Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

11/01/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

James Evans
Jayne Bryant Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates
Laura Anne Jones
Rhun ap Iorwerth yn dirprwyo ar ran Heledd Fychan ar gyfer eitemau 1 i 5
substitute for Heledd Fychan for items 1 to 5
Vikki Howells yn dirprwyo ar ran Buffy Williams ar gyfer eitemau 1 i 2
substitute for Buffy Williams for items 1 to 2

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Albert Heaney Prif Swyddog Gofal Cymdeithasol Cymru, Llywodraeth Cymru
Chief Social Care Officer for Wales, Welsh Government
Alex Slade Cyfarwyddwr Gofal Sylfaenol ac Iechyd Meddwl, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Primary Care and Mental Health, Welsh Government
Amelia John Cyfarwyddwr Dros Dro, Cymunedau a Threchu Tlodi, Llywodraeth Cymru
Interim Director, Communities and Tackling Poverty, Welsh Government
Catherine Falcus Swyddog Polisi Addysg ac Arweinyddiaeth, Cymdeithas Arweinwyr Ysgolion a Cholegau Cymru
Education and Leadership Policy Officer, Association of School and College Leaders Cymru
Chris Parry Llywydd, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol y Prifathrawon Cymru
President, National Association of Head Teachers Cymru
Eluned Morgan Y Gweinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Minister for Health and Social Services
Hywel Jones Cyfarwyddwr Cyllid, Grŵp Iechyd a Gofal Cymdeithasol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Finance, Health and Social Services Group, Welsh Government
Ioan Rhys Jones Ysgrifennydd Cyffredinol, Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru
General Secretary, Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru
Irfon Rees Cyfarwyddwr Iechyd a Lles, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Health and Well-being, Welsh Government
Julie Morgan Y Dirprwy Weinidog Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Social Services
Laura Doel Ysgrifennydd Cenedlaethol Cymru, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol y Prifathrawon Cymru
National Secretary Wales, National Association of Headteachers Cymru
Lynne Neagle Y Dirprwy Weinidog Iechyd Meddwl a Llesiant
Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being
Mary van den Heuvel Uwch Swyddog Polisi Cymru, yr Undeb Addysg Cenedlaethol
Senior Policy Officer Wales, National Education Union
Urtha Felda Swyddog Polisi a Gwaith Achos, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol yr Ysgolfeistri ac Undeb yr Athrawesau
Policy and Casework Official, The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Lucy Morgan Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Philippa Watkins Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Sian Thomas 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 09:30.

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

The meeting began at 09:30.

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 today.

I'd like to welcome you all to this meeting today of the Children, Young People and Education Committee. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and the Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Apologies have been received from Buffy Williams and Heledd Fychan. Vikki Howells will be subbing for Buffy for items 1 to 2, so welcome, Vikki. And Rhun ap Iorwerth will be substituting for Heledd for items 1 to 5, so welcome, Rhun. Thank you, both, for joining us this morning. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? Rhun.

A gaf i ddatgan budd fel Aelod dynodedig mewn perthynas â'r cytundeb cydweithio?

I am a designated Member with regard to the co-operation agreement.

2. Cyllideb Ddrafft Llywodraeth Cymru 2024-25- sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
2. Welsh Government Draft Budget 2024-25 - evidence session 1

We'll move on to the main item on our agenda this morning, which is the Welsh Government's draft budget. It's our first evidence session, and I'd like to welcome the Minister, Deputy Ministers and officials joining us this morning—thank you very much. We have Eluned Morgan, Minister for Health and Social Services; Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Social Services; Lynne Neagle, Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being; Hywel Jones, director of finance, health and social services group; Amelia John, interim director, communities and tackling poverty; Albert Heaney, Chief Social Care Officer for Wales; Irfon Rhys, director of health and well-being; and Alex Slade, director of primary care and mental health. So, you're all very welcome this morning. I'd just like to also put on record our thanks for the paper that you provided to the committee in advance of today's meeting.

Obviously, you'll understand that Members have a number of questions to put to you this morning. I'll make a start on some general issues on spending on children. Your major expenditure group is the only one to receive a budget increase in 2024-25, taking it to £11.7 billion, and with that coming on top of the extra £425 million in-year allocation for 2023-24. Are you fully confident that children and young people's health will get an evidence-based and fair share of the unhypothecated £9.5 billion core NHS allocation that is going direct to health boards? How can we assess the impact on children?

Thanks very much. It's been the most challenging budget, I think, in the history of the Senedd—since the Senedd was established, since the Welsh Assembly was established. It's been really, really difficult not just to balance the budget in-year this financial year, but also, obviously, looking to next year. What we've done as a Cabinet is to try and keep the focus on our front-line services and to recognise that things like the inflationary pressures are really having a very damaging impact on our ability to provide the services in the way that we have in the past, which is why the Cabinet decided, as a whole, to cut various other aspects of Government policy in order to shore up the front-line services in relation, in particular, to health. So, I'm very grateful to Cabinet colleagues for understanding the pressures that we're under.

And it's not an insignificant amount of additional support. What that means, and as you understand, is that the vast majority of the money that comes to health goes directly to health boards, and within that there will be support, of course, for children. As you're aware, we don't hypothecate within health to any particular groups, but what we do within our planning framework is to make clear that there is an expectation that they have to show to us, when they come up with their plans—which, obviously, we haven't had yet, but we have issued the planning framework to them—that children and young people are ring-fenced within that planning framework. So, we're expecting that to be honoured. Obviously, until we see their plans, we won't be sure, but, as Minister, I can actually reject their plans, if they don't include those.

So, there is going to be an impact, but I think, generally speaking, the additional funding is going to benefit those children and young people. And, of course, there are specific budget lines as well that we've held centrally that address issues of children and young people as well. I don't know if Hywel would like to add to that.

09:35

I think you've covered a number of aspects, Minister. I think the only thing I'd add is that, obviously, there's been a significant amount of investment into the NHS, both mid year in this financial year and for next year, which is to support unavoidable inflationary pressures and the inescapable costs of demand, which apply to children's services as much as any other service.

Thank you. You mentioned there inflationary pressures, and we know that those inflationary pressures mean it will cost more next year to deliver the same health services as it did last year. Can you give us some practical examples of how the Welsh Government expects these inflationary pressures to impact children's health?

Well, if you just think about it in the round, about inflationary pressures on things like the cost of energy in hospital, you can't have children's hospitals that are cold. We have to find the money to cover that. If you look at medicines, we know there's been an 11 per cent increase in the cost of medicines. So, this additional funding will help to mitigate some of that inflationary pressure, which, obviously, will be of benefit to children.

Okay. Thank you. Do you think that there would be—? We've touched on that—how convinced are you that children's health service delivery might need to be scaled back in certain circumstances?

I think that might have been an issue had we not managed to put this additional funding in place. So, we're confident that, with this additional funding, we will be able to continue with services within the NHS. We may need to do some reconfiguration, we may need to do some changes, but the front-line services should remain solid, I think.

Brilliant. Thank you. Okay. We've got some questions now from Laura Anne Jones. Laura.

Thank you, Chair. Ministers, the Welsh Local Government Association has warned that it’s only a matter of time before a Welsh local authority goes bankrupt. Its written evidence says that £41 million of the current year's £219 million overspend is directly from existing funding pressures in children’s social care. It has also referred to the continuing rise in the numbers of children needing care and protection. As the Minister responsible for children’s social services, what can you do and what are you doing to make sure that the front-line services to protect children can sustain these financial pressures, given that you have no control over their budgets?

Thank you. I'll answer that. Well, certainly, the funding that we're giving to local government is increasing by 3.1 per cent. So, I think that's very important—that in these really, really difficult times, we've managed to maintain and increase what the funding is for local government. And so, it's not just protecting, it's not just maintaining, it's increasing as well. So, I think that does illustrate the amount of recognition we have that the services that local government gives to children are absolutely crucial and are the front-line services. So, I think that indicates our support there. Certainly, I know that the Minister for Finance and Local Government took into account the pressures that local authorities were reporting to her. In your question, you mentioned the WLGA, and obviously they've been making these representations as well.

But the important point to make, I think, is the core settlement funding is unhypothecated. So, we don't tell local authorities that they must spend this amount on children's services; it's for the decision to be made at a local level, where the greatest knowledge is of the needs. But we have every confidence that local authorities will put children's needs high up on their agenda, as they always have. It's unhypothecated, it's going up, and so I think we've got confidence that the services will continue.

But there's no guarantee, is there, Minister, that that money, given the significant pressures that the Minister outlined earlier on the NHS, will get to those services, those children's front-line services?

Well, I think local authorities will have to make difficult decisions about this, about spending overall, in the way that we've had to make difficult decisions in the Welsh Government, but I know that social services are a priority for councils. Obviously, through our transformation programme for children's services, we will be working with local authorities to try to get the whole-scale change that we want to bring about in children's services, and which I know this committee supports.

09:40

Absolutely. Will you be keeping an eye on what local authorities are doing across the 22 different local authorities? 

We work very closely with them, and, obviously, with the overall transformation programme, that is done jointly with the local authorities. 

Okay. On voluntary sector funding, can you offer assurances in the current financial climate, and is there anything practical that you can do to improve the stability and address the short-term nature of funding for the children’s sector?

For the children's sector? Yes. Right, well, I'll answer that. Again, as I've said, we had to face difficult decisions in terms of prioritising the front-line services, and we chose not to impose any cuts on our third sector grants, but decided to protect our existing commitments, because, obviously, a lot of our front-line services are delivered by the voluntary sector, and it's absolutely crucial that we keep our support going there. We've already undertaken multiple-year grant funding arrangements with the third sector, for example, through the three-year sustainable social services third sector grant, which is one of our main ways of funding the voluntary sector. And that was extended to five years, of course, because of COVID, so we've had five years for those projects. They will be coming to an end in 2024-25—that will be their last year—and we'll be looking to see what we can do in order to continue that sort of level of support after that year.

These grants support schemes that help care-experienced young people, for example, to live independently, as well as assisting children and young people who've got experience of domestic abuse. And so, they're really crucial, and there's a wide range of projects that we do support. But also, in addition to the sustainable social services grant schemes, we do have third sector organisations that provide services and who are being supported as key organisation grant awards, and those are Voices in Care, Children in Wales, Association for Fostering, Kinship and Adoption, Family Fund. And they're multi-year grants and they've been protected for next year. So, we have protected the funding for the voluntary sector in the children's field for next year.

