HEN met with DET representatives on 30 June and we were asked to submit our report to DET for comment prior to publication. We expressed reservations, but DET were concerned about the possibility of being “misrepresented” and insisted refusal would prevent a “full and frank discussion”. We stated it is not our intention to misrepresent anyone but we have a responsibility to our members and will not be censored. On this basis we agreed to accept comments on our meeting report, hence the delay in posting it.
DET minutes have been supplied to us but not for publication. Frustratingly, there were several issues all three HEN reps thought had been DECIDED at the meeting which DET’s minutes indicate were only DISCUSSED or NOTED with decisions or further discussion deferred.
Their minutes indicate that the only things so far agreed are the makeup of the committee and that all communication will be controlled by DET. This does not inspire confidence in their goodwill.
- Sue Wight, Coordinator
- Miriam Mollema, Assistant Coordinator
- Mark Bachmann, member
- Andrew Nipe, Acting Deputy Secretary, Policy Reform Group
- David Howes, Assistant Deputy Secretary Schools, Early Childhood and School Education Group (ECSEG)
- Susan McDonald, Executive Director, ECSEG
- Hana LoBianco, Senior Policy Officer, ECSEG
We were told the privacy breach report was due to be released imminently (now available here).
DET said they are genuinely trying to work with us to make the regulations work.
HEN raised concerns about no VRQA representative being present when it is they who will implement the regulations: Their absence could create a disconnect between (a) the policy as intended by DET and (b) the policy as interpreted and implemented by the VRQA. DET said we will work together to build the relationship with the VRQA after agreeing on the format for a VHEAC. There is no commitment to a VRQA officer attending future meetings.
Victorian Home Education Advisory Committee (VHEAC)
HEN made a proposal for a VHEAC in May which was discussed on June 30.
Creating a VHEAC will provide DET with a single contact point for advice on home education. It will provide the community with an avenue to raise issues and solve any problems.
HEN advocated for the VHEAC to be created by Ministerial Order (and written into the Act at the earliest opportunity). DET said that’s not possible.
The VHEAC makeup was agreed as follows:
- 1 DET chair
- 1 DET representative
- 1 academic
- 1 disability advocate
- 6-8 home educators/ex-home educators/alumni
HEN’s proposal was for an elected chair. DET determined they would host and chair the group.
Terms of Reference
HEN’s proposal for a VHEAC was discussed and HEN reps understood these had been agreed but DET’s minutes indicate they will take the points discussed to draft Terms of Reference for discussion at the next meeting.
HEN is keen to have a VRQA representative attend each VHEAC meeting in a liaison role, but DET says the VRQA, as the regulator, “needs to maintain a position of independence” so this seems unlikely. This issue has been earmarked for DISUCSSION at the next HEN-DET meeting.
VHEAC selection process for home ed representatives
The selection of VHEAC members was discussed and HEN understood DET was requesting us to organise a poll via Survey Monkey as per our proposal. However, their minutes indicate they are only ‘open’ to this possibility and it is yet to be decided. DET will liaise with the VRQA on methods of advising all registered home educators of the VHEAC and its selection process.
Discussion on VHEAC role and authority
DET are willing to have an ADVISORY Committee but the VHEAC will have no formal authority or decision-making powers. It can simply advise and DET assured us all advice will be listened to but they reserve the right to disagree with the advice and have the ultimate decision-making power.
We pointed out that as an advisory committee with no real authority – what is to say that all advice of merit won’t be disregarded by DET/VRQA?
DET said the minutes of each meeting will be agreed by all attendees to reflect disagreements as well as consensus. However, these minutes will NOT be made public. DET intend to issue some type of ‘joint communique’ from the VHEAC. DET are very keen to set a ‘communication protocol’ and we expressed concerns that they wish to ‘control the message’, an allegation they rejected.
HEN delegates pointed out that the VHEAC will only build a sense of trust and goodwill (and attract the ongoing participation of its members) if its recommendations to DET are acted upon.
DET advised that the VHEAC would be used to advise on the implementation of the regulations. It will meet three times and be reviewed at the end of the year.
We expressed concerns about the lack of home education experience embedded within DET and how this was influencing not only the current phase of policy development but how it might compromise the implementation of the new regulations. For example, we suggested that it may make sense for the first point of government contact for home education to be an experienced, tenured, home education specialist housed within DET, rather than the front-line staff at the VRQA who (by their function) are more concerned with regulation rather than provision of advice and support.
