The Education Review Office (ERO) is the government department which reviews home educators. Up until 2009 home educating families were routinely reviewed every few years, however due to the high success rate (and cost cutting measures) reviews are now only carried out at the request of the Ministry of Education (MOE). In most cases what prompts a review is a complaint from a member of the public to MOE. The complainant is required to provide a case for the review and cite specific educational issues. If the complaint is considered valid, MOE will order ERO to conduct a review. MOE can also request that a review be carried out on an existing home educating family who have had an exemption application for a younger family member declined. If the family appeals the MOE decision to decline the application then MOE can request a review to see how the programme is going for the other children before making a decision on the current exemption application.
Two reviewers are always sent to do the review. A child cannot be reviewed within six months of receiving an exemption certificate.
This is the process for a review (information has been provided by MOE and ERO):
1. MOE will request that ERO undertake a review. If a complaint has prompted the request, ERO will receive a summary of the issue but they will not receive a copy of the complaint.
2. A reviewer will contact the home educating family to set a time for the review, usually this initial contact will be a phone call. A minimum of three weeks preparation time should be offered by the reviewer. The time the review takes will depend on the amount of evidence provided and the number of children being reviewed. Each review differs and can range from a few hours to a whole day.
3. An information pack will be sent to the family outlining the information the reviewers will be interested in. The questions sent to the family are to guide the process and will be answered through conversation with parents, looking at whatever the family has prepared for the reviewers, talking to the children, looking at learning resources, etc. Reviewers are not permitted to test the children and they will not physically gather evidence themselves, so they rely on the parents to provide all of the necessary evidence required in order to come to a solid conclusion. These are the types of questions the family might like to consider in preparing for the review:
- How would you describe your current home education programme?
- Has your programme changed from your original application to home educate? In what ways has it changed and why?
- How are you covering reading, writing, maths, science, social studies, arts, health and physical wellbeing, technology, etc? While the NZ curriculum subjects are not compulsory, the reviewers will most likely be looking for elements of each in your programme.
- What is your child’s daily programme?
- Does your child have any special education needs? How are these being met?
- How well does your curriculum cover essential learning areas, skills, attitudes, and values?
- How do you know the programme you are providing is the most appropriate?
- What are the most useful resources you have and how are they used?
- How are learning difficulties identified?
- How do you know your child is learning? How do you assess his/her work?
- How do you create a positive environment that enhances achievement?
- How do you use learning opportunities and resources in the community?
- What sort of educational, sporting, cultural, and recreational experiences does your child have both within the local and wider community?
- How well does the programme meet the requirement for regularity?
- How do you evaluate and improve your child’s programme?
4. The family may choose to provide additional information to the reviewers before they visit. Some reviewers may request this in their phone call to the family. In preparation for the review, the reviewers should have read the family’s exemption applications and any subsequent material provided by the family. The reviewers will also read previous ERO reports if the family has been reviewed in the past.
5. The review will be held. The reviewers may have an idea of “risks” in the family’s programme which they want to investigate. The reviewers will ask evaluative questions, the onus is entirely on the family to provide evidence to satisfy the reviewers. The reviewers will also be interested in:
- The child’s special education needs, if any
- The parents’ knowledge and understanding of their educational programme
- How well the programme is taught and managed
- Resources and reference materials utilised
- Use of the environment and the community
- The child’s social contact with other children
- Assessment and evaluation of the child’s learning progress and achievement
- Commitment to regularity
6. At the conclusion of the review, the reviewers will form an overall evaluative judgment as to whether the exempted student is taught at least as regularly and well as in a registered school. Before the reviewers leave they should give the family a tentative idea about the direction their decision is heading. They will base this on:
- Observation and discussion with the family
- Evidence of the child’s learning, progress and achievement according to the parent’s assessment and evaluation records
- Other documentation provided by the family
- The quality and effectiveness of the teaching and management of the approved programme
7. The reviewers will write a report with their findings, which at this stage is called an “unconfirmed report”. The reviewers are likely to make one of the following recommendations in the report:
- No changes needed to the family’s home education programme (passed the review)
- Some minor changes needed (which will be listed) but no follow-up review required
- Changes required to the family’s home education programme (which will be listed) and a follow-up review to be scheduled
- That the family’s exemptions be revoked by the Ministry of Education
8. The unconfirmed report will be forwarded to the family who will have 15 days to comment on it and provide any further information they feel has been missed. The unconfirmed report will change only if further evidence is provided by the family which changes the nature of the review or evidence gathered – this is the family’s last chance to change the outcome of the review and strong evidence would need to be provided to change the judgment of the reviewers. The reviewers are under no obligation to edit the report in light of the family’s comments on the unconfirmed report and would probably only do so if the new information substantially changed their judgments of the review. The review is still considered open until the report reaches “confirmed” status.
9. The report will then be confirmed and a copy will be sent to the family and to MOE.
10. Once MOE have received the report, and in the case of a negative or failed review, MOE will write to the family providing them with the opportunity to comment on the report. Even though the family will already have had the opportunity to comment to the reviewers on the report, they will still be given the opportunity to comment directly to MOE. In instances where the family indicates that they accept the findings of the ERO report and that they intend to address the relevant issues and have already started making changes, MOE may allow the exemption to continue and ask ERO to review the programme again in six months to check that improvement is evident.
11. MOE will consider the ERO report alongside any comments received from the parents. If the parental comment does not persuade MOE that the children will be taught “at least as regularly and well as in a registered school”, the certificates will be revoked and the parents will be advised of:
- the section of the Act under which the action is being taken [section 21(6)]
- the requirement to enrol at school within 14 days
- the requirement to inform the manager of the name of the school at which the child is enrolled
12. If the family fails to respond to MOE within 14 days advising the name of the school at which the child is then enrolled, a reminder letter warning the parent of the seriousness of failure to enrol their child in a registered school will be sent to the parents.
To make a complaint about an ERO review, see the complaints process on the Education Review Office website. If your complaint needs to be taken further, you can take it to the Ombudsman (see the process for complaining about a state sector agency here).
At a glance …
- Reviews are carried out by ERO at the request of MOE, usually prompted by a complaint
- The complainant is required to provide a case for the review and cite specific educational issues
- Once the review has been ordered by MOE, ERO will contact the family to arrange a day and time
- A minimum of three weeks preparation time should be offered by ERO
- Two reviewers do the review
- The children need to be available to answer questions by the reviewers
- Reviewers are not permitted to test the children
- The onus is entirely on the family to provide evidence to satisfy the reviewers that the children are being educated “as regularly and well as in a registered school”
- It is very difficult to challenge a negative review so it is vital to prepare well
- The reviewers will reach a conclusion and write a report on their findings for MOE
- The family will be invited to comment on the report before it goes to MOE, but ERO are not required to make any changes to the report in light of the family’s comments
- If ERO finds that the children are not being educated “as regularly and well as in a registered school” then MOE may decide to revoke the exemptions
- If exemptions are revoked then the children will be legally required to be enrolled in a school within 14 days