I'll bring in the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being. 

Thanks very much, Chair. Just to add to what Julie said, obviously recognising this is a really worrying time for everyone, isn't it, when budgets are so stretched. But, in terms of mental health, we have taken the decision to protect the amount of money that's gone to health boards through our ring fence for mental health services. That was something that was very, very important to me as we went through this really difficult budget process. So, the mental health ring fence has actually seen an increase of £25 million. As most of the funding that goes for mental health services comes via the health board, we shouldn't anticipate seeing a major change there because we have protected that funding. But we recognise that third sector organisations worry about their funding. Eluned, Julie and I meet them regularly, and we'll also be taking the opportunity to remind health boards and regional partnership boards about the code of practice for fair funding for the third sector as we go through the months ahead. Thanks, Jayne.

Given the significant role that you've just outlined that the third sector plays, obviously, with children and children's services, can I just confirm, then, that you both have made detailed assessments of the impact of the 2024-25 budget on them, and you're protecting those services? Is that correct? 

I can confirm that those services that I referred to are protected for the next financial year, yes. 

Okay. Brilliant. And have you made detailed assessments for all the third sector and other providers that provide those vital services for children of the impact of the budget?

The impact assessment that we do does, obviously, look at the needs of children, but it is an impact assessment that looks holistically at all the different cross-cutting needs that there are for children.

09:45

Just to add to that, as I said, most of our funding—although there are some programmes that we fund nationally—most of the funding does go out via health boards or regional partnership boards, and we have protected that funding, but there are very large numbers of third sector organisations that are receiving funding. So, just to let the committee know, we did previously undertake an exercise where we assessed health board spend on third sector support for mental health in primary care, and we are going to repeat that exercise, because we think it's really important that we do monitor what's going on on the ground.

Thank you, Deputy Minister. During scrutiny of the draft budget 2023-24, you repeatedly told us that there'd be no reductions to funding in relation to children and young people's budgets, and that expenditure had been maintained for them, yet this year we see a very different picture, with direct reductions in funding for children. Given there is also significant grant funding for children that will end in 2024-25, given the acute financial pressures, is now not the time to start undertaking and publishing detailed child rights impact assessments, in line with your legal obligations under the children's rights scheme?

I'm happy to take this. I just want to make it clear that the Government is committed to fulfilling our legislative requirements for impact assessments, but the way we do this is through the strategic integrated impact assessments. So, just ensuring that what you don't have is that, by looking at one in a particular segment, you don't see an unintended consequence coming and impacting on others. So, what we have done in this budget is to make sure that we have some guiding principles. That includes protecting core, front-line public services, trying to make sure that we have the greatest benefit to households that are hardest hit, and obviously that includes lots of children. And we've tried to protect that local government settlement as well.

We will continue to engage with our budget improvement impact and advisory group in terms of exploring how we can reflect better, perhaps, children's rights in our improvements to budget and tax processes. So, I think we recognise there's probably a bit more work to do in this space and we can do that, but that's the framework within which we're hoping to address that issue. I don't know, Hywel, if you've got anything to add to that.

Just talking about prevention and cross-portfolio impacts, to what extent are you concerned that, in the long term, your social care portfolio will bear the brunt of the real-terms funding reductions in other Cabinet portfolios, for example, the static housing support grant? What, if anything, can you do in this financial climate to help maintain a focus on vital preventative spending and stop a cycle of crisis management by children's services further down the line?

There is a commitment across Government to preventative spending, and I think that is illustrated by the nature of, for example, the ministerial oversight board for the transformation of children's services. Because the First Minister co-chairs that with me, and we've got the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, the Minister for Finance and Local Government, the Minister for Health and Social Services, the Minister for Social Justice and the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being. They're all on this board, which looks at the transformation of children's services. So, I want to show that they have a commitment to that and are concerned about maintaining preventative funding. Because you're absolutely right: we need to keep that preventative funding going or we will end up in crisis management.

So, both the board and the delivery group that sits alongside it are considering how to support children, young people and their families with front-line preventative services, and we'll continue to prioritise early intervention and prevention. Our transformation delivery group is going to be specifically focusing on that, so there is this wide commitment to this. And of course early help, multi-agency working, is absolutely recognised as crucial. The Families First programme has helped to improve the way agencies work together to support families. So, by taking a family-centred approach to children and young people and families, we are working to empower them to find their own solutions to the really difficult situations that they're in. So, we have got that in place.

09:50

Thank you. We've got some questions now from James Evans.

Diolch, Chair. My questions will be pointed towards the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being.

I want to talk about the whole-school approach. I don't dispute the pressure that Welsh Government are faced with regarding the budget. I totally understand, I sat in local government myself. Having to balance budgets is not an easy task, and I take my hat off to anybody who has to balance the budget. It's not easy. But the whole-school approach is a key Government priority going forward. I'm just interested to know: what significant impact do you think the budget is going to have on the whole-school approach? And do you believe that local authorities and health boards are going to spend their allocated money and prioritise the whole-school approach, because, as a committee, there's no public information available to us on the breakdown of the allocation that health boards and local authorities are spending on that? So, do you think there's going to be an impact there? And what sort of follow-up are you doing to make sure that local authorities are actually doing this priority of Government?

Thanks very much, James. Just to assure him and the committee that I regard the whole-school approach as absolutely critical to everything that we are trying to do to support children and young people's mental health. It is absolutely the baseline of everything that we are going to be doing. And that's why I'm glad that, despite the really difficult financial situation we're facing, we have actually protected funding for the whole-school approach.

So, we are maintaining our indicative funding of £13.6 million to progress the whole-school approach in the draft budget. Seven million pounds of that comes from the health and social services main expenditure group and £6.6 million comes from the education and Welsh language MEG. There are some changes planned in terms of how the education moneys are allocated, so it is now planned for some of that money to go into a new local authority education grant, with a set of terms and conditions. But the majority of the money is going to be held centrally.

And, as I explained to the committee before, we have sharpened up our delivery mechanism around the whole-school approach. We think that we've got the right policies in place, but we are very much now focused on driving delivery. So, with that in mind, the education Minister and I established a new delivery board for this area of work, and underneath that delivery board there are several work streams—for example, school counselling, child and adolescent mental health services in-reach, the actual implementation of the statutory framework—and that delivery board is focused on driving progress in every one of those work streams in a very rigorous and methodical way. So, I am very confident that we have got the mechanisms in place to ensure that we continue to drive change in this area with the protected funding that we've been able to commit this year.

That's good. Maybe through the Chair it would be useful if we could perhaps have minutes from that delivery board, so that as a committee we can actually follow through to see from our side of it that it's all being delivered, as in our scrutiny role to the Government.

Yes. Well, can I remind the committee that we did invite the committee to send the Chair to the delivery board, but the committee wasn't minded to do that? That offer is still there from the education Minister and I. I understand why the committee might have reservations about the Chair joining the board, but I have previously sat on similar boards as committee Chair, and we would still very much welcome the input of the committee in that board to provide as much scrutiny and challenge as possible. I've been very clear in the meetings that we've had so far of the board that we want maximum scrutiny and challenge from people who are participating in that board. So, that offer is very much there for the committee to continue to participate in that, but if the committee isn't minded to do that, I'm very happy to take up with officials for you to receive appropriate minutes.

09:55

Thank you for that, Deputy Minister. I want to move on to mental health demand now, if that's okay. I'm interested to know what you expect the current demand is going to be, and going forward, for children and young people accessing mental health provision within Wales. We know that, with the cost-of-living crisis and pressures across the system, more young people are accessing mental health provision, but I just want to know if you think there's enough money in the system. I know you said the £800 million ring fence has been protected, but obviously health boards have a lot of pressure on that money, especially with dementia services. How can we be assured, going forward, that, actually, the money that health boards are getting is actually being spent on children and young people to improve their mental health and not being funnelled into other areas of mental health support?

Thank you very much, James. Obviously, projecting demand is a complex area, but just to assure the committee that we have done lots of work around trying to project demand for mental health services. For example, we had a significant piece of work through the Centre for Mental Health that informed the original budget decisions to prioritise investment in mental health, so the additional £50 million and £75 million that was invested last year. The Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee has also undertaken a piece of modelling work for us as well, and I'm very happy to provide the committee with more information on that when that's available. The general trend is that we're expecting demand to increase, but I do want to be really clear with the committee that the whole focus of our policies isn't just to sit back and watch while demand increases, it's about prevention. Some of you will have heard me talking before about stopping young people falling into that river and that is very much the nature, really, of our approach: it's around early support and enhanced help and prevention, as well as making sure that the services are available for young people who do need those more specialist interventions.

I don't disagree with you, and that's why the whole-school approach is very important, to make sure that we actually don't have people going into those primary services, because, as we say, prevention is better than curing people. 

One area that I want to touch on is eating disorder services. I was just interested, with the way that the budget has been drafted, whether you think that there's enough money there to support eating disorder services in Wales. We know from committee evidence that that's a big area that young people are suffering with in Wales.

Thank you, James. We've done similar modelling work, obviously, to inform the funding that we've placed into eating disorders over the last few years. We're also investing £2.2 million annually in the NHS Wales Executive to develop a strategic programme for mental health, as well as a patient safety programme. That will provide dedicated resource to NHS Wales to drive improvements in performance, and there's a specific focus on eating disorders through that, with a clinical network and a clinical lead post. The clinical lead is now a permanent position and that's supported by a team focused on eating disorders. We're working with health boards to ensure that access to services in all areas of Wales is what it should be and to identify any gaps. And as the NHS executive and the clinical lead settle into their roles, we will expect to see more clear analysis of the clinical pathways for all eating disorder treatments. We're also working with Digital Health and Care Wales to improve access to data on eating disorder services and mental health services more widely.

But just to assure the committee, this has been a priority for me since coming into post. We have seen really good progress. I've been visiting all the eating disorder teams; I was recently at the Cardiff and Vale team, where they've worked miracles, really, in turning around their waiting times. And as the committee knows, we will be publishing our new strategy for mental health, as well as our suicide prevention strategy, for consultation in the near future. As part of that, we'll also be publishing costed delivery plans so the committee will be able to see how much money is being set aside for the priority areas. But eating disorder services absolutely remain a priority for us in the Government.

