Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

13/02/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Hefin David AC
Huw Irranca-Davies AC Yn dirprwyo ar ran Dawn Bowden
Substitute for Dawn Bowden
Lynne Neagle AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sian Gwenllian AC
Suzy Davies AC

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Kirsty Williams AC Y Gweinidog Addysg
Minister for Education
Steve Davies Cyfarwyddwr Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Education, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:34.

The meeting began at 09:34.

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Okay. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've received apologies for absence from Janet Finch-Saunders, and also from Dawn Bowden, and I'd like to welcome Huw Irranca-Davies, who is substituting for Dawn Bowden. Can I ask Members if there are any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay.

2. Gwella Ysgolion a Chodi Safonau: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 3
2. School Improvement and Raising Standards: Evidence Session 3

We'll move on, then, to our evidence session for our inquiry on school improvement and raising standards. I'd like to welcome Kirsty Williams AM, Minister for Education, and Steve Davies, director of education. Thank you both for attending and for your detailed paper in advance of the meeting. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so we'll go straight into questions, if that's okay. If I can just start by asking you: to what extent is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development still involved in the Welsh Government's school improvement journey?

09:35

First of all, can I thank the committee for their invitation this morning, and their interest in this particular area? As you will be aware, on coming into office, the director and I agreed to ask the OECD to do a rapid review of the state of Welsh education at the beginning of this Assembly term. They did that, and the feedback from that work informed the publication and content of the national mission. I was very clear in the national mission that I would invite the OECD back to review our progress against that mission, and that has happened in the tail end of last year, and the OECD will publish their latest report on Welsh education next month now, in March. So, the expectation is that the report will be published on 23 March, and my intention is to make a statement to the Chamber on 24 March.

The nature of that review is part of our ongoing development of self-evaluation. So, we talk a lot about self-evaluation in the school system. Actually, the continuing relationship with OECD is about self-evaluation of the entirety of the system and Welsh Government. We don't want to accept our own orthodoxy and just be in a bubble where we are constantly listening to ourselves and those people who might want to agree with us or tell us what we want to hear. So, the OECD is our best attempt of having some external verification of where we are. That's a risk for Ministers and for Government, because we want them to give an honest evaluation of where we are, but that's a really important tool for me, to ensure that we're constantly testing ourselves.

The nature of that review is that the OECD were able to talk to whoever they felt it was important to talk to, so that included practitioners on the ground, elements of the middle tier, as well as Welsh Government. And I know, Chair—I hope you'll be pleased to hear this—that the reports of this committee have formed parts of their review, looking at how the Senedd itself has contributed to and has held the Government to account. So, as I said, we expect our report to be published towards the end of March.

Okay, thank you, Minister. Can I ask about the powers under the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013, to ask you to tell us about the use of those powers either by Welsh Government or by local authorities, and how effective you feel that legislation has been?

Okay. Well, as you'll be aware, local authorities have quite extensive powers of intervention in schools if they feel that is necessary. If I'm honest, I think there's a mixed picture, with some local authorities using those powers not on a regular basis, but obviously demonstrating a willingness to use those powers. There are other local authorities who don't seem to have used them. Since that legislation came into being, there have been a number of reasons, because of course a local authority has to give a reason for using those powers of intervention. They usually focus on standards, but sometimes they focus on a breakdown in governance arrangements, perhaps, or a failure or a breakdown in financial management. So, sometimes the budgetary issues trigger an intervention power. And the types of interventions that have been used have included, in some cases, appointing additional governors to governing bodies, or suspending a school's delegated budget so the local authority takes on, then, financial control of that particular school, or sometimes applying to the Welsh Government to entirely replace a governing body and establish an intervention board. So, if I can give you an example of where that's been used and has been successful, in Flintshire. They applied to Welsh Government for two interim executive boards, in Sir Richard Gwyn Catholic High School and in Ysgol Trefonnen. They applied to us. Those governing bodies were dissolved. The IEBs were put in place and both of those schools, which had been in special measures, moved quite rapidly, actually, out of special measures. Perhaps the most recent example of this is one that the Chair will know very well in her own constituency of Torfaen, in Cwmbran High School, where Torfaen has intervened in that case. 

The Welsh Government has not used those powers to date. My expectation always is that local authorities should be the first port of call, and I would encourage—and we always encourage—local authorities to take a proactive approach to intervention and to use those powers. But it's my belief that it is they who are best placed initially to do that. 

09:40

Thank you, Minister. Can I ask, then, about the national evaluation and improvement resource and how significant a role that will play in the raising of school standards, and how you feel it's evolved since it was first conceived?

So, this brings us back to the principle of self-evaluation and something, if we're honest, we've not been very good at. If you look at a number of chief inspectors' reports into the Welsh education system, self-evaluation has always been identified as something that is missing or underdeveloped in our system to date, hence, then, the work to establish not a new approach, but a more robust approach to self-evaluation. We've done that in conjunction, again, with the OECD, middle tier and practitioners. It's really important, throughout the entirety of our reform journey that that's done in co-construction, because we want this resource to be usable in schools. So, it's all very well having a conceptual idea and people outside the classroom working on it, but if it's of no practical use to a school leadership team, then we won't see the impact. 

So, it's—. We're in phase 2 at the moment, where we're doing—. So, the initial resource has been developed by the OECD, middle tier and practitioners. We're in the testing phase at the moment and having it evaluated itself, with a view to introducing that resource across the system at the start of the new academic year, in September 2020. I truly believe that, if we're to make progress in Welsh education, we have to develop the skills within our system to have robust self-evaluation. This resource gives us continuity of approach right the way across Wales. So, it's not left to an individual school to come up with a system; it's right the way across the system. My hope would be that those principles could then be applied to local education authorities, to regional school improvement services and Welsh Government as part of a whole-system approach to self-evaluation. I don't know if there's anything more you want to add, Steve. 

Just to add that the other critical partners are Estyn themselves.

So, they have played a critical role and, as we know, as the Minister has said in the past, she may introduce policy and practice, but if Estyn are part of it then schools, usually, because they recognise that it will be part of the inspection process—it gives it greater push and support around it. So, they've been key players within it. 

And I think, if I just say as well, that the external perception of what that's about is really important. It's not a test of school readiness for reform, it is a genuine attempt for a school to evaluate their strengths, their weaknesses and where they need to go next. It's not an Estyn checklist. And because of the word 'toolkit'—the feedback was that it gave the impression of a checklist, 'Just do this and check list'. So, we're actually going to change the name of that resource. So, it'll be called the national evaluation and improvement resource, rather than the toolkit, because, as I said, the feedback was that 'toolkit' gave the impression of a checklist exercise, and it's got to be about more than that if it's going to be meaningful. So, it'll be changed to an 'improvement resource'. 

Okay. Before I bring Suzy in, can I just welcome Siân Gwenllian, who is joining us via video-conference in north Wales? Morning, Siân.

Bore da. Ydych chi'n gallu fy nghlywed i?

Good morning. Can you hear me?

Can you hear me properly?

09:45

Yes. Only a very quick one. It's about the development of the—

Yes, the resource, thank you—about whether there were any conflicting ideas in the process of development that made it quite difficult to zone in on something that school leadership teams, in particular, could rely on. Were there differences of opinion on what this should look like? 

