|Darren Millar AC|
|Hefin David AC|
|John Griffiths AC|
|Julie Morgan AC|
|Lynne Neagle AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Llyr Gruffydd AC|
|Mark Reckless AC|
|Michelle Brown AC|
|Carla Lyne||Cyfarwyddwr Gweithrediadau, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director of Operations, Welsh Government|
|Kirsty Williams AC||Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg|
|Cabinet Secretary for Education|
|Steve Vincent||Diprwy Gyfarwyddwr yr Is-adran Effeithiolrwydd Ysgolion, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director Schools Effectiveness Division, Welsh Government|
|Gareth Rogers||Ail Glerc|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|2. Sesiwn Graffu gydag Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg||2. Scrutiny Session with the Cabinet Secretary for Education|
|3. Papurau i’w Nodi||3. Papers to Note|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod a'r Cyfarfod ar 4 Gorffennaf||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting and the Meeting on 4 July|
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:02.
The meeting began at 09:02.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've received no apologies for absence. Can I ask Members for any declarations of interest, please? No, okay. Thank you very much.
Item 2 this morning, then, is a scrutiny session with the Cabinet Secretary for Education. I'm very pleased to welcome Kirsty Williams, Assembly Member, Cabinet Secretary for Education, also Carla Lyne, who is director of operations, and Steve Vincent, who is deputy director of the schools effectiveness division. Thank you, Cabinet Secretary and officials for attending, and for the paper that you provided in advance of the meeting. If you're happy, we'll go straight into questions, and the first questions are from John Griffiths.
Thank you, Chair. Cabinet Secretary, could I ask you some questions on reducing infant class sizes and the use of the £36 million, and, firstly, the distribution of the 80 new teachers? How many schools will those 80 teachers be distributed across, following approval of the local authorities' applications for the £16 million revenue element of that £36 million?
So, there are 87 teachers, and they're spread across 84 schools, and all 22 local authorities have submitted revenue bids, which have been approved. So, those are 84 schools spread across Wales.
And there's a sort of even distribution of teachers, then, is there?
Yes, as I said, each local authority has submitted a bid, which has been successful in meeting the criteria of the grant. They've identified those schools that will benefit from those extra teachers. So, the allocation is evenly spread and reflects indicative allocations that we would expect for local authorities of those sizes. There has been slightly less take-up for the capital element of the grant, so not all 22 local authorities have bid for capital.
Could I ask, then, as I understand it, five local authorities didn't apply for that £20 million capital element. Which five are those?
The Vale of Glamorgan, Torfaen, Monmouthshire, Denbighshire and Anglesey.
And are you satisfied that there were good reasons why they didn't apply? Is there not a need for additional classroom space in schools in those local authority areas in order to reduce class sizes?
There are a number of elements that could have affected a decision by a local authority not to apply for the capital element. It could be that in the schools that they were looking to place additional teachers, there may have already been space within that school building that was appropriate and could be used, and therefore they don't need the capital element to be able to achieve the aims of the grant. There could have been, in some cases, some physical constraints on actually where you would put additional buildings on school grounds, but I'm satisfied that the local authorities have identified the schools that fit the criteria of the grant, because we're being quite strict in terms of grant criteria about where these additional resources can be applied. So, it's perfectly reasonable that a local authority will have identified schools that don't actually need the capital element to fulfil their expectations and their aspirations.
It is, yes. I just wanted to ask: is that capital underspend going to be reinvested, then, elsewhere in your portfolio, if it's not going to be drawn down?
Well, obviously, if there are underspends in any of the areas of the budget, then we look to deploy that as quickly as we can. Last year, you'll be aware that we were able to identify some underspend in the budget towards the end of the financial year, and we were able to deploy that to address issues around small-scale maintenance costs in all of our schools in Wales. So, yes, we would look to—if it's not used for this programme, we would look to deploy it against capital expenditure in a range of capital programmes that we've got, everything from the large-scale twenty-first century schools project to our capital investment in Welsh-medium schools. Or you'll be aware of our intentions to look at developing community hubs in schools, so we can look to deploy those resources elsewhere within the capital spend of the education department.
And of the £16 million revenue you've allocated, what was the total size of the bids that came in? Were people asking for £18 million, and you were only able to allocate £16 million because that was in your budget?
No. The allocations—the bids that came in matched the allocations.
They matched precisely £16 million, did they? I find that astonishing.
I haven't got the figures on the actual—[Inaudible.]—mismatch, but it wasn't a great variation.
I just had one other question as well: how sustainable is this? If you're giving £16 million in revenue funding, and then that revenue funding comes to an end, that's going to completely reverse the impact of your policy objective being met, isn't it?
What we've outlined is our intention to fund this programme through to the end of this Government's term.
Okay. So, you don't care about it beyond—well, obviously, you may not be part of the next Government. I understand that—
With all due respect, Darren, I can only make decisions about a period of time that I potentially do this job.
No. Darren, within the confines of the fact that governments last for specific terms—being able to give a commitment to this funding over the term of this Government—it would be slightly fanciful if I was to say that this funding would exist beyond the term of this Government. But I'm grateful, Darren, that you're so confident that I'll be back in this job in the next Assembly Government. I'm very grateful for your confidence.
I think what I find astonishing is that I seem to remember when you were in opposition you were pretty hot on wanting to make sure that sustainable changes were being put into public services that were going to deal with problems in perpetuity. Here, you seem to be just throwing cash—and whether it's a good use of cash is another matter—at revenue funding, which will deal with the problem for a few years, meaning that people can't make permanent appointments in order to deal with the staff-pupil ratios, and that it's just kicking a problem down the road.
Darren, if that money had only been guaranteed for a single year, I think that would be a fair criticism. We have been quite clear to all the local authorities that that money and this programme of class-size reduction—a programme I know that you don't believe in—will be available for the longevity of this administration. That is the maximum amount of commitment that I am credibly able to give. It simply would not be credible to bind future administrations to this policy. I am convinced by the international research evidence that cutting class sizes matters. It particularly matters for a certain cohort of our population—a cohort in our population that we know we need to do more to raise their educational standards—and I've given a commitment, for the length of this Parliament, to prioritise those children. If an incoming Conservative Cabinet Secretary for Education wants to get rid of that money, that would be a matter for them and they would have to justify that.
I'm surprised that you make that assertion because, of course, I've welcomed the cash and the aim of reducing class sizes, but I'm just concerned about the fact that you appear to be investing in unsustainable ways of reducing class sizes, rather than the more sustainable, which might be the capital investment side of things. So, £16 million allocated—we don't know how that matches directly with the applications that came in. You said that you wanted to target certain cohorts. There's no evidence in your paper as to which particular—how you've allocated the cash, which I think is why you're facing some questions today. So, can you tell us, given that you've got this particular type of pupil, as you've referred to, who would benefit the most from reducing class sizes, how you've allocated the cash in accordance with targeting it at those pupils and what evidence you can provide us that that has been the case?
Okay. Well, I'm very happy to supply to the committee the terms and conditions of the grant that the local authorities were asked to apply for, if that is helpful. We've been absolutely clear from the start of launching the priority that the criteria for the funding is, first of all, infant class sizes, because we know, from international evidence, that it is younger pupils who benefit the most.
So, we've looked to target infant class sizes of 29 or more so that we can bring those numbers down. Those classes are in schools that have at least one or a combination of the following factors: high levels of entitlement to free school meals; high levels of additional learning need; below average outcomes and a score categorisation of red or amber; or classes where we have significant numbers of children for whom English or Welsh is not their first language. And the reason why we have put those criteria into the grant is because we know, from international research, that that is where we will get the biggest impact on learner outcomes for this expenditure. It also aligns with other policy initiatives. We know that class sizes alone will not transform the educational chances of these children, so that's why it aligns with our additional learning need transformation programme and our new legislation, as well as the pupil development grant. So, there is an alignment of this policy with looking at enhancing and raising standards for those children. So, those are the criteria, Darren, that local authorities have to submit their bids to.
We'll go back to John, now, because it was a supplementary that you were meant to ask. John.
Yes. One further question from me on the capital element, Cabinet Secretary. The 17 local authorities that apply and the 37 schools that will receive allocations, is it evenly spread in terms of the number of schools in each of the 17 local authorities?
The size of the allocations—there is some variety. For some schools, to be able to facilitate the cutting of class sizes, they've needed a small allocation because it may be a single classroom that they need to be able to reduce. For some schools, it's been a larger allocation, because, actually, they've needed more space, so, for instance, there's one school in Wrexham that has received a considerable grant because it is looking to create four new classrooms within their building. So, again, it's not one size fits all, it's about the local authorities identifying their schools and their cohorts that can benefit from the funding and, therefore, allocating that funding accordingly, depending on the individual circumstances of the schools. So, for some schools, as I said, it's one single classroom or a smaller refurbishment project; for one school in Wrexham, it's four new classrooms, because the school is in an area of rising demand and it meets the criteria of the grant.
Okay, and I'm sure you could give us a note on that spread of allocation.
