Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

24/01/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

James Evans
Jayne Bryant Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
John Griffiths yn dirprwyo ar ran Buffy Williams
substitute for Buffy Williams
Ken Skates
Laura Anne Jones
Sioned Williams yn dirprwyo ar ran Heledd Fychan
substitute for Heledd Fychan

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ceri Planchant Cyfreithiwr, Llywodraeth Cymru
Lawyer, Welsh Government
Claire Homard Cadeirydd, Cymdeithas Cyfarwyddwyr Addysg Cymru
Chair, Association of Directors of Education in Wales
Frank Young Cyfarwyddwr Polisi ac Ymchwil, Parentkind
Director of Policy and Research, Parentkind
Ian Roberts Llefarydd Addysg, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Education Spokesperson, Welsh Local Government Association
Jeremy Miles Gweinidog y Gymraeg ac Addysg
Minister for Education and the Welsh Language
Lloyd Hopkin Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Cwricwlwm, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Curriculum, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Lucy Morgan Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

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

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

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:15.

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

The meeting began at 09:15.

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

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

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

I'd like to welcome everybody to the meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee this morning. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and translation is available from Welsh to English.

Apologies have been received from Heledd Fychan and Buffy Williams. I'm pleased to welcome Sioned Williams back, who's substituting for Heledd, and John Griffiths will be substituting for Buffy Williams from item 4 onwards. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I see there are no declarations.

2. Bil Addysg Awyr Agored Breswyl (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 6
2. Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill - evidence session 6

We'll move on to the first item on our agenda this morning, which is the Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill. It's our sixth evidence session, and we're pleased to welcome our witnesses this morning, Councillor Ian Roberts, education spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association, and Claire Homard, chair of the Association of Directors of Education in Wales. You're very welcome. Thank you for joining us this morning.

Members have a number of questions to put to you this morning. I'll make a start with some general questions around the development of the Bill, and perhaps I can ask both of you this question: perhaps you could outline your personal or your organisation's involvement in the development of the Bill, if you have had any. So, Councillor Roberts, would you like to start?

I've had no personal involvement in the development of the Bill, but I have had considerable personal involvement in my former life as a teacher, a deputy head, and ending up as acting headteacher of a primary school, of taking—in my case, it was children, it was primary, junior schoolchildren—on residential visits. And there is a point I would like to make, if it's possible, Chair, before we begin this, and that is: when you are given a family's most precious asset, their children, into your responsibility to take them away, when you have a little bundle of consent forms that you carry with you everywhere you go, whether you go on a walk or a visit or wherever, which actually give you consent, should the worst things happen, to actually sign in loco parentis, you realise the immense responsibility that you have and the tremendous trust that parents have shown you in allowing you to take their children away. And I do think that there are some particularly key issues that I think we're going to go on to look at as part of this session, about staff training, the amount of work that goes on beforehand, the amount of paperwork that goes on beforehand, risk assessments, going there, reconnoitering walks and visits and so on. And, of course, I'm hoping we will get on at some point to the financial resources for all of this to happen, because that's going to be a very, very key issue for local government, but I do think there has to be, quite clearly, additional training for staff, whether it be those leading the course, classroom assistants or other members of staff and, occasionally, parental helpers.

Absolutely. We'll be coming on to lots of those questions that you've—the topics that you've said there. Thank you very much. Claire.

Bore da, pawb. Obviously, I'm here representing the 22 education directors of Wales. I am the chief officer for education and youth at Flintshire County Council, so, obviously, I have involvement with our schools in the support and monitoring of their provision for outdoor education and residential trips. ADEW's contribution has been to respond to the consultation, over 12 months ago, that was launched to seek views on the Bill, so I am here representing those views. Like Councillor Roberts, I am a former primary school headteacher and have had lots of first-hand experience of taking children away on residential trips and absolutely echo what Councillor Roberts says about the enormous responsibility that is placed upon school staff when they take children away. Thank you.

09:20

Thank you. So, we have lots of experience here this morning, in different ways. In the WLGA and ADEW's written response to the Bill—to the general consultation, sorry—you said that you strongly agreed with the need for legislation and that outdoor education is very important. Perhaps you can tell us a little bit more about those views. I don't know who'd like to start.

If a matter has legislative impact, then it puts it onto a different level, doesn't it? Whereas most schools are actually engaged in this type of activity, I think it's very, very important that the legislation quite clearly specifies where the financial resources will come from for this, that this is not just something that local authorities are expected to pay for with no financial resource, because there is a considerable financial resource needed to cover staff, to provide for the facilities, to provide for clothing that may be necessary, to provide for transport to and from the location. So, I hope the legislation will be all-encompassing and will allow, as well, for a review after a certain period of time, to see how this is being implemented. Because, as we are seeing now with the case for free school meals, which I read today is going to court, we know that legal challenges will occur, and we know once something has been provided, that if it is taken away then there are inevitably concerns about it being taken away.

Yes, if I could add to that, thank you. Obviously, we completed our response to this Bill over 12 months ago, and I think it's fair to say the financial situation has deteriorated considerably since then. I think the context in which we're working as schools and local authorities is really important, so I echo Councillor Roberts's comments around the need for it to be fully financed.

I think the rationale for us indicating that we strongly agreed with the need for legislation in that consultation is that it would be the only way to effectively guarantee that all learners could have access to a residential experience as part of their engagement in outdoor education. Now, the research shows, and it's referenced, obviously, in the documentation that supports the Bill, that many schools are making provision for their learners, but obviously it's not universal. So, I think the rationale for ticking 'strongly agree' is that that's the mechanism for making it universally available. But I think we also have to recognise that putting such a requirement into legislation will create significant challenges that would have to be overcome so that that guarantee is effectively delivered. I think as we said in our response, we would need formal arrangements with suppliers, the system would have to be failsafe, it would have to have appropriate governance measures for suitable accountability and meet everybody's expectations. As Councillor Roberts referenced, the risk of litigation is a significant one. So, I think, on reflection, our position would be that we possibly would need further discussion and reflection on what that guarantee in the current context means. I hope that's helpful.

Thank you, Chair. Nice to see you both here today, and thank you for coming—we appreciate it. We'll go on to more finance questions later, but, just following on from what Councillor Roberts just said, he said that most schools already do outdoor residential activities. So, does he think, or do you both think that—? I'll just give you an example. Monmouthshire County Council are proposing a £70,000 cut to outdoor education. Do you think that this will affect the current cohort's ability to have the same experiences as previous learners? Thanks.

09:25

Does somebody want to go for that one? Who'd like to come in on that? Ian. 

Yes, sorry. County councils have had to cut financial resources for many years, particularly since 2010. I think, since 2010, Flintshire County Council have had £120 million taken out of our budget, and this doesn't come without an effect. Now, I would make the point that the centres that were once there—. The north Wales coast was littered with centres: Colomendy in Loggerheads; there were various centres between Rhyl and Prestatyn; we have Pentrellyncymer, which was a former Clwyd centre, about four and a half miles from Cerrigydrudion; Nant Bwlch yr Haearn. And, of course, all of these facilities have been starved of resources over many years, because of the situation in local government. It is not possible for us to provide services. And I'm certainly, as WLGA representative here, not going to criticise any authorities. I know the leader of Monmouthsire, and I know any decisions to cut anything would have been taken very, very carefully. But outdoor education is part of a profile of services, and it has to, unfortunately, take its share of cuts that are being forced on local government at the moment. So, I make no criticism of any local authority; I'm not here to do that.   

Yes. Sorry, Chair, just to confirm, I didn't mean to make that political. What I was saying was: do you think that £70,000 would be a significant cut, considering you said it's a costly exercise, and that would have an impact? 

I'm not aware of the budgetary circumstances of Monmouthshire. I know our possible list of budget cuts in Flintshire goes down to sums as small as £5,000.  

So, everything is being considered at the moment. 

Absolutely. Thank you. We'll move on to questions from Ken Skates. 

Thanks, Chair. Good morning. I'm just going to, if I can, just probe for some more views on the Bill. Now, residential outdoor education isn't actually defined on the face of the Bill. What's your view on this? Will it potentially lead to—? If the Bill is approved, would it potentially lead to a lack of consistency across schools and local authorities? 

Yes, certainly, I'll make a start. Our view is that outdoor education isn't just about one residential trip in the lifetime of a learner through their statutory education journey. And I think there's a danger that a narrow definition in the Bill of a short residential experience could perhaps devalue the principles of the Curriculum for Wales, where the range of outdoor learning experiences at every stage of education should be an integral part of the curriculum offer, tailored obviously to the age and stage development of the learner. And when we think of that journey, starting from those early explorations for our youngest children in their early years settings and their nursery and reception classes, then perhaps progressing to their local environment as they progress through the primary years, and then, obviously, further afield to places away from the school environment, perhaps to support particular aspects of the curriculum—history, technology, science, whatever—and then obviously there is that additional strand of adventurous outdoor education that this Bill obviously is seeking to secure, in those dedicated centres—. So, I think our view is that there is possibly a danger of a narrow definition perhaps not supporting the principles of the Curriculum for Wales as a whole and the wider, broader sense of outdoor education, which encompasses many things, as I've described—forest schools, beach schools, all sorts of outdoor learning experiences. 

09:30

If I could just follow that up, it's not a case of, 'Yes, okay. In year 6, you've had your legislated days away; that's it now, that's the end of outdoor education.' Outdoor education has to be continuing throughout a child's and a student in secondary school's development. Of course, we need, here, as well, to raise the importance of the Urdd and its centres in Glan-llyn and Llangrannog, and its centre in Cardiff for visiting the city. All of these experiences are particularly important. I also think that, if this is to work, it could be a way of developing facilities within Wales. It needs to be used to develop, but there has to be some investment in these facilities, because many of them were mothballed during COVID and will have deteriorated during that time and may not be as suitable as they once were.

Thank you, Ian. Just following that, then, is it fair for us to assume that you would prefer to see a good degree of flexibility in terms of the definition of the age or specifying the age or the year that young people should experience compulsory outdoor education? Or would you prefer it to be set a year or an age?

My view, hopefully representing ADEW's view as well, is that, generally, we would say that possibly the age range—. There does need to be flexibility and probably the most suitable age range would be in the upper key stage 2, as it was, at the top end of primary, when children have started to develop that little bit more independence and confidence to be away from home. And I've taken children away from as young as year 3 to year 6.

