August 28, 2014

New Zealand jails are full of people who went to school not people who were home-educated

To:    Social Services Select Committee

Re:    Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill

Dear Members of the Committee,

In New Zealand we are very fortunate to have freedom of choice regarding the education of our children. We have been given the right to home-educate under the Education Act 1989. I am greatly distressed that this right will be taken away by virtue of a family needing financial assistance from the government in the form of a social welfare benefit. This is what the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill does.

Home-education generally starts well before a child is old enough to enrol in school and generally follows an unstructured, child-directed format. Compulsory attendance in WINZ approved early childhood education removes beneficiaries’ rights to home-educate in the same way that enrolment in a registered school does.

Passing this Bill will move the decision-making authority regarding education from the parents to the State, in the form of WINZ staff, simply because the financial circumstances of the family have changed. These staff, who may not even have children themselves, do not have the training or life experiences to realise the significant benefits of home-education or the strength and closeness of family relationships it creates, yet they will have the power to cut benefits by 50% for home-educators who do not adhere to the requirements of the Bill.

Home-educating families have such a low risk and incidence of abusing or neglecting their children’s needs especially for education that the Education Review Office has stopped regular reviews of home-educators so that it can redirect its resources to the many school that are failing to meet their obligations to their students. Therefore there is no justification for restricting the freedom of decision-making and rights regarding educational choices of home-educating families.

If a home-educating family has a change of financial circumstance which requires assistance via a benefit it is often as the result of the death or loss of employment of the income-earning parent. Significant loss of employment has occurred due to the Christchurch earthquakes and the Global Financial Crisis.  I know of several families where cancer has taken a parent. All these circumstances are hugely stressful and sometimes traumatic for the whole family. Insisting that children experiencing these circumstances also undergo the dramatic adjustments required in transferring to school ignores the emotional needs of these children. It adds upheaval and upset to their lives and isolates them from the very people who are most able to comfort them at such a time.

New Zealand jails are full of people who went to school not people who were home-educated. Home-education has such a proven track record regarding academic achievement and development of social skills that removing it as an option for beneficiaries will reduce the quality of education available to beneficiaries while increasing the cost to the Government. The Government pays a maximum of $744 pa for a home-educated child and a minimum of $1 000 pa for a child educated in a registered school.

I urge you to reconsider the objectives of the Bill and rewrite it to achieve those objectives without removing New Zealanders’ rights to home-educate in the best way they see fit.

Yours Sincerely