Two leading members of the home education fraternity have expressed their concerns regarding proposals for a statutory register for home educated children. It comes in the light of the announcement by Cabinet Secretary Kirsty Williams that the Welsh Assembly Government is proposing to create a statutory register for home-schooled children. The announcement follows a review of the safeguarding of home-schooled children in light of the Dylan Seabridge case.
The main impetus behind the announcement appears to be the claim that Dylan Seabridge had become invisible to the authorities.
Other claims made regarding the necessity of a register include those of safeguarding children, ensuring a suitable education and that children are able to benefit from Universal Services.
It is proposed that the register would help support local authorities in identifying home-educated children in their area.
NSPCC Cymru claim that they are in support of a compulsory register for children who are educated at home whilst they concede that every family has a right to educate their child as they choose and home learning alone is not a risk factor for abuse or neglect.
Another claim is that a register would ensure a safe learning environment for children.
During the Plenary on Tuesday (Jan 30) Cabinet Secretary Kirsty Williams said that she intended assisting local authorities in meeting their existing duties in identifying children not receiving a suitable education. She said that she intended to consult and use existing powers under Section 29 of the children act 2004 to require local authorities to establish a database to assist them in identifying children not receiving a suitable education.
Llanelli Online contacted the Welsh Assembly for a statement. We wanted to ask them if they had carried out any research upon, which to make this proposal. We wanted to ask them if they had carried out any consultation with home educating groups. We wanted to ask them if this register was going to be universally applied to include traveller’s children. At the time of going to press we had not received a response.
We contacted Education Otherwise (EO) to ask them what their views were on a statutory register. We began by asking if the organisation had been consulted by the Welsh Assembly.
EO’s media contact Edwina Theunissen said that she had not been contacted by the Welsh Assembly regarding any consultation but would have liked to have been consulted.
Responding to the main reasons stated by WAG for wanting a statutory register of home educated children she said:
“We run a helpline and the majority of calls we get are from parents of children who unhappy in school. Why is no one asking what is wrong with the schools? Many don’t want to home educate. They often choose to do so because of an issue at school like bullying. Children are unhappy and can be suicidal. They need to look at the schools.”
Asked if she believed that there would be any benefit to a statutory register she said: “No, not at all. No benefit whatsoever. Children are already seen by doctors, dentists and health visitors. They are registered at birth. My seven grand children are home educated and they have regular checks. It would be very difficult to hide a child. Home educated children are also known because usually they have come out of a school.”
We asked Edwina if she believed that the call for a register was discriminatory. She said “Absolutely. There would be uproar if this were a statutory register for traveller children.”
Speaking about the issues of safeguarding Edwina said: “You cannot deny social services entry to your home. The LA already have a duty to identify children not in school where possible. They are focusing on one case not the many cases of schooled children who are neglected and abused every day in Wales. They want to outlaw home education, they don’t want to have people who can think for themselves. Home educated children are already penalised and that is solely down to the Welsh Assembly Government. Home educated children have been denied access to exams. They don’t get a penny for food or equipment. They are being penalised for taking responsibility for their children and in many cases safeguarding them from the harm caused in schools. Most parents make a huge financial sacrifice. It is not a choice they make lightly but is their right to choose to educate their own children.”
Speaking about the law Edwina said: “I am not clear what the differences are in the law on this between England and Wales but I understand that there will be no change of law in England. How can Wales have it if England cannot? “
Edwina believes that there are ulterior motives for the call for the register. She said: “Registration is one thing, they have twice mentioned suitable education. What they want is to monitor and the next thing they will want is a curriculum. They do not know what a suitable education is, it is not specified in law. Safeguarding is not their remit. It is rubbish to claim that the home educated are at home all the time. They go out into the community to visit museums, libraries and leisure centres. That is why they had truancy patrols to spot children out of school. We had to issue identity cards where home educated children were registered with us. There is no logic in this at all.
“Lord Soley tried to introduce a bill into House of Lords. He mentioned the Dylan Seabridge case but Lord Lucas put him right. Lord Agnew said there are no plans to change law on registration. Lord Lucas said that home educators should have access to exams and qualifications.”
This was the response By Lord Lucas to Lord Soley’s proposed bill:
My Lords, perhaps I should start with the one thing on which I unequivocally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soley, which is that we ought to have some evidence. I urge the Minister to set about collecting a decent set of evidence. We do not even know whether overall there is a problem here. Are home-educated children ending their education more or less well educated than children who have been to school? We do not know. Are they more or less likely to be abused? We do not know. There is no data about this, even to identify whether overall we have a problem. Surely we must start with evidence.
We say that we have no information on the number of children being home-educated, yet they manage to come up with a figure in Wales. The Welsh system works well. You do not need extra legislation to find that information; if we want to know the number, just do what the Welsh do. I think we do want to know, so can the Government please organise it? Google certainly knows what home-educated people are up to and the NHS knows where they are. The data is there. Let us find a way of getting that information without putting additional pressures on people who want to live their own lives. Let us move towards getting the data we think we want to have using the data we already have.
