|Dawn Bowden AM|
|Hefin David AM|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM|
|Julie Morgan AM|
|Lynne Neagle AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Siân Gwenllian AM|
|Ann Evans||Cadeirydd, Cymwysterau Cymru|
|Chair, Qualifications Wales|
|Emyr George||Cyfarwyddwr Cyswllt, Cymwysterau Cymru|
|Associate Director, Qualifications Wales|
|Philip Blaker||Prif Weithredwr, Cymwysterau Cymru|
|Chief Executive, Qualifications Wales|
|Professor Sally Holland||Comisiynydd Plant Cymru|
|Children’s Commissioner for Wales|
|Rachel Thomas||Pennaeth Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Comisiynydd Plant Cymru|
|Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Children’s Commissioner for Wales|
|Gareth Rogers||Ail Glerc|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|2. Adroddiad Blynyddol Comisiynydd Plant Cymru 2017-18||2. Children's Commissioner for Wales Annual Report 2017-18|
|3. Ymchwiliad i Statws Cymhwyster Bagloriaeth Cymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 3||3. Inquiry into the Status of the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification: Evidence Session 3|
|4. Papurau i'w Nodi||4. Papers to Note|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public for the Remainder of the Meeting|
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.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:32.
The meeting began at 09:32.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've received apologies for absence from Suzy Davies AM and there's no substitution, and I've been advised that Hefin David is running late. Can I ask if there are any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay, thank you.
Item 2 this morning is our scrutiny session of the children's commissioner's annual report. I'm very pleased to welcome Sally Holland, Children's Commissioner for Wales, and Rachel Thomas, who is head of policy and public affairs in the children's commissioner's office. Welcome both of you and thank you for coming. If you're happy, we'll go straight to questions from Members, and the first questions are from Janet Finch-Saunders.
Good morning, both. You are midway through your seven-year tenure. What is the one most significant change for children that you have delivered to date in this role and what is your one priority for the remainder of your term?
Thank you—really good questions to start us off and, of course, as you say—
—straight to the point and really important. And as I am now halfway through my time as commissioner, important questions for me to answer. I hope you've seen in my annual report there are four pages of highlights as to where we feel we've got to already, but you have asked for the one most significant change. I think the one area we've worked on where children would actually be able to have experienced already the difference, which is different from, perhaps, promises of change or changes in policy—where they'd have actually felt the difference—would be the influence of our 'Hidden Ambitions' work with care leavers. We produced that report on 1 March 2017, and it was actually one where we were able to collaborate on the recommendations, after we'd gathered all the evidence, with Government and with the Welsh Local Government Association, because we realised we had similar aims. And all three organisations made commitments there to care leavers, and you can actually see some tangible differences already for young people.
So, the St David's Day fund that was announced as a response to our report—nearly 2,000 young people have already received funding from that, the kind of funding that we would give as parents to our young people as they make their way into adulthood—driving lessons, equipment for apprenticeships, that kind of thing. Young people have now got the—. There's now funding so that young people, whether they're in education or not, get access to a personal adviser until they're 25; it was only until they were 21 before. Again, I felt that was a significant change, and we're expecting that to go into regulations. But the funding has gone ahead of regulations.
Dozens more young people are in apprenticeships and traineeships with their local authority. I've visited every single local authority and challenged all the senior members and officers in local authorities to treat it as a family firm and to employ young people as you would in a family firm. And we know that dozens more young people have followed examples that were already there in some local authorities.
I'm particularly pleased to see that there's now a consultation out to exempt all young people leaving care from council tax until they're 25. About half of local authorities responded to our call and did that independently, but that's not something that you would necessarily see right across Wales evenly unless it becomes a national policy. So, I'm really pleased about that.
There are commitments to other things that we haven't seen yet, but there's work going on. Something that I felt really passionately about was that we have this good new scheme called 'When I'm Ready' for young people leaving foster care, and yet, what's probably a more vulnerable group, Young people leaving residential care, didn't have a similar scheme. We have a commitment from Government to give them similar levels of support. It'll probably look a little bit different than 'When I'm Ready', but with similar levels of support, and I know there's active work, because we're monitoring it closely, going on towards it, but young people wouldn't have seen that change yet.
The second part of the question. I've just done a big consultation. We've just closed it—Beth nawr?/What now? I'm really pleased with the level of engagement with that and pleased to say that 9,999 children and young people took part in our survey—we didn't make that up, that figure; there are a few hard copies coming in, so I think it will go over 10,000—and 1,500 adults. So, I will be forming a very detailed work plan from that.
But I can say now I think the biggest change that would make the biggest change to all children would be in the area of our curriculum reform. I'm absolutely determined that, as we transform our education system, and I'm generally very supportive of the direction of travel on that, we must ensure that children learn about their human rights as a core part of what they do; that they learn in an environment that respects their human rights, which will tackle many other issues that children come to me about, like bullying; and that they learn to be human rights-aware citizens, to be activists, even. I did a longer statement about this on Tuesday on Universal Children's Day.
But we've seen some real threats to human rights throughout the world, in lots of different ways, and I think it should be our ambition in Wales to raise a generation of citizens who understand why we have human rights and why they're so important and why we must protect our own and other people's. So, that, for me, if we can get that strongly in the curriculum, and there's a Bill expected in the new year. So, that will be a call I'll be making on that Bill, and there's a detailed paper on my website that explains why it maps across human rights to the new curriculum. I think that would be a really lasting change for children.
Thank you. Now, five of the 19 recommendations you made in last year’s report are categorised as red, which you say means there is
'No evidence of policy or practice changes since the recommendation was made'
and 'No improvement in children’s experiences.' To what extent does this or might it suggest that Welsh Government are not taking your role seriously?
It's not my experience as commissioner that the Government doesn't take my role seriously. I don't think that would be a fair overarching thing for me to say—
It must be frustrating, though, when you're tasked with making those recommendations and finding out that evidence, then to find that it's not carried through.
Yes, inevitably. And on some of those, I'm particularly frustrated—elective home education would be one of them. Five out of 24, is it, or 26?
It's 24 now, when we look back over two years.
Five out of 24 recommendations over the last two years are rated as red, so the others are rated green or amber. Some of them we've seen real progress on. I wouldn't expect them all, ever, to turn green or amber. I wouldn't expect the Government always to agree that my recommendations are things that they feel able to take forward, but I do think that doing these RAG—red, amber or green—ratings is an important mechanism for me to use to ensure that the pace is kept up on our progress towards enabling children's human rights. And, in fact, from this autumn onwards, we've decided to step up, really, that mechanism for scrutiny by introducing quarterly updates, which we will use for—. We will update them before our quarterly meetings with our linked Minister—who's currently Huw Irranca-Davies—and ensure that we go through particularly the ones that are red rated, and we expect the pace to pick up. We can see already that the fact that we're using these kinds of ratings does seem to have shifted the narrative on some discussions. Even where they are still rated red, such as the childcare Bill, I think that the arguments that I've made there have at least shifted the narrative, even if they haven't shifted the policy. Certainly, we've seen a move-on, I think, from some officials, now they've seen the RAG rating.
So, that's what it's about. That's what it's for. Policy change does take time. You know, if this kind of rating had been done in the past by commissioners, the calls on advocacy would have been red for about 10 years, but that one is now green. I would like policy change to be quicker than it is, but I do expect some of those reds to move on to green, and certainly some of the ambers, as we go forward. But I'm using it as a mechanism to make sure that the Government knows that I'm on top of scrutinising what they're doing.
Can I just add as well that the main driver behind using them is that we don't want to just measure performance and outputs—that it's really about the progress made and the outcomes for children? So, we'll continue to use them to press on measuring outcomes, rather than just things that have happened.
Okay, thank you. We've got some questions now on casework from Siân Gwenllian.
Jest gair, yn gyntaf, ynglŷn â'r ffordd rydych chi wedi bod yn llywio'r cynnydd. Rydw i'n meddwl bod hynny yn eithriadol o bwysig, a buaswn i'n licio gweld yr arfer da rydych chi'n ei wneud yn cael ei ledaenu allan ar draws y Cynulliad a'r Llywodraeth.
Yn troi at waith achos, dim ond 26 o'r 554 achos a wnaethoch chi ddelio efo nhw'r flwyddyn ddiwethaf a ddaeth gan blant a phobl ifanc. A ydych chi'n bryderus bod yna lai o blant yn cysylltu efo ni, neu a ydyn nhw'n cael help yn rhywle arall? Beth sydd y tu ôl i hyn?
Just a word, first, about the way that you have been steering the progress. I think that is extremely important, and I'd like to see the good practice that you undertake being broadened out across the Assembly and the Government.
Turning to casework, only 26 of the 554 cases you dealt with last year came from children and young people. Are you concerned that fewer children are getting in touch, or are they getting support from elsewhere? What's behind this?
Okay. So, those statistics are based on initial contacts with our office. It doesn't represent how many children we would have actually engaged with as part of our casework. I have to say that I think it's probably to be expected that in the majority of cases adults will contact us on behalf of a child, particularly because many of the children would have additional learning needs—that's a big part of our casework—or will be very young children. So, it does represent initial contacts. We do do a lot of promotional work with children, and sometimes contacts from families come because—. I can think of one that happened during the year in question, actually, where we'd—. In one of our events—I think it was one of our ambassador events—we'd talked about our casework as being one of the ways that I carry out my role as commissioner, and a mother contacted me the next day about the child's sibling, because the child had gone home and said, 'Oh, perhaps we could go to the commissioner about that.'
Ond buasai rhywun yn tybio—fe allaf i ddeall efo plant, ond pobl ifanc, pobl o 14 ymlaen—y byddai yna fwy yn cysylltu efo chi yn uniongyrchol. O'r 26 yma, ai yn yr oedran hŷn rydych chi'n ffeindio mae'r rhain? O'r rhai sydd yn cysylltu yn uniongyrchol, beth ydy eu hoedrannau nhw?
But one would presume—I can understand with children, but young people, people aged 14 and up—that there would be more getting in touch with you directly. From these 26, were they in the older age category—is that what you found? Of those who contact you directly, what are their ages?
Yes, I don't have those figures exactly in front of me, but I can say, from my knowledge of the casework, that when young people contact us directly it is very often older young people. In fact, the typical young person to contact us would be a young person who is looked after, or perhaps has already left care and is living independently, and they may not have the same support as children living at home to have an adult contact on their behalf, perhaps, making the initial call. Of course, our casework is not the only way that children raise concerns with us. We engage with thousands and thousands of children through our participation work every year, and in events and face-to-face events, children often come to me and raise general concerns, whether it's plastic in the ocean, bullying, or cuts to their youth service. Children will raise concerns with me directly through other means, rather than our casework as well, in addition. But it is something we keep an eye on, and because it's been so low, we have been specifically ensuring that when we engage with children directly we include information about our casework service. I think that services like ChildLine, for example, are so well known and so ubiquitous that children may think of that first as somewhere, or the Meic helpline as well in Wales.
Ocê. Addysg a phroblemau yn ymwneud efo addysg sydd tu ôl i lawer o'r cysylltiadau rydych chi'n eu cael. A ydy natur yr achosion addysg yma yn newid o flwyddyn i flwyddyn, neu ai'r un un problemau addysg sydd yn codi?
Okay. Education and education-related problems are behind many of the contacts that you get. Does the nature of these education cases change, year on year, or do the same issues persist?
By far the biggest percentage of education cases are to do with children with additional learning needs, and we have seen a real rise in the numbers of those over the last few years—the numbers have doubled, actually, since the 2014-15 year—and the kind of issues that are raised in relation to additional learning needs are, within that, very varied. So, bullying of children with disabilities, children being off-rolled or deregistered from mainstream school, and we often have to say, 'Well, actually, that's not right' and explain how they can get back in and help them to do that. It's often about the statementing process and assessments of that. It might be about the removal of a support that had previously been agreed, transport to schools—so, there is a real range of issues raised, and that has, of course, given us very detailed information in our influencing work around the ALN Act. I mean, the aim of the ALN Act will be to take away some of the adversarial nature of those cases—it's a very ambitious Act, of course. We have worked hard in influencing the code of practice, which is where these kinds of detailed ways of working with cases will work, and we would hope to see a real sort of children's rights, human rights-based approach to the ALN code of practice, so that, actually, children's rights at that basic level are being respected and understood within schools, and that will avoid the kind of conflict that can arise. I don't think it will be perfect overnight, but that is the aim, and we do use the influence from that.
