This week I had a go at the Centre of Excellence's Home Education diploma. (It's free - click here to try it out for yourself!)
It was interesting to think about learning styles and the differences between my preferred methods of study and Marianna's. I've always preferred learning on my own, at my own pace, with the freedom to go as deep into a topic as I feel like.
Once I've assimilated the knowledge, my preference is to sort it out in my head and then write it up to present to somebody else. (It really is no surprise I got into blogging.) Even as a kid I liked making leaflets or giving 'lessons' to anybody who would stay in one place long enough. At A-level my poor mum still had to listen to me reading kids' books - just in German this time, so I could practice my translation skills.
At uni she'd be my guinea pig for the revision blogs I wrote for my LiveJournal - e.g. Death in the Middle Ages - and every relation has probably sat through an impromptu revision session on something or other as exam season approached.
For a time I even thought about teaching as a career. I did some work experience in schools, and some lecturing when I went back to uni to study for the masters I never actually finished... But my patience is not what it could be. I'm not good at the social aspects.
Lockdown just reaffirmed these facts for me.
So, while I enjoyed the online course for providing thinking points as to how I can better support Marianna's learning, taking her out of school is not going to be something I'm in any rush to do.
What it did highlight though was just how easy it is to home school in the UK. You tell the school you're removing your child from the roll and, hey presto, their traditional schooling is over. The LEA has very little, if any, real oversight of what and how you teach, and there is no requirement for children to sit any exams or assessments at the end of it.
On the one hand, this is great for freedom of choice. On the other, it could be a recipe for disaster. You don't have to enrol a child in school at all. Once the health visitor is done with their job, the child could then be pretty much off grid completely. So long as we continue with the model of providing healthcare - vaccinations, eye tests, hearing screenings, etc - through the school system, we're setting up the perfect opportunity for children to slip through the gaps.
Some health boards and LEAs are proactive and stay in close contact with families. Some simply don't have the resources. One of my biggest fears as a councillor has always been learning of a child abuse case we, as an authority, could have prevented.
Anyway, I decided that instead of just thinking it I should actually do something about it. So I sent a letter to the Children's Commissioner for Wales and copied in my MS:
Dear Sally,I wanted to write to highlight concerns about the regulations around home schooling. Basically, does Welsh Government have any plans to consider introducing a mandatory home school register or similar to enable better contact between the LA and families who choose to home school?Although there is the safeguard of school attendance orders, they still rely on the LA being able to make an assessment about suitable education, etc. When I've brought it up with my own LA (Torfaen) they have pointed out that the legislation does not allow them to mandate families remain in close contact.My particular concern is that as numbers of home schooling families increase - especially with younger children who have never been enrolled at school and so are essentially unknown to the LA - education departments will be unable to maintain the informal links they do have, be it due to lack of resources or otherwise.As home schooling becomes more mainstream surely Wales needs a better codified system of staying in touch with children outside traditional educational settings. The absolute worst case scenario is obviously unidentified abuse, but at a more basic level children can miss out on opportunities provided through schools (extra curricular offers, routine health checks, etc) without proactive outreach from the LA.(I'm bringing it up because I was doing a home education course online, and their constant reiteration of how little oversight there is reignited worries I've had for a long time about the lack of a formal register for home schooling. I served as chair of our education scrutiny committee for a couple of years and brought it up there but, again, the current legislation is very reliant on families choosing to work with the LA.On the one hand I know it is a pessimistic worst case outlook, but on the other my fear is always that we end up with a situation where children suffer because of something as simple as not ensuring checks were made.)Thank you for taking the time to read!Kind regards,
My original plan was to email the education minister but, obviously, it's election period so that would be pointless. I was also going to send it from my personal email but Anthony said to go for the children's commissioner, and that it would look better coming from my work account, hence the references to education scrutiny, etc. He used to work as a political lobbyist so it's one of the few areas in which I will take his advice without (excessive) complaint! It's not much but at least it raises the issue with people better placed to tackle it...
I figured I would update this post when I got a response - but it was so quick I can just include it from the off! As you can see, the late game change in recipient meant that though I'd looked through Welsh Govt position I hadn't checked up on the children's commissioner. Turns out she's been campaigning for pretty much the same thing since 2015. Fingers crossed this term will see it done.
Dear Jess,Thank you for contacting the Children’s Commissioner for Wales office which I have been asked to respond to in my capacity as Investigations and Advice officer. You wanted to know whether Welsh Government have any plans to consider introducing a mandatory home school register or similar to enable better contact between the LA and families who choose to home school.The Commissioner has been calling for the government to develop new policy for children that are educated at home since 2015. You can find our policy position here.Welsh Government accepted the Commissioner’s calls for change, and accepted that their new policy should meet the three tests that the Commissioner set out.In order to meet this, Welsh Government drafted new statutory guidance for local authorities and a handbook for home educators, which were published for public consultation in 2019. Welsh Government also developed draft regulations to establish local authority databases that aimed to ensure local authorities know where all children in their authority are educated. These were published for consultation in the spring of 2020. Implementation of the new statutory guidance and the regulations were expected in 2020.However, in the summer of 2020 Welsh Government announced that the new guidance and regulations would not be taken forward due to the coronavirus pandemic. This means that since the last Senedd election, the Government has not implemented any changes to ensure home educated children receive their rights. The Commissioner was disappointed that Government were not making the changes they said they would and was concerned that the rights of home educated children were not being protected The Commissioner decided to make use of her formal powers to review this decision. You can find out more about this statutory review here. The Commissioner will continue to pursue her concerns about Home Educated children with the next government.I hope this helps clarify the Commissioner’s views on this matter and her ongoing work to ensure that all children in Wales can be accounted for, that every child receives a suitable education and their other human rights, including health, care and safety and that every child is seen and their views and experiences are listened to.Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require further support. I have attached a feedback form which I would appreciate your help in completing. This will enable us to monitor standards and continue to develop the service we provide.Kind Regards,Jess PitmanSwyddog Ymchwiliadau a Chyngor/Investigations and Advice OfficerComisiynydd Plant Cymru | Children’s Commissioner for WalesTwitter: www.twitter.com/childcomwales | www.twitter.com/complantcymru