Part time independent education settings operating in Wales, variously known as supplementary schools, complementary schools, tuition centres, learning centres, part-time schools, or learning clubs, are not currently required to register because they do not meet the independent schools criteria.
The Welsh Government wants this to change and for there to be “a proportionate system of oversight.” This is NOT about regulating home education. There is a consultation running until April 5th 2016.
My web page is here http://edyourself.org/articles/regulationoutofschoolsettingsWales.php
The consultation link is here http://gov.wales/consultations/education/out-of-school-education-settings/?status=open&lang=en
It isn’t possible to complete the response online; instead you have to download the consultation response form, fill it in, and then email it as an attachment (or download, print and post it).
I think this will result in more people dispensing with the questions and just emailing their opinions.
The consultation address is SMED2@wales.gsi.gov.uk
The main issues for home educators in Wales – on the assumption that some variant of these proposals will in fact be implemented at some point – seem to me to be:
- The Government has said thresholds can be varied (eg it could go down lower than 6 hours)
- What are the reasons the Welsh Government actually wants settings to register and do these reasons also apply to home education groups or are they just getting caught up in something?
- If home education groups do have to register, would this mean they have to share information about exactly where and when they meet and could there be spot checks or unannounced inspection visits?
- What assurance the Government provide that home education groups won’t be the focus of sampling inspections?
- Who would be seen as the “provider” or “proprietor” in a home education group?
- Will the proposals apply if parents remain with their children for all or most of the time?
- Will private homes have to be checked as “premises”
- What is the Government’s thinking on groups which only run for a short time eg in the run-up to exams?
- How exactly will local authorities be involved in the process?
- When and how will the Government decide on the inspection body?
- Will volunteers in home education groups have to be DBS checked?
The English Government has recently consulted on very similar proposals which I wrote about here There has been a strong backlash in England with MPs – largely from a faith background – objecting to what they see as Ofsted dictating how religion is taught. I blogged about this here
My response to the English consultation can be found here and I thought it might also be helpful to run through what has already happened in England.
Main issues for England
1/ Impact on Home Education Groups, England
With regard to the proposals for England, home educators were alarmed and angry at what they perceived as Government interference in home education groups. There are often fluid or ad hoc arrangements which may come within scope, although many home education groups don’t fit the definition of “provider”. Ad hoc home education groups might close down rather than register.
The Department for Education says that where an individual child receives 6 hours instruction or training a week in a particular setting that this should count as “intensive education” and the setting must be registered with the local authority.
The Government hasn’t said whether it needs to be every single week, but it HAS said “Given the focus on ‘intensive’ education any settings providing ad hoc classes, or regular classes below a specified time threshold, would not be captured by this proposal.” This was one of the areas which was hotly debated at Westminster where MPs raised weekend trips with youth groups, Sunday schools, Scout groups, and whether the Government would for example add up (aggregate) different youth groups hosted or arranged by the same church.
2/ Extremism/Fundamental British Values, England
Muslim home educators could well be the first target. The Westminster Government has focused a lot of energy on the issue of Islamist extremism and although the actual consultation proposals for played down the Fundamental British Values aspect, it remained very controversial, especially when linked to the belief that Ofsted is hostile to faith schools as shown in this blog post about the parliamentary debate on out of school settings
In England, MPs objected to: proposals discouraging volunteers; measures being disproportionate (“tie up thousands of non-jihadi groups in red tape”); churches running various groups which add up to more than 6 hours being affected; faith groups being forced to teach about other religions and Ofsted not being trusted to interpret “British Values” fairly since faith schools have already been penalised by Ofsted; burdens placed on providers with many settings expected to close; local authorities possibly being expected to do a lot of work without being funded; the danger of malicious complaints; what they said was a breach of human rights; the thin end of the wedge where successive Governments could add more and more; “the nationalisation of youth work”; an attack on religious freedom; the fact that anyone wanting to evade regulation will just cut down on hours to stay under the threshold. MPs said that parents are often present at these settings and also there is no way it could be implemented in a proportionate and reasonable way, plus if church and community groups close because of red tape, children will be worse off, and this has only come about because of illegal unregistered schools, so why not get to grips with that first.
The Westminster Government tried to send out different messages to different people, promising swift and decisive action while also implying that providers would hardly be inconvenienced by light touch registration. The Prime Minister said “in our country, there are some children who spend several hours each day at a madrassa […] in some madrassas, we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people. These children should be having their minds opened, their horizons broadened, not having their heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate. So I can announce this today: if an institution is teaching children intensively, then whatever its religion, we will, like any other school, make it register so it can be inspected. And be in no doubt: if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down.”
The Home Office then published a Counter Extremism Strategy in October 2015, which set out four key areas: Countering extremist ideology; Building a partnership with all those opposed to extremism; Disrupting extremists; and Building more cohesive communities. This document said “there is little regulation or oversight of supplementary schools and tuition centres and limited information on the practices within them. Reports indicate that in some settings parents do not know what their children are being taught or feel unable to challenge the teaching [my emphasis]; and pupils may be at risk of being presented with, and believing, twisted interpretations of their religion. These issues heighten the potential risks for such settings to be exploited by extremists.”