We also have seen a rise in people contacting us about bullying, in general, so not just related to additional learning needs. We have been very vocal on bullying and have talked to thousands of children about bullying through our 'Sam's Story' work, so it may be that people have though to come to us because of that as well.
O ran y Ddeddf ALN, pryd fyddwch chi'n disgwyl gweld deilliannau uniongyrchol i blant yn codi o hynny, a sut ydych chi'n mynd i fod yn monitro bod hyn wir yn cael effaith ar lawr gwlad?
In terms of the ALN Act, when will you expect to see direct outcomes for children coming out of that, and how are you going to be monitoring that this is really having an impact on the ground?
Yes, the code of practice we expect to come out, I think, within weeks now—I think, this side of the new year—and we will be giving detailed consideration to that, and responding to that, and then I think it's another year until the code of practice itself is implemented.
Yes, and there will be a phased implementation to the Act itself, so it will probably take quite a long time, but—
We will be closely monitoring that through our casework and our participation work. I do know, just through contacts with schools, that a number of them are preparing for the Act, and are changing already their language and their processes. So, I don't expect schools just to be carrying on as normal until the very last moment. I do expect it to be a gradual change. But it's been such an important issue for our office, it's such an important issue for children's rights, we've been keeping a close eye on it, and, of course, we're very pleased that with the support of this committee, due regard to children's rights was placed on the face of the Bill, and I'm very determined that that won't just be nice words at the beginning of the Bill but will actually mean something to children's real experiences in school.
Rydw i'n sylwi eich bod chi wedi cau swyddfa'r gogledd yn 2016. Mae hynny’n peri gofid i mi fel Aelod sy’n cynrychioli etholaeth yn y gogledd. Pa wahaniaeth mae hynny wedi’i wneud? A oes yna lai o achosion yn dod trwodd rŵan o’r gogledd?
I notice that you closed the north Wales office in 2016. That is of concern to me as a Member who represents a constituency in the north. What difference has that made? Are there fewer cases coming through now from the north?
When I started as commissioner, we had a very small team in Colwyn Bay, and most of our team in Swansea. We received a 10 per cent cut to my funding in my first year, and it became uneconomical to run both offices. I'm very clear, and take very clear steps, to ensure that we are an all-Wales service from our Swansea office, and whether it's casework, participation work, school visits, or policy engagement, all workers—wherever things are in Wales—they all treat it absolutely equally, and we keep a very close eye on that, and we do monitor it.
In terms of casework specifically, although we did have casework officers based in north Wales, we ran an all-Wales duty system. So, wherever a case came in, it was dealt with by the duty worker, and they nearly all come by phone or by e-mail, or letter, indeed, so they continue to be dealt with in exactly the same way as they were before. Some of our casework involves visits, and, again, there would be no impact as to where the case was as to whether we would decide to further the case—whether we should visit a child or attend a multidisciplinary meeting, for example. Only last Friday, one of my officers was in Conwy and met a child, because the case wasn't moving on—it was a bit stuck—and then went on to meet officers in the local authority to discuss the case.
In terms of figures, the figures for our cases from north Wales have remained absolutely the same for the last 10 years. So, they're the same as they were. Ten per cent of our cases came from north Wales the year before we closed, and they did in this year in question as well. Now, that's a bit below the population level, as you'll be aware, and it's something that we keep an eye on. We use all of our work, whether it's one-off projects or co-work that's subject to equality impact monitoring and project planning, and one of the things when we're planning our work—we think about impact on things like language, rurality and geography. They're three areas that we would look at when planning our work to make sure that our engagement is even across different groups and geographies of Wales. So, we would promote as much in north Wales—. So, it's a bit of a surprise that we have fewer cases coming in from north Wales. It's something we can keep an eye on, and I'm happy to discuss with you outside if you've got any ideas about promoting the service. Sometimes we get clusters of cases from one area through word of mouth, some Assembly Members contact us regularly, others like to support cases within their own consistency work. It's very varied as to why we get different areas, but we do monitor every month, in management team, the local authorities that our cases are coming from, as well as the issues, because it influences our policy work, and we keep an eye if there are highs or lows from different areas.
Ocê. Wel, a gawn ni nodi fy mhryder i ar y record ynglŷn â’r ffaith mai 10 y cant yn unig o achosion sydd yn dod o’r gogledd, lle mae 33 y cant o’r boblogaeth? Rydw i'n hapus iawn i gael trafodaethau pellach, ac efallai ei fod o'n rhywbeth i’r pwyllgor ei ddilyn fyny hefyd. Diolch.
Okay. Well, can we note my concern on the record about the fact that it's only 10 per cent of cases that come from the north, where there's 33 per cent of the population? I'm very happy to have further discussions, and perhaps it's something for the committee to follow up as well. Thank you.
On finance now, moving on to your accounts. So, your accounts for 2017-18 have noted that your office is now an accredited living wage employer. I'm very pleased to hear that. I'll take that out because I can hear myself now. [Laughter.] So, I'm very pleased to hear that, but are you able to explain what the impact on your office is on that in terms of costs and the effect that that has on your running costs, your operating costs, generally?
Okay. We committed to the living wage before we became accredited, so we committed to it in my first year as commissioner. At the time, all of our directly employed staff were already employed above the living wage, but it did, actually, have an immediate impact on contracted staff, which was our cleaner, which led to a small rise in their hourly pay, which we were very happy to commit to. It wasn't a big cost for us as an organisation but, of course, it was important for that individual. The main impact of having real living wage accreditation is to, I think, make that commitment to those public service values, and that's important for us and for our staff morale, as well.
It impacts on our procurement practices, so it's part of our procurement requirements that anyone employed through those practices should be on the real living wage. So, that's the kind of impact it has; it hasn't had a big impact on our overall costs, but I think it's been important as part of our value base.
That's absolutely fine. And has it made any difference in terms of your staff turnover? Do you get much staff turnover, or—
I don't think it's made any difference to our staff turnover. I'm not aware of that.
That's fine. Can I just move on to your general fund, now? You told the committee last year that you had a detailed budget for the next three years, but you have reported an underspend for the last year against the funding you receive from Welsh Government. So, as a result of that, the balance in your general funds has increased slightly, as has the cash held. Can you explain why that is the case and what the implications are necessarily for your delivery of planned work?
I do have a very detailed expenditure plan as part of my project planning. The underspend at the end of March was about £56,000; £40,000 of that was ring-fenced money that we'd received from Government to fund the Bright Spots survey. It just didn't quite move out of our accounts before the end of the year. The work wasn't quite completed.
It was allocated. The other £16,000 is about 1 per cent—just over 1 per cent of our funding—so we came to within about 1 per cent of our funding, and all that money was allocated, in fact, to our 'Dont Hold Back' report on adults with learning difficulties. So, again, the reports from the people we contracted to do research hadn't quite come in. We wanted them to be of a good quality and not just to come in by the end of March, so that, again, was allocated money.
Going forward, I have a clear plan for the finances. All of our projects have got individual spending plans. They're monitored every month by our management team. If they do come in at an underspend—my team are ever so prudent, they're really good at saving money—we now have clear mechanisms to reallocate that money to fulfil others of our aims.
So, you routinely work in a way that tries to improve your cost-efficiencies, almost to reinvest into other areas, if you can.
That's exactly—that's a good summary of what we do, yes.
Excellent. That's good. My final question on this section is around the cost of work that you'll be required to carry out when the terms of your lease in the Swansea office come to an end in July 2021. So, what plans do you have for your office accommodation after that date? Are you going to move? Are you going to try and renegotiate the lease? What are your plans there?
It's an important question for us as an organisation. The organisation's been in the same accommodation since it started, so a 20-year lease was signed at the time. Although it's not until 2021, I have, for the last year, been starting planning for that, because it's really important that, as accounting officer, I deliver good value for money, of course, but also, as an employer, that I look after the well-being of my staff, of course, many of whom are long term and are from the region of the office.
We carried out initial work last year on project planning, which helped set some of the boundaries for that work. We worked closely with our audit and risk assurance committee and sought advice from our advisory panels, which, of course, include my young people's advisory panel as well as my adult advisory panel. But I'm very pleased that, this autumn, we secured a six-month placement at no cost to us from the civil service of a fast-track civil servant trainee. She's four years into that, so nearly at the end of it. She's from the finance stream and is already working with us. She's placed with us full time for six months at no cost and is working just on this. So, she's doing sterling work, I have to say, in assessing, fully assessing, our needs and any potential move and the cost of a move or a stay. And, in either way, we'll be looking at issues like sustainability, public transport, access to the general public and to disabled people, the well-being of our staff and the cost of any move. So, we expect to have completed that work to have a firm in-principle decision by the end of March, so that will be included—. By the time I'm here next year, I'll be able to discuss that with you.
Okay. So, your current office—do you feel that your current office meets all your needs or are there some areas that you're a little bit concerned about?
It meets our needs fairly well at the moment, but there are some issues that we are currently assessing the impact of. One is we are assessing its environmental credentials, which seem to be poor in terms of it being cold in winter and hot in summer, et cetera. I manage to make my way there through public transport by a mixture of train and bike, but it's not very accessible in its location. But, it is actually of excellent value, so we are having to weigh that up.
As you'll have seen, we have put aside £77,000, which was our initial assessment of costs, just to make good the office, whether we move or stay. We will be updating that estimate, but there may be some additional costs around environmental and disability if we do stay, to make sure it absolutely meets the modern needs of an organisation.
As you alluded to when you started your question, there may be opportunities with renegotiation of lease and landlord responsibilities as well as looking at other options.
We're going to move on now to talk about some specific policy areas. The first one is elective home education. Before I bring Siân Gwenllian in, can I just thank you for making sure that the committee has been kept in the loop? It's been very helpful for the committee to be sighted on the correspondence on this. Siân.
Diolch yn fawr. Rydw i’n ymwybodol iawn eich bod chi wedi bod yn galw’n gyson ar Lywodraeth Cymru i’w gwneud hi’n orfodol i rieni gofrestru’r ffaith eu bod nhw’n addysgu’u plant gartref er mwyn gwneud yn siŵr eu bod nhw’n cael eu gweld, a bod yna drafodaeth ynglŷn â’r addysg maen nhw’n ei dderbyn. Rydw i’n gwybod bod Llyr Gruffydd, fy rhagflaenydd i ar y pwyllgor yma a rhagflaenydd fel llefarydd addysg Plaid Cymru, yn teimlo’n gryf iawn ar y mater yma hefyd. Ond, siomedig iawn hyd yma ydy’r ymateb o du’r Llywodraeth. Efallai y medrwch chi jest rhedeg trwy le rydym ni arni erbyn hyn o ran ymateb y Llywodraeth, achos mae yna lythyr wedi cyrraedd. Mae yna gopi o lythyr gan Kirsty Williams fan hyn, er, mai efo’r Prif Weinidog yr oeddech chi wedi bod yn trafod yn wreiddiol. A fedrwch chi jest fynd trwy ychydig bach o’r cefndir diweddar ynglŷn â’r llythyru ac yn y blaen, a lle rydym ni arni erbyn hyn?
Thank you very much. I am very aware that you have been consistently calling on the Welsh Government to make it compulsory for parents to register the fact that they are home educating in order to ensure that those children can be seen and that there is discussion about the education that they receive. I know that Llyr Gruffydd, my predecessor on this committee and my predecessor as Plaid Cymru education spokesperson, feels very strongly on this issue too. But the response from Government has been very disappointing to date. Perhaps you could just run through where we're at at the moment in terms of the Government's response, because a copy of a letter from Kirsty Williams has been received by the committee, although you originally corresponded with the First Minister and had those discussions with the First Minister. Can you just go through some of the recent background on that correspondence and where we are at the moment?
I've concentrated, in what I've been calling for, on what I want to see the outcomes for children to be, and I've discussed with Government the fact that how that is done—whether it's by registers, databases, or whatever—I think is something that would be right for consultation and further discussion with all parties. But I'm very clear what I want to see as a result for children, and that is for them to receive all of their human rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including, of course, first and foremost in this context, their right to a suitable education, but also their other rights: their right to have a say about decisions that affect them; their right to decent healthcare and to be safe. So, that's been my intention all along. You'll be aware that I've made calls about this in the past and continue to work on it closely.