In terms of the points you made, James, about the mental health ring fence, as I say, I was very keen, throughout this budget process, to ensure we do protect the mental health ring fence, because I felt, longer term, it would be a really retrograde step if we rolled back on the ring fence. That will require monitoring as we go through this really difficult financial process, but health boards are really clear that mental health is a priority for the Welsh Government, and that that includes child and adolescent mental health services. My meeting after this will be with vice-chairs, where I'll be taking the earliest opportunity to reinforce their responsibility as vice-chairs to monitor that funding and to do everything that we can to make sure that that funding is protected for mental health. And we will be monitoring that and reinforcing that expectation to health boards in a very rigorous way.

10:00

Thank you. My final question, Cadeirydd, if that's okay with you, is on suicide prevention, Minister. We talked about prevention early on, but suicide prevention is really important. I know it's a very key area that you focus on a lot in Government, and I'm just interested in the details of the allocation within the draft budget and what you're providing for suicide prevention within this draft budget. That's the end of my questions then, Cadeirydd. Diolch.

Thank you, James. We are providing additional funding for the NHS executive to take forward our suicide prevention agenda. That includes the infrastructure in Wales to prevent suicide and self-harm with our national suicide prevention lead and our regional leads. They've got multisector partnership arrangements that sit underneath them, but it is difficult to extrapolate exactly how much is being spent on suicide prevention for children and young people, because, obviously, lots of our investment is all age. A big step forward, we believe, in suicide prevention has been our investment in '111 press 2' for urgent mental health. That is an all-age provision. So, it is challenging to extrapolate the exact details of how much we're spending.

Also, as the committee is aware, we've invested in real-time suspected suicide surveillance in Wales, and the first annual report of that is out today. We're also procuring a new national liaison and advice service for those bereaved or affected by suicide. We began the procurement for that in November, and that's a service that I think is going to provide really vital support to families in Wales. But again, with the new suicide prevention strategy, there will be costed delivery plans when we've brought that work to fruition, so the committee will be able to see more detail on that as far as is possible with something like suicide prevention.

Brilliant, thank you. It's good to have that information. We'll move on to questions now from Rhun ap Iorwerth. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae fy nghwestiynau innau hefyd yn mynd i'r un Dirprwy Weinidog—cwestiynau am y strategaeth 'Pwysau Iach: Cymru Iach' ac am fepio hefyd. Y strategaeth 'Pwysau Iach: Cymru Iach' yn gyntaf. Wrth gwrs, pan fo cyllid yn dynn, mae'n fwy pwysig nag erioed i sicrhau bod yr arian yn mynd i'r lle iawn, felly pa werthusiad sydd wedi bod o'r strategaeth i ddeall pa elfennau sydd yn cael yr effaith mwyaf ar ganlyniadau iechyd tymor hir i blant a phobl ifanc? O bosib, buasech chi'n licio adlewyrchu rhywfaint ar y cydbwysedd sydd yna rhwng y gwaith o atal gordewdra a rheoli pwysau.

Thank you very much. My questions also go to the Deputy Minister—questions with regard to the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, and vaping also. I'll talk about the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy first. Of course, when money is tight, it's more important than ever to ensure that it goes to the right place, so what evaluation has been made of the strategy to understand what elements have the biggest impact on health outcomes for children and young people in the long term? Perhaps you'd like to think a little about the balance between the prevention of obesity and maintaining a healthy weight.

Thank you very much, Rhun. I know that this is an area that you've got a long-standing interest in. You'll be aware that we've got our 10-year 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, and that's underpinned by two-year delivery plans, which are all rigorously evaluated and monitored. We're also working with Public Health Wales to establish an overall evaluation framework for our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, and that includes work to strengthen data monitoring and surveillance at a local health board level, and also to understand the impacts of the actions that we're undertaking. 

But as I've explained before, there is no silver bullet with tackling obesity; this is a really complex issue, and that's why 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' is a multifaceted strategy that covers a wide range of areas that looks at prevention as well as putting in place support for things like weight management. I am really pleased that we've been able to maintain funding for the work that we're doing on 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' in the draft budget.

You will be aware that we've previously provided funding for the all-Wales diabetes prevention programme for children and families pilots, for systems work, and also for things like the development of an all-Wales weight management pathway. That funding, even despite the very significant financial constraints we've faced, has been slightly increased this year, which I think is good news. But this is a complex area; there is no one thing that we can do.

It's also about legislation, and we're on track to introduce our changes to the healthy food environment regulations that we discussed in detail last year. It is about doing lots of different things to tackle what is a really complex problem. And of course, the focus on children and young people is incredibly important. That's why we've got the children and family pilots—one of which is in your constituency of Anglesey—and we're working with Public Health Wales to evaluate those pilots with a view to looking at what we can take from the pilots to roll out elsewhere in Wales.

10:05

Dwi’n falch iawn bod un o’r tri peilot yn digwydd yn Ynys Môn. Mae £600,000 wedi cael ei neilltuo ar gyfer parhau efo’r cynlluniau peilot yna. Ble mae’r gwerthusiad rydyn ni’n gallu ei weld—y fersiwn mwyaf cyfoes ohono fo—sydd yn dweud wrthym ni bod hynny yn swm digonol i gael yr hyn rydyn ni angen ei gael allan o’r peilot yna?

I'm very pleased that one of those three pilots is happening on Anglesey. Some £600,000 has been earmarked for the continuation of those pilot schemes. Where is the evaluation that we can actually see—the most recent version of it—that shows that that's a sufficient sum of money to get what we need out of that pilot?

As I say, we're working with Public Health Wales on evaluating the three pilots. Those pilots are still ongoing. I visited the Anglesey pilot myself. They're all slightly different in the way that they're operating. It did take a little time to get them up and running with staffing et cetera, and there's also been some variation in terms of take-up for the pilots. When I was in Anglesey talking to the staff there, I know that they'd had difficulties encouraging families to participate in the pilots, due to issues around stigma around their children's weight, but interestingly, that isn't something that we've seen in the Merthyr Tydfil pilot. So, we are working on evaluating the three pilots, so that we got those clear lessons. I'm very happy to share that information with the committee when that work is completed.

Un cwestiwn yn deillio o’r ddogfen naratif ar y gyllideb. Ym mharagraff 55, mae o'n nodi bod £3 miliwn yn cael ei gymryd allan o bolisïau ataliol, a bod y rheini yn bolisïau oedd wedi’u targedu at bobl oedd yn ysmygu neu’n byw efo gordewdra. Ydych chi'n gallu dweud wrthym ni ble mae'r gyllell honno yn syrthio o ran y gwariant ar atal gordewdra, ac yn benodol, yng nghyd-destun y pwyllgor yma, wrth gwrs, sut mae hynny yn effeithio ar blant a phobl ifanc?

One question stemming from the narrative document on the budget. In paragraph 55, it says that £3 million has been taken out of preventative policies, and that they're targeted at people who smoke or who are obese. Could you tell us where that axe falls in terms of the expenditure on preventing obesity, and specifically, in the context of this committee, how that impacts upon children and young people?

I'll bring Irfon in on this in a second, but just to assure you that that funding change doesn't impact on the work that's being taken forward through 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales'. That work was funding that was set aside for some prehabilitation work for people on waiting lists, so around weight loss and things like reducing smoking for people on waiting lists. So, that doesn't impact on the work that I've described this morning, our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' work. That work has been funded; we're fully committed to it, and it is being taken forward. But I'll see if Irfon wants to say a little bit more about that.

10:10

Diolch. Yes, I can confirm that. That £3 million was essentially a decision to hold back some money to support some prehabilitation work for those on our waiting lists. But we've been working closely with health boards on their own programmes to support the health and well-being of those on those waiting lists, regardless of that funding. Therefore, taking that out of the budget doesn't impact services currently being provided and certainly doesn't impact the delivery of the healthy weight strategy.

Diolch yn fawr am yr eglurder yna. Mae un cwestiwn gen i am fepio. Rydyn ni'n gwybod fod yna bryder cynyddol am fepio a dwi'n teimlo ein bod ni'n talu'r pris am fethu rheoleiddio fepio'n ddigon cynnar fel bod modd hyrwyddo fepio fel ffordd o atal ysmygu a pheidio â rhoi gymaint o gyfleon i bobl ifanc yn arbennig i ddechrau fepio ac yn y blaen.

Gaf i ofyn beth ydy'r darlun diweddaraf o ran y cyllid sydd yn gallu cael ei neilltuo ar gyfer atal fepio? Faint o arian sydd yn dod o goffrau uniongyrchol presennol Llywodraeth Cymru a faint ydy'r rhagdybiad o ran beth all lifo yn sgil y cydweithio sydd yna rhwng Llywodraeth Cymru a Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig ar yr agenda yma?

Thank you very much for that clarification. One more question from me and it's about vaping. We know there's a growing concern about vaping, and I feel that we're paying the price for failing to regulate vaping early enough so that vaping could be promoted as a form of smoking cessation and not giving young people in particular as many opportunities to start vaping in the first place.

Can I ask what the latest situation is in terms of the funding that can be earmarked in order to prevent vaping? How much money comes directly from the coffers of the Welsh Government and how much is the assumption in terms of what can flow as a result of the collaboration between the Welsh Government and the UK Government on this agenda?

Thank you very much, Rhun. I entirely share your concerns about the numbers of young people vaping. Of course, we did try and take action on vaping early on in devolution, in 2016, with the public health Bill that we tried to take through the Senedd, which, as you'll recall, fell at the last hurdle and we weren't able to take that forward. I think we are reaping some of the consequences of that now, which I think is a source of great regret.

We are working with the UK Government, which holds many of the levers around vaping and smoking, on the legislation that they are looking to take forward to tackle youth vaping and also to create the first smoke-free generation. That means raising the age for sale of tobacco so that anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 would never legally be able to purchase tobacco. We have signed up with the other four nations as part of that consultation—that's a four-nation consultation. That closed on 12 December and the responses are currently being analysed. Details of how we intend to tackle these issues will be announced shortly. If we decide that the tobacco and vapes Bill, which was identified in the King's Speech, will apply to Wales, the cost of the measures will be set out in detail at the appropriate stage of the legislation's development, and we'll provide further updates on that.

But just to assure the committee that we haven't just been resting on what the UK Government can do on this. Where we have had levers, we've taken action ourselves. That has included the development of guidance for schools through Public Health Wales. Public Health Wales also established a vaping among children and young people incident response group. That work has completed now and we're waiting for recommendations. Obviously, we'll be looking to implement any recommendations that arise from that. 

