Monica O’Connor is the mother of 6 children who were and some are still home educated. They live in Ireland where parents are free to provide this education in their homes according to the article 42 of the Constitution.
If the State can’t oblige parents « in violation of their conscience and lawful preference » to send their children to any kind of schools, the State, « as guardian of the common good » has control over a certain minimum education which must receive each child.
The Collect’IEF : Could you explain what changed since the Welfare Act in 2000 ?
Monica O’Connor : The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 states that the National Education Welfare Board has to keep a register of those not in recognised schools (Steiner, home educated, etc)
They require parents to apply and have an authorised person meet the parent to explain what educational provision a parent plans to make for each child. They can accept that what a parent proposes meets a “certain minimum education” or they can request a “comprehensive assessment” where they meet the child and watch the parent “teach”. They are also allowed in the law to do “ongoing monitoring and assessment” where they visit a registered child at an interval (often, every 2 years, but maybe every 6 months) to check on progress.
To us this seems to take away the Constitutionally protected right of parents to provide their child’s education. We now have to ASK FOR PERMISSION.
The Collect’IEF : Why did the Ireland government decide to make these modifications ?
Monica O’Connnor : We think that the people drafting the law thought “who is not in school?”
They decided to put truants… children and young people whose parents have enrolled them in school but they won’t attend… and home educators in the same law. That always seemed unfair.
There had been no case of neglect hidden by parents pretending to home educate.
The Collect’IEF : Do you know how many families in Ireland home educate their children and how many don’t apply for the necessary assessment to educate them ? Are there some others parents who get trouble with the administration ?
Monica O’Connor : There are approximately 800 children registered as receiving home education. Some estimate the true figure is probably nearly 5,000.
It’s hard to judge. In Ireland, many children begin school at 4 years of age. If you are home educating, you apply after the child is 6 years of age. There is a “free pre-school year” for children aged between 3 and 4 and 92% of children are enrolled in this. ( It used to be a direct payment to families but this was taken away, with the excuse that it would fund pre-school.)
The Home Education Network has about 140 families as members. Perhaps half of these are not registered. There is a group called Home Education Ireland (HEI) .. They advise parents to accept assessment, as they don’t want to encourage civil disobedience. But they tell members to resist Ongoing Monitoring and are campaigning to have changes made to this part of the “Guidelines on the Assessment of Education in Places other than Recognised Schools” which the NEWB drafted after the law was enacted. (Note: the NEWB ceased to exist in January 2014 and was replaced by the Education Welfare Services (EWS) of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) or TUSLA.
The Collect’IEF : Why did you decide not to apply the assessment ? You did it before 2012 (?)
Monica O’Connor : We did not apply for assessment as we should not have to ask permission for a Constitutional right. We did send the NEWB a form in 2007 to state we promised to give our children a “certain minimum education”. We have no issue with registering as home educators and being supported by the Department of Education. We do have a problem with the registration being denied to families if the NEWB/EWS are unhappy with a family’s assessment.
We NEVER had our own children’s educational provision assessed. (Our children were born in 1986, 1993, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2008). We did go through the assessment process for a 15 year old foster child (as we are not her parents) and that was done in October 2011 and the educational provision was approved and her name was added to the register in January 2012.
The NEWB kept writing to ask us to apply for assessment. When we made it clear we would not, they sent us School Attendance Notices to compel us to send our then 12 year old son, Oran, and 9 year old daughter, Elva, to local schools. When we did not send the children to school, we were sent summons to attend the Carlow District Court and after appearing in court in March and May 2013, we were convicted on June 6th 2013 and December 11th 2013 of “failing to cause” the 2 children to attend school. The penalty was to pay fines, €2,000 from June and €1,300 from December. The prison sentence came from not paying the fines.
The Collect’IEF : We read in the Irish Mirror that « you were guilty of not sending two of [your children] to local schools on and since, November 14, 2012. » How could you explain this delay ?
Monica O’Connor : Justice moves slowly!
The Collect’IEF : Two gardai came to your home. Did they talk to you during the ride ? Why have you been released in the same day ? It’s so surrealistic ! And so far away from the idea of a democracy !
Monica O’Connor : Yes, they talked during the journey. I was afraid they were annoyed about the media coverage so stayed very quiet at first and prayed! But then we all talked about our families!
I was released the same day because the jail has 120 inmates when it was built for 80 so there is no room. Also, there is a tradition now that for non-payment of fines, people are kept in jail for a couple of hours and released.
The Collect’IEF : Did your husband go to jail too ?
Monica O’Connor : Yes, Eddie went to jail on October 11th 2014, to the Midlands Prison. He was arrested at 9.30am and released from the jail around 12.30pm.
The Collect’IEF : How do you feel today ? What happened next ?
Monica O’Connor : I am angry that our family was attacked. I am outraged that I was arrested when other (real) criminals are free.
We do not know what will happen next. Our children continue to learn at home. Another family are in court in December for a similar situation so perhaps the authorities are waiting to see the outcome of that case.
The Collect’IEF : In France some families consider that they don’t have to register and justify why they have chosen home education for their children. Do you think it could be possible for all these families to act together in order to address to the European Court of Human Rights ?
Monica O’Connor : The idea of a group of families going to the European Court of Human Rights is a possibility. For us, we need to decide if we want to spend our children’s childhoods fighting an unjust system. It takes such a long time to get a decision in court (and costs so much money).
Version française à venir.