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What DET doesn’t want you to see

By Sue Wight

Redacted

In making submissions on the Education regulations, people told the personal stories that led to their home education. The purpose of telling these stories was to illustrate the need for unobstructed access to home education.

These submissions were treated so cavalierly by the Education Department (DET), that they committed a massive privacy breach – accidentally publishing some confidential submissions with full names and contact details and publishing over 100 submissions with names revealed in the metadata. In the recovery phase DET made the arbitrary decision to:

  • insist on explicit republication permission (which cut down the number of published submissions from 535 to 389)
  • anonymise all submissions and publish them only by number (even those who did not request anonymity)
  • remove private and sensitive details.

This was an over-correction – people needed to be anonymous, not to have their stories excised!

In addition, the redactions were made in such a way that they were not obvious. People received an email seeking permission to republish an attached submission which had been checked for private and sensitive information. The approval copies contained nothing to suggest a redaction had taken place. Unless people compared their submission line by line with the original, they did not know something was missing.

We believe this process was more about protecting DET than the submission makers’ privacy. 

Below are examples of the redacted portions. Red text indicates what was cut.


Redactions made without the knowledge of submission makers

It took 6 months for our son to feel comfortable (he had also been seeing a child psychologist an Occupational Therapist and other medical professionals for this entire time) to tell us that he was being bullied and was sexually assaulted at his school, sadly he did not even tell us or the various other professionals about the assault until safely home schooled for six months as it took him that long to trust he would not be returning to the school.
[replaced by] It took 6 months for our son to feel comfortable to tell us that he was being bullied.

*******
My eldest son, has tolerated bullying for most of his school life. Despite a number of school changes (both public and private), he experienced little significant difference in staff strategies put in place to combat bullying. Eventually he became so distressed that he developed psychosomatic chronic illness. After many tests to eliminate other possible causes (and through noticing the sickness disappear on weekends and school holidays) the doctor and I concluded that his regular bouts of illness were emotional anxiety brought on by the bullying. Anxiety had manifested itself in his stomach.
He was moved to a school closer, so that should symptoms re-emerge I could pick him up at a moments notice. He was sent home frequently as his chronic stomach discomfort often resulted in vomiting.
At his new school his problems compounded. The children picked up on his frequent absences, the illness and the vulnerability he felt. He became an even greater target and at one point endured the majority of student in his year level picking on him. He became so traumatized that one day he told me he wanted to die. Some of the kids at school told him he should kill himself.

*******
The proposal to force children to stay in school while their application to home-school is being process is very concerning to me. By the time I finally took my child out of school, we had tried for as long as we could to make it work, but every day he remained in school brought nothing but anxiety, and stress. Every day was harmful to my son. In that time he learnt very little, and was so stressed that he was screaming and throwing things, and even hurt some of the other children. I needed to withdraw him immediately, and had we been made to wait for another month, it could only have got worse for everybody. We didn’t need a plan. We didn’t need to stick to a rigid structure. In that moment, what we needed was for my son to be removed from a situation that was harming him every day. The details, we worked out later. This is how parenting works. Manage the crisis first, then plan the way forward. I don’t understand how this new regulation is of benefit to the children, who should be the highest priority.
*******

I am a home educating mother of my children. I began home educating my children consecutively 4 years ago. They are Special Needs kids and struggle with severe anxiety, separation anxiety and school refusal. The mainstream schools did not provide sufficiently for their needs which resulted in further trauma, absconding and self harm. 2 of them were physically assaulted by staff and shut in small rooms also. I removed my kids from school for their own safety.

[further on] A lot of children who are removed from school to be home educated are removed for reasons of their safety and wellbeing. Many of them have been severely bullied, some of them have been assaulted and abused – even sexually abused. Some have been sadly neglected by their teachers and the school. Many of them are suffering from mental health problems as a result of their school experience. Much like my children.

Redaction made after consent was given to a version in which it was included

Why did we choose to home-school?
We saw it as superior to the schooling system. We did not have any particular issues with the school or the school system. Simply put we saw we could do a better job with greater benefits and outcomes for our children.
In the transition between discussion and action it came to my attention that my then 6 yr old daughter was having unwanted sexual advances made towards her by older boys. They would take her into the toilets and kiss her and demand kisses from her. The teacher told her to stay away from those boys when the teacher became aware. At no point were we contacted over this incident. This I find very disturbing. It was not the reason for home schooling as we had made the decision prior to this. It did cement the satisfaction of the decision we had made.