Also to add, we know that many children and young people are using single-use disposable vapes. My colleague the Minister for Climate Change and her counterparts in other UK nations are looking at banning single-use products, not just because of their impact on the environment, but also because they seem to be particularly appealing to children and young people.

And just finally to say that we've also announced £145,250 for trading standards in Wales to increase their policing of illegal vaping activity. That's being worked through in partnership with trading standards. That money is in the system now and they've got a plan to deal with that. Thank you.

Since Rhun has talked about public health, an area of public health that I take interest in is sexual health support for young people, and my question is probably directed to the Minister; I know the Deputy Minister doesn't cover this area. I'm just interested, in this budget, do you think there's enough money going to be available for sexual health support in Wales to make sure that we can continue testing our young people to make sure that there are a generation of young people who don't grow up with undiagnosed sexually transmitted diseases or infections that can affect their life chances further on? It's something I'm very keen on, especially equality of access as well. You represent an area, Minister, which is Mid and West Wales, which doesn't have equal access, shall we say, to places like Cardiff and some places in the north. So, I'm just interested, do you think there's enough money in this budget to make sure we can continue on our sexual health journey to make sure we improve the sexual health of our young people here in Wales?

10:15

Well, obviously, this is an area that health boards need to take very seriously and it's up to them to determine what the incidences are in their area and they need to tailor it to whatever the needs are in that particular area; this is why we allocate the money to them directly. But we do have things like the HIV action plan that is kind of centrally controlled and there's a budget allocated specifically to that; and one of the things that's been developed more recently, particularly in relation to addressing that issue of rurality and the difficulty of people actually getting to sexual health centres, is that, actually, you can do a lot of this now—you know, when we had COVID, a lot of it was done through the post—you can do that testing through the post, and that has transformed the ability for people in those rural areas to be tested, and it has made a huge difference.

Thank you, James. Questions from Ken Skates now. Ken.

Thanks, Chair. Thanks, Ministers. I'd like to ask some questions about the social care workforce for children, if I may. So, the question is specific for Julie Morgan. The Welsh Local Government Association and Barnardo's have both raised concerns about financial pressures on children in social care in regard to the impact on the workforce. Now, there's a reduction of £11 million in the social care workforce grant, and we've been told through your paper of the impact on local authorities and social care partners. This time last year, we were told that the Welsh Government was chairing meetings to address the use of expensive agency staff. Is there evidence to suggest that there have been improvements in the use of agency staff? And also, have there been improvements in vacancy rates in children's social care?

Thank you very much, Ken, for that question. We are very aware of the significant challenges in recruitment and retention for social care workers and we are working very closely with the local authorities to try to support positive change. And, obviously, we've had an incredibly tough financial situation, which we've all referred to here today, and taking money off any part of our budget is damaging, basically. So, we've been able to protect some services, we've talked about the voluntary sector grants, but we had to take this money off the workforce grant.

In terms of the actual progress that's been made with the issues that you've raised about agency workforce, and an increase in the stability of the workforce, there has been, actually, an increase in workforce staffing within children's services and the data shows an additional 89 members of the registered workforce between September 2022 and September 2023. It's great that there's been an increase; we'd like it probably to be more, but, in fact, to have 89 more in the registered workforce is great. And then, in relation to agency workers, you referred to the work done with the Association of Directors of Social Services to develop a memorandum of co-operation for Wales that looks at setting consistent agency pay rates across Wales and a set of principles local authorities will adapt in engaging their agency workforce. The information from ADSS demonstrates a reduction in the use of agency workers within local authorities between July 2023 and October 2023. From 1 July to 1 October 2023, numbers have reduced from 341 to 320, which is a reduction. Obviously, we're working for it to be more, but it's definitely going in the right direction, and there has been an increase in agency staff transitioning into permanent staff, which again I think is a very positive development. So, between 1 July and October 2023, 22 agency workers transitioned to permanent social workers, so, again, I think that is a very positive development.

So, in response to the issues that the committee have raised before, I think that we are moving in the right direction, although obviously we would like it to be more and we're working for it to be more. And a formal review of the programme, including final data collection, is currently taking place, and that should be available by the end of January. So, I'm really pleased, really, that this work has been undertaken and that the situation is improving.

10:20

Thank you. Your written evidence states that £2.9 million will be spent in the final year of the sustainable social services grant scheme, and much of this relates to services that prevent children from entering into the care system in the first place. Are you able to give any assurance that this grant will be maintained beyond the next financial year?

Well, as you note, the grant scheme has been protected and is continuing for this coming financial year. It was three years initially and now it's become five years because of the COVID two years. And, of course, grant schemes are not indefinite. They are reviewed and developed to support different programmes. I mean, I can't give any undertakings at this time about a successor programme, but I'd very much want to maintain the level of investment that is there and that we've been able to commit for next year. Interestingly, obviously, when people applied for the scheme, applicants were required to confirm that the project would either be completed at the end of the three-year period or would be self-sustaining. So, hopefully, many of these projects will be continuing in any case. But we're committed to try to maintain that level of investment. I'm sorry—I know Jayne was trying to get in.

Sorry, yes. Thank you. Sorry, Ken; I was trying to speak but the microphone in here wasn't on so you couldn't hear me. I'm glad the Deputy Minister was able to answer your question.

Sorry to take us back a little bit—just in the context of the positive news that you mentioned around it being a step in the right direction of the 89 additional staff, are those additional staff specific to children's services? Because, obviously, that's in the context of the vacancy rate of more than 400.

Well, I have those 89 as an increase in workforce staffing within children's services.

Within children's services. Thank you. Thank you very much for clarifying that. Sorry to cut across you, Deputy Minister, and Ken, for that.

Thank you. Just some final questions regarding the flagship programme by the Government seeking to eliminate profit from the system. ADSS Cymru and also the WLGA claim that the commitment to eliminate private profit from the care of looked-after children is already having a detrimental impact on the availability of placements for children in care, and that in turn we're hearing that this is contributing to the financial pressures faced by local authorities, who are having to go out of area for placements. How concerned are you about this position, given that you've already allocated £39 million in the past two financial years to try to create more placements and there are still 1,880 children in care that need to be moved to not-for-profit placements by 2026?

Well, first of all, I think it's really important to say that both the WLGA and the ADSS are in support of this policy, that they have come out publicly saying that this is, they think, the right thing to do, so we do have their support. In relation to concerns about sufficiency, certainly we don't have any evidence from Care Inspectorate Wales that this policy is having a detrimental effect on places within the system. And, in fact, interestingly, in one of my last discussions with them—CIW—the rate of new children's residential provision—private—being set up in Wales is actually increasing. So, we don't have any evidence that there is a lack of placements. So, I think it's important to say that right at the beginning.

But, obviously, eliminating profit, we think very strongly, is the right thing to do. But I also think it's imperative that we do it, because I'm sure all the evidence from the local authorities—and we know the evidence from the local authorities—shows that a huge amount of money is being spent on these very expensive, private provisions to provide care for children and young people, often outside Wales, and it really can't be the right way for us to spend that money. So, that's why we want to transform children's services and move away from this element, and to bring children—. And if they have—. We want to keep them at home if it is safe to do so. We want to bring down the numbers of children in care, and we have had this policy for a number of years. We've sort of stabilised it, but we must get it down. We must get the numbers further down, so that children have the opportunity to grow and thrive in suitable placements near the places that they know, near their families, near their friends. 

So, it is a policy that I think is very important financially, as well as morally. So, this policy, as I say, is supported, and we are taking through the process at the moment to ensure that we give the best—. The whole purpose of it is to give the best placements for our children in Wales. 

10:25

And just one final question, if I may, Chair, and it's in regard to the £29 million remaining funding for eliminating profit from the system. Is that being allocated to the 22 local authorities individually, or is it being allocated on a regional basis? If it's being allocated to the 22 local authorities, is there any concern that it might undermine the approach of developing regional and national placements? Thank you. 

It has been allocated individually to the local authorities, but the policy stream that we have set up underneath the board for eliminating profit, which is led by Albert Heaney, in fact is developing regional provision, and, in fact, we've already developed quite an amount of regional provision. So, I'm sure Albert will want to expand on that.

Yes, thank you very much for the question. Whilst the £29 million will be invested in individual local authorities, there are a number of schemes that will continue into 2024-25, looking at regional developments. The Minister has mentioned specifically around children with complex care needs. We've invested, through regional partnership boards, funding over recent years, which this committee will be familiar with. That has led to additional, more specialist provision for children. We know that we've increased new beds by 26 across Wales, in terms of that specialist provision, but we know there are 17 schemes currently going to come online this year that will increase by another 56 beds. This has to go hand in glove with the reduction of children coming into the care system, and the amount of money that gets spent on those children, because of their complexity, and the way that we deliver, and I know this committee has been looking at that very closely as well. 

And then, probably, just one final point from me is that the regional partnership boards will be receiving, in year 2024-25, substantial continuing funding through the regional integration fund that the Ministers have supported, and around £19 million of that is being spent on children's services. So, I think those are really important investments to follow through on. Thank you. 

Thank you, Albert. Sorry, Chair, can I just ask one really brief question?

Thank you. It's just in regard to regional placements. Does the work across regions extend to, in certain areas, cross-border collaboration? I'm thinking that a child that might be taken into care in Boundary Lane in Saltney Ferry, Flintshire, may have family and relatives on the other side of the road on Boundary Lane, Chester. So, is there a collaborative arrangement with authorities on the other side of the border?

10:30

In some places, there will be good working relationships across border. Indeed, I and the deputy director, Alistair Davey, went to London yesterday to meet with the director general and his officials to actually have further discussions about how we work together on cross-border arrangements and cross-border placements.

Thank you, Ken. Just going back to that £19 million that you just mentioned that was to the RPBs for children, what specifically is that meant to be spent on?

That's spent on a whole range of provision around complex need, around therapeutic support, and around that prevention agenda so we can begin to change the direction. Again, looking at that funding, we can certainly provide more details to the committee. We have the details of where that funding goes and the types of initiatives that are being invested in.