Not that I'm aware of from the practitioners that I've spoken to who have been part of that. So, for instance, Suzy, you will know the very small school of Gladestry. The head of Gladestry has been involved in this process, and she said that she'd really enjoyed the process of working alongside Estyn and the OECD as a school leader to be able to shape it. But I'm not aware that there's been conflict in that process. 

I'm not suggesting that there has been; I'm just interested as to how it had worked, that's all. 

Chair, I think, inevitably, when you bring stakeholders together, they're not going to be in total agreement as to how it's going to work, and I think initially one of the challenges was having Estyn there as part of the facilitation group. There are always some concerns that, actually, it's coming from a to inspect, oral, judgmental tick box. So, we had some early day challenges where we had to convince—and, ultimately, Estyn convinced them—that they were there to help and support as opposed to to inspect, and that the model that was developed, as the Minister said, was not going to be a tick box, 'You are good at this part of self-evaluation', it was to build the skillsets up. 

Yes, and I think again, also, what—. You know, four years into the job, what I've reflected on as well is there is this sometimes a feeling out there that the Minister says all the right stuff, but you're not actually going to do it, so, when you talk about a new approach to doing things, you're not actually serious about it. So, trying to build that confidence that we are serious about developing a new system around self-improvement, which is different from accountability—sometimes, the practitioners are like, 'Oh, yes, we've heard it all before but it never actually happens.' And I think that's been a part of the constant—not pressure, but the responsibility on Welsh Government is in following through. So, we said that we were going to do this in the national mission, and we are going to do it. I'm really proud that there or thereabouts, a few months either way, we've actually kept to the timetable as outlined in the national mission, and that helps build confidence within the sector that we are committed to that programme and we're going to do what we say we're going to do.   

And a final question from me: how effective do you think the investment in school standards has been in this Assembly term, as opposed to the approach taken in the last Assembly term, where there was the protection put in place for core school budgets? 

Well, I think, first of all, it's important that, whilst this additional resource is specifically targeted at school standards, that is only a part of a much wider education budget, a budget that—you know—is incredibly complex. And so it is really challenging to be able to draw straight lines—you know, 'We did this and it's resulted in that'—given that we're looking at the entirety of school funding here. What's been really important is that, if you drill down into what that money has been spent on, 50 per cent of it has been directed towards professional learning in one form or another to support our teaching professionals. And that's been really important to me. I've said it time and time again: an education system cannot exceed the quality of the people who stand in front of our children day in, day out to work with them and teach them.

Therefore, that investment in staff and investment in the professional learning of our staff and support for them I think is making a difference already but, importantly, will continue to make a difference. But I think it is really challenging to be able to say, 'Well, we spent this bit of money and it definitely led to that', because it's such a complex picture. But that money, the way it's been spent, has been driven by evidence. And, again, what we do know from international best practice, what do we know that works in driving up standards, and then how can we align the money that we've got to supporting that? And, as I said, 50 per cent of that money has gone directly to simply supporting the professional learning of those who work with our children. 

09:50

Thank you very much. We're going to talk now a bit about schools causing concern with questions from Huw Irranca-Davies.

Thank you, Chair. If I can, just first of all, zoom in on the way in which we actually decide which schools need what support. So, one of the interesting questions for us is how do we use the different systems out there. So, we've got the school categorisation system, which we're familiar with. We've also got Estyn inspection reports, then we've got other intelligence, including local intelligence on the ground. How do you decide from that? How is it decided what schools need support, need challenge? How do we do that?

Well, you're right: what we have is a variety of ways in which we can identify schools that need support, or need to be challenged on their practice. But it's important not to confuse them either. So, our primary route to doing this is our school categorisation system. Sometimes, and perhaps this is inevitable—. That system is primarily there as a triage system around identifying where our resource should be spent. So, our school improvement service—it's a risk-based approach, so they can evaluate where they need to put their time, effort and resource. Sometimes, it's used by other people for other things, but that is not its primary purpose; its primary purpose there is not one of accountability, it is one of identifying risk and aligning that then to the support that is available. 

Estyn—now that is part of that accountability system. That is our method of holding schools and their governing bodies to account for their practice and for the work that they do. Both systems, of course, are evolving. So, how we do categorisation has changed over a period of time. The elements that go into making that judgment around the levels of support have changed, and, of course, the Estyn inspection regime is also changing. At the moment, schools are only inspected once every seven years. We're moving to a system where Estyn will be more regularly in schools. So, they are two systems, but they are different and they look at different things. But our categorisation system is how we look for those ways of identifying support for schools. 

And you've made, with feedback over the last few years, adjustments to the way that the categorisation system works. Are you content with where it is now, or do you see more adjustments being made? Have you got things in front of you that you're getting feedback on saying 'Well, we need to tweak this again a little bit'?

So, that system has evolved over time. So, when it started, it was just a tool around secondary schools. Now, it covers the breadth of schools. Initially, on coming into office, when I first came in, it was purely driven by data, and it was also done in quartiles. So, there was a certain number of schools that had to be in the bottom, which drove practitioners mad. They were like 'Ah, every year, there's going to be some of us that have to be in the bottom quartile', because of the way in which it was arranged, which seemed very unfair to them. So, we've changed that. It's not just purely driven on data now; there are other judgments—the professional judgments of our challenge advisers are taken into account. And I would expect that situation to continue to evolve to align itself to our curriculum reform, and our changes in self-evaluation. So, it's not a fixed point. I expect that that system will continue to evolve and change, so that it complements and assists in the reform journey as other parts of the system change. 

Thanks for that. I think, for any impartial reader of the way that the trends have been going on this, there is some good news within that, in that, certainly, those schools that might have been identified as have been okay but coasting along, seem to be moving up the categories, although we still do have that—. Well, it's what the system is there to do, it's to identify those schools that do need that additional support. And I like your analogy of a triage system—'You're fit; keep on doing what you're doing and do it well; you need more support, we'll put the support in.'

But, can I turn to those schools that are causing significant concern, and how we identify them? The Estyn chief inspector's conclusions at the end of the 2017-18 report that these schools are not being identified early enough—there's a need to do something urgently about these concerns, particularly in secondary schools. Have we addressed that? Are you content that we've addressed that concern? Was he right?

09:55

No, the chief inspector is absolutely right—absolutely right. I've got no beef with that statement at all. In some ways, when a school goes into special measures, in a way, that's a failure of the system, because that should have been identified sooner. So I've got no beef, as I said, with the chief inspector saying that.

So just to ask, bearing in mind the earlier discussion we were having, how is it that we don't identify those schools?

That's it—you're quite right. Undoubtedly, what categorisation has done is led to a greater understanding, I think, on behalf of local education authorities' and school improvement services' knowledge about their schools. I think knowledge around schools is greatly enhanced by that process. But we are not there yet in terms of necessarily, then, moving those schools more quickly, once they've been identified as needing the highest level of support to see improvement. And secondary schools is a particular, particular challenge. So you will have seen from the last publication of categorisation data that our primary sector continues to improve—more and more and more of our primary schools are in a green rating, which is very satisfying to me. But we have got more of an issue with secondary schools, and we have a particular issue with the same schools being identified in that level of categorisation. So even though we've identified them as needing that extra help, they are not moving at pace away from that system. So there are two things that we are doing at the moment.