I think, from a logistical point of view, it is probably easier to manage residential experiences in the primary phase, from the teacher cover perspective, in that you generally do have that main teacher with their class. So, if they are taking their class away, that helps to manage the cover that is required during their absence, where, obviously, in secondary schools, you would have teachers teaching across year groups, because, obviously, they take a more subject-specific approach to the curriculum. So, I think our view is that, yes, we need flexibility, probably around the primary age range, though I think we would have to acknowledge that some schools do use the residential experience as a really effective transition activity from year 6 to year 7, to build those relationships and build familiarity with staff. So, I think flexibility is the answer.

On a personal level, I've taken away children, I think, from years 4, 5 and 6—we didn't have infants; we were a junior school—and I would be extremely reluctant, I think, at that age, to take the very young children away. Also, I think—and I do think this is a very valid issue—the proximity to the children's home is important as well, so that, should the worst happen, and, let's be honest, it occasionally does happen, regrettably, at least parents are able to get to the location or to any hospital. Because that's what we're talking about here, isn't it? With this volume of children going away, unfortunately, there will be at least slips or falls, fingers cracked in doors, that sort of thing, going on. And I do think that the proximity to your home base—. It needs to be far enough away for the children to feel that they are away and that they're not being watched, but close enough so that, should anything happen—. I was on a—. It was actually when I was a student many years ago; we were in Baden-Powell House in London and there was a case of meningitis. Well, there was absolute chaos at that point. That kind of possibility does exist where people are in close proximity.

09:35

Thank you. Just one final question, then, from me, Chair, and it's completely open, completely general. Are there any other elements that you'd like to see within the Bill, or, indeed, anything amended?

I think from ADEW's perspective, it's around perhaps greater clarification of what this guarantee would actually mean in practice and how some of the challenges created by having it enshrined in legislation—and I'm sure we will come on to some more questions around that—would be addressed. Nobody disagrees with the principle of the value of outdoor education and the benefits of adventurous residential trips, but I think the devil is in the detail.

If I could just add to that, sometimes they don't always have to be adventurous trips. Just the fact that, for the first time, they're going away from their home base and walking up to Llyn Brenig or with their wellies on in a stream outside the centre and so on, and the experience of being away with the other children, can be enough. While I do think the adventurous element is probably important for some, it's not important for all. Its importance is as an experience of assisting in children growing up and beginning to leave their home. Of course, often, parents feel this as much as the children do, because the children are excited, they go away, and on occasions, you would see the parents at the school gates waving them off with tears in their eyes, because it's the first time that they'd waved them off on something like that.

Thank you. We have some questions from James Evans now. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da. Thank you for joining us this morning. I want to talk about barriers to outdoor education. The Bill, as drafted, covers the costs of the overnight stay and the transport to access the outdoor education, but one thing the Bill does not cover is the additional costs that we know can be associated with going away, either with boots, sleeping bags or additional clothing, for example. I'm interested to hear from you to what extent you think that schools could support children from low-income households to access outdoor residential education, because, obviously, that's not covered in the Bill as drafted. Do you think the pupil deprivation grant and those different grants that the schools have to actually help pupils from lower income families could be used to supplement where this Bill doesn't cover those costs?

Shall I start? Having been a headteacher in an area of deprivation, I do know first-hand the additional impact that the cost of school trips can have, and I think all directors are acutely aware of the pressure on families at the moment, the levels of poverty that many of our families are experiencing, and the pressure on low-income families, or perhaps even working families who are then not entitled to support from particular benefits and grants. My own experience is that the majority of schools work very hard to find ways to mitigate the costs for parents.

Yes, we do have the introduction of the pupil development grant and there is, obviously, very specific guidance around that for schools on how it can be used. We know the focus of that is reducing inequity and raising attainment. Of course, that is determined, isn't it, by the level of free school meal-entitled pupils within their schools, so the amount of PDG, for example, from school to school, will vary, and schools will have different degrees of flexibility around that. So, the guidance is there for headteachers and governing bodies to use. There may be some benefit, perhaps, in being more explicit around how that funding may be used to achieve those core principles of reducing inequity, because we know the value of outdoor education and residential experiences on children's development academically, in terms of their confidence, their social skills, and their health, both physical and emotional. So, I think there could be some benefit to exploring that.

I think, again, we have to acknowledge that in the current cost-of-living crisis, there will be increased pressure on families, and we know the impact, then, on learners, particularly, who are aware of their family circumstances, and the challenges that will bring them in not wanting to ask to go on a trip because, as you say, there are other financial pressures. On extra kit, some families may only have one coat for their child, one set of shoes, so I think schools do have a part to play. When I was a headteacher, the funds that we raised from activities such as Christmas concerts and summer fairs, we very clearly articulated to parents that one of the uses of that would be to ensure that no child was ever denied the opportunity to participate in a school trip because they did not have the facility to pay, and I’m sure many schools do take that approach.

So, it is a challenge, and as we know, schools are experiencing greater financial challenges; they are becoming more dependent on the funds that they raise through school activities to support aspects of core provision. So, it is an ongoing challenge. But yes, I think perhaps a greater clarity around the use of PDG, and the school essentials grant as well, may be helpful. I know, obviously, that school essentials grant has allowed for purchase of wider kit and equipment, but I’m guessing again with the cost pressures on families that much of that is probably being absorbed just by school uniform alone, and there isn't much flexibility about where else that may be spent. So, those two grant streams could provide some greater flexibility, but I think schools as well need to think about how they can use other funds that they may raise.

09:40

I agree with what Claire said. My experience of 35 years of junior education was that the visits were extremely inclusive. As a school, we knew, we were aware, and of course at one point, before pupil deprivation grants came in, the former county of Clwyd—we are going back now—used to provide remission for pupils on visits for various centres, if you were on certain types of benefit. As we know, the poverty situation has got far worse. Claire has articulated very well that some children may only have one coat, so saying ‘a spare coat’ might seem a simple thing to put in there, but it may not be possible. A spare pair of shoes or trainers, so if you get one set wet, may not be possible. So, the implications of this are very, very far-reaching.

And if we remember that the rules surrounding deprivation grants are quite strict. They are administered, essentially, by governing bodies, because the grants will go to schools, and will be administered by governing bodies. And therefore, although, for example, I think in most local authorities, education is the largest section of the budget, 90 per cent of that has gone to schools whose governing bodies are responsible for the budget. So, the responsibility for monitoring things like pupil deprivation grants—. And I know when I was still in school, GwE would look at this—that’s the regional educational consortium. It had to be published on the school website. But of course, those financial resources now, as Claire has mentioned, are used quite frequently for programmes such as catching children up, particularly following the pandemic, children who lost education during the pandemic. So, if the resources are taken from that to providing necessary equipment to go on school visits, they can’t be spent twice, can they?

Thank you. The Member in charge ran the consultation; other than the financial constraints, another barrier that was identified was parents' and pupils' stress and anxiety levels about going on outdoor education trips. Do you think that the Bill goes far enough to address these issues?

And another supplementary question that I have is that this is going to be made compulsory for schools to provide this education, but do you think there is enough clarity in the Bill, as drafted, that, if parents and pupils really do not want to go on outdoor residential education courses, that the Bill sets out clearly how parents would be able to not send their children on those courses? Thank you.

09:45

I think this particular issue is very challenging and very difficult. Having spent time with parents reassuring them about the levels of support that would be there, some parents still took the decision not to send their child, although their child may have been desperate to go, and they frequently were desperate to go. So, this anxiety can occur on both levels. And I can assure you that, when you are awake in the early hours of the morning with another member of staff comforting a child who wants to be at home, as it's their first time away, you really see the front line of this issue.

On a personal level, I don't think there can be an element of compulsion in this—it's just not possible. And, of course, there may be other reasons as well, including religious reasons, why parents may not wish to send their children on these visits. And then, we come into the very difficult: does the state have the right to overrule what the parent actually wishes on these matters? So, we're dealing with some very sensitive issues. No, I don't think there should be compulsion. Yes, we, as adults, think we may know what is best for a 9 or 10-year-old child, but we don't always know what's best. And certainly, if the parents and the child don't want to go—.

And I would add in particular the implications for children with special needs. The school I was in actually had a hearing impaired unit, and, yes, that's sensory deprivation, but it brought its own challenges, because, for example, you couldn't shout and they'd come back, putting it honestly, because they might not hear you shouting. And, therefore, we needed specialist provision to go with us and specialist support to go with us. Yes, we took the children, we were inclusive, but we made every exception possible to take as many children as we could. But in the end, my answer is 'no'; I do not believe that children or parents should be forced against their will. And I think that if it were to be legislated, it needs to be very explicit in the legislation that there is an opt-out clause for parents and for children who don't want to go.

I think ADEW's position would concur with what Councillor Roberts has said. I think the challenges would be around, for example, how that decision at that time not to participate is recorded and how that is maintained as a record, because we often see, don't we, in matters related to additional learning needs, that young people, as they mature, reflect on their experiences and then come back and challenge local authorities many years later about decisions that were potentially made involving their provision when they were in school. So, I think there are significant challenges in how we would maintain that record to prevent or mitigate potential future litigation and complaints over something that may have happened several years previously. So, I think there are significant challenges around that.

And, again, I think reflecting the challenges around the suitability of the provision for children with very complex needs, both physical needs and emotional needs, it creates a lot of additional cost challenges in meeting the needs of those learners to try to support their participation. You would need potentially higher staffing ratios to meet the needs of those learners. You would need staff that have particular skills and expertise in supporting those learners. And if you've got children with very specific needs away on residential trips and a member of your school team goes with them, you may have other learners back at school who would also still need access to that kind of specialist support. So, again, is there the capacity? Do we have enough people within our schools who have those specific skills to support back at base while somebody else is away on a trip? So, I was pleased to see the references in the Bill to anxiety and mental health issues obviously being a major barrier for children and young people participating. We're certainly seeing an increase across the board in our schools in Wales of children struggling to access their mainstream education because of these challenges. But ADEW would agree that compulsion would be extremely difficult.

09:50

Yes, just on that point, I think the Member doesn't want it to be compulsory. I think there is going to be an opt-out option for people, which I'm led to believe will be under section 42 of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021, which is the same as for relationships and sexuality education. Do you think that's an appropriate mechanism to allow parents to opt out of doing this?

I'd have to go back and have a look at that in more detail—

—as it sounds very—[Inaudible.]—problematic in terms of a formal disapplication from the curriculum. So, I think I'd like to reserve judgment on ADEW's behalf on that. 

I think Ian wants to—. Did you want to say something, Ian? Sorry.