In response to my annual report call last autumn, the Cabinet Secretary did make a statement in Plenary in January of this year about an intention to move forward with some new moves, and I reiterated what I was looking for from that. I've been keen to try to achieve those goals through any move. I think, as is probably clear in the correspondence that you've been copied into, by the early summer of this year, I was concerned about both the pace of that work and potential direction of it. I wasn't receiving full assurances from officials that the plans for the statutory guidance—and I'm pleased that the national minimum standards will be statutory—were going to achieve what I hoped for in terms of all children being seen, because to achieve those goals that I set out, I'm quite clear that we can't be sure that a child's receiving a suitable education unless someone's met them and seen them.
So, I was concerned about that. I wrote for clarification to the Cabinet Secretary for Education. I didn't feel I received that clarification in that response, and I decided that because it was a cross-governmental issue, and because the issues I was particularly concerned about—including whether the Government has made an adequate response to the recommendations following the death of Dylan Seabridge in Pembrokeshire—that I should, in fact, ask the First Minister for his view. I had three meetings coming up in the early autumn with the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and with the First Minister, routine meetings, and I discussed the issue with all three of them. I then wrote, as you're aware, to the First Minister to ask for written confirmation of our discussion, where I felt that I had received assurance that my aims would be met.
As you're aware—because we asked for the committee to be copied in in the response—I received a response only yesterday, in fact. So, I actually think that in terms of saying what my next steps would be, it would be rather irresponsible for me to make any declarations today before I've had a chance to fully analyse the contents of that letter, and to discuss it fully with my team. But I would like to continue to engage with the committee on this issue, and we'd be very happy to come back, if the time could be found by committee, to discuss further when I've had time to fully analyse the response from the Cabinet Secretary.
Are you disappointed that the response is from the Cabinet Secretary, where your discussions have been, as you say, intragovernmental—with the First Minister, and you've had those assurances orally, but you haven't had those assurances from the First Minister on the record, and that, in fact, he's passed it on to the—? It's back now with the Cabinet Secretary for Education, so it looks as if it's being bandied around back and forth, and that can go on for a long time.
That will be part of my analysis of what I should do next. I suppose, in general, in terms of disappointment, this has felt like a bit of a war of attrition, really, with Government in trying to secure the basic rights of children who are home educated. And all along, I must restate that this is a very wide group living in lots of different circumstances, many of whom I am absolutely sure are thriving, as home-educated children, and my office and I have recently engaged with home-educated children to listen to their views on this issue specifically. But it has felt, actually in contrast to many of the other issues where I've felt I had a much more positive engagement with Government on human rights issues—this has been a really difficult one to reach clarity on. The Government's aims in terms of achieving those rights I've set out, those aims for children—
Why do you think that is? Why is there this resistance? Or is that not a fair question? Is it a political reason?
I think that's going to be exactly a part of my analysis next, and if I were to go on to use my powers as commissioner, obviously, that would be part of the analysis.
So, using your powers as commissioner is an option that you could take, once—
Yes. I was quite clear in my letter to the First Minister that that option was still on the table.
And what would that entail if you decided, 'Okay, I've had enough of this, this is not good for children and there are children falling under the radar, and that, heaven forbid, there could be circumstances again similar to what we've seen'? If you come to that conclusion, what exactly does invoking statutory powers mean?
None of the Welsh children's commissioners have previously reviewed the functions of Government, under the legislation functions of Government, in fulfilling the rights of children. So, this would be new territory if it were to happen. I think that, in terms of courtesy to the Government, if I were to take this step, I should probably discuss the terms of reference with them first, but keep committee completely engaged in that. And I would commit today to keeping up clear communication with committee as we move forward, however it goes next.
But my power is to review whether the Government has fulfilled its functions. And, so, of course, I'd be interested in how decisions had been made, advice to Ministers over a specific time period, and I would publish my conclusions. I don't have the powers to make Government do anything, but we started this session as to whether the Government takes my role seriously, and I think, in general, that they do. So, I hope that they would also take my views seriously on this matter.
Can I just press you a little bit more on this, if that's okay? Because, obviously, the committee has been kept informed, and you did ask the First Minister for a response in time for this meeting because of the committee's strong interest in this area. I understand that you can't give us an analysis of the letter now, but are you able to give us an initial response as to whether you think this is a positive response? And, also, I think it is a fair question about whether you were disappointed that the response didn't come from the First Minister, because this is an issue, not just for education, but also for social services and social care.
I think that the responsibility for this issue has been an ongoing issue for me as commissioner, which is why I went to the First Minister on it. Clearly, the Cabinet Secretary for Education has led on this issue, but I've been clear all along that this is not—that children's lives don't divide up into just being about education, or safeguarding, or social care or family support, and that we need to, the Government needs to, have a holistic response to issues. And I feel that a holistic response to the issues of children who are not—. The minority of home-educated children—. The minority of home-educated children who are not in touch with anyone is obviously a holistic issue for the Government to tackle. I did expect the response to come from the First Minister. We agreed in the meeting that I would be writing to him to ask for confirmation of the discussion that we had had in our meeting. We had the written minutes, which I quote from in my letter, so that there is a written record of that meeting, but I had expected the letter to come back from the First Minister. I've now forgotten the first bit of your question.
It was just an initial reaction—just whether you think that this is going to be sufficiently positive. I don't expect you to go into detail, obviously. The reply from Kirsty—. Because I was quite concerned at the timescales in it and how long it's all going to take.
The two issues that I've been pressing over the last few weeks have been timescale, because the announcement was made in January of this year. I've been told to expect the consultation papers in late spring, next year. That's not a very precise time, and we now have in this letter a more—. I had, in my head, worked out that that would take then at least another year before anything came into practice. The last time the Government consulted on this, in 2015, it took 18 months for the non-statutory guidance to emerge. So, I'm aware that timing is a real issue on this.
The other issue, apart from timing, is whether it would meet the three tests, really, that I've set out as to whether I feel it would fulfill children's rights, and I suppose the most concerning line for me would be the one saying that they would expect the majority of children to be seen. That, I suppose, would be the crux of our response.
Yes. Just regarding your letter to the First Minister and the response from Kirsty Williams with regard to statutory guidance and legislation, in your letter to the First Minister, you said you had a meeting and it was recognised—so, I assume the First Minister agreed—that:
'should the database and statutory guidance not be effective in achieving those aims, further primary legislation will be inevitable.'
So, the First Minister actually agreed with you that, should it not work, further primary legislation would be inevitable. Is that correct, first of all?
That is correct. He said—. It was, in fact, his statement; he didn't just agree with me. That was what he—
—said and he said that he was happy for me to share that view out of the meeting, so—.
Yet in the letter from Kirsty Williams, and I'm just looking through it, I can't see a reference to legislation; it's all about statutory guidance. She says that new regulations and statutory guidance will come into force in March 2020—'I will also be seeking Cabinet approval on the final regulations and statutory guidance.' That doesn't leave time for legislation in this Assembly term.
My understanding would be that it wouldn't be in this Assembly term, if they were to move to legislation.
So, there's a difference of opinion here between the Cabinet Secretary and the First Minister.
The First Minister did say that, if it did go on to primary legislation, it would be unlikely to be within this term.
But I think there is—. So, we had also been told that there simply isn't any space in the legislative programme for Bills, although—we were told that private Member's Bills allocation had closed for the rest of the term, although I note that there was another ballot last week. So, there is room if people want to make space for the issues to be brought forward.
Okay. That's a bit hit or miss that, though, isn't it? So, you are not expecting legislation then, realistically.
I am not, and my understanding, when I met the Cabinet Secretary now a year ago to discuss this issue, was that a way of making positive, clearer change for children more quickly would be to, first of all, bring in statutory guidance and, if that wasn't successful, to move on to primary legislation, but that that would be unlikely to happen this term. So, at that point, I was in agreement that if we could do something more quickly that would be more effective in ensuring that those children get their rights, then that would be a good way forward at the time. But then, since then, it's taken longer than I had expected.
It feels to me a long time, when we think that Dylan Seabridge died in 2011.
Okay, thank you. We've got some questions now on emotional and mental health from Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you, Chair. Can you expand on your recommendation that the Welsh Government takes action to require regional partnership boards to set up specific multi-agency planning structures for children and young people and to integrate children's social care and mental health services into multidisciplinary teams? How realistic do you think this is?
Okay. So, it's quite a long recommendation from me and it's actually got two parts. So, the first part is about planning structures in regional partnership boards and the reason I've put that in is because, under that legislation and under the introduction of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, we've actually lost a requirement for specific planning structures on a multidisciplinary level at a regional level for children. My view is—. My office said at the time—it was before my time—that that may be a loss for children, and my view is that I think that it has been.
So, we've lost things that look like children and young people's planning groups, et cetera. We've not lost them everywhere—some areas decided to retain them and some have reintroduced them, because they've realised that they're at a loss, they've lost them. But not every area has moved forward in that way and what we're seeing is that the regional partnership boards, in particular, their discussions tend to be rather dominated by the genuine and overwhelming needs of the older population and my understanding is that they haven't found the resource and space yet to really focus on multidisciplinary planning for children. Some is going on and some is going on very well, but, without a specific requirement to plan for children, I do think—. We won't achieve that on an even basis across Wales without a direction from Welsh Government and they can do that under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and that's why I've said at regional partnership board level, because that's what it is under the Act. So, the Government can make a direction for that to happen, and I personally think that would be a good move.
Now, I've linked that to the issue around mental health services because that's where I feel that there's a particular need for regional or even local authority level multi-disciplinary planning for children and young people. We've seen that this committee, through its 'Mind over matter' work, is well versed in many of the issues here. But what we see at the moment is children and their families—who might have a range of issues but that are primarily behavioural, emotional or mental health issues—are having to fit into existing pathways and navigate their way between mental health services, social care services, family support services, et cetera.
I think that it would look different in different areas—they have to respond to the needs of their population—but we should be able to offer to children and their families, at the point of crisis in their lives, a joined-up response. So, that's what it's all about, so they're not having to navigate the complicated systems that there are now. Some areas are starting to work on this well. We've seen a successful bid by the Aneurin Bevan region to do something that I think looks rather like this, and that's, incidentally, an area that's retained their children and young people's planning structures after the legislative changes.
I've seen in Flintshire, actually at local authority level rather than at a regional level—and north Wales, of course, is a very big region and they may need to do this at a much more local authority level. In Flintshire, we've seen a multi-disciplinary early help hub, where again that's a one-stop place to co-ordinate support for families at an early stage. So, there are good examples around Wales, but, of course, as commissioner, what I'm interested in is consistency for children wherever they live. At the moment, we're still hearing far too many stories of children and families being lost within a system.
I have social care services saying they cannot access mental health services for the children that they are trying to support, and vice versa. So, wouldn't it make much more sense to bring the services together to provide a much more holistic response? That will require an adjustment from both sides, and it's not trying to put blame on either mental health services or children's services, but, when I've discussed this specific recommendation with leaders in the field, from people who are chairs of regional partnership boards, heads of children's services, practitioners in child and adolescent mental health services, practitioners in social care services, and families affected by this, everyone has said this makes absolute sense.
Yes. It's a biggie for me, because increasingly now I'm seeing more parents coming in and presenting with these kind of issues. As you say, they feel lost, really, because a parent doesn't always know whether it is a behavioural or an emotional need or whether it's something—
And it really shouldn't matter that much. We see children we know have experienced real trauma in their lives—they might be looked-after children, adopted children, for example—but because their presenting behaviour doesn't fit with our current pathways, actually, social care services are having to procure expensive additional mental health support for them. That isn't like one public service to me—you know, our one public service values. We should be reconfiguring ourselves to meet the needs that are out there.
Yes. Thank you. You've called for Welsh Government to take concrete steps towards commissioning new provision to meet the care and mental health needs of the small number of young people with very challenging behavioural and emotional difficulties. Can you tell us more about your concerns that there is currently very little suitable residential provision in Wales? What is your view on the quality of the residential provision in Wales, provided in Bridgend, Abergele, of course, and privately in Ebbw Vale?
