Elective Home Education Consultation Response

Below is the text of my response to the Welsh Government’s consultation on Elective Home Education on 22nd November 2012.

 

Question 1 – Do you agree that a register should be kept and that it should be a requirement to register if a parent elects to home educate?

The consultation does not, in my view, demonstrate that a requirement to register will advance the rights of children and young people to education that will enable them to develop to their fullest potential.

I believe the proposals put forward have the potential to lead to excessive intrusion into the lives of those who choose home education. Furthermore, I believe that the process of implementation could lead to deterioration in relationships between local authorities and home educators. This would be detrimental to the rights of children and young people to education and may have the impact of reducing their access to other services as well.

This is unfortunate as there are excellent examples in Wales of how voluntary and collaborative arrangements between local authorities and families can bring benefits to all concerned. A report completed in April 2011 for the Welsh Government Pupil Engagement Team describes the arrangements in Bridgend, arrangements arising from initiative taken by families engaged in home education.

I fully support Welsh Government in taking action to improve the support available for children and young people who are educated at home. However, this action must be based on robust evidence that the approach taken would lead to improved access for children and young people to their entitlements. In gathering this evidence the government must engage constructively with both local authorities and the home educating community, including understanding the views of children and young people. I do not feel that this consultation, based on proposals for a system of registration, is a substitute for a more open engagement. Before proposals are put forward, the wide ranging views and experiences of home educated young people and their families should be considered.

Before a case could be made for a requirement to register, evidence must be gathered to identify the issues faced by young people who are educated at home. This should include a better understanding of any issues young people have faced in school that have contributed to the family’s decision to educate the young person at home, and examples of effective support from the local authority. This evidence would be as relevant to improving the education and school experience of young people who are educated at home as to young people who are engaged in other mainstream or alternative education.

In fact, these proposals themselves create the potential for misunderstanding. It is possible that families will feel that the proposals are the result of suspicion that home educated young people are at additional risk of abuse or neglect, or that the measures will be used to undermine any criticism of the mainstream provision that a young person has received. Welsh Government must be clear that safeguarding is a separate issue to be dealt with through safeguarding arrangements, and that safeguarding is best served by positive and constructive relationships between government agencies and between government and the wider community. These relationships will not be improved by a requirement to register.

 
Question 2 – Do you agree that if a parent fails to register or provides inadequate or false information then the child being home educated should be required to attend school?

I recognise the need for the local authority to understand what education the young person is receiving in order to fulfil statutory obligations. However, I believe that the current arrangements can already provide for this. The process described in these proposals is likely to lead to a sense of antagonism between families and the local authority, and therefore make this duty more, not less, difficult to fulfil. Adequate and accurate information about the needs of the young person is a joint responsibility and is best brought together in the context of a constructive relationship between the family and the local authority.

The decision by families for a child or young person to be educated at home will be made under many different circumstances. However, for the vast majority of families it is a decision they have taken that they feel strongly will best meet the educational and welfare needs of the young person. For some families, this decision has been taken in circumstances that have led them to feel that the school environment available to the young person is not meeting their needs.

In this context the local authority and the family may already be in disagreement as to what is in the best interests of the child. Arrangements must enable them to work together to come to a common decision, based on a common understanding of the young person’s needs, as to what is suitable educational provision and how this can be resourced. In this process it is essential that the views of the young person are heard and taken into account and where possible the support available is tailored to meet their needs. The subject of resources for home education is not addressed in these proposals and would not be addressed by a requirement to register.

The proposals, in my view, appear to contain an assumption that the school environment is always the most appropriate environment, and that the default position should be that the child returns to school. If the informed wishes of the young person and their family are that the most appropriate education would be provided at home  then starting point should be that their wishes should be respected. . Local authorities should then consider, with the family, the  support that can be  made available to provide a suitable education. If the parents are unable to provide the information that the local authority request, then the option of additional support may be far better for the young person’s interests than a return to mainstream schooling. I do not feel that these proposals properly take this into account.

If the parents are not known to the local authority, or the information provided by parents is inadequate or false, then this is a failure on both sides – the family and the local authority – to establish a constructive relationship. This is a failure because an antagonistic relationship between families and local authorities means that the shared understanding of a young person’s needs, which is necessary to action their right to education, will be more difficult to reach and act upon.

There is a need for the local authority to be able to take action to ensure that a young person’s right to education is not compromised, particularly where this takes full account of the informed view taken by a young person themselves. However, for the local authorities to be best placed to take this action they must have good relationships with individual young people and families who choose to home educate, and the wider community of home educators.

I do not believe that the consultation proposals make a convincing case for the creation of additional powers for local education authorities as a means of fostering these relationships. Nor do they take full account of the risk that the changes proposed would, in fact, discourage families from engaging with the local authority and thereby becoming unenforceable.

 
Question 3 – Do you agree that home educating parents should engage with their local authority to enable them to assess the suitability of their home education provision?