Yes, we can give you a breakdown. We launched the programme in Awel y Môr, in Sandfields estate in Swansea, and I'm not sure Members are familiar with it, because it's not in your regions. The free school meal population of that school is way above the national average. It's a significant area of disadvantage, but there's also a growing cohort in that school. Those children will now be taught in a class of 20 each in the reception class, and this resource has allowed Mr Greasley, who's the headteacher at that school, to be able to bring in specialist teachers to address issues around speech and communication and behaviour. So, that's a perfect example of what we've been able to achieve with that grant, because he will be able to give those very young students, coming into his school with significant challenges around speech and language development—and where they're starting their educational journey from is reflective of the deprived community in which those children live—he's able to give them that smaller class with a specialist teacher with the additional skills to really begin those children's educational journey on a positive note.
Just one final question. How many infant class pupils do you expect to still be in a class of more than 25 by the time that you've completed this investment?
Well, Darren, my aspiration would be to have smaller class sizes across Wales, but I have to work within the confines of the resources that are available to me. So, this, for me, is just the beginning of what I would hope, finances willing, could be a much larger project. The reason that we can't do that, I'll be honest, is because we just simply do not have the resources to be able to reduce all class sizes. So, we've had to look at the international evidence that says if you're going to invest money in a class-size reduction programme, where are you going to get the biggest impact—
That's not quite what I asked, though, is it, Cabinet Secretary? I'm asking: how many do you estimate—you must have some figures in your department—will still be in class sizes of over 25, even post all of this investment, this £36 million?
I appreciate you haven't allocated some of the capital yet, but in terms of the cash that's already been allocated, how many do you expect to still be educated in class sizes of over 25?
We do know that there are some schools that will have larger class sizes than we would like. Some of that is on the basis of permitted numbers, some would be outside where we would like them to be. We will continue to monitor, and I will supply the committee with figures, but I don't have anything to hand to say how many there will be, but pupil level annual school census data would be able to give us the analysis that Darren is asking for. But we cannot, because of the confines of the budget, move to an immediate situation where we can cut class sizes for every child. That's why we have criteria around the grant that actually reflect where we know we need to start first to get the biggest impact for that investment.
Okay. Thank you very much. I've got a question about summer-born children, because the committee has had quite a few representations, including a letter just yesterday, about the challenges facing summer-born children, which have highlighted to the committee the need to maybe change the school admissions code so that children can be admitted to school at the age of five, but in the reception year, rather than the option at the moment, which is just to delay starting school until they're five, but they would have to go into year 1. The committee understands that this has been changed in England and is also something that is being addressed in Scotland. What is your view on the position, and have you got any plans to change the admissions code in order to address the challenges facing summer-born children?
My expectation, Chair, would be that local authorities should follow the guidance that already exists in the schools admissions code. So, the current status quo, the current position would be that the code is clear that admissions authorities should consider requests for admissions outside the normal age group very carefully, and make a decision on individual children's needs and what is best for those children. So, the code already allows for flexibility in this regard, and our expectation would be that local authorities would take what's written in the code seriously, and look to apply it consistently and fairly.
With regard to the evidence around changes to admissions, there's not a huge amount of evidence, I should say, that delayed admissions improve outcomes for summer-born children. I think sometimes we're conflating summer-born children with perhaps a child that has additional learning needs or other issues. So, we need to understand and unpick some of the anxieties that parents have, and clearly those are real concerns, those are real worries, and it's highly emotive, but sometimes I think we need to be clear about whether we're talking about worries about inadequate support for additional learning needs as opposed to necessarily schools admissions. However, having said all of that, it is our intention to review the admissions code in the autumn term.
Okay, I think that's welcome. In doing so, then, will you be looking at whether local authorities are actually exercising their discretion to make decisions in the best interests of the child? Because the committee has had representations to say that that's not the case at the moment.
Yes, indeed. So, when reviewing the code it is my intention to have a public consultation on whether there should be changes to the admissions code, and so there will be opportunities for the committee, but also opportunities for individual parents or campaign groups, to be able to feed in their experiences and obviously we can test that with the local authorities. So, as I said, the intention is to do that in the autumn term, but it will also provide us with an opportunity to really understand the nature of some of those concerns, and as you said, I am worried—with the existing code already giving flexibility to local authorities, our expectation would be that they would follow that code. So, those examples where that is not the case, well, obviously we would need to explore that and see what more we could do in a potential revision to the code to try and make that more robust.
Yes, on the code, I presume therefore that that'll be an opportunity to look again at issues such as the one that's arisen recently in Wrexham, where two children from the same family had to go to different schools, because they haven't been able to get a place in a Welsh-medium school. So, there was actually a petition by 500 people presented to the local authority. It wasn't considered, but the suggestion therefore is that, if there is going to be a consultation in the autumn, there'll be an opportunity for those people, for example, to feed into that.
Of course there's an opportunity, but again, there is flexibility, and one of the reasons why you have designated exceptions to the rule around 30 in an infant class size is to try and be flexible in those circumstances. Because, clearly, that's a terrible position to be placed in as a parent—very, very challenging. So, that's why sometimes you do have exceptions to the class size that have been granted by local authorities to schools to allow those situations to be taken into account. But, yes, this is an opportunity to revise and to look at a number of issues around schools admissions that people may have concerns about, and for us to see whether the current system is working. The evidence in your letter, from that particular parent's point of view, was that it's not working, but this gives us an opportunity to look at that and to review that and act accordingly.
Okay. Well, I'm sure that the committee welcomes this review and would be grateful if you could keep us updated on that.
We're going to go on now to some questions on this school organisation code. Darren.
Cabinet Secretary, you'll be aware that many parts of Wales are really looking forward to the introduction of the new school organisation code. There are some local authorities who appear to be doing what they can to get some reorganisation through before the new code comes into force. And, obviously, there is a debate about the extent to which more schools need to be incorporated within the list that you've published in the draft code, and to be designated as rural schools. Can you give us an update in terms of where things are at, and what your view is on how long that list is going to be, given that, at the moment, I think you've got it on 191? If we use the English model, it would be on 584 schools, but I think you're aiming for somewhere in between. Where in between are you aiming for?
Well, the consultation. First of all, we have to have lists because if we're going to have a presumption against the closure of rural schools contained within the code, then that requires us to create a definition and a list of what those schools are.
We went out to consultation on a certain designation, and Darren is absolutely right that that would include 191 schools on the list. Those schools are situated in 10 of our local authorities, and that's of no surprise to Members that you would have that geographically limited, given the nature of the country. As a result of the consultation, some people have made representations that we could use a slightly broader definition and a different category—an additional statistical category. It's a consultation, and therefore I want to respond positively to the representations that have been made.
Expanding the list to include a further designation would look to add another 28 schools to the list. So, that would be 219 in total, representing just over 17 per cent of Welsh schools. Twenty of those that would be added to the list—20 out of the 28—would be in the original 10 local authorities, so it just expands the number of schools in those local authorities that would be on the list. However, the remaining eight schools would be in other local authorities, and that's what's necessitated having to go back out to consultation, because there would have been local authorities that looked at the first consultation and thought, 'We don't need to worry about that because we're not on the list.' Suddenly, they would have schools that were in their local authority that now would be included on the list, and the advice was that we needed to go back out to another consultation with regard to that. So, there would be eight other schools that were not included that were in local authorities not covered by the first consultation, and those include Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan, but perhaps it would have been counterintuitive to think of those counties and then to think that there were no schools in those counties that would have been covered by this.
Absolutely. I welcome the extension of the list. You will know that there is a great deal of concern in some parts of Wales that there are schools on the list in your draft consultation that face the prospect of closure currently because of reorganisation going on in those local authority areas. But when you've been asked about this situation in the Assembly Chamber, you've said that you expect local authorities to abide by the spirit of the new code and that the list is going to be extended, not reduced. Can you tell us what you expect local authorities to do in the interim before this code comes into force, which presumably will be next year now?
Although we are in a position to lay the Order now, because of summer recess and the Standing Orders, we cannot comply with Standing Orders if we were to lay the Order now. So, although we're in a position to move forward, because of the 40-day rule of sitting, we're not in a position, unfortunately, to lay it before the summer recess. It's ready to go, so our intention is to lay it as quickly as we can in the new term to be compliant with the Standing Order requirements of the institution.
The code is not retrospective, so the proposals that are being considered now have to be considered under the current code, but I have been clear, as you've said, Darren, that my expectation would be to local authorities—. The direction of travel in policy is very clear from Welsh Government. It's very clear indeed. And I would have hoped that local authorities, seeing what the Government's intention is, would look to work within the spirit of that new code, but, legally, they are perfectly within their right to judge any proposals under the current code, which is what we have at the moment. I think the other thing to say is that the code does not mean that no rural school will ever be subject to closure—to a consultation on closure, or a closure. What the new presumption does is set a new expectation that local authorities should work on that basis and demonstrate that any case for closure of a rural school is really strong, really robust, and that they can demonstrate that they have exhausted all other options when looking to maintain education within a particular community. And, as I said, although current proposals need to be judged under the current code, I would hope that local authorities, knowing where the direction of travel is, would take that into account when looking at their policies.
It's obviously been quite a long time since the draft code was published. Why has it taken quite so long to get to this stage so that you've missed this window to be able to table the code this year? We're talking days, presumably, in terms of your ability to hit the window.