******

Redacted version published despite request to reinstate the excised section

I am particularly concerned that children who are already being failed by the school system, and not protected from bullying, harassment and abuse, would become trapped in an unsafe situation and remain at risk while bureaucrats decide when and if they are allowed to leave during the application process, which in reality could take up to two months. My own child had to be removed immediately, as she was experiencing such distress and anxiety about her situation that she was threatening to kill herself. How will the government protect these children during this waiting period, when a failure to do so is the motivation behind home education? Quite apart from the child’s health and wellbeing, there is no academic benefit in keeping them in school, as they will be too stressed to learn. The Education and Training Act upholds the principle “parents have the right to choose an appropriate education for their children” (1.2.1d). Parents should not have to await approval before they can exercise this right. Regulation 72(2)(b) must be removed or changed to a requirement to submit an application within a time period (ie 1 month) of removing a child from school, for the safety of these at risk children.

******

The following redactions were corrected after people checked their consent emails word for word

I am a home educating father of four children. I began home educating my children last year because of increased anxiety and stress that was leading to self-harming behaviours and suicidal ideation. My older children were both 9 when they first exhibited self-harming and/or suicidal ideation. Once removed from school, these behaviours ceased, and have not been a problem for them again. We had tried several schools, with similar outcomes for our children each time.
[and further on] A lot of children who are removed from school to be home educated are removed for reasons of their safety and wellbeing. Many of them have been severely bullied, some of them have been assaulted and abused – even sexually abused. Some have been sadly neglected by their teachers and the school. Many of them are suffering from mental health problems as a result of their school experience. My 9-year-old daughter became suicidal from the stress and anxiety she was experiencing from being in a noisy, busy classroom environment. Her school had tried various tools and techniques to try to support my child, however, these were never adhered to by teachers in the long-term and many of the problems were ones that just can’t be removed/altered due to class numbers and building sizes. Many hours were spent at the school advocating for my daughter, who was doing little to no learning, no work was completed and it was at a low standard, and she was behind in spelling and reading – even after already repeating grade 1. She is diagnosed autistic, but doesn’t qualify for any supports through the education system, however she clearly cannot cope in a modern classroom environment without major concessions or aide support.

******
In 2010, our son (11 years old at the time) was bullied at school. At some point he retaliated and as a result of the major incident he was assessed by the school’s psychologist and was hfound to be “danger to himself and others”. Six weeks before the end of school year we were told that our son could no longer come to school. No amount of negotiations could convince the principle to allow our boy to finish the year, while we would look for better alternatives.

******
By this time, his stress levels were intense. And the relentless, awful bullying had begun. He began to wear their hateful labels: poo ball, chicken blood. Grade one boys are not terribly inventive. They are a mob, though. I was told by another mother of one of the worst offenders that her son was really a ‘lovely boy’, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. Unfortunately, children grouped together are not renowned for developing civilising tendencies in each other. It is more a Lord of the Flies effect as they sink down to the lowest common denominator. Herein lies the biggest myth of our education system: that of school being an adequate socialising force. Children desperately need adults for socialisation, not just peers.
My beautiful little boy started to retaliate. The most unfortunate thing about this was that the bullies were never caught; they were too quick and clever for that, and he was far too slow to ‘dob’, though he was encouraged to. He was caught hitting back though, and punished. When the bullying escalated, he started to attack pre-emptively. As a consequence, this sensitive, freedom loving child was told he could no longer go out in the yard at recess and lunchtime. Ever. ‘Recess Club’, and the ‘Passive Play Room’, they called them. But they were punishment, and he knew it. On top of his mounting anxiety, he was now effectively locked up inside.
He developed a ‘tic’. He would jerk his head at regular intervals, and when his name was called, or if I made any sudden movement toward him, he would cringe fearfully. He did nothing, literally nothing, in the classroom. I volunteered to sit with him every morning at school to help him, but I was told the ‘education department takes a dim view of parents helping their own children’. He had to wait for Reading Recovery because it was under resourced and there were more desperate cases than his. His turn never did come.
Individual testing with teachers revealed that he worked beautifully one on one. I knew this, of course, but their only suggestion was that we desperately needed his paediatrician to provide some sort of magical solution. I am not disparaging those that choose and succeed in using medication, but it seemed unconscionable to me to drug my child to fit into a system where other, better alternatives existed.
The day his teacher found him lying in the middle of the school oval, distraught, shaking, and lying in a puddle of his own urine, was the day I decided he was never going back to school. The public school system had utterly failed him. It is without question the worst regret of my life that I failed to protect him adequately and remove him much earlier. Under the new regulations, I would not have been allowed to remove him from this toxic environment without at least a year long, approved ‘learning plan’, and a 28 day wait at minimum. This is bordering on criminal. An adult would not be subjected to this treatment.
I gave him at least an entire term to do absolutely nothing at home. It might have been longer. He desperately needed this time to ‘de-school’, and apparently this is not an uncommon experience. Under the new regulations, with their demand for a whole year’s plan up front, this would not be allowed. When we did start ‘school work’, it was very informal and no more than an hour a day, if that. Of course, I could have come up with an adequate plan. I am a professional educator. But many parents could not, nor should they be expected to! The welfare and mental health of their children should and would be their first consideration in this critical transition period, not what will be studied. The education department is betraying their appalling lack of knowledge of teaching and learning fundamentals with such a demand.
Within the first weeks of freedom, I watched the stress ooze out of my son. It was a remarkable recovery. The tic disappeared. He made some new homeschooling friends. He started to learn to read.
Five years later, you wouldn’t recognise him for the same child. He’s a confident, happy young man. He loves Lemony Snicket, Tolkien, and writes the most amazing and amusing stories. He wants to be an author.
He still bears the marks of his ordeal. He is not quite the same carefree child as before his schooling nightmare began. But he has never needed to be medicated, nor does he display any difficulty at all with learning, or socialising.