Yes, just to say about the point Claire made about possible future litigation matters, there would have to be a way formally of recording that this was the preference, because I think I'm right in saying, Claire, that special needs records have to be kept for some considerable time by schools in case there is—. Is it 20-odd years?

Yes. Yes, I think it's until the young person is 25. I'd have to go back and check, as I haven't looked at it recently, but it's a considerable period of time, isn't it?

Yes. So, there would need to be a record in the school of consent, that the parents had made the decision that the child shouldn't go in case, 15 years down the line, the young person says, 'Well, I didn't go on that trip', and the only record of it was verbal. There would have to be a system of an opt-out that involved, at the very least, something being kept in the school to say that this was the opt-out and this is what was agreed to at the time.

And I think, Chair, if I could just take that one step further—

I think we do see as well, particularly in areas of additional learning needs, that sometimes there is a difference of opinion between the parent/carer and the learner themselves, and then you are getting into the discussion about when is the learner's voice taking priority over the parent voice. At what age is the learner determined to be able to give consent and competent to give that consent if their view is different to that of their parent or carer? That can bring its challenges as well.

I have one final question, Cadeirydd. I know we're a little bit tight on time.

Yes. We all know that having access to the outdoors does help the mental health and well-being of young people—not just young people, everybody. But there is a huge barrier for those who have physical disabilities, who suffer from mental health issues and other debilitating health conditions. In a short answer, if you don't mind, because we're short on time, do you think that this Bill goes far enough to address those elements? And if it doesn't go far enough, what do you think needs to be added to actually make this Bill accessible to everybody, to make sure that everybody in society gets access to this level of education? Diolch, Cadeirydd.

We've referenced some of those challenges. I think it's about a level of provision of centres that are appropriately adapted to meet the needs of learners with, perhaps, complex physical needs. And, obviously, there's a significant cost to that. I think I've already referenced the demands on staffing and the capacity within the workforce to provide the support and care that would be required. So, I think it is challenging, and there will be a significant financial burden to ensure that we have suitable premises that can ensure that no child would be denied the opportunity based on their particular individual needs. 

Okay. Lovely. Thank you. Ian, did you want to add anything?

Yes, very briefly. Having said that, access for all is very, very important, and if this is to be universal legislation, then it needs to be for all. But the point that Claire makes there about some of the existing centres—I have to say, children with complex needs wouldn't be able to go to some of the existing centres because they're not adapted at the moment, and it will take a far higher level of staffing and facilities within the centres, such as specialist toileting facilities and changing rooms, which certainly weren't in the centres the last time I was at them.

09:55

Jest i ddilyn lan yn gyflym iawn ar hwnna: Claire, wnaethoch chi ddweud yn gynharach eich bod chi eisiau gweld y ddarpariaeth yma, y Bil, yn cyfeirio at ddarpariaeth yng Nghymru; a dwi'n meddwl gwnaeth y cynghorydd hefyd ategu hynny. A fyddai hyn yn rhwystr i hynny? Hynny yw, oes yna digon o ganolfannau yng Nghymru ar hyn o bryd a fyddai'n gallu darparu ar gyfer anghenion ychwanegol? Achos ein dealltwriaeth ni yw nad dyna'r achos. Beth yw'ch barn chi ar hynny?

Just to follow up very quickly on that: Claire, you said previously that you wanted to see this provision, this Bill, referring to provision in Wales; and I think the councillor also endorsed that. Would that be a barrier here? That is, are there enough centres in Wales at present that could provide for additional needs? Because our understanding is that that's not the case. What's your opinion of that?

Diolch. I'm not really in a position to comment on the capacity across Wales as a whole in terms of the current levels of centres. I mean, based on my own experience, we know that we have more children being identified as having particular needs and I guess there would have to be a robust assessment of the range of provision that is available, and I think we'd also need to acknowledge that if this becomes legislation, there is the opportunity for more providers to want to move into the marketplace in Wales, and what would that bring, then, in terms of new facilities that would meet those needs? So, I can't comment specifically, but what we're saying is, I think, Councillor Roberts and I, is that there could potentially be a risk that there isn't sufficiency of capacity of provision with the right equipment and facilities to meet the needs of some learners.

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

Thank you, Chair. I'm just going to ask you about requirements on schools. So, I mean, you've already talked about—I think it was Councillor Roberts who said about the amount of paperwork. I think you both talked about the staffing issues just now and outlined the reasons why, particularly around ALN, and significantly so because of the rise of ALN in our schools at the moment, and also for keeping records, for the reasons you outlined. But we've heard that the current residential outdoor education provision can be ad hoc. Is there an argument that this Bill could therefore be more prescriptive and create a standard offer, and if not, could it be a missed opportunity, given that the Bill as drafted at the moment still places the onus on the schools to organise residential outdoor education visits?

Shall I start, Councillor Roberts? I think, as we've already referenced, there needs to be flexibility. There does need to be that local flexibility. And I think a standardised offer enshrined in legislation could be hard to manage and fraught with challenges, and actually may have the adverse impact of perhaps making schools, you know—making it more difficult for schools to participate. All right, if they're being forced to do it by legislation, then they have a duty to participate, but I just worry that it will perhaps undermine a lot of the goodwill and the voluntary commitments of many of our—well, of all of our staff that participate in these kinds of activities. I just think it's fraught with dangers in making it a 'one size fits all', because our learners are all individual and unique, and meeting their needs on an individual basis needs to be the priority.

I definitely agree with Claire there. I mean, some schools have very established traditions of attending certain centres and they're almost passed down the pupils as folklore—'Oh, you'll have a great time when you go to so-and-so. Oh, it's brilliant there' and so on. And it's seen as part of the package, almost, of the school, although it might only be a tiny piece in the whole of the offer of the school. But I think the point Claire makes there about the voluntary nature of this activity, of course teachers do volunteer—not only teachers, support staff and, occasionally, parent helpers will volunteer for this type of activity. We used to go on a Monday morning and come back on a Friday night, swapping the two year 6 classes on Wednesday, and it was—. By the end of the week, you were extremely tired, mentally and physically, especially swapping the children midweek, because the first lot had just quietened down and then a fresh lot come in and they're all wanting to go.

So, I think the voluntary nature of this needs to be recognised, and the goodwill from school-based staff that exists in this whole process. So, I think prescription, standardisation in all of this is—. Yes, but it needs not to throw away existing provision, particularly where existing provision is entrenched and almost an expectation. Parents will often say to their children, 'Oh, I went there when I was in school; it's great, you'll love it there.' And that is a very important feeder there, for the children: 'Oh, I feel a bit insecure', 'No, you'll love it—I went there, I did that, it was great.' So, not too much in favour of prescription on this, actually.

10:00

Thank you, Ian. It's a very good point, by both of you. As a parent of children myself that have been through the process, and I went through the same process in the same school, I completely understand what you just said. On the staffing side of things, though, at present in the current situation, do you find that some additional learning needs learners are missing out because they are unable to go on the trip, or they're unable to staff it, or the cost of getting extra staff in to cover the children and look after their specific needs is so great that sometimes the decision is made for them not to go along on these trips? Is that happening at the moment? Because I know one of the intentions of the Bill is to try and get over that, even though I know, in some cases, as you outlined earlier, Councillor Roberts, in some cases they won't want to go. In some cases they will want to go, but their needs might not be able to be met. Could you just give me some thoughts on that? Thanks.

It very much depends on the level of the additional learning needs. So, for example, I mentioned children with hearing impairments who happened to be in the school that I was in. That brought a certain level of difficulty with it, but it was not insurmountable. I think, as you get increasing levels of disability, the situation becomes more challenging, not only for the school but for the centre and for the staff who take them away. So, there would need to be very specific provision and probably enhanced resources, and I think, as Claire mentioned earlier, the ability of the centres, particularly some of the older centres, to be able to accept young people with considerable difficulties, and that's what I mentioned earlier about financial resources for such centres to be built. And let's remember, a lot of these, particularly where—. I mentioned Pentrellyncymer, 4.5 miles from Cerrigydrudion—lovely, quiet there. Some children got their first ever night where, when you turned the lights out, it was dark and there wasn't a street light outside the house and so on. So, it's a very, very different experience, and one that we would wish children—all children, because schools are inclusive places—to have, but it needs very specialist provision, particularly, for example, for some of the young people who go to our specialist special schools and need very specialist provision.

I'm just going to have to just be—. Bearing in mind we're getting short on time now, can I ask for quick questions and quick answers? That would be great. Thank you. Laura, did you want to carry on?

Does Claire want to—? I was wondering if Claire wanted to come in.

I would have to say that, obviously, ADEW could not give you a 100 per cent guarantee that no child has ever been prevented because of the level of complexity. It would be everybody's ambition, but I couldn't guarantee that some children, for whatever reason, aren't not able to access it currently.

Thank you, Claire. Section 2 of the Bill requires the Welsh Ministers to pay a local authority an amount 'sufficient' to enable residential outdoor education to be carried out. What are your views on the costings in the regulatory impact assessment, and how confident are you that this will mitigate any risk of additional costs needing to be absorbed by local authorities and local schools?

10:05

Forgive the pun, but this is the $64,000 question. I think there does need to be further clarification and exploration, because there is a significant risk that the funding that's been outlined wouldn't be sufficient to deliver on the objectives. I think my view is that the rationale for the costings, perhaps, isn't sufficiently clear, and obviously, ADEW members would be extremely concerned about things like the ongoing impact of inflation, pay awards for staff as well, which drive costs up. We never see the cost of provision reducing; we only ever see it increasing. And with the references we've made to centres having to make further adaptations to be more inclusive, that all comes with a cost as well. 

So, I think, ADEW's position is that we do have significant concerns already about the current levels of funding for core educational activity in Wales. As we've referenced, councils are struggling to set legal and balanced budgets, and that's inevitably resulting in cuts to core education services and schools' delegated budgets. So, I think we need to be absolutely clear that schools and local authorities cannot bear any additional cost in relation to this particular legislation; it would have to be centrally funded. 

But that, then, brings a challenge in itself, because I don't think the Bill is clear enough on where the savings from other aspects of the Welsh Government budget would be found to meet the significant costs associated with this Bill. So, ADEW's view is that there is a massive concern that it would take funding away from core front-line educational services, which are already under huge pressure, and, actually, that would have a greater adverse impact on learners across Wales. So, ADEW does have concerns, obviously, about the funding allocation, and where that funding would come from, and the impact it would have elsewhere. 

