Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

07/06/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

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

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Adele Rose-Morgan Ymgyrchydd addysg gynhwysol, Anabledd Dysgu Cymru
Inclusive education campaigner, Learning Disability Wales
Cath Lewis Rheolwr Polisi ac Ymgyrchoedd, Cŵn Tywys Cymru
Policy and Campaigns Manager, Guide Dogs Cymru
Chris Haines Rheolwr Materion Allanol, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol Awtistiaeth
External Affairs Manager, National Autistic Society
Francesca Wright Prif Swyddog Cynorthwyol, SNAP Cymru
Assistant Chief Officer, SNAP Cymru
George Baldwin Swyddog Polisi ac Ymgyrchoedd Cymru, y Gymdeithas Genedlaethol i Blant Byddar
Policy and Campaigns Officer for Wales, National Deaf Children’s Society
Georgia Miggins Aelod Senedd Ieuenctid Cymru
Welsh Youth Parliament Member
Gwen Anslow Fforwm Cymru Gyfan
All Wales Forum
Karen McFarlane Swyddog Polisi: Tlodi a Phlant sy’n Agored i Niwed, Plant yng Nghymru a Chadeirydd TSANA
Policy Officer: Poverty and Vulnerable Children, Children in Wales and Chair of TSANA
Kat Watkins Swyddog Datblygu CCUHPA, Anabledd Cymru
UNCRDP Development Officer, Disability Wales
Megan Thomas Swyddog Polisi ac Ymchwil, Anabledd Cymru
Policy and Research Officer, Disability Wales
Zoe Richards Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Anabledd Dysgu Cymru
Chief Executive Officer, Learning Disability Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Siân Hughes Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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 yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:15.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:15.

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

Croeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg heddiw.

Welcome to this meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education committee.

I'd like to welcome Members to the meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee this morning. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available from Welsh to English. There are no apologies this morning. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I can see no declarations of interest.

2. A yw plant a phobl ifanc anabl yn cael mynediad cyfartal at addysg a gofal plant? - sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
2. Do disabled children and young people have equal access to education and childcare? - evidence session 3

So we'll move on to the main item on our agenda this morning, which is evidence session 3: do disabled children and young people have equal access to education and childcare? I'd like to welcome our witnesses here this morning. You're very welcome. We have with us this morning Kat Watkins, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities development officer for Disability Wales, and we have Megan Thomas, policy and research officer, Disability Wales. So, you're very welcome here this morning. So, Members have a number of questions to put to you today, so I'll make a start, and the first one is a general point in terms of, in your opinion, to what extent are children's rights to an education being denied due to their disability? Who'd like to start? Megan.

In our opinion and experience, based off our extensive conversations with members for the past couple of years—for example, directly asking them about their access to education and the rights of disabled children under the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled people—there are very significant barriers to accessing education faced by disabled children. So, these barriers come in a lot of different formats, which I'm sure we'll be discussing further on, but there is a significant number of disabled children whose education is either affected, or they have limited access to education because of being a disabled person. And something we would also like to quickly comment on is also some of the language used. So, we use a social model of disability, so we'd be using terms like 'disabled children', as opposed to 'children with disabilities'.

Okay, thank you. Kat, is there anything you'd like to add?

I do quite a lot of visiting schools, so these barriers are very evident when you visit a school—that you can only get into one room, because there are steps everywhere. Even into the one room you can get into, there is a big step, so, thankfully, I had a ramp with me, but, obviously, this doesn't help disabled children wanting an education, because their local school is inaccessible to them. So, what are they going to do? They're going to have to travel miles just to get an education, so it's a big barrier, inaccessible schools.

Yes. Thank you. Are there any particular issues for access to education and childcare where children and young people may have multiple disabilities, for example, a learning disability and a physical disability?

So, in terms of direct examples, there's not much that's been brought up to us, but I'm sure that some of our wonderful colleagues in Learning Disability Wales will be able to expand, but we have seen multiple barriers. So, as Kat just mentioned around the built environment and the school buildings themselves, the make-up and the access of them can be extremely inaccessible. But then we've also heard from disabled people with a learning disability or impairment that they can have quite limited options of which courses they can take, or which schools they can go to, depending on whether or not they're going to meet their access needs.

09:20

And to what extent are children and young people with a disability able to access all areas of education, including extra-curricular activities? Are there any differences for learners with different types of disabilities? Kat.

This is obviously going to depend on the layout of the school, because if a school doesn't have a lift, they're not going to be able to get to the classrooms that are, say, for science or English, or something like that. And whilst they could move these lessons downstairs or to another part of the building for their disabled learners, it shouldn't be a need. These education settings should be set up so that disabled children and young people can access every single part of the built environment, and they should be set up so that they don't have to choose what they are educated in and that they can just access everything and have the education that they want, not the education that's forced upon them.

Absolutely. And to what extent are you aware that there are issues of access to childcare provisions for families with a disability?

We don't have as much information on access to childcare—most of our information that we've gotten has focused around education. But it is something that we want to look further into and potentially come back to you on, with more in-depth information about access to childcare.

That would be really helpful. If you can send us any information that you do collect, we'd be really grateful. Thank you. Questions now from James Evans.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da. Good morning. To what extent do you feel that children and young people and their families have been directly or indirectly discriminated against because of their disability?

Quite a large extent. So, we have multiple incidences from members of discrimination, both direct and indirect, as a result of them being disabled people. So, for example, one person reached out to us who was a grandmother to two autistic grandchildren, one who has a diagnosis and one who was suspected to be autistic but they hadn't been able to access a diagnosis yet as they are very difficult to access—it can take a very long time. And they'd found that, between the two children, the access to the extra-curricular activities that they could go to and the access to support services that they could access was very, very different, despite them both needing quite similar support. We've also heard amongst parents that some of their concerns aren't really taken as seriously or that there are instances of parents not getting full access to all the information that they require. We've had one incident of a disabled person who was told that they shouldn't bother taking their education courses because they'd never be able to work anyway. So, yes, we've seen some really explicit discrimination.

Yes. With my work that I have been doing on education, I've set up a project advisory group and had input from disabled parent carers. And one person in particular, both parents are disabled but so are all four children, and they're all made to go to different schools, which, obviously, is quite a challenge with four different sets of transport. And also, when they asked the schools to administer certain things for their children, or not to give them certain things, or just do certain things, they're not actually taken seriously. And they then wonder why their child—. Well, the school wonders why the child has an outburst, but the mother has already told them that if they're given certain things, it will affect them—it will affect their blood sugar, it will affect their mood, but the schools still do this, and it's because they're just not being taken seriously as parents because they're disabled. 

09:25

Thank you. I was going to ask a question about unconscious bias, but I think you've answered that in answer to that question, and some of the discrimination that people do face. One question that I did want to ask is: to what extent do you think local authorities consult with parents of disabled children? Do you think they're actually helpful, or do they tend to do things to families and not actually in consultation with them? 

It can depend a lot on the local authority, but we tend to—. In most cases that we've seen, the parents felt like it was more that the local authority has done things to them. And it had been noted by one participant that they felt that certain parents were listened to more than others, so parents who were educated, who had further education, who were articulate or non-disabled; they felt like they were being listened to or able to be engaged with more. 

Do you think schools are a bit like that as well, or is it a bit hit and miss? Like you say, some schools are very good and others just do things to people rather than ask them, 'What do you actually want?' 

I don't think that there are lots of instances of co-production. I think that there are a lot of instances of 'we know best', not 'parent knows best', or caregiver who is with the child, apart from the school hours, 24/7, so they obviously know their child very well. But schools tend to take the view that, because they have them for seven hours, five days a week, they should know what the child needs, not the parent. And if the parent is disabled, then they take that attitude even further. 

Thanks. Questions now from Buffy Williams. Buffy. 

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for joining us this morning. To what extent do you believe that children with a disability are able to attend their local mainstream school?

It's going to obviously depend on the built environment whether they can actually access the school. So often they can't, so they have to travel further for this, which is obviously then a challenge with transportation, especially in the rural areas of Wales, we all know that transportation is not easy. It will also depend on whether they have the capacity for the children, because sometimes, it's easier to educate children who don't have extra needs, and they just haven't got the time or patience for it. So, they're going to just say, 'No, we don't want them', and not really give a specific reason, but just force them to look for other education settings. This isn't right—it should be that all schools take a child no matter who they are, disabled or not, because there shouldn't be discrimination when a child wants an education.  

Yes, absolutely. Just to agree with Kat, it's very much dependent on the situation, but for a lot of disabled children, we see that they don't really have many options when it comes to schools, plus there are educational settings that aren't appropriate for them, because that school doesn't have everything that it needs to be able to support that child. But they also have limited other options for education in their area. Even in instances where we see disabled children being able to access, being able to go to their local state school, that education that they may be receiving within that state school may still not be able to fully meet their needs.

09:30

Thank you. How desirable and realistic is it for Wales to have a fully inclusive education system, as envisaged by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? Are there any instances where having some form of segregated education may be in the best interests of a learner, such as special schools or schools for the deaf?

So, we don't believe it—. We believe it would clearly take significant change to our culture within education, and it would take significant work on the part of the Welsh Government, local authorities and schools. But we don’t believe that it would be unrealistic to be able to attain what is set out in the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled people under education. We believe that, really, that is the baseline of what we should be looking to achieve, that all schools are accessible and available to all children, that all schools can fulfil their purpose and provide a good-quality education to any child in their area, that deaf children can access British Sign Language, that there is full-access education for those children. We don’t think that’s completely unrealistic. We think that it will just take—. We are concerned that the amount of work that it will take is something that is not being reflected in current policy.

I don't think I have anything to add to that.

Thank you. I think you’ve both just covered my first question to you, which was: what are the barriers to providing an inclusive statutory education for children? And the barriers around that, of course, and how accessible the school estate is—what have you heard from disabled children, disabled people, about their experiences in school, or current experiences in school, in terms of the school estate being a massive barrier?

I could use my experience. I had to go across the border to England to get my education, so that I had something that would meet my needs, because my local comprehensive didn’t want me and wasn’t willing to provide anything—like lifts, or things like that—so I could access the built environment. So, mine is quite an extreme case.