Okay. So, this call is about a very small number of children but with very high and complex needs. It's quite clear to me that we don't have enough provision within Wales to meet their needs. It's very difficult to get the right provision, and we can't expect to ever, probably, meet the needs of every single young person, certainly not within one facility or two facilities, et cetera. but what we're seeing is—. What we've seen over the last year in particular—but this is an issue I've raised with Government for a number of years—is children where there have been court cases, there have been family court cases, and there have been arguments almost over the head of the child, as to whether they're the responsibility of social care services or mental health services. The Cabinet Secretary for health has actually been called into court by exasperated judges, and it's been clear that the provision has not been there.
Legally, it falls under the responsibility of heads of children's services. They may phone, or they staff may phone 70 or 80 places over the course of a week, desperately trying to find a place for a child, whether it's a secure placement that's needed or a very safe—just one down from a secure placement—that's needed. We've actually reached a situation where some children are almost being warehoused—which is not a term I would wish to have to use—but where children have been kept safe, but actually we're having to create one-off placements with round-the-clock staff to keep them safe rather than to provide planned, therapeutic input that we need.
There is a shortage here—there's a shortage of secure accommodation. We don't have, in Wales, control over secure accommodation placements. It's done on an England and Wales basis. We only have one secure placement in Wales, which is in Neath, as you're aware, so we have a real need in north Wales in particular.
And then there's also the issue of the tier 4 mental health services, which you referred to as well. Again, there can be a real issue of children having to fit into services. So, are they a tier 4 mental health—do they fit into that pathway or do they fit into a secure care welfare placement? And, actually, often the needs of these children are very similar.
There are are some very specific mental health conditions where children will very specifically need hospital treatment, but for many of these children there's a real sort of merging of social care and mental health needs and I think we could be much smarter in Wales about commissioning multidisciplinary therapeutic services that bring in the best of our mental health care and therapeutic social care to meet those needs.
I've discussed it fairly recently with staff in Abergele, for example, about that, and they agreed that was a real need, that sometimes children are just deemed not to fit into the service there but who clearly have very high needs. And often those needs are then being met in places like Norfolk, Northumberland et cetera. And we must prioritise having children as close to home as possible and with the best care, and to help them recover from their difficulties, not just be held somewhere secure or safe. So, there's a need for more secure accommodation—a bit more secure accommodation or better use of what we have—but also for something that I've called safe accommodation, which keeps children really safe but they may not need actual full security or secure placement.
Before we move on to the next question, I attended a conference as Chair recently and Health Inspectorate Wales gave a really worrying presentation about the quality of care at the in-patient units for children in Wales. It was very worrying and raised serious issues about quality but also about the safety there. I have asked for a meeting with HIW to discuss this but I just wondered whether you had come across any of those concerns about safety?
There's a real issue about staffing in both units, but particularly in the Abergele one, in having the right qualified and numbers of qualified, experienced staff, which means they often can't take as many children as they're approved to do so. So, that's a real issue, just making sure they have the right staff. Safety issues—obviously, HIW have raised concerns and there's obviously an ongoing issue with Tŷ Lydiard, which is still under investigation, so it's probably not suitable for me to comment on today.
I do meet annually with the head of HIW to discuss these issues and I'm aware that they are appropriately following up and acting and alerting the Cabinet Secretary. I try to visit the units as well and speak to children directly, wherever I can and whenever I can.
Okay, thank you. Janet, before you ask the question, can I just appeal for brief questions and brief answers, because we have got a lot of areas to cover before we finish?
Thank you. During scrutiny of the draft budget on 8 November this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services said the recurrent annual £8 million to support CAMHS transformation targeted CAMHS since 2015-16 will now be transferred to the overall ring fence for all-age mental health services in future. What is your view on this?
So, that £8 million is the recurrent money that's, up till now, been supporting the Together for Children and Young People programme, which is now finishing. In general, I think the Government has to make a balance between ring-fencing money and putting things into general grants, especially with local authorities, of course, where there are local democratic processes. But we don't have those local democratic process in health boards, and I think it's really appropriate for us to protect, centrally, money for this particularly vulnerable group where so many concerns have ben raised, particularly by this committee in the last year.
So, I would be in favour of further ring-fencing of children's mental health money until we're absolutely confident that we are providing the services needed for children. It's tended to be an underfunded aspect of the health service. The £8 million is, if my calculations are right, 0.1 per cent of the NHS budget, so it's not really overly tying the hands of the health boards to have money ring-fenced, and in general, when it's protecting children's needs. We know the pressures on the NHS in general, across age groups. I would be in favour of us really boosting funding for children's mental health until we can get it right.
Thank you. Can I ask about bullying? You've been very vocal on the subject of bullying and the Welsh Government has just issued a consultation on draft guidance, which has gone out for consultation. How satisfied are you with that draft guidance and, in particular, does it respond to your call for a legal duty for schools to report all instances of bullying?
Okay. So, obviously, it only came out last week and we will be responding in detail to it. In general, we were involved by the authors of the guidance, by the way, at various points through the drafting, and I am, at my initial read-through, pleased to see that they have responded to our calls to build on evidence from our bullying work from thousands of children in that guidance.
My calls have been for schools to be required to record bullying rather than to report. And what I want to achieve through that is for everyone in a school community—whether they're children, parents, governors, teachers, et cetera—to be confident about the processes, to be confident that bullying will be taken seriously and to be able to analyse and respond to patterns of bullying, particularly where it might involve protected characteristics. And the draft guidance does remind schools of their legal duties under that. That's what we want to achieve—that schools know about bullying, that they're not putting their heads in the sand about it and that they respond to it appropriately to prevent it. So, if they see patterns of racist bullying, for example, or homophobic bullying, they're actually putting in real programmes of work to tackle that, and so that everyone's confident that individual incidents will be dealt with appropriately as well.
What we don't want to achieve is any unintended consequences and I have had discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Education about this, and I do agree with her that we wouldn't want to create a system where schools would be disincentivised from recording bullying, because it is a subjective decision whether you agree something is bullying or not. We wouldn't want to disincentives them from recording incidents of bullying if they thought that they were going to be named and shamed, perhaps, as a school. Because it could be good sign if they've recorded a lot of instances of bullying because it could show that they're recognising and listening to their children. So, we need to get this right. I would expect schools to have to record bullying, for the right reasons, so that they can respond to it and keep all their children safe, but we don't want league tables.
No. Okay, thank you. Right, the next questions are from Julie Morgan on children's rights.
Thank you very much and good morning. Bore da. We've already had a bit of a discussion about children's rights today. How, overall, would you say that the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 has affected children's lives in Wales?
Okay. I think it's been an important Measure. I don't think it probably goes far enough—I would like to see further incorporation of children's rights into the law in Wales—but I think it has been important and it has meant that Ministers have had to, in most circumstances—. We've discussed already areas where I don't feel it's worked so well, but it does mean that Ministers have had to frame language and their policies in children's rights—they've had to give active consideration. Probably the strongest example we could give since the Measure has come into effect has been the work on the removal of reasonable punishment Bill. We haven't seen the Bill yet, but the intentions expressed by the Minister were expressed very clearly within a framework of, 'We're doing this to achieve our duties on children's rights.' So, I think that's a good example of where I think it has had a really positive impact. And although it only affects, legally, the decisions of the Minister, I do think it affects the tone more generally across Government, across the Assembly and, hopefully, across public services. But as you'll be aware, I would like that duty to be more widespread. We've achieved it in some pieces of legislation so far, from the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018, but what I would like to see is just a more widespread duty for due regard.
Really, Ministers should be thinking about children with every decision that they make. Do you think that that happens?
I gave evidence, a bit, about this on the budget last week. What I would like to see is it happening much earlier, so that when the advice comes to the Minister the policy advice comes from a position where children's rights have been thought about right from the start and not added in at the end. So, you don't want policy to be developed and then people to think, 'Oh, now, how can I show that this fulfills children's rights?', because that's obviously the wrong way around. So, I would like to see Ministers getting really detailed advice as to how a policy decision may affect children's rights, including potential negatives as well, because it tends to be a very positive analysis. We need to know whether there might be any negatives and how they might be mitigated as well.
So, there's a lot to be done on the quality, I think, of how the Measure is being implemented, especially around analysis of the impact on children's rights of different decisions. When the Act removing the defence of reasonable punishment is passed, and I hope it will be passed, then that will be, I hope, a strong example of the Measure having some impact.
Yes, thank you very much. I'm going to, actually, go on to ask you something about the reasonable punishment in a second, but you've said that serious consideration should be given to incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Welsh law, like in Norway and Sweden, and I know this is what the Scottish commissioner is very keen to do as well in Scotland. Have you got any more information about what's happening in Scotland?
Well, I happened to spend the day with the Minister for Children and Young People from Scotland yesterday, because she was down at a play conference. She spoke very positively in her speech about their intention to incorporate children's rights into the law in Scotland. Our Minister for children was present during that speech and I hope was taking lots of notes while she said that.
The UNCRC is founded on a principle of progressive realisation. We've started to realise children's rights through the Measure, but I would like to see that progressively moving on. Rachel's really been looking at this in detail for me. Do you want to say a couple more words about what it might mean?
Yes, sure. So, whilst the Measure, as Sally's mentioned, has been a good start and has put that marker down in Wales on how we look at children's rights at a ministerial level, unless or until there are duties on public bodies to act compatibly with children's rights, then those real experiences of children—those day-to-day experiences that we've already talked about in so many areas—may not be as strongly affected by children's rights.
There are clear examples in the Human Rights Act 1998, for example, of how this can be done. We haven't got the courts filled up with cases where people are challenging everything just because they can. It's something that we've spoken to the Minister for children about, actually, and he himself recognised that having a duty to act compatibly in legislation, and an ability to then have a remedy if that hasn't been done, is about driving practice and cultural change rather than about taking cases to the courts. So, for us, we've taken the approach of working with public bodies to act under a children's rights approach, in lieu of a duty on them in law, but the next step, really, would be to broaden out that duty, so that they're required to act compatibly, and that itself will drive the cultural practice changes, but if it doesn't, then there's that protection where a case can brought on the basis of a breach of their rights and a suitable remedy to rectify that.
I've discussed it with the Minister for children and with the First Minister in the last few weeks, and they've said they continue to look into this issue, and also welcome further analysis from us, which we'll be providing them with. And we'll be watching what happens in Scotland very closely.
Before you move on, Julie, I've got a supplementary from Siân on this.
Ie, jest ar y pwynt yma yn benodol. A ydych chi'n credu bod angen deddfu ar wahân i ddiogelu hawliau plant a phobl ifanc, ynteu a fyddai fo'n rhan o Ddeddf ehangach i ddiogelu hawliau pobl yng Nghymru ar ôl inni adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?
Yes, just specifically on this point. Do you believe that we need separate legislation to safeguard the rights of children and young people, or should it be part of broader legislation to safeguard the rights of people in Wales more generally, once we've left the European Union?
I think, you know, protecting the UN convention rights, it could be done in a whole piece of work, and we understand that there's been some work commissioned at a scoping phase at the moment that the leader of the house has talked about. I think it's important that it protects and furthers the rights of those individual groups, and that all of them are included, and it can't be just about general well-being. It would be about specifically protecting those rights. But there's no reason why it couldn't be done alongside other UN treaties, as long as the rights of children are particularly taken forward within that.
Yes, so we wouldn't be adverse to that, but we would obviously be scrutinising it very closely, because sometimes, in more all-encompassing legislation, children's rights fall out of it.
You've mentioned the reasonable punishment issue, and I know you've called for a Bill to be brought in as soon as possible, and this has been one of your big themes, so thank you for all the work you've done on that. I think you said you haven't had any sight yet of how the Bill will be drafted. Have you got any views on how it should be done?
I do, yes. I would hope to see a very simple Bill that simply removes the defence, and then how that is done would be placed in guidance, in terms of implications for implementation, and of course non-statutory guidance around supporting parents to understand positive methods of raising their children. I think we can learn lessons from other countries on this. In New Zealand, lots of amendments were accepted and added onto the Act, which I think has complicated the experience in New Zealand in terms of—. Once you start to try to define the ifs and buts of it, then actually you are getting into more complex territory for people like the police and social services to work with. So, I would be in favour of a very straightforward Bill that just simply removes the defence, with lots of support and guidance around that.
