Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams Yn dirprwyo ar ran Julie Morgan
Substitute for Julie Morgan
Carolyn Thomas
Jane Dodds
Jenny Rathbone Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sioned Williams

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alex Slade Cyfarwyddwr Gofal Sylfaenol, Iechyd Meddwl a’r Blynyddoedd Cynnar, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Primary Care, Mental Health and Early Years, Welsh Government
Clare Severn Pennaeth Polisi Addysg a Gofal yn y Blynyddoedd Cynnar, Gofal Plant a Chwarae, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Early Childhood Education and Care, Childcare and Play Policy, Welsh Government
Jayne Bryant Y Gweinidog Iechyd Meddwl a’r Blynyddoedd Cynnar
Minister for Mental Health and Early Years

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Roche Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Gareth David Thomas Ymchwilydd
Gemma Gifford Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Rhys Morgan Clerc
Sam Mason Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

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 13:30.

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

The meeting began at 13:30.

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

Good afternoon. Welcome to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. We're now about to conduct our final session on the follow-up inquiry into childcare. I've had apologies from Joel James and from Julie Morgan, and I'd like to welcome Buffy Williams, who is substituting for Julie Morgan. For those who need translation from Welsh, there is simultaneous translation into English. You can also watch it on Senedd.tv, if you can't join us for the whole session.

2. Ymchwiliad dilynol i ofal plant: Sesiwn dystiolaeth ar waith Gweinidogion
2. Childcare follow up inquiry: Ministerial evidence session

I'd very much like to welcome the new Minister for Mental Health and Early Years, Jayne Bryant. I wonder if you could just introduce your officials.

Thank you very much. Diolch, Cadeirydd. Perhaps my officials could introduce themselves.

Diolch, Minister. I'm Alex Slade, director of primary care, mental health and early years.

I'm Clare Severn, head of childcare and play policy and legislation.

Thank you very much. I'm going to start off with looking at the early childhood play, learning and care plan, which was published in March. The committee's heard evidence that there's a need to really clarify the vision and purpose of the Welsh Government's childcare policy, and I wonder if you can tell me in particular how you're going to be working with the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

Thank you very much. First of all, I'd just like to say that I'm very pleased to be here. I know the interest the committee has taken in this particular area over a number of years now, and the work that you're doing in that. I'm really pleased to be leading our approach to early childhood play, learning and care. I'd also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the former Deputy Minister and the work that she's done in this area, and her commitment. I really look forward to taking that work forward. 

The purpose of the early childhood play, learning and care plan is, really, to bring everything together in a clear way, and that's bringing it together for the first time. It's all of the work that's being taken forward by the Welsh Government and our partners. The plan sets out a really clear vision, I believe. It's about Wales being a wonderful place to live, grow up in and to work in. It's also important that we recognise that children have that fundamental legal right to grow up in a happy, healthy and safe environment, and that how we as a society provide for babies and children can impact on their health and well-being for the rest of their lives. I'm really pleased that the plan was published jointly with the previous Minister for Education and the Welsh Language. I know that officials already work closely together. And I can assure the committee that I will also be working very closely with the Cabinet Secretary for Education on this, because there are a number of aspects in her portfolio that can help deliver on early years education.

You'll be aware, I imagine, that our child poverty report recommended that there should be one Minister for children, because of the fragmentation of responsibility. For their part, we know that parents and people who are providing childcare find the system very complicated and fragmented. So, I wondered what your view is of the concerns about fragmentation, and what consideration you may have given to simplifying the system so it's more easy to understand.

Absolutely. I had heard the committee's recommendation previously. Obviously, that's not something for me, but what I can do is to assure the committee that I feel very strongly about delivering and being responsible for the early years, and I will be doing all I can within the Cabinet to promote that. I'll also be working across Government, because I do think that it is important. I've mentioned the Cabinet Secretary for Education, but there are also aspects that cut across portfolios, such as in terms of perhaps workforce, which might be childcare providers in terms of the Cabinet Secretary for economy and also the Cabinet Secretary for social justice. So, I think it is important to be able to work across Government, but I will be focusing on early years and pushing that as far as I possibly can, because we know that the evidence shows how important those early years are.


Absolutely, and a lot of the evidence we've had from international organisations has reaffirmed that. The Bevan Foundation would like to see a single application form for all the different childcare streams, so that it becomes obvious to people what they're eligible for, depending on where they live and what age their child is. What consideration has the Government given to that?

I actually read the Bevan Foundation paper that was presented to the committee, and I’ve asked my officials to look at how we might be clearer for parents and carers, ensuring that they can access the provision they’re entitled to in the most straightforward way possible. Because it really is important to be as clear and concise for parents. They have a lot of information. I know there’s a lot of information available, but it’s important that it’s presented in a really good way, and it’s important that we do what we can to help them navigate through those first few years of a child’s life with the work that we’re doing. I understand that it can be difficult for parents at the moment to navigate that, and we really do need to consider how we can minimise that burden for parents and carers.

The childcare offer for Wales national digital service has shown the benefits that a single streamlined online platform can bring. We are aware of that. However, developing that digital solution is a complex process. It is important, if we are going down that road, to get it right. It would take significant time and investment, so we have to make sure that whatever we do in that space is right, and obviously balances the use of public funds.

But I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that, if there are parents who require further support who cannot access online digital platform guidance, they can contact their appropriate local authority as well.

Okay, thank you for that. That rather comes to my next question, which is around—. Oh, sorry, Sioned. I beg your pardon.

Jest i ddilyn lan yn gyflym ar hwnna, o ran y defnydd o gael un platfform, yn enwedig pan rŷn ni'n meddwl am y teuluoedd mwyaf difreintiedig, pa sgyrsiau ydych chi'n eu cael gyda'r Gweinidog dros gyfiawnder cymdeithasol o ran sut byddai hwn yn gallu cydblethu gyda'r gwaith ar y siartr budd-daliadau, er enghraifft, sydd yn rhywbeth sy'n mynd i fod yn cael ei rolio mas fel un porth ar gyfer pawb sy'n byw yn y gwahanol awdurdodau lleol, mewn dull unffurf?

Just to follow up quickly on that, in terms of the use of having one single platform, particularly when we think about the most disadvantaged families, what conversations are you having with the Minister for social justice in terms of how this could come together with the work on the benefits charter, for example, which is something that's going to be rolled out as one gateway for everybody who lives in the different local authorities, in a uniform way?

Diolch, Sioned. Obviously, it’s early days still for me yet. I’m still sort of coming to grips with the whole portfolio, but obviously that would be one of the discussions that I would have with the Cabinet Secretary. As I said, there are lots of cross-cutting issues that I will need to speak to other Cabinet colleagues on, and that will be one of those.

I think related to this, to make it more accessible for people who don't necessarily have a smartphone, we heard evidence that more and more schools are seeing the benefits of a community-focused schools approach, where all services are co-located on the one site. A primary school is often the hub of a small town or village, and I just wondered whether this is something that the Government's planning to continue with, particularly whether the capital grant for community-focused schools is going to continue beyond this year. 

