return to this in private session if Members want to.”

The nineteen submissions, differing in length and with various attachments, ran to a total of forty-one pages. The published submissions document may be downloaded here, the transcript of the committee meeting read here or the video viewed here.

There are no details available of the ensuing discussion which took place in the private session, of course. However, the matter was raised again in the private session of their next meeting on 19 June. Agenda item 11 allocated 15 minutes for “Consideration of correspondence: Welsh Government’s Elective Home Education Statutory Guidance.”

When the Children Young People and Education Committee met on Weds 14 June, their Chair Jane Bryant informed members of similar submissions received by the clerk for their consideration. These are now available as Paper to note 3 “Correspondence regarding guidance on elective home education.” In this instance, submissions numbered twenty-four and ran to twenty-eight pages, including one long and articulate piece from a home educated young person. The full agenda can be accessed here and records of this section of the meeting are available as either a transcript or a video.

Having thanked all correspondents for their input, Bryant was careful to outline in her introduction the parameters of what the committee could and could not do. Investigating the lawfulness of the guidance would be a matter for the courts, not for a Senedd committee, she said. Neither did they possess the power to stop any statutory guidance being implemented, though the Committee could recommend policy changes to the Government:

“I’d like to open the discussion on paper to note 3. Members will know we’ve had correspondence regarding elective home education. We’ve received correspondence from over 20 different people raising their concerns about the recently published Welsh Government statutory guidance on elective home education, and I would like to thank all those people who have taken their time and trouble to raise their concerns with the committee. Before I open up the discussion with the rest of the committee, I’d just like to outline what the committee can and cannot do. Some of the requests include a call for us to look at the lawfulness of the guidance. Obviously, matters of lawfulness are for the courts and not for a Senedd committee. Obviously, if we did any work, we would have to pause any relevant work, if any court proceedings began, such as a judicial review.

There are also requests for either the committee or the Senedd to pause implementation of the guidance until there has been further scrutiny. Now, Senedd committees do not have such power, and Senedd committees can make recommendations for policy changes to the Welsh Government, which the Welsh Government must consider and provide a response to, but they do not have to implement any recommendations of a Senedd committee, nor does a Senedd committee have the power to stop or make any instruction to stop such statutory guidance being implemented. I’m aware that there was a statement in Plenary last week, in which I asked questions about the consultation, and I know Laura Jones also spoke in that statement. Paper to note 4 is a response from the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, which provides more detail on when the regulation handbook for home educators will be published. Obviously, that’s in our paper pack and published on our website. So, I wonder if any Members would like to raise any points to start…”

Only two committee members were invited to comment before the meeting proceeded to the next agenda item, and one at least had been clearly impacted by the content and volume of the correspondence received on this topic.

James Evans (Con) did not directly address the concerns raised by the home educators. He chose rather to major on his concern about the number of people removing children from school to home educate them because “they cannot get the ALN provision they want or the mental health support they want.” He recommended the committee look into this further in the context of their work about disabled children, and make some robust recommendations to the Government about how their provision might be improved.

Sioned Williams (Plaid Cymru) had clearly registered the level of disquiet amongst the home educating community, and expressed her own concerns about “this notion that they are somehow being persecuted by the Government and that their voices haven’t been heard during the consultation…”

Jane Bryant then concluded this item by suggesting that Members’ concerns about the number of people who had got in touch with CYPEC should be communicated to the Minister by letter in the first instance. Also that the whole issue should inform any other relevant work currently being done by the Committee, and that they should “keep a close eye on these things and perhaps look at what we can do in the future as well.”

Item 2.4 of the Forward Work programme is also worth noting. It is a response from Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles to Jane Bryant’s request for an update. There was very little new in his comments, for example “on the two sets of draft regulations that were consulted on in 2020 and the publication of the Handbook for Home Educators.”

As we know, the Handbook for Home Educators has now been published, and the Minister covered essentially the same content in his 6 June Senedd Plenary statement.

It is impossible to comment in detail here on every submission received by these two committees. Suffice it to say that the overwhelming majority of correspondents expressed deep concern both about the underlying approach and many specific aspects of the guidance, and requested that the committees in question intervened as much as their powers allowed to pause implementation of this, pending further examination. The submissions are a further example of how strongly home educating families are committed to protecting their freedom to safeguard their children and ensure the quality of the education they receive.

It is to be hoped that the content and volume of correspondence received will not be forgotten by members of either committee.


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