HEN’s Sue Wight and Pavlina McMaster met with Minister Merlino yesterday.
The meeting ran for 20 mins. Mr Merlino did a lot of talking and almost no listening. We almost had to talk over him to get a word in.
Mr Merlino opened by apologising for the privacy breach, said it had been found to be human error and they were putting things in place to ensure such a situation never arose again. He then moved on quickly, claiming they were making a number of changes to the regulations that he wanted to “discuss” with us:
- To include the provision for principals to approve an absence during the 28-day period in “extenuating circumstances”. Guidelines would specify a principal could approve an absence for 10 days and for that to be extended to 28 days to facilitate a home education application period if necessary. We pointed out that this isn’t a CHANGE as the provision already exists under the Act (2.1.3 fa).This “change” is quite insulting: It is not that we are kindergarteners who don’t understand his continual repetition of the existing provision and need it repeated in a different place: The provision itself is insufficient. Principals are humans who get things wrong. When we pointed this out, his response was that there was provision for families to appeal to the regional office and, if necessary to the Office for School Dispute Resolution. We pointed out the child would be in school during this entire process of three levels of application. His only response was that he’d firm up the timing and get back to us.
- Regulation 77 will be amended to make it clear that the VRQA does not need to be advised of changes to a plan – only change of address etc. We pointed out that this isn’t a CHANGE, this is a CORRECTION of an unintended consequence of poor drafting.
- Printed Distance Education materials will be made available to home educators at cost. He did not mention the fact that DET withdrew access to the same materials because “there are no printed materials anymore, everything is now online”. Nor did he mention that this is a policy issue and involves no CHANGE to the regulations.
These aren’t regulation changes and do not address the fundamental problems of:
- children in danger at school awaiting bureaucratic approval to leave
- the VRQA being given a blank cheque to set the requirements for both plans and reviews.
Mr Melino said dissatisfaction with the VRQA came through strongly in the submissions and that was something they needed to address. He said there would be a forum of home educators soon to “create engagement” on the requirements before they are rolled out. We said a “forum” sounded like a one-off event which doesn’t solve the problem. He then started calling it a “panel”. We said we want REAL input, we don’t want to be invited in, “listened to” and sent on our way while the VRQA implements what it wants. We want REAL ONGOING input on the ACTUAL requirements in the form of a Home Education Advisory Committee. He said that was the VRQA’s role and there didn’t need to be another body. We said the VRQA does not have the required expertise on home education to conduct assessments of plans and reviews and suggested they employ people who do, pointing out there were hundreds of home educators, ex-home educators and alumni to draw from, including hundreds who are also teachers. He said that was an idea to consider, but gave no commitment.
One of the advisors said the complaint mechanism needed to be made clearer. We acknowledged there is provision for a complaint to VCAT, but are concerned VCAT would examine whether the VRQA had followed their own process, NOT whether a parent was educating their child and the emphasis should be on education, not compliance.
We mentioned the likelihood of unregistered home education increasing because of the proposed regulations, pointed out NSW registration rates are only 80% of Victoria’s despite their larger population (one third more than us). We suggested the regulations were a matter of stick rather than carrot and would not encourage registration; the mythical “bad” home educators would not be affected by the changes because they aren’t registered. We said we had not met these “bad” home educators and Merlino claimed they exist but wouldn’t be connected with HEN. (So HEN members are apparently the “good” home educators but not good enough to have real input on the regulatory requirements!)
He used the tired “light touch” phrase more than once and told us plans would not be onerous and would be ‘high level’, individual and flexible. He claimed the regulations are much lighter than NSW which we refuted because all the details are left to the VRQA. We said even the specified requirements for plans are quite complex – when, where, what – including resources for 8KLAs across a 12 month period. He tried to spin that as ‘light touch’ and again compared to NSW who have home visits. Pavlina pulled him up by saying she is a registered teacher used to reading curriculum documents and when she wrote a plan to meet the specified requirements, it took her 24 hours – not the 1 ½ hours allowed in the RIS.
The meeting was then wound up.
image credit : Scott McLeod, flikr