By Sue Wight
What about the 28 days?
One of HEN’s major objections to the new regulations centred around the potential risk to bullied and unwell children by the requirement to attend school in the application period. While no change was made in response to our concerns, improved communication Student Attendance Guidelines makes it clear that their gradual escalation nature makes it highly unlikely there would be ramifications to families who remove their children to safety.
If your child is unsafe, do NOT send them to school while you await approval to protect them.
Instead, notify the principal that you have applied to home educate and that your child is unsafe at school in the waiting period. State the reasons why they are unsafe and request that the principal approve the child’s absence in the application period. It is important this notification is in writing and dated, as this creates a paper-trail.
Keeping school communication open and polite can help avoid escalation and also count in your favour if the case is escalated.
This is the process if a principal refuses to accept your reason for non-attendance:
- Referral to a School Attendance Officer;
- The School Attendance Officer makes enquiries. They would consider the reason you supplied together with your pending home education application and the process is likely to go no further;
If they decide to take it further the next stages are:
- Issue of a School Attendance Notice;
- Response time (21 days);
- Assessment of the response;
- Issue an official warning or Infringement Notice;
- Appeal against the Infringement Notice.
In the meantime:
- You appeal to the Regional Office (10 days).
- If unsuccessful, you appeal to the Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution (10 days).
- For the safety of children who need immediate removal from school, it is important that this process is not abused by families who don’t.
How do we know the requirements won’t increase?
While we enjoyed the benefits of the old legal regime, it had some major drawbacks in recent years:
- Lack of procedural transparency
- Hostile VRQA staff.
- No stakeholder engagement
All of those problems are now resolved.
The great thing is that the new policy, the templates, approved learning plans and the Guide all have material in them which defines a minimal approach to learning plans and reviews. Having this level of transparency is a huge benefit as, even if a VRQA staff member over-stepped the requirements, a family would have plenty of evidence of procedural over-reach on which to base an appeal to VCAT.
In addition we now have a positive relationship with the VRQA and guaranteed stakeholder engagement via VHEAC until mid-2019. Not only will it be difficult to increase requirements before then, but the department will be keen to avoid the bad publicity we brought them this year and it is therefore in their interests to work with us.
In the meantime, the criteria for the new VRQA staff includes empathy and respect for home education, with knowledge across a range of educational philosophies listed as desirable. To cap that off, we have a place on the selection panel.
These things are significant and should set us up for a positive legal regime for many years to come.
Will HEN provide assistance?
Yes, the sample learning plans are publicly available and we can give members feedback and assistance in writing your own.