Can I just pursue that? The local authority that you were in—was that close to the border, or was it quite a way into Wales?

Yes, the Brecon area.

It is not uncommon for children to have to travel for their education.

The physical barriers are clear to us all, I think, immediately, as soon as we visit a school, about the accessibility side of things. But what about for those children who are deaf or struggle with their sight? What do you think about the barriers there?

They are very much significant. These are certainly quite significant barriers. We have quite a few examples from, specifically, the parents that you mentioned, but one of the problems is the lack of resources within schools to be able to meet the individual needs of disabled students. And one other barrier that we come across quite a lot is attitudes within schools—so, discrimination from staff within schools is also something that we do see. One particular story that I've heard is that someone with dyspraxia who's had some problems with drawing, and whose drawing was used as an example in front of the class, basically as a way to shame them. We've seen significant issues with teachers just not understanding the needs of the children in their class.

Something we also come up against is that a lot of the access to support is dependent on a diagnosis. And so a lot of children may not be able to obtain a diagnosis for a variety of reasons. For some conditions, it is very difficult, for some conditions, a diagnosis may not be possible. But it is very difficult to access support without having that paperwork.

09:35

Yes, 100 per cent. We're seeing there's a massive waiting list in terms of getting diagnosed quickly at the moment, isn't there, and, therefore, we haven't got the teachers and support in the classroom that are needed. How much do you—? What do you think about teachers and—you just touched on it—staff, any teaching staff, being adequately trained enough, and what more do you think we could do in that regard to make sure that they are aware of physical and mental needs and are able to deal with them, particularly neurodivergent needs? Thanks.

Can I come in on that? So, with my project that I've been doing, it is looking at education, about promoting the UNCRDP and disability rights and the social model of disability, and I've worked with a few schools on this—well, with quite a few practitioners. Each time, I get, 'Oh, I didn't know about the social model of disability,' or 'I didn't know about these sorts of disability rights.' If they don't know about these things, then what hope do disabled children have? It comes down to training, and whilst there are practices in place to educate the practitioners more about disability rights and stuff, it can't really properly be learned from a piece of paper, it needs to have some context behind it from a disabled person, just to get the message clearly to people so that there's full and transparent meaning. 

Can I just—? Thank you. I think, additionally, one of the problems, as we have touched upon previously, is that it is so dependent school to school, so you don't have that consistency of, 'I'm a disabled child, this is how I'm going to be treated in this school,' or the consistency of how schools approach disabled students and attitudes within. I think that that training, specifically disability equality training that's been co-produced and delivered by disabled people, is absolutely essential. Something that, actually, Kat has told us before about working in schools is that, often, you've been maybe the first disabled person that they'd have met, and I do believe that is a problem when it comes to being able to fully deliver and fully support disabled students. We obviously see that a more inclusive curriculum has been proposed, and I think that's a wonderful thing, but we need to back that up with understanding, with making sure that teachers and administrative staff fully understand disability equality.

Absolutely. Thank you. To what extent do you think think learners experience bullying within schools as a direct result of being disabled? Do you think that the support and intervention are adequate? 

Bullying is rife for disabled children and young people. I know in places that I have visited, talking about my own experiences has then helped them to tell a teacher or a staff member that they themselves are being bullied. But bullying is just, really, so endemic within schools for disabled children that it's almost the norm, and it really shouldn't be. Children are always going to pick on each other, but there needs to be more in place to stop them harassing disabled children all the time, and more needs to be done to protect the children more. But the same could be said for non-disabled children as well. More needs to be done to stop bullying.

Yes, unfortunately, you're right. School's a cruel time, isn't it? But even more so if you're disabled, it seems. But what extent—? You've already mentioned it, I think, actually—Kat, you mentioned it; you said that transport's an issue, it's not easy to get disabled transport. Can I just expand on that, and to what extent do you think transport is accessible enough and suitable enough for children with disabilities?

09:40

There are huge problems with transport in Wales and access to transport for disabled people and disabled children. Bus services in particular are something that we are really concerned about. We're really aware that there is new legislation coming into play around bus services and we're excited to see what the results of that will be, but we do see a very significant problem that, without that access to reliable bus services and reliable public transport, there are significant problems with taxis, which Kat can expand on. And a lot of schools—for a lot of disabled children, a lot of schools will send private hire vehicles or taxis to be able to pick-up disabled children to allow them to get to school, if, for whatever reason, their care givers cannot take them to school or they cannot get public transport to school, but we do still see problems with this. We do still see that there is an issue that that child shouldn't have to be ferried by an independent, or be reliant on the availability of accessible taxis and private hire vehicles in their area to be able to get to their school.

Again, talking about the mother with four children, she told me that her son is quite often kicked off transport, because of his meltdowns and outbursts, and there are taxi drivers that will refuse to take them, and they need somebody there to sit in the back with them—so, an assistant kind of thing. But then they'll send an assistant that the person doesn't know, and, if the child doesn't know and trust that person, then it's not going to have a great effect, because a relationship with them needed to be built. And then it causes problems for her, because trying to get their child to school and things is an issue when they don't drive, and they can't take them on the bus, and they also live in quite a rural area. And it's just—. I really don't know how she copes, to be honest, because when one service fails, like one taxi, then a lot of the taxis follow suit for her, because the message will get across to other drivers, 'Oh, don't take that person', kind of thing, and that's not fair, because that's just like passing the buck a little bit.

Thanks, Chair. We've already heard about the impact of discrimination due to disability. Could you just talk a little bit more about the impacts strictly in terms of how it affects your mental health and well-being?

We've seen quite significant effects on mental health and well-being continuing well into adulthood, so we've had disabled people who are discriminated against during education as a child, or who had limited access to education as a child, and it can have a very significant impact on your mental health, your self-confidence, your self-esteem. School is not just about just the grade you get at the end, or just about taking courses and passing exams; it's also about how you build your socialisation skills, it's about how you build your confidence, it's about how you build your self-esteem and set yourself up to adulthood. And when you see disabled children who are being barred from accessing the opportunity to develop this and to develop their confidence, develop their self-esteem and to develop those additional skills from that additional support you get in a school environment, we see that that has a really significant impact on them and we have been told about, from those who have experienced it, the impact that being discriminated against in your school can have on you. 

09:45

I'm not sure I have much more to add to that except that this has been quite evident in my project advisory group as well, because experiences that the mother had while she was at school have made her try and fight even harder for her children. But she's only got a limited capacity, energy-wise, and things like that and she has four children to fight for, and, as a disabled person, it's exhausting fighting all the time, because there are so many fights that you have to have. Education shouldn't be one of them, and you should have what you need while you are growing and developing into the person that you are to become. Because when you have bullying from the age of three, four, it really does have a lasting effect, and it has a lasting effect on trust, on confidence, on everything really, and it just shouldn't be for disabled children—they need to have the support so that they can become well-rounded citizens.

To what extent then are educational outcomes impacted by the ability of a school to support learners who are disabled?

So, we do see that there is a significant impact on educational outcomes. I'm not sure if you've had an opportunity to read the research brief, but according to the Office for National Statistics, we do see significant differences in educational outcomes between disabled people in Wales and non-disabled people in Wales. I've got a couple here. So, in terms of the differences between people whose highest qualification is at degree level, it's 37.9 per cent of non-disabled people in Wales, compared to 21.5 per cent of disabled people in Wales. And when it comes to leaving education with no qualifications at all, there is a very significant difference: 5.9 per cent of non-disabled people in Wales leave education with no qualifications, and 16.4 per cent of disabled people leave education with no qualifications. This data, I believe, was collected in 2001.

So, we do see some very key changes in educational outcomes. Something that I'd like to highlight as part of that as well is that significant numbers of children in Wales live in poverty—I believe it's about 34 per cent, I think, of disabled children in Wales who live in poverty. And something that was highlighted to us repeatedly as an issue was poverty experienced by disabled children; that, in addition to being a disabled child, the impact that living in poverty would have on your educational outcomes, and that's something that we are very concerned about.

I'd also like to mention that we'd also really like to see changes in how we evaluate the quality of an education that has been received by a child. So, we see data on what qualifications a child or a learner has received at the end of their education, but we see limited data on how that person would feel about the education that they received, how did that person feel leaving school—did they feel prepared for adulthood? Did they feel that they got everything they could out of their school environment, even if they may not have as many qualifications as another person, and especially amongst disabled people? So, we would also like to see both of these figures around education outcomes change, but also that we expand what we see as an outcome of school or how we measure the quality of an education received.

09:50

Do you think that the way that outcomes are measured is sufficient to inform policy and to drive cultural change within schools? And to what extent—? You've talked about confidence, and how confidence can be damaged through discrimination and bullying, but we're moving to a new curriculum, or it's already commenced, which places a strong focus on confidence, which moves us away from the traditional assessment-based approach to teaching to a new model, which aims to ensure that every learner develops in a confident way. So, are you seeing at all, across Wales and within schools, a change in approach as a consequence of the new curriculum that is benefiting learners who face disabling challenges?

I can come in on that. I've done quite an extensive—. Well, I've done extensive research into the new curriculum and I like it. However, it's going to depend on whether the practitioners are going to teach holistically to all their students, because disabled students might not leave with qualifications, or the teachers or practitioners might think they can't leave with qualifications, but if they're taught holistically and to their abilities, then who says that they won't leave with qualifications? Because, if those children are understood better, then they can be taught better, and they then can actually leave with whatever they can leave with. I'm not saying that they're going to leave with a PhD or something like that, but potentially they could, if they are taught in a way that's suitable for them, and that is all down to the holistic nature of the Curriculum for Wales. But it needs to be acted upon.

Also, I would like to say that there are a lot of disabled children that will need extra education to learn to live independently and so that they can learn how they're going to live in a flat on their own, or something like that, because it does take this education to be able to do it. If you don't know how you're going to get around cutting something because you can't hold a knife, how are you going to learn without this education? It needs to be taught holistically, so that you can learn how to do things. It may be out of the norm, but it needs to be done. It needs to be done all the time, so that they can attain what they need to attain.