Absolutely. So, our ambition is for all schools to be community focused. My officials and education officials have really strong working relationships, as I'm sure you can imagine, and they work hand in glove when considering the benefits of childcare capital proposals on school sites. So, £70 million of capital funding has been allocated to the childcare and early years capital programme 2022-25. Co-location is one of the key assessment criteria, and I'm pleased to say, to date, that, of the 35 projects approved, 28 of those are co-located on school sites. This focus on co-location, though, is not limited to schools; we recognise that community and health hubs also offer opportunities for integration and to join up services more, which we know is so vital in those early years. Our childcare and early years capital proposals are considered by the education investment panel, with Welsh Government education colleagues, alongside new school developments, and we work together to assess and analyse the projects, to make the most impact before the final decision is made.

So, our drive to provide community-focused school settings, co-located with early years settings, will continue, as part of our umbrella flagship programme, the sustainable communities for learning capital grant programme. But where possible and where budgets allow, we'll also explore focused capital funding opportunities to help schools become community hubs for their local areas. And I'd just like to say to the committee, rest assured that I will, and I intend very strongly to argue for the need for continued investment in childcare capital, to support a thriving sector, so that facilities are fit for purpose, because we know that it's really important that the infrastructure is right for those people in early years.


Yes, may I? Thank you so much, and welcome to the committee. On Friday, I did visit one of those models, which was in Brecon, obviously in my region, and I have to say that, talking to the person who ran the integrated early years and Flying Start—who'd been a teacher, actually, at the school next door—she said it's really, really, really complicated how children can move from one setting to another, accessing the funding, but, obviously, Flying Start is geographically kind of—you know, you have to be eligible. I'm just really after a very short answer, if it's possible. I was stunned at how complicated it was, and I just wondered if that's the place you're coming from, that, really, it is complicated and it doesn't have to be. So, how do we move it all forward?

Yes, absolutely. I think it's fair to say it's a complex picture, generally, and again, it's very early days for me, so understanding some of those issues and perhaps also listening—. It's important to me to go out, as you will know, go out and about, and to listen to people, so I'm sure those things will come through, and I'll look to see how I can help in that area. But thank you for raising that, and I'll certainly be going out and listening to people.

So, two weeks ago, we heard from Naomi Eisenstadt, who, as I'm sure you know, drove the UK Labour Government's Sure Start programme, and is arguing strongly that we need a children's campus in every neighbourhood, which combines the early childhood and education and care provision with wider family support. I wondered if you could indicate, subject to financial considerations, whether that ambition is part of your proposals, going forward.

Thank you, and I think Naomi makes some really important points, and I'd be really keen to hear more from her on this. For me, integration, co-location are focal points. If we can join up services in the best way, that is really important to support the child and the family. I don't think it matters where the venue or the location is, really; it's about the joined-up services. Because we need to support children and their families to access the services they need, at the earliest point possible.

Just to say, it was a real pleasure for me to have my first visit to the Barry family centre in the Vale of Glamorgan—that was the first official visit I made—and it was incredible to see the work that goes on there and to hear and engage with children, parents and carers, and the workforce in that area, to hear about the important role that the Flying Start programme plays. And I think hearing, again, the work that goes on, having health visitors being in there, community midwives, it's really, really good. So, it was a great opportunity to see it, and it was lovely to see how happy and well the children were in that facility, but also to hear from those parents who realised some of the services they were able to access and just how much benefit that gave them. So, it was really good for me, coming into this, to learn from them.

I think a point that I'd like to finally make is just around that it's important around accessing support at the right time, at the right place, and in the right way, and that's something that I'm keen to do as much as possible.


Would it be your ambition to see—? As you expand the existing Flying Start provision to make it more available to other two-year-olds outside its geographical area, how are you going to ensure that that wraparound support doesn't get lost in the bid to increase the childcare?

Absolutely. It's really important, the work that Flying Start does, and we know how well Flying Start works. I think it is important to remember the reasons why we have Flying Start and the work that it does. It is an intervention, it is a geographical intervention, and it is trying to support those people who are most in need. So, it is something that will be at the forefront of my mind when we are expanding that programme.

Okay, thank you. I'd now like to bring in Buffy Williams.

Thank you, Chair. I'd also like to welcome the Minister to her new role and to the committee today. I had some questions around funding. Childcare providers told us that the current hourly rate of childcare offer funding is unsustainable and that not prioritising increasing this ahead of the review scheduled for 2024-25 risks the viability of large numbers of providers across the sector. How do you intend to address this issue, and what are your intended timescales for the review?

Thank you, Buffy, for that question. As you know, I've not been in post long, but I'm sure you can imagine that lots of people have already told me about this. What I would say is that I am aware, from my officials as well, that the sector, we know, is fragile, but it is feisty, and they're very keen to tell us about the issues, quite rightly. We know that COVID hit very hard, and we know that we're still in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, which is really focusing people's minds.

I've had raised with me a number of times concerns around rates of public funding for services. Childcare is no different. The increase in the national minimum wage, while I do welcome that for hard-working parents and staff, it's put an additional pressure on businesses. I'm committed to do what I can to support childcare and play settings to survive, and not just survive, but flourish. I think that's what we want to see. This doesn't just mean giving consideration to reviewing the rate paid to providers for the childcare offer, but it means looking more broadly at business rate exemptions, supporting training and development for the sector, and looking at conditions to support those businesses to succeed.

So, as you'll be aware, the rate paid for the childcare offer increased in April 2022 to £5, which reflected an increase of 11 per cent. The amount that providers can charge for food has also increased. But I do recognise that, for some providers, this really does mean that they're operating very close to the financial wire.

My officials are already working on the review of the childcare offer rate, and we're working closely with Cwlwm members to build an accurate picture, to allow a decision to be made about the rate paid to providers. And I would encourage all providers to take part in our evidence gathering. We had a survey launched on 1 May, and it's inviting all registered childcare offer providers to take part in what will be an important review for the sector and will be, obviously, very crucial in informing future budget-setting discussions.

Just to be aware on that, any changes that would be made would come into effect in April 2025. I do recognise that seems a long way off, but I do need to ensure that the decisions are based on that robust evidence. These are really difficult financial times, and I want to ensure that, for the budget that I have available, I'm able to spend that in the most effective and impactful way possible, supporting as many children to learn and thrive as possible. I'm also hoping to meet with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language to further discuss how we can support those current businesses in the childcare sector as well as to encourage more. So, I'm looking to do that at an early opportunity. 


Thank you. Thank you for that answer. A recent survey by Early Years Wales found that almost all providers would like the hourly rate of childcare offer funding to be annually reviewed or to be annually increased in line with inflation. I know you've just touched on that briefly, but what consideration have you given to these proposals, and will they be looked at as part of the forthcoming review?

Thanks, Buffy. We know that the funding rate of the childcare offer is vitally important, but we also know that inflationary increases are not the only factor. Gathering evidence that thoroughly considers all the complex factors that impact the rate takes time. We really need to get this right, and that means listening, and we do owe it to our stakeholders to get it right. The three-year review schedule does allow us to align considerations for the Welsh Government and HM Treasury budget-setting processes. This ensures that the financial commitments we make to our stakeholders can be met with action, rather than just promises. But, if there is evidence to say that a more regular review is appropriate, I really am very open to that. 

