A Thin Veneer of Consultation

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July 25, 2017
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A Thin Veneer of Consultation

By Sue Wight

The government has announced a Home Schooling Advisory Committee and is hoping that will be enough to see off the threat of a disallowance motion on their 2017 Education Regulations.

So, how real is this committee?

Not very. The committee will have no authority or decision-making power; it will only offer ‘feedback’ on requirements set by DET and VRQA; minutes will not be published; and all communication from the Committee will be controlled by DET.  It is also highly likely that home educators serving on the committee will be discouraged by DET from speaking publicly on home education matters.

We wanted REAL input on the Regulations and a Home Education Advisory Committee looked like a way to achieve that. Instead, it appears DET intend to use the concept to create a thin veneer of consultation on requirements they are finalising right now. They might allow the committee to make minor decisions like selecting the cover photo of the next Guide to Home Schooling, but they’ve given no commitment to REAL input on Learning Plans and assessment from those with home education expertise.

In addition, the VRQA look unlikely to send a representative to the committee meetings making it impossible to build a constructive relationship with them. We’ve been told they need to remain independent. VRQA ‘independence’ is highly questionable when it is housed in a DET building, its employees are on DET’s payroll and take instruction from DET. To cap that off the VRQA have had significant input into designing the regulations, they will set the requirements for Learning Plans and Reviews and do all the assessment of them. How independent can someone be when they police rules they designed?

Given that HEN has an inconvenient habit of calling out DET’s lack of expertise and consultation on home education matters, the best way for the government to gain control of the narrative is to create an organisation of home educators that can more easily be controlled. It appears they intend to use the proposed Home Education Advisory Committee to this end.

By creating the committee, they hope to placate both us and the cross-bench long enough to see off the possibility of a disallowance motion and it appears likely the committee will be disbanded before the year is out.

All our dealings with the department have been characterised by prevarication, obfuscation and promises of later input.

Even our discussions on creating the Committee have followed this pattern. During our last meeting, DET staff gave the impression we were talking about the Committee’s creation and Terms of Reference and yet their minutes indicate that we were only deciding on the content of future agenda items. DET staff said the committee would advise on the implementation of the Regulations. Picking up on this word, we explicitly asked whether that indicated the committee would be disbanded after the regulations have been implemented. They gave voluble reassurances that was not the case, implying we were being overly suspicious and then casually dropped a reference into the conversation later to the effect that the form of the committee would be reviewed at the end of the year. Their minutes indicate that the very existence of the committee will be reviewed at that time. This obfuscation was clearly designed to keep us quiet while throwing in enough qualifiers to avoid any commitment. In the end, the only things ‘decided’ by the meeting were that 6-8 home educators would be on the committee and all communication would be controlled by DET.

Considering how the government swept aside over 500 submissions worth of advice and offered the same tired old reasons, their arrogance in expecting us to be placated by such inadequate ‘consultation’ is breathtaking.

The government continues to spin the regulations as ‘light touch’ ignoring the fact that they hand significant discretionary powers to the VRQA who are hostile to home education.

No notice has been taken of our input so far, how much less will there be when the parliamentary and media attention has moved on?

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