Yes, when devolution first came about, there was an agreement with local authorities that there would be no additional responsibilities without the finance to go with it. And Claire has articulated very well the challenges on local authorities, and I'm sure you're all aware—because you're facing it in the Senedd as well—of the challenges we're all facing with regard to money.

As leader of Flintshire County Council, I can honestly say that we cannot take on any burden related to costs relating to this Bill, and it would be grossly unfair of us to pass any cost pressures to schools. We can't. Schools are already struggling, and they'll struggle more as budgets are set this year.

Okay, thank you, Ian. Okay, I'll move on to Sioned, and come back to Laura in a minute. Sioned. 

Diolch. Cwpwl o gwestiynau ynglŷn â'r gofynion ar ddarparwyr. Mae'r Bil yn darparu bod yn rhaid i'r addysg awyr agored yma fod ar gael yn y Gymraeg, os dyna yw dymuniad yr ysgolion. Oes yna ddigon o ddarpariaeth ar gael ar hyn o bryd i ateb y galw posib, a fyddai'n cynyddu, efallai, os daw'r Bil yn gyfraith? Ac, os ddim, beth sydd angen ei wneud, a gan bwy, i sicrhau bod y dewis iaith ar gael yn unol â gofynion y Bil? Ac a fyddai sicrhau bod ysgolion angen defnyddio darpariaeth addysg awyr agored yng Nghymru yn cefnogi datblygu darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg, ŷch chi'n meddwl?

Thank you. A couple of questions regarding the requirements on providers. The Bill provides that this outdoor education should be available in Welsh, if that's the request of the schools. Is there sufficient provision at the moment to meet the potential demand, which could increase if the Bill becomes law? And, if not, what needs to be done, and by whom, to ensure that the language of choice is available as required by the Bill? And would requiring schools to use outdoor education in Wales support the development of provision through the medium of Welsh, do you think?

Wel, dwi'n meddwl bod addysg trwy gyfrwng yr iaith Gymraeg yn bwysig iawn, ac mewn rhai lleoedd, fel Pentrellyncymmer, os oes plant o ysgol Gymraeg yn mynd i Bentrellyncymmer, byddan nhw'n mynd efo athro a staff yr ysgol, felly bydd yr iaith Gymraeg yn cael ei siarad. 

I think that education through the medium of the Welsh language is very important, and in some places, like Pentrellyncymmer, if children from Welsh-medium schools go to that centre, they would go with teachers and staff from the school, therefore, the Welsh language would be spoken. 

I thought I'd just give Welsh a go. I am a learner. 

Ardderchog. Da iawn. Gwych.

Brilliant. Well done. Wonderful. 

I thought I'd give it a go.

But, no, I think it's very important, and the point you make is very valid. It needs to be very, or totally inclusive, and, in Flintshire, we have a very active Welsh in education strategic plan policy, and we are very active in promoting the Welsh language, as all local authorities, I believe, in Wales are, so we would fully support what you've said. But I very much think it depends on the centre. If you're buying the provision from a provider, it's very different to you booking a centre and taking your own staff there.

10:10

Ydy Claire eisiau dod i mewn ar hwnna o gwbl?

Claire, would you like to come in on that at all?

Again, I think the issue is around capacity. Is there sufficient capacity for all schools that would want to make that provision through the medium of Welsh? I'm not in a position to be able to comment on that. We're aware of the fantastic opportunities provided by the Urdd, through their centres. If the legislation would bring new providers into the market, what would be the expectations on them then, in terms of making that offer? Thinking how we as public bodies are required to work to the Welsh language standards, for example. So, I think there would be challenges, but, absolutely, an aspiration that any pupil wishing to access that through the medium of Welsh would be able to do so.

Ac i fod yn glir, ŷch chi'n meddwl byddai'r cyfrifoldeb o ran datblygu'r ddarpariaeth yna ar y darparwyr eu hunain er mwyn cwrdd â’r hyn rydyn ni eisiau ei ddarparu drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg yn hytrach na bod yna arian yn dod o rywle arall, drwy'r WESP neu drwy gonsortia neu o'r Llywodraeth yn ganolog?

And to be clear, therefore, you think that the responsibility for developing that provision would be on the providers themselves in order to meet what we want to provide through the medium of Welsh rather than there being any funding coming from anywhere else, through the WESPs or through the consortia or from central Government?

I think you'd have to look at a variety of funding streams, because, I think, if you were to put that onus on the providers, then I think that would prevent many providers from considering establishing further provision in Wales. So, I don't think the cost can necessarily be borne solely by them. I think there needs to be a more creative and collective approach to how that funding could be gathered to support the expansion of Welsh-medium provision.

Diolch. Un peth wedyn ynglŷn â’r trwyddedau. Felly, ar hyn o bryd, dyw’r Bil ddim yn darparu ar gyfer trwyddedu darparwyr. Dyw e ddim yn gosod unrhyw ofynion y mae'n rhaid eu darparu cyn derbyn ymweliadau preswyl. Beth yw’ch barn chi ar a ddylid gosod isafswm lefel o ofynion i ddarparwyr addysg awyr agored breswyl eu bodloni cyn eu bod nhw'n gallu derbyn ymweliadau gan ysgolion? Beth fyddai’r manteision a'r anfanteision o’ch safbwynt ti? A fyddai fe’n cael unrhyw effaith ar yr asesiadau risg y mae'n rhaid i ysgolion eu cyflawni cyn mynd ar ymweliad?

Thank you. And one other thing regarding licensing. So, as drafted at the moment, the Bill doesn't provide for the licensing of providers. It doesn't set requirements that must be met before providing residential visits. What is your view on whether there should be a minimum level of requirements for providers of residential outdoor education to meet before they can accept visits from schools? What would be the benefits and drawbacks from your perspective? And would it have any impact on the risk assessments that schools are required to put in place before visits?

I think there are two levels of facility that we're talking about here. The first one is facilities such as Pentrellyncymer and Nant Bwlch yr Haearn, and Tŷ Clwyd in Llanfair Talhaiarn, which is the Clwyd Guide and Scout establishment, where, essentially, you book the centre and you take it over as a school. And actually going to a provision, such as some of the adventure centres like you go to, is a very different experience. So, I think there needs to be an understanding that there are almost two levels of provision here, and I think, obviously, the places need to be licensed, they need to be of a certain standard, and I actually think, when the word 'minimum' was used, that there needs to be a high level of standard, because, as I mentioned earlier, the responsibility of taking young people through adventurous activities in particular is very onerous and it needs to be very clearly demarked where the responsibilities lie and where they don't lie.

Just to say, I don't think ADEW would endorse the use of providers who do not meet an appropriate minimum standard in terms of the activities that they're providing. I think all directors would expect there to be clearly defined standards and an independent mechanism for the regular monitoring and certification of providers, as well as, obviously, the risk assessments that they develop and, obviously, the risk assessments that schools themselves need to develop when engaging in this kind of activity. I think, as we've referenced before, acting in loco parentis is a huge responsibility. Add the increasing litigation against schools when things go wrong—we are seeing that increasing all the time—and I think that's already having an impact on schools' confidence and staff willingness to deliver educational visits and trips. So, we would absolutely endorse that there needs to be at least minimum standards—of course, we would all aspire for something higher than that. They would have to be in place and there would have to be rigorous monitoring and evaluation of those, on a regular basis.

10:15

Thank you, Sioned. And finally, some questions from Laura Jones. Laura.

Thank you. Following on from that, in terms of implementation, in your view, who should be responsible for the monitoring of the implementation of the Bill, and how should outcomes for pupils be monitored?

I think if I can go first, I would suggest that our position is that having residential outdoor activity enshrined in legislation is hugely problematic from a monitoring perspective. We've already shared with you how stretched schools are financially. We're already seeing a reduction in the schools' workforce and difficult decisions are having to be made in terms of prioritising the use of school resources, so I think putting the responsibility for monitoring and tracking pupil participation, and formally having to evaluate the impact of residential visits, would add further pressure to a system that is already struggling to maintain core educational activity.

We've referenced that recruitment and retention of staff is a significant issue already, and further responsibilities being added to staff, as a result of this Bill, could make that even harder. I think it could open up a challenge to the current terms and conditions of staff, if we're adding an extra responsibility for staff in regard to this. As we've said, the staff undertaking these activities currently are doing so voluntarily, on that basis of goodwill. We've referenced the challenges around the legal requirements of record keeping, so it's a very difficult question and I think one that presents a lot of challenges.

And, similarly, local authority staff and teams are cut to the bone. I mean, I would have no capacity, within my current provision here in Flintshire, to have additional resource focused on the monitoring of schools' and pupils' engagement, if this was to become part of legislation.

Absolutely. Would you expect measures to be put in place to track that every pupil's been offered the opportunity, and compliance more generally, and would the current system, EVOLVE, be the most appropriate way of tracking that offer?

I think my answer to the previous question possibly answers this question as well, because that is the challenge: where is the capacity to track and monitor pupil engagement? I am familiar with EVOLVE, but not sufficiently familiar with its capacity and its design, as a programme, to be able to say whether or not that would be a suitable mechanism, but, obviously, it is a system that I think virtually all schools and local authorities use. So, I think you'd need to speak to the people who are more expert, actually, in the EVOLVE programme, to answer that question.

We'll just bring in Ian. Ian, did you want to have a final word here?

Yes. I was just going to say that it was mentioned about recording what actually happened during the activity. Where there were incidents, they were always fully recorded, and forms and everything were filled in. There's also a tremendous amount of work, as I've mentioned, before you go, with all the paperwork that has to be filled in. Filling in another layer of paperwork when you come back would, I think, add to the administrative burden, and we hear a lot in the education world about the administrative burden on staff at the moment. It's something that would need to be very clearly included as a part of the cost package. If the teachers have got to spend time, or staff have got to spend time, writing up records of what's happened, then they won't be able to do their daytime jobs, because they've just given up, in effect, 24 hours a day, away from their own families, to take the young people away.

Thank you very much, and thank you, both, for joining us this morning. We really appreciate the papers that you provided as well, and the evidence that you've given for the number of questions that we put to you. You will receive a copy of a transcript, just to check for factual accuracy in due course, but diolch yn fawr, thank you very much for joining us—very much appreciate it.

Diolch yn fawr.

Hwyl fawr.

Goodbye.

Okay. The Members will now take a very short break while we bring our next witnesses in.

10:25

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:19 a 10:26.

The meeting adjourned between 10:19 and 10:26.