Yes, thank you. And then, the Welsh Government has had a consultation with the public, and I think that 50.3 per cent of respondents thought that the removal would protect children's rights, which is, I think, a very big move forward, really—very positive compared to surveys that have been done in the past. But obviously, there are other people still there who don't understand, I think, probably, what the Government is proposing. Have you got any suggestions on how that should be taken forward?
I think that, again, evidence from other countries has shown that we've seen the biggest changes in children's experiences and parental behaviour where we've had two things together, so a change in the law and a really strong public information campaign, so I do think that that will be necessary. I think the evidence is very clear as to why this needs to be done and the Government needs to be confident—as, to be fair, I think they have been—in stating why this needs to be done and to make sure that people have that support. When we look at—. We're already seeing—. I think, just having these debates is already shifting public opinion. We're seeing a real change.
When we look at probably the target group for this, parents of young children, we've seen a halving in reports of whether they've used smacking or not in the last few years. I've got the figures here: 11 per cent said they smacked their children in the last six months as a way of managing behaviour in 2017; in 2015, it was 22 per cent. So, I think that just having the debate raises awareness, which is why in countries where they haven't passed an Act and they've only done public information, we haven't seen that same fall. Of course, the 50 per cent—50.3 per cent, wasn't it—one could argue, and we would, from our point of view, that it could have been higher because of how it was calculated. So, one of those responses actually represented the views of 1,157 children and young people from one organisation, of whom 72 per cent of primary school pupils supported the change. But that was counted as one response. So, I think we're really seeing a shift in public opinion and strong messages from children on this. I really look forward to 2019, which will be the thirtieth anniversary of the UNCRC. It will be wonderful to see the step forward for children's rights with this going through this year.
Just in terms of—. You said about how to take these messages forward, I think you picked up in the debate recently that there are some really strong messages from children, and one quote in particular from our annual report is that a child has said, 'Anything is better than smacking', and I think the more you speak to children—and this is a policy designed to be a progressive policy to protect children's rights—the more you hear from children those views about why this is so important to them. I think it's part of the wider messaging on why this is such a good idea.
Okay, thank you. We've got several important areas to go, so can I ask Members to be brief, appeal for brief answers and—it's not necessary to ask all the questions—to be discerning about what you want to ask? Advocacy with Dawn.
Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to know how satisfied you are with the national model for statutory advocacy services. Are they meeting the committee's recommendations?
I think the model does, and we're keeping a close eye on it. We've given it a 'green' in our assessment because it's the model that's been introduced and that does meet the committee's recommendations and the calls of three different children's commissioners over the years. We are monitoring the implementation, both through our casework and through the engagement monitoring group that the Welsh Government set up after we asked for it. I think it's fair to say from our casework that the regions are in slightly different places in terms of their implementation. We are still picking up cases where children don't seem to have been offered an advocate, but the difference now is that when we phone up and say, 'This child has a right to an advocate', that's immediately rectified. So, I think we're seeing steps forward, but we are keeping a close eye.
Absolutely. That was the point, because there was already good practice in some areas.
Yes, okay. And my second question in this area is just about the funding for the national model. Are you confident about the ongoing funding? Ministers said, 'It's safe for now.' Just over £0.5 million has been allocated into the safeguarding and advocacy budget line and he says, 'It's safe for now.'
Yes. I mean, that's the message that we've had so far. It's something that, actually, through that monitoring group, at the last meeting that we were at, I did raise the point that time ticks on quite quickly when those decisions have to be made, and so I've asked for that to be considered at future meetings to make sure that those decisions are taken early and that people are consulted.
You're not getting the sense that there's any likelihood of a change, are you, or—?
We haven't heard anything as yet, but the next meeting's tomorrow, actually, so we'll make sure that we keep that on the agenda.
Troi, felly, at bobl ifanc mewn gofal ac yn gadael gofal. Mae yna bron i 6,000 o blant mewn gofal ar hyn o bryd, sydd yn ffigwr uwch nag erioed o'r blaen. Mae'r Llywodraeth wedi ymateb ychydig i hynny wythnos diwethaf, yn cyhoeddi £15 miliwn ar gyfer gwasanaethau i stopio plant rhag mynd i ofal. A ydy hynny'n ddigon? A ydy'r £15 miliwn yna yn mynd i fod yn arian parhaol? A oes gennych chi wybodaeth?
In turning, therefore, to young people in care and leaving care, there are almost 6,000 children who are now looked after, which is the highest figure ever, I believe. The Government has responded to that last week, announcing £15 million for services to prevent children going into care. Is that sufficient? Is that £15 million going to be ongoing funding? Do you have any information about that?
I've got no more information than the public announcements on that. I believe the money is both for prevention and for supporting children when they're in care and leaving care, and I'm glad to see this boost of money. I'm an independent member of the ministerial advisory group, and obviously we'll be expecting to be monitoring it and scrutinising the spend through that. So, I may have more to say about that next year because it's a new announcement to me as well.
Okay. But it's starting to tackle the need to bring this number down.
Absolutely. We want to keep children safely at home wherever possible; that is generally the best place for them. And if they do need to come into care, then we need to make sure they have every chance to do even better once they're in care.
Sydd yn mynd â fi ymlaen at y ffaith bod yna ffigyrau yn dangos, yn y flwyddyn hyd ddiwedd Mawrth 2017, fod 624 o blant mewn gofal wedi bod mewn tri neu fwy o leoliadau yn ystod y 12 mis diwethaf—10 y cant o'r ffigwr. Yn amlwg, nid yw hynny'n dderbyniol. Nid yw'r plant yn cael y profiadau gorau drwy symud o gwmpas fel yna. A ydych chi'n credu bod y Llywodraeth yn cymryd hyn o ddifrif, a pha gamau a ydych chi'n eu gweld sydd yn cael eu cymryd i daclo hyn?
Which takes me on to the fact that there are figures demonstrating that, in the year to the end of March 2017, 624 looked-after children have had three or more placements in the previous 12 months—that's 10 per cent. Now, clearly, that's not acceptable. The children aren't getting the best experiences by being moved around in that way. Do you believe that the Government is taking this seriously, and what steps do you believe need to be taken to tackle this?
This has been an ongoing issue since this was first monitored, which is many years ago now. The figures have been around about 10 per cent and they're comparable, maybe just slightly lower than in England. So, it is an ongoing issue and I share your concern for the experiences of those children, of that 10 per cent. It's something that children raise with us regularly. It's one of the issues obviously under discussion in the ministerial advisory group—one of the many issues that that group is trying to tackle.
I am aware of an ongoing programme that's actually not funded by Government—it's funded by the Big Lottery at the moment—called Confidence in Care, which is being rolled out by a consortium of organisations, led by Fostering Network, which is an evidence-based programme that reduced placement changes in England, where it was first developed. It's a training course for foster carers. It's been rolled out across all local authorities in the last few years and it's subject to a university trial, so they'll be able to say whether it was effective or not in reducing placements changes. I believe the outcomes of that are due in the next few months. If it is shown to be effective, then that would definitely be something I would be interested in the Government funding going forward. I think it's right to try something first and to properly evaluate it, but we need to properly support and give confidence to our foster carers, and residential care workers, to support children through challenging times.
Diolch. Rydym ni wedi trafod yn barod yr adroddiad 'Hidden Ambitions' ynglŷn â phlant yn gadael gofal. A ydych chi yn dal i feddwl bod eisiau mwy o wybodaeth ynglŷn â hawliau ariannol i blant sydd yn gadael gofal? Pa mor bwysig ydy'r mater yma?
Thank you. We've already discussed the 'Hidden Ambitions' report on children leaving care. Do you still believe that more information is needed on financial entitlements for children leaving care? How significant an issue is this?
Yes, out of the recommendations that were made in 'Hidden Ambitions', this is the one we've highlighted and I agree that there hasn't been progress made on yet. We've had very recent discussions with Government and they say they will get on with it now. The reason I've asked for that is because it's very complex, the situation. It's very difficult for young people to navigate, but also for those advising them—their personal advisers, their social workers, their foster carers. Some of it is national, either Wales or UK-based entitlements, and it makes absolute sense to me to have some national information about what care leavers are entitled to, and there will be local variations on that, where local authorities offer extra support.
It's a very common thing for young people. When young people do contact us directly for casework, they very often are people leaving care who are just confused about support for going to universities, support for starting an apprenticeship, that kind of thing. I think it's something that the Government could do and should do. So, I hope we'll see a change in that RAG rating over the next year.
On the sexual assault referral centres, I just wondered what progress you felt has been made on the Government recommendations on the centres.
So, you'll be aware that this is an issue I've worked on hard in the last—
My recommendation, yes. I want Government to keep an eye on it, but to push the health boards and the police and other people who are engaged in this. So, that's why I've directed it at the Welsh Government. In fact, when I first got involved, what transpired was that one aspect of the issue was that funding was stuck. So, it was actually funding that had been provided by Welsh Government but it hadn't trickled through to the services, and I think I had a good response at that point from Government, from the Cabinet Secretary and Andrew Goodall, to push that forward.
The wider issue and the reason I've raised it so strongly in this annual report is workforce planning for the future. So, we have really a bit of a crisis in terms of having suitably trained medical practitioners, paediatricians and forensic medical examiners to give children safe and adequate examinations when they need it.
There has been progress made in terms of the fact that Cardiff and Vale health board have agreed to take on leadership for this, and they have convened a group. The parties are back around the table, because, actually, when I was alerted to it by my child sexual exploitation round table a year ago, talks had actually broken down and it was completely stalled. So, they are back around the table. Police, health boards, voluntary agencies et cetera are talking about the way forward. I'm regularly monitoring—I'm getting updates from the lead of that work in Cardiff and the Vale regularly and monitoring it through my CSE round table, asking them—because they are the people delivering these services—'Is this getting any better?'
So, how widely is it being delivered or not being delivered? Is it being delivered anywhere?
North Wales—this has not been an issue in north Wales. In north Wales, they have an ongoing SARC service based in Colwyn Bay, where there's co-operation between the health board and the police service, and in Cardiff and the Vale that's also been the issue. Although they're leading on this now, they actually have an ongoing service, but for a lot of the rest of Wales—
—it's still—. It's being covered, but it's being covered—. Outside of north Wales, everywhere else is being covered by Cardiff and the Vale at the moment.
Children are travelling because that's been the safest decision at the moment, because they haven't been able to be safely seen by paediatricians elsewhere, due to retirements and that kind of thing.
Sure, I understand that. And your—. What would your view be in terms of how many centres are needed?
Okay. We can't have centres everywhere because we need really skilled staff to staff this, but I think it's been a real loss—we've lost the one in Swansea, so to have one in the west somewhere, perhaps even further west than Swansea, but somewhere where there's really adequate medical back-up—. It does feel a loss, and I don't think we'll be able to carry on just with Cardiff and Colwyn Bay. It's just too big an area in terms of children's experiences.
So, I will be keeping a close eye on that in the next year and hope to be able to report better news next year.
Thank you very much. Yes, I wanted to ask about young offenders. I'm sure you saw the report from the Wales Governance Centre about incidents of self-harm and assaults, which showed that Parc prison's youth wing had a much higher rate of self-harm than other comparable institutions in England and Wales. So, I just wondered if you had any comments about that, because I think there were 64 incidents of self-harm in 2017 and the highest rate of assaults against young people—113 incidents—in 2017, so—. I think you do visit Parc.
I do, yes. I was there last week, in fact. I met young people and the governor—the director, as she's called there. First of all, my preference would be not to have children in prison. The children who are in prison now—. There are very small numbers—just over 20 now from Wales in prison at the moment, at the current time. They have committed very serious crimes now, so it's a very different population in prison than it was a few decades ago, or even a decade ago. They face many challenges, behaviourally and in their backgrounds. They do need really skilled help to—. They're serving their sentence, but obviously we should be using this time of their sentence to really help them turn their lives around. I don't personally think that prison is the best place for that; I'd rather see them in secure children's homes. That's my starting point. I do visit regularly to Parc prison. Parc prison's been working hard on its provision for children. I think it's fair for me to say that; I do visit regularly.
