Families across the United Kingdom enjoy the ability to home educate without undue state intervention—a freedom not found anywhere else in Europe. But for citizens of the country of Wales, this could soon change.
Although Wales is part of Great Britain, the English parliament has assigned general responsibility for controlling education to the Welsh National Council. Citing their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Welsh Assembly is seeking to introduce significant restrictions on home education, including required home visits and other burdensome regulations.
Current Welsh guidelines allow state intervention in homeschooling when there is evidence that the child’s education is not “suitable.”
The Welsh regulations represent a trend throughout Great Britain. The English Department for Education recently announced its intention to seek a register of all “children not in school.” Scotland has announced its plans to “consult” on new home education guidelines with its local authorities this year. In the Isle of Man, a Crown dependency, the government is seeking to introduce a new education bill which includes draconian oversight of home-educated children.
The only jurisdiction of Great Britain to reject such a path is Northern Ireland. The local homeschooling community worked for several years to achieve guidelines that respect the rights of families to homeschool without undue burdens.
Earlier this year, then-Education Secretary for England Damian Hinds said that, while the planned register would include children getting a good education at home, it would also include those who are not getting an education. He stated that “as a government, we have a duty to protect our young people and do our utmost to make sure they are prepared for life in modern Britain.”
In Scotland, opponents recently defeated the government’s plan to implement state guardians for every child. Essentially, the head teacher or health visitor in each locality would have been tasked with looking after assigned children and interfering in family life.
Media reported that “campaigners opposed to the scheme told the court it would allow the named person to interfere in areas including what children watch on TV at home, their diet, and even how their bedroom is decorated.” You can read more here.
On the Isle of Man, a bill concerning home education is about to be considered by legislators. The bill would give the Department of Education the power to:
- interview a child and assess his or her work
- interview parents in order to obtain personal information
- impose fines or jail sentences if parents do not comply or if children fail subjective evaluations by local authorities.
The homeschool regulations being considered in Wales are very similar.
Welsh families are challenging the draft guidance. They established a charity called Protecting Home Education Wales to engage counsel who could advise and provide a legal opinion. The charity successfully used a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the legal opinion, which was then submitted with our response and cover letter to all 60 Welsh Assembly members.
Attorney for HSLDA’s Global Outreach, Mike Donnelly, has responded to the drafted guidance. Calling the guidance “concerning” and pointing out several flaws, Donnelly advised the Welsh education officials to go back to the drawing board. He wrote:
The first and most serious flaw relates to the failure of the Welsh government to consider other international human rights obligations and treaties which are as or more authoritative on the subject of children and education […] Second, the draft guidance operates with an unstated but heavily implied presupposition that parents are NOT providing a suitable education unless they can prove to the Welsh government that they are […] Finally, the guidance unnecessarily and overly stresses the importance of the local authority “seeing and speaking” with the child.
Welsh advocates raised numerous concerns themselves, pointing out that those in favor of such a strict monitoring scheme ignore the effects of such dramatic interventions in families who exhibit no evidence of problems. It is hard to overestimate the negative impact this would have on a family’s reasonable expectations of privacy, family life, and protection.
Professor Eileen Munro, a former social worker who was commissioned to review child protection in England by Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, wrote in her report, “Confidentiality in a preventive child welfare system”:
“Power corrupts” is a well-known truism, but there is no acknowledgment of the possible danger of increasing state power over families. There is no recognition of the fact that liberal societies have placed a high value on privacy and confidentiality precisely because they present an obstacle to the state. While the state sees this in a negative light, the individual values it as a protection of their freedom. The professional ethic of confidentiality is seen by the government as an obstructive barrier to be removed in implementing their monitoring and assessment programme, but this should remind us that the ethical principle is playing its rightful part as a protective barrier, defending the individual against excessive intrusion by the state.
HSLDA considers homeschoolers in other countries part of our “extended family.” Our mission is to make homeschooling possible, and we are doing all we can to support parents in Wales and other countries who need our help. Please keep these parents who are fighting hard for their children in your thoughts and prayers.
Protecting Home Education Freedom in Wales shared the legal advice it obtained with Children’s Commissioner Sally Holland. Ms. Sian Gwenllian AM, shadow minister for education and Welsh language, thanked them for “sending the useful legal advice” and further stated that it was important that the guidance on home education was legally correct. She added that as a member of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, she presented the information at a meeting with Holland. (by
Senior Counsel, HSLA: https://hslda.org/content/hs/international/unitedkingdom/20191113-welsh-government-takes-aim-at-homeschooling.aspx , Stand per 20.1.2020)