It is really unfortunate that we have not been able to do what I initially intended to do, which is to lay the code this summer. As I said, it is a result of wanting to respond positively to the representations made within the consultation and advice that I was given that, because new local authorities would be caught by this rule, it was best practice to go back out to consultation in that regard. So, it's frustrating for me because I wanted to get the code laid before the summer recess, but I also wanted to respond positively to the consultation. So, I could have done the code, if we'd ignored the consultation and just proceeded in the initial way, and that would have solved this particular dilemma because we could have laid the code now. But, in wanting to respond positively, and to do that in the proper spirit of co-operation with local government, and being fair, open-minded and consulting properly, we have had to go out to another period of consultation.
But it is over a year since the draft code was published. There's been plenty of time, frankly, to do two consultations and analyse the results of the first one. Can you tell us what else is new that is going to go into this code, given that you've got a draft Order that you want to publish? So, in addition to the change on the numbers in the list.
The draft code will predominantly deal with the issue of presumption against closure and the creation of the list of rural schools. But we're also taking the opportunity to strengthen the code with regard to having due regard and—I can't think of the right word I'm looking for—but to have due regard for the Welsh in education strategic plans, the WESPs. So, actually, we're using the code as an opportunity as well to say 'Well, when you're considering your school organisation, you have to be mindful of what is contained within your WESP with regard to access to Welsh medium. So, we're also taking that opportunity.
Okay. And just on finances, if I may, obviously you allocated £2.5 million for rural schools—the rural and small schools grant. It wasn't clear when you allocated that cash whether it was over a two-year period or a 12-month period, or whether it was going to be a recurring fund. Can you clarify the situation in terms of that funding for us, and also tell us what has that been invested in, in a practical sense to date?
Okay. So, the aims of the grant are to address some of the main issues faced by small and rural schools, to ensure that standards in small and rural schools are maintained or enhanced. So, the grant criteria are to encourage innovation, support greater school-to-school working, which can be really challenging if you're in a very small school with a very small number of staff—your opportunity to get out and work with other schools is limited—and to support federation. It's also to provide administrative support to heads that have a big teaching responsibility within a small school as well as a leadership responsibility, to alleviate some of that pressure.
So, the money has been allocated to all but one local authority, which was not successful in submitting a grant application to meet the criteria of the grant. That is Swansea council. But all other local authorities that were eligible have been successful in submitting the grant. The number of projects is wide ranging. So, for instance, in my own constituency, we have the Rhayader cluster programme, which looks to support the small rural schools with administrative burdens in that particular area. So, there is a wide range of projects. If Members are interested in seeing the details of the projects, those can be supplied. But all local authorities that could have applied for the grant have done so successfully, with the one exception.
Okay. And obviously, this package of measures—I assume that this is what forms your national strategy for small and rural schools. There was some reference to this in the Plenary statement you made back in November 2016. I don't think I've ever seen a document called 'the national strategy'. Is there such a document?
That's currently being worked out. So, we have 'Education in Wales: Our national mission', which is the overarching strategic document for education during the term of this Assembly. Underlying that, we hope to have a series of specific policies, where we're bringing together in a coherent whole what's being done in those particular areas. So, we've had the Welsh-medium plan published, and we are looking to draw together a document that encompasses all that we're doing to support rural education. And we're hoping to have that published in the autumn term.
Could you tell us how many schools in Wales are currently without superfast broadband? You gave us a bit of an update a while ago in the Chamber; I'm just wondering whether there's any further progress.
Okay. So, the Learning in Digital Wales programme looks to support the delivery of services to schools, and the purpose of the money that has been available to improve broadband connectivity is to ensure that there is sufficient core infrastructure in place to deliver those speeds to every school. There are currently 96 schools across Wales where work is under way to deliver new fibre services to those schools. Progress at those schools is well under way, and we are confident that there are workable solutions, and orders have been placed. There are 11 schools—11 schools—that face particular challenges in the upgrade, and I can confirm that, of those 11, which are particularly challenging, fibre services are being progressed in 10 of them. So, we have a single school where, at the moment, we are still having to try and work out what the solution is, because the costs of supplying fibre to that school—which is a very, very small school—it's not a financially viable solution to put fibre in. That school is Llanychllwydog school in Pembrokeshire. If Members would care to Google Maps it, as I have done myself, you will see that it is a very small school. I think, if I'm right in saying, there are less than 30 pupils in the school. It's a very, very small school, very isolated; the general infrastructure to that part of Wales is very poor. And, therefore, we're continuing to have to look to see what other solutions we can put in place for that school, because it's simply not viable to spend—I think we were quoted in excess of £200,000 to get fibre to that school. And when you consider that, I think, there might even be less than 25 children in the school, it's just not viable to do it that way. So, we're currently looking at what we can do alternatively to address that school.
Okay. For the others that you mentioned, then, presumably you expect that work to be completed by a certain time. I think the funding is available for the last financial year and this financial year, if I'm right.
So, do you expect all of that work to be done by the end of the financial year?
We are hopeful that we can be in that position. I mean, we are sometimes in the hands of engineering, and sometimes a problem arises. But we are confident that we are making real progress and we've identified solutions. Orders have been placed. It's that one school where we are continuing to have to have discussions about what is an alternative to fibre. So, yes, I'm confident that we can get there.
Okay, thank you. It was interesting to see in your paper that whilst we think we've sorted the problem by getting broadband to the school, then you realise, of course, that many of the schools don't have the adequate infrastructure to be able to use that effectively or to its full capacity. I think you said around 20 per cent of schools are failing in that respect. So, what are you going to do about it?
So, with a little bit of naivety, I thought that if we fix the gubbins, to use the technical term, outside the school, then that would solve our problems. What I continue to have, as I've travelled around Wales, is schools continuing to report to me issues around IT infrastructure. I would come back to officials and I would say, 'Hang on a minute, we've spent a lot of money; why are we still having these issues raised with me?' The issue then is, having sorted the outside, that there are issues around internal infrastructure, often within schools. So, I have asked officials to carry out some scoping work to understand what are the nature of those problems, what are the issues that we need to tackle and how big are those issues. 'State of the nation' is quite a grand way of talking about it—
We're doing a sampling of schools across Wales to try and create a 'state of the nation' kind of report, so that we can, as I said, (1) outline what are the technical issues that schools are continuing to struggle with; and (2) what are the solutions to those issues so that then we can use that to inform further investment decisions in this programme. So, having sorted the outside out, we now need to think, 'Okay, what do we need to do next?' And clearly, this is an area of concern for schools. If it's a concern to schools, it's a concern to me, and therefore, we're carrying out the state of the nation report to be able to ascertain the size of the problem and the nature of the problem to be able to guide then any further investment decisions that we would make to look to make sure that all schools are in a position to be able to have an IT infrastructure that is fit to deliver the current curriculum and certainly fit to deliver our new curriculum.
And those investments are ones that you, as a Government, expect to make.
Again, it's difficult at this stage to be able to say, but we will need to analyse that data and look to see whether those are things that Welsh Government has to do, whether those would be expectations we would have with local authorities, or individual schools themselves. But, clearly, we will need to work together to ensure that, in the classroom, children have what they need. Some of this stuff—. I'm not a technical person at all and we really should have the LiDW team here, and I'm sure the LiDW team would love to come and have an opportunity to talk to the committee about their work. So, one of the things that we found was that a local authority can dampen down the speeds. So, that's a simple solution; it's not going to cost any money to address that particular problem. We can just ask the local authority and say, 'Hey, you need to do this to make sure that the school can have full benefit of the broadband'. So there are some problems that we can achieve without any investment at all; it's just having that understanding. But, undoubtedly, there will be situations where, actually, we will need to look to invest in kit and infrastructure within schools, to make the most—. Because it would be—I wouldn't say it would be a waste of money, but having made the investment to get the broadband to the school, we need to utilise that to its best effect, and that's why we're doing this piece of work.
Just on this as well, then, the national tests are moving to be online and one concern that's been raised with me by a few schools is, actually, they haven't got the kit to sit the kids down and take them through some of these tests. So, clearly, you'll be mindful of that as well.
Yes, absolutely; that's one of the considerations. We don't want a lack of adequate infrastructure to impact negatively on what I regard as a really important step forward in the way in which we do assessment in school. It's also another consideration, for instance, to ensure that we have the smooth running of the PISA tests next time around, because what I've discovered is that, in reports, looking at PISA, sometimes schools haven't had the infrastructure to actually run those PISA tests appropriately. So, there's a myriad of reasons why we need to get this right.
But would you expect pupils to sit those online tests at the same time? Because I know of schools where you might have 30 in a classroom and they'll have 10 Chromebooks between them, so they wouldn't be able to do this.
One of the advantages of moving to online adaptive assessment is, actually, you would not expect the entire cohort to do that test at that same time. So, that's not necessarily the issue. You wouldn't expect to have 30 children in the class doing the test at the same time. You have to do that with paper tests, because there's security around the questions. The whole issue around the online adaptive testing is that not all children will answer the same questions—that's the whole issue. So, those issues about security and integrity of a test that is a paper test, where you have to have everybody sitting down at the same time and those tests have to be done over a three-day window within all Welsh schools because of integrity—you don't have to do that because, actually, each child is going to sit a different type of test.