I think there's very clear evidence coming from that Early Years Wales survey, because while 72 per cent of providers thought they would survive for one year, that means 28 per cent of providers were saying that they weren't going to survive in this financial year with the current funding model. So, you haven't got very long. And the falling-off-a-cliff scenario is that 80 per cent didn't think they would survive for two years, and only 9 per cent thought that they could survive the next five years. So, this review had better be rapid. I heard what you said, though, that any increase in funding would only come in the next financial year. So, where does that leave these people?

Yes, I think that's really important evidence you have, and I'd be keen to look further at that. As I said, this isn't a quick decision, unfortunately; it's a case of listening to people and also making sure we get this right. I don't know if Clare wants to say a little bit more on the process.

Yes. Just in terms of the rate review, obviously we opened up our survey on 1 May. What we're really interested in finding out from that is the different financial models that different settings have. Obviously, they don't all have the same operating model or the same way that they charge or fund their children. Younger children are more expensive just on the basis of ratios alone, and therefore increasing funding for, perhaps, the three to four-year-olds doesn't necessarily solve the fact that children who are nought to two years are more expensive to provide funding for where there is no Government intervention. So, it's understanding how the different parts of the business model interact to then ensure that we're providing them with funding that isn't just a blanket reimbursement for the child, but reimbursement for the business as a whole. And that's why it's really important to understand the whole of the mechanism and not just, 'Three-year-olds cost me x amount to care for', because that's not accurate in terms of understanding how the business operates. And that's where it's really important to understand where the give and take is in the system. And, obviously, a childminder might have a different cost and operating model to, perhaps, a full day-care setting, and it's those nuances and understanding the completeness of the marketplace that I think is really important.

So, you've had the opportunity, have you, to review the detail of the Early Years Wales survey, which was published in March. 

We've looked at that. Obviously, we recognise that, for childcare settings, these are really, really tough times. The national minimum wage has really impacted on childcare settings. The increase in the actual wage as well as the change to the age at which people are entitled to the national minimum wage has really fallen hard on the childcare sector, because we’ve got quite a young workforce; it’s predominantly under 45, so I know that it’s the—


—younger age where there’s been a big impact, but it’s been somewhat disproportionate for childcare providers, and that’s something really difficult to work through. I think it is important to recognise that the world doesn’t stand still. Obviously, if you took today’s childcare rate and looked at five years in the future, I’d also be dubious that I’d be in business if I was a childcare provider, and that’s why I think it’s so important to continue to keep our finger on the pulse. I think it’s helpful that we do have quite a feisty sector that are telling us of their issues and problems, because we have got a really strong relationship with them. We’re in a good dialogue with them, and they’re very open with us about what their issues and problems are, and that does allow us to really understand the marketplace and then respond appropriately. I know that we’ve seen increases in a whole bunch of costs, but, as in any sort of marketplace right across Wales, you’ll probably have quite a bit of insecurity, regardless of the sector, because of the economy itself, not just because of funding rates, and I think it’s important that we don’t just look at the childcare sector, but the parallels we can draw from other provision of care, whether that’s social care or the building trade.

Thank you, Chair. On to my last question: UNICEF recommends that 1 per cent of gross domestic product is spent on early childhood education and care, but the latest UK figures show that spending on ECEC is around 0.7 per cent of GDP. Are you aware of any estimates of the percentage of Welsh GDP that is spent on ECEC, and would you consider making it a future ambition of the Welsh Government to spend 1 per cent of GDP on ECEC?

Thank you. Well, my officials have spoken to me about this issue. The simple answer is, 'No, we don’t have data on spend compared to GDP', in part because, as ever with statistics, it’s not that easy. My understanding is that the UNICEF recommended spend of 1 per cent is based on a package of services, including prenatal healthcare, immunisations, micronutrients, parental outreach, birth registration, just amongst others. As you can imagine, we don’t collect all of that data in the same way and, therefore, it’s really difficult to make a direct comparison.

I’m not convinced that this package of services is closely aligned with Government expenditure on childcare services to really give us an accurate picture. However, I will reiterate the point that I’ve made, which is we know how important the early years are not just in terms of childcare, but in terms of health visitors, speech and language, communication, perinatal health, to name just a few. So, investment here in the earliest years of a child’s life reaps the rewards in the longer term, and the new First Minister has already highlighted his commitment to the first 1,000 days, and I really support him in that vision. I know it’s not just the childcare aspect that we need to deliver on, but it really is the services in the early years. I don’t know if Alex wants to say anything about the GDP issue.

Yes, thank you, Minister. It is a difficult comparison. I think the important point is that a macro assessment doesn’t necessarily give us the outcomes. We do need to look at it on an individualised basis and, of course, in light of the challenging financial context in which we find ourselves in, and we’ve already taken very difficult decisions around redesigning the budget over the last 12 months. And I think the appraisal is that the funding settlement isn’t sufficient to meet all of the demand and allow us to do everything we need to do, and, therefore, investment in services is based on a very strong evidence base, hence some of the comments in the previous question about making sure we’ve got that evidence in front of us but looking at it in terms of the individual, the child’s perspective in this, rather than the macro assessments, which, as the Minister said, we find a difficult comparison to make.


I was going to call Carolyn Thomas, because I know she had some questions.

Thank you, Chair. I just want to go back to the integrated approach to early education and care. I know that, in some authorities, it's delivered through the social healthcare sector, and in some it's delivered through education, so I just want to ask: are you working also with local authorities through the WLGA, maybe, to make sure that there is cross-departmental working and provision of childcare as well?

Absolutely, Carolyn. Yes, definitely working across Government, and including local authorities, because, as you say, they're a really key partner in all of this.

Thank you. My questions are on workforce issues. We've touched on them already—issues with recruitment and retention in the childcare sector. Professor Chris Pascal of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood suggested the Welsh Government could require childcare providers to meet standards and benchmarks relating to the workforce as a condition of funding, around pay or measures around wider working conditions. So, I was wondering what consideration the Welsh Government has given to doing this. It's very often young parents who are thinking about going into childcare, because they have young children of their own and it's something that they could do around their children, as well. So, have you thought about this, about how childcare providers could meet standards and benchmarks relating to workforce as a condition of funding, even though we know recruitment is difficult and funding is hard? Is that something you've considered?

Absolutely, the recruitment and funding, as you say, are complex in this, but I have also asked for a conversation with my officials on this point. I understand that, in Scotland, there are certain requirements in relation to pay and staff development. Although, as the funding is provided to local authorities who commission the settings to provide Government-funded childcare, I understand there's no nationally set rate for childcare, and it varies by region. There is, however, a commitment within this arrangement that funding is provided to settings that pay the real living wage to their staff, and it is that aspect that I'm really interested in. I'm keen to understand that in more detail. My office has already been in touch with Cwlwm to organise a mutually convenient meeting for us with all the partners collectively to listen to their perspectives on early childhood play, learning and care, including the challenges related to the workforce. This is something I'm really keen to get under the skin of.

Could your officials just tell us what qualifications you need to have if you wish to set up childcare?

It depends. Different parts of the sector require different qualifications. So, a childminder requires a couple of units from a particular qualification. In a Flying Start setting, it's a level 3 requirement to work in the setting and a level 5 to manage the setting. In other places, it's a level 2 qualification to be a worker and a level 3 qualification to be a manager, and there are differences between the size of the setting. So, it's complex.

