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Summer 2014

New rules for Home School?

Possible changes to rules on home-schooling

Parents in Northern Ireland who choose to home school their children are concerned about a draft Northern Ireland Elective Home Education Policy which is currently the subject of consultation. Graham Stuart MP Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education wrote to the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland in May this year regarding his concerns over the March draft version of the policy which in his view, ‘appears to misrepresent the role and responsibilities of the Education and Library Boards regarding parents who elect to home educate their children.”

Current legislation in Northern Ireland allows parents to educate their children at home however there are no specific guidelines in place. The five Education and Library Boards (ELB) here have now prepared a draft policy on elective home education and are currently consulting on it. As of January 1, 2014 the Boards were aware of 258 children who were being home educated, however this figure may actually be much higher. Where a parent chooses to home educate, there is no legal requirement for the parent to advise the relevant ELB or the Department that the child will be educated at home. The exceptions to this are when a child has previously been registered at a school or where a child has a statement of special needs. Permission must then be sought from the relevant ELB to home educate.

A Department of Education spokesperson said: “Legislation in place here permits a parent to choose or elect to educate their child at home. Article 45 (1) of the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 requires that the parent of every child of compulsory school age should ensure they receive efficient full-time education suitable to age, ability and aptitude to any special education needs, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. “Otherwise” usually means home educated, home tutor or attendance at an Independent School.

“The legislation places specific responsibilities in the education of children other than at school on parents and the five education and library boards. That includes those who are educated at home. The boards have directly prepared guidance that reflects the existing legislative requirements, and they are consulting on it. The Minister has made it clear that he will wish to review their guidance once it has been subject to consultation and reviewed and refined in response to that engagement once it has taken place.”

Maria Hanley from Kesh, County Fermanagh is a member of HEdNI (Home Education Northern Ireland, a music teacher and home educating mother of five children. She has grave concerns over the legality of any proposed changes telling Ni4kids:
“As fantastic as many schools are, parents often know little of what is happening in a child’s life during the day. It is so easy for schools to forget that they do not teach and nurture our children as a “right” but are granted this privilege in trust by parents. Not everyone realises that while education is compulsory, school is not. Home education is legal in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the UK. Our laws mirror those of England and Wales in recognising that parents hold the primary authority over their child’s education. They have the right to choose a public, private or home education.

“Home educators are alarmed by a draft policy now under consultation that would set a disturbing precedent for everybody - eroding parental choice over how and what their children learn. Parents of home educated children may soon be required to effectively apply for a permit to parent (teach) their children. The Education and Library Board is proposing that every home educated child be registered, the family home inspected, their children interviewed and their curriculum approved. In short, rather than the Education Boards being answerable to the parents, parents may soon find that they are answerable to the Boards.

“Parents should have the freedom to choose the educational path that best suits them and their families. We have to trust mums and dads, and support them as they make their own choices. Sufficient safeguards already exist in law for the Education Board to intervene when there are concerns about any child’s education. In a free society we must insist that families be protected from unnecessary intrusion and protect the rights of families to make their own decisions in the best interests of their children.”

Mervyn Storey Chairperson of the Assembly Education Committee and Education spokesperson for the DUP has called on the Education Minister to set aside the current proposals on home schooling. He said: “The current proposals upon which the five boards are consulting appear to have come into the public domain without any proper process. The Minister and his Department are denying that they have had any hand in developing these and that being so he should act to terminate the current flawed process which has caused so much concern and anxiety amongst those parents who are exercising their legal right to educate their children at home.

“My party supports the principle of parental choice and we will ensure that there will be no change to the current practice which in any way diminishes parents’ rights as laid down in legislation. I have asked that the Education Committee receives a briefing on the issue as a matter of urgency to find out how this current consultation process came about.”

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