Brilliant, that would be very helpful. Thank you. That would be great. We've got some questions now from Vikki Howells. Vikki.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning to all three Ministers. My questions will be to the Deputy Minister for Social Services. Firstly, on the subject of the children and communities grant and Flying Start, we know now that, next year, the overall children and communities grant will just over £174 million, and that roughly £142 million of that is intended to be spent on programmes for children, such as Flying Start. In your paper you refer to a reduction of just over £7 million in the overall CCG. So, I'm wondering two things, really. Firstly, what impact will this reduction have on Flying Start and other children's provision? And secondly, how will you make sure that this reduction doesn't fall disproportionately on children?

Just to repeat how challenging the budget discussions and decisions have been, and it's been necessary to make some very difficult decisions, I've protected the children and communities grant as much as I've been able to, as much as possible, and though it's very disappointing that we've had to reduce it at all, I think it's important that it is a very small reduction. And I think it's also important to note that the planned uplift to the ring-fenced funding for Flying Start expansion has been preserved. So, we are carrying on with the Flying Start expansion, which was part of the co-operation agreement. So, that has been protected.

And, of course, this grant does provide flexibility to local authorities to decide their funding allocations to reflect local priorities, which I think is, obviously, the best way for it to be done. And, basically, because they're able to move between the different elements of the grant, it will be up to the local authorities to decide where the funding goes, and to consider what funding decisions should be made. But I'm sure that they will be considering the important childcare elements of this grant.

Thank you, Deputy Minister. That's quite reassuring, particularly in respect of Flying Start, which is such an important programme.

Secondly, what did the £3.173 million transferred from budget expenditure line 311, on support for childcare and play, and BEL 1085, on supporting families and children, into this overall children and communities grant previously fund?

This is part of our commitment to local government to try to reduce the administrative burden, so that's why we are amalgamating some grants. So, two streams of funding will be added to the budget from 2024-25 on a recurrent basis, and that's the Playworks holiday project, which supports Playworks settings and tries to reduce holiday hunger. So, that's one of the projects that's been transferred there, and that's £1 million for that particular project.

Then, on the early intervention parenting support and interparental conflict funding, that can be used again for local authorities to support parents and carry out training, and £1.1 million has been added to this grant for that purpose.

In addition, for 2024 and 2025—the other two were recurring—but, for 2024 and 2025, £1.03 million of funding has been included to support local authorities to deliver the childcare and early years training and support programme, which aims to support childcare and playwork practitioners to get the necessary knowledge and skills.

So, the purposes of these funding allocations align broadly with what else is being given in those grants, so it makes sense to bring them into these grants. It's in addition to the other grant, and this is something that has been supported broadly by the local authorities as a sensible way to proceed. So, it should cut down on bureaucracy and help local authorities with their administration to have it all in one grant. But they are added to the previous grant.

10:35

Thank you. And just to make sure we're crystal clear as a committee, you're saying, then, that this is all part of the work to further rationalise grants, as referred to in your paper. There's no suggestion that these funding streams are ending.

Two of those funding streams are recurrent, and they are being placed in the overall grant scheme in order to make things more rational.

Thank you. Moving on, then, to childcare consequentials, next year there'll be an £11.2 million reduction in allocations for childcare due to a lack of take-up, and there is £140 million childcare Barnett consequential for 2024-25 that we understand is not being spent on children. So, can I ask what direct representations did you make at Cabinet level about whether the Welsh Government would use this £152 million in total on children?

Well, obviously, with any money that comes from the central Government as a Barnett consequential, or in any way, it is up to the Welsh Government to decide how it spends that money. And we have had a different approach to providing childcare than the Government in Westminster, and I know, on the consequentials from the money that is being spent in Westminster, we can never actually tell how much they will actually be. But what we are doing in Wales is, day by day, increasing our provision for children. As you know, we've been expanding Flying Start and we've improved the childcare offer as well. You know, the childcare offer is one of the best offers in the UK, because it does cover 48 weeks of the year and it also covers children whose parents are in education and training, so it's not just for working parents. And, of course, our expansion in Flying Start is starting off with children who need it most, but our aim is to extend Flying Start provision to all children—two-year-olds in Wales. So, we are on different trajectories to the English Government. But what comes to us, we decide here in a different context, and our context, certainly with two-year-olds, has always been on the needs of the children and how we're able to develop their needs, because, as you say, childcare and Flying Start is so crucial that we want to continue in that sort of way.

Thank you. And in terms of ambition, moving forward, would you be perhaps making a case for it to be used to widen the scope of the childcare offered to age nine months, as is currently the case in England, or perhaps to make the case for expanding eligibility to non-working parents?

Well, the Flying Start provision is for any child. It isn't limited to working parents; it's for all children who need it. That's for the Flying Start element—the two-year-olds. So, as I say, as far as our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, we are extending that to all two-year-olds. This year, we're making huge progress in terms of the numbers of children that are actually being provided with the service now, this year, and we will then move on to stage 3, where, budget being available, we will extend it to all two-year-olds. I think there's sometimes some confusion because of the two elements that we do—we have the childcare offer and we have the expansion of Flying Start. So, that does cause a bit of confusion, really. But the childcare offer, as I say, we've expanded that beyond parents who work to parents who are in education and training because we think that's really important, and it is really important that we encourage that. And the two-year-olds, it's been open to all children in Flying Start areas, but we've now developed an outreach scheme so it can go beyond those areas, and local authorities are looking at expansion to other areas. But we started with the children who need it most, and I think that's how we want to carry on developing. I don't know whether, Amelia, you wanted to say anything on this particular issue.

10:40

No, you're absolutely right, Minister. I don't think there's anything really to add. Certainly, the expansion of Flying Start is going extremely well. We're aiming to extend it to 9,500 more children by the end of 2024-25, and we're absolutely on track to be doing that.

Yes. In our first phase, we exceeded our targets enormously, and it looks as if the second phase is going very well as well.

So, it would be wonderful to extend provision from nine months upwards, but we'll see how that turns out in England. But, basically, what we're doing here is working with the sector, because there are shortages of staff, and the development is not straightforward. We're working very closely with the sector, and I do think that it's going very well, the expansion. I did speak to somebody who's in an organisation that covers the whole of the UK yesterday and was saying that they're running up against huge problems in England because of the shortage of staff, and really that they're very, very nervous about what is actually going to happen with the planned expansion in England.

Minister, I think—

Going back to the childcare offer, the other thing that's been really helpful is the increasing number of parents who are in education and training, which has gone up from 200 to 1,100 in a year, between the autumn term of last year and the autumn term before that. So, again, that's really encouraging.

Thank you. My final set of questions are on child poverty, which we've certainly been hearing a lot about in the Chamber this week. We know that children are more likely to be living in poverty than any other age group, and that 28 per cent of children in Wales are living in relative poverty. So, firstly, I'd like to ask the Deputy Minister in what ways, if any, you have taken into account the recommendations of the final report of the Wales expert group into the cost-of-living crisis in your draft budget allocations for 2024-25.

Thank you very much. Obviously, children living in poverty is a matter of huge concern to the Government and, as you know, the child poverty strategy will be published later on this month, and we did have a lot of discussion yesterday in the Chamber as well about child poverty. So, the budget development process, we've done that with our principles in mind, as the Minister for health outlined at the beginning of this session, of wanting to protect front-line public services and to provide targeted support to those in greatest need. And I think that does tune in with the principles of the expert group that you referred to.

Of the 29 separate recommendations in the expert group, the main relevant recommendations for the budget decisions were those medium-term recommendations. There were eight recommendations set out, under four key headings: making the most of existing help and provision; ensuring low-income households have the basics; supporting emotional resilience; and learning, evaluating and aligning. And a number of these recommendations relate to the way that we do work sometimes in a way that is cost neutral—that you don't always need money to influence. But those are the important headings that we have used in order to promote our budget.

For example, the work on the Welsh benefits charter, and the refreshed child poverty strategy we will use to get the most in a cross-Government way about our anti-poverty actions. These are the responsibility of the Minister for Social Justice, so I think we'll be hearing a lot more about this next week. I know there will be some recommendations maybe that won't be able to be taken forward in the way we would have wanted because of the funding problems, but, obviously, this is something we can explore as we go along.

And I think we just have to say again that the main financial levers about policy are in Westminster. I think it's interesting to note what the Resolution Foundation said about relative child poverty, that they expect it to return to its upward trend at the end of the cost-of-living crisis, because the two-child limit and the benefit cap will mean lower income growth for low-income households. I think it's very interesting that their verdict is that the cost-of-living crisis may end, but the problem for low-income households will not end because of these particularly problematic areas of policy. 

I don't know if you wanted to add, Amelia, to this.

10:45

Thank you, Minister. Just to say that the Ministers very much welcomed the cost-of-living expert group's recommendations, and they have very much informed the child poverty strategy that's going to be launched, published later this month. But, yes, very much integrated within that. 

Thank you. And for my final question, I apologise, Deputy Minister, because you did a great job of separating out Flying Start from the childcare offer earlier, but I'm afraid I'm going to lump them together for my final question, to ask: for both of those of policy areas, for all two-year-olds, when will the full 30 hours offer be delivered? Have you got a date for that? 

I think this goes back to the differentiation between the two policies, because what we're doing for two-year-olds is extending Flying Start, which is 12.5 hours per week, but with the full Flying Start programmes done in conjunction with speech and language help, parenting help and intensive health visiting support. That's what we've done in phase 1 of the expansion—expanded the whole of that. But following on, as I say, linked with our co-operation agreement, we have expanded the 12.5 hours as part of phase 2. So, that is Flying Start. That's what Flying Start is doing. In terms of the childcare offer, that is for three and four-year-olds, and that has been expanded to whom it can reach. So, there is that differentiation.

Thank you, Vikki. I've got some questions again from James Evans. 

Yes, just two final questions from me. One is to the Deputy Minister, to Julie. It's on additional learning needs, Minister. We do still have a backlog of people waiting for their ALN assessments here in Wales, and that sits in the health budget, but we do know that assisting there can actually help the education budget as well within our schools. So, I'm just interested to know: do you think there's enough money going into getting rid of that backlog, to make sure those young people who are waiting for their ALN assessments get them in time, so it frees up support in schools, which then helps the overall budget here in Wales?

Obviously, I think this is a very crucial area, and in terms of the Minister for Education, I know that he's aware of that. In terms of whether there's enough money in the budget, certainly the commitment is there to ensure that this does progress because it's such an important part of our areas of work. So, I think I'd have to have a further discussion with the Minister for Education in terms of the actual sums of money available. 