—because what do level 3 and level 5 mean? You don't need to tell us now, but we'd be very pleased to actually be able to understand exactly how qualified people are, because it's all about the status. Back to you, Carolyn.

We were really interested to learn about qualifications, because you want providers to be well qualified to look after children, but we're also interested, I think, in transferable qualifications, as well—we were discussing earlier that an early years teacher was not able to work in the childcare sector, and for them to be able to get those qualifications. How easy is it for them to do that, as well? Can they do it while they're working or do it online? So, I think that's something we should be looking at as well.

The committee heard evidence also around other ways to improve the attractiveness of the childcare sector, such as training and development, measures to support mental health and raising the status of the sector. So, I'm just wondering how you plan to consider these issues as part of the refresh of the childcare, play and early years workforce plan.


Thank you. Thanks, Carolyn. Absolutely. I'm keen, myself, to understand all the different educational qualifications and to see for myself, and that's one of the things I'll be doing when I go and visit a school in west Wales in the coming, I think, month—next month, anyway. So, I'm keen to learn that.

I hope to be shortly launching the review and refresh of the 10-year workforce plan. It really does set out what we intend to do and also how we intend to support those working in the sector. As I've said earlier, our workforce, really, is our greatest asset; it is really important. They are a really dedicated workforce, and I don't want that to be just a cliche; I want to ensure that, as a society, we all recognise and place value on childcare and playworkers. I think that was something that came out of COVID, when we recognised the importance of them during that. I think it's important that we don't forget that, because they play such an important role, and I'm looking forward to doing everything I can with stakeholders to ensure that I show how much they are valued, because I think it's really important.

Currently, Welsh Government supports childcare workers to gain childcare and playwork qualifications, as well as to access both mandatory and best practice training via local authorities. As you'll know, we are exploring registration of the childcare workforce, which may help the sector to be recognised as a profession. Over recent years, Social Care Wales have been delivering professional development and support sessions, with a focus on well-being as well. I don't know if Clare wants to say a bit more about that.

Yes. If I can just say a bit more in terms of the registration of the workforce, we've gone out to consultation on that. We're currently analysing all the responses and will be providing advice in due course. It's something that Scotland have also done; they've registered their workforce. I think it's a really valuable thing to recognise them as a formal profession, but we've got to tread carefully in the sense that professional registration is often combined with a fee; you are required to pay a fee in order to become a registered professional. And we need to think about what the unintended consequences are if we pursue a route of charging fees to register for a sector that is quite fragile at the moment. But, along with that professional status, we'd also want to put emphasis around continuing professional development and training for the workforce as part of a package of support and being able to access other information that could help individuals and settings to better support their workforce.

I'm a member of the women cross-party group and we heard a presentation on building the economy through care—women are very often carers. By investing in care, you're investing in women and you're investing in people, basically. And I just thought that was a wonderful thing to do.

The Wales Trades Union Congress has called for the creation of a childcare forum to develop fair work solutions to low pay within the sector. The undervaluing of the predominantly female workforce and wider issues relating to working conditions are something that we need to address. How would you respond to this suggestion of working through fair work solutions with the childcare forum?  

Thank you, Carolyn. Yes, absolutely. We know that childcare enables parents, especially mothers, to work; supporting a thriving economy allows us to better tackle poverty and reduce inequalities. We've worked with the sector to support that employment and we've worked to support both access to childcare, as well as to ensure the sustainability of the sector, which is key to supporting women into work. The creation of a childcare and playwork fair work forum is being considered as part of the review and refresh of that 10-year workforce plan. We already work closely with the stakeholders on this, and trade unions, but we're keen to explore the potential benefits of a forum established specifically to focus on workforce issues. I'm interested in that, and my officials will be undertaking further work to understand the potential parameters of such a forum, learning from others, similar forums within Welsh Government, such as the social care fair work forum. I think sometimes we need to get easier titles for some of these things. We'll also continue to fund Social Care Wales to run their We Care Wales promotional campaigns, which also promotes the childcare sector.


Very good. Carolyn, I think Jane Dodds wanted to come in—or was it Sioned?

If I may, Chair, just to come back to this issue, Clare, if I may, around registration, I wonder if I could challenge you on that, because I don't think you need to charge much. I think maybe putting the barriers up to registration is not really helpful, so I wonder if I could just ask you to take away that issue of registration. That's all I'm asking. As a social worker, I had to register. It's a very small amount: £140 every year. It was nothing compared to the comfort that people had that, for example, social workers were registered. You don't have to respond, but I just really wanted to put that on record. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd.

Jest un peth i ddilyn lan hefyd ar y gofrestr: pryd allwn ni ddisgwyl felly am benderfyniad ar hwnna? A hefyd roeddech chi wedi sôn am yr Alban—wrth gwrs, mae e wedi digwydd yno'n barod—a'ch bod chi wedi edrych ar eu profiad nhw. Felly, o ran yr hyn wnaethoch chi sôn amdano o ran beth allai fod yn anfanteision y gofrestr o ran y gweithlu, beth yw'r gwersi rydych chi wedi'u dysgu fanna o'r Alban, a beth yw effaith cofrestru ar y gweithlu fanna?

Just one issue to follow up there in terms of the register: when can we expect a decision on that? And also you talked about Scotland—that it's already happened there—and you've looked at their experiences. So, in terms of what you mentioned in terms of what could be a disadvantage of the register in terms of the workforce, what are the lessons that you've learnt there from Scotland, and the impact of the register on their workforce?

So, some of those initial conversations with Scotland—. Scotland are actually part of our working group, to directly feed in their experiences, and that was—back to your point, Jane—actually some of the feedback that they gave to us. The fee doesn't need to be large, but actually people valued the fee in that it's the whole thing of, if you get something for free, then you don't necessarily value it, but even if you have to pay a nominal amount then it becomes something that you intrinsically value.

There are various points that Scotland made around the different subsections of the sector—so, child minders and playworkers—and how they have different circumstances. So, obviously, in Wales, child minders are directly registered with CIW already, and, therefore, would this be double registration? For the play sector, inherently you don't get a lot of play provision, in terms of a worker might not be working a huge amount of hours, they might only be working during the holidays, and therefore should they be included, because it would be a disproportionately high amount, even if it were a nominal amount in terms of salary? But what they did see was a real value to the workforce of feeling part of something. There was not literally a badge, obviously, but they had ownership of the profession, and that was seen as a really positive thing. It's also allowed a greater understanding of the sector, because we have got—they have got, sorry—that workforce information that's not necessarily available to us, because it's not information we hold, and, therefore, they found that they've been able to better nuance some of their interventions in terms of workforce support. So, there are some real benefits to be had.

In terms of when it would happen, this was an initial consultation on the concept of registration. We'd have to have a further consultation on some of the granular detail, if the consultation responses say that we should go to the Minister proposing that we take this work forward. So, it will still be a good while in the offing, and there's also the potential—well, not the potential—legislation requirements around establishing such a system, which, obviously, adds lead-in time. So, that's a very woolly timescale.

So, rŷn ni'n sôn am gwpl o flynyddoedd fanna—rŷn ni'n sôn am o leiaf dwy, tair, os nad mwy o flynyddoedd.

So, we're talking about a few years—two or three years there.

At least two to three years, yes.

