CHILDREN’S COMMISSIONER SEEKS EHE REGISTER IN ENGLAND – IS WALES NEXT?

EHE Register – England

The Children’s Commissioner for England says that a compulsory EHE register has been “agreed”, reports The HE Byte.

When in an accountability hearing of the Education Committee at the House of Commons earlier this month MP Jonathan Gullies asked Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, what changes she thought were needed “in the system of home schooling to ensure we can safeguard children and ensure that the parents or carers who are in charge of that child’s learning are acting in an appropriate and responsible way” she re-stated her recommendation to impose a compulsory register of children who are being home schooled” and that the register had been agreed by the Department of Education.

If that happens our children will be one of the few individuals in this country that are forced to be included in a register, such as convicts or ex-sex offenders. In addition, our children’s personal data in such a register would have the risk of being subject to misuse or misappropriation, and this is not just scaremongering. A recent audit by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed that the Department of Education failed to comply with data protection laws by mishandling in a staggering fashion the national database containing details of every school child in England. The breaches were such that the ICO made 139 recommendations out of which 32 were marked as urgent. Are we to rely on the State on the handling of our children’s private details?

The question asked by MP Gullies to the Commissioner suggests that there are safeguarding concerns about home educated children that cannot be resolved with the powers present in the existing legislation and that more powers must be given.

It is well known that Social Services already have all statutory powers to protect all children (the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 and Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 being a few examples) so any deficiencies in that regard would be more of a question of if and how such powers are exercised. Unfortunately, the past failures of local authorities to protect children as is required under the legislation have been used to undermine home education and to campaign against the freedom to home educate.

This also shows that there is still a confusion between children’s education and safeguarding of children, and there seems to be a continuous attempt to put both matters in the same bag in the case of HE children.

There is a concern about the language used by the Children’s Commissioner in that she seems to be repeatedly suggesting to both MP’s and the media that HE children are a safeguarding risk while children at school are not, again implying parents are a danger to their children and the State can protect them from their parents.

Home Educating families can respond strongly to the Children’s Commissioner statement by responding to the House of Commons – Call for Evidence on Home Education which we discuss further below.

OTHER NEWS

Abuse of power?

There has been a surge in Local Authorities doorstepping families having harvested children’s birth records and cross referencing with school enrolment to add children educated otherwise than at school to a data base.

We have seen numerous allegations of local authorities suggesting to HE families that there is an obligation to seek the LA’s consent and to register your decision to home educate or that your child is being home educated, that home visits are compulsory as well as the monitoring through periodical educational reports or completion of education plans.

The truth is that there is NO legal obligation to:

  1. obtain anyone’s approval to home educate;
  2. register with the local authority your decision to home educate your child or your child as being home educated;
  3. agree to mandatory visits or interviews;
  4. produce any reports, let alone on a regular basis; or
  5. fill out LA forms regarding your educational provision.

If you have been the subject of any of these misstatements you might want to complain to your local authority and the The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman. If you think that there has been a data breach you can file a complaint with the ICO. Also inform your Welsh assembly member / MP that your family has been given wrong information or is being unduly harrassed (if that was the case).

We have also heard of schools not de-registering children despite it being notified that the children in question were being home educated. Some schools have demanded written explanations or meetings with parents with the head master and the LA to discuss why they want to home educate and how they are planning to do it and refused to de-register the child until that had been dealt with, all of which would be unlawful. The principle set out by the law is that the school must de-register the child if it has received “written notification from the parent that the pupil is receiving education otherwise than at school” (see regulations 8.(1)(d) in both The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 and The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010). You can find further guidance on de-registration here.

Unfortunately, guidance on home education provided by some local authorities misrepresents the law.

In Wales, for example, Cardiff Council’s guidance appears to suggest that meetings are compulsory, but need not be at home. The guidance goes as far as requiring annual review meetings “with a range of professionals”. However, there is no law entitling the Council to demand these meetings or requiring individuals to oblige. It is a basic legal principle of a democratic society that the State can only do what is permitted to do by law and that individuals may only be compelled to do what is prescribed by law. Case law suggests that local authorities can make informal enquiries only. So, it is not clear how these review meetings could be deemed an informal enquiry and as such may be unlawful.

Caerphilly County Borough Council says that education at home should offer a broad and balanced curriculum, English, mathematics and information and communications technology (ICT) and opportunities for physical, social, spiritual and cultural development. Whilst this might be the Council’s desire, it is somewhat misleading as all the law requires is that the education is suitable to the child’s age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs the child may have (section 7, Education Act 1996).

Maybe you would like to check that your LA’s EHE policy or guidance is correct and not misleading.

Wales consultation on the data sharing regulations

We have received a response to our letter to the Education Minister concerning the results of the consultation on the data sharing regulations, but this time not from the minister herself, but from Ms Wendy Thomas newly appointed Elective Home Education Senior Policy Manager it appears and a new position that has been made by the Welsh Government.

We are surprised to have received a response from a Home Education officer as we were led to believe that the consultation related to “all compulsory school age children regardless of where they receive their education” as it was confirmed to us by the First Minister on 14 April 2020 (the First Minister’s letter being in response to the concerns we raised on the consultation process itself). Or is it conceivable that the Welsh Government’s real intention was to create an involuntary register of home educated children?

In her letter Ms Thomas said: “currently, we remain unable to publish an analysis of the consultation responses. However, we will do this as soon as resources become available.”

Finally, and worringly, Ms Thomas’ letter is labelled “Final Response”; we hope that this is not a suggestion that this is the end of this matter.

EnglandInquiry on home education

Please remember to respond to the House of Commons inquiry on home education by 6 November 2020. It is good to know that you do not need to answer all questions and The HE Byte has issued four posts with very useful suggestions and many Home Education websites and Facebook groups are a good source of information from which you might want to gather for your response.

This gives us another opportunity to inform the Committee on all the advantages and benefits to children and families who choose to educate their children otherwise than at school and why school was or is not in the best interest of their child.

It is crucial that we protect our right to educate our children otherwise than at school and protect our families’ right to privacy and without intrusion and monitoring by the State. It is highly likely that if the law changes in England then the same would follow in Wales.

Please share this post with as many people as possible.

Thank you

Protecting Home Education Wales

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