3. Bil Addysg Awyr Agored Breswyl (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 7
3. Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill - evidence session 7

Croeso nôl. Welcome back. This is our next evidence session, and it is our seventh evidence session on the Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill. I'd like to welcome Frank Young, director of policy and research of Parentkind. You're very welcome. We'd like to say thank you very much for the survey and the paper that you provided—we very much appreciate that, and all Members have a copy of that information as well. So, thank you. We have a number of questions to put to you this morning. Just firstly, briefly, perhaps you can just outline your personal, or your organisation's, involvement in the development of the Bill, if you have had any.

Thank you, and thank you for taking evidence from Parentkind this morning. We have had no prior involvement in the drafting of the Bill. However, we were invited at this stage to provide evidence for consultation.

Do you support the policy intention of the Bill, which is to ensure that a course of residential outdoor education is provided once, free of charge, as part of the curriculum to registered pupils at maintained schools, and, if yes, why?

Yes, we do. Parentkind is one of the largest federated charities in the UK, and we represent almost 700 parent-teacher associations in Wales, covering about 44 per cent of schools. We broadly support the intention to provide children with outdoor residential visits, and this is based on evidence we have received from parents in Wales. About eight out of 10 tell us that they support the principles behind the Bill, 42 per cent say that their children have attended residential outdoor visits, and about eight out of 10 tell us that they found this a useful experience. It is particularly important to those parents that the costs of travel, accommodation and meals are fully funded too. I would also say that we broadly support the principles behind the Bill in relation to mental well-being for young people, and this is based on evidence we have from the national parent survey for Wales, where anxiety and depression are of particular concern to parents in Wales, and residential outdoor visits might be one of the ways that we can address this issue.

Thank you. Are you aware of children missing out on residential outdoor education, and to what extent? And to what extent do organisations like parent-teacher associations subsidise these trips through fundraising, and is that really going to be a realistic prospect going forward, given the cost-of-living pressures that families are facing at the moment? 

10:30

Yes, that's right. Through our survey work with Welsh parents, we are aware that about a third of parents in Wales don't regularly take their children on educational trips outdoors, and that is actually half when we come to children of secondary age. The data is worse, as you might expect, for parents of children entitled to free school meals. So, we recognise that there are, potentially, a lot of children who are missing out on outdoor trips with an educational value. 

In terms of parent-teacher associations—PTAs—themselves, I would be cautious about putting an expectation on individual groups of parents to fundraise for school trips, particularly those related to outdoor residential education. We have some anecdotal evidence of PTAs raising money for larger school events, such as residential trips. We would welcome a conversation around the capacity for PTAs to fundraise for wider educational ambitions, but this has to be set I think in a more strategic conversation, rather than simply expecting schools to make up funds themselves. Members will be particularly alert to the potential inequalities therein, with schools in wealthier areas probably more able to subsidise than those in poorer areas. 

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

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and bore da. It's good to see you with us this morning from Parentkind. I have a couple of questions on your views on the overall Bill. On the face of the Bill, it doesn't really define what residential outdoor education is. I'm just interested in what your view is on this, and could there be an argument there that, actually, this could lead to inconsistency across schools across our country, offering something different, or do you see that also as an opportunity, because, as part of the new Curriculum for Wales, it embeds that local schools can actually decide what's right for them and what's right for their learners? Do you see that this could be an opportunity as well—not having it on the face of the Bill? 

I think there is potential opportunity here to be ambitious for our education system, and that's perhaps something we will come on to later on. I'm here representing Parentkind and the voice of parents in education, and I will contain myself to that. In terms of drafting the legislation itself, I don't think we would have a corporate view other than the inherent risks associated with over-drafting a piece of legislation and being too prescriptive. What we do know from our evidence is that parents largely support the principle of outdoor education and some of the educational value of that, and it's important that we don't get into a situation through the drafting of the Bill that outdoor education, as most of us would understand it, actually ends up becoming something else that we wouldn't recognise as outdoor. 

Thank you. Talking about over-drafting the Bill, I'm sure if you went before our Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, they'd say that, actually, we should have more information in Bills about what they actually are. But the Bill deliberately doesn't specify what age or school year the entitlement actually starts, so I'm just interested: what are the benefits of that and what do you also think could be the drawbacks? Do you believe that there should be something in the Bill drafted as to what age that starts at? 

I take the point. I recognise there is a difference between the Bill itself and then subsequent guidance provided by Government to steer the delivery of the Bill, and that is always a tension, I think, in legislation. I think, from the evidence we have, we would suggest that the benefits of what is quite a long residential stay of five days and four nights would likely be of benefit to older children of around secondary age, or close to it. I think any of us who are parents of young children would recognise that that period of time is potentially quite a long period for a young child.

The evidence we have from the national parent survey for Wales also indicates significant concern over anxiety and depression among secondary age children in particular, versus primary age children, and I think we would be very mindful, therefore, of the potential benefits and ambition for outdoor education to address this issue. There is also the issue of screen time, of course, and we found that about half of parents in Wales would tell us they're very concerned about the amount of time their child spends on screens and on social media. Inevitably, this is likely to be heavily biased towards older children, in the teenage age group. So, I think we would have a preference for older children and see some of the benefits of that in particular.

10:35

And one final question on your views on the Bill. Is there anything else that you would like to see amended or included in this Bill as it goes through the legislative process here in the Senedd?

Yes. I think what's particularly important to us is that the provision for any additional costs falling on parents needs to be recognised, either through the Bill itself or subsequent guidance. I know I won't be the only person to have said this, or the only group to have mentioned this, but in consultation with parents it is one of the main concerns. When we survey parents in Wales about school costs, inevitably school uniform cost comes out top, but behind that the second biggest concern is school trips. And about half of parents actively say they are struggling with the cost of school trips. So, I think that gives an indication of some of the concerns that parents have, and we really need to make sure that we are practical and realistic about this, and that all the costs that are associated with going on an extended trip are represented and are covered.

That actually leads me quite nicely on to my next question, because I want to talk about barriers to accessing outdoor residential education. You alluded to this, that the Bill doesn't cover all elements. It covers the cost of the stay, it covers the cost of the travel, but there are a lot of us around this table and virtually who know that it does have additional costs, sometimes, going on outdoor residential education. I take fully and appreciate that some centres do provide certain elements of what the pupils do need, and young people do need, when they go on those courses. But that doesn't cover everything, including those spare clothes and everything that comes with it. 

I'm just interested in your views, from your organisation—do you think the school essentials grant or the PDG could be an element here where schools could actually make up that bit of funding, and support those people from low-income families? Because we need to make sure that any legislation that we put through here is accessible to everybody, especially within the realms of education. So, do you think those two grant pots could pick up the slack, perhaps?

I think we're very mindful of the pressures on the public purse and the pressures on Government in Wales to fund education and all of our public services. It is probably not realistic to say that those two pots could, in their existing form, cover costs associated with an extended outdoor trip, but I think that is the right area to be looking at. I know you've received evidence from other groups that those grants could be a potential avenue for supporting parents who are struggling to meet any of the additional costs. You might well be considering issues around means-testing too and where some of the lines are drawn. I know that will be a consideration for the committee and Members. I think we need to be mindful really of the extent to which parents are struggling with costs, and drawing a line too tightly around free school meals and parents who are really struggling with day-to-day costs and poverty might end up underestimating the true extent of the pressures on parents.

I could go into a little bit of detail on means testing, because, with universal legislation, then adding a means-testing element to it doesn't mean it's universal for everybody, does it? So, it opens up its own can of worms that, doesn't it, in a different way? 

10:40

But I'll just move on, if that's okay. You did mention this earlier, in an earlier answer to me, the mental health elements to do with as well, because the Member in charge—. Other than financial constraints, a large number of consultees came back and said there's big anxiety among parents and pupils about sending children on outdoor residential education as well. And I'm just interested here—. We all fully appreciate, around this room, and I'm sure wider than here, that having great access to outdoor learning and education is a great way to help your mental health and well-being. But one thing I'm interested in is: do you think the Bill goes far enough to address the concerns that some people have around the elements of mental health and anxiety? 

I think, at the moment, probably not. I think, again, I would point to the difference between the Bill and subsequent guidance. And I think we need to be mindful of consulting parents effectively, and this might be something we touch on later on. But parental anxiety will not just be around potential cost, but it will also look at the child they are potentially sending on a residential trip, particularly in relation to any additional needs or mental health concerns that they have around the child. What this really comes down to is really good communication between school and family and parents, and I think we need to get that absolutely right,  so that we are aware of the parents in our schools that might be concerned—they might not easily voice those concerns, because of perceptions around stigma or shame—and then making sure that the trip itself, and the potential educational benefits and mental health benefits, are well explained in detail to provide that reassurance and the reassurance messaging that is needed to make sure everyone—and the people, arguably, who need the trips the most—get access. 

Lovely. If you'll indulge me, Cadeirydd, I've got two more questions, if that's okay. 

One thing that also we want to talk about is making sure that outdoor residential education and any outdoor pursuits that schools do are accessible for absolutely everybody, including those pupils who do have physical disabilities, mental health issues and also other debilitating health conditions. Do you think the Bill goes far enough to address that to make sure that this Bill is truly accessible to everybody?  

Well, I think the most important aspect of the Bill from a parent perspective, and I will contain my comments to the views of parents in Wales and the evidence we have, will be around cost in particular, so that has to be addressed, and I know we've touched on that issue. But I think we need to work through all the potential groups that are at risk, and those would include children with additional learning needs, children who are educated outside of school, not always in school, particularly those with anxiety around attending school, and those children who have some other form of disability that might prevent them accessing what is quite a long residential visit. But it's really important that any legislation—I lean quite heavily on subsequent guidance too, which is probably easier to adapt as well as we go along and learn—ensures we target all the groups who might be at risk of missing out. 

Thank you. My final question is quite, in a way, technical. So, if you haven't got an answer, if you'd like to write to us, that would be fine. But one thing that the Member in charge has outlined is that this is compulsory but, if parents and young people really do not want to take part in residential outdoor education, there is an opt-out option for parents to do that, or the pupil. Do you think that the Bill and the explanatory memorandum are clear on how that is actually available and how that's actually going to work in practice? As I said, it's quite a technical question, about section 42 of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021. But, if you want to write to us on that, that's fine. Thank you, Cadeirydd.  

Thank you. And I will take the opportunity to write to the committee. Clearly, issues around compulsion are central to this Bill. We know, through our evidence and the evidence that I hope the committee already has in consultation, that not all children are accessing outdoor residential learning. So, there's going to be that tension between making things optional and then only having some children benefiting, the ones who don't need that experience the most benefiting, and then a form of compulsion that feels like quite a blunt instrument in legislation.

