Mr Storey Presents the Petition to the Assembly

Mr Storey presented the petition to the Assembly today.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Mr Storey has sought leave to present a public petition in accordance with Standing Order 22.  The Member will have up to three minutes to speak.

 Mr Storey: Thank you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.  I present the petition, which asks the Minister of Education and the Northern Ireland education and library boards to ensure that the education and library boards' policy on home education accurately reflects their legal status, duties and powers, and respects the parents' duty to provide an education.  It is signed by 3,360 persons.

 I present the petition regarding the issue of elective home education, which has caused much concern among many families who have chosen to exercise their legal right to educate their children other than at school.  In recent months, the education and library boards have published a consultation exercise in relation to changes to the elective home education policies.  I am at a loss to understand why the issue has emerged at this time, when it appears that the current practice within the boards has been, and is, working satisfactorily.  I and many of my fellow MLAs have been lobbied about this issue.  It has generated great concern among parents, many of whom have made a conscientious and positive decision to home educate their children.  That is their legal right, and they now feel that they are being targeted for being responsible parents.

 It is not clear from the consultation document why the consultation was initiated at this time, who initiated the process and if legal advice was sought on whether the revised proposals were consistent with article 45(1) of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986.  Clearly, when the issue was raised with the Minister of Education in the Chamber on 2 June, he was keen to distance himself from the consultation exercise.  He was also keen to stress that this exercise was undertaken independently of his Department.

 My party and I support parental choice in all aspects of education.  That is in keeping with article 44 of the 1986 order, which has been a fundamental tenet of our education system for many years.  Our schooling system has been developed in accordance with that principle.  Education, however, is not the same as schooling, and some parents wish to exercise their legal right to educate their children other than at school.

 Many of them do so for religious reasons, and we, as a party, support and uphold that right. 

 Many of these parents, who are part of a wider international education support network, have no desire to be part of the current state schooling system.  Indeed, there is no requirement in law for them to do so.  I understand that it is for parents to become involved in schooling systems or to advise, or to seek permission from, state institutions such as the boards to undertake that activity.  There is also no requirement for parents to seek permission to withdraw their children from schooling to educate them at home.

 As I present the petition, I trust that the Education Minister will take seriously the issues raised, and I look forward to his response.

 Mr Storey moved forward and laid the petition on the Table.

 Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Mr Storey.  I will forward the petition to the Minister of Education and send a copy to the Committee.