Okay, we can ask more questions about that some other time, about how different those tests will be.
They're going to be significantly different, and I think what's also important to remember about the online adaptive tests is what they're being used for. We have to get across to the profession and parents that this is not about holding individual schools to account: these are assessments for children's learning and, therefore, some of the myths that have existed around testing—. You know, we need to do better—I acknowledge this—we need to do better as a Government at just communicating to both the profession and the parents about what they're for.
And that was in the media today as well, wasn't it, in terms of the stress that some of these tests caused to the children themselves. I presume you share some of those concerns and, particularly, there were concerns articulated quite strongly this morning in the media coverage that I saw.
I do not want assessment tests to be a source of concern to any child.
And they should not be. And that then is about how we communicate, both in schools with children about the tests, and how we communicate this at home with our children about the tests. These tests are not about making a judgment about whether a child is passing or failing; it is about checking so that we can see where they currently are in their learning, and what are the strategies we need to employ to move those children on.
Do you not think that teachers could actually provide that, then? Because that's the basic debate here, isn't it, whether you need to sit a child down and test them, or whether you depend on the profession who are with them every day.
Well, of course, clearly, teachers will have a view of how a child is doing, but I don't know about you, Llyr—we are at an advantage, because both you and I have got children currently in the system. I really value, as a parent, that independence. So, yes, have a discussion with the teacher about how my children are doing, but to be able to have that piece of information to inform my discussions with teachers about my children's progress in school as a parent, I find really, really, valuable. And you have to see it alongside conversations that teachers would have with you about how your child is doing. But that independent piece of testing, I think, is really valuable from a parent's perspective about how you can engage in those conversations with your child's school.
Can I just ask on that? Because, obviously, I completely share your concern and this committee is very worried about children and young people's mental health and emotional well-being. But I wonder what assessment you've made of to what extent these issues are because of the way the schools is approaching the tests. I know some children who really are unfazed by this because the school has made it absolutely clear that these are tests to test the teachers, not the children, and yet other schools where is a very major issue with the way that those tests are presented. To what extent are you monitoring that and emphasising to the sector that the way they do this is important?
Absolutely, and we try and communicate this constantly about the reason why we do these tests in the first place, and to say to teachers, 'This should not be a highly pressurised situation.' The message we just need to give to our children is, 'These are tests just to see how you're getting on and how we can help you do even better. You shouldn't be worried about it—just do your best. Just answer the questions to the best of your ability.' I know that there is good practice in schools. I've bored the committee with the anecdote before where I have put my foot in it in the school and I've asked the children how the test went and teacher went, 'They don't even know they've done a test', and I said, 'Sorry?' They said, 'They were just checking out and trying out some new material to give feedback'. So, the children in that class were not even aware that they had participated in the test.
I am aware in some schools that a lot of pressure is put on. Now, sometimes, that's because the teachers misunderstand what that test is for. Because, actually, Lynne, it's not even a test about testing the teachers. It is about understanding where that child is in their education journey. Teachers sometimes have a misconception that those test results are going to be used to judge their individual performance and judge their school's performance. That is not the purpose of those tests, and, if teachers are transporting their own anxiety onto the children, and I think that is happening in some cases, then we need to redouble our efforts with the profession of busting those myths that those tests are there as high-stakes accountability measures. They are not part of a high-stakes accountability regime. They are about being able to provide information to parents and teachers about how a child is doing and what we need to do next to make progress for that child.
Okay, thank you. We're going to move on now to talk about the curriculum for Wales. We've got some general questions and then some questions on specific areas of the curriculum. So, Mark is first.
Cabinet Secretary, recognising that there is fluidity and overlap in the design of the curriculum in the various stages, could I nonetheless ask you on strand 1, the strategic design phase, and then strand 2, the high-level design phase, the areas of learning and experience, are those now complete?
What, then, are the priorities through the summer and autumn for what are being worked on, and the next stages you would expect to hit by the end of the year?
Okay. In May, we passed the third checkpoint. I think, when I came to committee before, we talked about specific checkpoints that we were using. So, in May, we passed the third checkpoint that the curriculum and assessment group—the CAG—reviewed progress on the work to date, to provide support, and to plan for the next set of priorities over the summer. So, the work over the summer that has been identified and will be prioritised is producing draft achievement outcomes. So, this is now moving on slightly from the content to actually, 'How would you judge a child's progress in accessing that curriculum?' So, we're looking at producing draft achievement outcomes. The curriculum pioneers are using the progression framework to create those achievement outcomes.
We are agreeing the details for the areas of learning and experience in terms of essential knowledge, skills and experience needed to achieve the 'what matters' statements. So, there's a little bit more refinement to go on, making sure as well that, now that we've done that discrete piece of work in each of the individual AoLEs, the links and the interdependencies between each group are identified and are worked on. And, then, testing the 'what matters' and the progression framework with regard to digital competence—so, actually, with our digital pioneers, making sure that the digital competency elements of it are clear and we know where we're going with that, and also with professional learning. So, now that we know we've got greater detail on the 'what matters' and the content, what are the consequences now for professional learning? What do we need to do to make sure that our teachers are in a position to be able to address those issues? So, those are the priorities that have been identified and that we're working on at the moment.
Now, I don't know, I hope it has—[Interruption.] Yes. We're very keen—. It's quite esoteric to talk about it in this room, and sometimes I have difficulty in conceptualising it in my head—'What is this actually going to look like in the classroom?' It's quite difficult to do that. Now, I've got the benefit that I get to go to see the pioneer schools and I get to see some of these lessons in pioneer schools—
—Blackwood Comprehensive School. It's a pioneer school and I'm really looking forward to going to see them to, I hope, understand the curriculum process better.
Yes. The committee's received your letter and welcomes it and we'll take up the opportunity—
Great. I want you guys to get out to see it, because otherwise it's quite difficult to talk about it in these terms.
What questions would you advise us to ask of those schools to ascertain whether they are acting as a pioneer school, as you as Cabinet Secretary would like, in playing their role in the development of the curriculum?
Do what I do when I go to a pioneer school. As you're walking around the school, choose a random member of staff. Choose a random member of staff and ask them what do they think about being a pioneer school, so that you know, and you have some assurance, that this isn't just something that is being done at a headship level or a senior management level, but actually the entire school community is involved in this process.
The second question to ask them: how are they sharing that information with non-pioneer schools in this area? Because I know that this has been an area of concern for this committee. I think it's improving. Now that we have greater detail and there is more to share with the non-pioneer schools, ask them what they're doing to share their work with non-pioneer schools in their area. Those are the two things that I would ask them.
Thirdly, I would also ask them then about what do they think are the professional learning challenges associated with the new curriculum. So, there we are. I'm doing your work for you, Mark.
Thank you. Well, that's why I asked you, Cabinet Secretary. There's another area where I'm keen to understand things better from my visit, but I wonder whether I might ask you the question to allow me to cross reference. You referred, I think separately in your comments to my earlier questions, to both progression steps and achievement outcomes. I have not yet fully understood what the relationship is between those two concepts. Could you set that out for me?
So, progression steps refer to five points on the learning continuum that relate to, broadly, the expectations we would have of children—so that is, where would we expect children to be at five, where would we expect children to at eight years of age, 11, 14 and 16. So, those are the check-in points about where we would expect children to be.
'Successful Futures' sets out quite clearly that the progression steps will take the form of a range of achievement outcomes in each of the AoLEs. So, you've got the progression steps at those ages, and then you have achievement outcomes, so what would you expect children to achieve at those points. So, those are the two points. These are the ages—
So, is the progression step just a reference to the age? Is there any more to it than that?
Yes, the progression step is the check-in to the age. The achievement outcomes are what you would expect in a child at five, eight, 11, 14 and 16.
And so would the progression steps—will they replace the key stages 1, 2, 3, 4, et cetera, concept? That's basically a replication of that.
Yes. Yes, they do.
Good. And is everything on track to get the curriculum published and out there for feedback in April 2019?
So, we expect to have a beta version out in 2019. We would then expect to have refinement opportunities and it fully available for 2020. And then a statutory undertaking in 2022 in the way I've outlined. So, it becomes the legal requirement. There will be a legal underpinning to the curriculum in 2022, and that then, as I've said before, starts with the primary sector and year 7. We would then expect statutory roll-out from 2022 as the cohort moves through. So, as the children move through, it becomes statutory then in year 8, year 9, year 10, year 11 as that cohort moves through.
It strikes me as quite a long period of time, two and three quarter years, between January 2020 when that's out there and published and available, and then September 2022, when we start rolling it out. Do we need that two years, nine months—that full period as a gap for preparation now?
Yes, if we're going to make it a success. So, there is a balance to be had, isn't there—there is a balance to be had between doing it quickly and getting it out there and having a legal underpinning for that, and making sure we're in a position to make it a success. It would be the easiest thing in the world to say, 'Right, that's it. It's law from 2020'. But there is no point in doing that to fulfil one political pressure to do it quickly if we haven't got the schools and the profession in the right place to make that a success. So, there's a balance for me to judge between the time that we need to get the system in a position to make it a success, and I would rather take that time and face criticism, potentially, from people for that time if that gives us the best chance of the new curriculum being a success, because schools and professionals will have had the opportunity over those two years to be able to refine their approach and to get ready.