There are several stories going around, such as the one concerning Dylan Seabridge in Wales. The Welsh Government were supposed to produce a report but they have never done so. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, the authorities knew a year in advance that there was a problem—they were notified— and chose to do nothing. About the only thing one knows about him is that he was a child who was a vegetarian and died of scurvy. How is that possible? If you are going to eat an all-vegetable diet, scurvy is about the least likely disease to die of. You cannot build a system for 40,000 people on the basis of an odd case in the backwoods of Wales. We have to know a lot more about what is going on; otherwise, we are in danger of legislating for these people because they do not do as we do and therefore we are frightened of them. We have to be reasonable, inclusive and welcoming.
I would not like to see this Bill leave the House without radical and extensive amendment, because I think it is set the wrong way round. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, said several times that we ought to be helping and doing better. So we ought. If we did that and lived up to our obligations to these parents and children under existing legislation, I do not think we would have a fraction of the worry and problem that we have.
Edwina Theunissen believes that home education is a freedom not a right. She said: “There is a duty on parents under British law to ensure their child is educated. Lord solely is pitting the rights of the child against the rights of the parent. If it was the state’s duty to ensure children are educated they would be sued by all of the children leaving school illiterate.
The big question is Why is there an increase in home education. There is a lack of discipline in schools. There is bullying in schools. There are other questions to be asked here and we will be looking closely at this proposal.
We contacted Home Education expert Wendy Charles-Warner author of the report Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth (2)
We asked her if she was aware of the announcement by the Cabinet Secretary. She said: “It has to go to consultation and it has to be drafted accurately with legislation. There is no legislative basis for introducing a register.
“My research suggests that home educated children, rather than being hidden or isolated, are uniquely visible, leading to them being twice as likely to be referred to Social Services as children aged 0-4 years and children aged 5-16 who attend school.
“Further, the perception of risk is based on Serious Case Reviews, (SCR’s) for which in every case in which home education is cited as a factor, professional involvement is already present for the child or children involved. Those SCRs do not demonstrate a need for more professional involvement, but a need for those professionals involved with all families, no matter their education choices, to act correctly within the remit of their respective roles.
“The risk of a home educated child being subject to abuse is lower than the risk of an educational professional employed in a school being found guilty of abusing a child or children in their care. A lack of research using statistical evidence has contributed to misconceptions of home educated children being children at risk. Monitoring of home educated children would not only be unnecessary, but unreasonably add to the burden of Social Services who are already found to be ‘missing opportunities’ in cases where children are at risk of harm.”
We asked if there was any element of hypocrisy from WAG given that the Welsh education system was doing so poorly and that cases of schooled children suffering neglect, abuse and poverty in Wales is on the increase. A record number of child neglect cases have been referred to police forces and social services in Wales by the NSPCC. NSPCC Wales claim that 804 calls to its hotline were passed on to authorities in 2016-17 – an 80% rise in five years.
Wendy said: “Our education system has been failing for years. Rather than addressing that and asking what is going wrong we are being misjudged. Home schooling is now being used as the cancer for welsh education as parents are vote with their feet and remove their children from failing schools. A huge number home educate because they are dissatisfied. School provision is inadequate and the majority come to home education because the system is so poor. There is something wrong with the system not the home educators. They blame home education and divert attention away from their own failings. They will blame anybody except the failing system People don’t believe it any longer we are not as easily duped.”
Speaking about her own experience of home educating Wendy said: “I deal with Home Educators all over the UK who are going through court proceedings etc. They are at the face of it being accused of failing their children. Home educators are far from invisible they are uniquely visible. Look at who they are seen by. Schooled children are seen by teacher and school staff nobody else and socialise with children of identical age as themselves. Parents of home educated children don’t go anywhere without them. They go to the shop, library, swimming, scouts guides, home ed groups. In my own experience of home educating no one knew my name they knew me as Charlie s grandma because it was Charlie who got seen and heard wherever we went.”
Wendy was critical of the education system in Wales per se. She said: “There is a lack of autonomy for children in schools and it is a huge contributory factor to the failing of our education system. They continue to make it more rigid and the more it failed as rigidity increased.”
Speaking about what she believes could be an alternative answer to a register she said: “Of course we want to safeguard children and we want to ensure that all children receive an education but a register is not the answer. They are putting vinegar on a sore following one case. They should be looking at incentives for home educators to engage with the local authority. Making flexible education available would be one so they could home educate and attend school even once a week. There should be financial incentives for children’s learning materials. There should be provision of alternative centres for home educators which could be visited by the education authority where there can be a two way learning process.
“What I hear from a lot of home educators is that they would not accept any form of intervention.
Younger parents have grown up in an era where LA’s involvement is more acceptable. If conditions were reasonable I am sure they would not mind engaging. We cant access TRAC for example, the group who help children who are older and disengaging has refused to accept home eds.
Home educators need to be able to access libraries and sports facilities without believing we will be questioned. There could be help with exam fees.
“There is a model in Bridgend which offers funding for GCSE exams and three quarters of home educators in that area happy to be a part of that and chat. There could be vouchers for the five a day or online educational resources. The LA’s could reassure themselves by giving vouchers. This proposal is ill thought and I believe that the Education Committee have not even been given any info on this. Why announce it when AM’s had no idea. The Children’s Commissioner appears to be running the assembly with regards to children. Her researcher stated that they were unable to contact home educated parents.”