Great, thank you. It's obvious that we need to look at the outcomes as they emerge from the new curriculum, particularly in regard to holistic teaching, and specific outcomes for learners who face disabling barriers as well. Thanks, Chair.

Thank you, Ken. And finally, some questions from Sioned Williams. Sioned.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Bore da. Rŷn ni wedi clywed gan y ddwy ohonoch chi y bore yma fod yna gyfyngu ar y dewis o ran addysg ar gyfer plant a phobl ifanc sydd yn anabl. Ond o ran y dewis sydd ar gael, i ba raddau mae rhieni a phlant yn cael gwybodaeth ddigonol—?

Thank you, Chair. A very good morning to you. We've heard from both of you this morning that there are limitations on the choices in terms of education for disabled children and young people. But in terms of the choices that are available, to what extent are parents and children given adequate—?

Is the translation working, Kat? Is it working?

Yes, it is now. I tried to turn the volume up, but it wouldn't go up any more.

Ocê. Iawn. I ba raddau mae rhieni a phlant yn cael gwybodaeth ddigonol a dibynadwy a hygyrch am y dewisiadau mewn addysg? A hefyd, ydy'r wybodaeth yna ar gael yn y ffurf gywir ar gyfer rhieni sydd ag anableddau eu hunain?

Okay. Right. To what extent are parents and children given adequate, reliable, accessible information about their choices in education? And also, is that information available in the right formats for parents who might themselves be disabled?

09:55

So, we've seen that that is a problem with how parents are informed. So, I mentioned earlier about the grandmother whose two grandchildren are having difficulty accessing the proper support for them. So, she mentioned that her daughter, their mother, had received very limited communication from them. So, for example, when one of the children was denied that support, she was not informed that they could go through an appeals process, was not informed about the different support offered, and was being kept quite in the dark about the options for her children. And we do see that there is a significant problem with parents being able to be at least kept adequately informed.

I've not heard much about the format that that information comes in, but maybe we've heard that there is that absence and that lack of information, or a lack of direct dialogue with parents.

I haven't got any evidence for it, but you can kind of assume that when the school education setting decides that they know best, they won't provide the information in an accessible format. But, again, I don't have any evidence to support that.

Diolch. O ran derbyniadau i ysgolion, a hefyd i ofal plant, i ba raddau ydy teuluoedd a dysgwyr yn gallu cael mynediad at y ddarpariaeth maen nhw eisiau ei dewis? Felly, os ydyn nhw wedi penderfynu, 'Yr ysgol yma dŷn ni'n meddwl fydd y gorau i ni', ydyn nhw'n cael trafferth, wedyn, i gael mynediad i'r dewis yna weithiau?

Thank you. Now, in terms of school admissions, and also childcare provision, to what extent are families and learners able to access their chosen provision? So, if they have decided that a particular school would best suit them, do they, then, have difficulties in accessing that choice on occasion?

I don't have any evidence for that.

Yes, there can be some difficulty accessing that, and I think one of the additional issues here as well is why certain schools have to be prioritised by parents and by disabled children. So, it could be difficult to get a child into a school that is in a catchment area that isn't yours, but that may have better provision or be better able to support that child than the school in your local area. So, there are some cases where exceptions are made, but it can be difficult. One of the main problems that we see was one of the main—. Sorry. One of the issues with the quality of the education, and the quality of support being provided being so dependent on your local area, and on the school in your local area, is that it's going to be very difficult to reliably get access, or reliably get access to a school that's going to meet your child's needs where you are.

Oes yna anawsterau penodol ar gyfer rhieni neu ddysgwyr sydd eisiau dewis addysg cyfrwng Cymraeg? Ac hefyd, rŷn ni wedi siarad tipyn bach ynglŷn ag ardaloedd gwledig. Felly, ar wahân i efallai trafnidiaeth yn yr achos yna, oes yna anawsterau eraill penodol yn wynebu pobl sy'n byw mewn ardaloedd gwledig? Felly, mynediad i addysg Gymraeg, neu cyfrwng Cymraeg, ac hefyd ardaloedd gwledig—unrhyw bethau penodol?

Are there any particular difficulties for parents or learners who choose Welsh-medium education? And we've already spoken a little about more rural areas. So, apart from issues of transport in that case, are there other specific difficulties facing people living in rural areas? So, first of all, access to Welsh-medium education, and also the issues around rural areas—any specifics you'd like to raise?

So, we haven't been told anything specifically about Welsh-medium education, but in terms of some of the other issues in rural areas, the number of schools in the area can be one of the problems raised to us. So, for example, in an urban area, we have a choice of multiple schools. It can be a lot easier. 'Easier' is very much relative, but in a lot of rural areas, there may just not be that choice of multiple schools. It is, 'This is the school that's in your area. This is the school that you can go to.'

I know that, again, the mother—. She's given me a lot of data. Her son is non-verbal or limited in his ability to speak, and he's only just starting to speak English, but also they're forcing him to learn Welsh, and it's confusing the situation for him because he's trying to establish one language and doesn't really have the understanding for the second language. So, this can be an issue.

But, also, an issue that I have heard as well is that there are quite a few disabled people who wanted to learn Welsh and wanted to go to a Welsh school, but didn't have the option; they weren't able to do it. And also those that now want to learn Welsh find it very difficult because those that teach it don't have the understanding that they need for these disabled people who want to have a Welsh education now.

10:00

Thank you, Sioned. Can I just ask around disabled children who have English as a second language, coming from English-as-a-second-language or perhaps other communities, and disabled children there? Have you had some of the extra barriers for those young people? Any examples?

Yes, so, one of the examples raised to us was around the parents and advocacy, saying that there are some barriers for parents where English may be their second language or with limited English, about being able to properly advocate for their child in a school setting.

In terms of the children themselves, we don't have much data, but it's another thing that we'd like to do a bit more research in and potentially come back to you another time.

But, yes, in terms of the parents, definitely, someone has raised that as an issue for us.

Brilliant, thank you. Thank you, Megan. Sorry, Sioned, did you have any more?

Brilliant. Okay, well, thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr for coming in this morning. We really appreciate the evidence that you have given us today. Just to say, you will receive a transcript to check for accuracy, and we would appreciate any extra information and research that you do have throughout our inquiry, just to share it with us. We'd be very grateful. Thank you for joining us this morning.

Thank you very much.

Thank you. And, just for Members, we're going to take a short break to bring the next set of witnesses in. So, we'll go into private session. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:03 a 10:11.

The meeting adjourned between 10:03 and 10:11.

10:10
3. A yw plant a phobl ifanc anabl yn cael mynediad cyfartal at addysg a gofal plant? - sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
3. Do disabled children and young people have equal access to education and childcare? - evidence session 4

Welcome back to our next evidence session on, 'Do disabled children and young people have equal access to education and childcare?' This is our fourth evidence session, and I'd like to welcome our witnesses here this morning. We have Zoe Richards, who is chief executive officer, Learning Disability Wales, and we have Adele Rose Morgan, who's inclusive education campaigner, Learning Disability Wales. And we have Georgia Miggins, Youth Parliament Member, and I know you're accompanied by a support worker here this morning. So, welcome, all of you. It's really nice to see you. Thank you very much for joining us. We've got a number of questions from Members this morning, so I'll make a start, and it's quite a general question around the extent of the issue: to what extent, or what experience do you have, of children's rights to an education being denied due to their learning disability or being neurodivergent? Who'd like to make a start? Zoe.

Thank you. Yes, I'll just go first on that one. I work at Learning Disability Wales. We have a long history of engaging with children and young people through projects and through our work, and through our work with the Youth Parliament. In Learning Disability Wales, we strive for Wales to be the best country for a person with a learning disability to live, learn, love and work. We decided four years ago that we'd do more work outside of the learning disability community, to ensure that we were changing hearts and minds and changing the stigma that surrounds people and children with a learning disability.

I began work in March 2007 as the children and young people's officer at Learning Disability Wales, and, within my first week, I took part in a Welsh Government consultation called 'statementing or something better', and that arose because it was acknowledged that the system in place was not fit for purpose. I sit here 16 years later to give evidence, having seen two cohorts of children, two generations of children, go through a system that is still not fit for purpose. It's not implemented yet, and many children still have the most awful experiences in our Welsh education system.

We know that we have various versions of inclusive education in Wales, but I don't think we really understand what inclusive education is in Wales. We have special schools, we have mainstream schools, we have special units, we have pupil referral units, we have young people going through the criminal justice system, and many of those young people going through the criminal justice system and in pupil referral units don't have access to appropriate education that is based on their need. And that's really important—that we're not offering a state of education that is based on young people's needs; we're basing it on what resources we have and how we can equally distribute those resources to the young people. I'll hand over to either—.

Georgia is going to give you a little bit of her experience. Is that okay?

So, she may answer several questions in one.

Thank you. So, my name's Georgia, I'm 19, I have autism learning difficulties and I have anxiety. I represent Learning Disability Wales in the Welsh Youth Parliament. I want to talk about education and my perspective and the barriers I've faced as a neurodivergent young person.

I want to start this off with a little bit about me. When I was a young autistic girl in primary school, it was hard for me. I didn't have the right support and my needs couldn't be met. I struggled with social and sensory challenges, and I never felt like I belonged. I was bullied for my disabilities from such a young age, which resulted in me developing very severe anxiety, which I still have today, unfortunately. All this stopped me from attending school for one year, when I was nine and 10 years old. Those memories have stuck with me ever since. When I was 11, it was time for me to go to secondary school. It would have been hard for me to go to a mainstream secondary school as my emotional needs wouldn't have been able to have been met, and social needs, and I wouldn't have had the right support that I needed. I'm lucky to have an amazing mum and dad who supported me and fought for me to go to a special school where they knew I'd get the right support. I am now lucky and fortunate to be able to attend a special school, where I've had amazing opportunities and experiences. My confidence has soared, and my mental health and well-being have improved greatly. I'm able to be myself with friends and teaching staff, who understand and accept and support me. I won't be judged for being who I am, and I can use my fidget toys that help me whenever I want.