I find the framing of this question and the assumptions it carries to be unhelpful. I think it would more usefully be transposed to ask, ‘do you agree that local authorities should engage with home educating families to enable them to assess the suitability of support arrangements for home education?’
The local authority does have a responsibility to assess young people’s access to suitable education. However, it is possible to make this assessment through a voluntary and collaborative engagement with families that takes the views of children and young people into account. The current arrangements can be, and in some cases are being, used to support this engagement.

There is potential for two-way learning between mainstream education providers and families undertaking home education. The consultation recognises the need for further guidance and training for local authorities, and for the potential for home education to be an effective way of meeting an individual’s learning needs. Home education should be seen in this context as a source of expertise, and as making a valuable contribution to education. The role of local authorities should be to facilitate this mutual understanding and where appropriate to ensure that resources are made available to help children and young people who are educated at home to experience the same benefits as those who are educated in school, and vice versa.

In my view, the Welsh Government is well placed to promote further learning from the home education community, particularly in drawing out the best examples in Wales of:
• Voluntary and collaborative relationships between home educators and local authorities.
• Strong, mutually supportive communities of home educators.
• Resource and knowledge sharing between home educators and mainstream/specialist education.

These examples, and any proposals put forward, must reflect the enormous diversity of home education and the diverse needs and wishes of the young people and their families.

Inevitably, some children and young people who are educated at home will experience difficulties. However, I do not feel that the current proposals are based on an understanding of where or why these difficulties exist, and therefore I am not convinced that the proposals will reduce any difficulties young people might experience. Meanwhile, this has the potential to divert resources from ensuring that children and young people can be enabled to thrive in education, irrespective of how that education is provided.

Whilst it is important to recognise the concerns of local authorities that they do not have sufficient information to fulfil their duties, the requirement on families may actually lead to greater difficulties for local authorities and reduce the engagement of home educating parents.

Finally, I also feel that it is important to ask – is it appropriate to give local education authorities greater powers in elective home education whilst the Minister’s recent statement (20/11/2012) on the Future Delivery of Education Services in Wales highlights a range of concerns about how local educational authorities are fulfilling their existing duties?

 
Question 4 – Do you agree that the initial meeting between the local authority and home educating parent and child should take place in the main location where the education is being provided?

It is my view that the meetings of the local authorities and families should take place at a mutually agreed location, with particular consideration for the wishes and concerns of the young person. A requirement for the meeting to take place in the main location where the education is being provided would constitute, I feel, an unnecessary intrusion into the lives of those concerned.

 
Question 5 – How often should the annual monitoring meetings with both the home educator and the home educated child take place at the main location of education?

Frequent contact between families and the local authority, as well as with other families who are home educating, has the potential to be a source of support, resource sharing and mutual learning, as well as enabling a local authority to fulfil its statutory duties to the young person and the family. The proposal for regular ‘monitoring meetings,’ however, is not likely to lead to a constructive relationship between parties.

 
Question 6 – Do you agree that registration should be denied or revoked in the limited set of circumstances set out in the consultation document?

The extent to which the set of circumstances listed in the consultation document are “limited” depends on their interpretation, and each of them have the potential to be very broad. By conflating educational and welfare concerns, this list also has the potential to alienate home educators, by giving the impression that home education requires regulation because there is suspicion of abuse. Any safeguarding concerns, regardless of a young person’s educational arrangements, must be addressed through safeguarding arrangements. In my view, a registration process for children being educated at home would not add value to safeguarding arrangements that already exist for all children and young people.

It is essential for Welsh Government to develop a better understanding of the issues faced by young people who are home educated. Unfortunately, the issues faced by some of these young people will be issues they have faced in school, and the decision to home educate is taken as a means of resolving them. For others, it is a positive choice and the issues they face are practical, such as access to resources, or, sadly, are the result of a poor relationship with the local authority. I have no doubt that local authorities could be empowered to do more to support families who home educate, but I do not agree that giving the power to local authorities to deny families the right to home educate will lead to the improved relationships necessary to develop and deliver the support needed.

 
Question 7 – Do you agree the amount of time taken between receipt of application to register and notification of registration outcome should be no more than 12 weeks?

I do not feel this question is relevant in light of the views I have expressed in my response to this consultation.

 

Question 8 – We have asked a number of specific questions. If you have any related issues which we have not specifically addressed, please use this space to report them:

My conclusion is that the consultation represents a solution in search of a problem. It does not demonstrate, in an evidence-based way, that the current circumstances of young people educated at home warrant the very substantial expansion of state authority into the lives of individuals who simply choose to exercise a right of citizenship. If the intention behind the consultation is to propose action that would improve relationships between local education authorities and home educators then they seem very likely to produce the opposite result, alienating those home educators who currently make efforts to work constructively with local education authorities, and driving those who already have difficult relationships even further away. The 1989 Children’s Act establishes the principle that action must only be taken if it is better for the child than taking no action. This principle ought to be applied here and the proposals reconsidered with that as a guide.

Any future proposals must be based on a much better understanding and evidence base on the challenges faced by children and young people engaged in home education, and their families, and how the best examples of supportive relationships with local authorities can be emulated elsewhere.