The Welsh government has today announced plans to require families in Wales to register home learners.
The home education community across the UK will be aware that there have been similar proposals, going back a number of years, but they have not (yet) come to anything, partly because of the concerted opposition of parents and almost everyone who is actively involved in home education. So these proposals are certain to be opposed not just in Wales but across the rest of Britain. If you wish to call upon the Welsh Assembly for Wales to abandon plans for a compulsory register for home-educated children as part of the draft Education (Wales) Bill, there is a petition you can sign here. If you feel strongly about this issue, as many of us do, I urge you to voice your opposition by all means possible.
In justifying his proposals, the Welsh Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, claimed that the existing laws had shortcomings. Without a requirement for parents to notify councils “it is very difficult for local authorities to carry out their duties to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education,” he insisted.
Many local authorities throughout the UK have proved that it is not that difficult to provide effective safeguards – as long as appropriate procedures are in place and officials are sensitive to what is happening “on the ground”. It is true that some other authorities have done a very poor job and/or taken little interest in their responsibilities in this respect. But the failures of certain authorities should not be an excuse for imposing unnecessary controls across the country.
From our experience, the vast majority of home-educating families are doing an outstanding job in developing the citizens of tomorrow, either within a conventional educational programme, such as the ones that Oxford Home Schooling offers for the 11-18 age-group, or along less conventional lines. The last thing that most such families want is unsympathetic and sceptical officials checking up on their every move or trying to persuade them that the children should go back into full-time education. They want to be trusted to make their own decisions and find solutions which are in the best interests of the children concerned.
Although Leighton Andrews insists that no such pressure will be applied, many home-educating families will suspect that this is the thin end of the wedge. Once such registration is required, the worry is that home-visits will be scheduled, just to “check up” that a valid programme of learning is being followed, and so on. If it were simply a case of registration, then fewer families would be concerned.
The most important point that the home-educating community would want to make, I think, is that home education is not the cause of social problems (quite the reverse), nor is it a symptom of social problems. In a tiny number of cases, children who are not at school have suffered neglect or abuse and this is, of course, hugely regrettable. But 99% of neglected children are at school and the fact that they are at school did not (or does not) prevent neglect or abuse from occurring, nor should it be any easier to keep abuse a secret (from a vigilant authority) because a child is not at school.
There is no evidence of even a single case where parents have been shown to have withdrawn their child from school in order to abuse that child or conceal the evidence of abuse. So all we have is a coincidental “connection” in a small number of historical cases, cases where local authorities had every opportunity to intervene more quickly than they in fact did.
The Welsh proposals imply that some sort of connection is suspected and that implied suspicion is what should be opposed most strongly. Home education must not be tarred with such a brush. Home educators are at the opposite end of the social spectrum from families where neglect occurs. A responsible plan for education within the home environment is the very opposite of neglectful – it is evidence of a deep concern for a child’s welfare and a commitment to bring out the full potential of your children. It is a phenomenon to be celebrated, not spied upon and suspected.
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