Will the Minister explain why the Government is choosing to introduce statutory guidance for home education when other UK nations have adopted non-statutory guidance?
I know there are many valid, different, and sometimes complex reasons why parents would choose to home educate their child, and, in some cases, this will be the best choice for the child. I acknowledge that parents have a choice to educate their children at home and nothing I am proposing removes that choice.
However, this choice must be balanced with the right of children to receive a suitable education. The challenges arising from the pandemic have only further highlighted the importance of ensuring that the system of support for all children and young people, including those being home educated, is as effective as possible in the future.
Local authorities have a duty to ensure that all children in their locality are receiving a suitable education regardless of where that is delivered. Statutory guidance will support local authorities in discharging those duties by clarifying what is considered to be a ‘suitable’ and ‘efficient’ education; supporting local authorities in their arrangements to assess the suitability of education provided to home educated children; and ensure the level of engagement by local authorities will be consistent across Wales.
I recognise that training for local authority officers working in this field will be crucial and we will ensure that a package of training is developed to underpin the guidance.
We are also developing a wider package of support to home educated children and young people to enhance their learning experience and development opportunities.
Feedback from stakeholders continues to inform the development of the offer for home educated families and my officials are working with local authority officers to finalise a core offer for home educated families which could include sitting examinations in a local centre, access to local authority counselling services, support from careers and free access to CADW sites.
Welsh Government has provided local authorities with £1.7million of funding to enable local authorities to work closely with home educating families to provide a range of practical support to home educating families.
Wales is the only country in the UK that has a fund of this nature, which is being used by local authorities to provide access to learning resources and facilities, help with the costs of educational visits, examination entry fees, ALN and wellbeing services, pedagogical advice, exploring opportunities for home-educating families to learn Welsh and promoting access to other learning opportunities.
In addition to the above there is also a ‘Home Educator’s Handbook’ that contains detailed advice and information to support home educating families in making the appropriate decisions for their child. This handbook covers the rights of a child, parental rights, and responsibilities, has a section on frequently asked questions, provides advice on how families can access support services and advice on key stage 4 examinations.
Another key aspect of our proposals is the database of children of compulsory school age in a Local Authority area that will assist LAs to discharge their duty to identify children not on a school roll, not already known by the LA to be home educated or in EOTAS. The intention is for public sector organisations to share information on children within their area to populate the database and enable those not currently known to LAs to be identified. To provide a benchmark by which the efficacy of the database matching concept could be judged, a parallel piece of work was commissioned from the Office for National Statistics, and we are awaiting the results of this work.
We remain committed to children’s rights in Wales and to ensuring children in Wales receive a suitable education and it is this principle that continues to guide our approach here.