Thank you, Minister. Whilst we'll get advice to the Minister on the specific point around registration, it is part of a wider package of measures and changes, so the earlier question around Chris Pascal's evidence of standards and expectations in the system, how that links with the registration and what that pathway looks like—. So, yes, as an individual issue we need to weigh up the pros and cons of doing so, but we do need to have it in a wider landscape of the direction of travel in relation to the sector. 


Before I go back to Carolyn Thomas, can I just ask the Minister about the use of improvement meetings that you've been piloting with Care Inspectorate Wales meeting people? I just wondered what you can tell us about the positive evaluation. Where did it happen, and can we see the evaluation?

That's CIW's lead, so whilst I've actually been sitting on the working group for that piece of work, it wouldn't necessarily fall under the Minister's portfolio, because it's an inspectorate issue. So, they have been piloting improvement meetings with childcare settings. So, in effect, the principle is that between inspections there's still contact with CIW to very much focus on best practice and improving the setting. It's very much around ensuring that there's a continued dialogue. Obviously there can potentially be quite a long time between inspections. If a setting is considered to be good or excellent, then CIW might not come back for a number of years, but the improvement meetings recognise that, actually, it's good to touch base in the interim, and it's a programme that they're planning on rolling out to supplement, in effect, inspections, and, as I say, very much focused on improvement and best practice. It's hoping to do what it says on the tin in terms of improvement meetings, and it's very much about focusing on and celebrating where there is really good practice, and promoting settings to, I suppose, network amongst themselves where there is really good practice, so they can learn from each other. It's not about CIW saying, 'You must do it this way'. It is the different settings saying, 'Actually, this has worked really well for us, and you should consider that in your specific setting.' 

Okay. In England, early years advisers were available in local authorities. Where does that sit in relation to regional consortiums, which are obviously more focused on schools?

Depending on the type of childcare—. So, Flying Start provision does require an early education adviser to be part of the delivery model, and they sit within the local authority, and where a childcare setting is providing foundation learning they also would access an early years educator to support them in developing their curriculum. Other childcare settings can still get that access, I suppose, but they’re not necessarily required to, and obviously there’s a lot of information in the public domain that any childcare setting can access in order to support them in their programme of work with the children throughout the year.

We are also looking at the pathway from nought through to early years education. So, the ECPLC development pathways that have been launched, which sit alongside the qualifications framework [correction: the quality framework], are meant to be tools that any childcare provider can use in order to develop their curriculum in their particular setting for each of the individual development points. They’ve been co-produced with the sector and with early years educators to ensure that they are really viable, live and, I suppose, the most appropriate documents. They’re not ‘once done, that’s it’, never to be revised again. It’s a constant dialogue that we’re having with the sector around how those develop and are progressed.

Okay. We may want to write to you about this for further information. Carolyn Thomas. 

Thank you. It's just going back to improving quality of provision. We heard evidence from Nordic countries, including Estonia, where they have really highly qualified staff, up to degree standard, and I think that goes back a long way in Estonia especially. So, we heard evidence about the approach taken by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and they said that practitioners can study for a fast-track full-time early years degree delivered in the evenings, so I just want to ask how would you work with the Cabinet Secretary for Education to support flexible delivery of childcare qualifications? You know, so perhaps they can work on the job and get those qualifications as well, and work around families et cetera.


Thank you, Carolyn. Yes, raising standards and skills does remain a key ambition for the development of high-quality childcare and play workforce. FootnoteLinkThe evidence, we know, is very clear, that provision benefits our children and strongly influences their future and life chances with quality and is really important. We are already working to support flexibility in the delivery of childcare qualifications. We've introduced flexibility into the national minimum standards, enabling a proportion of the workforce in settings to be working towards qualifications. The introduction of working towards qualifications supports settings to be flexible in their staffing arrangements, but retains that emphasis and commitment to a qualified workforce. Following a successful pilot, under the European social fund funded Progress for Success programme, a childcare apprenticeship was set up for those working part-time, and it's now available under the apprenticeship framework. This enables those working between 10 and 16 hours a week to gain a qualification.

We're also working with Social Care Wales to explore flexibility in childcare qualifications in recognition of prior learning for those with the relevant skills and experience. And we're currently exploring whether those other relevant qualifications, such as in education or social care, can meet the requirements of working in childcare, through the development of top-up awards. While this work is still in the scoping stage, it's one obviously I'm keen to progress and  is something the committee's mentioned earlier. As I've mentioned, childcare qualifications are robust. They contain a significant number of practice hours, to ensure individuals have the skills and knowledge to work in a setting. We would not want to reduce the quality of qualifications and so we have to balance that with the fact that we'd be exploring those flexibilities. But we will continue to work closely with education colleagues and Social Care Wales to develop flexibility where we can, without undermining those qualifications and the quality of those qualifications.

Just before we move on, I don't want to lose sight of Estonia, where the vast majority of childcare providers have a degree-level qualification, and it's no coincidence that they're also very high on the Programme for International Student Assessment outcomes amongst Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, so I'm sure there must be a link there somewhere.

I've read a bit about Estonia, and I understand some of the points that you're making on this. And we do know that it's important the workforce is well equipped with the knowledge, skills and behaviours and the values for high-quality childcare and play work. Because, again, as I've said, we know how profound the benefits are, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, for children who have disabilities and those who have additional learning needs as well. So, we do recognise the need to ensure childcare qualifications, at all levels, are quality.

Social Care Wales have worked with higher education institutes across Wales to embed practical competency into degree qualifications, following concerns that early years and childcare degrees in Wales did not contain necessary work-based competency to enable practitioners to be employed on leaving university. A key aspiration of that workforce plan that I've mentioned is to support practitioners to raise their skills levels by ensuring we have the appropriate progression routes to achieve the right qualifications, and then have access to structured training routes and career paths. Because, you know, it's important that we get more qualified people into this area, but also to ensure that people have the opportunity to have that ongoing learning and development when they are in those jobs, so that they can reach their full potential as well.


Diolch, Gadeirydd. Rŷn ni wedi cael tystiolaeth gan rai o'r grwpiau ffocws mae'r pwyllgor wedi bod yn ymgysylltu â nhw fod, er enghraifft, y ffordd mae cymwysterau yn cael effaith ar bobl sy'n gofalu ar ôl plant, child minders, a sut mae Dechrau'n Deg yn 'mesh-io' gyda hwnna, yn gallu creu yr hyn wnaeth Jane Dodds sôn am gynnau—bod e ddim yn hawdd mynd ag un cymhwyster buasech chi'n meddwl y byddai'n eich gwneud chi'n gymwys ac yn rhywun o ansawdd uchel i edrych ar ôl plant, er enghraifft fel athro blynyddoedd cynnar cymwysedig, ac wedyn ddim yn gymwys ar gyfer rhoi gofal Dechrau'n Deg.