They've been working with us on implementing a children's rights approach over the last year, have changed staff, making sure they're recruiting in staff that share their values. I have seen a bit of a change in the three years that I've been visiting. These figures are obviously 2017, and they are concerning, and I do agree with your concerns, but I have seen some changes in what the boys there report to me in terms of awareness of the fact that they have rights, that their relationships with staff and relationships with staff in different parts of the service—. So, there was a bit of a divide before, I think, about the care wing and the education wing, and there feels much more of a common value base that staff are working hard on. A programme called minimising and managing physical restraint, MMPR, that is trying to minimise use of physical restraint by staff—. They've brought in a different kind of education system. The education's much stronger, I think, than it was two or three years ago, but it is a challenging environment, and it's not the right environment. It is a prison, it's within an adult prison, and I think there is a limit to how they can give the best care within that environment.
So, I'm actually very—. Whilst we have that as our only resource in Wales, I do visit Welsh—I did this year visit Welsh boys held in Werrington as well, because that's where most boys from north Wales are sent. While we have this system, then we need to make sure that they're getting the very best care so that they can turn their lives around during their sentence. All of our institutions have got a lot of work to do on that, and I'm keeping a close eye on that in conjunction with the English children's commissioner.
I think it was 24 last week when I visited—22, sorry.
Well, last week—and this is a very changing picture—I think either 12 or 14 were in Parc; the rest would have been in Werrington, Hillside, and a couple of other places in England. There are no prison facilities for girls in Wales, of course—or for women, indeed. Again, that is—. We usually only have zero, or one or two, girls in custody.
They go to the north-west of England. I'm afraid the name has escaped my mind for a minute.
Thank you. Well, we've come to the end of our time, and we've had a very wide-ranging and full discussion, so thank you for attending and for answering all our questions. As usual, we'll send you a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but can I thank again the children's commissioner and Rachel Thomas for their attendance today? Thank you. The committee will break until 11:15.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:03 ac 11:16.
The meeting adjourned between 11:03 and 11:16.
Can I welcome everybody back? Item 3 this morning is an evidence session on our inquiry into the status of the Welsh baccalaureate. I'm very pleased to welcome Qualification Wales this morning, in particular, Philip Blaker, chief executive, Ann Evans, chair, and Emyr George, who is associate director. Thank you very much for attending. We know that this is a topic that you're very interested in and we're looking forward to hearing your answers. The first question is from Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning. Will you provide an update on progress since the publication of the Wavehill review of the skills challenge certificate?
Yes, certainly. Can I start off by just doing a little bit of positioning, maybe, to begin with? It's really to help with the evidence as we move forward. The first is we can see in the evidence that's been submitted to you and in the general narrative about the Welsh bac or the skills challenge certificate that there are lots of terms that get used interchangeably, like the 'Welsh bac', 'skills challenge certificate', and there's lots of language that can actually be quite confusing, even for young people. So, the skills challenge certificate, which is the unique bit within the Welsh baccalaureate, is delivered in schools by people called Welsh bac co-ordinators. So, there are all sorts of bits of terminology that can be quite confusing. There's also the different levels within the Welsh baccalaureate—the advanced baccalaureate, the specific post-16 ones and the national and foundation that's delivered in schools. So, what we would like to do is, as we're presenting our evidence today, if there's anything that's specific to one particular level or to one particular variant, we'll try and draw that out for you, because we think it's helpful to try and do that.
It's also worth just positioning ourselves as an organisation within the delivery of the Welsh baccalaureate. So, as you'll know, we're the independent regulator for qualifications. So, it's Welsh Government policy that wraps around much of the Welsh baccalaureate and skills challenge certificate. The WJEC are clearly the agency that have developed and now deliver the qualification and we're there as the regulator. I think it's important to set that out, because, when we work with those other bodies and when we look at the Welsh bac or the skills challenge certificate, we do that through that regulatory role, which sort of flavours the approach that we have. So, I just thought it was useful to set some of that out to begin with, to contextualise things.
Emyr is leading on the work following the review and led on the review itself, so it's probably best for him to answer some of this.
Yes, happy to. I'm pleased to say that we've made good progress and that we are where we expected to be when we published our response to the recommendations in the review. So, in terms of establishing a process to take forward the recommendations, we've established a design group to help us consider some of the suggestions that came out of the report about potential improvements that can be made to the design of the Welsh bac in the future, the design of the skills challenge certificate in its various guises. And, on that, we have representatives from Welsh Government, from WJEC, from Estyn, from the regional consortia, from ColegauCymru, and we've also got independent assessment experts that we've contracted with to help advise us on that.
That's the design group. That's now met once at the beginning of this month, and we'll shortly be putting out a bit of a general update on where we got to in our discussions, which were very productive. We've also convened a practitioners' group, which is a group made up solely of those who are currently responsible for delivering the skills challenge certificate within schools and colleges. Again, that's just met recently, and we have 20 or so practitioners there. An invite went out to all schools and colleges in Wales to invite members to take part in that work, and we've been really pleased with the response. We've been able to end up with a very representative group there of practitioners who can help to give us a sense of any issues that they're encountering at the moment, but also to help test and refine the ideas that will come out from the discussions of the design group.
Our intention is that we'll also have a wider stakeholder group to help share the work that we're doing, and refine the messaging around the work that we're doing as it progresses, because we know that communication is really key in all of this stuff. So, we're hoping to use a wider stakeholder group to get the perspectives of employers, HE and others users of the qualification as well.
That's the main progress. In terms of some of the other recommendations, we've been making some good headway with putting in place a communications campaign to help raise awareness and understanding of the qualification, and we're working closely with WJEC and Welsh Government on that. We put out a short animated video in September, which was reasonably well received, that just helps to explain what the qualification is about. The feedback that we've had so far from schools and colleges is that that's been quite useful just to use with prospective students and parents, and so on.
We're looking to—. Sorry, I should say we've also earlier this year recruited an HE liaison officer who is out there engaging all the time with universities, both here in Wales and across the border in England, but also, crucially, with sixth forms and colleges here in Wales as well. He has met already now over the summer with upwards of 60 heads of sixth form and colleges in Wales, and has been able to gather their views and their experience most recently of how the skills challenge certificate and the Welsh bac are being perceived by those employers and institutions that learners are going on to. And I'm pleased to say that the feedback has been generally quite positive, and that there does seem to be a growing awareness and understanding, particularly among universities and those employers who do recruit directly from colleges and sixth forms, about the Welsh bac, the skills challenge certificate, what it's about and the value it brings.
We're moving our focus in that work onto employers—notoriously difficult to engage with, but therefore all the more reason to make the effort. And we have today some representatives at the business expo in the Motorpoint Arena here in Cardiff, the Introbiz. So, we're there, we've got a presence, we're talking about the Welsh bac, raising its profile, explaining about it. We've also been developing our links with the Federation of Small Businesses, with the Confederation of British Industry, to talk to them about how best we can get the message out. We're developing some blogs with them and things, but really talking about how we can invite employers in the new year to come and talk to us, to engage with us. We hope the work that we're doing for the future on the design of the Welsh bac is another opportunity to continue that engagement.
So, we've been quite busy, but, yes, it's just so far, so good.
Great, okay. Just on that last point, when you say 'employers', will that be across all sectors—small, medium—.
As far as we can, yes. It's always easier to engage with the representative bodies in the first instance, but we are aware that there is a need to develop information that is accessible to all kinds of different businesses in different areas, acknowledging that they're often under all kinds of pressure, and they often don't have the time to engage with this kind of stuff. So, yes.
It's also worth noting that employers will tend to engage with these sorts of things when it becomes relevant to them, and bigger employers, who are employing people regularly, will engage with young people coming into their business that have got the skills challenge certificate and the Welsh bac, and they'll gain an understanding of it more quickly. Some of the smaller employers, who might not be employing that frequently—they're always more difficult people to reach, because it's very tangential to them until they are looking to recruit.
Absolutely. So, it's about having information readily available, and our role as a regulator is not to promote the qualification per se, but we want to promote an understanding of it. So, we want to raise awareness and make sure that it's well understood.
Bore da. Rydych chi wedi egluro yn fanna rhai o'r cynlluniau sydd ar waith i gynyddu dealltwriaeth a gwerthfawrogiad o'r fagloriaeth ar draws, felly, ond rowliwch yn ôl ychydig bach o hynny: pam mae angen i chi gwneud y gwaith yna? Ydy o oherwydd bod yna ddiffyg gwerthfawrogiad o'r fagloriaeth a diffyg dealltwriaeth ymhlith dysgwyr, ysgolion a'r sector addysg uwch? Ai dyna pam rydych chi'n gorfod gwneud y gwaith yma i gyd?
Good morning. You've explained there some of the plans that are under way to increase the understanding and appreciation of the Welsh bac, but can you roll back a little bit from there: why do you need to undertake that work? Is it because there is a lack of appreciation of the Welsh bac and a lack of understanding amongst learners, schools and the higher education sector? Is that why you have to do all this work?
Wel, mi wnaethom ni ganfod yn yr adroddiad—neu mi wnaeth Wavehill ganfod yn yr adroddiad y gwnaethon nhw gynhyrchu ar ein cyfer ni—fod yna angen i gynyddu'r wybodaeth ac i egluro'n fwy syml beth mae'r cymhwyster, y dystysgrif her sgiliau, amdano, ei gwerth hi, sut mae'n gweithio ac yn y blaen, a bod hynny, yn rhannol, achos bod dyluniad y cymhwyster yn reit gymhleth. Ond mae hefyd yn werth dweud ei fod e'n gymhwyster newydd, mae'n gymhwyster arloesol, ac felly mae'n ddealladwy, mewn ffordd, fod yna angen parhau â'r ymdrech o egluro, o godi ymwybyddiaeth a dealltwriaeth o'r cymhwyster fel ei fod e'n ennill ei blwyf ac yn mynd o nerth i nerth.
Well, we found in the report—or rather Wavehill found in the report that they produced for us—that there was a need to enhance understanding and to explain in simpler terms what this qualification, the skills challenge certificate, is about, its value, how it works and so on and so forth, and that that was partially because the design of the qualification is relatively complex. But it's also worth saying that it's a new qualification, it's an innovative qualification, and, therefore, it is quite understandable in a way that there is a need to continue with the work of explaining, raising awareness and understanding of the qualification so that it does win its place and continue to go from strength to strength.
Ai canfyddiad ydy o, ynteu realiti, ynglŷn â'r fagloriaeth—? Hynny yw, ai canfyddiad nad oes yna llawer o werth iddi hi neu nad yw prifysgolion yn ei derbyn hi? Ai canfyddiad ydy hynny, ynteu a oes yna wir broblem efo'r ffordd mae hi wedi cael ei strwythuro a dealltwriaeth ynglŷn â hynny?
Is it a perception or reality in terms of the bac—? Is it a perception that there's not much value to it or that universities don't accept it? Is that a perception or is there a real problem with the way that it's been structured and an understanding about that?
Rydw i'n meddwl mai'r sefyllfa ydy bod yna angen yr ymdrech i godi ymwybyddiaeth a dealltwriaeth, ac mai dyna'r her sydd o'n blaenau ni. Yn ein profiad ni, pan fyddem ni'n siarad gyda'r prifysgolion, gyda chyflogwyr, gydag athrawon, pan fyddan nhw'n cael cyfle—rhieni a disgyblion hefyd—i ddeall beth yw nod y cymhwyster a sut mae'n gweithio'n ymarferol, yr ymateb rydym ni'n ei gael bron bob amser, mae'n un cadarnhaol tu hwnt, ac yn un cefnogol. Yn wir, y sgiliau sydd yn greiddiol i'r cymhwyster ydy'r sgiliau hynny—mae'r cyflogwyr a phrifysgolion yn dweud dro ar ôl tro mai dyna'r sgiliau maen nhw eisiau gweld yn cael eu meithrin yn ein pobl ifanc ni. Felly, nid ydw i'n meddwl mai problem cynhenid gyda'r cymhwyster rydym ni'n delio â hi. Mae yna le i wella, ac mi oedd yr adroddiad yn sôn am hynny, ond mae problem, neu her, o ymwybyddiaeth a gwybodaeth a dealltwriaeth rydym ni'n delio â hi.