Now, we have previously extended that time, and we've done that on the basis of feedback from professionals. That's not time to stand still. That's not time for the non-pioneers to say, 'Oh, well, I don't have to worry about it for an extra year now. I'll only engage in this process in 2022 when the law tells me I've got to engage in this process'. Smart schools, whether they're pioneers or non-pioneers, will need to be engaging and preparing themselves from next year when it first comes out, and from 2020. The message I'm giving to the profession is that this extra time that we've given for roll out is not time to sit back, it's not time not to engage in this process—you need to be engaging in this process from 2019-20.
Does that preparation and engagement change how teachers are teaching through 2020 to summer 2022? Is that influencing what they are doing for their primary and year 7 classes for those two years, or are you only expecting them to change how they are teaching and what they are delivering as a curriculum from September 2022?
My expectation for schools would be for them to be engaging in the new approaches from 2020 onwards, and preparing themselves for statutory roll-out. If they don't engage in that process and then they suddenly decide in September 2022, 'Oh, right, the law says I've suddenly got to do this now', they will not have put themselves in the best position to make this a success. This time is there to allow schools to prepare themselves, and to begin to engage and to begin to adapt what they're doing in schools. Some schools are already doing that. Our pioneer schools are already delivering lessons in a way that is consistent with the principles of Donaldson. Our primary schools—the foundation phase, for instance—are already engaging in it. The digital competence framework is not a statutory part of the curriculum at the moment, but schools are already engaging with the DCF, preparing themselves for when it will become statutory. So, schools are already engaging in different parts of curriculum reform before the actual statutory nature of it.
And, through deploying new approaches, are they also teaching different things?
I wouldn't say they're teaching different things. Again, this is the dilemma, because, whilst they are currently legally required to teach the current curriculum, how does that impact? But, actually, some of the pedagogy and some of the approaches to learning doesn't mean that you can stop teaching Victorians in year 5; I don't know. We spend a lot of time teaching kids about the Victorians, don't we, or the Romans. But how you would engage in teaching children about the Romans or the Victorians might change because of the nature of Donaldson. That's not to be disrespectful about teaching the Victorians—it's very important that children know about the Victorians.
I look forward to exploring these issues with Blackwood comprehensive on my visit. I'll give way to Llyr—he had some more questions on history.
Just before we go on to history, sorry, can I just ask, based on what you've said, when would you anticipate introducing a Bill to the National Assembly on the curriculum?
Oh, it's—. Gosh, you've got me now. I think it's in year 4 of the plan. So, we have secured a slot in the First Minister's legislative programme, and I believe it's year 4.
Okay, thank you. Right, we're going to talk about some specific areas now. Llyr.
Of course there were. Yes, absolutely, and that's where I'm going next, clearly. I'm just wondering what instructions you might have given the humanities working group in terms of incorporating the recommendations of the task and finish group that was chaired by Dr Elin Jones, which looked at teaching history, and particularly teaching history or Welsh history—teaching history from a Welsh perspective, I should say.
Sure. Okay. I haven't given any direct instructions because this is not a top-down approach to developing the curriculum. This is not the Minister saying, 'You will do this'. But the humanities area of learning and experience, which is where history will sit in the new curriculum, has taken and is taking into account the review that was carried out by Dr Elin Jones in 2013 and considering how that will look in the AoLE. So, that's been taken into consideration. Indeed, Dr Jones presented her views to the humanities AoLE group relatively recently. So, she's actively been engaged by the humanities AoLE in their discussions.
So, each of the areas of AoLE should include, where appropriate, both a Welsh dimension and an international perspective. So, I have every expectation that, as part of following humanities, children in Wales will learn about their history, about their culture, about their language, and the important contribution that Welsh people have made to British and indeed international history also.
So, how do you respond to Dr Jones's evidence to the Petitions Committee, where she said clearly that she doesn't agree with that view, that she has, and I quote, 'no confidence' that history will be taught from that particular perspective? And, in fact, she said that, potentially, the work would undermine what we've been trying to do to create a curriculum that's suitable for Wales as a country over the last 30 years.
I understand that Dr Jones wants to see that her views and her recommendations are being taken forward. She has had the opportunity to input into the development of the AoLEs. This is not about excluding her or not taking her views into account. She has been a part of that, and I hope that she will continue to input into the development of the new curriculum. Indeed, officials are meeting with Dr Jones next week to discuss her concerns and her view.
In its draft work so far, the humanities AoLE group, in developing their 'what matters' statements, have set out the current knowledge requirements in their draft work, which is that pupils should know—this is what they've already agreed—the development of Welsh society and the history of Wales and the language, and should know about significant people and events in the past in Wales and the wider world, and the political, economic, technological, social and environmental challenges facing Wales and the world. So, that's already been agreed by the AoLE group that that will be discussed.
Now, I'm going to the Petitions Committee to talk about history in the current curriculum. Again, I suppose the danger of having a Cabinet Secretary with children in the system is that I test some of this out on my children. So, I said to them, because I was watching a Twitter storm a few weeks ago about the fact that children are never taught anything about Welsh history—. So, I said to my children, 'Have you learnt about any of these things in your school?' And one of the issues that the Twitter storm was saying 'We demand that Welsh children are taught about' was the Epynt, and the clearing of the Epynt. Now, I said to my girls, 'Did you ever learn about these issues?' And, each one I reeled off, my girls said, 'Yes, did that in school; yes, did that in school; yes, did that in school.' When it came to the Epynt, we're very lucky because, of course, that's close to where we live, they hadn't just learnt about the Epynt, they'd been to the Epynt. They'd been taken up there as part of their curriculum and their school. They had visited the area and a person who had been cleared from the Epynt, whose family had lost their farm as a result of that, came to school and told them about his memories of living on the Epynt and what it was like to have to move. So, this idea that we are in a vacuum and no children are learning about these things, I don't think actually bears a lot of—it doesn't bear a huge resemblance, sometimes. Because the impression that is given, and maybe it's an inadvertent impression, but the impression that is given sometimes is that nothing is taught about Welsh history in our schools. And that's not true.
I've never suggested that and I don't think the campaigners are suggesting that. I think the issue some people have is that children leaving Welsh schools would know more about the kings and queens of England than they would about maybe, potentially, about some of the history that is on their doorstep. I acknowledge the picture that you're painting; I'm sure it's true, and I'm not doubting that, but it's not a universal situation, and I can vouch for that from personal experience as well. So, when are we going to—? Because the working groups are working on the content now, aren't they? When are we going to start seeing some of this content emerging? I know there's a timescale, but are they going to be releasing stuff as they go along?
Yes, absolutely. There's stuff being released at the moment. I don't think, with all due respect, Chair, that we can be accused of trying to keep this stuff under wraps. There is—
I wasn't suggesting that. I was just wondering when we can start seeing some of the shape of what's being discussed.
Yes, there's plenty of flyers, posters, information, infographics that are available out there.
Yes, we'll get that out to you, Llyr. Anything that we've got, that has been agreed, you are more than welcome to see.
Because there is a date, isn't there, for this work to be completed. So, it's not a case of publishing at the end of that process—you're publishing the content as you go along.
Because I have looked at the 'what matters' stuff. Okay. So, in a similar vein, really, how are you ensuring that your recent announcement on the relationship and sexuality education work is going to be reflected in the work that's being done by the health and well-being working group?
This is an area of huge importance to me, and importance to children, whose feedback to date has led us to take the initiative on this, because, if you listen to children, they really are not getting what they believe that they need. So, Professor Renold has attended a number of the workshops within the health and well-being AoLE since the autumn to ensure that the principles and recommendations of the panel are fully taken into consideration in the development of each AoLE. She's also chaired a cross-AoLE workshop to ensure that RSE is considered appropriately across the new curriculum, and, on an ongoing basis, regularly contributes feedback to the AoLE's health and well-being group. So, she is very much embedded, working with the people in that particular group. Also, she's very involved in the development process for refreshing the guidance for the current curriculum, because you'll know from my statement that we want to refresh current guidance—we don't want to wait until the new curriculum to address some of these issues that she's outlined in her report. We hope that guidance will be done by Christmas. So, she's very much involved in helping us update new guidance that we're working on for the current curriculum.
Obviously, in the statement that you made on this in the Assembly Chamber—and I appreciate that we have a report and you're moving forward with recommendations, but one of the things that has been flagged up with me since is concern from some parents that they may still want the right to be able to exclude their children from certain—
That's right. Now, I know in the Chamber you gave guarantees that you weren't wanting to impinge upon that right, but, clearly, with the new approach in the new curriculum, these areas of learning will permeate potentially all lessons throughout the school day. So, how do you envisage parents would be able to exercise that right, if that's a right that you still wish to maintain?