Felly, jest eisiau gofyn, yn cydnabod beth rŷch chi'n dweud o ran y cymorth a'r gefnogaeth rŷch chi'n trio rhoi i bobl i gael y cymwysterau iawn, ond o ran sut mae Dechrau'n Deg a rowlio mas hynny yn gweithio—. A hefyd, wrth gwrs, mewn rai llefydd child minders yw'r unig opsiwn sydd gan bobl, oherwydd natur eu gwaith, oherwydd amserlen eu gwaith, neu oherwydd eu bod nhw mewn ardal wledig, neu fod gyda nhw anghenion diwylliannol arbennig, weithiau, neu bethau fel anableddau ac yn y blaen, sydd ddim yn eu gwneud nhw yn gallu cael mynediad at settings eraill. Felly, dwi jest eisiau deall beth yw'r gwaith rŷch chi'n ei wneud o ran hynny, er mwyn sicrhau bod y sector yna a'r math yna o ymarferwyr yn cael cefnogaeth i gael y cymwysterau sydd eu hangen, yn hytrach na'n bod ni'n eu gwthio nhw allan o'r sector.

Thank you, Chair. We've had evidence from some of the focus groups that the committee has been engaging with, for example, in terms of the way that qualifications have an impact on those who look after children, child minders and so forth, and how Flying Start meshes with that, and that this can create, as Jane Dodds mentioned—that it isn't easy to take one qualification that you would think would make you qualified to look after children, for example as an early years teacher, and that you wouldn't then be qualified to provide Flying Start care.

So, I just wanted to ask, and I acknowledge what you're saying in terms of the support that you're trying to give people to get the correct qualifications, but in terms of how Flying Start and rolling that out works—. And also, of course, in some places child minders is the only option that people have, because of the nature of their work, their timetable, or if they're in a rural area, or if they have cultural requirements, for example, or disabilities and so forth that make it difficult for them to access other settings. So, I just wanted to understand what work you're doing in that field, to ensure that that sector and those kinds of practitioners have the support to gain those qualifications required, rather than us pushing them out of the sector.

Yes, absolutely. That's the last thing we want to do, isn't it—push them out. We need to support them. I'm early into this portfolio, but perhaps Clare could—

Yes. So, in terms of child minding and Flying Start, there are some child minders who do deliver Flying Start. I know some people say that there are no child minders. That's not true, but there aren't very many, and it's something that we are particularly focused on. A child minder qualification is very different to a bog-standard childcare qualification, and we do recognise that. So, what we have done is we've introduced some flexibilities around the Flying Start programme. So, we've also introduced a 'working towards' element of that too. So, providers that are a child minder working towards a level 3 qualification can now be included within the Flying Start offer and they can put themselves forward to be part of that programme, but obviously that still requires them to do the training. They've been, perhaps, working in the sector for many years, and there's lots of experience that they can have. We're looking at that in combination with how we top up other qualifications. So, I know you've heard about teachers not being able to work in a childcare setting. I suppose I'd push back in terms of saying, well, we don't allow childcare workers to be teachers, even though they've got years of experience. We might allow them to be a teaching assistant, but we wouldn't necessarily let them work as a fully qualified teacher, and we have to ensure that there is that balance between the two. Childcare qualifications are very much focused around child development, rather than educational pedagogy. They are different things, but we totally recognise that someone shouldn't have to start from the beginning if they've got years of experience in that field, and that's what we've basically challenged Social Care Wales to consider, as owners of the qualifications framework, and how we ensure that we bring those aspirations closer together. Because that is what our ECPLC plan sets out: a seamless transition for children but also for those working within the sector, and how we ensure that there is better flow between those two different parts of the sector that right now do sit quite separately in terms of that qualification base.

Very briefly, have you considered early years degree apprenticeships as part of your suite of options?

It is one of the things that is, I suppose, on the list. I think that the thing that—. Oh sorry—.

No, no—it's fine. That's okay, because I haven't been in this bit, so you might have considered it previously to me.

One of the things that we're very proud of, of the qualifications in Wales, is the practical aspect of it, and the fact that actually we do need quite a lot of hours literally on the floor, on the ground, with children to get the childcare qualification. And right now we have focused on the bog-standard apprenticeships, because that's where our biggest need is in terms of childcare workers, but we recognise that, as the Flying Start programme pushes out and we've got an increased need for level 5, which is the degree-level qualification, then we need to consider actually how do we make that practical and doable within the context of potentially people doing that whilst working on the job to upgrade their level 3 to a level 5 qualification. 


Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi'n gwybod bod amser yn brin. Mae gen i gwestiwn ynglŷn â thlodi plant. Dŷn ni wedi bod yn siarad am dlodi plant a dŷn ni, yn anffodus, yn gweld y ffigurau yn mynd i fyny yng Nghymru. Hynny yw, mwy o blant yn dlawd, yn anffodus. Mae gennych chi hefyd yn y Llywodraeth y dylanwad i newid y sefyllfa ynglŷn â gofal plant, a dwi'n gobeithio eich bod chi yma heddiw fel y Gweinidog—a dŷn ni'n falch gweld Gweinidog sydd â chyfrifoldeb dros y blynyddoedd cyntaf. Felly, a oes gennych chi, yn eich pen, beth fydd y tri pheth dŷch chi eisiau meddwl amdanyn nhw, dŷch chi eisiau canolbwyntio arnyn nhw'n gyntaf, achos dŷn ni i gyd yn gwybod bod gofal plant yn bwysig i deuluoedd sy'n dlawd? Dŷch chi wedi clywed tystiolaeth, a dŷn ni wedi clywed digon o dystiolaeth yn y pwyllgor yma, felly fel y Gweinidog newydd, oes gennych chi tri pheth byddwch chi'n eu blaenoriaethu—jest o'ch pen, jest efallai beth dŷch chi'n meddwl?

Thank you, Chair. I know that time is scarce. I have a question about child poverty. We've been talking about child poverty, and unfortunately we're seeing the figures going up in Wales. That is, more children in poverty. And you and the Government have an influence in terms of changing the situation in terms of childcare, and I do hope that you are here today as the Minister—and we're very pleased to see a Minister with responsibility for early years. So, do you have an idea as to what are the three things that you want to think about or focus on initially, because we all know that childcare is vital for impoverished families? You've heard evidence, and we've heard plenty of evidence in this committee, so as the new Minister, do you have three things that you want to prioritise? Just off the top of your head, perhaps. 

What do you think? I know there is lots of evidence and there are lots of things that I know you're thinking about officially, but you've been in the field, you've been Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, what for you do you think, three things or whatever—five things, one thing—that you think, 'Wow, I'm just going to do that, and that's really important to children who are poor here in Wales'?

Yes, thank you, Jane. And I think it is hard to get to the first three, but it will focus my mind, I'm sure. But I think it's the quality, isn't it, and the early years, and the quicker you can get the—. You really do make so much benefit for young people in the early years, in the early stages. Those first 1,000 days are so important. And I think, for me, that's something that I really want to focus on. 

With the childcare aspect, it is complex. I want to try to make this, in terms of all the programmes that we have and the information that is available, whether that's through the Family Information Service as well, accessible to people. And if you're a parent of a child, or carer for a child, you're probably not spending a lot of time at a computer screen, which sometimes I think we're asking. But, you don't want to wade through a lot of that. So, there's that aspect. The workforce, as we just talked about, getting under some of that I think is really important.

You've mentioned my previous role as Chair of CYPE. I've heard a lot of evidence in that position around children with disabilities, and I know that the committee, which my colleague Buffy Williams chairs, is looking at that work now. I know that will be a really important piece of work. It's not just focused on childcare, it's a focus on access to education, and that's something that I've heard, and so I think, in terms of poverty and in terms of inequalities, that's something that's really important, and I look forward to seeing that work as it comes out.  

