Consultation News

Reflecting on 2014 in Home Education here in Northern Ireland

Lots going on at the North Down Co-Op Christmas Party

2014 has been a busy, extraordinary and sometimes alarming year for Home Education in Northern Ireland.  We've launched a new website, seen the birth of two new groups and our existing groups go from strength to strength.  We've tackled themes from Vikings to the International Space Station at our meet ups, visited everwhere from Museums, to Farms, Supermarkets and even Stormont!  We've welcomed babies, made friends, grown and learned and changed together.

And then the consultation!  The Draft Policy arrived on our collective desk in April this year and we were all shocked at the attitude it revealed.  Parents were horrified to see a government body attempt to go so far beyond their legal powers, and to see the Boards' attempt to smear home educating families with implications of 'hidden children' and selfishness in prioritising parents' rights over our childrens' education, without evidence of any sort.  In fact as we all know our rights are for the protection and nurture of our children - parents are almost always the best person to decide for their children because we know them best and we love them best.

The process undoubtedly made us stronger, better connected and more aware that our strength lies in our community.  Our numbers have grown as word has spread about the consultation and more parents are discovering that they don't have to accept the Education and Library Boards' word on the law. Families who have had visits and monitoring for years are relieved to discover they don't have to put their children through that any more, and to discover a community that will support them and their children in their home educating journey.

Radio Ulster Talkback on Home Education

Radio Ulster Talkback on home education (about 1hr10 in from the start).

We are touched to hear our site described as 'well intentioned and well organised' - if you're well intentioned and well organised... and well informed and well advised... then you can achieve anything!

A drift towards standardisation - Draft Policy by the back door?

Drinking Straw Stick Men, and why not.

Home educators are waiting for the outcome of the recent consultation and the merger of the five Boards into one by April '15.  

A recent exchange with the North Eastern Board has highlighted to us the danger that the Single Board, when created, will simply take the most common of the five Boards' current habits and apply them in the absence of a properly scrutinised Policy.

The NEELB had recently (and probably innocently) borrowed a form from the BELB for use as a prompt for parents to write a report about their educational provision.  Apparently in the aftermath of the active phase of the consultation, an increasing number of families are opting to keep their contact with the Board in writing.  The greater awareness amongst home educating families of their legal options in this regard as a side effect of the consultation can only be positive.

The form in question gave the impression that parents were required to follow a curriculum (possibly even the Northern Ireland Curriculum), have a timetable, meet a certain quota of working hours and provide the child's opinion - though the NEELB indicated that the accompanying letter would describe it as non-statutory and a guide only.  The form has been modified after discussions with HEdNI, but would have passed unopposed into practice if we had not been alerted to its existence.

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.

Home Education on Radio Ulster

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04h805c 

Home education and the petition is discussed briefly at 52:30.

The 2014 Consultation on the Draft Policy on Elective Home Education

The five boards closed five consultations on one document on the 27th June 2014 - a new policy they hoped to implement throughout Northern Ireland.

The policy required:

  • regular entry into the family home without suspicion of wrong doing
  • mandatory interviews with children
  • limits on the parents legal duty to provide an education, including delays to de-registration from school and restrictions on the form of education provided

More detail on the policy and our objections can be found at http://www.hedni.org/publications (the HEdNI response to the consultation and an information pack about home education in Northern Ireland).

The legal situation in Northern Ireland is the same as the rest of the UK.  All parents have a duty to provide their children with an education suitable to their age ability and aptitude, this duty can be fulfilled by registering the child with a school or directly.

The Education and Library Boards have very simple and limited duties and powers regarding children not registered with schools.  These duties are entirely reactive - unless there is an external trigger they have no duty or power to take any action whatsoever. IF and only if external forces bring a concern about a child's education to their attention then they must make enquiries, if an education is not being provided then they have the power to issue a school attendance order.  These powers relate ONLY to education.

Petition Handover

Petition Handover

On the 7th August HEdNI members Mairi Rivers and Edward Underwood met Mervyn Storey MLA with members of their families to hand over their petition. The petition asks the Minister for Education and the Northern Ireland Education and Library Boards to ensure that their policy on home education accurately reflects their legal duties and powers and respects the parent's duty to provide an education. The petition has over 3360 signatures. As well as signaturies in Northern Ireland the petition has also attracted signatures from home educators all around the globe, demonstrating that the world is watching Northern Ireland to see how it handles the recent consultation and the responses, and whether any new policy will stay within the law.

http://tinyurl.com/NIPetition

SENAC Response

"SENAC cannot support the implementation of this draft policy for a number of reasons and as a consequence we disagree with each point in the pro forma response. 

Our main concerns are:

Article in the Impartial Reporter

Article

"A DRAFT policy that aims to ensure that home educators provide an "efficient full time education" for their children ahs been described by one Fermanagh parent as "criminal" and "intrusive""... "Sean is not clear what the rationale behind the draft policy is, but he believes that its starting point is one of automatic "mistrust" of parents who choose to home educate"

Read the full article and 'day in the life' in the pdf below.

Disappointment at consultation responses from CLC and NICCY

Home educating families are very concerned at the apparent disregard for the law, and for the legal rights of children in the responses by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Youth, and the Children's Law Centre.

Both state that the Board's have a duty to 'ensure' education under Schedule 13, in fact the word 'ensure' does not appear in any part of the relevant legislation and Schedule 13 creates no duty to act except if a concern arrises.  The duty to provide an education is created by Section 45 and belongs to the parent, the Boards are not mentioned at all.  

Further, the relevant legislation creates no powers or duties relating to welfare.  If the Boards wish to annex powers and duties properly belonging to social services then they will need primary legislation to do so, a treaty unincorporated into law cannot create these powers.

We strongly suggest that the Boards and the charities set up to protect children's rights read the relevant legislation, and carefully consider whether the safety of all children is promoted by confusing education with welfare, by allowing the Boards to step outside the law and by arbitrarily labeling a group of families as a welfare risk, simply because they excercise a legally sanctioned educational choice.

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