The Welsh government is failing in its legal duty to protect the rights of home-educated children a decade after a boy who was being taught by his parents slipped under the radar of education and health officials and died of scurvy, an official report has concluded.
Eight-year-old Dylan Seabridge lived in a secluded rural community in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, where he had not been seen by any agencies or services for seven years.
Since his death in 2011 there have been repeated calls for the Welsh government to introduce tighter regulation of home education, and successive administrations have said changes will be made.
But the children’s commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, said moves by ministers had been “too tentative, have lacked pace, and ultimately been ineffective in creating meaningful reform”.
Holland said: “It is absolutely vital for children in Wales that these issues are tackled with determination, clarity and transparency. We cannot look back in another decade to find that we as a country still have not moved forward.”
An official review of Dylan’s case published in 2016 concluded that the boy was “invisible” to the authorities and at that point called for changes to the law.
Dylan’s parents called 999 after he collapsed at home in December 2011. He had a cardiac arrest in an ambulance as he was taken to hospital and could not be saved.
A postmortem report said he had anaemia and some of his teeth were loose. It concluded that “these findings together are explicable through the effects of longstanding vitamin C deficiency (scurvy)”.
According to the children’s commissioner, other cases have emerged since Dylan’s death, including that of a group of home-schooled siblings from mid Wales who were subjected to severe physical and emotional abuse.
A report on their case published last year noted that the parents had been able to manipulate the rules to keep control over access to the children by outsiders. One of the children told investigators: “Education officers should come to the house.”
The commissioner concluded that the Welsh government “has not complied with its legal duties related to children’s rights” and made a series of recommendations including introducing legislation to ensure that all children in Wales can be seen and spoken to about their education by officials.
In addition the report called on the government to introduce tighter rules around safeguarding in independent schools in Wales.
There is no requirement for independent school staff to be registered with the Education Workforce Council (EWC) for Wales, the independent regulator for education staff. This means the EWC cannot intervene if concerns are raised about independent school teachers or learning support staff.
Last summer the government announced it had dropped plans for new legislation around home schooling, including plans to introduce a database of those educated at home, citing the impact of coronavirus on its workload.
A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We take the responsibility for protecting the rights of children receiving home education and those in independent schools extremely seriously.
“Both the first minister [Mark Drakeford] and the minister for education [Kirsty Williams] have expressed their disappointment that the government has been unable to progress this important planned work. In normal circumstances, work would have by now been nearing completion. However, we are not in normal circumstances and the government has had to fundamentally shift its focus.
“We have noted the findings in the review and will consider the report in detail before responding more formally.”