Wel, mae'n wych clywed hynny. Mae'n bwysig iawn inni glywed eich bod chi'n meddwl am y pethau yna. Dŷch chi wedi sôn am blant sy'n anabl, ac roedden ni'n clywed tystiolaeth wrth bobl yn dweud bod y ddarpariaeth ar gyfer plant sy'n anabl ddim yn ddigon da dros Gymru. Does yna ddim digon o ddarpariaeth ynglŷn â phlant efo anabledd. Felly, oes gennych chi hefyd yn eich pen syniad o ran beth fydd yn helpu? Rydych chi wedi sôn am y first 1,000 days, sydd mor bwysig i blant. Felly, beth yn eich pen sydd gennych chi ynglŷn â phlant sy'n anabl, a'u helpu nhw?

Well, it's excellent to hear that. It's very important for us to hear that you are thinking about those things. You mentioned children with disabilities, and we've heard evidence from people saying that the provision for children with disabilities isn't adequate across Wales, and that there is inadequate provision for children with disabilities. So, do you also have an idea in terms of what could help? You talked about the first thousand days and how important it is for children. So, what kind of ideas do you have regarding children with disabilities and helping them?


Absolutely. Like I say, I’m really keen to follow that work, and I know this committee has taken that evidence as well, which I think is really helpful. So, I look forward to seeing the work that comes out of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, and as you’ll understand, as I say, I’ve had a keen interest in this after speaking to parents and young people.

In terms of accessibility, I just want to mention the childcare offer additional support grant. It's a demand-led grant and that’s across all local authority areas. We’re looking to see how we can increase that awareness. I say 'increase the awareness' because I did look at it and then realised that the money has actually gone up this year, but it is important that childcare providers are aware of what is available to them to access support. I think it’s about the confidence that there is the money available, to ask for it, because it is demand led. I would like to make sure that that’s easily understood by providers. So, I think that’s one aspect. We’ve obviously gathered information from these childcare sufficiency assessments, and I’m keen to see how they can be used to inform the planning of childcare provision to meet that demand.

Just to say as well, a statutory duty was placed on local authorities to assess and, as far as reasonably practicable, secure sufficient opportunities for children to play in their areas. That’s known as the play sufficiency duty. That means that local authorities should aim to offer play opportunities that are inclusive and encourage all children to play and meet together if they wish to. I think that’s a really important mechanism, the grant. We have the assessment, and I look forward to seeing how that works. I don’t know if Clare wants to say anything about that bit.

We also offer, through the capital funding programme, the small grant scheme, where settings, depending on their size, can access between £10,000 and £25,000 to make any physical adjustments that might enable a child with a disability to access their setting. Obviously, the Minister’s mentioned the additional support grant, but also, within the Flying Start programme, settings that are delivering Flying Start are also able to access additional funding to have perhaps investment in sensory equipment to enable children to access a setting. Obviously, our aim is for all children to be able to access appropriate childcare, should that be what the family wants, but we recognise that there are potentially issues from a supply-side sense in whether a setting has confidence to take on a child with additional needs and how do we support settings to not only have the physical assets necessary to take on a child with additional needs but the confidence to truly support that child. We need to give consideration as to whether our support to settings in a revenue sense is also sufficient as well.

I think some settings are somewhat cautious of taking on children with additional needs if they feel as though that would impact on their ratios, because perhaps a worker needs to provide—. It's not too much attention, but in terms of the ratios, they’ve got a fine balance to tread to ensure that they’ve got sufficient staff to cover all the children in their care to provide sufficient care. So, that’s another aspect. And the child sufficiency assessments have also concluded that, across the board, we know that there is insufficient care available and places available for children with additional needs, and we’re working with the local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association on that.

I was just going to say that one of the pieces of evidence that I heard that will stick in my mind really was very much around the communication between parents of children with disabilities and the provider. You're putting your trust in a provider, aren't you, to be able to look after your child and to support your child for that time of the day. I think it is about also supporting the provider to give the confidence that they are able to provide for that child and that there is support available. Some of the communication, I think, between parents and providers around children with disabilities might help as well.


Diolch. Jest un frawddeg, dim cwestiwn. Roeddem ni'n clywed gan Coram Family and Childcare fod y ddarpariaeth dros Gymru ddim yn ddigon da ar gyfer plant efo anabledd. Felly, os rydych chi jest yn gallu cymryd hynny yn ôl a darllen beth roedden nhw'n ei ddweud, bydd hynny'n bwysig iawn. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd.

Thank you. Just one more observation, not a question. It's just an observation. We heard from Coram Family and Childcare that the provision across Wales is not adequate for children with disabilities. So, if you could take that back and read what they said, it would be very important. Thank you very much.

Thank you. I certainly will, and I'll certainly be following the Children, Young People and Education Committee's full report and the focus on childcare in that report.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Cwestiwn neu ddau ynglŷn ag ehangu Dechrau'n Deg i ddechrau. Erbyn pa ddyddiad ŷch chi'n meddwl y bydd yr elfen gofal plant o Dechrau'n Deg yn cael ei chyflwyno i bob plentyn dwy oed? Beth yw'r sefyllfa ar hyn o bryd o ran y roll-out ar draws yr awdurdodau lleol? Allwch chi roi darlun i ni o'r sefyllfa o ran y roll-out ar hyn o bryd ac unrhyw heriau sydd wedi codi?

Thank you, Chair. Just a couple of questions on Flying Start expansion to start with. By what date do you anticipate that the childcare element of Flying Start will be rolled out to all two-year-olds? What is the situation currently in terms of the roll-out across the local authorities? Can you provide us with a picture of the situation in terms of the roll-out currently and any challenges that have arisen?

Thank you, Sioned. Diolch. Phase 3 of the programme will begin in April 2025. Phase 3 will build on the position we've reached at the end of phase 2 with the intention of making provision available for all two-year-olds in Wales through our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. Many successes have come out of the first two phases of the expansion. These include additional training for childcare workers that has led to improved quality of provision, improvements in the procurement of childcare settings and an increased number of Welsh-medium childcare places. We'll obviously build on the infrastructure that's been developed to date as we move into phase 3. I'm keen that local authorities have time to prepare. I think it is important that they have that time. Officials are currently providing advice to me about the approach to take on phase 3 with a view to working with local authorities on that in the coming months.

Allech chi roi syniad i ni o ble ŷn ni wedi cyrraedd o ran yr awdurdodau lleol ar hyn o bryd?

Can you give us an idea of where we've reached in terms of the local authorities currently?

Yes, absolutely. When I first came in, I was keen to see the progress made in each area. I think where there have been issues, they have been made clear to officials, in different local authorities. There are some similar ones. I think it's the ones in—. I have to remember off top of my head. There are five, if I remember—

There are five that haven't yet met.

There are five that haven't met the provision. But the reasons are known to officials, and officials have been working with them closely. I don't know if you'd like to add specifically on this.