*******
I have lost four teenage friends to suicide and have seen the devastation anxiety can cause

******
Our second reason for choosing to home school this year was of a far more serious nature and it involved the safety of our eldest child. A close friend in one of our children’s peer group was found to be behind extremely inappropriate behaviour that needed to be brought to the attention of child protection services. Other children were affected. We were concerned that our child may also be harmed. The school was unable to monitor the case and so we decided it was necessary to leave.

*******
My eldest son, was in Grade 3 when we removed him from the local Primary School after he was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD. He was 3 points too high to qualify for an aide and required me to spend large amounts of time after school re-teaching him that day’s lessons in a new way for him to understand. My daughter, was sexually molested in the playground at recess by a Grade 3 boy, three weeks into her Prep year in Primary School, which has resulted in severe anxiety to this day. Incidentally, the boy only received a one week’s suspension. My heart was breaking for both my children – one was unable to understand the lessons until he could talk it through one on one, and my daughter’s innocence was stripped from her literally. My children’s needs were not being met in the school environment and the school failed its duty of care to protect my children. Then my youngest son, was diagnosed Autistic and had severe language delays (at 5 years old he only had 5 words). There was no way that he would survive mainstream local schooling. He required multiple professional appointments every week.

[and further on] Having withdrawn my daughter after being sexually molested, I am concerned that under these regulations, children in a similar situation would be stuck in school while their parents wrote a plan and waited for the VRQA to approve it. They could be at significant risk during this period.

******

In brief, my son has extremely severe allergic disease with anaphylactic responses to traces of common foods, the risk factors of which are enhanced by concomitant severe asthma. In addition to this he has high-functioning autism (HFA), with attendant anxiety, depression, and social difficulties.
Perhaps, if he didn’t have HFA he would have managed to build a proactive and positive peer group as a buffer against the threats and teasing that is acknowledged as best practice for protecting highly allergic teenagers; but alas, he is autistic, and thus could not adequately protect himself. Seven years of attending school each day, sensorially overwhelmed and feeling unsafe and scared left him suicidal and having daily meltdowns. I will never forget the moment my ten year old child said he wanted to kill himself just to end the constant fear of going to school and having someone there kill him ‘for the fun of it’.
******
Having a child at the older end of the homeschooling journey I am now able to get a full grasp on how great it has been. She has true friends and is an amazing mature girl. She is studying year 10 at home whilst also doing a Cert 3 at Monash University and has been offered management training at her place of causal employment. She has done work experience with her music teacher and was at 15 offered a job working with children which was flattering. She has the maturity to run a work place or household, cook meals and converse with all ages. She also plays baseball, does short courses online and is an a jazz band. She sees many opportunities a head of her and is currently considering whether VCE may be a help of a hindrance to her career plans and interests. She knows many who have entered University though alternative pathways and is looking at all her options to gain experience, qualifications and enjoy her teen years.
My thirteen year old daughter has always loved tinkering, building, creating and drawing. Last year she joined a homeschool Lego robotics team and found a passion for engineering. She was noticed at a First Lego League Robotics Completion and selected to join a teen robotics group working out of Swinburne University. These opportunities have helped to give her direction and greater purpose in her learning. She is now studying coding online, doing an online robotics course and is looking at starting to learn CAD design. We know of other homeschoolers entering engineering university young through their work in this field. Next month we head to Sydney as a family she will attend the South Pacific First Robotics Completion and we will explore Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Homeschooling has given her the opportunity to be surrounded to like-minded people. She says she feels smarter around them and has blossomed. Oh and she plays tennis, table tennis, guitar, ukulele and is learning the banjo mandolin.
My 9 year old is a musician, she plays piano, guitar and goes to music school on a Saturday. She has also been offered a place in a National Children’s Choir. She taught herself to read at 3 and is a self-confident independent learner. She learns because she is excited to learn and has that beautiful natural curiosity about her world. Homeschooling is natural to her she has always welcomed new school books and is a really happy child.
******