I'm now going to speak about what I think improvements and adjustments could be made in the education system for neurodivergent and disabled individuals. I think it's not a one-size-fits-all—everyone with a disability is an individual. We all have our own experiences and needs. Therefore, it's important to understand we all have different ways of learning. It's important to work with the parents and young person before they start a school so they can tell you their experiences, so the resources and support can be made available to them, so they can reach their goals. I would recommend having a session that I have in my school for neurodivergent young people. It's called 'Thrive', and it's a counselling and well-being programme that's tailored to the individual. It's unique in the fact that they tailor it to you and your needs and what you enjoy—like, I get my hair done once a week and that's helped my self-esteem, and it's helped many of my other friends' mental health and well-being too. It's something I enjoy, and it benefits me. I think this would help so many other people to gain trust and confide in someone that's close to them.

I think there needs to be more specialised training for teaching staff to understand and recognise autism and neurodiversity and how the children and young people mask a lot to fit in. Making the children and young people feel like they can trust and approach teaching staff is extremely important, as many of us find it hard to communicate our feelings. We need to make sure there are different ways—for example, using picture cards, iPads, or letting us write down how we feel. It can help us express our thoughts. I do think there should be more of an anti-bullying policy, to make staff take bullying more serious, as I was bullied and no-one listened to me. I think there needs to be more training on recognising when someone's getting bullied, as young people with a neurodiversion or disability are more likely to be bullied, also giving the young person bullied the right support so they don't develop low self-esteem, leave education, or have mental health issues like I had.

I think we need to have frequent lessons to teach people from a young age, all the way from primary school to secondary school, about being more inclusive to their peers who are neurodivergent and disabled so that it can make it better for them, and, I think, to open more specialised schools for those of us with disabilities if you're not able to give support in mainstream education, because we need specialist trained staff and counsellors, and we need an environment where we can be our authentic selves. We need to be able to make sure to give everyone the same opportunity. I understand schools are understaffed, underfunded and don't always have all the resources to be able to meet the needs of children with a neurodiversity and disability. All the schoolteachers are doing an amazing job and trying their best under intense pressure with the limited resource they have, but it's not enough. If we want young people with a disability to thrive, you have to provide funding for these things. If it can't be reached, there's going to be many more young people struggling in education, which, in turn, could affect their mental health and well-being for many years to come, and lead to them not getting the adequate education that's needed and that we deserve. 

I really hope you found it interesting to hear my insight about education and my experiences on this topic. I would like to say thank you so much to everyone here for giving me the privilege and opportunity to speak on behalf of children and young people with disabilities. Thank you.

10:20

Thank you so much, Georgia. We feel incredibly privileged that you're here sharing your personal experiences and the evidence that you've given us this morning. It has been incredibly powerful. I think we all know that we're very lucky to have you on the Youth Parliament. So, diolch yn fawr. 

Thank you. Diolch. 

Thank you so much. It's brilliant. And I think you've given us a lot of recommendations already, so—

Sorry, it was a long list. 

No, it's brilliant. This is what we need, so we really, really do appreciate you sharing that and your ideas. And like I said, I'm sure we'll be looking at that when we come to our recommendations, so that's given us a really good starting point. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences, Georgia. I think there are a few issues that you've touched on that we might want to explore a little bit more. Do you think there are any particular issues for access to education and childcare where children and young people may have multiple disabilities, for example a learning disability and a sensory disability? Adele. 

I'm a parent carer of a 17-year-old young person, young man. I trained to teach adults with learning disabilities back in the 1980s, so I've got a bit of a background. I think when I had Rhys, I was quite shocked by our journey. I had two older children as well, and the difference was really stark. Can you repeat that question again? 

It's just around if there are any particular issues for access to education or childcare for people with multiple disabilities, such as a learning disability and a sensory disability, for example.  

I can speak from personal experience about this. Rhys has two rare progressive genetic conditions. He's considered deafblind and he's got a condition that includes a learning disability and physical difficulties as well. We didn't know that until recently. But going back to going to his local school, there were difficulties around—. And it's still there today with other parents; they tell me the same thing. There isn't the after-school care. The first message I had from a school that I was really embedded in was, 'There's the stairs, and there's this and there's that' and then, 'Maybe you need to go and look at other schools that are more suitable'. So, it was down to me as a parent to do that—it was not, 'Rhys is part of this community, let's make sure this works'. It wasn't that at all. I was really embedded in there. I was a volunteer and I'd worked there for years. That sort of led us on a different path, really, to my other two children. We chose a different school up the road and it was a lovely little school, but, again, I didn't know anybody. Rhys has severe speech and language difficulties, so for communication, it relied on me, really, and I couldn't go back to work. There are lots of issues around that. 

On childcare, we eventually moved him to a unit for deaf children, because we found out late that he was deaf, and there was a breakfast club there. He could only go there with support, and the support came from a fund outside of education. And at one time, the funding criteria changed, and my husband's wage had gone up a little bit, so it was outside the criteria. So, the headmistress called me in and said, 'Look, you're no longer entitled to this but we will pay it'—out of the parental contributions that they used to collect. I just couldn’t do that, so I used to just pay for the breakfast club. I used to give £10. It was one day a week, just so he had that social inclusion. I also refused a taxi. I insisted on taking him, and I was able to do it. He was my youngest, and we were able to have a second car, so it worked. He started and finished at different times. That posed a problem because the private childcare within the school didn’t start their session until 10 minutes after he’d finished, and they weren’t sure, because he would need one to one, whether it would cost a lot more. I applied for a job and I couldn’t pursue that because I couldn’t work out the childcare around that.

Then it came to the residential. He’d been there since he was five, but they hadn’t planned for him to stay overnight on the year 6 residential. We had to go to tribunal to get him into comprehensive, and two weeks later he was going on the residential and we still didn’t know how he was going to be supported. When I challenged it, or went in and asked, 'How is this going to work?’—. I’d realised, really, on reflection it was me going to them giving my ideas, trying to engage with them, but nobody actually committed back to me until I had a meeting with the headteacher. They basically said that, because of how they’d organised it, they didn’t have a teacher of the deaf to stay overnight, and therefore if he wasn’t independent physically, it was difficult for them to put that in place. They also said—. I’m losing my train of thought now. I found out later that for the other deaf child who was able-bodied, non-disabled, the teaching assistant knew that they were going weeks in advance. He went on that residential, like he does everything else. I make sure he does everything, as much as I can. He had an amazing time, the school had an amazing time, and they were really pleased that it happened. All of a sudden I mentioned discrimination, and everything was put in place. But it’s not a very nice position to be in.

I’ve got loads of—. I’ve been gathering information from other parents as well, and I feel bad—it’s hard to think on the spot.

10:25

Anything that you want to add to this session today, please share with us, if there's any extra evidence you'd like to give after today's session. That's absolutely fine as well.

We'll move on to some questions now from James Evans.

Thank you. It's lovely to hear your personal experience as well. I just want to say I'm very sorry for all the problems you've experienced. It shouldn't be this hard to access support and everything you need. 

My one question that I've got for you is: do you feel that young children and families are discriminated against? Do you feel that they are subject to unconscious bias because of their disability or their learning difficulty or because they're neurodivergent? Zoe.

Yes, absolutely. There isn't any question. In order to draw from experiences today, I've drawn from information requests that we have from Learning Disability Wales, from the projects that we work on with young people, and also from personal experience of supporting my niece through a transition year in education.

She's never been diagnosed as neurodivergent. She's been through three diagnosis traits. When she got to secondary school, a group of year 7s quite easily diagnosed her as having additional learning needs because she became ostracised, I suppose, from the school group. As children move into year 7 they start moving into that. It's a difficult year, isn't it, when hierarchy, popularity and all of those things take place. And it's that spotlight on year 7 for it to happen. The unconscious bias that she faces is quite incredible in school. Although she doesn't have a diagnosis, she has recognised support needs. But there is a real lack of understanding of her issues and how they play out in the school day. She will often have a row for doing something that she doesn't realise that she's not meant to be doing, because she has difficulties in processing language, I suppose. So she'll put her fingers in her ears when she's being told off and she'll receive detentions for putting her fingers in her ears, when it's part of her coping mechanism to do that. She'll remove herself and go to the school gym in order to just manage the overwhelming anxiety she's feeling that day, and she'll receive detention for truancy. It's a constant battle to challenge these things.

On the schoolyard, we hear the term 'mong', we hear the term 'spastic', we hear the terms 'moron' and 'idiot' repeated from young people. But it's little wonder that we hear those terms repeated from young people. Two weeks ago, a Member of the Senedd tweeted that a group of people were attention-seeking morons that should be locked up for doing what they were doing, and if we translate that language to the language that we use now—if that Senedd Member used the words 'attention-seeking person with a learning disability should be locked up for what they're doing'—we receive a really, really different picture of our understanding of what people face in the world.

Very public figures within the news regularly use terms like 'dunce' et cetera, and if you replace those words with where they originated, and what they were used for with—'Are you a child with an additional learning need?' is what they were asking someone—it becomes particularly awful. And when you have that, and you have schools that don't have any staffing who have a learning disability, you have childcare settings that don't have any staffing with a learning disability, you walk into town centres and people with a learning disability are not working there, they are not working in our libraries, they are not working in our hospitals—. They are not working there because fewer than five 5 per cent of people with a learning disability are in employment. And they aren't in employment because our employers who don't have a learning disability learned as children that this group of children were separate: 'This group of children are to be segregated from us. This group of children will impede on our learning. They hold us back from our learning.' And when you have that level of unconscious bias, it's almost an unchallengeable task to expect that young disabled people can access education and go into life the way they want to, as their non-disabled peers can.

10:30

Thank you very much for sharing that with us. I don't think any of us were aware of the comment that you said, but just to say that there is a process, there is a standards commissioner in the Senedd, so if there is anything that you would like to report, you can access that on the website. So, you can look to make a complaint with the standards commissioner of the Senedd.

It sounds awful when I say it out loud in this room, but they are terms that people use on an everyday basis: idiot, moron, dunce. They are terms that we have to have a massive societal shift to change. We really understand it with the LGBT community now. We understand that calling someone 'gay', or calling an object 'gay', or an action 'gay' is not a proper use of the term 'gay'. We understand, in terms of our global majority, the words that we use that push you further from being part of your community. But we're really not there yet when we talk about children with additional learning needs.