10:45

Thank you. Thank you, James. We'll move on to questions from Laura Jones. Laura.

Thank you, Chair. Thanks for being with us today. You've already said just now—I'll follow on from one of James's questions just now—that you hope that no group would be missing out from this Bill if it went ahead. The Bill does not include children who are educated otherwise than at school and those in pupil referral units, who may be who you were referring to just now. It also says that

'it is hoped that the Welsh Government will consider how they can be offered it'.

What is your view on this? Could it be a missed opportunity to include some of the most excluded learners within the Bill's provisions, given that learners are already likely to be those from disadvantaged or low-income families?

Yes, I do. And I think 'opportunity' is the right word here; there's an opportunity to be ambitious as well, for our education system and the children who would benefit the most from an extended outdoor educational opportunity here. One of the most striking bits of data, I think, from our national parents survey for Wales, and indeed, across the UK, is the number of children who simply tell us that they either don't enjoy school, they don't enjoy learning, or they don't feel safe at school. And about one in 10 parents tell us that their child doesn't feel safe at school. So, the reason I think there's an opportunity here is that we can shake up the way we do education and we can do education that is just slightly different to the classroom norm that we would be familiar with and that re-engages children, teenagers in particular, into our education system and into education more broadly, as well as some of the wider mental health benefits that we'll all be concerned about. I think you're absolutely right to point out some of the opportunities for children who are home schooled, which, as you'll be aware, is a diverse group and shouldn't be treated as one homogenous group, but also those who are outside of mainstream education in pupil referral units or alternative provision too. My general message is that we need to be aware of those other groups, but also ambitious for them, because, in many ways, this is mostly for them.

Yes. Would you agree, then, that it's about changing life habits as well, as well as the short-term effects on mental health et cetera?

Yes, and, perhaps, if I may say so, particularly in Wales, where the opportunities are more obvious and available to children. There is evidence to suggest that, as children go along in an extended outdoor visit, they move away from electronic devices, smart phones and start to really embrace and experience the outdoors. We all know that one of the best ways to tackle anxiety and mental health problems is to be outside and to experience nature. But that is much harder, of course, if you're growing up in an environment where that just isn't on your doorstep, or you don't see it outside of your window. So, I think there is a real opportunity here to change the sort of expectations and outlook of children in a much healthier direction.

Yes, thank you. We know that there are, obviously, big reforms, at the moment, currently under way in schools—the new curriculum and additional learning needs reforms—do you have any concerns that the Bill might unintentionally add a pressure on schools already under a lot of pressure?

I think we would. Separately from, I think, the evidence we have from parents, clearly there is significant reform under way, in Wales in particular, in the school system. But I think we also have to recognise that the possibilities in education policy to change lives and improve our country. So, where it might be—. I would say it might be slightly out of scope for Parentkind, but I do think we should be positive about these opportunities, particularly for children who don't enjoy school or are disengaged. And our parents—. If I can bring it back to parents, our parents in Wales, from the survey work we've done so far, reflect that enthusiasm, I think, around issues on building personal confidence, working with other children, developing a connection with the natural world. There is also some support for understanding the Welsh language and culture and heritage, which Members may well come on to.

10:50

Thank you, Laura. Questions from Sioned Williams. Sioned.

Helo, bore da, a, ie, byddwn i'n hoffi siarad yn benodol, efallai, am ddarpariaeth Gymraeg a'r gofynion yn ehangach ar ddarparwyr. Ydych chi'n cytuno gyda'r ddarpariaeth sydd yn y Bil fod yn rhaid i'r addysg awyr agored breswyl yma fod ar gael yn y Gymraeg os taw dyna yw dymuniad yr ysgol? Oes gyda chi unrhyw dystiolaeth o ran oes yna ddigon o ddarpariaeth ar gael ar hyn o bryd i ateb y galw posib os daw'r Bil yn gyfraith?

Hello, good morning, and I'd like to speak specifically, perhaps, about Welsh language provision and the requirements in a broader sense on providers. Do you agree with the provisions in the Bill that this residential outdoor education should be available in Welsh if that is the wish of the school? Do you have any evidence in terms of whether there is sufficient provision available at the moment to meet the potential demand if the Bill becomes law?

Thank you. We don't have specific evidence on providers and provision. We do have some evidence from parents in Wales that there is broad support—there is a majority support—for using residential outdoor education as described in the Bill to support Welsh language and Welsh heritage. It's slightly beyond the scope of Parentkind to comment, but I would reflect on the importance to parents, but I wouldn't want to overstate it, of making sure that this provision provides for that sense of home, the country they are growing up in, the heritage of that country and what it means and that they are part of it and they can experience it.

Dyw'r Bil ddim yn darparu ar gyfer trwyddedu darparwyr, dyw e ddim yn gosod gofynion y mae'n rhaid eu bodloni cyn derbyn ymweliadau preswyl gan ysgolion. Felly, beth yw eich barn chi ar p'un ai dylid gosod lefel ofynnol o ofynion i ddarparwyr addysg awyr agored breswyl? Beth fyddai'r manteision a'r anfanteision o'ch safbwynt chi?

The Bill as drafted doesn't provide for the licensing of providers, it doesn't set requirements that must be met before providing residential visits to schools. So, what's your opinion on whether we should set a minimum level of requirements on providers of residential outdoor education? What would be the benefits and disadvantages from your perspective?

I think one concern of parents, and the overriding concern of parents, would be around safeguarding, and that would come out prominently in any research we did and consultation we did on this issue specifically. I don't think we have a developed view on whether there should be a specific licensing arrangement or whether existing regulation and legislation would adequately cover provision. What I would say, however—perhaps talking from some experience of policy development and legislation elsewhere—is that concern over safeguarding shouldn't be caught up in a wider debate around so-called red tape. I think it's easy to fall into that sort of language, when everybody, of course, will be concerned about safety and safeguarding. Also, if I might say so, in terms of outdoor education, it's a particularly complex area where, naturally, there is some risk, and you want to encourage some risk and risk-taking and challenging yourself in the outdoors. But licensing would have to reflect this, and it's an overriding concern for parents, as it would be, I think, for policy makers too.

Diolch. Diolch, Cadeirydd.

Thank you. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Sioned. Finally, some questions from Laura again. Laura.

Thank you, Chair. Just finally, now, in your view, who do you think should be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Bill? How should outcomes for pupils be monitored?

I think it would usually fall to an inspecting body to ensure that provision is being met at a school level, and particularly where inspecting bodies might look at governance arrangements for schools too. I think there's always going to be a challenge for Government in delivery of new entitlement of this sort, based in legislation. I don’t think Parentkind would want to comment on the mechanics of implementation, other than to say that it would be important for parents to be made aware of any new rights or entitlements, so that they can actively, and proactively, perhaps, discuss these with their schools or the governing bodies for their schools, to ensure that they are taking up entitlement where it is on offer—or perhaps not on offer, and creating the pressure to do so. That particularly applies to some of the groups we’ve been talking about in this session, and that is about, I think, publicity and raising awareness as much as it is monitoring delivery.

I would want to put on record a point about consultation with parents. I think there is often a frustration that parents are not well consulted when it comes to education policy, and we need to make sure that, as we develop education policy and changes to our system, we do really good research and consultation on the views of parents. And that goes for Government research, I think, too, beyond the passing of a Bill. There is a lot that Government can do in terms of research itself, monitoring performance, and identifying gaps and underprovision.

10:55

As a parent, I agree with you. Therefore, would you expect measures to be put in place to ensure that every child has at least been offered that opportunity?

Yes, I think so. I think that that is clearly important. How that looks is a discussion about unintended consequences, overprescription versus the opposite, but that’s clearly important, and it’s clearly important to consider children and families outside of the norm, if you like.

Thank you, Laura. That’s the end of the evidence session. Thank you very much for joining us and for agreeing to provide some further information. We really appreciate you giving that evidence today. You will receive a copy of the transcript just to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

We’ll just take a break now, and go into private session before our next evidence session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:57 a 11:30.

The meeting adjourned between 10:57 and 11:30.

11:30
4. Bil Addysg Awyr Agored Breswyl (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 8
4. Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill - evidence session 8

Croeso nôl. Welcome back. This is our eighth evidence session on the Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill. I'd like to welcome the Minister and his officials this morning. Thank you very much for joining us. We have Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Lloyd Hopkin, deputy director for curriculum in the Welsh Government, and Ceri Planchant, lawyer in the Welsh Government.

Thank you very much for being with us this morning. I know we've got a lot of questions to put to you in what feels like a short space of time, but we really appreciate it, so, we'll try and get through as much as we can. I'll make a start just with a very general question. Actually, the other point that I'd like to make is that we have had a letter from the Member whose Bill is put forward. I understand that the Minister has also received that letter, I think, this morning. So, Members may ask you a few questions based around that letter, or perhaps ask you to provide some more information. But before we do go into questions, is there anything particularly that you'd like to put on record around that letter at the outset?

No, Chair, I'm happy to take any questions as we go through them. If it's helpful, I'm happy to provide a written response to the committee as well.

Brilliant. Thank you very much.

The first question is around the development of the Bill. Perhaps you could say if the Welsh Government has had any involvement in the development of the Bill, and, if so, what. 

No, we haven't, but my officials and I have had two meetings with the Member in charge to discuss the Bill and its aims. I've also made an offer to the Member in the Chamber, but outside the Chamber as well, to work together to seek to deliver the aims of the Bill in other ways.

Thank you. Your written paper states that the Welsh Government has very serious reasons for choosing not to support the Bill in three key areas: that's curriculum delivery, legislation and finance. Perhaps you can elaborate on the first of these in terms of why it's not in line with the new curriculum.

The underpinning principle in the curriculum reforms was that the content itself wouldn't be on the face of the Bill—that that would articulate the key knowledge and skills and experiences and then provide schools with the flexibility to choose how to meet those. That's the philosophy that underpins the curriculum, and what this Bill does is, in a sense, adopt a one-size-fits all approach by effectively requiring every school and setting to include residential outdoor education as part of the mandatory curriculum for all pupils. So, it's not consistent, if you like, with the vision underpinning the curriculum. The effect of the Bill is to make residential outdoor education compulsory, so, in a sense, it undermines that flexibility for schools to design a local curriculum that meets the needs of the particular pupils that they are serving. 

