What is the Children’s Commissioner calling for?
For the government to develop new policy for children that are educated at home. There are three tests that this policy needs to meet:
- First, that all children in Wales can be accounted for and that none are invisible.
- Second, that every child receives a suitable education and their other human rights, including health, care and safety.
- And crucially, that every child is seen and their views and experiences are listened to.
We want to protect the choice currently available to all families to educate their children at home. We won’t want anyone to interfere but instead ensure that no child is invisible to the services and support that should be made available to all children, wherever they’re educated.
The Government has recently announced its plans around elective home education. The Commissioner’s ambitions remain the same: that all children can be accounted for, that all are receiving their rights to an education and that all children are seen and their views and experiences listened to. The Commissioner and her team will be engaging with the Government to explore how their latest proposals can meet those ambitions.
What difference will these changes make?
If local authorities understand more about the needs and wishes of home educated children in their area, it will allow them to consistently listen to those children and their families to hear about their education needs and to improve their offer of extra support, if needed.
It will also make sure that no child becomes invisible to local authorities or other support services.
The government has an obligation under the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child to ensure that every child in Wales has an education, has the opportunity to be listened to, is safe and is given every opportunity to fulfil their potential. Under the current system the government is unable to do this.
Why is it important?
Children have the right to access and receive the best possible education; one that meets their needs and makes the most of their talents, interests and abilities. Listening to children’s views – whether educated in a school setting or at home – is an important part of making sure the education they receive achieves this. If children’s views and experiences aren’t heard by the local authority it could mean that they miss out on any additional support and opportunities that they might need.
If children become invisible to services, there is no way of knowing that they are healthy and safe.
By being able to engage with all home educated children and their families, local authorities can make sure that families who home educate are properly supported to deliver the best education to their children, that any concerns about children’s well-being are spotted early and that families are offered more support to make things better, if they need additional support.
This is not about interfering or dictating what kind of education a child has at home.
What will it involve?
It could involve a qualified worker arranging to visit a home educating family once or twice a year to hear their thoughts and feelings about the child’s education. Ultimately, the exact details of any new system will be for Welsh Government to decide after consulting with home educated children and their families.
So do you think children who are home educated are in danger?
No. Home education is not a safeguarding issue in itself.
Home educating a child should be considered a positive choice that often works extremely well for parents and children.
A very common reason for parents to choose home education is because they feel it will be better for their child’s education and overall well-being.
This is about making sure that all children who are home educated have access to the support they need to be the best they can be and to work alongside parents in helping to keep their children healthy, happy and safe.
Why does the state need to interfere with home education? Don’t they trust parents to teach their children well?
It is likely that the vast majority of children receive an excellent education at home, and parents often work in partnership with local authorities and other services to deliver a range of educational approaches.
This is about making sure that all children are listened to and can discuss any extra support they might need to be the best they can be.
It is clear that some home educating parents have lost faith in their local authority’s ability to support them, if their child did not thrive in school in the past. Local authorities will need to build `up that trust by showing that they understand that there is no single blueprint for a good education and that they are there to provide support if it is needed.
One way of building trust would be for local authorities to involve home educated children and their parents or carers in designing services.
Why don’t you focus on improving schools so parents wouldn’t need to home educate?
Children’s right to be heard is not something the Children’s Commissioner is only focusing on for home educated children, she is calling for improvements throughout the whole education system including.
- Rights and learner voice to be incorporated into the new curriculum;
- Better support for children with additional learning needs;
- A better and a more pro-active response to tackling bullying; and
- Better join-up between education and mental health services.
The Children’s Commissioner has also created a framework for schools to help them improve the way they involve and listen to children.
Are other people calling for the legislation to be strengthened?
Yes, the Association of Directors of Education for Wales and the Association of Directors of Social Services have called for this change.
The National Independent Safeguarding Board for Wales published an evidence-based report in October 2017 that concluded:
‘We therefore recommend a new approach for home education in Wales. This approach should be based on the principles of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 and prioritise support and co-production.
However, it is also reasonable for society to know how many children are being home educated and for the state to assess the safety, well-being and education of these children. Our recommendations are aimed at creating this more constructive and transparent partnership between parents and the state when children are home educated.’
The Children’s Commissioner supports this conclusion.