Sunday, 16 September 2012

More random thoughts on the Welsh HE proposals

  1. It's not registration, it's a licensing scheme.
They call the proposals "Registering and monitoring home education in Wales" , but with one small change, it goes beyond that.

26.      The LA would only be able to refuse a new application or revoke an existing
registration in a very limited set of circumstances:
Hang on, a register is a record of information. That's it. If you hold a register of home educating families in your area, then the only time you remove someone from that register is when they are no longer home educating in your area.

You, as a home educating family, don't apply for registration: you register.

You, as a local authority, can't refuse an "application to register", as you would be refusing to record a given fact.

What do we call something that's applied for, then granted, refused or revoked by the local authority? That would either be permission or license.

So, it's a licensing scheme, not a registration scheme.

A license to discharge your legal duties to your children in the manner you see fit.

Which is odd, isn't it?

I'm sure I'll get corrected, but I can't think of any other legal duty which is subject to licensing. I've got a driving license, but no legal obligation to travel. I could get a gun license, but I have no legal obligation to shoot. I've got planning permission for a polytunnel, but no legal obligation to grow veg.

On the other hand, I've got a legal obligation to pay tax, but I don't need a license to earn money.

More, no doubt, will be said on the "register home cooking" blog...

2. It does the opposite of what it's supposed to do
 2.        Section 436A of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on LAs which consists
of two parts. The first part requires a LA to identify (so far as it is possible to do so)
all learners of compulsory school age in their area who are not on a school roll. The
second part requires a LA to establish if such learners are receiving a suitable
education. In the remainder of this document we describe this duty as ‘the section
436A duty’
 So the reason for compulsory licensing of HE families is to allow LA's to discharge their 436A duty.

And given infinite resources for education departments, it will do just that.

Oh hang on! Just remembered! Education departments have finite budgets!

Which means that diverting resources away from investigating reports of educational neglect towards compulsory licensing schemes means that fewer resources are available to investigate and support struggling families.

This is especially true of a county like, for example, Powys:  population density of twenty five people per square kilometre, less than half that of Northumberland, the least densely populated English County. No wonder it's hard to get a board game group together. It's going to take a long time for a team to cover that area for a handful of families.

The fact is, identifying families in trouble has never been a problem for Local Authorities. Knowing their legal obligations and powers is a constant struggle, and one which another legislative layer is not going to help.

3. Practicalities: How are people going to know? And what happens if they don't?
The proposal is curiously blank on these two questions.

How is someone entering Wales supposed to know about this? There's no formal legal system of application to move from England to Wales, but on moving, a home educating family will have a new legal responsibility that they did not have before.

For that matter, anyone in Wales whose child reaches compulsory school age (I know, it's the legally accurate but semantically inaccurate term) could find themselves breaking a law without knowing it.

In trying to make families enforce a local authority duty, they are putting families in a paradoxical position.

But from then on, what happens if the local authority find a family that has been home educating without a license, sorry, registration, for years? Will the family be prosecuted? What happens if they continue to home educate after a license (oh sod it, let's call a spade a spade) has been refused? Is this in any way different from refusing a Statutory Attendance Order?

In other words, beyond a big scary licensing scheme, a new statutory monitoring function for already over stretched Welsh education departments and a few big brotherly terms, would this proposed legislation offer any advantages to LA's in pursuing their statutory obligations? No.

Would it make it more likely that failing HE families would receive support? No.

Would it provide any new tools beyond those already in the legislative toolbox? No.

At a time when education departments in Wales are in crisis, it seems incredible that time and money is being spent on an area that is giving no cause for concern.


  1. Very thought-provokingly good points there, Pete.

  2. Thank you for this - as someone looking at moving to Wales, it is certainly good to hear of the proposals.