The first is, we are, again, looking at different sets of data that can give us even earlier warning systems that things are going wrong in a school—and perhaps Steve will explain later. For instance, staff sickness, and carefully monitoring staff sickness, because there is a direct correlation between high levels of staff sickness in a school and what is going on in the school. And Steve can explain some of this work later. But we're piloting a new approach to those schools that are causing concern. Each local authority has been asked to identify two of their high schools that they are particularly worried about. And we have a new multi-agency approach, working with those schools to try and move them more forward. So it's two from each region, a multi-agency panel, working with the school. And that multi-agency panel includes the school itself, the local authority, the regional consortia school improvement staff, Estyn and Welsh Government—as a multi-agency panel to support improvement in that school. So, for instance, what would normally happen, Estyn would come in, Estyn would make a judgment on the school—requiring special measures or urgent improvement—and Estyn would go away. They'd go away for six months, and then they'd come back in six months, and they'd make another judgment, 'No, still not good enough', and disappear for six months. We're saying—Estyn and the Welsh Government have agreed that's not the best approach; Estyn need to be part of the solution, rather than just coming and making a judgment.

The initial feedback from this trial is very, very positive. Actually, we've had local authorities coming to us and saying, 'Can we put more schools in? Rather than just having two of our high schools, can we engage more in this project and this pilot?' It's being evaluated by Cardiff Metropolitan University and Swansea University, so we're having some academic overview to see, actually, does this approach work, can we evidence it—that it actually makes a difference? And it's actually—I'd like to claim all the credit for it, but it's actually not dissimilar to something that's happening in Scotland as well. But we knew that carrying on doing the same old thing clearly wasn't moving these schools, we needed a new approach, and this is what we're doing at the moment. So it's relatively new, but the initial feedback is positive. Steve, I don't know—

I think your important point is about, 'What about the schools that are sliding in that direction?' And it's bringing together what we know from Estyn, but also, critically, local authorities have knowledge of their schools, and so do consortia. We've got to be better at bringing those together. So, the Minister gave the example of staff sickness—not always a trigger, but it's one of those. If you look at movement of pupils out of a school, you can look at complaints, you can look at, actually, emerging increased use of HR resources that a school pulls on a local authority. None of these have been pushed up into the public domain, but they're important antennae.

The point the Minister made about Estyn as well is, historically, when they go into special measures, Estyn, at the end of that week, call in, historically, either the region or the local authority, they will feed back to one of them, and then they go away. So, they are staying with it. So, we are brining together the knowledge. But, as the Minister said, we want to keep a very clear distinction between the accountability and the transparency to the public, to parents, with the very detailed collective work of that multi-agency group to actually make that difference over time.

10:00

Okay. So, does that—. I'd love to go further, but time is against us. Does that deal with the issue of the schools that have been identified in those categories of requiring significant improvement and requiring special measures? Are those the ones that will be identified now, or is that above and beyond that again?

Well, those are the ones that are primarily at the forefront of our minds, but this way of sharing data better, to step in earlier, is part of our attempt to address what the chief inspector says about stepping in early—not waiting until a school gets into special measures and a formal judgment from Estyn of that, but actually using that intelligence to get support in there earlier.

The three elements that that multi-agency approach look at are: what are the fundamentals that need addressing in this school? What is the capacity of the school itself to be able to address those fundamentals? And, what extra support needs to go into that senior management team and the governing body to get those fundamentals addressed? And actually, what does sustainable improvement look like? Because, again, one of the issues, sometimes, that happens is, a school goes into a category with Estyn, there's a big push and a big, 'We must do something' and the school comes out, but actually, that improvement is not sustainable. It's the low-hanging fruit; it's the easy wins that have been achieved, but actually, perhaps some of the fundamental challenges underlying in that school haven't been addressed in that process. So, this is about what will sustainable improvement look like in six months, what's it going to look like in 12 months and what's it going to look like in 18 months. So, actually, a more strategic, longer term approach to real change in a school rather than, perhaps, some of the easy-to-fix items that make a school as if it's doing better, but we really haven't tackled some of the underlying problems that make that school vulnerable to slipping back. Does that make sense?

Yes. We've got a couple of supplementaries on this, first from Suzy and then from Siân. 

Thank you for that, Chair. Obviously, I'm pleased to hear that this work is being done, but I'm wondering—. What strikes me, in the recent past, at least, particularly as we've got the usual suspects in this category—. I've got to ask myself why it is that councils have been reluctant, perhaps, to step in with these schools earlier, particularly as they've got consortia or middle-tier support as well.

Has there been a deficit in that space that has meant that councils don't feel equipped to step in? I just don't really get it why they've been reluctant to step in so far. If they've been nervous about doing it, because they don't feel that they've got the tools to do it, then I think that's pretty important, because as you were saying, we were talking about fundamentals; surely, councils have been able to deal with fundamentals, and more importantly, consortia up until now. Because, obviously, we're asking these players to give us evidence at some point, so perhaps I'd like to challenge them on how come we're here now.

And rightly so. I guess each local authority will have an explanation for each individual school, I suspect. What's crucial to me is that we have to—. I see our job as corralling the collective effort, and I think, for too long in the system, there has been a lack of co-ordination. So, this is about bringing and corralling a collective effort to address this, going forward, in more sustainable way. And I think it does come back to this issue around self-evaluation and a willingness to be open, honest and upfront about some of the challenges that we've got. It's not easy, is it? It's not easy to accept or to acknowledge sometimes when things are—

10:05

Well, that they're going badly, or perhaps they don't know exactly how to make the difference. So this approach, as I said, is a new way of trying to coral that collective effort across the board. 

But, I don't know if Steve—because you've done other roles in the system, so perhaps you've got a different insight.

I think you're right. The variation across the country, across local authorities—. There are some local authorities that we've worked with and we identify have taken the appropriate action. There are others that we're working with, and yes, at its best, it's done as a joint exercise where they use their regional school improvement service to help in the identification that there is a need for this. They take advice as to what the action is, whether it is, as the Minister said, in the more significant areas, a board, or whether a warning notice comes in terms of standards or finance.

So, we're working with them and we're working with the Welsh Local Government Association to share that practice. An example of that work is: we have done a development training session for cabinet members for education, and scrutiny leads for education across Wales, and all 22 local authorities came to that and engaged with that. That was partly about self-improvement, but it was also about where significant issues arise, you have to constructively confront them. And that comes with what the region knows, and increasingly, we're looking to have it consistently across 22 local authorities, so they are collecting all the additional data that we referred to earlier, so they can legitimately hold a mirror up and say, 'This is a real concern that we have. We're not punishing you, but we're registering the seriousness, and we want you to address it.' And we're making progress. I believe it's genuinely more consistent now, but I'd be lying if I said that there was consistency across all 22 local authorities.