Two of the key principles in the curriculum are that there is a continuum of learning from 3 to 16 and that principle of flexibility. There is already in the curriculum a strong emphasis on experiential learning, and I would contend that outdoor learning is far broader than residential outdoor education, in particular when it is as specific an intervention as the Bill envisages. So, I don't think it is sensible for us to legislate for individual approaches or activities as part of that broader curriculum approach. If you were to follow that path, it would be hard, I think, to distinguish particular interventions for forest schools, sports days, nature walks—all sorts of other particular interventions. So, it's not consistent with the broader vision of the legislation that it seeks to amend.

Thank you. The Member in charge has said that he's undertaken three detailed consultations on the Bill. He reports that there is a very significant level of support for the principles of this legislation. What consideration have you given to the levels of support for the Bill in coming to your own view on the Bill?

11:35

I have reflected considerably on that. As I said to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee earlier this week, I am very enthusiastic myself about outdoor learning and the potential that brings. I think, beyond doubt, that is a positive experience for young people. It helps them develop, helps them grow, helps them make connections with the world around them, helps with that sense of wonder, that sense of awe, which is where curiosity comes from. So, it has incredible benefits. I think that the support for education outdoors is absolutely clear. 

What we are talking about here is whether this Bill is necessary and effective to deliver the objectives. I think residential outdoor education can be an effective approach. But there are challenges in that, aren't there? So, whatever provision we are able to make for that, there will always be implications for individual families around the costs of doing that, beyond the kinds of costs that any school, any government, is able to provide for—so, costs of clothing and so on. I know that there are some providers who provide that, but I think the implications of that need to be properly taken into account. My broader point is that access to outdoor education doesn't need to cost that for individual families. There are a lot of other ways that schools can and are delivering that outdoor learning experience very, very effectively.

And there's a final point, Chair, I think, in terms of the response to the consultation generally. It is right to say that there are high levels of enthusiasm for the broad principles and the broad objectives. But if you look at the responses of those who are nearest to delivering what the Bill is designed to achieve, they have very significant practical reservations about how it could be delivered. And I think it's important to give weight to those as well. 

As the Member has said, and you've mentioned about the enthusiasm generally, he's consulted with children and young people as well, and the adults representing them, and the support, he says, is broadly there. They've said that cost was the biggest barrier to residential outdoor education. How do you respond to their view about the impact of cost?

Well, I think in the way that I've just said, Chair. The Bill obviously imposes on the Welsh Government an obligation to fund, but there are implications for families that go beyond that, so I think that needs to be taken into account. The other thing to say is that there is a danger, I think, in a specific statutory requirement on residential outdoor education, that this draws the attention and resources away, at a school level, from designing a set of sustained experiences, if you like, that are more woven through all aspects of the curriculum and that I absolutely know young people are also enthusiastic about. 

Thank you. Following the Member's letter as well, just to get your understanding of this, would primary legislation be needed to bring residential outdoor education in as a compulsory element of the curriculum, or could this be done by making regulations under section 5 of the 2021 Act? 

From my reading of the letter this morning, there is a sense, I think, in the letter, that our approach to this is contradictory, but there isn't a contradiction. Let me try and spell it out in this way, Chair, if I may: if the intention of the Bill is to require the Government to secure residential outdoor education to be offered and to fund it, specifically, then there is a need for primary legislation; if what is wanted is just to make residential outdoor education a mandatory part of the curriculum, then that can be achieved by regulations under the existing legislative framework. Just to be clear, the Bill clearly requires residential outdoor education to be a compulsory part of the curriculum. So pupils must, therefore, undertake residential outdoor education, unless they have an exemption under section 42 of the Act. So, essentially, it creates an opt-out system not an opt-in system. That's how the existing legislation relates to what's proposed here. 

Thank you. The paper to the committee also says that:

'The new curriculum makes ample provision for outdoor experiences and the Explanatory Memorandum...does not adequately make the case for why pupils must be offered residential outdoor education.'

The EM says that the residential element of outdoor education is important because

'for many children this is first time away from home'

and it allows those relationships to grow and form between peers, which are felt back in the classroom. Perhaps you could respond to the residential part of the outdoor education being a core element of the proposed offer.

11:40

Yes. I won't repeat what I said to the committee earlier this week or what I've just said to you, but there is a much broader approach to outdoor learning and outdoor education, which the curriculum requires and supports schools to deliver. But, on the residential point specifically, in the discussion we had earlier, with the other committee, we were talking about the absence of a definition in the Bill for what residential outdoor education comprises, which I think is a problem. But this aspect is the bit that is defined. So, it says a certain number of days. I don't think the case is made for why that definition is the definition required to drive the outcomes in the Bill, not least because, from memory, it can be delivered on more than one occasion. So, I don't think the memorandum makes that case.

And I also think that, if the value in the activity is the residential element—. I had, and I'm sure most of us will have had, the opportunity of having a residential stay as part of our education, and I absolutely see the value of it, but it isn't clear to me why the residential element, which in the question you're saying is the bit that adds the additional value, if you like—and I can see that—why the residential element is attached to outdoor education as opposed to a music course or a drama course or some other activity. So, I think there's a tension in those two separate rationales for the Bill.

Yes. Minister, I just want to take you back to an answer you gave earlier, when you said that, if this came in, you'd be pulling money away from schools. Obviously, this would become a statutory element, so I just want to be clear in my mind, because the Bill states that the Welsh Government would have to provide additional moneys to schools to deliver this, so does that mean—just to get it clear in my head—that if you were still the Minister for education, you'd be taking money away from non-statutory elements to fund this as part of your education budget?

Well, that is not what I said. I was talking about—

—what schools would think, what decisions schools would make in relation to a particular part of the curriculum that is specified in the legislation. So, at the moment, schools are designing curricula that have a requirement to deliver outdoor learning in a broader sense. The point I was making on that is that, if there is a specific requirement in the legislation, as this Bill seeks to include, then the focus and effort of schools will be on delivering that, rather than the broader set of outdoor learning experiences that the curriculum currently provides. So, I was making a school-level point, rather than a Welsh Government budget point. But I'm sure we'll come on to that at some point, since that's one of the issues that I think is most live, in terms of the affordability of the legislation.

Brilliant. Thank you, Minister. We'll just move on to a question from Ken Skates. 

Thanks, Chair. Thanks, Minister. Your paper says that the Bill undermines the flexibility of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021. Can you explain your concerns on that point and elaborate on what you mean when you say there are very serious reasons for not choosing to support the Bill in relation to legislation?

Certainly. Well, I'm not going to repeat what I said earlier in the week, but I'll just make specific points on this, if I may, which are the main points, I think, from the point of view of concerns around the legislation. Firstly, the Bill isn't clear on what local authorities, schools and Welsh Government separately, if you like, must do. The roles appear to overlap. The role for the Welsh Government appears to be on the one hand both the provision of resources and then the provision of residential outdoor education itself. I don't imagine that can be the intention of the Bill, but that is what it provides.

Notwithstanding what is said in the explanatory memorandum, the effect of the Bill is to make residential outdoor education a compulsory part of the curriculum. And I think it's worth us bearing in mind that when legal duties are analysed, and legal frameworks and requirements are analysed, the explanatory memorandum is not something the court, for example, if it came to it, would look at. So—[Inaudible.]—itself is obviously what defines the scheme.

So, there is provision, as I mentioned earlier in the week, under section 42, to disapply parts of the curriculum, which is the opt-out I was talking about earlier, and I know from the letter that the Member has sent to the committee, the Member questions my reference to section 42 being a 'blunt instrument'. Just to be clear, it's not a blunt instrument for the job it currently does; it's a blunt instrument for the job that the Bill requires it now to do. Because in order to get that exemption, you need to list why you're seeking to be exempted, and I think in the context of a school residential trip, it's a particularly onerous way of dealing with it from a parent's point of view and a school's point of view.

So, I think, those, I would specifically draw the committee's attention to, but also, the Bill specifically requires the Government to fund residential outdoor education. That has the effect of prioritising that above all other interventions in the curriculum, and it isn't clear to me that we would want to provide a unique level of funding obligation to this one very limited part of the curriculum.

11:45

Thank you. If the Bill was to be taken forward, then, who do you think the statutory duty to provide residential outdoor education should fall on?

There are different aspects to this. So, the design of the curriculum is a responsibility of the headteacher and the governing body. So, including residential outdoor education in the curriculum would be an obligation that they would need to fulfil as part of that design. But I think there would need to be a joint—we use the term 'joint and several', don't we—so, joint and separate duties on the local authority and on schools in relation to some aspects of that provision, and I don't think any of that is clear in the Bill, but I think that's the mix of duties.

Okay, thanks. And then, there are a number of references in your paper that the guidance to be issued by the Welsh Ministers is not appropriate, and that's for a range of reasons, including your views on it being mandatory and restrictive. Could you just elaborate a little more on your concerns about the guidance and also address why, in your view, it isn't appropriate for it to be mandatory?

Yes. So, my concerns around what is mandatory are related to the job of guidance. The job of guidance is to give advice rather than introduce mandatory elements to a scheme that otherwise the Bill doesn't make mandatory. So, if you're going to have mandatory elements, the way to do that is through the Bill or through regulations rather than through ministerial guidance, which can only provide, you know, advice. It's guidance, isn't it? So, that's my key concern.

There are some concerns as well, which I think are secondary in the context of what this committee is interested in, around how that has been provided for in the legislation. So, just to say in one sentence, section 71 of the original legislation is a power to provide guidance, and the Bill effectively introduces a duty to provide guidance into that, which I just think is very confusing. But, you know, from a policy point of view, I appreciate that's a secondary point.

Thank you, Chair. Hello, Minister. You've just specified to Ken Skates that you have concerns over an exemption from taking part in the activity if this was to go ahead. Can you just elaborate on that a bit? I mean, the Bill also—. It specifies in the guidance that Welsh Ministers must provide that it's not compulsory for pupils to attend, so how would Welsh Government, if this Bill was to go ahead, include in the regulations how a child would get out or be exempt from the activity, and what potential repercussions would there be for the child for doing so? Thanks.

11:50

Thank you. Certainly. Well, this is one of the practical challenges. What the guidance says can't change what the Bill does. So, the starting point for, 'What is the legal obligation, the legal duties, the legal rights?' if you like, is what is in the Bill. What Ministers do in guidance isn't capable of changing that. So, as I was saying to Ken Skates a minute ago, that's one of the challenges in the way in which the guidance is doing so much of the heavy lifting, if you like, if I can use that term, in the context of the Bill, because you can't provide for something not to be compulsory through guidance if, in effect, it's compulsory in the Bill.

