First, let's take a quick look at previous governments with National and/or ACT and/or NZ First, and actions they took that affected home education. History is an important backdrop to understanding present and future scenarios.
Historical National Governments with/out ACT or NZ First
In 1989 the then-Labour government also decided to begin paying a Supervision Allowance to home educators. This began to be paid in 1990, the same year as National took power.
In 1994, National's Education Minister ended reviews of home educators, stating that the expense was not justified.
In late 1996, after the first MMP election, National and NZ First formed a coalition government. NZ First pushed for routine review of home educators, wanting them to have more accountability (this was part of their coalition agreement negotiations). An amendment was made to the Education Act to give ERO specific broad powers to review home educators (they didn't actually have this prior except in the case of investigating a complaint, or reviewing an application in the event of an appeal), and routine reviews resumed in 1997.
In 2009, National (now in a coalition with ACT, United Future and the Maori Party) again scrapped routine reviews, providing funding for up to 35 on a complaints basis (as it has remained since).
There have been no other polices that I can recall from National, ACT or NZ First that have directly targeted/affected home educators. However, policy changes don't all come from government themselves - the Ministry and ERO have some degree of autonomy and take on certain things independently. For example, in 2014-15, the Ministry conducted an in-depth "review of homeschooling" and as a result made changes to their application forms and process, in-house procedures and so on. At times regional Ministry staff have attempted to apply government policies for schools to home educators - though we are actually not subject to them and don't have to comply. Some examples of this would be when the govt set a target for 85% of 18 yos to achieve at least NCEA 2 or equivalent by 2017, or more recently when Aotearoa NZ Histories are being required to be taught in schools - some Ministry staff asked parents applying for exemptions how they were going to include/make these things happen in their home education programme. But both of these policies (along with most others) are for students in the state education sector, and do not apply to home education. In 1996, the Ministry (not the government) asked home educators to write self-evaluation reports in lieu of reviews. Most refused, and this fell by the wayside.
What We Know of the Current Proposed Policies
National Party: Over the months prior to the election, Erica Stanford (as education spokesperson for National), asked a number of parliamentary questions about home education. A few weeks ago, I attended a public event where she was there to talk about education, and directly asked her some questions about her thoughts and intentions regarding homeschooling. She made a number of statements which expressed “concern” about not knowing anything about the quality of education home educated students are receiving, but also showed little understanding of how home education works. She indicated that she would like to meet with NCHENZ directly to discuss further, though that has yet to be arranged. Erica is very likely to be the next Minister of Education.
In response to our email, which was sent shortly before that meeting, NCHENZ received the following response (published in their Oct newsletter to members):
“Erica and the policy team have been doing research and asking questions regarding some the challenges the home-schooling sector is facing. She has been meeting with relevant stakeholders and has been listening to what the government needs to do to improve home schooling in New Zealand.
If elected, the National Party will be looking very carefully at some of the shortcomings of the system, including looking at the allowance to see if it is still fit for purpose, as this has been something that has frequently been raised by stakeholders. While there are not any specific home-schooling policies out now, this is definitely an area that Erica is looking into.”
ACT and NZ First: neither party have any written policies related to home education, and neither responded to NCHENZ's emails. Since the time NZ First pushed for ERO reviews in 1997, they have held no further policies around home education, though they have been in government since.
Governmental Views and Concerns about Home Education
The main questions/concerns/ideas that float around in government heads (if they think about us at all) about home education are the following:
- Why are so many people taking their kids out of school and going homeschooling? We don't know.
- We don't know if they're receiving a "quality education" at home.
- We don't know what outcomes home education leads to.
- We don't have any evidence that they are safe (though we also don't have any evidence that they're not).
So when it comes to home education, what they fear most is not that we exist - but that they don't KNOW much. They don't have data and statistics and reports and so on to prove that all is well or to answer their questions. If someone asks an Education Minister "how do you know that home educated students are receiving a quality education" and your only answer is "we don't", well that doesn't go down well. Ask Jan Tinetti - who was asked this question in a pre-election interview, which was followed by headlines screaming "Labour failing home schooled children."
When someone in government wants to know the answers to questions such as the above, they ask the Ministry to provide them with the information. Currently, however, the Ministry doesn't hold (or think they hold) the answers either. This is partly their own fault (both MoE and government). They CAN come up with data on outcomes (they did it for the 2014 review), they just don't usually make the effort. They COULD know about the quality of home education programmes if they'd been doing more reviews - but haven't had the funding to do so. And so on.
What Changes Might We See?
In respect of WHY people are choosing home education, this is not a question asked in exemption applications, simply because it is parents' right to choose this - and they don't have to justify it. However, the MoE's draft updated applications have added this as an optional question, simply because the government keeps asking them this question and they have nothing to offer, so this would be an attempt to begin to collect data on it. Parents would be able to choose to answer it or not.