Can I read some comments out from parent carers?

I asked these questions:

'Do you need examples, like the school just assuming an incontinent child can't go swimming, or assuming a wheelchair user won't go on a residential because they never have? Or assuming a disabled child would prefer to be in a separate room from the rest of the school population rather than suffer watching other children run about the field, when in reality, the child previously loved break time in the yards with all their peers in previous schools?'

The other thing is about unconscious bias:

'I think it is constant. Right the way through primary, they have been "surprised". An assumption of inability: "He can count to 20?" asks his reception teacher, when he could count to 300 in nursery. At the time, he had little language other than numbers; it was his thing. A lack of expectation, I think, largely because of a lack of experience, as all kids aren't present enough in mainstream.'

My journey, really, has taken me to the UN convention on the rights of disabled people, and I've actually pushed for my child to be in mainstream and stay in mainstream. I suppose it was when he was in about year 4 or 5 that it started to mean something to me. And my son, if you saw his educational psychology assessment when he was five, you would never put him in mainstream school, but there's potential that he's going to come out with four GCSEs. Hats off to the TA who literally thinks outside the box, is confident enough to challenge, is confident enough to go to members of staff and say, 'I need you here; I need your expertise'. She kind of co-teaches. 

The other good thing and not many parents get this, but because I insisted on taking him to school, I've had access to the TA every morning and every night—it's nearly killed me, that journey. But we were able to actually talk things out and there's a lot of unconscious bias with the staff; there's a lot of—they don't understand about disability rights at all. It's all very much you're either a mainstream kid, or you're a special-school kid, and if you're insisting that they stay in their area, they may be able to go to a unit, but that actually is against human rights, so—.

10:35

We've got some questions from Buffy Williams. Buffy's still on mute.

Thanks, Chair. Sorry, I lost connection for a moment there—

I was going to ask about impact, if I may, and you've already touched on it quite a bit and it's been very difficult listening to your experience—

What's the impact, though, of discrimination due to disability on a young person's mental health and well-being specifically and also on education outcomes?

We might need to come back to you, Ken, because that was very echoey, for some reason, but maybe we'll go to Buffy first and then come back to you, Ken. We'll check the sound with you. Buffy.

Thanks, Chair, and thank you for joining us this morning. To what extent do you believe that children with disabilities are able to attend their local mainstream school? I know you've just touched on that, but if we could have a bit more information.

I think, if you look at the numbers—the Human Rights Council did a report—we see that, year-on-year for the last seven years, the intake into special schools has increased. There could be a number of reasons for that, but anecdotally, we know that parents feel that they are too nervous to send their children to mainstream schools without adequate support. I wrote in the evidence that we provided prior to coming today that Learning Disability Wales believes that we should have an entirely inclusive education system, but we totally acknowledge that that isn't achievable just yet. And it's probably not achievable until we've seen radical reform for education across Wales.

Sorry, could you repeat the question again? I've lost my train of thought.

No problem. To what extent do you believe that children with disabilities are able to attend their local mainstream school?

I think what many parents do is evaluate which is the best of what's on offer at the moment. Now, when we talk about local—for example, in Merthyr Tydfil, you could choose several primary schools and you could choose several secondary schools and most children and young people, if they want to continue with the mainstream, they're choosing one school in Merthyr Tydfil because it has a reputation amongst parents and children as being the best for supporting young people with a learning disability. But you have to do the work. Adele stated earlier that it was all her work—that there isn't good information out there. We don't have good-quality information to determine where we can go. 

Going to special school, sometimes, it can be your local school, of course—you can live very near your special school—but in most circumstances, it's much further away from your community and we see later in life that young people's relationships within their own communities are detrimental when they go to school a long way away. But I'll go to Georgia first and then Adele.

Yes, I just wanted to say, I couldn't even attend mainstream education, because I know for a fact—well, my mum knows, we all know—they wouldn't have been able to give me the support. And I do think mainstream education can be great, but staff need to understand neurodivergent children and young people more, because if you want them to go to mainstream education, you need to understand that they have to have more support for their needs. That's what I'd like to say. And also, like, to take a lot of bullying and stuff seriously, because I think in mainstream education, a lot of it goes on, and as Zoe was saying before, disgusting names are used very often. It's normalised in schools, and if we want to not normalise it, we have to try and make it inclusive, but bringing people together in a way that's going to benefit them and be able to meet their needs.

10:40

If I can read some things out: 'Specialist units are restricted in numbers. It's usually a fight to get one. So, more ASD and learning disability kids, by default, attend mainstream, usually with access to a TA, so shared support, if they are lucky, unless they're severely disabled and in a complex special school placement'. Another comment: 'You get the converse problem when a child is in a unit for an issue where they should be in mainstream, but the only access capacity is the unit, the hub, the resource base, so they go, never to be seen again'. I shouldn't laugh—it's just the way it was written. 'My son has been in mainstream with full one-to-one support throughout his schooling. He's in year 10 now, but both his primary and secondary school have been great. He doesn't have any difficulties with learning or behaviour, though, which I think helps'.

Sorry to interrupt. Would you be able to share those with the committee after?

Yes, I will. Sorry, it's a lot—

No, no. It's just that I'm conscious that we're running short on time and I'd like to bring a few of the other Members in, but if you could share those quotes with us, we'd really appreciate that very much.

After. Okay, yes, that's fine. My personal experience is that I had to go to a tribunal to keep my son in a secondary mainstream school. We went to the panel twice and then we ended up in tribunal. In our welcoming meeting, the educational psychologist said, 'All these people in this room don't think he should be here, but here we are, so how do you think it's going to work, Mum?'

Thank you. Thank you for sharing that with us as well. I'll move on now to questions from Laura. Laura Jones.

Thank you, Chair. Yes, some of what you're saying is quite harrowing, actually—some of the experiences we're hearing today, but thank you for sharing them with us, all of you. Georgia, you've already touched on it, as have you all, the barriers to providing—. I just wanted to know what you think the barriers are to providing an inclusive statutory education and childcare and how those barriers can be removed. What do you think we can do to improve things? Thanks. Yes, Adele, you look like you want to speak.

I don't mind. Basically, we need to follow what the UN convention on the rights of disabled people says. There shouldn't be a dual system. I was very disappointed with the ALN legislation, because it had the UN convention on the rights of disabled people written into it, but it didn't really understand the rights of disabled people as far as education was concerned, so it's in conflict with itself.

To me, there's a merry dance going on. There's a game. The way I look at it, it's a game of snakes and ladders and a pantomime. It's not just recent, it's for years; it's the old system as well. It has to look—. You take your guidance from the UN convention on the rights of disabled people and you put that in the sat nav, so you know what direction you're heading. At the moment, it's not in the sat nav. It is going to take a long time, like Zoe said, but if you haven't got the right direction in mind, you're not going to go that way. The dual education system causes the problem. Nobody questions about money that's spent battling parents. Nobody questions the money that's spent in tribunals. But they will question whether you're allowed to have a few more hours of speech and language therapy a year.

I think schools becoming more community focused, so bringing services into schools, is really important to bring in. We've got a shortage of speech and language professionals in Wales. We've got a shortage of educational psychologists. We've got a significant shortage of those professionals, and others, who would work really well in a school, who speak Welsh, and that's really important for some of the families, particularly in south Wales, where we see that none of the special schools, for example, are Welsh language special schools. Up in the north, they tend to be more bilingual schools, but that's out of who works in them, et cetera. 

Smaller class numbers. And that's a really contentious thing to say, but, without a shadow of a doubt. Children with additional learning needs become the kind of poisoned chalice, I suppose, to the pressures that teaching staff are facing across Wales. And when you have a class of 30 children, and six or seven of those children need significant support, they're going to become a problem to you, and you're going to resent them, and that, as well, is where the unconscious bias comes in. One of the things I talked about with Adele, and one of the things that's really worked for Rhys, is dual teaching. Do you want to say about your TA and their qualifications, and how they dual teach?

10:45

Yes. She's a physical education teacher by trade, but she's done everything. And she's worked—. So, he's doing maths GCSE, and the school are really working hard to get him to a G. He's done it once and he failed, but his shoulders were broad because he was doing the same as everybody else. And they're constantly looking up ideas—how can we—? So, for instance, they're going through the exam paper and they're saying 'Right, he knows the first part of the question, let's make sure that that's embedded, so that he gets one mark', and, then, they'll increase that as his understanding does. But she's also taught him something that's in higher tier—because it's visual, he gets it. But he won't be tested on that. 

So, yes, it's about dual teaching and having schools that are much more community-focused and have access to professionals to be able to make this happen. But I've talked about unconscious bias, and I've talked about the really important role that non-disabled children face in this, and there has to be much, much more support for non-disabled children to understand how to support their peers. 

Sorry, Laura, but we're going to have to move on to questions from Ken, and, then, if we've got time, we'll come back to other questions. But, Ken Skates—we'll try Ken again. 

Thanks, Chair. Hopefully, you can hear me clearly this time. 

Great, thank you. So, we've already heard a little about the impact of discrimination due to disability on children. I'd like to hear a little bit more, if I may, about the specific impact on mental health and well-being, and also on education outcomes. 

There is significant impact on children's mental health. It would be remiss of me not to talk about the significant impact on the mental health of parents and the people who support those children as well. Many parents will gain small achievements, but it will cause them huge trauma, and take a lifetime of work to be able to support their children through education. Often, they won't be able to work as you or I work, but their life's work will become supporting their children through education. 

We see a lot of young people with a learning disability and autism now entering mental health units, and they're entering mental health units, in some circumstances, because their mental health has become so awful that they're unable to manage outside of a unit. But in some circumstances, some of the children don't have mental health issues. They have a learning disability and they have autism, and there aren't any other services for them. There is a young man in Wales currently being detained in a mental health unit who was sectioned without an assessment for mental health, and he was sectioned because the local authority couldn't provide services anywhere else. He was in a residential school before that, but COVID exacerbated his challenges and the behaviours that he was presenting with.

