By Sue Wight
Home educators are concerned that the Education and Training Reform Regulations 2017 will keep bullied, troubled and suicidal children in school for 28 days awaiting approval of their home education application.
In fact, of the whole regulations, this was the top concern when we surveyed our members. It was also a concern raised in 72% of the submissions made on the regulations.
This aspect of the regulations affects future home educators rather than current ones, so this concern is not a case of ‘leave me alone’, but motivated by an altruistic concern by current home educators for future families in the situations we’ve experienced.
The Education Minister tells us we don’t need to worry that children will be unsafe at school while a home education application is assessed, because principals have the authority to approve an absence. So, why aren’t we reassured?
Firstly, because principals get things wrong.
There are many reasons why a principal might make the wrong decision on this:
- They’re human
- They may not admit there is a problem
- They may underestimate the severity of the situation and its effect on the child
- They may overestimate the school’s ability to protect the child
- They may be reluctant to lose the funding the enrolment represents, especially if there is additional funding for the child or the school’s numbers are critical
- They may take home education as a personal insult to them and/or their school.
- They may mistakenly see home education as a risk to the child.
- They may be biased against home education or the particular family
- They may just enjoy the control
These are not hypothetical situations – we’ve seen all of them in relation to home education over the years. Up until now, it has been a matter of principals trying to talk people out of home education, or tell them it is illegal (yes, really). Under these new regulations, the principal will have the power to keep the child in school during the application period, perhaps hoping to persuade/pressure the family to stay permanently.
It is unsurprising that the Minister has more faith in the integrity of school principals than we do. He sees them on their best behaviour; families with school problems often see quite a different side.
However, the Minister assures us that to cover the possibility of a principal making the wrong decision, families can appeal to the regional office if need be. Great!
But how long will an application take and is the principal even going to tell them they have this option?
If the regional office backs the principal, the family can appeal to the new School Disputes Board. Their website indicates that disputes will usually be settled in 10 days.
The approval for school absence escalation chart is illustrated at left. It is clear that the whole process could easily take over four weeks.
The child would be required to attend school during this entire period.
At the same time, their application to home educate would be being processed. It is clear that by the time their absence from school request had been escalated through three levels of decision, the Home Education Application would have been decided anyway.
So the Minister’s three-step appeal process actually keeps the child in school during the 28 day application period.
We believe this problem could be resolved by a provisional registration system.