Last year the Children Young People & Education Committee [CYPEC] held a short inquiry on pupil absence from schools. One of the Terms of Reference asked whether absenteeism had resulted in a higher level of pupil de-registration and any cross-over with elective home education. The Inquiry’s findings were written up in a report which was published in November.
Details of the Committee’s remit and membership may be found here. Heled Ffychan (Plaid Cymru) is not a regular member of the Committee, but substituted for Sioned Williams on two occasions whilst the report was being prepared.
On 5 January CYPEC publicised the Government’s formal response to this report, announcing at the same time the date of a plenary debate on its findings:
“On the 5 January the Committee received a response (PDF 152KB) to the report from the Welsh Government. A plenary debate has been scheduled for Wednesday 8 February 2023.”
As already noted previously, Chapter 7 of CYPEC’s report, “What has been the impact of pupil absence on elective home education?” has the most relevance to home educators.
Of CYPEC’s seven concluding Recommendations, number 6 pertains to matters explored in this chapter. It reads:
“Recommendation 6. That the Welsh Government publishes more detailed data on the reasons for de-registration and for returning to schools after de-registration alongside with data on the support being provided to families. This data should be disaggregated by local authority and key demographics, such as age, gender, ethnicity, disability, and eligibility for free school meals.” Page 51
The Welsh Government response accepted all seven of the Committee’s recommendations, two of them ‘in principle.’ Their additional comment on Recommendation 6 reads as follows:
“We are working with Data Cymru (WLGA) to improve the quality and level of data we currently capture in relation to de-registration and the key demographics of this cohort, including the reasons for de-registration
With the expected implementation of the new EHE proposals in 2023, including the wider package of support, we plan to gather additional data to help us evaluate the impact on EHE learners.”
It is also Government practice to detail any financial implications associated with the acceptance of particular recommendations. In this case, the Minister stated that there would be none, because any additional costs would be “drawn from existing programme budgets.”
Though the opening paragraphs of the Welsh Government’s formal response acknowledge the difficulties and trauma caused by the pandemic, it includes familiar rhetoric:
“We know that young people need to be attending school, seeing their friends, and learning in the classroom. This is vital for their wellbeing as well as for their education.”
The first of the Committee’s recommendations about a national campaign to emphasise the positive benefits of regular school attendance was accepted without reservation, and Recommendation 6 does seem to be advocating a return to the classroom in as many cases as possible, rather than a unbiased acceptance of parents’ freedom to choose alternative ways to fulfil their educational responsibility towards their children.
Set against that background and the Government’s stated aim of improving the “quality and level of data we currently capture,” the appeal of a “wider package of support” is unlikely to reassure HE parents that the Welsh Government’s intention towards them is unbiased and genuinely for the good of their children as individuals.
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