Ie. Oherwydd eich bod chi'n symud i agwedd fwy soffistigedig, rŵan, o adnabod problemau yn gynt, ac felly yn gallu cynnig y gefnogaeth yn gynt, ydy hi'n bryd meddwl am symud i ffwrdd o'r system gategoreiddio yn llwyr? Hynny yw, ydy'r system gategoreiddio wedi cyrraedd diwedd ei hoes, ac ydy'r agwedd aml-asiantaethol, mwy soffistigedig yma yn ffordd well, yn y pen draw, o fedru cynorthwyo ysgolion i symud ymlaen?

Because you are moving to a more sophisticated approach in terms of identifying problems sooner, and so can offer the support earlier, is it time to think about moving away from the system of categorisation entirely? That is, has the categorisation system reached the end of its usefulness, and is the multi-agency approach, this more sophisticated approach, a better way, ultimately, of being able to assist schools in moving forward?

I think, Siân, as I said earlier, the categorisation system has evolved over time, and my expectation is that it will continue to evolve, because it has to be consistent with our overall approach to school improvement and raising standards. I expect OECD will have feedback for us on this important part of our system, and we'll wait to see exactly what they say about it, but as I said in answer to Huw Irranca-Davies earlier, I haven't got a closed mind; we've demonstrated over the last four years our willingness to change the system to make it a smarter system, and we will continue to keep that under review, as we move forward.

If I could just go back briefly, it doesn't sound like a very exciting thing, does it, when we say we've been doing work with the WLGA, with cabinet members, but also scrutiny, because that's a really important part of the jigsaw as well, is actually local government scrutiny of the performance of your education portfolio holder and the leadership of your council. So this is about trying to up the ante on all sides, so that those issues around 'What are you doing in your local authority to use the powers that you have?' You know, sometimes, making sure that everybody in that authority—those in power and those who are there to hold those in power to account—have the necessary skills, knowledge and understanding to do that appropriately.

Yes, briefly. I only have one final question. We've talked a lot about early identification; getting in there and then managing the improvement, this triage approach there, and then getting some grip of it, as well, in doing all of that. But my question now is on what we currently have. I won't touch on the primary schools, but let's just look at secondary schools—11 per cent of secondary schools inspected in the last two academic years judged as unsatisfactory, needing urgent improvement. There will always be secondary schools and primary schools that hit moments of crisis for one reason or another, but 11 per cent to me, and to any layperson, would seem unreasonably high. Are you—? It would be daft to ask you if you're content. What is a level that you would be content with of having schools in red category in Wales? 

10:10

You're right. Schools will need different levels of support at different points, and sometimes, it's not because of a crisis. So, for instance, in my region, we do have an increase in the number of schools in the amber category. That's because we've seen in that particular region a number of headteachers retire because they've reached retirement age, and there are new headteachers. Well, that is a moment of risk in the school—when senior leadership changes. Nothing else has changed in that school, but the simple fact that you have a new leader, sometimes in those cases it might be their first headship. That means that that school is going to need a little bit of extra support, so it isn't always just a crisis that needs extra support, there are just general things that happen in the life of a school that could lead to it.

But you're absolutely right—we have a particular challenge in the secondary sector where we have not been able to move individual schools forward at pace. And 11 per cent is not acceptable to me, Huw, which is why we have introduced this new pilot to address those schools where, persistently, we have concerns about their ability to move forward. If we'd have carried on doing the same thing, I suspect we would have just carried on getting the same result—hence the need for a new approach to those schools that are causing concern.

Very briefly, the things we talked about earlier was how we measure the performance of schools, particularly at GCSEs, with a narrow focus. As was said earlier, some of these are the same groups—they trip in and then they don't come out. Our belief is, from research, that they concentrate on squeezing the pips to get the grades up in some small areas for a period of time, and you can do that by targeting and immersing them. Estyn can tick the box to say your grades have got better, but we haven't handled the serious underpinning issues—leadership, teaching and learning, and bringing those together. As the Minister said, what does sustainable improvement look like in six, 12, 18 months? It isn't just, as important as they are, getting those exam grades up a bit. They're the fundamental—. And if they're all agreed as the indicators at the outset, we're more likely—. So it's multi-agency; it's not a little activity, it's a major strategy.

Thank you. Hefin David has some questions now on the middle tier.

I'd like to consider the work of the consortia. In 2016, your election manifesto very clearly said that you wanted to abolish regional consortia—three words in it. Why haven't you done it?

Because, given that you're such a keen student of my manifesto, you'll also know that—

The Liberal Democrat manifesto also said that we supported major local government reform and a major reduction in the number of local government units. That hasn't happened. I have to say genuinely, my experience over the last four years has proven to me the value of regional working, and in the absence of significant local government reform, I think it's absolutely vital that we have scale in school improvement services—scale that I don't think can be delivered across 22 individual local authorities.

Okay. So, if there was local government reform, you would abolish the consortia.

I think if there was significant local government reform and we could demonstrate that those units had such a scale that they could perform the functions of regional consortia, then I think it would be inevitable that any education Minister would look to see whether there was an opportunity to change structures. But in the absence of that, Hefin, I have been absolutely convinced whilst doing this job that you need larger units to be able to carry out successful school improvement work, and I think it would be reckless to advocate the system going back to school improvement being organised in 22 different ways. 

10:15

Okay. Do you think that the work of the four consortia has been consistent and effective?

I think, as with individual local education authorities, there are some regional consortia services that have performed really highly—and that's not me saying that, that's Estyn, but gives us assurance around that—and there are others that need to improve. I think the consortia themselves would admit that they, since their establishment, have found new ways of working. Initially, they were very separate entities that did things their own way. Increasingly, over recent years, we have seen those consortia working together on a national approach, but delivered on a regional basis. So I think they themselves have evolved over time. But we are constantly looking for optimum delivery from those particular organisations, but as I said, I think it would be absolutely reckless to go back to a situation where school improvement services were being delivered individually on 22 different bases. 

Okay. I'm happy to accept that you've changed your opinion there; that's no problem at all. But with regard to the four consortia, and we'll take Education through Regional Working as an example, it does things differently to the other three. Is that a cause for concern, or do you think that's entirely appropriate?

Well, ERW does things differently, but then so does the Education Achievement Service. EAS is constituted in a different way to the Central South Consortium. What I'm interested in is not necessarily how they are constituted and organised, I'm interested in the effectiveness of that organisation to deliver for children and for teachers. ERW has got particular challenges, and we continue to work with those in ERW to address those, but increasingly, as I said, what we are seeing the regional consortia do is develop a national approach to school improvement services but deliver that on a regional basis so that there is greater consistency in terms of delivery. 

Are you happy that, within the ERW area, local authorities employ their own improvement advisers, rather than doing it in the way that the others do?

We have discussed this at length with them. My preference would be for school improvement officers to be employed in the centre, and we continue to have those discussions, but what's really important to understand is that the regional consortia are not a beast of the Government; they are a beast of the local authorities that have worked together to create a school improvement service that meets their needs. So we can't impose that solution, and we continue to discuss with ERW what is the optimal way, and they continue to discuss with their constituent local authorities about how that should be organised. 

Are you concerned that Neath Port Talbot have given notice that they want to withdraw from regional working?

