In early November 2016 the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children in Wales said “We have revisited and strengthened our elective home education guidance and this will be published in the next coming weeks.
The Cabinet Secretary went on to say “We will need to consider and consult carefully on whether to move beyond that, but I want to be clear that our careful approach is about ensuring the best practical safeguards for all children.”
The matter arose because of the debate in the Welsh Assembly on the Children’s Commissioner’s annual report. Plaid Cymru wanted Assembly Members to vote on “strengthening the registration requirements of elective home education” which was one of the recommendations put forward by the Commissioner.
However, when it came to a vote only 8 members were in favour, with 35 against, so the amendment was not carried.
Introducing this amendment, Llyr Gruffydd of Plaid Cymru said “Finally, and this is an issue that I have raised with the First Minister previously, there is no legal requirement for parents to register with the local authority if they educate their children at home, and neither is there any requirement on local authorities to monitor or to inspect the home teaching provision. That isn’t acceptable, in my view. In her report, the commissioner raises the issue in the context of the death of Dylan Seabridge. He was home educated and he had no contact with public services during the seven years prior to his death. I understand the concern among a number of people that there is risk of us tarring everyone with the same brush in trying to tackle that risk, but whilst there is an element of risk to one child in Wales, then I don’t think that it’s an overreaction for us to go further than what we have seen happening in the past. It’s not acceptable, in my view, that the current situation should persist. We need to tackle this issue as a matter of urgency.”
Details of who voted for and against can be found here
Gareth Bennett UKIP
Michelle Brown UKIP
Sian Gwenllian Plaid Cymru
Neil Hamilton UKIP
Bethan Jenkins Plaid Cymru
Dai Lloyd Plaid Cymru
Neil McEvoy Plaid Cymru
Leanne Wood Plaid Cymru
Carl Sargeant Labour Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children said that the Government would be publishing a considered Welsh Government response to the report at the end of the month “and I expect that we will welcome and accept some of the recommendations, like those on promoting positive mental health for children and strengthening the provision of statutory advocacy. Others will require more thought and discussion with a wide range of stakeholders in order to identify the best way forward in the interests of children.”
Darren Millar Conservative Shadow Minister for Local Government said “I also note, of course, the conversation that has been going on around the death of Dylan Seabridge, and note the Government’s response to that earlier in the year and, indeed, the comments that the Cabinet Secretary has made today about the way in which he is approaching taking forward some of the learning from that very, very tragic case. I think that the Government is taking the right approach here in terms of cautiously moving forward without leaping to a conclusion that there needs to be compulsory registration of home-educated children. The Cabinet Secretary no doubt will be familiar with the facts that home-educated children are twice as likely as schoolchildren or under-fives to be investigated by social services, yet half as likely to be placed on a child protection plan. So, it’s a clear indication that there appears to be less of a risk associated with home-educated children, and not a greater risk, which is what Plaid Cymru seem to be asserting. So, let’s not have a knee-jerk approach. I think that the cautious approach that the Government is taking is the right one, and on that particular issue, it’s not something that I agree with in terms of one of the recommendations that have actually been made by the children’s commissioner. We know as well, of course, that, particularly in Dylan Seabridge’s case, this family were known to statutory authorities; they were known to the professionals in different organisations, and a whistleblower did contact the local authority to express concerns about the family, and these things did not trigger, in my view, the appropriate responses from the authorities. So, we don’t know what the outcome would’ve been had things been handled differently, but I suspect very much that simply having a compulsory register would not have made that much of a difference.”
Jenny Rathbone Labour (who voted against the registration amendment) said she wanted “to hear from the Minister about the children who are at risk when they’re being home educated, simply because they’re not being seen regularly by other services.”
Carl Sargeant responded “Darren Millar mentioned home education registration, as well as Llyr, and they had slightly opposing views, but the principle I think behind both Members’ comments was about the protection of young people, and I think that’s what we’ve got to be mindful of. Kirsty Williams and myself are in discussions about what they may look like for the future, but, ultimately, the issue for us all should be around the safeguarding of an individual. I think that’s what has to drive our decision-making process but I do recognise that there is also lots of evidence from either side that is presented to both ourselves and Members in terms of making decisions longer term.”
The Children’s Commissioner’s Report had previously been discussed by the Children, Young People and Education Committee on October 6th.
At the October meeting, Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid said to the Commissioner “I note in the report that there is another area where you’re not happy with the level of action from the Government, namely people who elect to home-educate their children. You recommend that the Government should strengthen the registration requirements for home education. What do you think are the implications of not strengthening the current expectations?”
The Commissioner replied: “As some of you will be aware, this is an issue I’ve spoken out about many times over the last year, and it’s an issue I feel really strongly about. I feel quite strongly that we’re not giving children who are home educated enough access to their rights at the moment: their rights to an education, their rights to be listened to in terms of saying their views about their education—children in schools have a statutory right to have their say through school councils, children living at home do not—and, in some cases—a minority of cases, I think, in terms of home-educated children—their rights to protection as well.
My concern, if nothing is done, is that there are more children under the radar than the one sad case that we’ve heard about most recently, Dylan Seabridge. I am told by directors of education and people working on the front line in the health services, for example, that they believe there are children living in their area who are not accessing any services, so not education or health services. I think that’s really quite unacceptable for children in Wales who are entitled to their rights to be healthy and safe and to have an education.
At the moment, the indication from Government is that they’ll be publishing non-statutory guidance. My office has clearly—I, through my office, have clearly—indicated that I don’t think that’s going to be strong enough, that we need statutory guidance. Children who are educated at home and their parents also need, I think, a right to support from local authorities, and, if we know about them, then we will know that the local authority will be able to give them support, as they’re expected to do now, but they can’t do it for those they don’t know about. So, what I’m calling for, which I think is not a big ask of parents, is that they should inform their local authority that they’re educating their children at home. They should be required to do that. They can elect to do that at the moment, and many do and many engage very positively with their local authority, but they’re not required to do that, and I don’t think that’s a big ask of parents. They’re still allowed to pursue the educational programme they wish for their children. I’m not suggesting that that be changed. And I think it should be a requirement that the child should be seen by somebody from outside the family—an educational professional visiting from time to time—to be asked about their education experience and how they feel about it, because they have that say, they have that right, independently of their parents.
So, that’s what I’m calling for. If the Government does go ahead and only publishes non-statutory guidance, I will express my disappointment, because I don’t think that will be enough. I’ve talked to both the children’s Minister and the First Minister about this and asked for stronger statutory guidance requiring parents to register the fact that they’re home educating their children and I will with the education Minister when I have the opportunity to meet her shortly.”