And it would be really useful to understand that, because one budget helps another, doesn't it— 

—and that sits with your budget, the assessment side of it. We don't want to see a generation of young people waiting for assessment and then actually leaving education, and having damaged life chances, when they probably could have got the support they needed if they'd got their assessment. Even though they shouldn't need the assessment to get the support needed, the reality is, in a lot of areas, without the assessment, they're not getting the support they need.

10:50

Yes, I think that's an important point to take away.

Lovely. My final question will probably be to the Deputy Minister for Mental Health, and it's about mental health being a cross-Government priority. Every time we have the budget come through we have a number of impact assessments that come through on equalities and everything else. One thing we have recommended before is that we have a cross-Government impact assessment on mental health, so when we actually see these budgets coming through we can understand the impact the budget's going to have on the mental health and well-being of our young people here in Wales. Is that something the Government would look at again, to put an impact assessment in for mental health, to make sure that we do see the cross-cutting effects that budget decisions have on the mental health of young people here in Wales? Or Eluned, I don't know.

Thanks, James. The Government has worked really hard to maintain the cross-Government working on mental health, and that's why we've seen the kind of additional investment that we've seen over the last few years, and also why we're continuing to protect funding for mental health this year. Just to add as well—and I'm sure Eluned will want to come in on this—that she's just gone out to consult on the health impact assessment changes, and as part of that work we're also going to be looking at what we can do as a Government to further embed impacts on mental and physical health in the policy decisions that we take. But that's a really big step forward, the consultation on health impact assessments. It's not happening anywhere else. It's a massive step forward.

It's part of what's been committed to over a long period as a result of the Act that went through several years ago, so we're now at a point where we're going out to consultation. What that will mean is that, every time a policy is developed, not just here in Welsh Government, but also in local government as well, they're going to have to make an assessment of the health impact. So, it'll be an ongoing process in future. So, whether we need to look at that in the context of the budget improvement impact and advisory group, we'll take that away and think about that specifically for mental health. But I'm more confident that, actually, the better way to do it is to make sure it's embedded as you're developing policy, as they're going through.

Just following on from what James Evans just said about additional learning needs and the rise, of course, in the numbers of young children presenting with speech and language problems, particularly at an early age, and coming into school now, post pandemic particularly we've seen this rise. I just wonder how you're working with the education Minister to ensure that there is that support outside of school, where it's needed, to help them go back into school, obviously, and be able to participate and get the education they deserve, having had that outside support.

I work very closely with the education Minister, particularly on issues related to where there's extra help needed. As I mentioned earlier on, one of the key elements of our Flying Start programme is speech and language development. So, that means children in the targeted Flying Start areas all get assessments for any additional needs they may have from speech and language therapists. Because the great thing about speech and language therapy is that it's so successful, isn't it? If you get in early, children develop so well and so swiftly when they get the speech and language help. So, that is built in to the Flying Start programme, and obviously that will feed in when the children go into mainstream school, into the foundation phase. And there's a very close link there between education and social services.

Yes, thank you. Can I just follow on from that? You were just saying earlier about expanding that Flying Start provision. What we've heard in evidence is that it doesn't matter what background you're from, how much money you earn, we're seeing that speech and language problem post pandemic across the board. So, the importance of expanding that speech and language provision is more crucial than ever.

We spend about £0.25 billion a year training the next generation of NHS workers, and that includes speech and language therapists. We've increased that by about 11 per cent in the past year.FootnoteLink It does take time for those to come through, and we've opened a new speech and language centre up in north Wales, in Wrexham, so we're putting the building blocks in place. The problem is that it does take time to train these people, but the other thing is they need placements, they need to do a specific number of hours. So, you can't actually expand it too quickly, because they need to be in placements and they need to be trained by somebody else, so there's a limit to how quickly you can do this.

10:55

Okay. Thank you. Thank you very much. That's the end of the evidence session today. Thank you for taking the time to come in and answer our questions this morning. Minister, at the start of the session, you did mention that children and young people were a specific ring-fenced group within the NHS planning framework, perhaps we could have a written note on that. And I think there were some other areas that you agreed to send some further information on, you and your Deputy Ministers, so we'd really appreciate that as well. But, diolch yn fawr. Thank you to you and your officials for joining us.

Diolch. And thanks, especially, to Lynne, who's got COVID.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 4 ac 8 ar agenda’r cyfarfod hwn.
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 4 and 8 of this meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 4 ac 8 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4 and 8 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Right. We'll now move on to go into private session. So, I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 that the committee resolves to meet in private for items 4 and 8 of the meeting. So, we will now proceed to meet in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:56.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:56.

11:15

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 11:19.

The committee reconvened in public at 11:19.

5. Bil Addysg Awyr Agored Breswyl (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
5. Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill - evidence session 4

Croeso nôl. Welcome back. This is the next item on our agenda, which is the Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill, and this is our fourth evidence session. I'd like to welcome our witnesses here today. We have Chris Parry, president of the National Association of Head Teachers Union, Laura Doel, national secretary Wales, National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, and Catherine Falcus, education and leadership policy officer for the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru. You're very welcome. Thank you for joining us. So, Members have a number of questions to put to you this morning on this Bill, and I'll start off around some of the more general issues and around the development of the Bill. Perhaps you could outline, just at the start, how each of you personally or your organisations have been involved in the development of the Bill, if you have been. So, I don't know who'd like to start. Chris.

11:20

Minimal involvement from us, other than responding to consultations and discussions around it as part of the trade union.

That's NAHT's position.

The same for ASCL.

Okay, thank you. So, do you support the policy intention of the Bill, which it states is to ensure a course of residential outdoor education is provided once free of charge as part of the curriculum to registered pupils at maintained schools, and are you aware of children missing out, and, if so, to what extent? Laura, do you want to start?

Yes, I'm happy to start. Absolutely, we support the intention of the Bill. We completely understand and recognise and support the fact that outdoor education is vital to the development of learners. It's part of the new curriculum; we understand its importance and significance. However, NAHT would urge caution with this Bill. We have some serious concerns about the viability, how it has been developed, some of the practical implications for schools and, at this time, we would not support the Bill proceeding as it is at the moment.

In terms of some additional information about pupils, the existing state of outdoor education and accessing that, I'm a serving headteacher; I'm a headteacher of a secondary school in Caerphilly, and colleagues would repeat this, really, I think. I think most schools currently engage with outdoor education quite significantly. We run an annual trip with our year 7 pupils to Glan-llyn or Llangrannog, and our intention in that, actually, as part of our offer and the new curriculum, was always to try and get as many pupils as possible, if not all of them, to attend. We run a scheme in school that looks at entitlement for pupils and the type of things that we would like to see all pupils attain or experience by the time they leave school at 16. I'd say, roughly, from our pupils in year 7, we get about 50 per cent to 60 per cent of pupils to attend an outdoor education residential during the course of year 7. Of the pupils who don't attend, finance is an issue for some of those pupils, because there are some challenges around finance, particularly at the moment. Other issues as well are additional learning needs, just feeling a little bit anxious about attending a residential course, or parents having some concerns about residential courses can be factors that can be inhibiting. But one of the things we do try to do as we then move through the school years is look at other opportunities to encourage pupils to attend different residential courses wherever they may be. We do see it as a really important thing that a pupil should do.

Thank you. Catherine, is there anything you'd like to add on that?

No, I—[Inaudible.]—what my NAHT colleagues have just said, and I think that ASCL has a similar stance. We do have some concerns around whether the time is right to be supporting such a Bill within the current climate of the scale of the reforms ongoing, the consultation on the school year funding and the funding cuts, and then the impact this may have on schools as an additional pressure at a time when they're under pressure.

Can I just ask? You all mention that a lot is being done already, but, obviously, cuts are being made across the board within our local authorities now, due to the pressures that they're under. An example of this has been £70,000 being taken away from Monmouthshire County Council for outdoor education. So, that's obviously going to have a negative impact on the schools being able to provide the same opportunities. So, don't you think a Bill like this would protect those opportunities?

I think it is inevitable, given the level of cuts that we're seeing across local authorities across Wales that we're going to see some of these activities put under threat as the funding that goes to those centres is reduced, or may be reduced. So, there's an outdoor education centre in Caerphilly as well that we access. I think, in terms of schools' involvement in these types of visits in the past, they tend to be funded by parents, in terms of us paying, and sometimes we have a look at ways that we can subsidise that from some of our own core funding. One of the interesting things that we've tried to look at of late is the pupil deprivation grant funding—what used to be the uniform grant—and the fact it is a broader interpretation of what that money can be used on nowadays. We run a uniform bank inside school, and one of the things we have conversations with parents around is whether we can use that funding to support visits or other areas as well, buying technology and things.

So, I do think there's a danger there, and I do think, as we said, we support the intention of the Bill from NAHT and the fact that anything that would provide enrichment opportunities for young people—particularly outdoor education—would be useful. I suppose in circumstances like we find today, where we're all facing the challenges of the financial issues that we have, it's just around prioritising that money and where that spend should go, and whether, in terms of supporting young people with the issues that they have nowadays, this is the best way to use whatever precious funds we have within the system currently.

11:25

Can I just come back in on that, because I think it's a really important question? We're working very closely with local authorities across Wales about priorities, and priorities for education, and where the money should be spent and where money should be protected. I think Monmouthshire and other local authorities have made some really difficult decisions, but, based on the conversations with NAHT members, when you've got schools making redundancies, when you've got schools making teachers and teaching assistants redundant, when you've got PTAs fundraising for books and stationery, not play equipment for the playground, when you've got some real difficult decisions when it comes to budgets in schools, I think many schools across Wales would say, 'We need to have those front-line services protected.'

Can I concur with what you just said? Obviously, it comes to priorities, and we have to think about core education and providing for that. But, apparently, there's going to be direct money from the Welsh Government to ensure that that's the case, so this would be additional money, coming directly from the local government, for the outdoor education that's been cut. What are your views on that?

I think education money, wherever it comes from, needs to be prioritised to where school leaders and teachers think it will best benefit learners. The view of our members is that that money needs to go back into core budgets to protect those front-line services.

Thanks, Chair. Thanks to everybody for attending today. Just regarding the Bill, a little bit further I'm going to probe. Residential outdoor education isn't actually defined on the face of the Bill. What's your view on this? Does it, or could it, lead to an inconsistent offering across schools?