In respect of QUALITY of education programmes at home, Erica Stanford thinks this needs looking at. She tossed around some ideas like having families submit samples of work to "someone, perhaps local school principals." Clearly that idea is a non-starter for a bunch of reasons! However, if the government wants to check on home educators' learning programmes, they have an allowance in the law to do so - ERO reviews, which is the ONLY legal way they can do so. They simply have to choose to fund more of them, and advise the MoE how many should be done per year. The MoE have in fact been asking for more funding for reviews every year for some time now, and been told no each year - it just hasn't been a government priority. Whether, when faced with actual costs, the new government will consider it a priority remains to be seen. An ERO review of ONE homeschooled student costs around $4-600 (exact figures haven't been published in a few years). A bit of math on ERO's budget figures suggest that the review of an entire school costs around $1200. In reviewing a school, they are effectively checking up on the education of possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of students. You can see why previous governments have considered the review of home educators not to be an effective use of money.
I do think it's likely we will see some kind of increase in the number of reviews to be conducted per year. How many, and whether it will constitute "routine reviews of all home educators" remains to be seen. It's not just about money - but also about having ERO staff to conduct the reviews. Given that one of the National party's election platform policies was to CUT state sector employees, this may or may not be an option for them at this time if more staff would be needed. Just for comparison, when reviews were "routine" previously, they reviewed about 600 students per year. In 2009, when they ceased routine reviews, there were just under 6000 exempt students. We are heading towards double that now. Anyway, if they fund, say, 1000 reviews per year, it would take about 10 years to do one review of each exempt student. And that's only assuming successive governments through that time continue to fund the reviews at the same rate.
It is perhaps likely that "routine" reviews may be re-instigated for a time - long enough for the evidence to show, once again, that most home educators are doing well, and that this expenditure is of limited benefit.
It's also possible that alternatives to the current standard model of ERO review may be considered (in fact some have already begun to be discussed with ERO) - this may allow for options that are less intrusive for families plus allow ERO to get at least a high-level view of more families more quickly. We will see.
In respect of SAFETY of home educated children, well this comes back to ERO reviews again - in other words, someone "checking up on" families and seeing that the kids are doing fine. Once again, ERO is the only legal way for the government to do this, except in instances where someone has reported some kind of welfare concern to a government department or the Police about a specific child or family, and Oranga Tamariki becomes involved.
And when it comes to OUTCOMES, there are some options - the MoE could do what they did in the 2014-2015 review and compile data from NZQA about student achievements for those who have been home educated vs those who were in school. Or they could compile, with the help of the sector, broader data on outcomes. They could collect this from families themselves, when students finish home educating and/or several years later, and from providers of exams, certificates etc etc. Again, though, this kind of activity costs money, and the government has to be willing to fund it, or the MoE to decide it's important enough to do within their operational budget.
What else might change? Well, the Supervision Allowance seriously needs looking at, and Erica Stanford has acknowledged this has been repeatedly raised. I hope we will see a substantial increase in the allowance in the not too distant future. While there have been fears in the past that this would come with more "strings", I think that is unlikely. Because any strings they add actually make more work for the Ministry, and they don't have the staff or resources for that. They've already rejected any possibility of being able to, for instance, process "reports" from home educators. What else could they actually require of us? The law allows for the Ministry to pay grants to "educational bodies" and to "determine the amount, and conditions, of each grant." - currently that is for us to sign the declaration and return it in order to get the grant (aka supervision allowance). Any other "conditions" they might add would need to be ones appropriate to require of an "educational body." No other part of the Act allows them to set any conditions upon home educators, other than gaining an exemption and being subject to ERO reviews.
The Ministry has already been working on updating their application forms and guidance (for nearly 18 months now), in theory to make the process simpler and clearer. So we can expect to see those updated forms sooner or later. The forms will not impose more restrictions or conditions on home educators. They may have tweaked their expectations for an application - if any amendments are unreasonable, then we will respond appropriately and inform the home education community of any recommended actions also.
Education Sector Changes That DON'T Affect Us
It would be wise for families to reflect upon how they track their children's learning journey and progress - what evidence they could present if they had an ERO review - and consider whether there are any ways they might like to improve/tweak this. Further ideas and information to support this will likely be forthcoming from various parts of the home education sector, so look out for those.
NCHENZ will hopefully meet with incoming Education Minister/s as well as the MoE in the next few months. If you're not a NCHENZ member yet, join - it's free (though donations appreciated) - so you will receive the quarterly updates.
The work you are doing as you raise your children and guide their learning at home is precious and valuable! Be encouraged that no party is seeking to disrupt that; they only are interested in assuring themselves that they have evidence that our kids are being "taught at least as regularly and well as they would be in a registered school."