I think it's really disappointing that Neath Port Talbot have published that notice. What's important for me is to understand—not for me, it will be important for Estyn. It will be really important for us to understand how Neath Port Talbot intend to support their schools and their teachers if they were to withdraw from ERW, especially at what is a very, very critical time. The regional consortia have a key role to play in supporting systems with the introduction of the curriculum. I would want to know from Neath Port Talbot how they are going to do that without being part of that organisation. And, of course, there's the added complexity that so much of our money is channelled through to schools via the regional consortia. So, I would want to understand from Neath Port Talbot how they're going to safeguard their schools and make sure that the children who are receiving their education in Neath Port Talbot are not disadvantaged if they were to follow through on that decision. 

Do you feel that it's your role to intervene in that area and instruct Neath Port Talbot and ERW as to how they should resolve this issue?

Well, Neath Port Talbot would need to demonstrate to me how they're going to address these issues. If they're not part of ERW and their schools and their children are not going to be in receipt of the support from ERW, as I said, especially at this critical time, how are they intending to do that? I haven't seen those plans, but if they were to push forward and follow through on the notice, I would want to see them and I suspect Estyn would want to see them also.

10:20

Okay, just last issue on that: you're just waiting to see what Neath Port Talbot do next, then. 

Well, we have written to Neath Port Talbot to ask them to demonstrate to us, if they were to pull out of ERW, how they're going to meet their functions. I have not heard back from them. 

Obviously—[Inaudible.]—that point. We wrote to them last Friday, and we are awaiting their response now. 

Okay. So, that's where we are. Okay. There was the document in 2015—'National model for regional working'. Is that the current document? Are there plans to change or update it, or is that exactly where we stand?

So, that is the current model. Some work was undertaken in 2017 and 2018 to look to update that model and revise that model. Some specific recommendations were put forward about additional services that could be organised on a regional basis; primarily, that is a specialist human resources resource. We know that, because of austerity in some local authorities, HR departments have been really stretched. Education HR is a specialist service, it's not generic. It's often a service that—. I see that as part of a school improvement service. Support for governors also has been stretched within individual local authorities. So, a proposal was put forward to include specialist HR and governor support as part of the regional model. That was rejected by local government. Our local authorities did not want to include that in the regional model.

However, I must say, having presented that evidence, some of our local authorities, even though there wasn't a national agreement to put that into the national model, have pooled their resources, and those services are being delivered and supported on a regional basis. So, for instance, the Education Achievement Service now provide specialist HR resource, and EAS and Central South provide governor support. So, although we weren't successful in persuading local government to adopt a new national model, local authorities in those areas saw the value of moving that way. 

So, with that in mind, and perhaps I'll put this to Steve Davies, everything the Minister just said, and also the line in the document—

'The implementation of this model will change over time'—

is it time to go back to that document and review it from a procedural point of view?

I don't think it's necessarily timely to go back and have a complete review of it. But, certainly, we are in ongoing discussions with the Welsh Local Government Association, both in terms of work with local authorities, and the type of intervention in schools. So, we keep a constant watch as to which areas that we believe we could develop further. We are not currently intending to do a wholesale review of that. As the Minister touched on earlier, there is some work to get consistency across the current area, particularly, as we just mentioned, in relation to ERW work. So, it's getting a consistent approach at that level, and sharing the practice. 

I think what is emerging, as the Minister said, is that there are two regions who have already made this shift to pool services. I think the two other regions are seeing and will see the benefits of that, and instead of forcing it through, we'd expect that to evolve. But we're not, at this stage, looking to a wholesale review of the national model. 

And Professor Dylan Jones's strategic delivery group seems to have had quite a warm welcome in the sector. Is it fair to say that?

I believe so. I'm very grateful to Dylan for his hard work and his skill in chairing that group, and I think it's been welcomed by all, so that we can get that clarity and consistency about the roles and responsibilities of the individual partners and players in the middle tier. 

And when will the work be completed, and what will the outcomes be?

Well, the group is currently engaging with Steve and other officials on agreeing a plan, but also, crucially, that plan is there to support the successful implementation of the curriculum, so that we're very clear about the roles and responsibilities in the middle tier in this crucial phase following the publication. We have to move now from the publication into a relentless focus on implementation. The history of devolution is full of fantastic documents, and, shall I say, patchy implementation. The work that has gone into that curriculum is too important for implementation to be left to chance. It's too important. It's too good to be left to chance. So, everything now is a relentless focus on successful implementation. 

10:25

Yes, but I'm thinking that the strategic delivery is reviewing the role of the middle tier. So, you know, what do we expect to see from it, notwithstanding the kind of softly, softly approach that you've already talked about?

It was set up, actually, about 18 months ago—just under. It was set up to build collective efficacy, because what people out there are seeing is that there's a confusion of roles, in what the regions are doing, and it was building that collective efficacy so everyone was behind the wheel. So, they've been looking at who is doing what for the last 18 months, and exploring and making some changes themselves. It's not just what they do with Government or what they do with each other; it's just happened that it's timely, because one of the key bits of feedback we believe we will get from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is we have had co-construction, we'd had collective effort, but we need to do more, particularly within the middle tier. This is not controlled by Government, it is arm's length from Government, and it's not their job to get it ready for the new curriculum—that's a key part of it. This group will have an ongoing role; it's not a task and finish group. It does feed back in to the Minister but there's no formal mechanism by which they have to report. 

I think this is a really interesting evidence session. What I'm about to say, I say it even though I'm a big localist: it all seems to be heading in one direction of a national service. Is the strategic group even thinking in these terms, obviously building in local accountability? But it'll just make it so much easier in terms of accountability and consistency to monitor what the middle tier does, if it's a national service, like the National Adoption Service. Local delivery, national service—is it heading in that direction? 

That's not the intention of setting the group up. As Steve just said, I receive feedback from Dylan, because I meet Dylan in this particular capacity on a planned basis. He is there to give me advice on the middle tier, and to give me advice on what he thinks Welsh Government needs to do. But I've not had that conversation with him about a national service. 

Mae beth roeddwn i'n mynd i'w godi wedi cael ei ateb i raddau, hynny yw, o beth dwi'n ei weld, mae'r gwaith mae'r Athro Dylan Jones yn ei wneud wedi esblygu ychydig bach. Roeddwn i'n teimlo'n wreiddiol mai'r syniad oedd i edrych ar y rhan ganol o ran unrhyw fath o ddyblygu a oedd yn digwydd ac unrhyw fath o—lle roedd modd tynhau'r holl bobl a oedd yn mynd i mewn i'r ysgol, mewn ffordd, o wahanol gyfeiriadau. Ond mae'n ymddangos ei fod o wedi esblygu i fod yn rhywbeth sy'n llawer iawn yn fwy na hynna, a'i fod o'n rhoi ffocws hefyd ar y cwricwlwm ac ar agweddau eraill ar y system addysg? Ydy o'n—? A oes yna beryg iddo fo golli ffocws yn hynny o beth? 