Well, I think the situation is that we do need a campaign to raise awareness and understanding, and that's the challenge facing us. In our experience, when we speak to universities and to employers and teachers—as well as parents and pupils, of course—when they have an opportunity to understand the aim of the qualification and how it works in practical terms, then the response we almost always get is very positive and very supportive. Indeed, the skills that are at the heart of the qualification are those skills that employers and universities tell us time and again that they want to see nurtured in our young people. So, I don't think it's an inherent problem with the qualification. There is room for improvement, and the report did cover that, but I think it's a challenge in terms of awareness, information and understanding.
Achos, yn wreiddiol, mi oedd y cysyniad yn un llawer mwy syml, onid oedd? Roedd yn ymgais i ddod ymlaen yng Nghymru â bagloriaeth oedd yn cyfateb i'r fagloriaeth ryngwladol, ac nid oedd yr elfennau lefel A ac yn y blaen—. Roedd o'n sefyll ar ben ei hun, onid oedd, yn wreiddiol. A ydy o wedi mynd yn rhy gymhleth, a dyna sydd yn achosi'r dryswch yma?
Because, originally, the idea was much simpler, wasn't it? It was an attempt to come forward in Wales with a bac that corresponded to the international bac, and the A-level elements and so forth weren't—. It stood on its own, didn't it, originally. Has it become too complex, and that's what's causing this confusion?
Rydw i'n credu, o ran y dyluniad sydd gyda ni ar y foment, mae'r elfen dystysgrif her sgiliau yna yn esblygiad o'r hyn oedd yna o'r blaen, lle yr ŷm ni'n sôn am y craidd—y core—ar gyfer y fagloriaeth, ac rydw i'n credu un o'r pryderon oedd yn cael eu codi gyda'r hen drefn oedd bod disgyblion ddim yn medru cael clod, neu ddim yn medru dangos eu bod nhw wedi cyflawni'r gofynion craidd, oni bai eu bod nhw hefyd yn cyflawni'r pethau o'i gwmpas ef. Felly, rydw i yn meddwl ei fod e'n gryfder y dyluniad newydd fod yr elfen honno, sydd mor ganolog i'r peth, nawr yn sefyll ar ei ben ei hunan fel cymhwyster, a'r cymhwyster yna ar y lefel uwch ydy'r cymhwyster sy'n cario'r pwyntiau UCAS ac yn cael ei gynnwys mewn cynigion ar gyfer mynd ymlaen i brifysgolion, er enghraifft, ac yn cael ei weld fel rhywbeth sy'n gyfwerth â level A o ran maint yr her ac yn y blaen.
Well, in terms of its current design, the skills challenge certificate element is an evolution of what was there previously, where we're talking of the core for the baccalaureate, and I think one of the concerns was—and this was a concern raised with the old regime—that pupils couldn't demonstrate that they had delivered the requirements of the core unless they also delivered all of those things surrounding it. So, I do think it's a strength of the new design that that element that is so central to it now stands alone as a qualification and that qualification at the higher level is the qualification that carries the UCAS points and which is included in offers to go on to higher education, for example, and is seen as being of equal value to an A-level.
Ocê, a jest—. Mae yna bwyntiau fanna fydd yn cael eu dilyn i fyny, rydw i'n siŵr. Cysondeb o'r fagloriaeth ar draws ysgolion—wel, y diffyg cysondeb rydym wedi'i glywed amdano eisoes—a ydy hynny yn effeithio ar ganfyddiadau ac yn effeithio ar y delivery o'r fagloriaeth?
Okay, and just—. There are points there that will be followed up, I'm sure, later. Consistency of the Welsh bac across schools—or that lack of consistency that we've heard about already—does that have an impact on perceptions and an impact on the delivery of the bac?
If I can just mention the fact that some schools have been delivering the Welsh bac for well over a decade, some schools will have started to deliver the Welsh bac in 2015, and it is inevitable that schools that have been delivering it for a longer period of time are more experienced, they have more of an understanding of the qualification and the changes to that qualification that came in in 2015. So, while we wouldn't comment directly on consistency across schools, common sense tells us that the longer a school has been doing something, the more confident they are about what they are delivering and the more confident the teachers will be about what they are delivering.
I think also there's inevitably variability between schools in terms of their approach to the teaching of any subject area. Where the skills challenge certificate is new, is different—. So, it's trying to draw out things that are different, but complementary, to traditional academic subject disciplines. Now, that's always going to—. That newness and that difference is bound to increase that degree of variability between schools. We have some evidence in the review that we've undertaken—. And we have to recognise that the review and the report that we published in April of this year was drawing on evidence in field work in 2017. So, there's been quite a lot of water under the bridge since that field work. But it showed that one of the variabilities was whether there was consistency in the teaching in the school—so, whether it was the same teacher who was developing their skills in being able to deliver the course who was then going on to deliver it the next year. There was some evidence in our report around variability in that another teacher would be starting from scratch and learning again. Now, we don't inspect schools in any way, we don't inspect the delivery of qualifications within schools, so the only evidence we have is through the review, but we did, in the review, see variability on that basis as well.
That is similar to what the committee's heard: very big variations in approach across Wales, which is obviously concerning.
Can I—? It's maybe just worth saying one thing on that: we're conducting a little piece of research at the moment where we're going out to understand what the delivery models are in schools—so, how it's actually being delivered on the ground—because we think that some of that research can help to inform a way forward. So, it's very early days and I think we've only recently—or we are just in the process of contracting with somebody on that, but we are planning on doing some work to try and understand what the delivery models are.
So, is it your view then that if—you know, Government policy is to go towards universal adoption. Isn't it reasonable, then, to expect that there would be some sort of universal way of delivering it across Wales? Don't you think that that's something that should be addressed?
It's interesting, isn't it, because you'd want to see some consistency in basic standards of how something is being delivered. Equally, the whole point of something like this is that it becomes guided rather than directed learning. So, it's more about the learners drawing out their skills. Equally, the shape of the new curriculum, moving forward, is about schools having more agency in how they do things. So, there are lots of conflicting messages here.
One of the other important points to note is that the skills challenge certificate is very in tune with the new curriculum. It very much is—. You could almost see it as an advance guard to the new curriculum in some ways.
Do you think that it's viewed by all stakeholders as rigorous and equivalent to other qualifications?
So, it comes down to your interpretation of those two words, of 'vigorous' and 'equivalent'.
We do think it's—. We regulate it in the same way as we regulate A-levels and GCSEs. It has that same level of scrutiny and monitoring as those other high-status qualifications, so we treat it very much as a high-status qualification. We don't see any problems with it at the moment. The view of us as the independent regulator would be that it's rigorous.
In terms of 'equivalent', it comes down to what one means by 'equivalent'. So, if we took the advanced skills challenge certificate as an example, it's a level 3 qualification, which is the same as an A-level in terms of its position within the qualifications framework, and it's the same size in terms of the number of guided learning hours. So, it's the same size and it's the same level as an A-level, but it is a different qualification, and that's its strength in many ways, that it complements that academic route of the A-level. It attracts the same UCAS points as an A-level, which is a useful thing. So, it has equivalence, but it is different.
And if you think about the advanced skills challenge certificate, half of it is the individual project, which is about deeper learning in the subject that somebody wants to take on to university, So, it is very much aligned to their progression ambitions, and half of it is about the development of broader skills. Those broader skills are things that universities and employers value. So, the view would be that it does have a direct relationship with academic study and it does have a direct relationship with developing the skills that enable people to progress their learning even further. So, direct equivalence is perhaps different to value, and those things can get confused quite easily.
If you think about the way universities value it as an equivalent qualification, if we combine those two concepts, there isn't consistency when students apply for university, there's a lack of clarity there, would you agree?
I think this issue of how universities view it and how they use it is an interesting one, and you sometimes hear people say that universities don't accept it, or, as you're saying, they don't all accept it—
I think that statement needs to be examined. If I may, that's somewhat of an over-simplification, because the way, broadly, that universities look at the qualification—I think you could probably say there are three ways that they look at it.
You can see it sometimes reflected directly in an offer made to a student alongside A-levels, so it'll be used interchangeably, if you like, with an A-level in terms of the offer being made to that student hoping to go on to a particular course.
Other courses and institutions—and this can vary within an university, sometimes—reflect it in their offer because they'll make an alternative offer. So, they'll say, 'If this student comes to us with a skills challenge certificate'—either pass or sometimes a specified particular grade that they want to see in that—'then we will reduce the grades that we're asking for in the standard three A-levels—'
Not necessarily, no. And we have to remember, all universities are independent, there is no consistency in terms of how universities make offers in relation to any qualification. It's up to them—
Which are better established, and there is a degree of homogeneity in that suite of qualifications.
We had some quite stark evidence from Cardiff University. They were quoted as saying:
'The Welsh Bacc is not a fair substitute for a full A-level, and should not be regarded as such. I consider it to be a disadvantage for Welsh students, compared with their English counterparts.'
That was evidence from Cardiff University.
We've just been talking about how it's not exactly the same as an A-level.
It's very different. It's a different qualification to an A-level. From our conversations with universities that do value it, they often say to us that they appreciate it and value it because of its difference to an A-level and what else it tells you about what a student has been doing and is able to do, in addition to the more traditional academic study qualifications.
If I can just finish on that third way in which the skills challenge certificate can have a positive influence on how universities look at applicants, and we hear this often from highly selective universities, from medical schools, from Oxford, for example, they may not reflect the qualification in the offer that they're making to individual students—and that often reflects a policy at the university level of being as uniform as possible in the offer that they're making to a whole range of different students from Wales and from elsewhere—but they do value the experiences that it gives the students when they're making their application, when they're putting their personal statement together. It can have a positive influence on the decision on whether to make an offer in the first place.
According to UCAS, only 33 per cent of the students holding the SCC used it instead of one of their A-levels. Sixty-seven per cent used it to top up, on top of their A-levels. So, students aren't showing much confidence that universities are going to accept it.
We probably wouldn't want to see the skills challenge certificate seen as a replacement for one A-level. because if somebody's intending to go to university, three A-levels are probably the best solution for them, with the skills challenge certificate being something that sits alongside in the way that we described earlier about deepening study in the subject that they're wanting to take on.
So, if you want to go to university, you're better off doing three A-levels, and the extra work is just for the benefit of doing extra work.
Well, many universities do include it in their offer strategies—
But it's also quite easy to get down to this—. It dependes what we as a society want out of the education of young people to a degree, as well. So, do we want education to be reduced down to just getting the qualifications that are needed for the next step? I think there's a danger in that, and what the skills challenge certificate—
That's not what I'm doing. What I'm talking about is admission to universities—
Well, I think I need to clarify that point because I've been misrepresented in what I just said. I'm talking about access to university. I'm not talking about wider society—we're talking about universities and how they perceive the qualification.
The vast majority of universities perceive it very well and there's lots of evidence for that. There are some universities—and there can be quite a lot of emphasis around particular Russell Group universities that don't make offers based on it, but a lot of universities do make offers based on it and value it. As Emyr was trying to say, it's not all just about offer strategies, it's about the value that's placed on the qualification. I think that was your original question—
But we also need to understand—if a university takes a position on the skills challenge certificate, what's that based on? Is it based on a full understanding of the qualification or is it based on a perception of the qualification? One of the reasons why we made the choice to have a higher education person going out and talking to universities is actually, increasingly, to get out to those universities who maybe aren't including it in offer strategies or don't have a clear policy statement around the skills challenge certificate to understand what the basis for that is. Is that based on a misunderstanding of the qualification or is it based on something else? As I said earlier, we don't want to get into the position of advocating, because as a regulator we shouldn't advocate a qualification, but we would want universities to be in a position of having a good understanding of the qualification.
So, what does your engagement officer actually do when they go to universities—what do they actually do with the universities?
They'll be talking to the admissions staff to understand what the admissions policies are—so, if it's centralised admissions or if it's distributed admissions policies around the different parts of the university—and then trying to understand what their policy position is on the Welsh baccalaureate and checking the understanding of—so, you know, 'Do you have a good understanding of what the qualification's trying to do?'