As I say, there are five local authorities that have not yet met the requirement, but we've been working really closely with them on their development plans. You asked about what some of the challenges were. Some of those challenges are around recruitment and retention of staff and the qualification levels, hence why we've introduced the 'working towards', to allow the supply to grow at a similar rate. In terms of phase 3 roll-out, it's ensuring that we are allowing all types of providers to access the Flying Start system, if you like. So, we have been challenged on the child minder issue, which we think we're addressing with the amendments that we've made, which should help, particularly in some of those local authority areas. Because of the nature of their supply, they will definitely help to ensure that Flying Start provision is available more widely.

Oes yna unrhyw beth yn gyffredin ynglŷn â'r pum ardal yna? Oes yna unrhyw ffactorau cyffredin? Ydyn nhw'n ardaloedd gwledig? Ydyn nhw'n awdurdodau lleol bach? Oes yna ryw fath o—?

Is there anything in common in terms of those five areas? Are there any common factors? Are they rural areas? Are they small local authorities, for example? Is there some sort of—?

It's a mix. I don't think I'm allowed to say which ones are the naughty ones—

Na, dwi ddim yn gofyn i chi eu henwi nhw. Dwi jest eisiau gofyn, o ran eich dadansoddiad chi, os oes yna rywbeth yn eich taro chi ynglŷn â'r mathau o awdurdodau lleol ydyn nhw. Neu ydy hi jest yn hollol randwm o ran y patrwm?

No, I'm not asking you to name them. I just wanted to ask, in terms of your analysis, if there's anything that strikes you in terms of the kinds of local authorities they are. Or are they completely random in terms of the pattern?


I think they'd all been clear, hadn't they, with you? So, I think even though there might be some similarities with a couple, I think there are a few that—

We've got a bit of everything, to be honest, in there.

Ocê. Gwnaf i symud ymlaen, achos does dim lot o amser. Yn amlwg, mae yna wahaniaeth, onid oes, rhwng rhaglen graidd Dechrau'n Deg a'r camau ehangu. Hynny yw, mae'r camau ehangu'n ymwneud â'r elfen gofal plant yn unig. Felly, ydych chi'n meddwl bod yr holl randdeiliaid a rhieni yn glir o ran deall y gwahaniaeth rhwng ehangu cam 2 a cham 3 o ran Dechrau'n Deg a'r rhaglen graidd? 

Okay. I'll move on, because we don't have much time. Obviously, there are differences in terms of the Flying Start core programme and the expansion. The expansion phase only relates to the childcare element. Do you think that all the stakeholders and parents are clear in terms of understanding the difference between phase 2 and phase 3 expansion in terms of Flying Start and the core programme?

Again, I haven't been in long enough to hear that from anybody, to be honest, but I don't know if you have on this bit. 

Phase 1 was the core programme, phase 2 has been just the childcare element and phase 3 will just be the childcare element. I'm not sure if our brand loyalty, if you like, is across the whole of Wales. I know, in Flying Start areas, people are very wedded to the full Flying Start provision, and that still remains in those areas. Obviously, we're rolling out on the basis of—. The acronym is LSOA; I can't ever remember what that stands for. It's the demographics around socioeconomically deprived areas. And we're kind of branching out from there. So, I think, as we go wider from those areas of deprivation, people will be less familiar with the brand of Flying Start. So, I suppose there's that balance to weigh against whether people are happy with 'just the childcare' or whether it's the other elements of the Flying Start programme that are the ones that deliver the added value for those who are in greatest need. I think the evidence shows that the whole package is most beneficial to those in more socioeconomic need than the childcare element to those in more affluent areas. It's getting that balance. I suppose it is a geographical programme; it's specifically targeted. All four elements are specifically targeted at areas in greatest need, whereas the childcare element we can be more flexible with in terms of the benefit that it gives to children and families.

Ac wrth gwrs, mae yna broblemau wedi bod gyda'r approach daearyddol, onid oes, achos mae wastad ffin i'r ardal yna ac fe gewch chi bobl sydd mewn tlodi ac angen sydd ddim, o reidrwydd, yn byw o fewn y ffiniau yna. Felly, oes yna unrhyw ystyriaeth o hynny, wrth i'r ehangu digwydd, o ran gallu arwyddbostio pobl i'r gwasanaethau sydd eu hangen, ac yn y blaen?

And of course, problems have arisen with the geographical approach, because there's always a boundary for people in those areas; you'll have people who are living in poverty that don't necessarily live within those borders. Has there been any consideration of that, as expansion goes ahead, in terms of being able to signpost people to the services they require?

Local authorities have always had the ability for outreach, if you like, and, obviously, they're best placed to understand where their families in need are, and they've always had that ability to reach out to other families and provide Flying Start, even if you're not in the right area. So, they've already had that, and we're encouraging them to do that where they know it's the most appropriate approach.

Un cwestiwn bach i orffen. Wrth edrych ymlaen, mae Sefydliad Bevan ac Oxfam Cymru wedi canfod bod mwyafrif clir, o ran rhieni, yn credu bod gofal plant yn gwbl anfforddiadwy. Felly, beth yw'ch syniadau cychwynnol chi, Weinidog, ynghylch sut y gellid gwneud gofal plant yn fwy fforddiadwy dros y tymor hwy? Ac ydych chi'n rhannu uchelgais eich rhagflaenydd chi yn y rôl o gael system gofal plant cyffredinol i bawb yn y dyfodol?

One final question. In looking ahead, the Bevan Foundation and Oxfam Cymru have found that a clear majority of parents believe that childcare is completely unaffordable. So, what are your initial thoughts, Minister, about how childcare could be made more affordable over the longer term? And do you share your predecessor's ambition of having a universal childcare system for all in the future?

Diolch, Sioned. Yes, absolutely. We have that ambition and I think it's about how we achieve it and the realistic nature—we've talked today about a complex picture. But we need to make sure that we do it in a way that is planned and make sure that the infrastructure is there, whether that's the workforce, as well as making sure that the buildings are suitable, as well. So, I think it's the discussions that we have with the workforce. We work very closely with them here. And I think it's important that we continue that—that it's done in a planned way so that we don't put so much pressure on it that it collapses. Because, as I said, it is fragile, but that is our ambition. And the wider vision is for developing a fully integrated early childhood play, learning and care system. That's what we want to see. Because, as I said, we know how important it is to invest in those early years.


I just want to finally say that my sense remains that the inverse care law is operating here. So, families with disabilities—with a child with a disability or maybe an adult with a disability—are unable to get the service that they need, based on the Coram analysis. No local authority is able to meet those needs. In addition to that, I wondered if you could write to us about the numbers of local authorities that use childcare as an intervention for children in need. I don't know of any at the moment, and it would be very useful to know that.

Yes, we can write to you. I think that it is on social services, but we can certainly do that. I will make sure that we write to you—

But you are firmly in the health and social care department, and therefore I hope that we manage to fix this element.

Thank you very much indeed for your attendance, and for your indulgence in allowing us to overrun by six minutes.

Thank you for your work again in this area, because it is important.

Obviously, we will send you a transcript, and you can correct any anomalies or inaccuracies. Thank you very much and we will talk to you again, I'm sure.

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

There are four papers to note. Are Members content to note them? Yes.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting


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


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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Under Standing Order 17.42, I'd like to ask if Members would agree to hold the rest of the meeting in private. I see no dissent. Thank you. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:52.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 14:52.

This sentence should read as follows:

The evidence, we know, is very clear, that high-quality provision benefits our children and strongly influences their future and life chances with quality and is really important.