3/ Inspection Role Taken by Ofsted, England
In England the Government is proposing that the investigation and inspection role for out of school settings will be carried out by Ofsted. This has been extremely unpopular, largely due to the belief that Ofsted is hostile to faith schools as shown in this blog post about the parliamentary debate on out of school settings Also, Ofsted isn’t neutral, since it already inspects local authority safeguarding arrangements. Ofsted’s inspections apparently would be REACTIVE, investigating when concerns are reported.
There will also be “sampling” inspections, which allow for the possibility that Ofsted would “sample” a number of settings in cities known to have a lot of madrassas and mosque schools. Investigation will focus on prohibited activities and safeguarding failures.
Examples of safeguarding failures include not keeping basic records and emergency contact details for children in attendance, appointing unsuitable staff, operating in unsafe premises, undesirable teaching (“including teaching which undermines or is incompatible with fundamental British values, or which promotes extremist views”) and the use of corporal punishment.
4/ Role of Local Authority, England
It’s not clear what the Government means by registering with the local authority – for example whether the LA will carry out active checks. Home educators are very sceptical of “light touch registration”. As far as reporting concerns goes, it’s not clear whether people would talk to the council first, or blow the whistle directly to Ofsted, or even to a Government hotline. It’s hard to see how anyone would know whether the setting kept emergency contact details unless someone asked to see the records, and this could result in the local authority becoming aware of all the children attending the setting.
Issues for Wales
1/ Home Education Groups, Wales
On the one hand, the Welsh Government says “we do not intend to legislate in respect of home education.” But it ALSO says “if a person is providing education in a home setting to children other than those for which they have parental responsibility we do propose that such arrangements could fall within this scheme.”
Secondly, the Welsh Government specifically says that short-run classes WILL be regulated. “Some settings do not operate on a regular weekly basis, but might establish themselves to provide ‘intensive’ education but less frequently, or for a fixed period of time, for example during school holidays or in the run up to exams. We propose such settings to come within scope.”
Thirdly, the Welsh Government specifically says that the 6 hour threshold could be “varied over time to respond to any emerging or changing risks.”
It seems to me that the proposals for Wales have the POTENTIAL to affect home education groups MORE than the proposals for England, but on the other hand, ever since education was devolved, the Welsh Government has a bit of a track record for consulting on education reforms which never actually materialise, and this effect will be even more noticeable given that the election for National Assembly for Wales takes place in May 2016 and that the Education Minister Huw Lewis has said he won’t be standing for re-election.
Voting projections for the national Welsh elections can be found here It may be that Wales decides to focus instead on raising standards in mainstream schools or improving provision in Education Otherwise Than At School [EOTAS] settings such as Pupil Referral Units, which have long been a cause for concern as shown here
2/ Extremism/Fundamental British Values, Wales
The Welsh Government says that one of the prohibited activities will be “undesirable teaching, for example teaching which undermines or is incompatible with our values of mutual respect and tolerance, or which promotes extremist views” and the footnote in the consultation document says ‘Extremism is defined in the UK Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy as the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’.
I am commenting as an outsider, but it seems to me that the Fundamental British Values issue hasn’t gained the same traction in Wales.
It’s not clear from the consultation proposals whether the Welsh Government will want part-time settings to provide information about other faiths and beliefs, or to avoid discussion of some religious topics, bearing in mind that the document does refer to the Counter-Extremism strategy, which says “pupils may be at risk of being presented with, and believing, twisted interpretations of their religion. These issues heighten the potential risks for such settings to be exploited by extremists.”
It MAY be that this aspect doesn’t become such a problem in Wales as it has in England with allegations of “Sunday School snoops” etc, largely because people MAY not be as apprehensive of how it will be policed, which does link into the question of who will investigate concerns and who will take the inspection role.
Who Will Take Inspection Role in Wales?
The Westminster Government identified Ofsted as the relevant body, and the immediate difficulty with that is that Ofsted comes with baggage, being perceived as hostile to faith schools as shown in this blog post about the parliamentary debate on out of school settings
The Welsh Government has NOT said who will take the investigation and inspection role in Wales and is asking for views. Estyn is the closest equivalent to Ofsted and might seem the obvious choice, but equally, the Welsh Government could ask for more local and regional intervention, rather than looking to a national body.
The relevant section in the document is here, and it is interesting 1/ that the local authority is not mentioned as raising concerns and 2/ that as with England, there will be “sampling” inspections where a particular TYPE of setting could be the focus.
8.7 It is proposed that inspections will be risk-based , with the trigger either being in response to specific concerns raised by children, parents and the community, or by the inspection body sampling particular settings, whether by type or regions. There would be no routine inspection of all providers that meet the threshold for registration; nor would there be an assessment of the quality of education or judgement of the standards of teaching. This risk-based approach is targeted, proportionate and focuses on those settings where there are concerns about failure to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
4/ Role of Local Authority, Wales
The Welsh Government says that settings will have to register with their local authority. It is said that registration requirements will be “light touch” with settings just having to provide basic details on the proprietors, location, education offer and numbers of children. However, as with the proposed system for England, it’s not clear whether the local authority will carry out active checks, and home educators will be similarly sceptical of “light touch registration”.
Also it’s hard to see how anyone would KNOW whether the setting kept emergency contact details unless someone asked to see the records, and this could result in the local authority becoming aware of all the children attending the setting.
It could be a way to track home educated children.
Consultation address SMED2@wales.gsi.gov.uk
Deadline April 5th 2016