Home educating families in Northern Ireland are being threatened with the implementation of a draconian new Elective Home Education policy which is currently the subject of public consultation.
In an oppressive move to undermine the rights and freedoms of home educating families, the ultra vires proposals contained within the Boards’ draft policy include:
- state entry into family homes without suspicion of wrongdoing
- powers to question children
- delays over deregistration from school
- the requirement of parental ‘permission’ to home educate
- control over the form and content of the education provided
Schoolhouse has today submitted the following response to all five Education & Library Boards, ticking every ‘disagree’ box and setting out our reasons for vehemently opposing these anti-family proposals.
“As Scotland’s national home education charity, we had considerable input to research which subsequently informed the current Scottish statutory guidance on home education, which protects the rights of home educating families while acknowledging the responsibilities of local authorities. The law in Scotland is comparable to that of other parts of the UK in that it is parents who are responsible for educating their children, not the state, and education “otherwise” or “by other means” is an equally valid and lawful alternative to schooling. Human rights legislation provides that there should be respect for, and no undue interference in, family life unless there is risk of significant harm to a particular child or children. In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, there is no duty upon local authorities to ‘monitor’ home education on a routine basis, and informal enquiries and annual updates represent an acceptable form of contact for most families.
“In particular, we would point to the following difficulties we have with the draft policy which, if implemented, would adversely affect relationships with home educating families and undoubtedly attract international censure on human rights grounds.
“Firstly, the policy as drafted misrepresents the role of the Education & Library Boards by stating that they have a statutory duty to ensure that children of compulsory education age are receiving an appropriate full time education for their needs when no such duty exists. In fact the law, which is comparable to that of the rest of the UK, mandates a ‘negative’- as opposed to pre-emptive – duty on the Boards. We quote: “If it appears to a board that a parent of a child of compulsory school age in its area is failing to perform the duty imposed by him by Article 45, it shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy the board, within such period (not being less than fourteen days beginning with the day on which the notice is served) as is specified in the notice, that the child is, by regular attendance at school or otherwise, receiving suitable education.”
“Secondly, the policy as drafted requires families to submit their home education programmes for Boards to assess as “suitable or otherwise”, but no such requirement is mandated by primary legislation and would therefore be ultra vires. Parents need not notify or otherwise register their home educating status since they are wholly responsible, as in the rest of the UK, for the provision of their children’s education during the compulsory years, whether or not they use schools.
“Thirdly, the policy as drafted proposes the establishment of an “Education Management Database” which has striking similarities to the ill conceived home education registration schemes proposed (and later dropped) in England and, more recently, Wales following consultation. Creating such a database would amount to parent licensing scheme in Northern Ireland alone and would in our view breach both UK wide data protection principles (such a database being neither “necessary” nor secure) and the EU wide protection afforded by Article 8. It should further be noted that children, like adults, have the right to privacy and that the UNCRC provides only for children who elect to do so to express their views about their education or other issues that affect them.
“We would urge the Education & Library Boards to abandon this draconian draft policy and to work constructively with home educating families in Northern Ireland to ensure a suitable balance is struck, as has been achieved in Scotland and the rest of the UK.”
Commenting on ‘Equality Considerations’, we further submitted:
“Our experience in Scotland demonstrates that home educating families can be subject to disproportionate discrimination and unfair treatment by dint of exercising an equal lawful choice, either through ignorance of the law or prejudice. Any additional ‘protected characteristics’ which are evident or perceived within home educating families are likely to further exacerbate the unequal treatment they receive and compromise relationships with state bodies.”
Please consider responding as follow home educators to this important consultation. Responses should be sent to all five Education & Library Boards (details below) and copied to firstname.lastname@example.org so that they can all be accounted for. If you are in Northern Ireland, please also write to your MLAs.
For further information on how to assist our friends in Northern Ireland, please refer to the HEdNI website.
Education & Library Boards to whom consultation responses should be sent
1. Belfast Education & Library Board
Attention: Liz Fairclough ( EHE)
2. North Eastern Education & Library Board
Attention: Corporate Development Officer
3. South Eastern Education and Library Board
Attention: Mark Donnelly, Best Value Officer
4. Southern Education & Library Board
Attention: Teresa Connolly
5. Western Education & Library Board
Attention: Siobhan Devlin