As I said in my statement, I have no intention of changing the right to withdraw in the current curriculum. But, Darren, you are absolutely right—when the new curriculum comes into being, that's going to be more challenging, because you're not necessarily going to have discrete relationship and sexuality education in a lesson, where it is easy to say, 'Well, I don't want my child in that lesson.' I had a very useful conversation with the representatives of faith schools last week, and I have to say I am hugely encouraged by the positive response that I received from those representatives, both representing the Catholic sector and also representing the Church in Wales sector. And I sometimes think, to be fair to them, that their views around the nature of relationship and sexuality education is sometimes misrepresented. There is an absolute appetite from the faith schools to engage fully in this agenda, and they say that their approach is to provide reassurance to parents around the nature of these lessons. And what they find in their schools is that they have a tiny, tiny, tiny number of parents who exercise their right to withdraw, and they say they think, in approaching the new curriculum, it is going to be about those close working relationships that those faith schools have with parents, to be able to reassure and give confidence to parents about the nature of what their children are going to be taught. But we are going to have to consider very carefully as we move towards the new curriculum, how we're going to have those conversations with parents and how those rights to withdrawal will look and be shaped by that new curriculum. But I have to say that the commitment by the faith schools to this agenda is second to none—
I'm not questioning the commitment of faith schools. Most of the kids will not be in faith schools, of course. I'm asking about the general—. You've given a commitment, so how are you going to fulfil and enable some parents—the very small minority who may want to exclude their children—to exercise that right in practical terms?
As I said, Darren, in the current system, we have no plans to change it, but as we approach the new curriculum, we're going to have to give consideration as to how that is going to look in practice. What I'm saying to you is that we will look to work with schools, faith-based and non-faith-based, about how that will look in reality. What there is an agreement on from everybody is that we want as many children as possible to participate in those lessons and that's what we'll be looking to work to achieve with parents.
Well, we haven't come to a definitive conclusion about how that is going to look.
Yes, it's on the same subject, really. It seems to me that the relationships and sexuality information is so fundamental that it's going to be an awful shame if any children are withdrawn. So, I wanted to ask, really, what efforts you were going to make to ensure that the very tiny number—that it's explained to parents and the whole of the staff of the school and that all the school's teachers are aware and trained and are able to communicate about it. Because I think it's a great step forward and so I'm very keen that most children have the advantage of having this.
Yes, absolutely, and we will continue to work with Professor Renold on the area of AoLE and those with an interest in this area, including the pioneers who are working on the AoLE, about how we can have those conversations. As I said, I am greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm for this agenda across the education family, including faith schools, which, as I say, sometimes have a stereotypical image that they're not engaged in this or that they don't want to be engaged. They work very hard with their parents to reassure them and to give them confidence about the nature of what their children are going to be taught. They recognise the danger to children if they are not accessing this part of the curriculum.
I went to a faith school recently here in the capital city that is doing amazing work, especially with boys, because they've identified a real gap. So, they said that there are lots of programmes and lots of resource for girls, but, actually, there was very little out there for boys. They have worked to develop their own programme with the boys in their school around what constitutes a healthy relationship, what constitutes consent, what their responsibilities are as half of a partnership, whether that be a heterosexual or a same-sex relationship, and what their roles and responsibilities are. The fact that two 14-year-old boys could come and talk to me and to Jenny Rathbone, the AM for Cardiff Central, about these issues in a perfectly confident way, without any embarrassment, shows to me the huge strides that we're making in our schools—that these young men could come and talk to two women who they'd never met before with great confidence and maturity about what they'd learnt, why it was important they'd learnt it and the difference that it had made to them. And I think that's just absolutely fantastic. Due respect to that school that has, ahead of this new curriculum, proactively looked to provide children with what they need—brilliant.
Okay. Before we move off this, can I ask a question about the committee's major report on emotional and mental health, which obviously we're discussing next week in the Chamber? One of the key recommendations was that emotional and mental health should be embedded in the curriculum, and that has been very widely welcomed across a wide range of organisations in Wales. Can I ask what instructions or discussions you've had with the AoLE working group on health and well-being following that report?
I've had no direct discussions following the publication of the report, but I just want to provide reassurance that mental health and well-being has been an important strand of work within the AoLE. But crucially, Lynne, and I think we would be on the same page on this, we cannot leave mental health and well-being to a simple part of the curriculum—we need a whole-school approach.
So, it can't be just a tick-box exercise that children will learn that—learn about mental health and well-being within a discrete part of the curriculum—we have to create an environment in our schools that promotes mental health and well-being, and it can't be seen, simply, as part of the taught curriculum.
Absolutely, and as you know the committee made recommendations on the whole-school approach, which I know we'll want to be discussing next week in the Chamber.
John, did you want to ask, quickly, about history?
Yes, I did, actually. I very much support the idea of all pupils in our schools in Wales learning about Welsh history—
—but I just wanted to ask about local history, Cabinet Secretary. I know that many schools teach local history very effectively, and it's very easy to engage pupils around that local history because it's very real and meaningful to them—whether it's explaining what lies behind the name of a road or a street or an area of their town, city or community. And I think it's really important that that isn't overlooked in all of this. I just wonder if there's anything you can say about how we could have confidence that there will be a comprehensive teaching of local history throughout our schools in Wales.
I think we can have every confidence in that, John. As I said, we're not dictating to schools exact content, and, indeed, I would argue that the new curriculum gives greater flexibility and creative options for teachers to be able to explore local history. It's a fantastic way in which to engage learners in their lessons, and where we can reinforce issues around literacy and numeracy, by engaging children with what they find around them, what is familiar to them.
I think there's excellent practice out there at the moment in engaging in local history, and I would have every confidence that that will continue in the new curriculum. I want every child to have an understanding of their community, what has shaped their community, and how their community has shaped the wider history of Wales, and how Wales has played a part in international history as well. I want all those perspectives to be taught in our schools, so that children have that wide set of experiences. And, I think, there's some excellent practice out there already, where schools are engaging with what's around them. That's the beauty of having this greater flexibility, because what's important to the industrial history of the south Wales Valleys will have some continuity and some things that are the same, but will be very different from the history of rural parts of Wales. So, that greater flexibility, I believe, gives us that opportunity to explore those even further.
Will there be anything specific that emphasises the importance of including that element of local history in the teaching at our schools?
As I said, I'm sure that we will see, in the development of the AoLE for humanities, those requirements being spelt out. So, as I said, already, in the draft, pupils should know about the development of Welsh society and the history of Wales and its language, and I will expect that to be delivered within its local context.
Thank you. We're going to move on now to some questions on supply teaching. Hefin.
According to the February 2017 ministerial supply model taskforce report, half of supply teachers identify agencies as their employers. With that in mind, to what extent do you feel that the anger felt by supply teachers about their pay and conditions is justified?
Well, I understand the nature of those concerns and the anger, and work is under way to consider a range of options of how we can address that, in terms of, from my perspective, not just from the terms of the individuals working in supply, but, actually, how that impacts upon standards within our schools. So, we are looking at a range of policy initiatives to address concerns about how we can ensure that supply teachers who are an important part of our workforce, who do an important job, are working within a system that recognises that, respects that and supports them to be the very best teachers that they can be, working in a supply situation.
I think the anger comes from a variety of sources. It's impossible to say, and to lump all supply teachers in the same way. Much of the focus recently has been about low pay for supply teachers. I was recently exposed to the argument about schools that are using supply teachers to cover some of our science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, where those supply teachers are naming their price, and are talking about, on a basic level, £250 a day to go and teach physics.
Well, we don't necessarily have all that data. I'm just reflecting on evidence that has been given to me that we have a whole range of issues around supply, so what's important is what we can do to address it. So, you'll be aware of the school-based supply cluster project that we're working on at the moment in the primary sector, which looks at newly qualified teachers. We are out to tender at the moment to create an independent evaluation of that, because I think there's potentially real merit in being able to roll that pilot out to cover more areas, but we need to carry out the evaluation of that particular project. We've also looked, for instance, to improve the opportunities for supply teachers with regard to access to Hwb, access to professional learning opportunities, and I'm currently considering whether we should move to a system of accreditation for supply agencies.
So, let's look at supply agencies, and the fact that they are a block on the fairness of pay between those directly contracted. Northern Ireland have a centralised system. The ministerial supply model taskforce report said that it would be very difficult to move to that because pay and conditions are not yet devolved, and it's difficult to see how, within the current context, a similar centralised model could operate within the existing framework. But, of course, now that has changed. Does that change your thinking towards a centralised model?
It's changing, but it hasn't changed yet, so we will formally transfer the powers to Welsh Ministers around teachers' pay and conditions in September of this year, and we have a whole series of work streams about how that will be implemented. But that devolution will not take effect until the 2019-20 academic year, so that system has to bed in.
I think more problematical, Hefin, is the issue of: how do you create a centralised supply model in a system that allows for the local management of schools? So, we don't employ teachers. Local authorities don't actually employ teachers. It is individual schools that actually employ teachers. So, that local management of schools model that imparts those powers and those responsibilities to individual schools makes a centralised supply model more challenging to introduce.
Now, officials—I've asked officials, and they have done so; they've been over to Northern Ireland to look at that model, and to see how it potentially could work here, and, actually, the advice that I've got back is that they have reinforced the task and finish group about the challenges of introducing that. We would have to get, somehow, collective buy-in from every school in Wales to work in that system. The only way the pilots are working at the moment is, one, we've pump-primed it with money—we've put the investment in, into those pilots—and there was collective buy-in from the school to work in that way. But unless we want to change local management of schools, a centralised supply model would be quite difficult to impose.