So, the message is stark. And I guess, if I think about my niece, she's 11. She is an absolute candidate for having significant mental health issues when she becomes 15, 16, and the worry about her going into a mental health unit and being subject to some of the abuse that we see is very serious. And that's at the very top end of the spectrum.

And then there are young people who just feel that they have no aspiration and are not in crisis, but the impact for those young people is awful. We run an employment project, and when I first started interviewing young people about what they wanted as part of the employment project—'What type of jobs would you like to do?'—I visited a group of young disabled people in Pembrokeshire, in Ceredigion and up in north Wales, in Ynys Môn, and they struggled with the question of 'What type of jobs do you want?' So, I thought to myself, ’How do I make this easier?' And I thought, 'I know, let's ask the question that everybody's auntie and uncle asks them when they're a child: what do you want to be when you're older?' And they didn't know. And I said, 'Well, what did you used to say when Uncle Bob asked you what do you want to be when you're older?', and they said, 'Nobody ever asked us what we wanted to be when we're older', because the aspiration level for this group of children is so low. I think that has a fundamental impact on your mental health as you grow up, that you don't have the same opportunities, that you won't be part of the same things as your non-disabled peers.

10:50

If you can't—

And in terms of the educational outcomes that follow, what's your view on the way that schools, Government and others capture data and evidence concerning outcomes?

Shall I bring Adele in first? And we'll come to Zoe then.

When I've asked carers, they basically feel a lot of things are a bit of a tick-box exercise. I think there's a lot of work going on now to do with mental health in schools. I think there's a huge lack of understanding about neurodiverse and learning disabilities, though—it’s just not understood. So, it's difficult, isn't it? If you haven't got the correct ingredients, you're never going to make the cake. To be fair on schools, I think they try their best, but it's—. Parents do cite school as causing harm to their youngsters, and they believe that if diagnosis was faster, and understanding and training within school staff and working with families, things wouldn't have got out of hand like they did.

Zoe, do you want to mention about the data as well?

Yes. In terms of data, I guess, if we look at primary, I'm a governor in a primary school in Neath, and one of the first things you do as a governor is you take data training and safeguarding training and introduction training, and you learn about schools being in particular quartiles. So, schools are monitored on how their children are educationally achieving. And I asked a question in the training: what about children with additional learning needs? So, for example, would a school be at a disadvantage with their results if they had a higher number of children with additional learning needs who couldn't achieve the set target? And the person delivering the training said it was okay, because, if you have child with an additional learning need, you can discount them from the data, from the collection of data. Well, quite instantly, you create a set of rules for schools that will mean that, if somebody is borderline and they are not going to get them past the educational level that they need them to be to enter this, they will discount them. And then the emphasis on teaching naturally draws to those children who are entered for that assessment, and away from the children with additional learning needs.

I know that the Equality and Human Rights Commission were in here giving evidence two weeks ago, and they're doing a study called 'State of the Nation' at the moment, and they are monitoring in 'State of the Nation' how many children with a learning disability have five GCSEs or more—because that is how we talk, that is how we function in education, five GCSEs or more. So, all of the children who are not even entered for GCSEs who have a learning disability are being classed on whether they have five or more. They don't even enter GCSEs, so I'm not quite sure how they become part of the numbers if they're not part of the game, I suppose. We don't check—. A learning disability more often than not means that you have difficulties with learning, so you're not going to be part of that race. And we don't check in 'State of the Nation' how many LGBT children are acting in a more heterosexual way, you know. You can't mark people on the things that they quite naturally struggle with, but we are—all of our talk is around five GCSEs or more, all of our drivers within education are around five GCSEs or more, and that instantly throws children with a learning disability, or the majority of children with a learning disability, out of that game. And it is my suspicion that that is why you are entering Rhys into the game—

10:55

—of taking GCSEs.

Thank you very much. We'll move on to a final question from Sioned Williams. Sioned.

Diolch. Cwpl o gwestiynau yn gyflym. Rŷn ni wedi eich clywed chi'n dweud does dim digon o wybodaeth i rieni ac Adele wedi gorfod gwneud yr ymchwil eich hunan, wedi gorfod ymladd eich brwydrau i gyd eich hunan, felly jest eisiau gofyn i ba raddau ydych chi'n meddwl bod rhieni a phlant sydd ag anableddau yn cael gwybodaeth ddigonol, ac ydy'r wybodaeth yna hefyd ar gael i rieni sydd ag anabledd neu anabledd dysgu eu hunain?

Thank you. I've just got a few brief questions. We've heard you tell us that there isn't sufficient information available for parents and Adele had to do her own research and had to fight her own battles, so I just wanted to ask to what extent you feel that parents and disabled children are receiving adequate information, and is that information also available for parents who might themselves be disabled or have a learning disability?

I'm going to have to take this off, sorry. So, parents—. I would say that parents are just told how to play the game. You have a child, you don't have a formula or a book, because everything is very individual anyway. I would say that the plan is flawed anyway, so I've decided not to listen to it—in part, in part. But if you—. Rhys was probably about eight or nine when I learnt about the social model of disability. Parents aren't taught about that. Most parents don't live with the impairment that their child that they're caring for has, but they have to advocate for them. And actually, under the UN convention on the rights of disabled people, it's the children who are the rights holders, not the parents. But, if you're not giving the parents good information—and that's the responsibility of the Government, to give the parents good information about their children's rights—then they're not going to advocate; they're going to play the game of special, separate, segregate.

Why that's important is, when a student is excluded for some school activities, it tells their peers it's okay for them to be excluded from any activity. That is a lifelong message. Inclusion is about full participation and equality of opportunity, with all the adjustments and support all of the time. If your system is telling parents that, 'Right, you've got to fight for rationed services, you've got to be the expert. We won't let you through the door, we'll keep you at arm's length', it's training people to navigate the system; it's not giving our children their rights.

In terms of parents who have a learning disability, there is very little information available. People with a learning disability will use video or easy-read materials to be able to understand what's available. Parents with a learning disability, even in making decisions about what school they will go to—and it's inevitably better for parents who have a learning disability to take their child to a local school, so that they have that really community-focused support—it's important that the school secretary understands that the really busy newsletter that comes out once a week is too much, and that, if a child is continuously not turning up in fancy dress for World Book Day or they're not bringing their wellies to school on a Wednesday or they're not doing all of the things that other children can do, it's not because the parent with a learning disability can't be bothered, isn't interested in that; it's because they haven't understood the message. So, good-quality information from the local authority when deciding schools is really important. But even when you're in schools—and we know you've just published a report about looked-after children—we know that there is a high percentage of looked-after children who have a parent with a learning disability, and they're assessed on these things. They're assessed on whether their child turns up with the right equipment to go to school, they're assessed on whether they turn up and are interested in what's happening, they're assessed on whether the child attends the school fair and their parent comes along. And it's vitally important that parents with a learning disability have the right information so that they have the chance to parent to their full potential, rather than being ignored in terms of messaging—and we know what schools and parents are like with messaging and how much we talk about communication with schools. It's a big topic, but getting it right for parents with a learning disability is really important in terms of the child staying with their parent.

11:00

Sorry, Sioned. I know we've come to the end of the session, but I just wonder if there are any final points you would like to make before we close today.

I just wanted to make one point about what Zoe was going on about earlier, about employment and GCSEs. I think it is very hard sometimes, because I would love a summer job; I don't have the privilege to access that, all because I don't have GCSEs. And I think it's unfair to segregate people, to say, 'You can't do one', because, given the right support, then we could. I think that a lot of the times, in special schools—. As much as I'm very grateful I attend one—it's helped me tremendously—I haven't had the opportunity to really do exams, which results in not being able to even get into employment. And that can really affect you, your mental health, a lot, because you're thinking, 'Well, what prospects do I have?' Because a lot of the time, it's like, 'How am I going to get a job if I haven't even got basic GCSEs to get me in?' So that can be a really difficult barrier, I think, as well.

Yes, that's really important. Thank you so much, Georgia. Adele.

So, for Rhys now, had he gone to a special school, he wouldn't have done the Welsh baccalaureate—that's not available. As Georgia said, there are no GCSEs available. Rhys is significantly disabled, but he's doing art GCSE, and he could get a D. But it required a lot of enthusiasm and people—. He was a pupil. But it was interesting, in parents' evening, the subjects he was doing the GCSEs in, the teacher was much more engaged than the ones he wasn't doing the GCSEs in. With the ones that he wasn't doing the GCSEs in, they were saying, 'Oh, I love having him in the class, he's a real asset, and we love his smile', whereas, in the GCSEs, they were telling me why, and that, 'We need to go here, and, look, he's improved from here.'

Yes, that's a really good point. Thanks, Adele. Zoe, are there any final remarks from you?

Just to say that we've got a list of questions from Naomi, so any questions that weren't asked, we will submit written evidence for you.

That would be great. And if you could—. Oh, sorry, Adele.

I want to ask a question. I've got to say that the questions are really insightful, and I just wonder who actually wrote them and who came up with them.

Well, we're very lucky to have a good research team here, so that's great, and then Members ask any questions that they would like to, obviously, as well. But we're glad to be able to give you a guide to help frame some of your answers today. But, as I said, anything that you can share with us—for example, those quotes from parents—that would be really good, and anything else that you would like to add. And I'd also like to thank you for your paper as well, because that was really helpful for us to have the written briefing before you came this morning. So, thank you very much for joining us, and really appreciate it. And thank you again, Georgia, because you've given us a lot of suggestions. Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you. Diolch.

So, we'll finish that session today, and we'll take a short break to bring our next set of witnesses in this morning. Thank you. Diolch.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:04 ac 11:16.

The meeting adjourned between 11:04 and 11:16.

11:15
4. A yw plant a phobl ifanc anabl yn cael mynediad cyfartal at addysg a gofal plant? - sesiwn dystiolaeth 5
4. Do disabled children and young people have equal access to education and childcare? - evidence session 5

Croeso nôl. 

Welcome back.

