Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I rise to speak to the home education disallowance motion briefly. With many issues that come before this chamber I learn a lot in the process of the passage of legislation. I am one of the few members who has to be across every bill that comes before the house to vote on it; every vote is a conscious vote in many ways for me. This has been a really interesting one for me. When looking at the regulations on the surface they seem like a very sensible approach. We needed some regulation of homeschooling, and when you compared Victoria to the rest of Australia we seemed to have a very light touch on the regulation of homeschooling. But over the course of this year I have had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting many of the parents from the Home Education Network — and even some of their children this morning — and I have a far greater understanding of the reasons why people homeschool.
My sister and her partner are both teachers, and I spoke to them about homeschooling. I was expecting a very different response from them. I thought that they would be negative about it, but they said, ‘No, not every child fits in in school and not every child can work within the school structures’. But I do believe that we need some regulation here. The regulations that this disallowance motion goes to were raised with me a number of times by parents, and I sought reassurances from the minister’s office about this. I think their particular and principal fear is that the regulations as framed would compel a child to attend a school where that attendance is a source of bullying or mental health issues or other significant issues that have caused the parents to want to remove the children from school and that this would be difficult.
I want to read into Hansard how the minister responded to me on this:
… the period for considering an application for homeschooling has been extended from 14 days to 28 days to allow the VRQA sufficient time to assess an application that includes a learning plan. It is anticipated that the majority of applications will not require 28 days …
As is currently the case, it is completely understood that there may be situations where a parent would like to remove their child from school prior to receiving approval for homeschooling, this may be for reasons such as illness, stress, bullying, or other difficulties. In this situation, a parent should contact the principal to discuss the situation.
In these cases the child can be excused from school and homeschooling can start immediately while the registration is taking place. Principals are aware of their responsibilities in ensuring that in the case of a ‘reasonable excuse’ from parents, a child can be excused from attending school for a period of time.
The Home Education Network (HEN) was not satisfied with this. So we went back to the minister’s office to talk specifically around where the principal was not supportive of a child being removed. The minister’s office came back saying:
Where a parent requests that their child be excused from attendance at school and discussions with the principal have not led to a resolution, the department has a comprehensive parent complaint policy that provides for complaints relating to schools and principals to be addressed by the regional office, or central office, as appropriate.
They go on to say that if a child is experiencing mental health issues or bullying, that would be a reasonable excuse and the department would uphold that.
I was quite satisfied with the minister’s response, but I understand the parents’ continuing concern. I understand that the parents have a somewhat — you could call it — distrust of the department. I feel that the minister was quite unequivocal on this, but I do appreciate that the parents do not feel that they were properly consulted in this situation. While the parents themselves in their conversations with me have agreed that regulation is required in this area, these regulations are not the ones that are needed. The parents have not been consulted enough. They do not have great faith in the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) in assessing their curriculums. These regulations are onerous; the requirements are above and beyond those required, as Ms Bath mentioned, even of teachers and certainly of other schools, like Steiner schools, in preparing a year in advance a full year’s curriculum.
I have been really torn with this issue, because I think we do need regulation and I think that there are some areas where we are lacking in Victoria that other states have responded to in effective ways. On this issue I am giving the parents the benefit of the doubt and I am supporting the disallowance motion. I think these regulations do need to be considered. I would like to see the government go back to the parents and sit down with them and develop a series of regulations that can be supported by the Parliament, by the government, by the department and, most importantly, by the parents.