Progress being made on Elective Home Education
The education of young people is a fundamental right that everyone should be able to expect, wherever they live and whoever they are. In Wales, we expect that children have access to adequate compulsory education until they are 16. Most people would expect this education to happen in the school environment. However, in practice there are approximately 1000 children in Wales educated at home, rather than in school. There is not a problem with this in theory as many parents simply believe that their children can get a better and more appropriate education outside the normal school system. In recent years though, Save the Children and education professionals have raised concerns with the Welsh Government about the monitoring and assessment of home schooling.
Educators from across Wales have become increasingly worried about the trend towards Gypsy and Traveller children being withdrawn from schools to be home educated. The source of the worry is that these educators know that some of the families who are pledging to home educate their children, have little education themselves. Furthermore, current regulations do not require Local Authorities (LAs) to have even annual meetings with home educators and parents to discuss what is being taught or learnt. Our concern is that some children are not receiving their right to an education and the current legal position allows it to happen without consequences. In reality, the vast majority of those who are home schooled probably receive a good standard of education but we are convinced that some children are withdrawn from school early and do not receive further education – sometimes from the age of 11.
The Travelling Ahead project raised these concerns, as part of the All-Wales Traveller Education Forum, with Leighton Andrews AM as much as two years ago. We are very pleased to see that the Welsh Government has indeed decided to consult on changes to the Elective Home Education system. The consultation suggests two major changes:
Firstly, all children who are to be home educated must be registered with the LA in the area they live in. Currently, providing accurate numbers of children in this situation can be difficult as there is no requirement on parents to notify the LA. If these changes are adopted, it will be the duty of parents to notify the LA and there will be a duty on the LA to keep an accurate formal register of home educated children. Crucially, if a parent fails to convince the LA that the child will be receiving an adequate education, the request to home educate can be refused.
Secondly, the LA must visit home educated children annually to monitor and assess the standard and appropriateness of the education they are receiving. There will be no requirement for home educated children to follow the curriculum or to undertake school assessments or exams. Again, if the visit fails to convince the LA that the child is receiving an adequate education, the home schooling arrangement can be revoked.
Save the Children welcomes these changes, though more work does need to be done by the Welsh Government to ensure that those monitoring the home education can properly assess the standard. The changes above may seem like common sense to many but until now these loopholes have existed to allow young people to effectively circumvent the Education Act 1994. Gypsies and Travellers will benefit from these changes as it is crucial that young people have access to education if they are to fulfil their potential. It is in the best interests of the majority of children to participate in the schooling process.
However, despite this progress, there are fundamental issues that still need to be addressed. The most relevant of which is, ‘why would Gypsy or Traveller parents want to withdraw their children from education?’
There are many reasons why this might happen but ultimately many make that decision because school is not seen as relevant or welcoming enough for their child to participate. We do still see bullying of young Gypsies and Travellers in our schools (especially after Big Fat Gypsy Weddings) but the lack of appreciation of these communities is perhaps more damaging. Gypsies are occasionally mentioned in passing during teaching of the Holocaust but there is little taught about the origins of these communities or their valuable contributions to agriculture and the industrial revolution as a mobile and willing workforce. When teaching about the slave trade it usually exclusively about the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, ignoring the Gypsies who have been repeatedly enslaved in Eastern Europe. There is also very little recognition of the cultural value of Gypsy and Traveller communities in twenty-first century society.
Many Gypsy and Traveller families we have spoken to simply don’t see the value of secondary education. The general belief is that if children can read, write and count to a basic level there isn’t often much need to complete formal education. GCSEs are rarely seen to be important if the young people have already been lined-up to takeover the family business. In fact, the consultation states that, “case law has broadly described suitable education as one that ‘primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so‘.”
It is that last section which educators and Save the Children are keen to stress. There is nothing wrong with Gypsy and Traveller families providing home education, or planning for a future without the need for GCSEs or other qualifications. However, even the best laid plans often go awry and it is crucial that these young people are able to have a back-up plan when it is needed.
Save the Children will continue to monitor developments and update the blog accordingly. If you would like to comment on the consultation, you can do by following this link: