Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People, and Education Committee

23/09/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams MS
James Evans MS
Jayne Bryant MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates MS
Laura Anne Jones MS
Sian Gwenllian MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Huw Morris Cyfarwyddwr Grŵp, Sgiliau, Addysg Uwch a Dysgu Gydol Oes, Llywodraeth Cymru
Group Director, Skills Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, Welsh Government
Jeremy Miles AM Gweinidog y Gymraeg ac Addysg
Minister for Education and the Welsh Language
Owain Lloyd Cyfarwyddwr, y Cyfarwyddiaeth Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Education Directorate, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Phil Boshier 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.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:15.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:15. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Hoffwn groesawu Aelodau i gyfarfod cyntaf tymor yr hydref o'r Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg.

Good morning. I'd like to welcome Members to this first meeting of the autumn term of the Children, Young People and Education Committee.

I wish to welcome Members to the first meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee of the autumn term. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptations relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committee remain in place. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. There are no apologies. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? No. Finally, if I drop out of the meeting for any reason, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.22, that Ken Skates MS temporarily chair while I try to rejoin.

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Papers to note

The first item on the agenda is papers to note. As there are a large number of papers to note, I suggest that they're all noted together. Are Members content with this? Yes, I see that Members are content with that.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 4 a 5 ar yr agenda
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting for agenda items 4 and 5

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4 a 5 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4 and 5 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 3 is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting. I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for agenda items 4 and 5. Are Members content? Yes, all Members are content. We will now proceed in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:17.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:17.

10:00

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 10:00.

The committee reconvened in public at 10:00.

6. Sesiwn graffu gyffredinol gyda Gweinidog y Gymraeg ac Addysg
6. General scrutiny session with the Minister for Education and Welsh Language

We now move on to item 6 on our agenda, which is the general scrutiny session with the Minister for Education and Welsh Language. I'd like to welcome the Minister Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, and his officials, Owain Lloyd, director of the education directorate, and Huw Morris, group director, skills, higher education and lifelong learning. Welcome to you all. The first question today will come from Laura Anne Jones.

Thank you, Chair. Welcome, Minister. It's nice to see you, I hope you had a good summer break. It's so lovely to see all the children going back to school, I'm sure you'll agree with that, and to see them happy and smiling, albeit then putting masks on to go on the bus. But it's great to see.

I'm just wondering generally how you have found the pupils' return to school and what response you've had from the education sector about that. Most pressing for me, and what headteachers are asking me most about—and pupils as well—is their concerns around the latest COVID restrictions, and they are that, if a member of a household has COVID, then the child, if they don't have it, or the sibling or whomever it might be, can still go to school. And that's causing a lot of anxiousness and stress, and obviously, there's a lot of pressure being put on headteachers. It's them I'm getting most mail about, really, and who are talking to me about it. I was just wondering what your response to that is and whether you're working more with the health Minister on maybe adapting that so that children, perhaps, stay at home until their PCR tests come back negative. But obviously, our priority is to keep children in school, so I'm just wondering what your response to that would be. Regardless of that response, as well, I'm sure that you agree with me that there needs to be greater clarity put out there for headteachers to be able to respond to parents' worries. Thank you.

Bore da, bawb. Diolch am y cyfle i roi tystiolaeth yma y bore yma.

Good morning, all. Thank you for the opportunity to give evidence this morning.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with the committee this morning.

Just in response to that first question from you, Laura, I just want to say, really, to start—I want to put on the record my thanks to the education sector for the extraordinary hard work that they're all putting in to keep the school community as safe as possible. I know that the committee will join me in that. I also want to take the opportunity, really, to restate my commitment to being guided in everything that we do by the well-being of our learners. Our policy is absolutely to ensure that as many young people are in education as possible. From your question, obviously, and from our previous discussions on this, I know that you feel very passionately the same. It's essential to their well-being and it's essential to the broader health, actually, of young people as well. What we've seen over the last 18 months, unfortunately, is that children and young people have spent too much time outside of school and college. In the absence of a vaccine at a time when large numbers of people were at risk of serious illness, that was a necessary step, as part of the broader suite of restrictions. But the success of the vaccine roll-out has changed the context of that, fundamentally, as we all appreciate.

The new attendance data from this week, which is data for last week, if you like, but available this week, shows that an average of 89 per cent of pupils were present in school last week. At the end of last term, it was in the low eighties, so I'm pleased that we are seeing more young people in school, rather than the whole-class bubbles being asked to self-isolate. But we have seen escalating numbers of positive cases in schools as well, and I absolutely understand, as your question implies, that that creates some anxiety—that's understandable. I think it's worth remembering that, in Scotland, where schools, as we all know, went back about three weeks before schools in Wales, if you look at roughly the equivalent point in the Scottish term that we are at now in Wales, the numbers of school-age children testing positive are going up there as well, as they are here now, but they have come down in the last week or so. So, that's the picture that we see elsewhere.

I think the point that you make about heads and their responsibilities—. Obviously, that has changed from the last term because of the introduction of the new framework. The framework, I suppose, is intended to give clear guidance to schools. The approach across society and the economy generally has moved to one of risk assessment in the individual setting, based on the local circumstances and the factors at play in that particular environment, and that's the same for schools. But what we also have in schools is this framework, which I hope gives more guidance.

But, I also want to acknowledge that it does cause uncertainty to have that change in regulations, doesn't it, inevitably, perhaps, to some extent. So, I do acknowledge that that's a factor. Obviously, what I have asked schools to do is to make sure that that framework is in place from the beginning of this week, as has been our custom throughout, really. We have allowed a period of notice, so that schools can prepare. But I do think that that creates some uncertainty, inevitably, as the term starts with a new set of regulations. We will continue to work with schools, with local education authorities, with unions, to address any issues that come up. Also, looking at the test, trace, protect system, that is under increasing pressure, obviously, so we are looking to make sure that we explore what we can do to support TTP in schools as well.

On the specific point that you raised, which is an important point around the self-isolation rules and how they apply to a close contact in the household, if you like, of somebody who has tested positive, I am aware, from my discussions with the sector, that there is perhaps some lack of clarity about why this is the rule, if you like. I think that your question is taking me in that direction, really. I just want to assure parents and teachers and heads that it's based on the best evidence that we have. So, for example, our position now, just to be clear for the committee, allows children—and, obviously, fully vaccinated adults—to continue to attend school or their workplace if a member of the household has tested positive for COVID-19 if they themselves are not symptomatic. But, we encourage anyone who lives with someone who has tested positive to be vigilant for symptoms, obviously, and to take a PCR test if they become symptomatic, and a precautionary PCR test as well.

I think, intuitively, people would think, 'Well, actually, wouldn't it be better for that pupil to stay at home?' It isn't that straightforward a picture, is the reality. I don't want to place too much weight on any one individual study. The scientists tell us all the time that you've got to try and see the bigger picture, and there are some elements of uncertainty in relation to linking transmission to precise locations. We know that that's not straightforward. But, a recent Public Health England study, for example, shows that around one in 10—just over 10 per cent—of household contacts get the infection at the current levels of vaccination. So, it's not, as it were, as simple as to presume that all family members will catch COVID from that case. Actually, on top of that, the study also shows, as it happens, that you are even less likely to get it from a contact outside the home. So, I think that those things are very, very relevant to this piece of guidance.

I will just close, if I may, by saying that children are at the least risk of experiencing the really adverse impacts of COVID-19. They have had that period out of school and, with the changing context, I think we need to put making sure that pupils are in school, getting the support they need in that setting, at the top of the list of our priorities, really. 

10:05

Thank you, Minister. Yes, we recognise the changing framework as you outlined there, and the guidance. But, what is clear from what you just said, and from my first question, is that there needs to be clarity here. There needs to be some sort of guidance put out to parents, pupils and headteachers in as layman's terms as possible, to try and curtail this anxiety that parents are feeling.

I went through it myself last week. That's why I was at home online. I was in that conundrum: do I still send my one child to school when my other one is having symptoms? It was a real conundrum, and I felt very stressed, so I can completely understand where these people are coming from who have those concerns, and why they're saying 'Why is that pupil going into school when their parents have got it?' You can understand where those concerns are coming from. And I know the emphasis has shifted to more decisions being made on a localised level, but then, I think the Government needs to take responsibility in helping them as best that they can in terms of sharing that information on why those decisions are being made.

Anyway, moving on from that, unless—

10:10

I just wanted to say, really, I fully acknowledge the point that you made. There's a clear underpinning for the policy. The guidance is clear in what it requires, but I absolutely take the point that you just made, that we want to make sure that parents, carers, teachers have that reassurance that they know how to do the right thing, if you like. So, we're already talking about how we can make sure those messages are communicated more clearly. 

Yes and, obviously, we want to do everything that we can to make our schools as safe as possible. So, there was a bit of confusion from schools again and colleges before we came back this autumn about these ozone disinfecting machines. I know my colleague Siân wants to ask you in further detail about that, but why weren't you forthcoming with a risk assessment on that at the time? And headteachers in schools and colleges didn't seem to be informed in the conversation about that and what they thought of them or if they were coming in. They didn't really know what was going on.

What is your thought process there about not making those decisions earlier in the summer and getting those risk assessments earlier in the summer so they would be ready to roll out from the beginning of the term, really? And do you actually think that they are safe considering they are used in abattoirs and everything like that? So, are they actually safe to use in schools considering there'll be people administrating them that maybe haven't done so before?

Well, this is a very important question. What I announced was funding for carbon dioxide monitors to support schools in making sure their ventilation is as good as it can be, which is a very important dimension to this. I'm also making money available, subject to the work that the technical advisory group is now doing, for the procurement of ozone machines, subject to that TAG process. And the TAG process is there to do exactly what you identified, which is to look at the study that Swansea University has obviously completed, the output of the trials and the pilots, and to look at the broader context as well at the point we’re in now in terms of the transmission of the virus. So, the money’s there, it’s available; we await to see what TAG tells us about the efficacy of that in the particular settings, and in the particular context of where we are now, and we’ll take decisions based on that advice when it comes through to us. But, I want to be clear that it is important for us to look at all available technology to support schools. We will make the right judgments based on the safety profiles and the use profiles. This has been effectively used, for example, in parts of the health service, the ambulance sector in particular. So, that’s the rationale for the process.

I think schools have particularly welcomed the carbon dioxide monitors because they play a significant potential role in helping them with their ventilation. So, I look forward to those being rolled out in schools before the half term.

Okay. Thank you, Minister. Just one more question, because I'm mindful that my colleagues want to ask a lot of questions; there are so many questions I want to ask you. But just going on the theme of information sharing, as the vaccines will now be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds—. I've got a nearly 12-year-old myself, so I would be a bit concerned about him making such a massive decision if he disagreed with what I thought maybe he should do because I consider him as a child still in a lot of ways, even though he's quite mature for his age, ironically.

But, how are we really engaging with those young people making those decisions, because they are still quite young at 12? How are we engaging them with videos and that sort of thing? I did ask the First Minister this, but I just want to ask what you're doing and what you've done, because I do think it's important that they have the full information, that they are engaged with it, not just given a load of sheets that they won't read or whatever it might be, knowing children? So, I was just wondering what you're doing on that. Thank you. 

[Inaudible.]—very important point. So, just to recap on where we are, invitations are going out during the course of this week for vaccinations in, I think, a couple of weeks from now. And that period of time is important because it allows those discussions to happen in the home in the way that you've just identified, so that the decision can be taken in an informed way and after discussion. 

I should say that school staff will not be expected to manage issues around consent in the way that you identified there. That responsibility will sit with the health board because they'll be accessing vaccination through the mass vaccination centres. And we are asking schools to share factual information—the factual underpinning, if you like—so that parents and pupils can make the decisions, and that will then signpost to other resources that will help them make that decision.

This is a very well established part of the clinical world. Decisions around interventions in children of 12 to 15, and beyond is part of the daily working of the health service, if you like. And there are Gillick principles, which I know you'll be familiar with, which are around the competence of the child to give consent. So, that's a very well established part of the process. What we want to make sure is that parents and children have the right information, and, taking the point that the children's commissioner and others have made, that the information is available in a way that is clear, fair, even-handed and accessible to people in that age range.

10:15

Thank you, Minister. Just to clarify one of the points coming from your answer, really, are schools within their rights to advise parents to keep children home if there is a positive case in their household?

Well, the guidance that the Welsh Government has issued is based on our assessment of the well-being of the child, based on the balance of harms. And that's why we think it's important for children to be in school. And so, if they are not themselves symptomatic and there is a positive case at home, our guidance says that they ought to be in school, and we hope that schools are applying that.

Okay. Thank you, Minister. I'll just bring Siân Gwenllian in now.

Diolch yn fawr, Gadeirydd, a bore da. Gan fynd yn ôl at y pwynt ynglŷn â diogelwch o fewn yr ysgolion, a nodi bod y peiriannau carbon deuocsid yn cyrraedd ysgolion erbyn hyn, beth mae ysgolion i fod i'w wneud os ydy'r peiriannau carbon deuocsid yn canfod bod angen puro'r aer? Mae yna ysgolion sy'n methu agor eu ffenestri, er enghraifft. Ac oni fyddai hi'n well gwario'r £3 miliwn yma rydych chi wedi ei glustnodi ar gyfer y peiriannau osôn—sydd yn beiriannau dadleuol—i helpu efo dulliau eraill o lanhau'r aer, a chanolbwyntio ar agwedd awyru yr adeiladau, yn hytrach na'r ochr ddiheintio?

Thank you very much, Chair, and good morning. If I could return to the point on safety within schools, and note that the carbon dioxide monitors are getting to schools now, but what are schools to do if the carbon dioxide monitors do find that there needs to be air purification? There are schools that simply can't open their windows, for example. And wouldn't it be better to spend that £3 million that you've allocated for the ozone machines, which are very contentious, to assist with other methods of ventilation, focusing on the aspect of building ventilation, rather than their disinfection?

Wel, mae dwy ran i'r cwestiwn hwnnw. O ran y rhan gyntaf, hynny yw, dyw'r peiriannau sydd yn monitro, wrth gwrs, ddim yn gwneud i ffwrdd â'r galw i gael polisi awyru sydd yn effeithiol. Felly, mae e'n eich cynorthwyo chi yn yr ystafell ddosbarth i wybod a oes angen cymryd camau pellach. Rwy'n disgwyl bod pob ysgol a phob sefydliad addysgiadol wedi gwneud asesiad risg eisoes ynglŷn â hyn, ynglŷn â'u mannau dysgu, ac yn edrych ar ba rwystau a fyddai yna i ehangu ar awyru pe bai angen gwneud hynny. Felly, rwy'n disgwyl bod y gwaith hynny wedi digwydd eisoes ar lawr gwlad.

Mae rhyw brofiad gyda ni o hyn. Mae Ynys Môn eisoes yn defnyddio rhai o'r peiriannau yma yn eu hysgolion, ac mae hynny'n dangos rhai o'r pethau sy'n gallu digwydd. Felly, ar lawr gwlad, yn aml mae'n gallu bod yn rhywbeth syml fel jest agor ffenest. Ond mae'r broses o asesu risg yma i fod i ddangos lle, efallai, mae angen camau pellach, ac mae angen sicrhau wedyn fod awdurdodau lleol yn gweithio gydag ysgolion i ateb hynny.

Ond o ran y pwynt ehangach roeddech chi'n ei wneud, mae gwaith yn digwydd eisoes gyda SAGE ac yma yng Nghymru i gloriannu gwerth peiriannau awyru a phuro awyr eraill, yn hytrach na dim ond y peiriannau osôn. Felly, fe gawn ni weld beth ddaw o'r broses honno hefyd. Jest i'ch sicrhau chi, fydd dim penderfyniadau'n cael eu cymryd o ran gwariant ar beiriannau osôn tan ein bod ni wedi cael yr ymateb oddi wrth TAG, a bydd y broses gaffael yn dechrau bryd hynny, os hynny.

Well, there are two parts to that question. In terms of the first, the carbon dioxide monitors don't remove the need for an effective ventilation policy. It assists you in the classroom to know when further steps need to be taken. I expect that every school and every education establishment will have carried out a risk assessment already in this area, in terms of their classrooms, and so on, and have looked at what obstacles would stand in the way of increased ventilation if that were required. So, I expect that work to have already happened on the ground.

We do have some experience of this. Anglesey, for example, is already using some of these monitors in its schools, and that has shown what can happen. On the ground, it can be something as simple as opening a window. But the process of risk assessment is supposed to demonstrate where further steps are necessary. And we then need to ensure that local authorities work with schools to respond to those needs.

But in terms of the broader point you made, work is already ongoing with SAGE and here in Wales to evaluate the value of other air purification methods, not just the ozone machines. So, we'll see what emerges from that process too. Just to reassure you, no decision will be taken in terms of expenditure on ozone machines until we've received that TAG response, and the procurement process will start at that point, if it does start.

Felly, rydych chi'n rhyw led awgrymu efallai fod angen clustnodi arian ar gyfer helpu ysgolion i ddelio efo'r risg o aer ddim yn symud o gwmpas yn ddigonol. Achos, ar hyn o bryd, does yna ddim arian ar gael iddyn nhw wneud y gwelliannau hynny a fy awgrym i ydy defnyddio peth o'r arian sydd wedi ei glustnodi ar gyfer y peiriannau osôn yn y ffordd yna—gall fod yn fwy effeithiol.

So, you are suggesting, perhaps, that we do need to allocate funding to assist schools in dealing with the risk of inadequate ventilation. Because, at the moment, there is no funding available to them to make those improvements and my suggestion is that you use some of the money allocated for the ozone machines in that way, which could be more effective.

10:20

Wel, jest i fod yn glir, dylai fod cynlluniau eisoes ar waith i sicrhau bod mannau dysgu yn cael eu hawyru, felly dyna'r man cychwyn. Ond mae cronfa o arian wedi'i datgan. Os na chaiff ei wario ar beiriannau osôn, wrth gwrs bydd ar gael i'w wario ar bethau eraill yn y cyd-destun hwn.

Well, just to be clear, plans should already be in place to ensure that classrooms are ventilated, so that's the starting point. But a fund has been put in place. If it's not spent on ozone machines, then it will be available for spending elsewhere in this context.

Dwi'n siŵr y byddai hynny'n newyddion y byddai ysgolion yn ei groesawu o ran cael arian i fedru trwsio ffenestri sydd ddim yn gallu cael eu hagor, er enghraifft.

Jest pwynt arall sydd gen i rŵan, Gadeirydd, cyn symud ymlaen. Dwi'n falch eich bod chi'n gallu defnyddio data o'r Alban i weld beth sydd yn digwydd a bod yna rywfaint o dystiolaeth, beth bynnag, bod achosion positif mewn ysgolion yn gostwng yn fanna, ond mae'r sefyllfa'n ddifrifol yng Nghymru ar hyn o bryd, onid ydy? A oes gennych chi gynlluniau wrth gefn rhag ofn y byddwn ni yn gorfod cau ysgolion unwaith eto, ac rwy'n meddwl yn enwedig ynglŷn â dysgu o bell? Mi oedd yna arafwch yn cael laptops allan i bobl ifanc a phlant yn ystod y cloi cyntaf. Oes yna gynlluniau wrth gefn rhag ofn—ac nid oes neb ohonom ni eisiau gweld hyn yn digwydd, ond i wneud yn siŵr bod y plant yn gallu parhau i gyrchu eu haddysg o bell os oes angen?

I'm sure that's news that schools would welcome in terms of accessing funding to fix windows that can't be opened, for example. 

Just one further point from me, Chair, before we move on. I'm pleased that you can use Scottish data to see what patterns are emerging and that there is some evidence at least that positive cases in schools are falling there, but the situation is very serious in Wales at the moment. Do you have any contingency plans in case we do have to close schools once again, and I'm thinking particularly about remote learning? There was some delay in getting laptops out to children and young people during the first lockdown. Are there contingency plans in place just in case—and nobody wants to see this happening, but can we just ensure that children can continue to access their education remotely if necessary?

Wel, gyda llwyddiant y cynllun brechu, dŷn ni'n sicr ddim yn disgwyl gweld ysgolion yn cael eu cau ar lawr gwlad yn gyffredinol fel petai. Ond hefyd, fel rŷch chi'n ei ddweud, mae angen i ni sicrhau bod gyda ni gynlluniau wrth gefn ar gyfer unrhyw sefyllfa. Rwy'n credu ein bod ni mewn sefyllfa wahanol iawn heddiw i ble roeddem ni ar ddechrau'r pandemig. Mae ysgolion wedi'u paratoi'n llawer gwell o ran darparu addysgu ar-lein ac o bell os oes angen gwneud hynny.

O ran addysg a hyfforddiant ar gyfer y gweithlu addysg eu hunain, mae lot fawr o waith wedi digwydd dros y cyfnod diwethaf i sicrhau bod eu hyfforddiant nhw wedi cynyddu'n sylweddol iawn. Felly, mae hynny'n ddarpariaeth ar-lein, fel petai, iddyn nhw, fel eu bod nhw'n dysgu'r sgiliau ychwanegol, ond hefyd sesiynau cenedlaethol ac ar lefel rhanbarthol; mae deunyddiau sy'n gallu cael eu defnyddio mewn modd interactive. Mae Hwb wedi datblygu adnoddau ehangach yn y ddwy iaith yn y cyd-destun hwn. Mae yna adnoddau i gefnogi myfyrwyr sydd yn paratoi ar gyfer arholiadau o bell o ran adnoddau dysgu ar-lein.

A hefyd roeddech chi'n sôn am y buddsoddiad yn y cit, os hoffech chi—y gliniaduron ac ati. Mae'r buddsoddiad yn hwnnw wedi bod yn sylweddol iawn. Mae rhyw 186,000 o declynnau wedi eu prynu a'r cyfran helaeth ohonyn nhw wedi eu dosbarthu eisoes. Bydd buddsoddiad pellach o ryw £15 miliwn mewn technoleg addysg rhwng nawr a diwedd y flwyddyn a bydd y rheini mewn ysgolion ac yng nghartrefi pobl. Ac un o'r pethau, rwy'n credu sydd wir yn bwysig yw ein bod ni wedi edrych gydag awdurdodau lleol a chydag ysgolion ar ddisgyblion a myfyrwyr efallai na fyddai wedi cael mynediad at git o'r math yma yn y gorffennol ac wedi gallu dodi ar waith gynlluniau eithaf hyblyg—eithaf tailored os hoffech chi i amgylchiadau'r unigolion hynny. Felly, rŷm ni'n dechrau, rwy'n credu, o fan cychwyn hollol wahanol pe tasem ni'n gorfod bod yn y sefyllfa hynny.

Well, with the success of the vaccination programme, we certainly don't expect to see schools closed across the board. But as you said, we do need to ensure that there are contingency plans in place. Whatever the situation, I think we are in a very different scenario to where we were at the beginning of the pandemic. Schools are far better prepared now in terms of providing online and remote teaching and learning if necessary.

In terms of education and training for the education workforce themselves, then a great deal of work has happened over recent times to ensure that their training has increased substantially. So, that is online provision for them, if you like, so that they have those additional skills.  There are also national and regional sessions; there are materials that can be used in an interactive manner. Hwb has developed broader resources in both languages in this context. There are resources to support students who are preparing for examinations remotely in terms of online teaching materials.

And you also mentioned the investment in kit, if you like—the laptops and so on. Now, the investment there has been very substantial indeed. Some 186,000 devices have been purchased and most of them have already been distributed. There will be another investment of some £15 million in education tech between now and the end of the year and those will be in schools and in people's homes. And one of the things that's very important is that we have, with local authorities and with schools, looked at pupils and students who perhaps couldn't access this kind of kit, or couldn't have accessed it in the past. And we have put in place some quite flexible, tailored schemes to the individual's circumstances, so I think we would be starting from a very different point if we were to find ourselves in that situation.

Fedrwch chi roi sicrwydd i'r pwyllgor bod pob un plentyn yng Nghymru sydd yn gorfod aros adref am wahanol resymau oherwydd sefyllfa COVID—bod pob un plentyn yn mynd i fedru cario ymlaen efo'i addysg mewn ffordd rithiol?

Can you give the committee an assurance that every child in Wales who has to remain home for whatever reason in relation to COVID—that every single child will be able to continue with his or her education virtually?

Wel, yr hyn rŷm ni'n gwybod o'n trafodaethau diweddar gydag awdurdodau lleol, fel ein bod ni'n deall y rhwystredigaethau a'r sialensau i fynediad a'r buddsoddiad rŷm ni wedi'i wneud, yw bod yr hyn sydd yn y system eisoes, neu ar y ffordd yn yr wythnosau nesaf cyn diwedd y flwyddyn—bod hynny'n ddigonol i ddiwallu anghenion ysgolion a dysgwyr ar draws Cymru.

Well, what we know from our recent discussions with local authorities so that we can understand the challenges and barriers to access and the investment that we've made is that what's in place in the system now, or is in the pipeline over the next few weeks before the end of the year—that that will be sufficient to meet the needs of schools and learners across Wales.

Thank you, Siân. We're very tight on time, so I really think we're going to have to keep going, because there are very important issues to discuss and we won’t get very far otherwise. So, I’m going to bring in Ken Skates.

10:25

Thanks, Chair. Good morning Minister, great to see you, and your excellent officials as well. I’m just going to ask a few questions about the medium and long-term future of school education, and in particular if I can just start with the Welsh Government’s renew and reform planning. Are you able to give an indication of how the additional funding is going to be used, and whether, and indeed if so, it will be targeted at certain age groups?

Yes, certainly. The first thing to say, I think, is the Education Policy Institute's report in June tells us something about the level of investment that we’ve made through renew and reform, which is the highest of any of the four nations in the UK at around £400 per pupil.

I published an update yesterday, actually, in terms of where we are with additional funding into the renew and reform programme and specific extensions of it to cover Welsh language emersion, additional funding to cover newly-qualified teachers having access to the classroom, and some further support for delivering qualifications. So, actually, the funding we are spending in this financial year has increased from £150 million to £160 million.

You think targeting it is the key point, and that’s the underpinning philosophy of it anyway. So, we are targeting it at four areas. Specifically, one is at the well-being of learners, generally. One is in the early years, to make sure that we are supporting our youngest children at the time when their developmental needs are the most significant. Post-16 and transition from school settings needs particular support and, obviously, the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged learners. So, I’ve announced yesterday some of the ways in which that’s being targeted. An example of this, just to give you one crystalised example, is the recruit, recover and raise standards element of that, which is the bit of the budget that pays for the 1,800 full-time equivalent additional staff in the system. That is very specifically targeted, or weighted if you like, to reflect the characteristics I’ve just described. So, generally, there’s a bit of the formula which is around pupil numbers, and there’s a bit of the formula which is around priority year groups, additional learning needs, and so on. That funding is distributed to all schools based on those criteria, via local authorities, and 100 per cent of that funding is passed to schools. And then, at a school level, heads are able to make judgements about how best to support their learners. There are some really good examples across Wales of how this is making a difference. So, most schools are using a blend of these, actually, but whether it’s about learning coaches, whether it’s about emotional literacy support assistant support, whether it’s about additional support for those who’ve been out of their Welsh-medium setting because of not being in school—there are very specific mechanisms for targeting this, and I think we’ve seen really good practice happening right across Wales.

Thank you, Minister. Can I just ask how concerned you are about the attainment gap and the impact that the pandemic has had on the attainment gap, and how it’s affecting the long-term ambitions of reducing that gap?

Well, I’m absolutely concerned about it, because the number one priority for us coming out of the pandemic is to make sure that we are supporting those learners who are most likely to be at risk of falling behind as the consequence of the impact of the pandemic. That’s actually exactly why renew and reform is specifically targeted and weighted in the way that it is. So, if you look at the range of qualifications this summer, you’ll see differences in terms of performances at gender, ALN status, free school meals eligibility. So, the performance overall has increased, but the gaps, actually, in some of those, have widened. We’ve seen a piece of work done in England by the Department for Education, which Renaissance did, which shows some examples of learning loss, and again some of that is focussed on our more disadvantaged learners. So, in line with the programme for government commitments that we have made, we are reviewing our policies in this area with the intention of developing a new strategic approach, if you like, to reducing educational inequalities. Obviously, some of that can be done in the classroom. Some of it, obviously, is much broader than that. But it's that assumption, which is borne out to some extent by the evidence in qualifications, of the widening of the attainment gap that underpins renew and reform, effectively.

10:30

Thank you. Your predecessor Kirsty Williams was passionate in promoting the Government's national mission in raising school standards. Are you equally committed to this agenda, and how do you envisage taking it forward in the context of recovery from the pandemic? 

Yes, absolutely. Our national mission is to raise standards for all children, and just in the way your previous question was highlighting, some children will need particular support in order for us to realise that mission fairly and equitably for all children in all parts of Wales. A significant amount of that is the reform agenda that we are driving forward, whether that's in the curriculum, additional learning needs, qualifications reform; a significant amount of it is done by the additional investment, responding to the particular challenges of the last year, and then alongside that, the sort of targeted interventions that we've just been talking about. But there's a rule here for regional working and the consortia to help us raise standards in all parts of Wales; they will continue to play a central role in our mission to do that. I want to make sure that we are avoiding duplication of resources, that we're drawing on economies of scale, and that we're providing a high-quality service through the consortia to schools, which draw the best expertise available. That's the underlining philosophy for them, and I want to see that being a real driver for school improvement right across Wales, and I want to see all local authorities being part of a consortium, so that can work equally in all parts of Wales.

Thank you, Minister. Can I now ask about arrangements for the awarding of qualifications in 2022, and the approach taken with Qualifications Wales towards expected grade levels? Do you anticipate that there'll be a realignment next year, and if so, will that see a hard pull back to pre-pandemic levels, or a continuation of the higher 2020 and 2021 levels?

This, as you will know, lies in the hands of Qualifications Wales as the independent regulator to make judgment around the standardisation of examinations. What I want—and I've met with Qualifications Wales to make clear my priorities, if you like, and how that is approached for next summer—to make sure is that no learner in Wales is disadvantaged against any other learner in any other part of the UK. That is a really key priority: that we make sure that learners in all parts of the UK are treated equitably in relation to how examinations are graded next year.

What I said this year is that we were very, very focused on making sure that the system was fair to this year's cohort, and I'm very, very focused on making sure that it'll be fair for next year's cohort in 2022 as well. There are other principles that work here—so, you know, intergenerational fairness, if you like, year on year is a dimension to this; learner well-being is a dimension to it as well. But I'm absolutely focused on making sure that our learners in Wales aren't disadvantaged by the arrangements for next year. 

Thank you, Minister. And finally from me, I'd just like to ask a question about supporting the emotional and mental health of young people, and obviously we anticipate that there'll be rising levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health illnesses. Working with other Ministers, how do you envisage tackling this, and, indeed, implementing preventative measures, rather than just allowing the focus to be on treatment and reactive measures? And also, are you looking at—potentially we're going to be looking at this with another committee—the idea of implementing universal free school meals at all in order to not just improve the nutrition of learners, but also to take away some of that shame that binds a lot of learners, not just during their school years, but also for the rest of their life? 

Well, on the first of those two questions, you're absolutely right. We've already seen, haven't we, the impact on learner well-being of not being in school—I refer back to the earlier conversation that we had. And that underpins, really, our approach to making sure learners are back in the classroom. But this is an area that I've been working on very closely with the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being in relation to how we can bring initiatives together in both parts of Government to support our learners. At the moment, as you will know, obviously, in March, we published our framework on embedding a whole-school approach to emotional and mental well-being. We've committed significant funding in this year to roll that out, and that includes school counselling, it includes the targeted interventions that we want, but also universal provision in some areas, importantly about how we support teachers and other school staff to take forward this agenda.

The child and adolescent mental health services in-reach project—we published the final evaluation of that over the summer—has told us some very interesting things about how we can support schools to identify concerns around learner well-being. We will need to use the funding we've committed to that, which is around £5 million, to extend that, and that includes taking on significant numbers of staff to work in this agenda in school. I'm really keen to make sure that schools have the support to make the judgments they need to make about getting the resources and the teaching resources into school that have an evidence base, if you like. There's quite a lot of resource in this space. It's our job as a Government to guide schools through that plethora by saying, 'Here's what's evidenced; here are the kinds of interventions that we know work.' Public Health Wales are working on a toolkit for us, which is designed to do exactly that, so that schools will be able to look to that in order to be able to make those decisions.

I suppose, finally, the thing to say is the work in the digital space around this, which is the young person's mental health toolkit, an online—a digital—offer, if you like, that brings together and signposts quite a range of other services to support our young people. So, there's a lot of work going on in that space that Lynne Neagle and I are working on together.

On the second point in your question around free school meals, there's a review already under way in relation to this. We had a clear manifesto commitment to meet the current demand as a consequence of the pandemic—numbers have gone up quite significantly in the last year, unfortunately, because of hardship—but also to review the eligibility criteria themselves. That work has been going on over the summer, working with and in discussion with people like the Bevan Foundation about the work they've been doing, and I'm hoping to be able to say some more about that in the coming weeks.

10:35

Wonderful. Thank you. I'm looking forward to hearing that. Can I just ask one last question regarding mental health, then? Is there likely to be additional funding at all made available for school counselling provision—school counsellors and therapists?

Yes, there is. I don't have the number in front of me, I'm afraid, Ken, but there is funding committed to extend that. I can let you have the numbers if you'd be interested.

That'd be fantastic. Thank you, that's great to hear. Thanks, Chair.

Thank you, and I'll bring Laura in now—briefly, if you can, Laura.

Yes. Just really quickly, Minister; I raised it with the First Minister yesterday, and I don't know if you're aware of it, but I was talking about mental health first-aid training to go into schools for pupils—which community groups do for free, so there would be no cost attached to this—and whether they could go in and train pupils and we can ensure that there are ambassadors, like there are in some schools but not in others, particularly mental health ambassadors, and whether, in fact, mental health first-aid training needs to be incorporated—I know it's not your thing, but—within teachers' training, going forward. Because pupils have access to teachers more than—. Teachers have access to pupils more than parents do, to an extent, in the time they spend with them, so people can be signposted in the right way by their fellow pupils or teachers and, of course, they can be asked that life-saving question, 'Are you okay?' So, there are just a few ideas that could be for free, but have a big impact.

What I would say is that the objectives that you've just described are obviously the objectives that the framework and the whole-school approach are intended to deliver, if you like, so I've no—. I wholeheartedly endorse the objectives. I suppose my question is: what is the best way of achieving that? We've got a framework that is ambitious and does the things that you described in your question. Is there a role for that first aid specifically? I'm not myself an expert in that, but I suppose I would start from the principle of saying, 'Does the framework deliver that outcome? If not, does this—?' I don't want us to be less ambitious than the framework, if I can put it like that. The framework is an ambitious thing; I don't want us to lose that ambition, but, subject to that overarching principle, as I've said earlier, I'm keen to make sure that schools have access to evidence-based interventions.

Thank you, Minister. We'll now move on with Buffy Williams. Buffy.

Thank you, Minister—Chair. There are many changes due to be made within your portfolio over the course of the sixth Senedd term. These changes will affect the education and the health and well-being of pre-16 school pupils. I know the Minister has announced the 'Renew and reform' plan and, just yesterday, the journey to curriculum roll-out. Could you please talk us through the key priorities and set out what you believe will be the main challenges within your portfolio?

10:40

Well, on the issue of curriculum reform specifically, you'll have seen, obviously, as you mentioned, the publication yesterday. The challenge that that seeks to address is bringing together, if you like, the competing objectives that schools face at the moment so that they're not competing, if you like. So, schools are obviously dealing with and responding to COVID on the one hand, and schools are on the journey to curriculum introduction on the other. And I want to make sure that, as far as humanly possible, the system is pulling all those interventions, if you like, in the same direction so that schools can have a streamlined approach. So, that's one of the big challenges. 

Yesterday's document, I think, helps us significantly in relation to that. It helps schools with the 'how', if you like, of getting to the start of curriculum roll-out. It's practical, it has fairly user-friendly material on the statutory framework for making the decisions and so on. And alongside that, I launched the national network, which is, again, intended to be practitioner led and to provide the system at large with an opportunity to come together and reflect and learn from each other, if you like. So, I'm really keen to make sure all of that is moving in the same direction.

There are some—. You may have seen from the research that was published yesterday, the Government social research publication, some responses from different parts of the sector on their readiness, their commitment to the curriculum, and it assesses that across the system. And there are definitely things that we need to learn and listen to there, which—. They're not new; we knew that those were challenges already. So, an example of that is that the picture generally speaking is that people are very supportive of the curriculum and have a high level of knowledge of what's expected. School leaders tell us they know what needs to be done to design the curriculum, but they're also telling us, at least during the period of the research, that they were less sure about the assessment aspect of that, which is obviously—you know, a curriculum and assessment Act is what's governing this, so it's a very important part of the new offer, if you like. So, the research is based on—. Since the period of research, if you like, the picture has moved on quite a lot. So, we're consulting at the moment on the arrangements for assessment, and we're procuring a toolkit to help schools actually put in place those assessments. So, there's a constant process of listening to the sector over the next year, making sure that we are aligning what we ask in terms of COVID and the curriculum. So, that's one set of challenges, if you like. 

I want to make sure that the roll-out of the additional learning needs legislation, which started from 1 September, happens in a way that is smooth. That's a three-year period. There have been challenges in that because of COVID. So, the system is not—. Well, Welsh Government and the system at large have obviously not been able to devote all the time they would wish to during the period of COVID, for obvious reasons. So, we've had to adjust a little bit how the implementation is working so that we give the people who have to operate the system, if you like, a little bit more flexibility, a little bit more time to get ready. So, that's a key priority. 

Qualifications reform is a—. There hasn't been, I suppose, that much discussion of this, really, but curriculum reform is over here, and the companion piece to that is how we assess, as I just mentioned, but also how we provide qualifications that reflect the values of the new curriculum. Qualifications Wales actually wrote to me yesterday, setting out their plans on this. I'd be happy to share that letter with the committee, Chair. And it talks about a year's worth, now, of co-construction with the sector. I'm hoping that the additional flexibility that there is in the curriculum roll-out for secondary schools for 2022 will give some capacity in the system to engage with that discussion. It's really important that we hear the voices of practitioners and school leaders in that design. And the objective, then, is to consult on those new qualifications in late 2022. They'll be coming into effect and first taught in 2025, for awarding in 2027. We've learned a lot, I think, over the last two years of what—you know, how exams could be done differently, the role of assessment in different ways. I want us to be able to draw on all of that; I want Qualifications Wales to be able to draw on all of that in how they devise the next generation of GCSEs, if you like. There are a lot of other things as well, Chair, but I could speak for some length, but I'll—[Inaudible.]—

10:45

Yes, no, very grateful for that. I think we all, Members and the Minister, appreciate there's a lot to go through here, but the briefer we can be, the more we can get through. Buffy.

As the Minister just touched on, I know the beginning of the three-year implementation of the new ALN system has started; will the Minister provide an update on the roll-out of the new ALN system and outline what support—more specifically, mental health support—will be provided to ALN students, their teachers and their families throughout the roll-out?

Yes, certainly. So, the implementation period has now begun on 1 September, and it's using a phased approach in the first year. So, the new system is now live for those who are newly identified, if you like, as potentially having additional learning needs. The next phase within the first year will start on 1 January, and then that will bring into the system children—in maintained schools, obviously—who are in receipt of special provision via school action or school action plus, or the early years equivalent. They'll start to move over to the new system from 1 January, and, as I was saying a little bit earlier, that decision to move to a sort of sequenced approach, if you like, reflects the cumulative effects of the pandemic, and then, I think, the need in the system, frankly, for a bit more time in order to be able to adjust to the new reality.

In terms of the mental health support, part of our investment over the last year has been to address the mental health and well-being support needed by families and individuals with additional learning needs. There have been quite significant sums invested in that, whether it's in relation to guidance or whether it's in relation to additional resources to support individuals with particular mental health needs in addition to their learning needs. There's been funding that has enabled backlogs of assessments to be cleared; we've been funding the additional costs associated with the kind of blended learning that ALN pupils have needed and additional one-to-one support to provide that extra support. There's been additional funding in the system for occupational therapy, for example, and specific interventions as well around extending the mental health and well-being support that the ALN cohort in particular have needed as a consequence of COVID.

Thank you. I know the Chair is conscious of time, so I'll just ask one last question: what contribution will the new Welsh language education Bill make to reaching the Cymraeg 2050 target of 1 million Welsh speakers?

Education is obviously a key component in how we deliver Cymraeg 2050. Since we announced that target, we've opened 40 new Welsh-medium nursery groups. There's been a slight increase in the percentage and numbers receiving education in the medium of Welsh, more activity in further education and higher education, and an increasing number of adults choosing to learn Welsh—very, very encouraging figures in that area. You will be aware of the five-year strategy, which I announced back in July, being mindful of the time, really, that sets out a number of very specific interventions in the education sector at all levels, and I think that journey from the early years through to higher education and indeed beyond that, in fact, to continuing education, is a really important intervention for us. Seeing that as part of that lifelong journey I think is a really important way of approaching this.

The second driver here is the Welsh-medium education Bill, which we have a manifesto commitment, as you're aware, to bring in. We've already changed secondary legislation to underpin, if you like, the Welsh in education strategic plans, to give them a firmer footing, if you like, in law. But I think there's more to do. I want to be able to say to any learner in Wales, in any part of Wales, that they can have their wish to be taught through the medium of Welsh fulfilled, and this legislation I hope and expect will make a significant contribution to that.

10:50

Thank you, Buffy, and thank you, Minister. We'll now move on to Siân Gwenllian, and we're going to talk about post-16 education.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. A wnewch chi esbonio sut ydych chi'n monitro cynnydd y carfannau TGAU a Safon Uwch a gafodd eu heffeithio gan y newidiadau yn y trefniadau arholi yn 2020 a 2021? Mae yna bum carfan wedi cael eu heffeithio erbyn hyn, onid oes? Ac, yn amlwg, mae pawb eisiau gwybod sut ydych chi'n cadw trac ar y cohorts arbennig yma sydd wedi gorfod newid yn llwyr y ffordd y maen nhw wedi cael eu haddysg.

Thank you, Chair. Could you explain how you are monitoring the progress of those GCSE and A-level cohorts that were impacted by examination changes in 2020 and 2021? There are five cohorts that have now been impacted. And clearly everyone wants to know how you are keeping track of those particular cohorts of pupils who have had to change entirely the way they've approached their education.

Wel, y peth cyntaf i'w ddweud yw ei fod e wir yn bwysig i wneud hynny. Rydyn ni'n gwybod o'r gwaith rydyn ni wedi bod yn ei wneud drwy gyfnod COVID fod y cohorts yma o bobl ifanc, bod yn rhaid inni edrych yn ofalus arnyn nhw a'u cefnogi nhw yn y cyfnod sydd i ddod. Rydyn ni wedi gweithio'n galed yn ystod cyfnod y pandemig gyda phob rhan o'r sector addysg i helpu cynnydd yr unigolion yma i'r cam nesaf ar eu siwrne addysgiadol, gyda syniad o'u llesiant nhw a'u buddion nhw wrth wraidd popeth rydyn ni wedi bod yn ei wneud. Byddwn ni yn tracio eu llwybr nhw, os hoffwch chi, yn y blynyddoedd—. Wel, rydyn ni eisoes yn gwneud hynny, a byddwn yn parhau i wneud hynny yn y blynyddoedd i ddod.

Felly, mae gyda ni amryw o gamau i'w gwneud nawr ac wedyn amryw o gamau fydd yn digwydd dros gyfnod hirach, yn y tymor canol efallai. Felly, ar hyn o bryd rŷn ni'n monitro eu cynnydd nhw a'u gallu mewn perthynas â'r cyrsiau y maen nhw'n eu gwneud, a'r canlyniadau trwy'r cyfnod ôl-16—gwaith penodol ar hynny. Yn y gwanwyn eleni, gwnaethon ni gyhoeddi'r cyntaf mewn cyfres o adroddiadau eithaf in depth gydag ystadegau'n disgrifio'r cohort hwn. Byddwn ni'n parhau i wneud hynny ac yn parhau i gyhoeddi'r dadansoddiad hyn yn rheolaidd i ddisgrifio'r effaith ar yr unigolion hyn.

Yn y tymor canol, os hoffwch chi, a'r tymor hir hefyd, byddwn ni'n edrych ar bethau fel attendance rates, yr amser maen nhw'n treulio mewn addysg un wrth un mewn ysgolion yn gyffredinol, y trends yn y cyrsiau y maen nhw'n eu cymryd, os ydyn nhw'n mynd i addysg uwch ac addysg bellach, a ydyn nhw'n newid cyrsiau, oes patrwm yn dod fanna o ran parodrwydd, ac ati, ac a ydyn nhw'n newid cyrsiau neu'n gollwng cyrsiau—y math yma o beth sy'n dangos efallai patrwm sydd angen ei gefnogi neu ei daclo—ac edrych ar faint ohonyn nhw sy'n mynd ymlaen i addysg o unrhyw fath. Felly mae amryw o fesurau y byddwn ni'n dodi yn eu lle. Rŷn ni eisoes wedi cychwyn ar y gwaith, eisoes wedi cyhoeddi rhywfaint ohono fe, ond dyna'r cynllun.

Well, the first thing to say is that it's truly important that we do that. We know from the work that we've been doing throughout COVID that these cohorts of young people need to be monitored very closely and need to be supported in this next period. We've worked hard during the pandemic with all parts of the education sector to assist with the progress of these individuals to the next stage of their educational journey, putting their welfare and well-being at the heart of everything that we've done. We will be tracking their route, if you like, in the coming—. Well, we're already doing that, in fact, and we will continue to do that in ensuing years.

So, we have a number of actions to undertake now and then various actions in the longer term, maybe in the medium term. So, at the moment we're monitoring their progress and their ability in relation to the courses that they study, and their results through that post-16 period. There's specific work in place there. In the spring of this year we announced the first in a series of in-depth reports with statistics describing this cohort and their progress. We will continue to do that, and we will continue to publish that analysis regularly, so that we can monitor the impact on these individuals.

In the medium term, if you like, and the longer term, we will be looking at things such as attendance rates, the time spent in one-to-one education in schools generally, the trends in the courses that they study, if they go on to FE or HE, whether they change courses, whether there's a pattern there in terms of their preparedness to take that step up, and are they changing courses or dropping particular courses—it's these kinds of things that may identify some patterns that will need to be tackled or supported—and look at how many go on to education of any kind. So, there are a number of steps that we will put in place. We've already started the work, we've already published some of it, but that's our plan.

Diolch yn fawr. Ydy'r garfan o ddisgyblion sydd yn dod o gefndiroedd difreintiedig yn mynd i gael ffocws arbennig yn y cynlluniau monitro yma? Achos rydyn ni'n gwybod bod y bwlch cyrhaeddiad yn gwaethygu, yn anffodus, yn y cohort yma.

Thank you very much. In terms of the cohort of pupils from disadvantaged areas, are they going to be given a particular focus in this monitoring? Because we know that the attainment gap is widening, unfortunately, in this particular cohort.

Ydyn, yn sicr. Dyna un o'r pethau y byddwn ni'n mesur.

Most certainly, yes, that is one of the things that we will measure.

A fedrwch chi sôn wrthym ni pa bryd rydyn ni'n disgwyl cyhoeddi'r cynllun gweithredu y gwnaethoch chi addo yn 'Adnewyddu a diwygio'? Maddeuwch i mi, efallai ei fod o wedi cael ei gyhoeddi yn y dyddiau diwethaf yma, ond dwi ddim yn credu fy mod i wedi gweld y cynllun gweithredu manylach ar adferiad ôl-16.

Can you tell us when we can expect to see the publication of the action plan that you promised in 'Renew and reform'? Forgive me, it may have been published in the last few days, but I don't think I've seen the more detailed action plan on post-16 recovery.

Dyw e ddim wedi ei gyhoeddi eto, ond gwnes i ymrwymiad i wneud hynny yn ystod tymor yr hydref. Rŷn ni ar drac i wneud hynny, felly bydd yn cael ei gyhoeddi yn yr wythnosau nesaf. Ar hyn o bryd, mae rhyw fath o rapid review yn digwydd ynghyd â'r sector i gloriannu'r math o ymyraethau sydd yn fwyaf tebygol o fod yn effeithiol, os hoffwch chi, fel ein bod ni'n rhan o'r broses honno. Mae tîm prosiect wedi bod yn gweithio ar hyn dros yr haf hefyd.

Mae rhai o'r pethau eisoes yn digwydd cyn ein bod ni'n ei gyhoeddi fe, ynglŷn â chefnogaeth un wrth un, ac ati, a chefnogaeth ddigidol hefyd. Ond, rydyn ni'n bwriadu cyhoeddi'r cynllun llawnach yn ystod tymor yr hydref, fel y gwnes i addo.

It hasn't been published yet, but I made a commitment to do it during the autumn term and that's on track, so it will be published in the next few weeks. At the moment, there is a rapid review ongoing along with the sector to evaluate the kinds of interventions that are most likely to be effective, so we're part of that process. We have a project team that's been working on this over the summer, too.

Some things are already happening, of course, before we publish the document in terms of one-to-one support, and so on, and digital support. But we intend to publish the fuller plan during the autumn term, as I pledged.

Sut mae'r cynllun yma yn plethu i'r arian, y £33 miliwn, sydd wedi cael ei roi yn barod, a'r cynnig o gymorth i bob dysgwr amser llawn rhwng 16 ac 19 oed sydd mewn chweched dosbarth a cholegau? Mewn ffordd, mi fuasai wedi bod yn syniad cael y cynllun cyn cyhoeddi'r gwariant mawr.

And how does this plan link to the £33 million that has already been provided, and the offer of support to all full-time pupils between 16 and 19 years of age in sixth forms and colleges? In a way, it would have been a good idea to have had the plan before announcing that expenditure. 

10:55

Roedd rhai yn dweud eu bod nhw'n moyn yr arian fel eu bod nhw'n gallu ei wario fe yn y ffyrdd roedden nhw'n moyn i gefnogi eu dysgwyr, felly mae'r pethau yma i'w cloriannu, onid ŷn nhw? Felly, mae'r arian eisoes wedi'i ddyrannu; dyna'r peth cyntaf i'w ddweud. Mae eisoes yn cael ei wario ar lawr gwlad. Beth rŷm ni'n ei wneud gyda'r gwaith ehangach roeddwn i'n ei ddisgrifio nawr yw edrych ar y pethau amgen y gallwn ni eu gwneud fel bod y cyrff yma'n gallu buddsoddi gyda'r sail honno o dystiolaeth. Fel rŷch chi'n gwybod, y system addysg uwch ac addysg bellach, mae lot mwy o amrywiaeth ynddi nag sydd yn y system ysgol, felly mae lot mwy o bethau yn digwydd ar lefel sefydliadol, os hoffwch chi. 

Y math o bethau rŷm ni'n edrych arnynt, jest i roi rhyw fath o gyd-destun efallai i chi, yw ydyn ni'n gallu cysylltu mentors a phobl sydd mewn byd gwaith penodol mewn un sefydliad gyda dysgwyr mewn sefydliadau eraill, fel bod y system yn gallu bod ychydig yn fwy hyblyg i ymateb i anghenion penodol yn yr ôl-16 i ddelio â COVID. Felly, pethau ymarferol felly.

Some were saying that they wanted the money so that they could spend it in the ways that they wanted to in order to support pupils, so all of these things are in the balance, in a way. So, the funding's already been allocated; that's the first thing to say. It's already being spent on the ground. What we're doing with the broader work I was describing is looking at the alternative things that we can do so that these bodies can invest on an evidence base. As you know, in HE and FE there's a great deal more diversity than there is in the school system, so there are far more things happening at an institutional level, if you like.

The kinds of things we're looking at, just to give you a flavour perhaps, is whether we can link up mentors and people in specific sectors in one institution with learners in other institutions, so that we can be a little bit more flexible in responding to particular needs in post-16 in dealing with COVID. So, it's practical steps such as that.

Ydych chi'n hyderus bod y £33 miliwn yma wedi cael ei ddefnyddio mewn ffordd effeithiol?

Are you confident that this £33 million has been used effectively and efficiently? 

Wel, dyw e ddim i gyd wedi'i ddefnyddio eto, felly byddwn ni yn cloriannu hynny. Mae'r holl gynllun renew and reform, mae proses o gloriannu beth sy'n digwydd, asesu fe, a'n bod ni'n rhannu'r wybodaeth gyda'r system fel bod pobl yn gallu dysgu oddi wrtho fe.

It hasn't all been used yet. We will evaluate all of that. The whole renew and reform programme is a process of assessment, and then we share information with the system so that people can learn lessons from that.

Laura, did you want to come back in on some of those questions? 

Thank you, Chair. I was waiting for my microphone. Yes, on the £33 million again, you say it's been spent already, which is great, but we really do need to know how it's been spent as soon as possible, really, and what areas they deemed it necessary to spend on in order to get the best outcomes. Also, Minister, Siân has been very comprehensive in her questions so she's asked most of what I wanted to ask, but I just wanted to ask you on the mental health side of things, following on from the questioning earlier on how you're supporting learner mental health post-16, reacting to what you've learned from COVID and the education implications that that had. But also, the implications for those learners with additional learning needs and what we've learnt from that, and what support you're now giving them because, obviously, the lack of support that they had, those with additional learning needs, during the pandemic was noticeable. I'm just wondering if you could expand on that. Thank you. 

Of course. Well, there are two questions there, really: one is in relation to the assessment of the value from the £33 million. Just as, I suppose, an obvious point, the academic year's just started, there's a new cohort of learners, we aren't ourselves clear who they are yet, so the money hasn't all been spent; it has started to be spent. As it is being spent, obviously, we will want to make sure that we are capturing how it's being spent, but we're a week into the new term so it's a little bit early to do that yet.

On your second point, so in terms of mental health support in the post-16 space, we allocate as a Government funding of around £2 million every year to support the particular learners in the FE sector in terms of their mental health. That's divided broadly into three strands. So, one is a national Wales-wide part of the fund. That's currently funding a piece of work that ColegauCymru is doing for us, or doing for the sector, actually—a piece of work around adverse childhood experiences in the hub for that; a piece of work the joint trade unions are doing to pilot staff well-being representatives. So, that's the Wales-wide offer, if you like. Then, there's a collaborative strand at a regional level, where groups of colleges will work together on particular initiatives. And then, there's the institutional level strand, if you like, which is obviously based in individual FE institutions. A lot of that is around front-line counselling support, and so on.

As part of the response to the pandemic, we've actually put additional funding into the system this year around learner well-being. That's been allocated directly to colleges to spend. Again, I think a lot of that has been spent on counselling, but other interventions as well. What we know—because colleges have done a lot of work in this space—is that the things that they are identifying, which will not surprise you, are about anxiety about learning, anxiety about future job prospects, financial stress, relationship stress. And actually, the interventions that we're funding are all very much targeted at making sure that those can be addressed, really. So, that's the FE picture.

Obviously, in the HE space, we've talked previously about the funding we've provided via the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales to HE around student hardship, which is a key driver of mental ill health in HE, and £10 million of that was specifically about mental health interventions, and HEFCW are working on making sure that institutions are spending that in a way that supports the objectives.

In terms of ALN specific support, again we made support available in the last financial year to support young people with ALN specifically in this space. This year, as part of the annual funding we make available to FE, the budget allocation, I think, is a little over £15 million to support learners with additional learning needs. We're continuing to fund the ALN transformation lead for FE. There are particular new responsibilities that the FE sector will be taking on, which they haven't had a history of discharging, if you like, so there's a particular need to support the sector there, and there is specific work happening this year to pilot particular interventions around ALN learners in supported internships, around developing inclusive communication strategies to FE, so that the wide range of opportunities available to learners is available to ALN learners like to any other learner.

11:00

That's brilliant to hear. Of course, we welcome all that—all those interventions, actually. So, of that extra support you've given, obviously, if we land ourselves back in that situation, and hopefully we won't, where everyone has shifted back online, and of course for those self-isolating, is some of that money—and I just want to hear you confirm it—being allocated to trying to reach those pupils at home, if they are in an online situation?

Yes, around the online blended offer, there is a lot more of that in the FE space historically anyway, but absolutely, that's one of the cohorts.

Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Minister. Just moving on to further education pay, can you set out the basis for the figure of £1.5 million provided to the further education sector to meet the latest pay award?

Well, it's been our practice when we've—. Well, the first thing to say is that Ministers have this year made a contribution to the teaching pay settlement, as Members of the committee will be aware. Obviously, the pay settlement in FE is currently being negotiated, but it has been the practice to make an equivalent pro rata, effectively, provision available in FE, as any support that we have provided to meet the teaching settlement, and so that's what we have done this year. It's based on that calculation. It's a contribution to the FE pay settlement. Obviously, we don't know what that is yet.

Okay, thank you, Minister. That's very helpful. The independent panel report to the review of post-18 education, conducted by the UK Government, recommended reducing fee levels and introducing some means of controlling student numbers. Has the Welsh Government modelled the impact on Welsh institutions if access to higher education for English students is controlled, or if English fees are cut, and if so, what does the modelling show?

Well, Chair, I think the first thing I want to say here, really, is that it's well over two years, from memory, since the report was delivered to the UK Government. The level of uncertainty in the sector, I'm sure over the border, but certainly in Wales, which I can speak for, is extraordinary, bearing in mind that that report hasn't yet been responded to by the UK Government. So, that is not a good basis to proceed in relation to supporting what is an absolutely vital sector for us in Wales, indeed for all parts of the UK. So, I've got to put that on the record to start, if I may.

At this point in time, the UK Government has not yet finalised the proposals for England based on the Augar report. Obviously, as you would expect, we are monitoring that situation very closely, engaging with the Department for Education, obviously, in relation to this. There are many options in play, whether it's, as you were suggesting, cutting or freezing fee levels, whether it's adjustments to the student loan repayment terms, whether it's a cap. So, we're modelling a range of scenarios at the moment. I suppose the difficulty that we have is that there isn't at this point a public set of assumptions that makes that process tethered in something that is likely to happen, if you like.

Just to give you a headline figure—. It's a very rough and ready approach, but just to give you a sense of scale, I suppose: if the headline fee was cut to £7,500, that could lead to a loss of tuition income in Welsh universities of around just under £97 million—it's about 6 per cent of their total income. So, that is a very, very significant inroad into higher education budgets in Wales. I don't want to attach too much weight to that particular number, I'm just giving you a sense of the order of the impact of that kind of cut. But we are committed as a Government to the principles of Diamond; we want to make sure that our offer to support students in Wales remains progressive and provides support linked to need, but also retains that element of universality that the current system contains. What I would suggest, Chair, if you're content with this, is that, as and when the landscape becomes clearer in terms of the UK Government's decisions, I'd be very happy to write to the committee and provide further information about what that means for our modelling.

11:05

Thank you for that. I think committee members would be very grateful to you for doing that and keeping us informed of the progress on it. Just finally from me, can you set out the Welsh Government's assessment of the impact of the end of EU funding on the tertiary education sector?

Yes. I draw, to some extent, on the role I did in the last Senedd around this as well. In Wales, the European Union structural funds—the European regional development fund, for example, and the research programmes of Horizon, for example—have obviously played a very significant role in driving research and innovation. I think the impact of that research has, frankly, never been more apparent, really, than the impact in the response to the pandemic, if I can put it like that.

Nearly 80 per cent of Wales's total EU funding for research and innovation comes from structural funds, and so, the loss of that poses, obviously, a very significant threat to the research base that Wales has been actually pretty successful at growing over past decades. As Members will be aware, the shared prosperity fund, which is the UK Government's so-called replacement for structural funds, is, in fact no replacement, given the scale of funding that we are talking about. Wales receives, roughly speaking, 2 per cent of overall UK research and development funding, and so the loss of EU structural funds in that context will have a disproportionate effect on future research and innovation investment in Wales. Welsh researchers actually should get at least 5 per cent of the UK Government's allocation, but of that, we get around 2 per cent. I think this continued uncertainty—we've just talked about one source of uncertainty in relation to student fees; this is another source of uncertainty, and our universities are entitled to clarity in relation to this.

I will say, in a slightly more positive space, if I can put it like that, that we were pleased that the UK Government finally recognised, really, our call, which has been consistent, to continue our association with Horizon Europe. That will offer around €95 billion, I think, of funding over the next seven years. And so, there's a real opportunity, obviously, for our researchers, both on an individual basis and in collaboration with other researchers within the Horizon footprint. We've always performed really well in terms of investment from Horizon into the Welsh research community. The predecessor scheme provided a real platform for researchers and businesses, actually, to make use of that research. So, we are actively encouraging our universities, and supporting them, in fact, to make sure that they continue to access, to the fullest extent possible, the funding, but also the collaborative networks, which is a really important dimension to this, and the funding that Horizon Europe offers.

Thank you, Minister. Moving on to James Evans, who's got the last section of questions for us—James.

Thank you very much. Good to see you, Minister. What I want to talk about, Minister, is lifelong learning and apprenticeships. They are vitally important when we're talking about future skills and giving people more opportunities. When people sometimes leave school at 16, it's not always for them, and I do think that access to lifelong learning is really important. So, could you explain to us, Minister, how you'll take forward the work of your predecessor to introduce a right to lifelong learning? 

11:10

I'm really pleased that we have got a clear programme for government commitment, to start with, to lifelong learning. It's a policy area where I want to make real progress over this Senedd term. Before I became a Minister, I spoke quite often about Wales being a second-chance nation, and wanting to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity of continuing to refresh their skills at any point in their journey through life. I think that that's a really important part of our—. Well, it's part of our social justice agenda, but it's also important for our economic agenda as well.

The ambition that we have for lifelong learning was published in the previous Senedd, as you indicated—in November 2020—as part of our vision for the post-compulsory education sector more broadly. Alongside that, we have got a commitment to review adult education, to make sure that we can drive up participation. That's a key commitment again in the programme for government.

We have got a piece of work coming forward—maybe I shouldn't say 'imminently', but in a very short horizon. It's not entirely in my control. It's not all in my control, so I'm putting it like that. The Wales Centre for Public Policy is doing that for us. We have asked them to produce a report on lifelong learning, and there's a piece of work in that that the Learning and Work Institute have been doing specifically on that, on the adult learning component of that. That will help inform, if you like, our broader commitments to lifelong learning, and give us a kind of evidence base for some of the interventions there.

One of our key legislative commitments is to introduce, as you will be aware, the tertiary education and research Bill, which we published last year as a draft Bill. We've consulted on it. We've made some changes to it, and it will contain provisions that will affirm, or give an underpinning to, our commitment to lifelong learning in Wales. Obviously, I'm very much looking forward to the committee's scrutiny of that legislation. I hope that it's a good opportunity to explore in detail what that means for lifelong learning.

A gaf i jest ddod i mewn ar y pwnc dysgu gydol oes? Rydyn ni'n ymwybodol bod LCM yn dod i sylw'r Senedd yn sgil Mesur gan Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig ynglŷn â sgiliau ac addysg ôl-16. Dwi'n ymwybodol y gall fod problem yn codi o ran polisïau dysgu gydol oes Llywodraeth Cymru os ydy'r Mesur yma yn cael ei basio. Hynny yw, mae yna beryg tanseilio gwaith Llywodraeth Cymru o ran y maes dysgu gydol oes. A ydych chi'n rhannu'r consérn yna?

If I could just come in on the issue of lifelong learning. We're aware that there is an LCM that has been drawn to the attention of the Senedd in light of a UK Government Bill on skills and post-16 education. I'm aware that there could be a problem arising in terms of the Welsh Government's lifelong learning policies if this particular Bill is passed. There is a risk that Welsh Government work could be undermined in the area of lifelong learning. Do you share that concern? 

Bydd cyngor yn dod yn ei flaen ynglŷn â'r LCM pan fydd y trafodaethau gyda'r Llywodraeth yn San Steffan wedi gorffen, os hoffwch chi. Mae'n sicr bod rhai o'r newidiadau sy'n digwydd yn Lloegr o dan y Ddeddf arfaethedig yn mynd i gael impact yma yng Nghymru.

Beth rŷn ni wedi bod yn ei wneud yw gweithio gyda—. Wel, mae Cymwysterau Cymru wedi bod yn gwneud y gwaith o edrych ar yr impact i sicrhau, os yw'r newidiadau—. Jest i roi cyd-destun, wrth gwrs, mae rhai o'r cymwysterau yma yn cael eu cynnig ar draws y Deyrnas Gyfunol. Felly, os oes newidiadau'n digwydd gan y bobl sy'n darparu'r cymwysterau hynny yn Lloegr, mae risg bod pobl sy'n cymryd y cymwysterau yng Nghymru yn colli allan. Dyna'r risg sylfaenol fan hyn.

Mae darn o waith sylweddol wedi bod yn digwydd i sicrhau naill ai bod cymwysterau 'made in Wales', os hoffwch chi, yn cael eu creu, neu fod cymwysterau eraill yn cael eu comisiynu. Yn y sgwrs mwyaf diweddar a gefais i gyda Cymwysterau Cymru ar y testun hwnnw, o gof, roedden nhw'n dweud eu bod nhw ddim yn darogan risg yn y meysydd mwyaf poblogaidd yma yng Nghymru, o ran y cymwysterau hynny.

Ond, mae'n sicr bod y newidiadau yn mynd i gael effaith. Mae amryw o bethau sydd efallai yn mynd i ddod yn y Mesur. Bydd yn rhaid inni edrych ar y Ddeddf rŷn ni'n ei chyflwyno yma yng Nghymru yn y cyd-destun hwnnw. Dyw'r elfennau hynny ddim yn gwbl eglur ar hyn o bryd, fel sydd efallai yn digwydd o bryd i'w gilydd. Felly, mae angen cadw llygad ar y maes yma yn sicr.

Advice will be provided on the LCM once the discussions with the Westminster Government have been concluded. But, it's certain that some of the changes proposed in England under this Bill will have an impact here in Wales. 

What we have been doing—. Well, it's Qualifications Wales that have been doing this work, but they have been looking at the impact to ensure that, if—. Just to give you some context, some qualifications are provided across the UK. So, if there are changes happening from the qualifications providers in England, there's a risk that people studying for those qualifications in Wales could lose out. That's the fundamental risk that we are talking about here. 

There has been a significant piece of work undertaken to ensure either that 'made in Wales' qualifications are created, or that other qualifications are commissioned. In the most recent conversation that I had with Qualifications Wales on this issue, I believe that they said that they didn't believe there would be a risk in the most popular areas in Wales in terms of those qualifications.

But, it's certainly true to say that these changes will have an impact. There are a number of things proposed in the Bill that we will have to consider as part of our legislation here in Wales. Those elements aren't entirely clear at the moment, as is occasionally the case with these things. So, we will need to keep an eye on this, certainly.

Diolch yn fawr. A jest gofyn i chi edrych ar gymal 14 yn yr LCM, sydd efallai efo goblygiadau o ran dysgu gydol oes, yn ogystal â'r rhannau rydych chi'n sôn amdanyn nhw. Diolch.

Thank you very much. If I could just ask you to look at clause 14 in the LCM, which perhaps would have implications in terms of lifelong learning, as well as the sections that you have identified.

Dyw e ddim o'm blaen i ar hyn o bryd, ond mi wna i yn sicr edrych ar y cymal.

I don't have it in front of me at the moment, but I will certainly have a look at that.

Just to let you know, Minister, the committee will be writing to you in the next day or so, so you will receive a letter from us. We would appreciate a quick response, a speedy response if possible. But just to let you know we shall be writing to you. James, I'll bring you back in. 

11:15

Thank you, Chair. Going back, Minister, to access to part-time education, at higher level, part-time higher education enrolment is falling across universities across Wales despite reform to student support. So, what more work do you think that the Welsh Government can do with regard to support and discussions with universities around easier access to courses, for example, to try and increase uptake in part-time learning for adults?

I'm not sure that is the complete picture, if I could put it like that. So, just to take a step back, obviously this is one of the issues that was a key area of consideration for the Diamond review, and as those recommendations are being implemented, we are, I think, already beginning to see the impact on part-time take-up and enrolment in higher education in Wales. I say 'enrolment' because, typically of course, the part-time course extends over many years, doesn't it? So, I think the effect of Diamond is best seen by looking at enrolment in the context of a six to eight-year degree, I would suggest. 

And if you look at that, over the period, I think, of 2017 to 2019, those two academic years, we saw, I think, a pretty staggering increase in part-time enrolments of 81 per cent at the Open University. I think that's a very dramatic increase personally, so I want to specifically recognise the work that the OU have been doing in that, and I guess to congratulate them for all that work. I think there's been a very intensive campaign of promoting part-time education, which is, in that figure, clearly bearing fruit. 