As our child struggled to conform to mainstream standards and comply with school demands which were beyond our their capacity, our child rapidly became so profoundly debilitated. Our child – at 5 years of age- became significantly clinically depressed and so profoundly anxious as to be unable to function, was constantly in a state of intense distress and experienced severe-anxiety driven behaviours including self-harm, harming a parent, frequently verbalised a wish to “die” and expressed frequent thoughts of suicide with explicit plan and intent.
Our child began to hurt a parent as a result of their desperately intense distress and in desperation to communicate that distress. Our child became completely incapacitated with impact on all bodily and daily functions resulting in severely reduced quality of life and trauma. On specialist paediatrician advice we had to commence and increasingly titrate antidepressant and antianxiety medication and our family was barely functional for months, experiencing constant distress and trauma.

[and further on]
Academic achievement and superficial assessment of function and engagement results in our children being deemed as not needing support when they are acutally in more need of support.
Our child suffered so profoundly as to be traumatising for both our child and ourselves. We saw our child in a constant heightened sensory state secondary to being in constant primitive involuntary cognitive ‘fight or flight’ mode. This impacted on ability to eat and sleep, toileting, being physically unable to tolerate many usual household sounds and smells. Our child known for being very affectionate and cuddly, seeking closeness in times of stress- was unable to tolerate our touch, interact or engage with us or siblings. Our child was so constantly distressed as to suffer frequent explosive meltdowns; exhibiting raw and intense anxiety and distress, culminating in self-harm, lashing out, unintentionally hurting a parent during meltdowns, expressing wishes to die and verbalising succinct ways/time to do this.

This was followed by periods of devastation, and utter exhaustion, distraught apologies, self loathing and frequently verbalising a wish to die, be killed and at times articulating how and when this could be enacted.
Our child lost all ability to participate in the intense passions that were a part of regulating and surviving and as essential to life as breathing. Our child consequently experienced compulsive and ritualistic behaviours and significant restriction in many aspects of daily living secondary to the trauma and resulting anxiety. These experiences saw a significant impact on family relationships and the ability to function as a family unit- in both leisure and in meeting basic needs.
It was at this stage that we made the decision that medication was required in order for our child to function, maintain safety and experience a sense of wellbeing and peace. It was after we desperately tried many many different strategies, purchased numerous resources in attempts to afford our child some relief.

Although rates of children taking medication are high, the figures serve to undermine the enormity of having to commence a child on medication. It is certainly not a consideration considered lightly by ourselves or specialist paediatrician. It is an extremely difficult decision and one made as a last resort. Our decision was after much research, stress, fear and consideration. That being said, in our situation, our child was suffering so profoundly and so significantly debilitated that we not only had no option, but witnessing a child experience such devastating impact, made the decision a necessary one.

[further on]
Incapacitating effect on mental health and wellbeing of all family members, in particular younger autistic 4yo sibling suffered considerably witnessing beloved older sibling in such profound and constant distress for a prolonged period.

******
The proposal that children must wait in school for at least 28 days for a ‘learning plan’ to be written and approved by the VRQA is worrisome and doesn’t protect children like ours, who were removed from school due to increased anxiety and stress that was leading to self-harming behaviours and suicidal ideation. My children were 9 when they first exhibited self-harming and/or suicidal ideation. Once removed from school, these behaviours ceased.
Many of our concerns are formed due to how we came to home educate. As with many other families; it was a last resort for us. We had sent our children to a Montessori school (which they loved, but it closed), then a government primary school. However, our 9-year-old daughter became suicidal from the stress and anxiety she was experiencing from being in a noisy, busy classroom environment. Her school had tried various tools and techniques to try to support my child, however, these were never adhered to by teachers in the long-term and many of the problems were ones that just can’t be removed/altered due to class numbers and building sizes. We spent many hours at the school advocating for my daughter, who was doing little to no learning, no work was completed and it was at a low standard, and she was behind in spelling and reading – even after already repeating grade 1. She is diagnosed autistic, but doesn’t qualify for any supports through the education system, however she clearly cannot cope in a modern classroom environment without major concessions or aide support. What would have happened to my daughter if she had to wait at least 28 days to be removed from this negative environment? I am worried what might happen to a child like ours while stuck in school waiting for approval, under the proposed regulations. Parents should be able to withdraw a child to safety without having to disobey the law and run the risk of fines.
******
This was the experience of one family of a twice-exceptional child. They initially had no solid evidence that harm was being caused and only after they pulled their child from school did they discover that he had attempted suicide a number of times, including attempting to hang himself. He did not feel safe to even communicate with his parents until he was out of that school environment. Having to fill out a plan for how they would home educate and wait for government approval would have left them without a son.

 


Image credit: nelio filipe //www.flickr.com/photos/neliofilipe/32415109633

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