Yes, certainly; that's one of the main concerns that we've got. If we're looking to legislate on something, we need to have a very clear understanding around the expectations of the Bill, particularly when it's schools that are going to have to implement whatever changes are going to be made, and, of course, manage those expectations of parents. The last thing we want to do is put something in place that doesn't offer equal opportunities to learners across Wales. We don't want to see greater disadvantage; we want to see more equity in the system.

Yes, I was just going to bring in the point about just that, around the issues of definition. So, like I said, as a school leader, we engage with several outdoor education centres, and pupils are engaged in outdoor learning in different ways. So, we cover residential trips, like I said, in Llangrannog or Glan-llyn; we also have got a skiing trip going out in February; we've got visits to Normandy in France. So, that definition becomes really important, about what we see as being outdoor education.

I would also have some concerns in capacity. Any headteacher knows, if you try and book a trip to Glan-llyn for your pupils, that, particularly during the summer terms, it's virtually impossible to get in. And I've got the utmost confidence in the centres that we work with in terms of their safeguarding procedures and the way that they safeguard young people when they attend. I think I would be concerned about schools feeling that they want to get engaged in this, or new centres beginning to spring up to meet a new capacity that may not exist there, and we would have to be really clear about the safety procedures or the safety considerations that we've got in place to guarantee that people are safe when they're attending these centres. There hasn't been one for a long time, but we can all remember horror stories from the past during outdoor education visits or school trips, where, unfortunately, people have lost their lives. So, it is definitely an area that schools are concerned about and in a modern era where there is sometimes, amongst teaching staff, a lack of enthusiasm about taking trips up because they've got concerns about the accountability and responsibility placed on teachers on those trips as well, I think, moving into this area, that would be something that would have to be definitely considered.

11:30

Yes, if I could. If I could just come in from a curriculum perspective and, obviously, there has been a lot of policy change and time and effort invested in developing the new curriculum and the curriculum looks at learning in a very holistic way. And whilst you could argue that outdoor learning sits within health and well-being, obviously, there's a very strong emphasis on cynefin, as being the environment, with several different interpretations in its precise nature. But I think, in defining outdoor learning in a specific way, perhaps that may have an unintended consequence on curriculum planning in terms of outdoor learning having many, many potential interpretations within Curriculum for Wales—not just being our own traditional, perhaps, recollection of it from our own experiences, or our children's experiences, but it could just be exploring the local environment, it could be from a geographical context, it could be from a sporting context, whatever. 

And the other thing that I would say is that, within Curriculum for Wales, progression is very much a learning continuum and that what we're looking at is developing experiences over time. So, there is perhaps another unintended consequence that, if funding was earmarked for outdoor learning, it could be that it's kind of shoehorned into a particular age or stage of that learning journey of the young people, and then that sort of takes away the progression, if you like, within that outdoor learning experience, which is so important, and the different level at which those wider skills and cross-cutting themes are developed throughout the curriculum. So, I think we need to be very wary in terms of how the Bill would sit within the wider Curriculum for Wales. 

Just on a very specific point, do you think that a particular age or school year should be specified on the face of the Bill as to when the entitlement should take place or do you think it should be left open to teaching professionals and parents, and indeed the children, as to when they would wish to participate in outdoor education?

Shall I come in on that? That's a really tricky one to pin down, because, if you specify a particular age and you have a young person who joins the school at a later date, then that relies on that being tracked. You could have young people who move to Wales and they miss that experience. And it also means that it pins down the experience to a particular type of experience—it might be very different in the secondary phase from in the primary phase, or in a lower primary phase from an upper primary phase. So, again, that needs an awful lot of careful thought before you actually pin it down to any particular age.

Yes, I agree with Catherine—it's a really tricky one. There are unintended consequences of pinpointing a specific year group or cohort to go. Primary school children have very many different needs and support needs that they would need if they were going on a residential trip, would potentially be more anxious about being away from home, whereas learners in a secondary school, being more self-sufficient, independent young people, may well be a better cohort to go. But then you've got those challenges around, for example, Chris, if you had all your year 8 teachers going out on a residential trip. Those teachers obviously teach a variety of different subjects; how do you manage that in a secondary school when you've got exam classes going ahead? It becomes incredibly difficult. We would expect much further discussion around the age group of these learners if this proposal were to go ahead.

11:35

We've had lots of evidence back from learners as well saying that they enjoy the independence and that experience that they wouldn't normally get in a lot of families at the end of junior school sort of age; so, perhaps that is a good time.

I think from my experience, the independence is a key part of the reason why we engage with those visits in the first place. As a headteacher, I'm committed to residential trips. I think the enrichment that takes place—not just the activity itself, but the fact that people are spending time away from home, engaging in having to look after themselves—is a key part of it. That does have an impact on age; pupils develop at different rates, they're confident at different times during their period in school. I've got young people in year 7 who, at the minute, I wouldn't even consider the fact that they would go on a residential trip, for very good reasons; by the time they get to year 9 or 10, they would absolutely be able to cope with that and I wouldn't want to see them miss out, which I think is the point that is being made by ASCL.

There is a mechanism in terms of the cluster work that we currently do. We all engage closely with our primary clusters to discuss the delivery of the curriculum and when and how we do things. So, there are those mechanisms to do it. I think that without that clear definition of how and when—. And even the problems that come with a definition. If we were to say that it should be something that everybody does in year 7, the issue is around the administration that needs to go into that. Then, like we've talked about, the issues about covering lessons and the problems that they would cause and the discussions that would need to take place in the cluster about who is taking this responsibility on would be an interesting part of it, but, again, a challenging area for us.

In terms of cost, Sam Rowlands told us that the cost of teacher cover specifically is included in the Bill's provisions. Does that alleviate some of the concerns that you have regarding costs? I know that NAHT has been particularly concerned about this.

Yes, we have significant concerns about the estimation of the costs set out in the Bill. I think it's £18 million that has been earmarked. We would question how that figure has come about, because that does not seem like a significant amount of money. It's also very difficult to try and calculate supply costs when you don't know how many supply teachers you would actually need to backfill on a residential trip. Again, it would depend on the circumstances of the school, the age of the children that are going, et cetera, et cetera. You're also relying on the fact that you're going to be able to get the supply to backfill; as we know, there is a challenge around the availability of supply. And just on a rough calculation, £18 million is roughly 450 full-time teachers on the average wage for a teacher. We would actually say we would prefer that money to be spent on front-line teaching and learning.

Just to add, in a practical sense, I would agree completely with the idea that it's a huge challenge at the minute getting supply teachers into school anyway, and that's talking about as a school of my size. Just finding one or two supply teachers for a day is a difficult task currently. There's also the issue around outdoor education. There's clear guidance on the number of teachers that you have to use to accompany pupils on a school trip. I think for most headteachers, we are cautious and we tend to go above and beyond that, particularly if it's an outdoor education course, because you just identify the fact that in terms of our risk assessment, we would see that there's more risk there. I wouldn't want to be sending pupils on a trip with the bare minimum of teachers. I think for a year group of 150 pupils, you're probably taking out of school at any one time—. It's usually one to 10, maybe a little bit smaller, but I will probably have around one teacher to 10 pupils, so you're going to end up with 10 or 15 staff outside school. Finding supply for those will be difficult. And in a secondary school, the additional complication that I would stress—particularly at the time these visits tend to take place, in the summer, which may be just before exam season, but, of course, we're in revision at that point—is that teachers who accompany pupils on a trip teach a variety of different subjects across all phases, and so then you've got the challenge of finding subject-specific cover and cover particularly for older age groups, because you don't want anybody to be disadvantaged and other classes to be disadvantaged if lessons are missed in exam subjects. So, it is a logistic issue inside school, planning trips of this scale. We do do them. They are really important to what we do. It's the reason why schools and headteachers have got a commitment to these types of trips. But the requirement for everybody to do things introduces an extra level of complexity and greater challenge, I think.

11:40

I was just going to add that we've just talked about teachers, but of course we might also have learning support assistants going out if we have pupils with ALN. That might be a bit more difficult to backfill in schools. Obviously, that's an extra expense, and there are the same issues with supply there as well. So, just an additional consideration there.

Thank you. Just one final question, then, from me. Is there anything that you would like to see added to the Bill or amended—anything else?

No. Nothing. Okay. Diolch, Ken. Questions now from James Evans.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Thank you very much for coming today. I want to move on to barriers for people accessing outdoor education. We've heard mixed evidence while we've been taking initial thoughts on this Bill from different stakeholders, and some of the evidence we have heard is about the cost of actually going on outdoor educational visits: the costs to families for clothing, footwear; the costs for schools for transport to get the children there; footwear and all that type of thing, and sleeping bags and all the things that you do need when you go outdoors. I'm an outdoorsy person, but I don't like sleeping in tents myself. But what I'm interested in is whether schools will be able to support children to go on these visits if it's brought into statutory law, or are you struggling to do that now, with all the additional costs that they need, because some parents can't afford to do it?

You would struggle with those additional costs. My experience as a head usually is that there is a variety of need in terms of equipment that is required to go on a trip. For example, I've got a ski trip going off. There's a long list of equipment that people need to go on a ski trip. You can't really go if you haven't got any thermals and all this sort of thing. Outdoor education can be pretty straightforward. We advise pupils to wear old clothing, tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt and some old trainers, because we know that people are going to be engaged in that. So, it can be less of an expense. There are less formal lists of equipment that need to be taken.

The issue that I would raise around that, though, just from having experience of it, is just around social pressures. What we find is that even when we try to keep things at an absolute minimum with our pupils in school and we explain that you don't need multiple versions of this type of clothing, that's not how young people think, and if they're going away on a visit, they often want to make sure that they are looking at least like their peers, and it's the social pressures that are put on families that are often discounted in these situations, because it's quite insidious—the expectations that people need to have this coat and this particular brand, particularly with outdoor clothing, actually. I think that's something to consider.

In my school, we run a uniform bank at the minute. We encourage parents to drop off uniform. We stick it out the front of the school and people pick that up. That would include outdoor coats and trainers and all those types of things. But I think, again, we're talking about an increase in the capacity in order to do something like this, and it would be a challenge for us, I think.

There has been talk that the pupil development grant or the school essentials grant could cover some of those costs. Would you have concerns about some of that money being used to fill those gaps?