What I was going to raise has been answered already, that is that, from what I can see, the work that Professor Dylan Jones is doing has evolved somewhat. I felt that, originally, the idea was to look at the middle tier in terms of any kind of duplication that was happening, and where it was possible to tighten up the people going into schools from different directions. But it appears that it has evolved to be something that's much more than that, and that it is placing a focus on the curriculum and other aspects of the educational system. Is there a risk for them to lose focus in that sense? 

No, not at all. I think they are very, very clear around establishing roles and responsibilities for each of the players and to be very clear about the expectations that each part of the middle tier can have of each other, as to what they can expect from their partners in the middle tier. And absolutely, it is about making sure that there isn't duplication, that people aren't second-guessing each other's work, and there are clear demarcations about who does what in the system, and, as I said, knowing that you can rely on your colleague in the middle tier to do the bit that they are responsible for. So, I don't think there's a question of it losing focus.

Okay, thank you. We've got a lot of areas to cover so we are going to have to pick up our pace a bit. The next questions are from Siân Gwenllian. 

Gan feddwl amdanoch chi fel Gweinidog yn ceisio gweld beth ydy'r tueddiad tymor hir ynglŷn â chodi safonau a chodi a gwella canlyniadau addysgol, ydy hynny'n anodd, oherwydd mae'r mesurau perfformiad wedi newid, onid ydyn nhw? Dydyn ni ddim yn gallu cymharu tebyg wrth debyg erbyn hyn, oherwydd y newidiadau sydd wedi bod yn y ffordd y mae'r perfformiad yn cael ei fesur. Felly, i ddechrau, ydy hynny'n her, i weld a oes yna gynnydd yn digwydd? Ac yn ail, pa dystiolaeth ydych chi fel Gweinidog yn ei defnyddio i edrych ar y tueddiadau tymor hir?

Thinking about you as a Minister trying to see what the long-term trends are with regard to raising standards and improving educational attainment, is that difficult, because the performance measures have changed, haven't they? We can't compare like-for-like now, because of the changes that have been made in the way that performance is measured. So, to begin with, is that a challenge, to see whether progress has been made? And secondly, what evidence do you as Minister use to look at the long-term trends?

10:30

The first thing to say, with regard to changes to performance measures—you're right that change to those does make it, in some cases, more difficult to look at trends over a period of time. But those changes are made for really good reasons. If we change a performance measure, it is done to ensure that it is in the best interests of learners. And I think the best interests of learners always trumps the ease of comparison. I understand that, for researchers and for opposition Members, even for Ministers, it would be simpler to have the same set of measures over a period of time. But if we know that those things are driving behaviours that are unhelpful to children, and not in the best interests of children, then we have to change them, even thought that then does create challenges in different areas.

With regard to what do we look at, there are a number of ways that we gain data and look at data in the system: everything from the categorisation system we spoke of earlier, and trends in categorisation; we look at Estyn reports; we continue to look at examination results. But we're trying to develop a broader range of data and statistics that give us a whole picture of the education performance, rather than narrowing down on one simple indicator that tells you one thing but doesn't tell you everything. But I don't know, Steve, if there's anything further that you'd like to add.

It's going back to what the Member raised earlier, in terms of the range of things that you look at—things that can make a difference. So, when Estyn review schools, or we're looking to develop national frameworks for things like mental health and well-being, which look to the practice that enables raising standards, it's collecting that information, both at a national level, through the annual review of Estyn, as well as our engagement with regions and local authorities. So, it's looking at the evidence base that goes beyond, but impacts on data. And, inevitably, we will use the Programme for International Student Assessment, and any other external assessments that come through organisations like the OECD. And even where we've changed the performance measures, we still have, at national level, the ongoing data. So, if you looked at level 2 plus, we believe it is important that children get five good GCSEs—for higher education and for employment. So, we've not lost sight of those at a national level—we're not using them as a narrow set of performance measures for individual schools.

So, if we look at—level 2 plus is a good example. We know that a relentless focus on that single measure, as a way of judging the system, leads to a set of behaviours in schools. It narrows the focus onto a certain part of the cohort, it narrows the curriculum, when we know that children—

I'm not challenging the fact that you've changed the performance measures—I understand that, and having a broader way of looking is better in the long run. I'm just saying, because there's been this change, it makes it more of a challenge—whilst accepting why you've made the changes, but it does present more of a challenge, presumably, because you have to look at more indicators, and take evidence from different places. But I take it that you're confident that the trajectory is going in the right way.

Yes, I think we are making improvements. But you're right: it does make it more challenging. But those changes are being made for the right reasons, as I said, whether that be at level 2 plus. Look at English literature. I understand why perhaps a performance measure around English was introduced, but the effect of that was that significant numbers of children—and, it must be said, usually children who are entitled to free school meals—were suddenly not sitting English literature GCSE. We've changed that performance measure, and guess what? Last year, we saw a significant increase in the number of children that were sitting English literature GCSE. For standards of literacy and oracy, I think studying literature is really, really important, before we even get into the joy of introducing children to the written word and the love of reading. So, we make changes. Yes, it causes challenges, but we're making those changes because we believe that they are in the best interest of children, and that has to trump ease of comparison.

10:35

Pam eich bod chi wedi penderfynu gofyn i'r consortia, Estyn ac yn y blaen i beidio â defnyddio nac adrodd ar ddata ar lefel leol a rhanbarthol? Sut ydym ni'n mynd i ddod i gasgliadau am yr hyn sy'n gweithio os nad ydy o yn gweithio ar lefel awdurdod lleol a rhanbarthol? 

Why have you decided to ask the consortia, Estyn and so on not to report on local data or regional level data? How do we then come to conclusions about what is working if it isn't presented on a local authority and regional basis?

Well, I think the thing to say about the communications from Welsh Government, Estyn, and the WLGA is it's not about not communicating the data, it's about challenging people on how that data should be used. So, the data is still available, but it's a challenge to them about how to use that data. So, for instance, when we're presenting data that compares local authority to local authority, you could have a local authority that says, 'There we go, I'm above the national average. I don't need to worry about the education in my local authority, because I'm above the average, or I'm better than my neighbour.' That doesn't necessarily mean that everything is right in your local education authority. Perhaps your children should be doing even better than what you're presented with.

So, actually, it's not about hiding data; it's about how you use the data appropriately. And sometimes, how we were presenting data in the past was lulling some people into a false sense of security about the performance of their system. So, it's about how you use data, and that's what the communication from Welsh Government and the WLGA and Estyn was about: think very carefully about this data and what it's telling you about your system, and don't be lulled into a false sense of security that you may be doing brilliantly. Or, perhaps, looking at your data, you may think, 'Oh, my goodness me, we're not doing very well at all', but, actually, more careful consideration of that might show that your school's impact on those children is really, really a positive one. So, you've got to use that data in the context. So, it's not about less data. If anything, it's about more data and, crucially for me, it's about more intelligent use and interrogation of that data, about truly what it's telling you about your system.

Ond eto, mae Llywodraeth Cymru—. Rydych chi wedi parhau i gyhoeddi'r data ar lefel leol a rhanbarthol. Onid ydy hynny yn mynd yn groes i'r hyn rydych chi wedi bod yn ei ddweud wrth y consortia a phawb arall?

But again, the Welsh Government—. You have continued to publish the local and regional level data. So, doesn't that contradict what you've been telling the consortia and everyone else?

