Have you have received notice from ERO that you are going to be reviewed? Make sure you are prepared – know your rights and the procedure ERO needs to follow when conducting a review and read the information below.
Remember that it is the Ministry of Education (MOE) which orders a review, and the Education Review Office (ERO) which conducts the review and reports the findings back to MOE.
Your initial contact regarding a review will most likely be a phone call from ERO. We recommend as a first step, before you set a review date with ERO, that you ask for the documentation which outlines the reason for the review (ie. the letter of complaint). You will need to get this from MOE, and you have a right to delay the review until you have seen the complaint. This will enable you to ensure the reason for the review is valid and that the appropriate procedures are being followed by both MOE and ERO. You are entitled to see the letter of complaint (or other documentation) under the Privacy Act, because it is information about yourself and your children – though do expect to see identifying information about the complainant blacked out. If you feel that there are not valid grounds for the review – perhaps the complaint was not made in writing, or the complaint is generalised rather than citing specific educational issues – you could consider challenging the decision to review your family. This has been successfully done in the past and the decision to review subsequently withdrawn.
Setting a time and place:
Once you are satisfied that MOE have followed the correct protocols in requesting ERO carry out a review, you will need to set a date and location to meet with the two reviewers who will conduct the review. There is no obligation for you to hold the review in your own home, though that may be the most convenient location for you. However, if you feel that you may be judged negatively on your living situation then insist that the review is held elsewhere such as at ERO’s office. The time that the review is held will be negotiated with you based on EROs schedule and your needs in gathering the necessary information required for the review. ERO should give you at least three weeks to prepare for the review. If timing is an issue and the reviewer is not considering your needs, ask to be transferred to the Area Manager of your region and make a complaint. You will need time to prepare and three weeks is reasonable.
ERO’s information pack:
You will receive a letter and information pack from ERO once the review date and time has been set. This will describe the process and outline the type of questions the reviewers will ask, etc. See No 3 on the ERO procedure page for a list of questions to guide you in your preparations. You may choose to provide further information about your home education programme before the review.
The most common comment we hear from home educators who have been reviewed is that they didn’t prepare well enough. Remember that the onus is entirely on you to provide the evidence to satisfy the reviewers that your children are receiving an education on a par with a registered school. The reviewers will not do the work to understand your programme, the responsibility lies entirely with you. ERO will want to see evidence of your children’s engagement in their home education programme, that they are progressing, and that your children are being extended. The reviewers should have a broad view of what constitutes evidence – learning stories, annotated photos, journals, diary entries, conversations with the child, electronic records, DVDs, etc. Unfortunately they will not just “take your word for it”. Keep in mind that the reviewers come from educational backgrounds and they are likely to put a focus on literacy and numeracy skills – if these are not part of your current programme then sound evidence will need to be provided as to why not and when they will be incorporated. Have confidence in your approach and arm yourself with research and studies to back up your chosen home education philosophy. Make sure you outline how and why your programme has changed since your original application for exemption.
It is imperative that you connect with other home educators in your community who have been reviewed before, or post your questions on one of the online networking groups. Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed at being reviewed. We strongly recommend that you have at least one support person at the review. Many regional networking groups will provide support and have great experience to draw upon. A support person can help you prepare, be a witness to the conversations during the review, take notes, assist you in answering the reviewers questions, etc. It can be a good idea to record the review using a dictaphone or other recording device. You might also have additional people present to assist with the children.
The amount of 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. The children being reviewed must be present. The reviewers are not permitted to ‘test’ the children but they will want to speak with them – they’ll ask the children questions such as: What are you learning about? What are you reading? What have you enjoyed? What are you most proud of? What are you excited about? … questions to encourage the children to share rather than be tested. You might want to talk over these types of questions with your children before the review and have some books or other materials on hand for them to discuss with the reviewers. Make sure you have an adult present at all times to support the children when the reviewers are talking to them, it’s important that you know what the reviewers are asking them and that there is a witness to all of the conversations during the review.
After the review:
If the review ends and you need further time to finish presenting your material and evidence, then request another meeting. At the end of the review the reviewers will give you a tentative idea about the direction their decision is heading. It is their job to make a decision on the children’s programme, based on the evidence that you have provided, and decide whether or not that programme fits the definition of “as regular and as well as a registered school”. As you are presenting all of the evidence, consider that the outcome of the review is in your control. If the reviewers give you the impression that they are not satisfied with the material you have presented, provide more evidence. You can impact the outcome of the review right up to the point that the “confirmed report” is sent by the reviewers to MOE.
It is very difficult and time-consuming to challenge a negative or failed review. Your best opportunity is during the review itself – which is why it is so important to check that the reasons for the review are valid in the first place, then to prepare well for the review, to understand EROs own protocols, and to have support people with you on the day of the review.
If you are unhappy with the review findings then the next stage is ERO’s complaints procedure.