For me as a head, there has been a change in this recently anyway. What we talk about as the 'school essentials grant' we just used to call the 'uniform grant'. It was available to pupils in year 7, and now it's available to pupils through different age groups and there is a wider definition. My experience around that is that we try to publicise the type of thing that you can use that funding for. Typically, though, when we talk to parents, it's still mostly used for uniform. We've tried to keep our uniform as cheap as possible, but the cost of uniform is still high, and it has increased recently. Parents are still buying new uniform in each year group for young people. Anybody whose children have gone through school knows that. So, I think that's primarily still what it's used for. We've got a school fund that we can use on occasion to support pupils, should we feel that that's something that we need to do—people from backgrounds, maybe, where there is no funding. Not all schools have got that facility there, so I don't think you can look at that as a blanket response. But even for us, then, it's increasingly a challenge, given the increases in all sorts of costs we've seen recently.

A number of parents and children, as we've just talked about, will find that financial constraints could be a barrier. It gives them some anxiety as well. You said it's a bit like keeping up with the Joneses, and people think you have to have a North Face coat to go on these things. I go to Mountain Warehouse; that's good enough for me. There are other clothing outlets available. But it's one of those things that is an anxiety for some people. Do you think the Bill could address those anxieties? Do you think there's a mechanism within the legislation that could allow that to happen?

11:45

I don't see how there could be a mechanism to allow that to happen. You're talking primarily about the social pressure that would go far beyond any Bill or legislation. You're talking about how people feel about things. You're talking about that peer-to-peer pressure to, as you say, live up to the Joneses, so I'm not sure that there would be anything in the Bill that you could do around that. 

Did Catherine want to come back in? I'm just conscious—

No, I think I'd be repeating if I said anything. 

Just to add that some of the evidence we've had so far is that the centres themselves said they provide an awful lot of clothing and things like that themselves, including coats and things, to sort of try and be that leveller, so that everyone is using the same, and for safety reasons as well, that it's a certain grade in terms of wind or weather or whatever. So I think perhaps that's the angle if we were going to suggest something to the Bill that we could go down. Would you think that working with the centres to provide most of the clothing would take that onus off the parents and children?

Can I just come in there? What you were just talking about there is something very specific to the activities that the young people would be engaged in. I think, in addition to that, we're talking about what they would be wearing on the bus to go there, what they would be wearing when they're not doing the activities, what they're wearing underneath that outdoor clothing. I agree that the centres are very good at providing, from their own risk assessments, what would be necessary to make sure the activities were safe, but I think there are those peripheral items that would bump up the cost for parents. 

Yes. here could be a requirement to have black this, that and another and no labels. We already do that in school settings, don't we, saying 'We don't want you to have any labels on any clothing.' So, there's that way of looking at it. And, obviously, they're going to have school coats already, aren't they, so that problem will already be a problem, if you know what I mean. 

[Inaudible.]—when they have to wear black. There's black and black. 

I'm the head of an all-boys school that doesn't allow labels, but it still sometimes looks like we're sponsored by North Face and Stone Island.

The other thing I would add to it is food costs. Anybody who's sent children away on a school trip knows that the amount of snacks and the pressure to provide them is significant in its own right. 

I've got one more question, and this is an important part of this piece of legislation as well. How do we make sure this Bill delivers for all learners, not just able learners, but those learners who are disabled, who have mental health problems? I want to make sure that if you're going on outdoor education, it's not just for those people who can access it; it needs to be accessible for absolutely everybody. We live in an equal society. So, I'm interested in how you think this Bill will meet the needs of all learners, or what needs to be added or amended in this piece—it's not legislation yet—going through, to see how it could meet the needs of everybody and all our young people across Wales.

I would say, at the moment, as the Bill stands, it doesn't address that issue, and that's something that we are really concerned about. What it also doesn't address is around the capacity of schools to be able to deliver for any type of learners. Anybody that's a headteacher that is planning a school trip knows that there is, to get quite technical, nothing in the school teachers pay and conditions document, for example, that says 'Teachers must go on a school trip' and 'They must go on a residential trip.' These trips are run by schools. Teachers value the outdoor experience for learners, and they volunteer to go on them, but there is a concern that some schools may not have the capacity to be able to deliver, even if there was the will to deliver, because we're talking about a workforce that may, through very personal circumstances, not be able to leave home and go on a residential trip. What happens in those circumstances? What happens in those schools? What happens in schools, as you've already set out, with a high proportion of learners with additional needs or varying abilities to be able to go on a trip? There is going to have to be significant support to be able to offer them the same entitlement. 

We also have a concern around the capacity—and Chris has already touched on this—of centres to be able to deliver. So, even if there were the legislation, the money—which we question—and the ability of schools to do this, whether or not there are the centres out there available in what would actually be quite a finite amount of time that these children would be able to go on a trip, because you're not going to go on an outdoor residential trip in the winter term or in the autumn term, you're going to be looking at the spring and summer terms and that's a very short window to be able to deliver something like this—.

11:50

As well, I feel quite strongly about this issue particularly. One thing is that we talk about barriers, and there are financial barriers, but deprivation and poverty are issues that are not just linked to the obvious financial concerns. So, one of the things that we would see in school is that families from areas in my catchment, who are probably better off, are much more likely to encourage their sons who attend my school to go on educational visits. They went on educational visits themselves and they were supported, and so what tends to happen is that the pupils who are engaging with this type of thing and overcoming those initial anxieties that they inevitably have about attending a residential centre tend to be supported by parents from better-off backgrounds, because they did that themselves anyway. So, one of the things you've got to work really closely on is targeting pupils who lack that confidence or the parental support at home, just around attitudes in parents not seeing this as being something of that level of importance. Lots of my parents just want their sons to be in school and learning, and we have to promote it really well.

I think, as well, from my understanding of the Bill, it's not necessarily supporting pupils from EOTAS backgrounds—educated other than at school—or pupil referral units. I run a centre in school that is for pupils who are not necessarily engaged with the curriculum and are struggling in some schools as well. Those are the young people I deal with who absolutely benefit from those types of visits. I think I would be concerned if, in any unintended way, some of those pupils were being excluded. They are extremely challenging to take on a residential trip and there are lots of reasons why they have been left out of those types of experiences when they were in their host schools. But I think careful consideration needs to be given to making sure that if there is an offer to everybody, it is to everybody and that, irrespective of pupil need, there is an opportunity to do these types of things. Obviously, if that's the case, then there's a different type of expense that's associated with it.

I totally agree with you. I think those young people benefit the most, especially those with mental health conditions—

—from being out in the open air, in the environment. So, as you say, pupils who aren't engaged with the curriculum—. To be honest, I didn't like the curriculum very much when I was in school and how I ever ended up here is a godsend, really, but I wanted to be outside doing stuff on the farm, working at home. And those sorts of experiences for me were great. I loved going outside and doing things, but it needs to be accessible to everybody, doesn't it?

And there is that correlation between pupils who may be in that place and poverty and financial issues—they're much more likely to be excluded from school, much more likely to end up in pupil referral units, much more likely to not have done this type of thing.

Thank you. We're going to move on to questions now from Laura Jones, but I'm quite conscious of time, so we might have to start speeding up on some of our questions and perhaps some of the answers. Laura.

Thank you, Chair. A lot of mine have been answered anyway, but I just wanted to carry on from what you've just said now. I completely concur with what Mr Parry and James Evans just said: those pupils are the focus, the children we want to be focusing on. I think the Bill's intention is to include everyone. That's the premise. We can argue about the costings and the problems around it, but I think that was the intention of it. Without the Bill and with all the cuts that are going on now, are we going to try and ensure that there are those opportunities for everyone, without doing something as strong as a Bill?

I think it goes back to the point being made earlier around the Curriculum for Wales and the expectation within the curriculum anyway. So, the four purposes are there and the fact that we want healthy, confident learners. Our interpretation of that in my school has always been around the fact that, in order to meet the needs of pupils and meet the needs of the curriculum, this type of thing needs to take place. I think schools are exploring, alongside the assessment of traditional skills that you would see in schools, methodologies to track enrichment and to track the experiences of pupils that would fit into the four purposes. I think there are probably opportunities there, through the methods that we normally have, through consultation with Estyn and everyone else, to be encouraging schools to really take this issue seriously and to bring that on board a little more. I think it's definitely there within the current system and, with a little bit more definition, we can push it. There is the issue of finance. I think that is clearly a barrier, and schools need to be inventive and look at ways that they can support pupils.

11:55

I completely agree with what you said. The opportunity is there within the new curriculum, but the worry is that there'll be 22 different interpretations of the curriculum, at the very least. I'm talking just about local authority areas, not the clusters and different schools. So, then there's the problem, isn't there, of equality for all across Wales that we get into, which, perhaps, is what the Bill is trying to ensure. Can I just ask you: do you think that the Bill would add more burdens on the school or help with the current delivery of outdoor activity?

I'm happy to come in on that. I think it would place some very unworkable burdens on schools, and that is a key concern of ours. We are actually quite disappointed that there hasn't been more engagement with education unions on this to try and look at what the barriers were before the Bill was introduced, because there are—we've talked about some very high-level things about funding, and that's always going to be an issue—some real concerns about capacity to deliver when schools are already under significant pressure with delivery of the new curriculum, new ALN legislation, new qualifications, to name just a few. This would be, in NAHT's view, anyway, an unnecessary and additional burden, and something that we are deeply concerned about.

I—[Inaudible.]—with NAHT's response, but also, as it was mentioned, the idea of tracking those pupils who have engaged to make sure that everybody has had their experience. Obviously, the administrative burden of that would be likely to fall on schools, and the question I would pose is who would be doing that when we're actually looking to streamline workload for teachers to make the profession more attractive for new entrants. So, I think that would need to be considered and all of the other admin and the safeguarding, et cetera, that it would require.

Thank you. I was just about to ask about those extra burdens of, of course, tracking whether everyone has taken up the offer, and also to measure the outcomes. That also could possibly fall on the schools. But it also could be done by the local authorities, and I know there is a measuring of tracking of pupils and what they're doing at the moment, from evidence we've already had. So, there is some degree of it happening already. So, do you really think that all this burden will fall on the schools, or do you think it will be a shared burden?

Yes, I think the burden will fall—

If I could just come in there—

—on schools—

—the danger is, obviously, the funding that would be required for that, and then taking away from front-line services, where every penny at the moment counts, to be actually using significant funding for tracking purposes, and how you would track the outcomes of this as well. You mentioned there it would be quite difficult.

I was just going to say that I think, absolutely, the burden would fall to schools. It's not been our ex