No, not at all. As I said, we're not in the business of trying to hide data—I believe absolutely in full transparency. And in terms of level 2 data, I think I'm not moving away from the point that I think it's really important that more and more children get five really good GCSEs. I think it's important for their life chances. It is about how that data is used, not about hiding data or making that data not available.

Can I, very briefly—? We didn't just send a letter out collectively. We've now carried out training jointly with WLGA and Estyn on how to use that data. So, it's not just looking where your LA is; it's also not looking at whether your school's better than average for the authority. And it is well received, and it should broaden the approach of scrutiny committees to beyond what historically was, if I'm honest, looking at the league table for their authority or looking at the league table of local authorities. It's not that they shouldn't be looking at that, but they need to dig much, much deeper underneath it.

Thank you. We're going to go on now to Suzy. I'm going to appeal for brief questions and brief answers so that we can cover the rest of the questions.

I'll shorten these questions, okay. We know why you got rid of the old measures. We've got interim measures now. What are they telling you about the success you've had in trying to avoid the bad behaviour? Short answers.

It's impossible. [Laughter.]

I think it's inevitable: whatever kind of measures we put in place, people will look to maximise their success in those measures, and I don't think we'll ever come up with a system where those measures are absolutely perfect. What's really important to me is that we're really, really, really challenging schools to look at the performance of all of their children, rather than just at a very, very narrow cohort around those C/D boundaries, which we knew was detrimental, potentially, to more able and talented children and really pushing those Bs to As and those As to A*s, and children for whom actually just getting in to school on a daily basis is an achievement, and the school has done well to provide that.

So, our new capped 9 makes sure that there is breadth across a range of subjects, rather than just focusing on a narrower and narrower bunch of subject opportunities for children, and our new third-third-third system enables schools to really look at their performance. So if their capped 9 score is high, what's driving that? Is it because the bottom third of the cohort is doing really well, and the impact on those children is above and beyond what could be expected, but actually, you're not doing very well for your more able and talented; you're not pushing them on? Alternatively, maybe your capped 9 score is because your MAT children are doing incredibly well, but actually, you're not really making the progress for the middle tier of those children. It allows us to have a greater focus on the performance of our FSM children—where they really are within that system. So, it's a much more granular—. And crucially for me, it looks at the impact for every child, because every child has to matter in the system, and what we had before was a narrowing of curriculum choice and a narrowing on a certain cohort of children.

10:40

So are the permanent measures likely to be pretty similar to what you've got now? Because the research—I don't know if the research is complete yet. When will you be publishing the new permanent evaluation?

Sue, you're right: they're interim measures at the moment, and we will need to make sure that the performance measures are aligned to the new curriculum. That, potentially, of course—. Because Wales's review of qualifications potentially has an impact on what those finally will look like, so that work is ongoing at the moment, and unless Steve can tell me off the top of his head when we expect that to be completed by, I will send you a note. But they're interim at the moment, because we need to align them to the new curriculum.

No, no. This is not a quick fix. This is a two to three-year research base. The new qualifications for the new curriculum will not start until 2025. They have to be in place for 2022. There's a three-year roll on. I would expect the broad structure of the interim measures to continue over that time. There will be some tweaks for consistency. It's what's wrapped around those interim measures that I touched on earlier: the other evidence that we bring to bear about the effectiveness of a school, but we do want to say to schools that on the whole, broadly speaking, the interim measures will carry on for two, three years.

Okay, and the reason I asked that is right at the beginning of this session, the Minister said to the Chair that this £100 million that's going into school improvements will be going into things that work. We need some evidence that the interim measures are going to work as well, so when are they going to be evaluated?

Well, we've only just used them for one year.

We've signalled that they're only going to be in place for three years. We are carrying out our own review of the impact of those and that's been built in, but I expect the OECD report—because it is an extensive report—to give us feedback on how those things are working now, and some steer, as they did with the last report, as to the direction we would want to go into. 

And what I'm also interested in is those performance management measures around schools. Yes, they're about outcomes for children, but actually are about a broader suite of behaviours within that school, so, yes, qualifications and grades are an important part of a performance measure, but actually, I have other expectations of schools, above and beyond simply qualifications. And so, we would want our permanent set of performance measures to look at a wider set of behaviours within a school, and I think because—. Exams are important—of course they are, qualifications are important—but the way in which those schools achieve those results are also important.

I absolutely—and we need to find a way of how we can truly measure that. Sometimes, children's well-being is influenced by lots of things outside the control of a school. So, I don't want schools to be held accountable for things that they have no control over, because of the circumstances in which a child may be living. But, absolutely: well-being and how the culture of the school addresses well-being is really important to me.

10:45

How useful is PISA for you in helping school improvement? I know that it's not always the thing that you enjoy watching or looking out for. But, genuinely, how useful is it?

It is one of a range of tools that we need to look at. Siân, quite rightly, talked about consistency. PISA is one thing where there is a level of consistency, so it will continue to be, I think, an important part of how we test how our system is doing.

We know that you are a little bit encouraged, but we are not out of the woods yet. You mentioned this in Plenary when we talked about PISA. How confident are you that we are on track for meeting these targets that were set before your time, or do you think that having those targets is helpful? Is it setting up aspirations that are incapable of being met within a period of time?

Well, those long-term targets of a score around 500 are part of 'Our National Mission', and we have to keep the pressure on to strive. They are testing, but we have to keep the pressure on to strive to reach them. In some cases, I can be quite encouraged. If we look at reading scores for girls, we are almost there, but that just demonstrates what a journey we've got with our boys to address.

For me, one of the ways in which we will reach those targets and achieve them is further progress on our more able and talented children. Although we are now performing at an OECD average, I will be the first person to admit that, although we have seen an improvement in the higher level skills of our more able and talented children, we do not perform at an OECD average with regard to those level 6 and level 5 scores.

Yes. So, I think that's where we really need to push on. That's one of the reasons why we have introduced a more able and talented budget to support that, and our Seren programme, which is delivering fantastic results post-16. That's why we're introducing the principles of Seren earlier into children's careers, bringing it down from year 9 upwards, to be able to drive improvements.

So, I think that that's the area that we are particularly keen to work on: making sure that more of our children perform at the OECD average at level 5 and level 6. Clearly, we've got more work to do on reading. We are working with southern Ireland, who have consistently done well with reading scores, to look to see what lessons we can learn to press on with there with reading.

Okay. My final question on this. You recognise it as a priority, particularly for boys. Does that mean that the focus will then drift slightly from maths, where there has been some success; and drift from science, where the encouragement of more people to take GCSE science has reduced the number of high-level passes?

First, we have to have a system that is capable of doing all of those of things at the same time. We can't accept a system that says, 'Well, we can do a bit over here, but that means we have to—.' We have to have a system, Suzy, that can drive improvements at all levels. That's my expectation.

The balloon needs to be bigger not just squeezing it at one end.

Absolutely, yes. That's my expectation of this system. You have to deliver across all of these. We have seen some progress. As I've said, it's far from perfect, and we've got more work to do, but we have to deliver across all three domains, as we did last time.

