THE WELSH GOVERNMENT is to create a statutory register for home-schooled children. The announcement by Cabinet Secretary Kirsty Williams follows a review of the safeguarding of home-schooled children in light of the Dylan Seabridge case.
Dylan Seabridge died in 2011 of what was diagnosed as scurvy during a post-mortem examination. To all intents and purposes, Dylan had been invisible to social and education services in Pembrokeshire until concerns about the wellbeing of him and his siblings were raised following an industrial tribunal hearing regarding his mother’s employment in a Ceredigion school.
Dylan’s parents denied Pembrokeshire Social Services the chance to assess the wellbeing of Dylan or his siblings and, due to the way the law is drafted, there was no way of compelling his parents to give access.
Dylan Seabridge had no direct contact with agencies such as doctors, nurses and teachers from the age of 13 months, a Child Practice Review later found. His death resulted in a wide-ranging review and, in 2016, its author Gladys Rhodes White said current legislation was in ‘stark contrast’ to the Welsh Government’s commitment to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.
There are wide ranges of reasons why families choose to home school their children: distance or access to local school, religious or cultural beliefs, or philosophical or ideological views. Guidelines for home schooling vary depending on where you live in the world. Home-schooled children in Scotland have to be registered whilst there is only a requirement to de-register in other parts of the UK.
Responding to a question from Simon Thomas AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, said: “I am committed to ensuring all children in Wales receive a suitable education, are safeguarded, and have the opportunity to benefit from universal services.
“I have accepted, in principle, the recommendation by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales for a statutory register for home-educated children and will be working with the commissioner to take this forward.
“To help support local authorities identify home-educated children in their area I will be challenging current ways of working to ensure we maximise opportunities for further strengthening collaborative approaches to protect the rights of these children to receive an education and to be safe.”
An NSPCC Cymru / Wales spokesman said: “We have long supported a compulsory register for children who are educated at home and it’s encouraging to see the steps being taken by the Welsh Government to make this a reality.
“Every family has a right to educate their child as they choose and home learning alone is not a risk factor for abuse or neglect. But home educated children are at increased risk of becoming invisible to authorities and it is absolutely vital that councils are able to identify those children in their area and ensure they receive the education, safeguarding and support they need.
“We know that parents want a safe learning environment for their children. A register would help to ensure this is the case for every single home educated child in Wales.”
Former Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, is to lead the task and finish group.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We have listened carefully to concerns about safeguarding children who are educated at home and have accepted, in principle, the recommendation of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales for a statutory register for home-educated children.
“We are currently exploring the options available and will continue to liaise closely with the Children’s Commissioner as we progress this work.”
Speaking before Christmas, Cllr John Davies, Chair of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Education Scrutiny Committee, said: “This is a serious issue. We have seen here in Pembrokeshire, first hand, where the system doesn’t always accommodate for the well-being of an individual that is home-educated.
“The trend is telling us there are now more people electing for home education, a 52% increase between 2013-16. Therefore there is more of a reason to reflect on the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny have quite rightly referred to the need, one that would not infringe on the rights of individuals, to have a one-a-year visible contact with a child. This is about sharing the responsibility that everyone has towards children and young people.”
Apprentices deserve better financial support
APPRENTICES in Wales should have similar access to financial support as University students.
That’s the main finding from the Assembly’s Economy Infrastructure and Skills Committee, which published its latest report on Apprenticeships in Wales on Thursday (Feb 14).
Committee Chair, Russell George AM, said: “Parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes needs to be underpinned by parity of support for learners.
“There is a strong moral case for the Welsh Government to apply similar levels of support to apprentices as would be available to their peers in full-time education.”
The Welsh Government has this week launched an advertising campaign to promote a new package of measures for university students which it describes as ’the most generous student support package in the UK’.
While apprentices receive a wage while they train, they are not eligible for the support available to students, which can make being an apprentice seem less attractive.
The Committee heard that some young people are deterred from entering apprenticeships by the initial costs involved. These can be relatively minor sums of money to travel to interviews, or the first few weeks of work before they get paid.
The Committee’s work found that while there is much that is positive about Apprenticeships in Wales there were a few surprises.
Mr George added: “We were surprised that the number of disabled apprentices in Wales was far below the rate achieved in England.
“We were also concerned that a lack of providers may be preventing young people undertaking apprenticeships through the medium of Welsh.
“There is still a stubborn gender segregation when we talk about apprenticeships. Both the Welsh Government and stakeholders are committed to address this, and are taking steps to do so, but progress has been slow. This issue is not unique to Wales.
“We are recommending annual publication of figures to maintain pressure and ensure that apprenticeships in Wales are available to all.”
The Committee also looked at the role of careers guidance for young people – particularly in schools – to ensure they are being made aware of vocational as well as academic options.
Mr George added: “During the course of our investigation we heard concerns about the way careers advice is delivered in schools. Our additional scrutiny in this area has given us assurance that Careers Wales has a credible plan, and is working closely with the Welsh Government and schools to address these issues. We will keep an eye on whether this proves successful.”
Minister visits adult learning initiative
WELSH Language and Lifelong Learning Minister, Eluned Morgan visited Monkton Primary School in Pembrokeshire on Friday, February 9, to hear more about a successful community adult learning initiative run from the school.
Started in September 2012 with support from the Welsh Government, the Launch Project aims to raise adults’ skills standards and education attainment within the community by making learning accessible to everyone.
Both accredited and non-accredited courses and workshops are delivered at the school and other community venues and have been specifically designed to remove barriers so that people in the community can gain the confidence and skills needed to seek employment.
The provision has also been designed to cater for a wide range of learner needs, from basic skills and IT courses to various accredited courses including a foundation degree in Education and Social Inclusion.
During the visit the Minister met with some of the adult learners who have benefitted from the project and heard their personal accounts about how it has helped them to turn their lives around, gain new skills and seize new employment opportunities.
Speaking after the visit, Minister said: “This project is a great example of a community-driven learning initiative that has been designed by the community for the community and I applaud Monkton Primary School for its pivotal role in that.
“The school is clearly committed to lifelong learning and building an ethos of working and learning together, built on mutual respect between adults and children.
“It was also inspiring hearing from those who have benefitted from the project and seeing first hand the positive impact it has had on their lives and their confidence.”
Extra investment in 21st Century Schools
£100M is to be invested over the next three years to accelerate the delivery of the flagship 21st Century Schools and Education programme, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams and Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning Eluned Morgan has said.
An extra £75m, has been allocated to the 21st Century Schools and Education Programme a major, long-term and strategic capital investment programme to modernise education infrastructure.
In addition, £30m will be released from the programme in future years for immediate investment in capital projects that will contribute to the goal of reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050. This is a shared priority with Plaid Cymru.
The money will bring the total invested over the life of the programme to almost £3.8bn. The first phase of the programme will finish in 2019 having invested £1.4bn to support the rebuild and refurbishment of more than 150 schools and colleges across Wales. The second phase will see a spend of £2.3bn.
Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and confidence. Our 21st Century Schools and Education Programme plays a key part in this and is the largest investment in our schools and colleges since the 1960s.
“Having a comfortable, modern, fit-for-purpose environment in which to learn is vital to ensuring young people have the best possible education. This extra funding will mean that even more of our students will be able to benefit from having the best possible facilities in their schools and colleges.”
Eluned Morgan said: “Reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050 is a significant challenge and education is key to the success of this ambition. This means we need to invest in new Welsh medium schools and improve and increase the teaching of Welsh in English medium schools. Bringing forward this funding for immediate investment allows us to ensure there is no delay in the work to achieve this target.”
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