It's interesting, isn't it, because there's a slight similarity with a qualification that is more commonly delivered in England, which is the extended project qualification. So, the extended project isn't universally included in offers from universities. It sits in that similar territory to the skills challenge certificate. It's half the size of the skills challenge certificate and it's just about the project. So, if you think about the skills challenge certificate, it's the EPQ plus—so it's got more around it, it's got more skills development around it. So, what we want to understand, another thing, is if a university has a policy about the extended project qualification, is that congruent with their position on the skills challenge certificate? Because it should be at least congruent with that. If not, the skills challenge certificate is held in slightly higher value.
So, if you're getting this information, do you hold that information about universities? I imagine you're building a database all the time about different universities and how they approach it, and would you then be able to provide the committee with that information?
It's very early days. It's a new appointment to the organisation that started in September. So, at the moment, we're just into the groundwork of understanding things. But, ultimately, yes, as we're looking at—. So, we're already working with UCAS to identify those universities that have the highest flow of Welsh learners going to them, because it would make sense to understand the position of those universities first. But we will be looking to build a comprehensive picture of what HE's perspective is on the qualification.
I couldn't give a commitment to that at the moment, as I say, because it's quite early days. But it would probably take us at least a year to get to that position to have something that isn't superficial.
Okay. Do you have any views on whether the Welsh bac is onerous for students?
Without doubt, it's more work on top of A-levels. Partly, it comes back to that view of value. Now, if we think about it in terms of the project element of it deepening the understanding of studies that are already going on, you'd say that that's very much in step with what the qualification—either the A-level that they're going to be working on or the skills challenge certificate—is trying to achieve. There is this idea of deepening the study, and the subject being something that is of value and should be of value to them and deepening their understanding of the subject. So, there's more work there, but it's work that is contributing to that A-level as well.
Hefin, very briefly now, because we're moving on to universal adoption.
Yes, but you have taken up a lot of time and we have got two other blocks of questions. I am the Chair, and it's not for you to tell me when to stop.
And the final question then would be, the skills development in the skills challenge certificate—would it be better off doing that through A-levels, given that the skills are valuable? Wouldn't doing it through A-levels be easier?
Inevitably, there is some skills development that will happen through A-levels anyway. So, if you took something like history A-level and you took one of the skills from the skills challenge certificate about critical thinking, as an example, well, in the study of history, you have to have critical thinking and critical analysis of sources. So, that would be part of it.
What the skills challenge certificate is trying to do is to draw those skills out in different ways, and if we think about some of the things that the skills challenge certificate really offers, like developing team working, developing communication skills and all of those sorts of things, it would appear, in a conventional delivery of something like an A-level, to be more difficult to draw those out as discrete things, especially if you want those to be taught and assessed things. And I think it's around that that the skills challenge certificate usefully provides an Environment for those skills to be developed.
If delivered well, it develops the teaching around it. So, one of the things that we've identified in our report is the balance between teaching and learning and assessment is probably not in the right place, and this is, maybe, where the thoughts about it being onerous for the learners are. One of the things that we've seen WJEC develop in their continuing professional development offer, which is going out at the moment, is it's not about generating loads and loads and loads of evidence and a massive portfolio, it's about generating high-quality evidence.
Probably, some of the nature of it being onerous for individuals is maybe producing too much stuff that isn't necessarily of the right quality. So, I think, as the qualification beds down and the expectations of it become more known by teachers, we would hope that it becomes more manageable for everybody—for the schools involved and for the learners involved. And one of the things that we're looking for in our design work that we're doing—so the working group that we've got that is looking at the design—is where can we make the qualification, the design of the qualification more manageable for everybody who's involved.
In terms of the continuing professional development work that we want to do, and the work where we're looking at delivery models, it's about how we can improve the manageability of the qualification and how the WJEC can work with its customers in schools to make sure that it is as manageable as possible.
Thank you very much, Chair. I wanted to ask you about universal adoption. Do you have any views on whether schools and colleges are fully prepared for universal adoption?
I think we're quite clear that the policy around adoption is Welsh Government policy, so we're quite neutral, I suppose is the way I would describe that, about universal adoption. But, we would say that we think clarity would be helpful, and not just clarity with a kind of envelope that says 'the Welsh bac', but clarity around what you mean at key stage 4, what you mean for colleges and what you mean for sixth forms. So, we think it could actually come down to being very specific. We think that that clarity would be incredibly useful—it would be useful for schools and colleges, and it would make life more straightforward for schools and colleges if they knew what the expectations were.
So, do you think, at the moment, it's not clear and they don't know what the expectations are?
I think it's a bit mixed, particularly in sixth forms and in colleges. I think at key stage 4 there is more of an anticipation that it is universal adoption across the whole of key stage 4, so I think there is some confusion, and that's certainly something we've picked up, about what exactly universal adoption means. Does it mean entitlement, or does it mean that every student has to do it?
If the question is about preparedness, I suppose from our point of view that's about ensuring that where centres are offering it they have access to the necessary resources, the training, the support and the information that they need. We are confident that that's there, but as I was saying earlier in my update, we're doing more all of the time to try to make sure that that is as good, as accessible and as clear as it can be.
Right. I don't know whether you take—I think, from what you've said, you don't take a view on this, but do you think it should be compulsory?
I think 'compulsory'—that word is tricky in legal terms, because if you make something compulsory in a school curriculum it means you have to legislate to make it compulsory. Then, what do you do, maybe, in circumstances where schools might, for very valid reasons, think that for this particular small group of pupils it's not—? So, it's awkward; the word 'compulsory' can be a bit awkward.
Right. I feel that from the evidence we've had that there is some confusion about it amongst providers, really. How do you think that can be helped?
Again, I think it's absolutely for Welsh Government to be clear about this.
We think that the Welsh Government making a clear statement of what is meant by universal adoption, and some clear examples of whether there are exemptions for any reasons—. So, if it's around it being almost mandatory but not entirely mandatory, then what are the exceptions around that? Making a very clear statement about it maybe being mandatory at this level but not at this level. So, there are lots of different variants, and I think that one of the problems is that there are lots of different interpretations.
An example of this would be that we think that it is considered to be pretty much universally adopted at key stage 4 in the national foundation level—so, the school-based skills challenge certificate. But, when the Welsh Government looked at changing accountability measures, and the Welsh bac measure, as it was known, is being withdrawn, schools immediately interpreted that, or some schools interpreted it, as, 'Well, we don't have to deliver the skills challenge certificate any more.' So, I think it's about being very clear about any statement that includes the Welsh bac or skills challenge certificate around what the Government's expectations are in terms of its delivery.
Right, thank you. Do you think the Welsh bac is appropriate for academic and vocational courses—the pupils who are taking those courses?
Absolutely. The skills are skills that all pupils and students need to take them forward into higher education or into employment. If you talk to HE or to employers, these are the skills they talk about, and so why wouldn't you want people to be doing these skills?
If you think about the skills challenge certificate at any level, I suppose, to think about the question, it's a very flexible qualification, and it's a qualification that's designed to allow for a degree of student-led, independent study. So, I think part of this is about helping schools and colleges to make the most of that flexibility as they grow in their confidence in delivering it, so that it can be adapted to suit the needs of individual learners whatever the programme of study thereon is. I think it does have that potential, through its design, to be appropriate.
Thank you, Chair. In some of the evidence we've received, we were told that, at key stage 4, the Welsh bac's possibly displaced options resulting in an unacceptable narrowing of the curriculum and also that some schools have reduced their GCSE choices as a result. Have you got any views on that or any concerns around that?
I think it's inevitable. There's only so much time available within the curriculum. So, whenever a choice is made that consumes some of that time, it inevitably means that something else has to give. So, I think there's an inevitability in that. I think it then comes down to what, from a policy perspective, Government considers to be most important in young people's education and some sense of prioritisation around that.
The skills challenge certificate's interesting, because it's not universally understood, it is new, it is innovative, especially at key stage 4, where not all schools would have delivered it before. The thing that I keep on coming back to when I talk to people about it is that, in all the reports that are developed by people like the Confederation of British Industry or the Institute of Directors, what they come back to in terms of what the education system needs to provide for them is around literacy, numeracy and what are called transversal skills—so these skills that are being developed in the skills challenge certificate. So, team working, creative problem solving, critical thinking, creativity—these are all the skills that the skills challenge certificate is trying to draw out and teach. So, inevitably, in a restricted timetable, you have to make some value choices about what's taught and what's not taught, and it comes back to this notion of universal adoption and what Government's expectations are in terms of education.
But I guess my question is: does that restriction of choice—the inevitability of that in what you're saying—give you any particular concern or do you think that it's important to look at it in the round rather than to be too focused on what the specific choices at any level might be?
I guess you can look at this in any number of ways because there are so many variables. If I took one view, which might be around—I'll pick something contentious almost deliberately. This is where Ann gets nervous. [Laughter.] If we think about something like modern foreign languages, where we can see a decline in the uptake of modern foreign languages, which is a worry—I think we'd all universally accept it as a worry—well, you could say that removing a choice, by having the skills challenge certificate, might be some contribution towards the reduction of that particular subject or that group of subjects. But then there might be other subjects that equally sort of sit in the area of areas of interest or areas where people might want to do GCSE studies, with a view to moving forward towards A-levels, but you don't need to take that subject at GCSE in order to take it at A-level or to go on to degree studies. So, in those sorts of situations, one might say, 'Well, developing the broader skills is probably a better choice than doing something that is not necessary.'
So, I think it's around: what do we want out of education?
Sure, I understand that. I understand that. What about your views or are you aware—? From evidence we've had, there's a concern that some pupils might actually be avoiding education in Wales. So, particularly those living on the borders might be choosing to go to English schools rather than have to study the Welsh bac. Have you heard that? Has that raised any concerns with you?
We've only had some anecdotal evidence, and we're very careful about using that kind of anecdote without any proper research behind it to see what's happening. Would you like to add anything?
People make choices for all sorts of different reasons, and I think it's very easy to snatch at something that might be obvious. I guess where we would like to see things is: if that is the case and if delivery of the Welsh bac is a contributing factor to people's decisions, is that based on a good understanding of it or is it based on perceptions? So, the more work that we can do to improve an understanding of it, the more people can make a decision based on fact rather than—.
You know, frankly, it isn't just around the border. You can end up in a competitive situation between colleges and sixth forms and those sorts of things, where one will market on the basis of the other, and marketing's very persuasive in people's minds. It doesn't need to be reality to be something that is marketable.
Sure. No, I understand that, I understand. You touched earlier on on the new curriculum and how this will fit. Do you think the bac is well aligned to the new curriculum? You seemed to be indicating earlier that you thought it probably was.
I'll let Emyr answer this because he's working on the new curriculum.
It's fairly clear, I think, that the wider skills that are signalled in the 'Successful Futures' report that are a feature of the new curriculum that's being developed are the exact same skills that are being targeted in the skills challenge certificate, and I think that's part of the reason why we've been able to push ahead with some degree of confidence with the work that we are now doing to consider ways in which the design of the skills challenge certificate can be strengthened and enhanced, because I think we know that there is going to be a need for something that helps students to demonstrate those skills, something that can be delivered in such a way that offers the best possible opportunity for students to develop and foster those skills. So, I think the links are pretty clear.
We already have a qualification in its design that is, as I said earlier, flexible and can be delivered in a way that complements a range of other curricular elements. So, yes, I think it's probably here to stay.
Okay. My last couple of questions, really, are around the impact on teaching. There has been some suggestion that there might not be any continuity in teachers from year to year teaching the bac and that some teachers are being asked to come in just because they've got the spare capacity rather than an innate ability to deliver this qualification. Do you have any thoughts on that?
It appears to be variable. So, there is clearly some evidence that would suggest that's the case, and I alluded to that earlier. I think that if it is the case that there is that inconsistency in teaching, those are the sorts of things that could potentially be addressed—
Through teacher training, through CPD that is available and, frankly, through schools' senior management putting an emphasis on the skills challenge certificate as an important part of the curriculum rather than an adjunct to it. So, it comes down to attitudes across the whole of the education sector about the qualification and then having the availability of training. We are already looking at talking to people about initial teacher training to see whether there might be an opportunity in initial teacher training. But also it comes down to the work that WJEC do in the professional training that they offer to existing teachers to make sure that that is good, robust and covers what it needs to. We've been monitoring some of those CPD sessions very recently and found them to be good and of high quality.