I do think it's right to say, as your question was implying, that that isn't the same picture in the other higher education institutions in Wales. I guess that's probably because the OU are probably nearer that kind of provision as a starting point, and the journey that perhaps the other institutions need to go on is a little bit longer as a result, but I would be very keen to see take-up in part-time education across our HE institutions right across Wales. I think it's a significant contributor to the kind of lifelong learning that you were describing in your question. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, by the way, are doing a piece of work on this very topic at the moment, and I think the first stage of that work is likely to be implemented in the next academic year. So, we might see some output of that fairly imminently. 

That's great. I know we're becoming short on time, Chair, so I'll be—

I'm okay, am I? Oh, great. That's fantastic. I was worried how we were doing for time. So, that's fine. As you said, Minister, lifelong learning is really important, and wider than that, it's not just universities; it's the apprenticeship side as well. But, obviously, as you're well aware, and we are, this cuts across a number of ministerial portfolios. And I would just like some assurance really and guidance on how you're going to develop policy, considering this does cut across a lot of different ministerial portfolios, and how you're going to drive forward policy. 

Okay. That's a very good question, if I may say. So, there are the ministerial responsibilities, but there is also how the civil service is organised to deliver policy. Huw Morris, who is with us today, is responsible for that conjoined function, if you like—skills, higher education and lifelong learning—whichever Minister is responsible for whichever element of it. So, it's fully integrated in terms of how policy is devised and delivered within the Welsh Government, which is, for the reasons your question asks, absolutely fundamental, really, isn't it? So, lifelong learning, as you say, encompasses apprenticeships, FE, adult learning, personal learning accounts. So, there's a wide range, I guess, just to give you that assurance that our arrangements for policy development and delivery are designed to do exactly what you're asking in your question, really. 

That's fine. And my final question now, Chair. It actually takes a step back to when we have children in school, and that they have proper career advice, and making sure that that is there to advise young people about the different routes around apprenticeships—to go to college to get a construction trade, for example. I know there are massive shortages of bricklayers and carpenters, for example. Can you just give some sort of an outline of how you're trying to improve career advice within schools to make sure that people make informed life choices at a younger age, to make sure they're not going down a rabbit hole as such?

The Careers Wales function sits elsewhere in the Government, but just on the point I've just made, I'm not suggesting that's the end of the story. One of the fundamental aspects of the new curriculum is to engage pupils in the broader context of the life that they live and the society they live in and the economy that they live in. And I'm personally very, very passionately committed to making sure that pupils, of whatever background, who have whatever connections, or no connections, have—their horizons, if you like, are not limited by the experience of the last 18 months, or by other factors in their life. And I think it's really important that we provide stretching ambitions to all our young people, and an understanding of how to go about achieving that and meeting their goals. So, I think it's really important; that's a key part of how I want to see the curriculum working.

In the post-16 space, obviously, the new reforms that we're bringing in are designed very, very significantly to make a reality of that parity of esteem that I know that you're committed to, and I'm sure everybody in this discussion is committed to. And so, I think you will see, when the Bill is published, that the commission is tasked, if you like, to deliver progression for all learners, in all parts of the tertiary sector, and I think that goes to the heart of your question really.

11:20

Thank you, Chair. It's a bit off subject, but has a knock-on effect on all post-16 education, and that's something that was brought up—I just wanted your response on something that was brought up in the Chamber this week, and that's about the ambulance waiting times. And obviously, we're all concerned about that and the impact on health, but it also, following a conversation with the chief executive of Coleg Gwent, has potential implications for practical courses within our colleges. Because he was minded to think about pausing those courses because of the safety aspect and the risk assessment, obviously, he has to carry out for the safety of his learners, because of the time the ambulances were taking to get to particular cases. Just wondering about your comments on that and how you're working with the health Minister and the heads of these institutions to make sure that learners' safety is paramount and things are being done to address this. Thank you.

Well, I hope that the theme that we've been discussing throughout the course of the last 90 minutes is about how learners' safety is paramount. So, I think you can, I hope, take it from me that that is a key priority for us. My understanding is that those courses aren't being paused, because I think that most institutions will do absolutely everything they can—even in the challenging circumstances that we've faced in different ways over the last 18 months. I think it's been really evident that everybody in the context of your question has really gone the extra mile to make sure that their learners continue to be on the courses they can do, have been adapting those courses, adapting the ways of assessing those courses, working to make sure that placements can work, as far as humanly possible. I think that kind of innovation, creativity and commitment to learner progression in the further education sector is a credit to them, quite honestly. And I'm sure, absolutely certain, that will continue.

I completely agree with that, Minister, but just quickly, if I may, Chair, it's just that, if an accident happens in a college, and it's taking nine hours plus for an ambulance to get there, you can understand the concern that the chief executive would have, because of the possible implications on the learner, and the safety of someone not getting an ambulance, not getting there on time. If they're doing practical courses, obviously, that has a different element than doing an academic course. So, do you understand those concerns that people have, and the chief executive has, when he was seriously considering pulling those courses? He was very worried—I had a conversation with him, and he was genuinely concerned, Minister, and it wasn't something that they could prepare for beforehand, and they're doing a brilliant job on the safety of learners, but this is something specific to ambulance waiting times. Are you allaying those concerns and working with the health Minister on that, please?

As I understand it, there's no intention to cut the courses in the way that the Member is implying, which I think is a really important point. I will seek further advice from officials on that point following the meeting, but my current understanding is that is the case. And I share with her—as we all will—the desire to see those courses operating as safely as possible, and, clearly, to make sure they're served by the fantastic people in the ambulance service, as they are.

Thank you, Minister. Can I just ask whether you believe that deeper reforms are needed to achieve parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes, and what those might be?

I think the qualifications for the future work that Qualifications Wales is doing also will look at the broader offer of qualifications, if you like, which I think is a really important part of that discussion. And I think the reforms that we're bringing in on a post-16 basis are intended to see the full picture, if you like, of vocational and academic qualifications. The Bill, and you will see it when it's introduced—it tasks the commission to deliver on that sense of parity of esteem and breaks it down to its component parts really, which is allowing learners to move around the system seamlessly, making sure that their learner journey in and out of both vocational and academic options supports their particular learning need and their particular learner journey. So, I hope we'll have an opportunity to discuss that further, Chair, when you see the content of the Bill.

11:25

Okay, that's really helpful. And finally from me: can you set out whether further reforms of the student finance support system are within the scope to support the take-up of lifelong learning?

So, on that specifically, I think you're alluding there back to the point that I made to Siân Gwenllian in her question around the reforms that are happening at a UK level through some of the lifelong learning funding mechanisms there. But, again, in Wales, it's the establishment of the commission that I think provides that whole-system approach. I'm open-minded at this point, if I can put it like that, as to whether what appears to be thought of in England will offer benefits to us in Wales, but when we have the detail of that proposal, I will want to make a rapid assessment of whether that can deliver for us in Wales in terms of our lifelong learning ambitions. Obviously, the Bill is being introduced in the first year, so the timing of that is obviously not entirely in our hands here in Wales, but I will want to see what the proposals are and I have an open mind at this point.

Thank you. And just to say thanks to Members and the Minister for such sharp questions and answers now, but we've caught up on time and I realise that Buffy was the star performer in stopping. I wonder if, Buffy, did you have another question that you perhaps wanted to ask that we cut you short on, or that I cut you short on?

I did. I had lots of questions I wanted to ask the Minister, unfortunately. Just one more then, before we leave, if the Minister has time.

The journey to curriculum roll-out states that learners' well-being is a critical enabler of learning. Learners who are not content, safe and secure will not learn effectively. The teamwork on embedding a whole-school approach to emotional and mental well-being is available to schools, but for some, this won't be enough. How do you intend to use the outcome of the free school meal eligibility review and the pupil development grant to tackle the link between deprivation and low attainment? And could you please provide an update on the implementation of the recommendations of—I think it's the Sibieta review. I never say that name right—I never say it right.

Okay. So, in relation to the framework, the framework is a very, very important part of the support that we're offering, but it isn't the whole picture and in addition to that, a significant amount of the funding from renew and reform is targeted at specifically improving learner well-being—that is a key gateway, if you like, to being able to learn and re-engage you with learning skills. So, I think the document that I published yesterday hopefully gives a little bit more colour in relation to that.

On the school funding review—forgive me, I forget the second point you asked me about, but on the school funding review, obviously, that draws on the work that this committee has done in the previous Senedd. I think the review tells us—. Well, firstly, I think the obvious point to say is that our response to it has been clearly impacted by responding to COVID, naturally. I think it's a really important review because it provides really clear guidance to all the agents in the education system, which provide funding, about the complexity of the system. And I think we're working with our stakeholders in the education sector around some of those complexities. As you will know, the formula for us funding schools is devolved largely to local authorities and is within their discretion, I think 70 per cent of it is about school numbers, but 30 per cent of it allows a degree of leeway for local factors, and so, I think any discussion around the adjustment clearly would need to engage with that question. But on the funding, I think over the last year and this year, as it were, simply to respond to COVID, there's been an increase of around £360 million or £370 million or so into the school system. So, I think, as the Education Policy Institute tells us, that's at the highest end of the interventions across the UK.

11:30

Thank you very much, Buffy, and thank you, Minister. Thank you, Minister, for coming this morning. There will be a transcript that will be sent to you, and I'm sure that for the questions that we didn't get to—because, obviously, we have a lot of questions we wanted to ask you—we will write to you to get some further information from you, and if there's anything else you would like to respond to us on as well—. But thank you very much for attending this morning. It's good to see you.

Thank you all very much. Thank you, Chair. Diolch yn fawr.

7. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod hwn ac eitemau 1 a 4 o'r cyfarfod ar 7 Hydref
7. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting and for items 1 to 4 at the meeting on the 7 October

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.

The next item is item 7, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. So, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for agenda item 8, and for items 1 to 4 at the meeting on 7 October. Are Members content? I can see Members are content so we will now proceed to meet in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:31.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:31.