Such a person would also be much better placed to advise the VRQA on assessing plans and undertaking reviews. HEN members expressed this as absolutely essential and fundamental to the success of the new regulations.
DET have agreed for this item to be one of the first issues considered by the VHEAC.
There was some discussion around HEN’s website with DET expressing concerns some of our blog posts were “unhelpful” and would make it difficult to establish a good relationship with the VRQA.
They assured us it is not DET’s intention to limit the growth of home education and David and Andrew said they personally had never been involved in any conversations within the government on that topic. HEN said that this sentiment was at odds with repeated experiences of the VRQA’s attitude during registration and other contact. DET claimed the apparent VRQA hostility was only a ‘feeling’ and may have been misinterpreted. HEN counteracted that VRQA staff have made untrue and obviously coercive statements (e.g. statements about home education resulting in unemployable, unqualified young people). Such statements are unfounded and far more than a feeling.
DET said their intention is to ensure education outcomes for children irrespective of the methods used and whether that is in the formal education system or not.
While striving for good outcomes is agreed by both parties, the means by which those outcomes are achieved and the role of government in that process (by increasing the regulatory burden) is the key point of tension. HEN does not agree the government needs to drive behaviour change in home education, nor that such action will improve outcomes.
- Enrolment for year 10-12 will continue to be available to formerly home educated students.
- DET looking into the partial enrolment options for people under year 10 level.
- DET looking at making the old printed materials available – at cost and subject to resolution of copyright issues.
- We understood they were also looking at how to make the online materials available (also at cost and subject to copyright issues) but, again, DET’s minutes disagree.
The RIS timeline (p37) indicates that the VRQA has commenced work on the regulatory tools (forms, guidance material and procedures). We asked whether this work was on track and were told that one of the reasons why the VHEAC needs to be created quickly is to give advice during development. However, DET’s feedback on our meeting report prevaricates here, so the issue remains ambiguous and VHEAC input on these materials is unconfirmed.
DET are interested in expanding on HEN’s alumni survey. HEN indicated the survey is ongoing with more results yet to be collated.
HEN members also strongly insisted that the VHEAC should be given the opportunity to guide and direct DET research into home education outcomes in Victoria, to ensure this whole discussion is better informed during the next term of the regulations. This is another potential function of a home education specialist within DET. It would address one of HENs major concerns that the current increase in proposed regulation of the sector is not based on any data that demonstrates a problem even exists, and the fact that the new regulations will not (in any way or of themselves) provide meaningful data on long-term home education outcomes. This issue was noted to be listed as an agenda item for the VHEAC when it commences.
HEN raised the following FAQs that are cropping up:
- Will the ‘where and when’ requirement of learning plans confine home education to the home?
- If a family arrives from interstate, will they have to put their kids in school for 28 days while registration is processed?
Reports of people being told by the VRQA they cannot register without permanent residency.
Each of these questions were discussed but DET has asked us not to publish their responses until they can answer formally at our next meeting.
The first VHEAC meeting seems to be envisaged for August with a further HEN-DET meeting to take place at the end of July to finalise the details.
*Privacy breach report is now available here
DET staff appeared keen to establish a new working relationship with HEN, and this is a positive step.
While HEN applaud the creation of a VHEAC, we have significant reservations because it will have no teeth; advice may simply be noted and dismissed, the minutes will not be public and DET wish to control all communication.
DET has deferred all decisions on the actual functions of the committee.
There is a fundamental power imbalance in all our dealings with DET and their prevarication makes any progress difficult. Subject to how advice from the new advisory group is handled, there is a significant risk of this continuing under the VHEAC.
This, together with the fact DET are so far unwilling to commit to employing a home education specialist (i.e. someone with home education experience to change the nature of first contact, plus oversee plans and reviews), leaves the whole future of home education subject to VRQA goodwill which is most unsatisfactory.
In addition, a VHEAC will have no legal standing and can be dismissed (or ignored) at any time.
Therefore, while HEN will participate in good faith with the creation of a VHEAC, it remains to be seen if it can help to shape a positive change in the operation and culture of government (DET and VRQA) interaction with the home education sector. Hence at this point it does not offer sufficient protection to home educators to justify abandoning our campaign against the regulations.