Welcome back to our evidence session. This is our fifth evidence session in our inquiry, 'Do disabled children and young people have equal access to education and childcare?' I'd like to welcome our new panel of witnesses this morning. You're very welcome. We have Karen McFarlane, policy officer, poverty and vulnerable children, Children in Wales, and chair of the Third Sector Additional Needs Alliance. We have Francesca Wright, assistant chief officer of SNAP Cymru. We have Cath Lewis, policy and campaigns managers of Guide Dogs Cymru. And we have Chris Haines, external affairs manager, National Autistic Society; George Baldwin, policy and campaigns officer for Wales, National Deaf Children's Society; and Gwen Anslow from the All Wales Forum. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Members have a number of questions to ask you. We'd also like to thank you very much for the paper that you provided before the session today. I'll make a start on a general issue, about the extent—to what extent are children's rights to an education being denied due to their disability, learning disability or being neurodivergent? Are there any differences between these three wide groups of children and young people? Karen.

I'm going to go to the National Deaf Children's Society first, and then on to Guide Dogs Cymru.

Thank you. With particular reference to deafness and deaf children, which is not a learning disability, deaf children's needs are not being fully met within education currently. Deaf children in Wales face an education attainment gap of up to 20 per cent when compared to their hearing peers, but there is no need for this gap to exist. As it is not a learning disability, they should be able to succeed on par with their hearing peers. What we've identified is that teacher-of-the-deaf numbers in Wales have declined by 20 per cent in the last decade or so. So, we've lost one in five from our teacher-of-the-deaf service, and a further one third are set to retire in the next 10 or so years. So, we're at the edge of an educational crisis in Wales with regard to deaf specialist education. In this view, I see deaf children being let down, under article 29 of the UNCRC, where deaf children should have the right to be able to have their talents and abilities developed to the full. So, our deaf children should be on par with their hearing peers in education. We would like to see the number of teachers-of-the-deaf decline reversed, hopefully through a pan-Wales teacher-of-the-deaf strategy that we can come up with and work with the Welsh Government on, and to help local services across Wales get that number back up. Thank you. 

And then, if I go to Guide Dogs as well, it's a similar picture.

Thank you very much, Chair. I just wanted to agree with a few points that George made there. Children with visual impairments don't necessarily have a learning disability, and one of the key issues for children with a visual impairment in Wales is that they're a high-need but low-incidence group. There are approximately 1,663 children known to local authorities in Wales. Now, George has mentioned the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and very much like him, Guide Dogs feel that they have the same rights to thrive in education and beyond, as their sighted peers.

A fact that is not well known is that 80 per cent of learning is through vision, and the lack of specialist support is stopping a child achieve their full potential. And also, again, a similar picture to the National Deaf Children's Society, many schools are lacking the specialist skills needed to support a child with visual impairment, so provide universal support only. And again, Guide Dogs is very concerned that research from the Royal National Institute of Blind People's freedom of information request in 2023 shows that 12 local authorities in Wales have no qualified teacher of the visually impaired, and this has resulted in a postcode lottery provision. So, it's quite a bleak picture out there for children with visual impairment.

11:20

And I think in terms of whether that differs between different disabilities or ALN, if I go to SNAP, they see a wide range and so I think they're probably best placed to answer that.

Thank you. So, our experience, really, is that, for those who are most affected by their disability or their additional learning needs, who have more complex needs, families report that it's mostly, not always, easier to get the right provision for their children or young people. But, for those who are less affected or perhaps have hidden disabilities or, in many cases, don't have a diagnosis, their right to access education is much more likely to be impacted. But, what we do know is when children and young and their parents and carers are acknowledged and believed in what they're talking about, this is a far better way to meet needs within universal provision and beyond.

So, in most cases, it's really clear how pupils with IDPs are having their needs met and monitored, but what about those who are considered to be able to have their needs met within universal provision? How can we monitor this and how are their needs being met? Because what we do know is, parents are telling us that universal provision looks very, very different across Wales, and what happens in a city-centre primary is really different in a 24-pupils-on-roll school. Parents have raised concerns about universal provision being too open to interpretation when considering ALN and additional learning provision, and, whilst in one school a pupil may not have an IDP, in another they do, despite having extremely similar needs.

So, despite reassurances, parents have described different methods of monitoring pupils, and schools are using terms such as 'universal provision' and 'targeted universal provision', 'universal provision plus' and other interpretations, which parents find really confusing. Other families have described having enhanced one-page profiles with targets on the back, which they perceive, in their eyes, is so that school can avoid writing an IDP. But, fundamentally, we consider this is a children's and young person's rights issue, because not having an IDP means that they won't be recognised as having additional learning needs.

So, we work with about 5,000 to 6,000 families a year, which, in reality, is only a really small percentage of the population affected, which means we're really concerned that many families, children and young people might not be aware of their rights and options to request an IDP, should it be refused. And families are so concerned that universal provision and all its different presentations are a consequence of moving away from the concept that an IDP really can be quite a simple document, in reality. So, because of this, many families either accept what they're given for their children or face prolonged battles to get the provision they think their child or young person needs. Families, therefore, often feel that the only way to get the right provision is to get a diagnosis, which, in turn, is placing pressure and demand on other services such as health. And one of the most important issues for parents and carers that they have told us is about accountability and who holds local authorities in particular to account when time frames are met and there aren't appeal routes to tribunal.

Thank you. We'll move on to questions from James Evans.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. To what extent do you think there are barriers for parents to accessing childcare for children who are neurodivergent, who've got a learning disability or have got problems?

Okay. I'm going to hand over to the National Autistic Society for that. They have evidence.

Thanks for the question. It's really vital that autistic children receive that timely early-years support, and, unfortunately, families often tell us that they feel discriminated against in terms of accessing that. So, we are deeply concerned about the lack of suitable childcare provision across Wales, particularly for autistic children who've got higher support needs. And, where suitable provision exists, the costs can be a significant barrier, especially given the cost-of-living crisis and stubbornly high poverty rates.

Now, the Welsh Government does make £1.5 million available annually to councils, through the childcare offer additional support grant, and this helps fund extra childcare costs for disabled and neurodivergent children. However, we are aware of lots of parents who are still having to fork out hundreds of pounds every month for a private crèche, as mainstream nurseries cannot meet their needs. And we would question whether that £1.5 million pot is enough. One parent said to me recently, 'If my son wasn't autistic and didn't have the needs that he has, he would have a full-time place and we wouldn't have to pay any fees'. And there just seems to be a fundamental unfairness here.

11:25

So, do you feel that children with learning difficulties, who are neurodivergent, or with a disability are discriminated against, and have you got any examples of that?

I don't know if anybody from TSANA does have specific examples that we have with us today, but across our membership, we have many, many examples. One of our members, who isn't here today, but we can provide evidence for them, would be Mudiad Meithrin. They have many examples, certainly, of childcare where there are issues with that.

Okay. That's fine. And finally, Cadeirydd, to what extent do you think that families and children are consulted by local authorities and schools with things that are happening, and whether they need support? Do you feel sometimes that things are done to them rather than being co-designed with them?

In general, yes, but I will hand over to the National Autistic Society.

Yes, unfortunately, I'd say that is the case, and it's quite patchy. Sometimes, with school councils and things, there are avenues. There are some pockets of really great practice. So, one example I would highlight is that Monmouthshire council have got a partnership with the Autism Education Trust, or AET, and that's a project that's going to be shaped by a young persons' panel, made up of autistic pupils from across the county. The AET offers professional training, practical tools and resources to better support children and young people. It's a non-profit organisation, and it's trained, I think, over 350,000 professionals. And that Monmouthshire project is the first of its kind in Wales. And really, the council, we think, is to be applauded for that commitment to making pupil participation prominent and a permanent feature of its work.

Thank you for alerting us to that, and I'm sure we can follow up on that example as well, so thank you. I'm just going to bring Gwen in.

Hello. Thank you. About the point of co-production, co-production is a gorgeous process that we're being a part of, but it is a long process and it does take a lot of effort. Unfortunately, we have anecdotal evidence of families who have tried to co-produce with education settings regarding, especially, extra-curricular activities, events, or social activities for their child, and they had to challenge these decisions for such a long time that the changes that came in place actually came in place once the child had left the school. So, the family who had fought for these changes, they didn't actually get to benefit from these changes. So, there is huge room for improvement when it comes to co-production in certain areas, especially when working with the family for their needs, because, often, unfortunately, the solution doesn't even address the need properly if the family isn't consulted in the process, and, unfortunately, it tends to be a waste of time and money.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, all, for joining us this morning. How important do you believe it is that learners should be able to access inclusive education, and what are the barriers to providing inclusive statutory education and childcare?

Again, this is a large question, really. I'm going to go to SNAP for that, just because of their experience with a wide variety.

Thanks very much, Karen. I agree, and, actually, in my notes, I say this is incredibly difficult to answer in the time we have, so I shall touch on some points but this list really isn't exhaustive. I think one of the big barriers is actually having a child's ALN recognised. We're seeing some really good practice emerging, but it's felt by many parents and carers that their child's ALN isn't being picked up early enough, and, once the issues are rooted, it's much harder for a child to make progress. So, some examples of this are parents telling us that their school is avoiding deciding ALN or not, and instead adopting a 'Let's wait and see' approach, 'Let's see how things go for a term', or, 'We're not going to do anything until there's a diagnosis.' And parents tell us then that they're worried their concerns aren't being taken seriously or they're struggling to communicate with the school, or they tell us the school have simply told them there isn't the funding or staffing available to provide the child with the extra help they need.

And I also think it's important to point out that it doesn't mean then that their relationship with the school isn't working. In fact, really reassuringly from the recent events we delivered on behalf of the Welsh Government, about 67 per cent of parents and carers who attended reported their relationship with their school to be 'good' or 'excellent'. But what we have found in many cases is that parents have been reluctant to ask local authorities to review or reconsider individual development plans where schools are saying they haven't got funding or enough support, because they perceive that it might get the school into trouble or ruin their own relationship with the school, which, in turn, might be detrimental to their child's education.

