Kirsty Williams AM, Minister for Education
I am pleased today to be launching a consultation to seek views on draft Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Home Education and a Handbook for Home Educators.
The national strategy – “Prosperity for All” – recognises that a child’s educational journey should be one of the most enriching and rewarding times of their life and provide them with the knowledge and skills to fulfil their potential.
Every child has a fundamental right to an education. The Welsh Government respects the decision by some parents to educate their children at home, but this must be balanced with the absolute right of children to receive a suitable education. We are taking steps to ensure all children receive their entitlement to a suitable education, and that families receive support should they want it to support them in their efforts to home educate.
The statutory guidance represents a shift in current expectations of local authorities and will assist them to carry out their current duty to ensure children receive a suitable education. In addition to providing clarification on the characteristics of a suitable education, the statutory guidance reinforces the levers available to local authorities to use when a suitable education is not being provided. It also clarifies the support local authorities could make available to home educators in their area.
In particular the guidance:
- States that children should be seen as part of the assessment of suitability of education as a minimum annually, unless there are other issues that warrant more frequent meetings
- Reinforces the requirement that local authorities must take action if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education.
I am particularly keen to ensure that home educating parents should feel confident these proposals are not designed to infringe on their right to private family life. The best interest of the child is paramount and whether educated in school or at home, the Welsh Government remains committed to ensuring that children are supported to be the best that they can be in an ever changing and challenging world.
A number of universal health, care and support services and youth services are facilitated through school and as a result, some home educated children and their families may not be aware of their entitlements and potentially miss out on key initiatives and services. That is why we have produced a handbook for home educating families which brings together a variety of useful information and resources.
I previously announced my intention to consult on using existing powers found in section 29 of the Children Act 2004 to establish regulations to require local authorities to establish a database of compulsory school age children, including those who are not on any education register. The regulations will also place a duty on local health boards and independent schools to share a minimal amount of non-clinical information to populate the database. These powers will enable local authorities to compile a reasonably complete database of children not on any education register to assist them in identifying children who are not receiving a suitable education.
Consultation on the draft regulations will take place separately. This is due to an extensive scoping exercise officials are undertaking with representatives from local authorities, independent schools and local health boards. We want to ensure the database is as comprehensive as it can be, but does not place a disproportionate administrative burden on local authorities, local health boards and independent schools.
I want to reiterate the Welsh Government respects the decision by parents to home educate their children. The draft guidance acknowledges that home education can be a uniquely individualised approach for children tailored to the specific needs and interests of each child.
This consultation provides everyone with an interest in home education to have an opportunity to have their say to help us further develop our proposals and try to address any concerns going forward. To support this, we will be running a number of consultation workshops across Wales. This will include workshops specifically for children and young people to ensure that their right to be heard under Article 12 of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child is upheld.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.