When you say that your officials are working with the thrust of the ministerial taskforce report, in that it said, if in future—it was a very clear line in that report—if in future pay and conditions
'were to be devolved there would be scope for the Welsh Government to take a more pro-active approach to the setting of pay and conditions for supply teachers.'
Therefore, those inequalities that exist could be ironed out, including the STEM example you gave, but I think, at the bigger end, where there are lower income inequalities, the Government would have the chance to take action. I think your hesitancy is concerning.
I'm just reflecting the real practical challenges of delivering a centralised supply model in a system that relies on and works on the basis of local management of schools. So, we don't employ teachers. Local authorities don't employ teachers. The staffing of individual schools is the responsibility of the headteacher in that school. Headteachers currently use a variety of means to obtain their supply teachers. Some of them—the majority of them—use the main contractor that has run the contract; other schools work directly with individual teachers that they know, and ring them directly. There is a plethora of agencies out there—some big and well-known; some of them very, very small, operating out of people's front rooms. So, there is a wide variety of players in the market. I'm saying that we are continuing to explore what opportunities that we have within the confines of the fact that we do not employ teachers directly—
And is that barrier a barrier of principle in that we stick by the principle of local management of schools, or are you talking about a barrier that will prevent you doing it, even if you wanted to?
I have no intentions at this stage of moving away from local management of schools.
So, you don't want to do that is the answer. The thrust of policy direction is not in favour of a national body for the provision of supply teachers.
No, I didn't say that. I said I am not in favour, and have no plans at this stage to move away from the principle of local management of schools.
But that isn't a barrier in Northern Ireland, unless they run their schools differently there.
There is a different system in Northern Ireland, which makes it more able to do that. Look, the status quo—and let me be absolutely clear: I'm not satisfied with the status quo. I do not want any of our teachers to be in a position where they feel exploited and are not being rewarded appropriately for their work. There are a number of actions that I think we can do to try and resolve those situations.
A centralised supply model has some merit. I'm just reflecting the very practical difficulties in moving to that model. But I do believe that there are other things that we can do. I think there is real merit in the school-based supply cluster. I'm also looking at issues around—. For instance, down in the south-west of England, they've moved to a co-operative type of model that works between groups of schools, the local authority and the local university, and we're asking officials to look at those not-for-profit co-operative models to see whether there is interest in one of our local authorities and one of our universities to do something similar here.
We're also looking at trying to ensure that the quality of our supply agencies is addressed because, at the moment, anybody can run a supply teacher agency. There are no quality marks for it; there is no statutory basis for ensuring the quality of that. We're actively discussing whether we could introduce a statutory system of accreditation for supply teacher agencies that could perhaps give us the opportunity, as part of that, to look at underpinning minimum levels of pay.
You say that you currently don't have any plans to implement a central database approach, but we do know that the current model, or the current contract, of a preferred supplier, with an extension of 12 months, potentially, is coming to an end in August 2019, I think—
—with the new powers coming in September 2019. So, would you be aiming to have an alternative option ready to go for September 2019? Because clearly there is an opportunity there in terms of certain contracts coming to an end, and powers coming down to Cardiff so that you could actually develop an alternative, and trigger an alternative to kick in at that time.
I would like to avail myself of an opportunity, if possible, to work to those types of timescales. I am very interested in what we can do to have an accredited system. So, if you think about it, we are now saying to our universities, 'You can only run ITE provision if your courses have been accredited by the Education Workforce Council.' We're accrediting that. We're saying, via the new leadership academy, in terms of professional development for headteachers, there will be an accreditation function for the National Academy for Educational Leadership. So, those programmes that look to develop the professional learning for teachers have to be accredited by an independent body.
I think there is much merit in saying, 'If you want to be a supply teaching agency in Wales and offer up services to schools, why would we not want to consider an accreditation process to ensure that those agencies are working in a way that is consistent with the high expectations, aspirations and quality that we have for our education system?'
Because we could look to, via that model, and we're actively discussing it at the moment—. There are all sorts of issues around interference in the markets, so there are all sorts of legal potential barriers that we need to get through, but you could look at the possibility of introducing, as part of the accreditation, a minimum pay rate—a minimum pay rate below which you could not pay or you would lose your accreditation, and then you couldn't operate in the market.
I would like to stay on the point of pay for supply teachers. You're talking about making a minimum pay rate part of the accreditation process. Now, years and years ago, employment agencies and employment businesses used to have a very similar process—it was called licensing. It fell over because it wasn't enforced, and it was very, very difficult to enforce. But, putting that aside, there is another way that you could potentially affect the pay and conditions that are being agreed between the employment agencies—your preferred supplier—and the supply teachers, which is to put it actually in that commercial agreement that you have with those suppliers.
Now, I appreciate the individual schools won't have the scope to do those individual negotiations to get the margin, or the gross profit, capped across the chain to actually control the pay that's being paid to the supply teachers. Have you actually considered using Welsh Government, local authority, schools and the commercial leverage that you actually have to actually improve the pay and conditions of supply teachers? Because there's an argument that you could actually do that regardless of whether those powers are devolved or not, because you're doing it through commercial agreement, not through statute.
Yes, and we continue to have discussions, officials continue to have discussions, with NPS about the nature of that contract that they would look to let. So, there's a variety of ways in which we can do it, isn't there? So, you could have terms and conditions for your contract that address some of these issues; you could also reinforce that by having accredited suppliers. So, yes, you can do it via the contract, but you could also do it by other means, or you could reinforce actions in both areas.
Have you thought about doing it previously? Is this—? Because complaints have been raised by supply teachers for quite a while now about the pay. Was this factored in to that procurement process in the beginning?
I can't tell you that, because I was not the Minister in charge of that process at the time. I can tell you I have met with both the National Procurement Service and the current preferred supplier—New Directions Education—to talk about my concerns.
Of course, our predecessor committee also did an inquiry on supply teaching where we recommended a national model. John, on this.
I just wanted to ask how does your consideration and action in this area, Cabinet Secretary, join up with other Welsh Government Ministers such as Ken Skates? Because we know about procurement, the economic contract and how there's a strong drive within Welsh Government to address quality of employment, security of employment, and terms and conditions. Is what you will be taking forward in this area, joined up with that wider Welsh Government picture?
Yes, absolutely. And it is using those policy initiatives and leadership and principles from other departments that allows us to reinforce the messages around the need for change and a system that would meet those aspirations in education. Now, I would argue, in education, in many areas, we're making progress on that. I can hear people's frustration here with regard to supply teaching, but what we've been able to do, for instance, in HE, is significant. So, since coming to office, we've been able to persuade all of our universities to become living wage employers. Some of those are accredited, some of them are not, but all of them have to become formally accredited. I'm really pleased to say that we've just secured the agreement that those members of staff working for the Student Loans Company at the Llandudno office will also now be subject to the real living wage, something that didn't happen before. Indeed, that will be backdated for staff. So, I as a Cabinet Secretary am absolutely committed to making progress on fair pay in everything that we do. We've been able to demonstrate that and make real progress in the HE sector, and we will continue to pursue those very same principles within the field of education.
But you would accept that, as far as supply teaching is concerned, there's a need for further progress.
Absolutely. I am hugely concerned when I see some screenshots of adverts from the non-preferred supplier offering very, very low rates of pay, and, where we have found those, officials have actively got in touch with those agencies to say, 'Hang on a minute; this is not what we should be doing.' So, believe me, we're not sitting back and saying everything is fine; we are looking to do a variety of things that will improve those situations for individual supply teachers for their sake, but, John, more importantly, perhaps, for me, is around high-quality teachers in front of our children in our pursuit of higher standards in our schools.
Why are so many supply teachers looking for work, or getting such low pay rates, when there are so many permanent vacancies in teaching?
Those are individual choices, I guess, that some people are making. You could surmise, for some people, issues around workload and work-life balance and stress—maybe sometimes they feel that a permanent teaching position is not something that they want to pursue. That's why we have a range of initiatives to look to address to make teaching a really attractive profession, and so that people will want to be full-time teachers in our system. We are trying to make teaching a really, really attractive job, one that people will want to commit to for the long term of their career.
Yes, thank you very much. I wanted to ask particularly about the changes to the budget and the resulting effect on the Traveller education service. I'm extremely concerned at what's happening in the Traveller education service, and so are many of the professional people involved and the users of the service and the families, because it does seem, by a series of decisions, it's left it in a great deal of uncertainty. I know that many of the staff are under redundancy notices. I think Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire, Newport and Flintshire are all under redundancy notices either for this August, next December, or by March 2019. I know the reasons for the different dates are because there have been some reprieves because of the additional money that you have put in, but it has left the sector feeling a great deal of uncertainty. I feel extremely concerned about it, because the Traveller education service has been a tremendous service, and I think it has been responsible for getting many children into mainstream education.