So, that's quite a big barrier, but other barriers to consider are things that are cropping up that are very topical at the minute, for children who are anxious non-attenders. Schools are loud and busy places at times, and perhaps sometimes more thought needs to be given to the environment to reduce the numbers of children who are anxious non-attenders, and for schools to have space and resources to address the issue of non-attendance before it becomes embedded. Because, so often, by the time we meet the families whose children haven't been to school for three, four, five months, it's very, very difficult to return them back.

We also know that many families who aren't able to access the right provision, or who struggle to get their voices heard, who are constantly dealing with exclusions or, in some cases, getting the medical needs of their child met during a school day, without our support, give up and withdraw their child to electively home educate. And lots of families come to us as they're struggling to communicate, so I think communication is very much a barrier in itself. They want help to have their voices heard and time to talk about their child. We are so concerned about these barriers when they don't have access to that independent, impartial information that families really need in order to help empower them to go and talk to schools and resolve the issues that they're having.

11:30

Thank you. Are you aware of any concerns about how accessible the school estate is for learners with all types of disabilities?

Yes, we're very aware. We have lots of examples of that, and I think the All Wales Forum, actually—Gwen—will have a couple of examples, and we can provide many examples post session should you need them.

Yes, thank you. So, yes, we aware that although, generally speaking, main buildings tend to be accessible, we know that there are still physical barriers in place when it comes to areas that are related to extra-curricular activity. I'm talking sports day when children who are wheelchair users will not be able to participate because there wouldn't be a track in the field. I'm talking also about social areas, so maybe a lunch area where there are steps to get to it, so they're not able to socialise in a mainstream setting. But also physical barriers in the sense of the lack of staff and the lack of specialised staff. Those create barriers that are physical barriers as well, if you're a wheelchair user who needs someone to push you around the building and there aren't the staff available. We unfortunately have a case study where the parent had to take out the child from education because that was the case, where the child was being left on their own because there weren't staff to push them around.

[Inaudible.]—Guide Dogs. Cath from Guide Dogs also has some evidence to give on that. 

Thank you very much, Karen. I'm obviously going to highlight children with a visual impairment and, for us, it's really important that children with a visual impairment in the school situation have access to specialist habilitation support. You may be aware of the Guide Dogs adverts that have been on television, where Nell, a child with a visual impairment, uses a cane and counts the classroom doors until she opens the right door, and then she's greeted by Branwen Jones, a habilitation officer for the visually impaired. Through Branwen's support, this means that she can access the classroom herself, locate the chair in the classroom and go to the toilet independently. As well as supporting independent living skills, Branwen has supported Nell to learn the social skills that make and maintain friendships. So, that's really very important for us, that a child with a visual impairment has access to specialist habilitation support in the school environment.

We are particularly concerned that an RNIB freedom of information request found that the percentage of children and young people on a VI active service caseload who were accessing habilitation support from within education ranges from below 9 per cent to 48 per cent. So, it's a huge disparity, and waiting times for habilitation support vary from one week to 12 months. We strongly feel that this inconsistency must stop.

Other physical measures that a school can take can include choosing contrasting colours to highlight door frames and pillars, route-finder systems to enable pupils to find their way around the school easily, having hand rails on the top of the stairs, and external stairs having tactile pavements at the top and bottom. So, there are some very practical solutions that wouldn't necessarily cost a lot of money. But the main issue for us, as I say, is the habilitation support that the children need—support from a specialist habilitation officer. 

11:35

Thank you, Chair. You've already highlighted the problems around ALN support in schools because of children not being identified quickly enough, and therefore the funding's not there to provide the teaching support that is needed. That is obviously a problem. But to what extent do you think the teachers and the support staff that are there are adequately trained to help learners with learning disabilities or neurodiversity to reach their full potential?

I think we have some amazing teachers and generally we have good specialised teachers who are highly trained and very good and supportive. But I think what we'd like to see is more non-specialist teachers having a wider understanding, and I think the National Autistic Society have examples of the impact of this, really.

Yes, teachers' understanding of autism is really critical to autistic pupils feeling supported in the classroom. We believe there's an urgent need for more effective training. So, research by Steffan Davies of Swansea University's school of education shows that there's a big gap between teachers' confidence and pupils' experiences. So, while I think it's 77 per cent of surveyed staff said they had a sufficient understanding, only 28 per cent of children and young people felt their teachers actually understood autism. We think the reason for that disconnect is likely due to most teachers not having appropriate levels of really quality autism training, and this lack of understanding can have a significant adverse impact on attendance and attainment.

We think that all teachers should have mandatory autism training as part of initial teacher education, because really small changes can make a huge difference. Just little things like adjusting classroom lighting or allowing autistic pupils to use fidget toys in classes, or letting them leave the class two or three minutes early so they don't have to deal with that really noisy hallway environment. We think that it's something that the Autism Education Trust can help with. They're really keen to reach more school staff in Wales, and we would like to see Welsh Government work in partnership with them to make that professional development offer available across the country, because it really is first class, and they're keen to get involved.

Absolutely. That sounds as though it should be absolutely fundamentally part of training. Did you want to say something else there?

Yes, that's not just for autism. I know that TSANA, our alliance, a couple of years ago wrote modules, just quick overarching modules of, 'This is what this ALN means', or, 'This is what this disability means', and, 'This is what you can do.' It's not to specifically train the teachers, but it's to give an awareness to all staff and teachers at the school, just so that they're aware that this behaviour might be caused by this. So, just an overarching awareness, really. Cath from Guide Dogs, did you have something to add to that?

Yes, I do. Thank you very much, Karen. I'd just like to reinforce the points that Karen has made. At the end of the day, teachers are trying to teach children with additional learning needs alongside pupils without additional learning needs, and they do try very hard to have an understanding of the issues. But for children with visual impairment, as I mentioned, it's a low-incidence but high-need disability. We feel that more support needs to be given, and Guide Dogs are very happy to work in partnership with local authorities to provide that support if necessary.

I'd just like to highlight a few things that we feel would benefit, and it's the importance of a child with a visual impairment acquiring digital skills. This is very important, but it must be taught by a specialist teacher who understands how to engage with the technology, and it requires a good understanding of the technology as well. A parent of a child with a visual impairment recently told us that she wanted her son to use technology that mirrors the classroom whiteboard. Initially, the local authority did not allow this, they just cited security issues, but, because she persisted, an alternative method was found that gave him the same classroom experience as his peers, which is what every parent wants, but, unfortunately, this sort of solution isn't always the case.

But one thing that has been developed to help support children with visual impairment in the school environment is a curriculum framework for children and young people with visual impairments. This has been devised in conjunction with stakeholders from Wales, and we feel that it presents an approach for addressing many of the issues that we've addressed in our written evidence. So, ourselves, Guide Dogs, and the RNIB ask that the curriculum framework for visual impairment is endorsed by the Welsh Government and recognised for reference in additional learning needs policies; embedded in local service commissioning and delivery frameworks; and, finally, followed by all educational settings supporting children and young people with visual impairment and their families, in partnership with the eye specialists. Thank you.

11:40

Thank you. You've talked about problems in school that children face, you've talked about problems after school in after-school activities, but what about getting to school? What about school transport? What do you think the barriers are there, please?

Poverty is the main barrier to that, in general anyway, but specifically in terms of disabilities and additional learning needs, I will hand over to the National Autistic Society again for that.

There are particular issues around post-16 travel, a lack of free transport to FE is significantly impacting children and young people with ALN, particularly as families of disabled people are more likely to live in poverty. Unfortunately, the needs of older pupils with ALN can go unmet as they often attend FE beyond the age of 19 for two or three years. Some councils provide free travel to sixth forms, but not all. Many don't provide any free transport to further education colleges as they do not fall under local government control.

To give you one example of many from our casework: earlier, just before this academic year, a family got in touch with us of a 19-year-old who was offered a place at college. His family was informed, just days before he was due to start, that there would be no transport available for him. His family were then quoted more than £1,500 a month for taxis, which they simply couldn't afford. Exclusion of young people from support to get to college really does create barriers and leads to some being unable to access education altogether.

We really think that post-16 travel ought to be brought into the scope of the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008, because it would then better align with the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018, and the reforms there, which, as you'll all know, go up to the age of 25. This was something that, I believe, was on the agenda, and, unfortunately, amendments were defeated when the ALN Bill went through, but there were promises made at the time that this would be given attention. Worryingly, recently, a Welsh Government official told me that the whole issue of post-16 travel has been kicked into the long grass, and we very much hope that the committee can help put it back on the policy makers' agenda.

I know Chris was talking about—. And then I'll come to Gwen. I know that Chris was talking about post 16, but, actually, the families are aware that the cost of travel is unlikely to be paid, so the aspirations of those children—. They believe that they're not going to be able to go to college because their family can't afford it, so, already, even though it's affecting post 16s, it's affecting all ages. But post 16s, it's that build-up. So, Gwen, from the All Wales Forum.

Thank you. I think it's absolutely worth mentioning above 16, but also underneath. I just wanted to paint you a picture of a rural family, maybe living somewhere in Wales, and their child has specific additional needs. If the local school can't meet those needs, then the nearest school is probably going to be out of county, and that could mean an hour or more than an hour's travel. When you have a child with disabilities who has sensorial needs, if something goes wrong at school and they're having a bad day and the parent carer has been called to come and pick them up, then the parent carer is then—[Inaudible.]—in having to travel all the way, another hour, maybe having to leave work and impacting their employment. So, the lack of accessible transport impacts the children, the adults and the family in a way that, unfortunately, we don't necessarily understand the extent of, especially in rural areas. If you're in Cardiff, you potentially could travel to the Vale, you can travel to Rhondda, and you can maybe find a school that can access your needs, but if you're in north Powys, then it becomes a lot more difficult, and that lack of transport becomes the barrier to your child's education. And, as we've mentioned, families with disabilities are often affected by poverty, so we're kind of asking families to choose between the child's education and providing the transport for them and vital services that they need.

11:45

Thanks, Chair. I'm going to ask about impact. We've already heard the degree to which discrimination can impact on learners, but can you just offer up some views on the extent to which discrimination impacts on learners' mental health and well-being and, in turn, their educational outcomes?

Karen McFarlane 11:46:34