2014 Draft Policy

SENAC Response

"SENAC cannot support the implementation of this draft policy for a number of reasons and as a consequence we disagree with each point in the pro forma response. 

Our main concerns are:

Article in the Impartial Reporter

Article

"A DRAFT policy that aims to ensure that home educators provide an "efficient full time education" for their children ahs been described by one Fermanagh parent as "criminal" and "intrusive""... "Sean is not clear what the rationale behind the draft policy is, but he believes that its starting point is one of automatic "mistrust" of parents who choose to home educate"

Read the full article and 'day in the life' in the pdf below.

Disappointment at consultation responses from CLC and NICCY

Home educating families are very concerned at the apparent disregard for the law, and for the legal rights of children in the responses by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Youth, and the Children's Law Centre.

Both state that the Board's have a duty to 'ensure' education under Schedule 13, in fact the word 'ensure' does not appear in any part of the relevant legislation and Schedule 13 creates no duty to act except if a concern arrises.  The duty to provide an education is created by Section 45 and belongs to the parent, the Boards are not mentioned at all.  

Further, the relevant legislation creates no powers or duties relating to welfare.  If the Boards wish to annex powers and duties properly belonging to social services then they will need primary legislation to do so, a treaty unincorporated into law cannot create these powers.

We strongly suggest that the Boards and the charities set up to protect children's rights read the relevant legislation, and carefully consider whether the safety of all children is promoted by confusing education with welfare, by allowing the Boards to step outside the law and by arbitrarily labeling a group of families as a welfare risk, simply because they excercise a legally sanctioned educational choice.

Education Otherwise Response

Anne Rix, Chair of Education Otherwise Assocation, submitted their reponse to the consultation:

"We ask ELBs to consider the nature of their relationships with families carefully throughout the policy.  Engagement between Boards and home educating families is and should be based on trust and mutual respect.  The development of policies which undermine these principles will set the Boards at odds with home educators from day one.  As a consequence, the legality of the policies will inevitably be challenged in court, resulting in an instant breakdown of relationships at a practical level.

It is worthwhile highlighting at this juncture that there is a significant and growing body of legal opinion that contends that policies such as these comprehensively and demonstrably breach the existing legal framework throughout the UK.  EO firmly agrees with this opinion and hereby requests visibility of the Boards' own legal advice so that we may address the issue directly

...

The ELBs appear to be seeking covertly to avoid pursuing primary legislation and a national consultation by running local consultations without the rigour and review of an established process."

Full text in document below

Two extraordinary personal responses

Take a look at these two responses, from which I quote briefly below:

The first is a narative based on Shevaun's experiences helping people who call the Education Otherwise Helpline:
"I have created a composite story from difficult events which I know have happened to a significant number of children and families in N Ireland under the present policies of the various ELBs. I know the original stories from my experience as a long time volunteer at branch level with Autism NI and also as volunteer telephone support for home educators in N. Ireland with Education Otherwise. It also includes my own story with my son so I am speaking from personal experience. Although the story is mostly about children who have been in school before moving to home education it is still relevant to the decisions made by parents who have never school educated and who oppose these proposals because they are very aware of the very real dangers of ELB involvement which are portrayed by this story."

...and the second is by her son who has ASD:

Harriet Pattison, Researcher, Response

"Since 2006 I have been a research associate of the Institute of Education, University of London specialising in home education practices and philosophy.  Research undertaken by myself and in collaboration with Dr Alan Thomas, Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Education, has encompassed a number of European countries (including the UK and Ireland) as well as Australia, USA, New Zealand and Canada.  I hold a PhD from the University of Birmingham in alternative education and literacy. 

NI4Kids Article on the consultation

Read full text at NI4Kids - New Rules for Home School?

"Mervyn Storey Chairperson of the Assembly Education Committee and Education spokesperson for the DUP has called on the Education Minister to set aside the current proposals on home schooling. He said: “The current proposals upon which the five boards are consulting appear to have come into the public domain without any proper process. The Minister and his Department are denying that they have had any hand in developing these and that being so he should act to terminate the current flawed process which has caused so much concern and anxiety amongst those parents who are exercising their legal right to educate their children at home. 

“My party supports the principle of parental choice and we will ensure that there will be no change to the current practice which in any way diminishes parents’ rights as laid down in legislation. I have asked that the Education Committee receives a briefing on the issue as a matter of urgency to find out how this current consultation process came about.”"

BBC Article on the Consultation

Read full text on BBC News website.

It is interesting to see that the Children's Law Centre welcomes the changes and considers the Draft to be 'clear': 

"There is no planned change to the law to allow education and library boards the right to enter a person's home. I think the parents are wrong to worry about that."

In fact, the CLC said clearer guidelines and advice on schooling should be welcomed by families who are home educating their children."

If they are correct in their reading of the draft and we have nothing to worry about then we would be delighted.  A clear and unambigouous statement at the top of the draft stating that all provisions are entirely voluntary and non-compulsory, and that no adverse conclusions or actions would result from families declining the service would go a long way to soothing our worries.

Interesting also that the Minister said

"he regretted that the education and library board did not show him the consultation document before issuing it."

since we know from the BELB minutes that the Department agreed this with the Boards in October 2013.

 

HSDLA Response

"If implemented, it would violate international law and hte fundamental human rights of the parents and their children.  The proposed policy grants unreasonable access into the home, violating hte right of privacy guaranteed in the Convention and other European treaties.  The policy interferes with families by permitting unnecessary and invasive questioning of children by government agents.  The policy would implement an lengthy and bureacratic process of approval and curriculum review.  The policy would implement a tracking system database program that would also violate the fundamental right to privacy of families and children.  The proposed annual monitoring is unnecessarily invasive."

Where did this all come from?

An article by Edward Underwood, home educator.


Where did this come from? This was the question which parents asked the Department of Education (DE) and the Education and Library Boards (ELBs) when the Draft Elective Home Education Policy was put out for consultation. The response to this question varied from a mysterious lawsuit, where an ELB allegedly had to pay large damages to a dissatisfied Home Educated student, to a need for the boards to fulfill their statutory duty. As the draft policy was examined it became clear that it represented a huge expansion of power for the ELBs and DE but the reason for such a radical change continued to be elusive. Then MLAs and MPs began to ask the DE and the ELBs why this policy was needed and many questions were asked of the Minister of Education for Northern Ireland in the Assembly. His responses have often been unhelpful in understanding the reason for the draft policy. However, the Minister’s latest comments assert the DE has a social duty of care to all children in Home Education, implying that homes are not a safe or efficient place for learning unless validated by educational authorities. On the same day that the Minister was making these claims, a document, Appendix I of Minutes 24 Oct 2013, came to light, due to an FOI request, that presents a very different reality than the one projected by the Minister of Education in this dialogue in the Assembly of Northern Ireland just two days ago.

John O'Dowd - Minister of Education

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