The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) is well known within our community for its hostility towards home education.
It’s the authority which handles registrations and, more frighteningly, is set to receive free rein over home education next year under the new regulations.
VRQA hostility is the underlying problem with the Regulations. It has eroded goodwill amongst the community and has us concerned that DET’s intentions are anything but ‘light touch’.
VRQA staff actively discourage registration and attempt to push people into school or distance education. Reports include staff making extremely negative statements about home education and “boasting” about the increased power they will soon have. They represent home education as something very risky and irresponsible, leading to unemployment and no qualifications.
It is no exaggeration to say that the VRQA treats some home educating parents as naughty children.
For outsiders, here’s a little taste of how the VRQA responds to prospective home educators. These are all from actual conversations with VRQA staff:
“He got quite agitated when I wouldn’t change my mind and even went as far as saying I could personally face legal and custody problems as I’m a single mum. I really had to be very assertive and insist that he process my application. He ended the call telling me he would make a note on my file in case DHS ever need to contact them.”
Here, the VRQA officer is intimidating this caller, with threats of DHS involvement and playing on a parent’s fear of their child being taken away. This is a clear example of a VRQA officer attempting to deter a parent from registering, and behaving in a manner which makes the parent feel uncomfortable and threatened. Single mums are a favourite target and the VRQA actually ask about people’s marital status which is quite inappropriate.
The same VRQA officer strikes again with another registrant reporting:
“I was told I was being irresponsible, that all home ed kids were unemployable and couldn’t get into uni. I was strongly discouraged from registering and pushed towards distance education. He actually hung up on me when I politely persisted with my application and I had to phone back to register.”
In this case, we see more of the VRQA officer’s blatant attempts to mislead the public. Our students have proven time and time again that there are alternative pathways in to university. Home educated kids also get jobs and complete degrees at a comparable rate to the general Victorian population: proof abounds, see the HEN Handbook of Home Educated Alumni.
In this case we also see the VRQA officer’s push towards enroling in Distance Education (DE). DE is not the same as home education. DECV is a government school with all work sent to a student at home or travelling and marked by a DECV teacher. In choosing home education, most people want or need something different to what is offered at school.
In addition, those in desperate school situations are usually not eligible for distance education. They are only offered it (actually pressured into it) as a result of trying to register for home education. Under the new regulations, we believe the VRQA will no longer direct people to DECV, instead they will simply deny them registration and push them back into school.
Disturbingly, we also have the VRQA giving out information related to autistic students which in no way reflects reality and is clearly the biased, personal viewpoint of the officer:
“I rang with a general enquiry about registration dates and process… I feel that [the VRQA officer] preyed on my lack of experience and tried to be quite misleading in the information that he provided to me. He initially answered my queries and then advised that I should look at a website that he mentioned for a comprehensive list of local schools. He suggested that perhaps we just hadn’t found the ‘right school’ yet. When I made it quite clear that school was not an option for our autistic son and that his psychologist was very supportive of our decision he said, ‘I don’t know a single psychologist in the state that would recommend homeschooling over distance education.’ I also have noted that he said that ‘by choosing to homeschool we are basically setting up our child for nothing and they will have zero qualifications’. He really sounded so anti-homeschool at this point! He caught me off guard here for a moment as I was expecting it to be a straight forward conversation where he informed me of the basic details I had enquired about. I also wasn’t expecting to be pressured… I found this very frustrating. It took us three years to painstakingly decide to home educate our son. The decision was not made lightly and countless hours of research went into it. I really didn’t appreciate having an Authority that I thought was supposed to be informed and supportive of home education make us doubt our decision.”
This is an extremely disturbing example, as the comment made regarding psychologists not supporting homeschooling over DECV is both false and extremely irresponsible. Home educating parents have received support from their child’s psychologist for a variety of methodologies including unschooling, or child interest-led learning. DECV follows exactly the same curriculum as Victorian schools and this is not at all what some psychologists, particularly those specialising in autism, would advise for particular children. In fact, our family paediatrician, who is a highly regarded specialist in autism and adolescent mental health, advises you stick with the method that works best for your child and if that happens to be something that appears the opposite of DE, then that’s fine. You work in the child’s best interests, not the VRQA’s interests. The VRQA officer’s comment is clearly a reflection of his desire, seemingly encouraged by DET, to keep all children – including those with disabilities – locked in to the mainstream style of education, even when that style of education is absolutely unsuitable for a child.
Another example is where a parent was told that claims on ‘certain websites’ that home educated kids could “go” to university were “mischievous”. He went on to say, “Anyone can go to a university – they’re not locked, they could put the phone down and walk straight up to Melbourne University and go straight to the nearest bench and lie down – anyone can go in and that’s not the same thing as enrolling.” Check out our Handbook of Home Educated Alumni to see just how wrong he is. Not only do home ed kids enrol in university, they also graduate at a comparable rate to the general population.
You may ask how this situation has been allowed to continue. Well, it’s what you get when a government department wishes to minimise the number of students being home educated. Home education figures are rising every year and this clearly concerns the government. It doesn’t matter that children are being withdrawn after years of disability discrimination or parents battling to have some support and actual education for their autistic child. It doesn’t matter that some children are withdrawn because they are in severe distress due to bullying or sexual assault. We see this reflected in the proposed changes to home education, where children must remain at school for 28 days or more – more, because the parent first has to research and draw up a learning plan – which keeps a child exposed to continued harm, and very likely an escalation of harm. Don’t forget that if you remove your child anyway under the proposed regulations, you’re open to truancy fines.
The Minister’s assurance that there is provision for an approved absence in such cases offers little reassurance because it requires a principal’s approval. Very often, if a principal would acknowledge there was a problem or the severity of the problem, the family would not be forced to take refuge in home education. Leaving children at risk for want of a principal’s approval is unconscionable. Soon such families will be trapped between the authority of the principal and the officiousness of the VRQA.
The VRQA are already pre-empting Parliament and giving out false information that is more in line with the new Regulations, namely that a child must remain in school. Under the current regulations, which will remain in effect through to end 2017, a parent may remove their child from school immediately and send off their application to home educate. However, a parent reported that the VRQA has this week told the school that the parent cannot remove the children without a medical certificate and it amounts to truancy if the parent removes the children regardless. This is absolutely false and the VRQA is quite deliberately giving out this incorrect information, again in the attempt to keep children in mainstream schooling. They are also advising parents that evidence of Australian citizenship or permanent residency is required. This is not even required under the new regulations!
The real question here is this: how many kids remain in an unsafe or unsuitable school environment because of this VRQA conduct? How many kids will remain in a harmful situation, because a vulnerable parent was bullied by a department whose intention is to deter and discourage home education applications?
The 2017 regulations give the VRQA significantly increased power over home educators. The same authority that discourages parents – even those who mention their child has special needs or is having a difficult time at school – will be the very people who ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ home educators. Your child’s future will rest in the hands of a department that frequently misleads the public and tells parents their home educated child will never get a job, or enter university. The same department who clearly believe it is appropriate to speak on behalf of all psychologists in the state.
So the question remains: How many kids have already been hurt by the VRQA?