I had a very moving letter from an English Romani Gypsy, a 15-year-old from Briton Ferry, who wrote to me just saying about how much this service meant to her, and meant to all her companions, really. She said, 'It's clear that many of us are not that educated, and aim to be more educated, but the previous generation found themselves confused with trying to understand what teachers are conversing about, and vice versa. Enter the travelling education service. They are able to break down these barriers between us, explaining and translating our lives to them. Without these women we would return back to isolation and miscommunication.'
I perhaps will send a copy of this letter to the Cabinet Secretary. But for whatever reason—and I know that efforts are being made to put more money into the budget—the service is left in a situation of uncertainty. The most disadvantaged group, I think, and the group that is showing least progress, in terms of academic progress, has been left in a state of uncertainty. So, I wondered if the Cabinet Secretary could explain to us the series of decisions that have been made, where the money has gone, and what you see as the future for this service.
Julie, I recognise the uncertainty that you describe, and it's as a result of that that Members will be aware that via the first supplementary budget, £8.7 million will be made available to local authorities to support these services. That will be available to all 22 local authorities. Now, of course, what we have signalled to local authorities is a desire to work towards a regional service that potentially is more sustainable. But I also recognise that those changes are not easy to manage overnight, and of course whilst all budget positions for 2019-20 are subject to ongoing discussions and negotiations between Cabinet colleagues and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, it is my intention to provide a further £8.7 million for 2019-20.
And what are you planning to do about the uncertainty that exists at the moment, which is translated to the children as well? I went to a regional meeting of young people, and that was the main thing that they wanted to bring up—that their service was under threat. So, I welcome the fact that you are giving this money, but if it doesn't translate to the reality on the ground—. Staff are starting to look for new jobs because, as the education system works, you have to give redundancy notices at certain times, so lots of them have had redundancy notices even if they're then withdrawn. The uncertainty is there because they don't know what's happening for the long term. What are you going to do about the situation at the moment?
As I said, all local authorities have been notified of the availability of additional resource for this financial year, which totals £8.7 million, and which should be able to provide some reassurance for this financial year. As I've just said, Julie, it is my intention, subject to all the usual caveats and discussions that will be had, to make the same amount of money available next year.
And what assurances have you got that sufficient money will be spent on the Traveller education service, separate from all the other groups?
Again, this has been clearly communicated to local authorities in discussions that we've had with them. So, we've been in close contact with local authorities, or they've been in very close contact with us, about their concerns around their ability to fund these services. It is those ongoing conversations and that work that has allowed us to find the resources with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to make the additional resources available for this year. And, as I said, I've been as clear as I can be today that it is my intention to make the same amount of money available next year, and we will continue, in our regular meetings with the WLGA, to express our desire that that money is used to support these services.
Do you think there is a case for such a disadvantaged group to have ring-fenced money?
The decision to move away from a ring-fenced grant for Gypsies/Travellers, or indeed from the old minority ethnic achievement grant, was taken back in 2015, I believe, Steve, when those individual ring-fenced grants came to an end. I think the experience that I have had over the last 12 months with regard to unhypothecated funding has been one that has been challenging for us. In an attempt to recognise the principles of trying to get as much money to the front line, one that is agreed across the Government, putting as much money into the revenue support grant as possible was the best way of doing that, but then individual local authorities have been able to make different decisions. The impact on this particular group of learners has been particularly challenging to me. That's why we have worked closely with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to find this money, which will be used for these purposes.
We will always continue to review the most effective way in which we can deploy resources to the service, and we will keep that under constant review.
My concern is that this group, which is so disadvantaged and so discriminated against—anti-Gypsy prejudice is one of the last prejudices that are still accepted—that we have to maybe do something special for this group, to ensure that the children get their full potential. So, I'm just putting that down that maybe this has to be reconsidered. The other issue is what consultation—. Have there been child impact assessments done on these grants and these changes?
We are revising the way in which we do impact assessments in individual grants. So, whilst there were overall impact assessments done, individual impact assessments were not as good as they could be, and there is a new approach to carrying out regulatory impact assessments, which we will be a part of. Can I say, Julie, that I absolutely agree with you in the sense that Gypsies/Travellers are indeed the last group of people where it seems to be socially acceptable to be prejudicial or discriminatory? It is also the one group of learners where we have not seen significant progress. So, whereas we have seen significant progress in the outcomes of minority ethnic children, for instance from a Welsh Bangladeshi background or a Welsh Indian background, or a whole variety of other groups of children, this is one group of children where we have not seen the academic improvement and standards raised as much as we would like to, and we need to be cognisant of that in how we make decisions going forward.
So, were child impact assessments done on these decisions about the Traveller education service?
Yes, they were.
And obviously, we are under a duty, under the United Nations children's rights issues, and the children's rights Measure, to consider everything that we do, really. And it does seem that these decisions have had such a detrimental impact on Gypsy children.
Can I just ask as well—? Where is this £8.7 million? Because only £5 million is shown in the supplementary budget. Where is the rest of it?
So, there's £5 million outlined in the supplementary budget. We will make available—and it has been communicated that £8.7 million is available. We will regularise the remaining £3.7 million in the second supplementary budget. That will either be found from within the department, or we have an assurance from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance that it will be found from his reserves.
I very much agree with what has been said about the prejudice and discrimination that Gypsy/Traveller children continue to face. It's also the case for Roma children, unfortunately. Obviously, that's why they're included in the grant money, Cabinet Secretary. I think we mustn't lose sight of the particular challenges that the Roma community face. They've suffered hundreds of years of discrimination and prejudice that's created a particular cultural difficulty, I think, in terms of education and other aspects for that community. Schools and communities with significant Roma populations in Wales have to meet those challenges. So, I just want to put down a marker, really, in terms of the challenges that the Gypsy/Traveller community faces, which are very real—and I very much agree with what Julie has said—but we mustn't lose sight of those particular aspects of challenge for the Roma community as well.
I take that on board, John, and as I said, that's why we have found the £8.7 million this year and it is our intention to replicate that next year—in the next financial year.
I'm sure I don't need to remind you that the committee did an inquiry on this and made very clear recommendations about this as well. Can I just ask, then—is it the intention for next year to remove money from the education main expenditure group for unhypothecated funding in the local government settlement as planned? Because I think any observer would see the fact there had to be all this money put back into services for Gypsies/Travellers and for MEAG—that that was an acknowledgement that the Welsh Government got it wrong. I'm sure that you're aware that the committee has raised those concerns not just with you, but with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance.
All I can say at this stage, as you can imagine, is that the 2019-20 budget planning process is under way at the moment, and as with any other budget round, I and other Ministers are discussing areas of pressure and the need for investment, and clearly we will want to reflect on our experiences this year, Chair.
Could I just ask one last question? I wonder if it would be possible for you to give us a report on the Traveller education service throughout Wales, because it is quite difficult to establish exactly what's happening in terms of the numbers of staff—what they were before all these changes happened and what the position is now. It would be good to have the actual facts so that we could measure, as things go along.
Of course, Julie. We'll do our very best to provide you with the information that you want.
Okay. Are there any other questions from Members? We've got three minutes.
Just one. It's on your expectations for GCSE and A-level results and vocational results this year. Obviously, we had some disappointing results last year in many respects, so I was just wondering whether you have any expectations, as Cabinet Secretary.
Well, Darren, 'expectation' is the wrong word. Clearly, what we want to see is a response to our policy initiatives. I think that what we can see is that from the entry levels, issues around early entry seem to have had an effect. I'm really pleased that there's a resurgence in the number of pupils sitting English literature at GCSE, which, of course, was a concern last year in that many schools were not teaching English literature GCSE. We've seen an increase in the number of children taking English literature, given clear messages from the Government that this is desirable. We're also seeing, obviously, a huge increase in the number of students taking GCSE science, as we've moved away from children taking BTEC science, but now actually taking GCSEs in science. We will await, with great interest, what those results are in August.
Are you expecting the attainment gap to close between those on free school meals and those not on free school meals?
What we saw last year, Darren, was that that group of the cohort was not as resilient to the changes to the new examinations as other members of the cohort. That will be particularly challenging with regards to science, because I think what we could see is that—. Historically, we had large numbers of children who were not entered for a science GCSE, but entered for the BTEC. We've now moved away from that, and we have almost the entirety of the cohort now doing at least double award science, and more children doing three separate sciences. It'll be really interesting to see what the effect those changes will have, and how resilient those children have been in the context of that change from the BTEC qualification to the science qualification.
And you don't have any expectations in terms of a closing or a widening of the attainment gap, or an improvement in the grades at GCSE or A-level. No expectations whatsoever.
Darren, you will know better than me, because I've said it enough in the Chamber—our national mission is to raise standards and close that attainment gap, and everything that we do in the Government is aimed at achieving both of those things: raising standards and closing the achievement gap.
Thank you. Well, we're out of time, so can I thank you very much for your attendance, Cabinet Secretary, and also your officials, for answering such a wide range of questions from Members. As usual, you'll be sent a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting. Thank you again for your attendance.
Item 3, then, is papers to note. As you can see, there are nine papers to note. If Members are content, can I ask that those are noted en bloc? Thank you very much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod a'r cyfarfod ar 4 Gorffennaf yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and the meeting on 4 July in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Item 4 is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to propose that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting and the whole of the meeting on Wednesday 4 July. Are Members content? Thank you very much.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:01.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:01.