The point I was making about exemption is that the Bill takes advantage of the existing mechanism in the Act, which, from a consistency point of view, does make sense, but from the point of view of the practical application of section 42, I think, becomes onerous very quickly. Section 42 as applied to the current legislation would be used very rarely in practice, because of the way the curriculum is constructed. So, it's there as a fall-back, but it's an important one. I think, in this context, where parents are having to make decisions about whether their child is going on a residential outdoor course, perhaps on more than one occasion, section 42 then just does a different job, really, and will be, I think, a less effective way of doing that. That was my concern about the mechanism that the Bill is using.

Yes, of course, a child might want to be exempt, or a parent might want the child to be exempt for religious or ALN reasons, for example. If the Bill was to be passed, how would you go about getting over that hurdle, then?

Well, the section 42 provides for that already, so I think that mechanism is there in the legislation. What is not clear, I think, is what the—. If it's a mandatory part of the curriculum, which it's required to be, and that section 42 mechanism hasn't been used, and I think there is probably a heightened risk of that in the context of going on a school trip, which most parents wouldn't see as part of the curriculum in that core sense—. So, if it's mandatory, if there isn't a section 42 exemption, then that will be an unauthorised absence, in effect, if the child wasn't on that course, and there would be, under the current regime, a range of sanctions for that. I can't imagine, in practice, that schools would want to do that, to be clear, but it isn't clear on the legislative proposal in front of us what the consequence of that would be.

Thank you, Minister. If the legislation was taken forward, how would you expect measures to be put in place to track that every pupil has been offered the opportunity, and compliance, of course, more generally? And also, monitoring outcomes for pupils, are there any challenges in this regard?

Well, there would need to be—. If the Welsh Government was to collect data on pupils who had been offered—at least offered—residential outdoor education, that would require us to bring in or amend existing regulations, so there would need to be a new power to do that. I think, in practical terms, it would be more likely that we would amend the regulations under which schools report this to local authorities, and we have an existing mechanism for obtaining that data on an aggregate basis from local authorities, as you know, so I think that would be the more practical way of doing it. But the truth is, inevitably, this is an extra layer of reporting on schools, which I'm certain would be unwelcome, and perhaps the broader point is that no other part of the curriculum has a reporting requirement of anything like this specificity.

So, you see that as, potentially, an extra burden on schools, then.

If that scheme were required, that monitoring and that reporting, then I think that would be burdensome, and the broader point I'm making to you is that that wouldn't be consistent with the level of obligation we have in other parts of the curriculum, generally speaking.

Okay, thank you, Minister. Your paper says that the Bill is simply not affordable. Could you just comment further on your concerns regarding the costs, and are there any alternative options and funding models for schools to finance a residential outdoor education visit? Thank you.

This is at the heart of my concerns, in many ways. We had a discussion last week about the pressures on school budgets, the pressures on the Welsh Government's budget, and the very real pressure on council budgets, and what this Bill does is effectively attach a level of priority to this element of funding that isn't replicated across other funding requirements. So, it elevates this one very narrow element of what would be, then, the curriculum, above all others. And local authorities would expect that to be funded by the Government, that they'll provide for that. I couldn't justify, if I'm candid, however important I think the outdoor learning experience is for children, and I absolutely think it's crucial—. If there was the level of funding available to me that this Bill requires, which, in our view, is around £20 million a year, my argument would be that there are other demands in the system that we would want to make sure had that additional funding first.

So, you yourself have challenged me on additional learning needs funding. We want to make sure that there's sufficient support for literacy and numeracy. I think it would be very challenging to make the case that this ought to be the next priority if such additional funding were to become available—and, let's be clear, that isn't a realistic prospect anyway. But that's my concern. 

11:55

There certainly are a lot of pressures on the system at the moment, Minister, you're quite right. But do you share my concern—this is my last question to you—that, of course, under the current situation, and LAs making cuts, we are seeing some cuts to some local authorities' outdoor education budgets? Obviously, that's going to impact the outdoor residential opportunities for learners. Do you share concerns about that? The Bill, I think, was proposing to protect that opportunity for all learners, whereas, if we're seeing cuts to it, that's obviously going to damage and relinquish those sorts of opportunities for learners across Wales, which, perhaps, isn't under your control, but how would we go about sorting that out? Thanks.

Well, I suppose the point I would make is that the Bill seeks to protect that uniquely. So, at the moment, as you will know from our previous discussions, the approach that I have taken in my budget to the grants that go to schools to support a range of interventions, from reform programmes to standards interventions and others, has been to provide a level of flexibility, so that authorities and schools can be as creative as possible in managing that funding to deliver the outcomes that we want. So, in a sense, this is going in exactly the opposite direction, and doing so in relation to what, by any fair assessment, would be a very narrow, single intervention in the educational journey of a child or young person, which doesn't seem to me to be sensible, in particular at a time when authorities are trying to manage those budgets under pressure in as creative and flexible a way that they can. 

I do accept the point that you're making, that this might mean—that the level of pressure on budgets might mean—that this level of provision isn't funded as well as it is currently, or has been in the past. I accept that is a risk, but that is a risk in other areas as well, and I'm not sure that the solution is to ring-fence this one particular element of the budget. 

Thank you, Laura. Questions from James Evans. James. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and good to see you, Minister, to talk again on this Bill. This is the second time in one week you've got the pleasure of my company. Just out of interest, Minister, a large number of people who responded to the consultation, other than financial constraints, said that one of the biggest barriers to outdoor residential education was the anxiety that people actually felt. I'm just wondering, from Welsh Government analysis, to what extent do you think the Bill addresses this issue. And if this Bill is not going to proceed, and it isn't the will of Government for this Bill to proceed, what, if anything, are the Welsh Government doing currently, within the current guidance and frameworks that you have, to help schools and support them to make sure that every child has the opportunity to do this when they're suffering with those anxiety issues?

Well, to your first point: does the legislation resolve those questions around anxiety—and uncertainty, I think you said? I don't think it does, but, in all candour, I don't think it could. Legislation can't do that in practice. I think that addressing anxieties of this sort requires a longer-term, more holistic approach to outdoor learning, outdoor education more broadly, than the Bill contemplates. The Bill contemplates one intervention of a particular kind—a very specific kind—and so I don't think that is the best way of overcoming those anxieties. But I don't think that's the fault of the legislation particularly; it's just more complex than that. My argument would be that the curriculum provides for that more embedded, integrated approach, which is, I think, more likely to address those concerns, those anxieties and those uncertainties that you spoke about. 

12:00

[Inaudible.]—Minister. When we bring forward legislation of this type through the Senedd, we need to make sure that it's accessible to everybody, and especially those young people who have got physical disabilities, those struggling with their mental health, and other debilitating conditions that they have. As I said earlier, I'm just interested in what analysis that you've done to see whether this Bill addresses those points and makes sure that everybody can access residential outdoor education, and also, like my previous question, if this Bill is not to proceed, what is Welsh Government doing, currently, working with schools and our local authorities, to make sure that outdoor residential education is available for absolutely everybody who wants to access it?

Well, I think you make a very important point, and I'm mindful of two things. One is the committee's recent inquiry, which told us some very valuable things about the accessibility of education. And the other point, which I think was made on Monday in the other committee, is that this Bill doesn't seek to provide the same level of access across the piece, and the explanatory memorandum is candid about that. It doesn't include pupils in pupil referral units or being educated other than at school, for example. So, there are some challenges in the design of it, for reasons I do understand, incidentally, but I think that's important context. So, what are we doing? Schools already have obligations under the public sector equality duty, and you will, I think, know from your inquiry, that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is developing online learning for practitioners about how they can meet those duties.FootnoteLink We also provide, as a Government, advice to governors about how they can meet their duties.

Alongside that, we invest in the whole-school approach to mental health and well-being. The curriculum itself is designed to be responsive to the range of needs in the class. From a financial perspective, and the accessibility of residential outdoor education in that sense, the school essentials grant, which, as you know, is available now in each school year, rather than, in effect, every other school year, does enable funding through that fund to pay for waterproof clothing for outdoor activities, for example. So, there's a contribution that that can make. We have a funded programme with Children in Wales, tackling the impact of poverty on education, which provides bespoke guidance, toolkits and resources to schools around how they can minimise the effects of the cost of the school day on the choices that they make as part of the curriculum, but also the experience of young people, and there's a specific training pack there aimed at governors, which supports them in making those decisions, and that's about understanding those financial barriers and tailoring provision in a way that reflects and addresses that. So, I think there are a range of ways in which we are trying to support schools.

I think you made a broader point at the end of your question about, if this were not to go ahead, what could we do. In addition to the points I've just made, one of the offers I've made to the Member in charge—and I'm very keen on this, actually—is that we work together on how we can expand the resources, the guidance, available to all schools, through Hwb, about how outdoor learning can be a larger part of the curriculum. You talked about uncertainties in your earlier question. I think one of the obstacles is uncertainty from a risk point of view, that heads and teachers may not feel entirely confident in delivering some of this, and I think we can provide more support, more guidance, in relation to that. The challenge has always been that it isn't possible for us both on the one hand to manage the Government's response to the Bill and at the same time develop those resources, but my argument to the Member was we could achieve the same objectives by focusing on the latter, really, and that is still an offer that is available at the point when we've understood the journey this Bill is on.

Diolch, James. We've now got some questions from John Griffiths, and nice to see you here, John, for this section.

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Minister, as you mentioned, in terms of the requirements on local authorities and schools, pupils in pupil referral units and those educated other than at school are not included. Is there anything more you'd like to say in terms of what Welsh Government is doing, might do, to make sure that the offer is available to those particular pupils, and might you offer a view in terms of the Bill and what it might do to make that offer available to those pupils?

12:05

Yes, certainly. Well, the Bill doesn't do this, because it amends a part of the 2021 Act that isn't itself applicable to PRUs and young people educated other than at school. And it's intentional in doing that, and I understand the reason why it's doing that, which is that, because the staff-to-learner ratios are typically lower in those settings, it is, practically speaking, more of a challenge to deliver this residential outdoor education. But, in my experience, outdoor learning can be a very effective part of the curriculum for learners in pupil referral units and educated other than at school, and, indeed, for home-educated young people. In the latter category, we are—. As you know, in addition to what we provide for PRUs and EOTAS, we provide a specific fund to support home-educated children, with guidance around what we call a suitable and efficient education, and some of that is around physical activity and play, which would be a way in which some of that funding could be used to support those learners in this way.