And I'm not going to make any apologies for changing the performance indicators around science. It was a travesty that there were children who never had the opportunity to sit a science GCSE. We don't have to make assumptions about the nature of many, many, many of those children. We have seen a significant increase in the number of children who are having the opportunity to sit GCSE science and who are passing GCSE science. So, I'm not going to make any apologies about that. One of the reasons that I suspect we have ended up with poor science scores is because of the previous policy around science entries and science qualifications. Again, one of the reasons that we have changed it isn't just solely because we need to do better in PISA, but I think that by changing it, we will see an impact on PISA.

10:50

Dwi jest eisiau trafod mater dwi'n gwybod sydd yn bwysig gennych chi, sef cau'r bwlch cyrhaeddiad rhwng disgyblion sy'n derbyn cinio am ddim a'r rhai sydd ddim yn derbyn cinio am ddim. Yn anffodus, mae'r broblem yn dal i fod yno, onid ydyw?

I just want to discuss an issue that I know is important to you, namely closing the attainment gap between pupils who are eligible for free school meals and those who are not eligible for free school meals. Unfortunately, the problem persists, doesn't it? 

Yes. We are not where we need to be in terms of the performance, not only of our children on free school meals, but the performance of our looked-after children, and the performance of some children from some ethnic minority groups. So, we will continue to look to support those learners in a variety of ways, again looking to amend our practice on the basis of evidence that is given to us from our experts who are there to advise us. There is clearly more that we need to do. There has been some progress in some areas, but it is not where I would want it to be. 

Ond, mae hyn er gwaetha'r ffaith bod yna £475 miliwn wedi cael ei fuddsoddi yn y grant datblygu disgyblion, i'r union bwrpas yma o leihau'r bwlch cyrhaeddiad. Ond, mae'r broblem yn dal i fod yno, ac mewn rhai llefydd, mae'n mynd yn waeth.

But, this is despite the fact that there is £475 million that has been invested in the pupil development grant, for this exact purpose of closing the attainment gap. But, the problem persists, and in some places, it's deteriorating.  

Well, I think that, as I said, I am not shying away from any assumption or declaration that we need to do better. But, I do think that we need to acknowledge where progress has been made. If we go back to look at what PISA has said about our performance, the PISA results show that pupils in Wales are relatively more able to overcome the disadvantage of their background than is the average in OECD countries. So, our children are doing better in that, and that gives me encouragement. That's not me saying that; that's there.

If we look at pupils who are eligible for free school meals, they do score below their better-off counterparts in PISA by some 34 points. The gap in England is 40 points. So, again, that gap is smaller here in Wales. If we look at basic levels of qualifications, back in—. It's difficult to make comparisons because of all the reasons we have talked about, but if we look back to 2006 and we look at the very basic level of qualifications, which is a level 1 qualification, we have seen a jump from 9.4 per cent of children in 2006 achieving a level 1 qualification to over 18 per cent. So, there is progress. There is evidence that the resources that we are spending are making a difference.

But, clearly, we are not where we would want to be. That's why we will continue to focus those resources on those children, where we need it. But, we need to do that earlier. Sticking plasters in years 10 and 11 aren't going to cut it. We need to get this right for those children, the moment that they come into a nursery and the moment that they start their formal education at the age of 5. That's how we are going to make the difference. Providing catch-up, of course, we need to do for those kids; we can't throw those year 10s and year 11s to the wind. We have to support those children. But, we will see real improvement when we get in there earlier.  

Ond dwi'n siŵr ei fod yn fater o siom i chi, oherwydd mae o wedi bod yn flaenoriaeth bersonol i chi hefyd.

O ran dysgwyr o leiafrifoedd ethnig, tra bod yna rhai grwpiau o fewn y grŵp sy'n cyflawni, mae yna dangyflawni yn fan hyn hefyd, onid oes? Dydy o ddim yn gyson ar draws y grŵp lleiafrifoedd ethnig. Ydy hynny'n rhywbeth y byddwch chi'n rhoi ffocws arno fo?

But I'm sure that that is a disappointment to you, because it has been a personal priority for you as well.

In terms of minority ethnic learners, while there are some groups within that category who are achieving, there is underachievement happening here as well, isn't there? It's not consistent across the minority ethnic group. Is that something that you will be focusing upon? 

Yes, and that's why we have committed to maintaining a ring-fenced grant to local authorities of some £10 million, to support education of our minority ethnic children. But, again, you are right, you are absolutely right, Siân. We need a much more sophisticated conversation about what is really going on in attainment across minority ethnic groups so that we can best target that resource and have a conversation about what the differences are. You are absolutely correct: there is a real mixed picture.

If we look at black Welsh girls entitled to free school meals, they perform almost at the national average for all children—not FSM children; the national average for all children. Black Welsh boys don't, but neither do white Welsh boys. So, there is a really complex picture here, and I really welcome a debate about acknowledging the various levels of performance of BAME children, and where the gaps in performance lie. You are quite right: it is a complex picture in the system.

I'm committed to continuing to support educational opportunities, and that's why have ring-fenced the minority ethnic achievement grant. There are some interesting data there. Some children are doing very, very well; others, we need to concentrate on.

10:55

Iawn. Ynglŷn â phlant mewn gofal, sef un o'r grwpiau yma lle dydy cyflawniad ddim yn beth fyddai rhywun yn hoffi iddo fo i fod, bu rhywfaint o welliant yn 2016 yng nghyfnod allweddol 4, ond eto, mae o wedi bod yn siomedig. Oes gennym ni syniad beth sydd wedi bod yn digwydd yn 2019?

Fine. In terms of looked-after children, which is one of the groups where attainment isn't where we would like it to be, there was some improvement in 2016 at key stage 4, but it has been disappointing. Do we know what's been happening in 2019?  

The 2019 data will be published next month, and there has been significant activity. You are right: in recent years, the data have been poor and not where we would want it to be. That's why we have had a reformed approach to PDG LAC; the employment of PDG LAC co-ordinators across the regions. We've identified new resource in the new financial year to test new approaches, so, for instance, virtual school approaches, where we know, in other systems, that has worked. But, we expect the next set of data around the performance of this particular group of learners in March.

Ocê, ac rydych chi'n gobeithio gweld cynnydd.

Okay, and you hope to see progress.

Do you hope to see progress?

Thank you very much. We have come to the end of our time, so can I thank you, Minister, and your official for attending this morning? We have had a wide-ranging and very detailed discussion that will be very useful for the committee. As usual, you will be sent a transcript following the meeting to check for accuracy, but thank you again, both of you, for your attendance this morning. Diolch yn fawr. 

3. Papurau i’w Nodi
3. Papers to Note

Okay. Item 3 is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a letter from ERW providing additional information following the evidence session on 16 January. Paper to note 2 is a letter from Central South Consortium, similarly providing additional information following the evidence session. Paper to note 3 is a letter from the Noah's Ark Children's Hospital for Wales regarding children's rights in Wales, following up on some additional information there. Paper to note 4 is a letter from Qualifications Wales, providing additional information following the annual report scrutiny session in January.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public for the Remainder of the Meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 4, then. Can I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting? Are Members content? Thank you.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:59.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:59.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru