Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

21/01/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Hefin David MS
Laura Anne Jones MS
Lynne Neagle MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sian Gwenllian MS
Suzy Davies MS
Vikki Howells MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Albert Heaney Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Cyffredinol, Grŵp Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director General, Health and Social Services Group, Welsh Government
Claire Bennett Cyfarwyddwr, Cymunedau a Threchu Tlodi, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Communities & Tackling Poverty, Welsh Government
Dr Heather Payne Uwch-swyddog Meddygol ar gyfer Iechyd Mamau a Phlant, Llywodraeth Cymru
Senior Medical Officer for Maternal & Child Health, Welsh Government
Eluned Morgan MS Y Gweinidog Iechyd Meddwl, Llesiant a’r Gymraeg
Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language
Huw Morris Cyfarwyddwr Grŵp Sgiliau, Addysg Uwch a Dysgu Gydol Oes, Llywodraeth Cymru
Group Director Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, Welsh Government
Julie Morgan MS Y Dirprwy Weinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services
Kirsty Williams MS Y Gweinidog Addysg
Minister for Education
Steve Davies Cyfarwyddwr, Cyfarwyddiaeth Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director Education Directorate, Welsh Government
Steve Elliot Dirprwy Cyfarwyddwr Cyllid, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director of Finance, Welsh Government
Tracey Breheny Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Iechyd Meddwl, Camddefnyddio Sylweddau a Grwpiau Agored i Niwed, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director of Mental Health, Substance Misuse and Vulnerable Groups, Welsh Government
Vaughan Gething MS Y Gweinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Minister for Health and Social Services

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Phil Boshier Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Sian Hughes Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sian Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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

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

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:01.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:01. 

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

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I've determined the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health, and notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting published on Monday. The meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference. As usual, a Record of Proceedings will be published. Aside from that procedural adaptation relating to remote proceedings, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. If we become aware that there's an issue with the translation, I'll ask you to pause while we reset the system. We've received apologies for absence from Dawn Bawden MS, and I'm very pleased to welcome Vikki Howells MS, who is substituting for Dawn. Can I ask if there are any declarations of interest, please? No, okay. Can I just remind everyone, then, that if I drop out for any reason, it's been agreed that Suzy Davies MS will chair while I try to rejoin?

2. COVID-19: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Llywodraeth Cymru
2. COVID 19: Evidence session with the Welsh Government

So, we'll move on now then to item 2, which is an evidence session with the Welsh Government on COVID-19. Thank you, Minister, for agreeing to come in early to give us the opportunity to ask some questions about the situation with schools under the current restrictions. I'm pleased to welcome you to the meeting, and also Huw Morris, group director of skills, higher education and lifelong learning at Welsh Government, and Steve Davies, director of the education directorate at Welsh Government. So, we'll go straight to questions. Because we've only got half an hour for this bit, I'm asking for concise questions and concise answers, please, and the first ones are from Vikki.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, Minister, thank you for joining us this morning. I'd like to kick off with some questions around the online learning offer while schools are closed to our pupils. There's no one-size-fits-all model for learning, but certainly the variation of the blended learning offer has been in the news over the past few weeks, so I'd just like to ask what your thoughts are on that and whether you think there should be a more specific minimum offer that schools should be providing in terms of that.

Thank you, Vikki. Could I just make absolutely clear that schools are not closed? All schools remain open to vulnerable and key worker children, but I accept the fact that with the majority of children not in school for face-to-face tuition, it is really important that we offer them a high-quality remote learning experience. I think it is fair to say that during the first period of lockdown, delivery of remote and blended learning was inconsistent. Since that time, we have worked, both within the department, with regional consortia and local education authorities to provide clear guidance to schools around expectations.

But expectations are one thing, we have to put the profession in a position to be able to deliver on those expectations, and that has included professional learning opportunities to help upskill and to help guide teachers in good pedagogy, via these models. We have also established a working group to identify barriers and needs at this time, and we are also sharing good practice between schools, local authorities and regional consortia, to ensure that the profession has an understanding of what 'good' looks like and we amend our guidance as we all become more expert in distance learning, and to remove any barriers, or perceived barriers, there may be for delivering high-quality learning of this kind.  

09:05

Thank you, Minister. And related to that, of course, is access to digital hardware and technology. What's your latest take on the situation with regard to that?

Well, we moved quickly in the first pandemic to address immediate needs, and have continued throughout the last academic year and into this academic year to distribute as many pieces of hardware to schools as we can, with the expectation that schools will then lend these facilities to children when they are not in the classroom. The working group at this time acknowledges that new families have come forward to request assistance at this time. It may be because they didn't have a pupil in school last time, or it may be because a pupil has changed schools, moved up to high school, for instance, and therefore has returned a device to their primary and hasn't yet been allocated a device by their secondary.

We have delivered in total, since the pandemic, 120,000 pieces of hardware. We have a further 35,000 that are due for imminent delivery. The issue is there is a global demand for kit at this time. So, sometimes, delivery of kit is not as quick as we would like it to be. However, the working group, made up of LEAs, has identified connectivity as a bigger issue than end kit, and we're looking to see what more we can do in terms of addressing connectivity issues and to understand why, in the first lockdown, not an insignificant number of the MiFi devices that we issued were barely used. So, again, this is another aspect of understanding the barriers. We can supply kit, we can supply connectivity, but if that does not then engage the student in online learning, we have to understand what more we need to do to support families at the next stage of the process. So, there is the expectation, there is the kit, there is the connectivity, but then there is support for families to engage. 

Thank you. We're going to move on now, then, to talk about getting school buildings back open again. As you'll be aware, we had the session with the trade unions last week, and I've got some questions on that from Siân Gwenllian. 

Bore da. Gaf i ddechrau efo brechiadau? Mi glywson ni gan yr undebau eu bod nhw eisiau gweld staff yr ysgolion yn cael eu brechu, yn cael mynediad cynnar tuag at frechu, fel rhan o'r ymdrech i ailagor yr ysgolion. A fedraf i ofyn beth ydy eich safbwynt chi? A ddylid rhoi blaenoriaeth i staff ysgolion—ddim ar hyn o bryd, ond yn y phase nesaf o frechu? Ac ydych chi'n meddwl bod yna rhai cohorts o fewn y staff yn yr ysgolion y gellid cael eu rhoi fel grwpiau blaenoriaeth?

Good morning. May I start with vaccinations? We heard from the unions that they want to see school staff being vaccinated, having early access to those vaccinations, as part of the effort to reopen schools. May I ask what your stance is on this? Should priority be given to school staff, not at present but in the next phase of vaccinations? And do you believe that there are some cohorts within school staff that could be set as priority groups?

Thank you, Siân. Well, I recognise that there are different roles within a school setting, and you'll be aware that recently the Welsh Government has made it very clear that those staff who attend to the personal care needs of children, whether they are in a designated special school or, indeed, if a child has those needs but attends a mainstream school, if those tasks would be carried out by a care worker if that child was an older person, if that child was in receipt of domiciliary care, then they should be eligible for vaccination in the current programme, in the same way that front-line social care staff are. And I'm very pleased to see that that is happening at the moment. I received a lovely e-mail, and I'm very grateful to the individual who took the time, to say how pleased they were that she and her colleagues had received a vaccination already, and local health boards and LEAs are aware of this possibility and intention, and that is happening at the moment.

With regard to vaccination of the wider workforce, I think we have to look at all staff that are keeping the education system moving. It's not simply teaching staff or even support staff; there will be people working in our schools—for instance in catering, in custodial, caretaking duties and indeed there are people who are driving our children to school—that will all need to be part of that wider education workforce programme. At present, you'll be aware the Welsh Government is following the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advice around vulnerabilities, so therefore, if a teacher has a particular clinical vulnerability, they will be vaccinated as part of the current programme; and indeed, everybody over the age of 50, the Government's target is to have everybody vaccinated by the spring.

I do agree that as the JCVI looks to prioritise the next set of the vaccination programme, it is absolutely right and proper that we look at a range of factors, including professional exposure, and whether there are certain professions that make them perhaps more at risk. There are lots and lots of those in the front line and I know that JCVI are studying that, and are looking at evidence of that. At present, all data from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the Office for National Statistics would suggest that teachers are not particularly at risk, but of course that evidence is being looked at all the time, and we would fully support any investigation by the JCVI about prioritisation for certain professions, and of course, if JCVI makes that recommendation, then the Government will follow that recommendation.

09:10

Diolch yn fawr. Gaf i droi at y profion, ac fedrwch chi roi diweddariad i ni ynglŷn â'r trafod ynglŷn â chyflwyno'r profion eang drwy'r system lateral, ac oes yna brofi wedi cychwyn, ac ydy'r wybodaeth ddiweddaraf sydd wedi cael ei ddatgelu ddoe yn golygu eich bod chi'n mynd i orfod rhoi stop ar unrhyw fwriad i fod yn profi yn yr ysgolion?

Thank you very much. Can I turn to tests? Could you give us an update on the discussions regarding the introduction of those widespread tests throughout the lateral flow system, and has testing started, and does the latest information that was published yesterday mean that you're going to have to stop any intention to be testing in schools?

I'm pleased to say that we've had really good engagement with the education sector on the testing offer for schools and colleges, and there is a real willingness from schools and colleges to introduce testing as soon as possible, and we continue to work with schools and colleges on the preparations for the introduction of testing, including training, support—some local authorities are recruiting additional staff to the local authority to assist in this regime, and that is ongoing at the moment. Clearly—[Interruption.]

Well, because the vast majority of children are not in, we're currently using this time to make sure everybody is comfortable with the procedures and there are good systems in place, and as I said, in some local authorities, they've identified an additional support need to take some pressure off the school system and are recruiting additional staff, or they're redeploying staff who are currently not able to conduct their current roles to be able to support that programme.

Because the unions did tell us last week that there was a question around who would administer the tests, and that there was a discussion there going on. So, that's still going on, so nothing is actually happening on the ground yet, but are you going to pull the plug on it anyway, because of the evidence that's coming through from the department of education in London?

As you said, Gavin Williamson has written to all schools in England yesterday regarding a pause to their programme, although I understand he's been on the media this morning saying that they're looking to get it up and running again as quickly as possible. As with everything in this pandemic, when evidence emerges, it's only right that we pause and reflect, and we will work very closely with colleagues across the border to understand their concerns about how the new variant may impact upon our proposed testing situation, but we continue a twin-track approach to begin to get the infrastructure in place to support testing in schools and colleges whilst also asking our scientific officials and health officials to review the evidence that came forward yesterday. We didn't have prior notice of it, I'm afraid, so we're reviewing that information and we'll adjust our policy accordingly. But we do believe that testing does have a role to play in adding COVID security, providing additional reassurance and hopefully limiting some of the impact of the virus on education.

09:15

Diolch am hynna. O ran ailagor yr ysgolion mewn dull diogel, ydych chi'n meddwl am—gwnaf ofyn ichi am ddau beth ar unwaith—rotas? Hynny yw, pan fydd hi'n ddiogel i ailagor, dod â grwpiau llai o blant i mewn, am yn ail ddiwrnod, neu beth bynnag, fel bod llai o blant ar y safle. Ac wedyn, newid amseroedd y tymhorau. Mae'r undebau sy'n cynrychioli'r cynorthwywyr dosbarth wedi dangos awydd, efallai, i gael trafodaeth ynglŷn â hynny. Dwi ddim yn siŵr, ond efallai nad yw'r undebau athrawon ddim yn teimlo bod hwnna'n drywydd i fynd ar ei ôl o. Beth yw'ch barn chi am rotas a newid tymhorau?

Thanks for that. In terms of reopening the schools in a safe way—I'll ask you about two things in this regard—are you considering rotas? So, when it is safe to reopen, bringing smaller groups of children in every other day, for example, so you have fewer children on site. And then changing the term times. The unions that represent the classroom assistants have shown a desire to perhaps have a discussion on that. I don't know whether the teaching unions feel the same about whether that is something that should be pursued. What's your opinion on rotas and changing term times?

Siân, we have to move away from this binary situation that we currently find ourselves in, where we have almost a situation—not quite true, because, as I say, key worker and vulnerable children are being attended to—where it's an all-in or all-out scenario. We've got to be smarter than that. For me, I have a willingness to discuss every single option that is available if that gets more children back to face-to-face tuition. That's what I want, and there is ultimate flexibility on behalf of the Welsh Government to engage with the LEAs and with the education unions to find a more sophisticated response. I want children back in school, LEAs want children back in school, and I believe the teaching unions want children back in school, and therefore we need to explore every single option that allows us to do that.

Clearly, in terms of term times, perhaps some people would say that the debate about how we structure the academic year is well overdue. I know that you feel that way, Siân, and we had begun work on reimagining the school day before COVID hit us, and has partly derailed a bit of that work. Because I think there are lessons to be learned here for when things are back to normal. I think rotas potentially have a part to play, because that allows us to have smaller contact groups and smaller numbers of children in school at any one time. So, as far as I'm concerned, we want to discuss all possible options that lead to as many children being back to face-to-face tuition as is safe to do. We will continue to have those discussions with LEAs and unions, exploring all of those possibilities.

Diolch yn fawr. Un cwestiwn arall, Gadeirydd, ynglŷn â'r wyddoniaeth y tu ôl i drosglwyddo'r feirws mewn ysgolion a lleoliadau addysgol—y wyddoniaeth a'r drafodaeth ynglŷn â pha mor saff ydy hi yn yr ysgolion o ran trosglwyddo'r feirws. Sut fyddech chi'n crynhoi'r wyddoniaeth?

Thanks very much. One final question, Chair, in terms of the science behind the transmission of the virus in schools and education settings—the science and the discussion that is being had about how safe it is in schools in terms of transmission of the virus. How would you summarise the science on that?

I think it's important to say that schools and colleges haven't suddenly become unsafe places. School leaders and practitioners have worked really hard to make their environments as COVID-secure as possible, and some of those non-pharmaceutical interventions are not going to change as a result of the new variant. What's important is that they are applied even more rigorously, and even more attention is paid to them. Children and schools are at relatively no more risk than they were previously, but of course the new variant is more transmittable, so risks are heightened for everybody in every setting. As I said, we're reviewing the SAGE guidance that talked about additional mitigation measures that could be put in place, and we are also awaiting further work from SAGE and other scientists to understand the consequences of the new variant for education at this time.

Of course, the best thing that we can all do is to drop community rates of transmission. We didn't make the decision to close schools for the majority of face-to-face teaching because schools suddenly became unsafe. We took the decision this term because we were facing a situation where community transmission rates were rising, they were rising rapidly, and they were out of control. We do know that, with education open, that adds to the R rate, and it can lead to part of that community transmission. When the rates were heading the way that they were at the rate that they were, we needed to play our part as well. So, what we really need to do is to get community rates of transmission down as far as we can, and make sure that the environment and the way in which we're structuring education makes it as COVID-secure as it possibly can be, always recognising that wherever human beings come into contact with one another, there is some risk associated with that. But then we have to balance the risks of what we know is very bad for children if they're not in school. 

09:20

Okay. Thank you. Just before we move on, Minister, can I ask you about foundation phase children? Estyn raised particular concerns about those children last week when they were in. Obviously, it's a challenge to teach little ones online, and nurseries are open, as you know, for childcare. So, have you got any particular plans to prioritise a return for our youngest children? 

As I said, we're looking at a variety of options, asking science to model a variety of options about what that potentially would mean. One of the options we're looking at is a phased return that has certain parts of the cohort back into school perhaps more quickly than others. Clearly, foundation phase children are an important part of that, because despite the best efforts, pedagogically, it's very, very challenging, isn't it, to deliver the foundation phase remotely—very, very difficult to do that. It's nobody's fault; it's just the nature of early years pedagogy and early years education. So, the youngest children are indeed a priority group for a phased return if that's what we need to do, because of the limitations of remote learning for that particular age group, and because of those wider socialisation issues as well, which are so important to a child's development at that stage. So, yes, they are definitely a priority cohort. All children's education is important. We can mitigate the impact for some children better than others. With the foundation phase, it's very difficult to mitigate the impact. 

Thank you. We're going to talk now a bit about the slightly longer term, and I've got some questions from Hefin and then Suzy. 

With regard to the announcement that we're going to be shifting to centre-delivered grades, not changed by the WJEC at the end of the year now in the light of the latest issues, that's largely been welcomed by students that I've spoken to, but there are concerns about the consistency and rigour of the moderation process. How will you ensure that that consistency and rigour of moderation is there and that, particularly, it doesn't lead to geographical differences with particular disadvantage for less well-off areas who may suffer through that lack of consistent moderation? We've recognised all the way through that without consistent moderation, you can see a disparity in grades. 

Thank you, Hefin. First of all, they are centre-designated grades that students will receive, but you're absolutely right; one of the more challenging aspects of moving to a system—. Each system of assessment has its pros and cons, doesn't it? Examinations have their pros and cons. Our alternative to examinations had upsides and downsides to it, and the system that we announced yesterday will have upsides and downsides to it. One of the difficulties is how you create that consistency, especially when individual children's experience of education will have been so very, very different depending on the level of disruption to their education. 

So, how can we mitigate against those particular risks, which are well known and there's no point hiding away from? Firstly, we'll be asking the design and delivery group to provide further advice and to work alongside the WJEC and Qualifications Wales with an assessment framework that is across the country. So, that is the way in which we believe that schools should go about setting their designated grades. We will then offer training to schools. WJEC will offer training to schools in the application of that assessment framework to ensure that staff feel able and confident to deliver against the assessment framework.

Designating grades is not, perhaps, as simple as some people would assume. Vikki will be very familiar with this. It's not an exact science. It's something that you develop over years of experience as a teacher, and it can be really challenging to do, not just from local authority to local authority; it can be challenging within an individual school environment, with different professionals having a different viewpoint. So, we will offer training.

The WJEC will then also provide a quality assurance regime for each individual school's assessment processes, which will need to be signed off by the WJEC. Schools will have to demonstrate how they're going to go about this task, and that will be quality assured by the WJEC, so that there's confidence that the schools have the right processes in place. There will then be further discussion on how those individual school processes can also be supported by a peer-to-peer review process outside of the school. So, those are the steps that we intend to take to mitigate these concerns.

09:25

Just one quick question on that peer-to-peer process. Would that be a peer moderation whereby perhaps families of schools moderate each other's grades in some way? Is that in the pipeline? Because that seems to be how universities work with moderation. Is it not possible to do that within the school setting?

As I said, we will be asking for further advice from the design and delivery group as to how a good system of peer-to-peer review can be put in place. We are very mindful of teacher workload at this particular time. We're also very mindful of the fact that our priority is for teachers to be spending as much time teaching their pupils, not necessarily being caught up in further administrative processes. But as I said, we do need to take steps to mitigate the risks of a lack of conformity and a lack of standardisation processes at this time. I think we also, though, have to be mindful about what happens if there is a professional dispute. This is where we got into some of the difficulties last year, where a school had one set of opinions around a child, and a process led to a different set of opinions. But I think there is a willingness and a determination out there to, as I said, mitigate these known risks as we go forward.

Thank you very much. Just very quickly, Minister, you must have some idea about a long-term catch-up plan now. I wonder if you can tell us what we can do now to help with the beginning of that process, what data you need to actually prepare this plan, and whether you've got any difficulty in gathering that data at the moment.

Thank you, Suzy. Over the Christmas break and the first few weeks of this particular term, with an increased understanding about the challenges that a new variant poses for us, officials are working to develop a recovery framework, and that recovery framework will inform our priorities for intervention and recovery in light of those groups that are most impacted. I will ask Steve to give some further details, but during January we've worked with Estyn and the regions, the unions, and the individual local education authorities to develop a common understanding of what recovery looks like. We're bringing together all the partners of the education system, because everybody has a role to play in developing those processes as we go forward. Steve, I don't know if you want to give any further details about the work that is being done to address recovery in the short, medium and longer term.

Yes, Minister. Can I just check I'm being heard?

Okay. Thank you. As the Minister said, we did some work towards the end of the autumn term, particularly with some of the changes we expected around the variant, and we have been working with Estyn, the regions and local authorities up to now. The key issues are around, as the question inferred, what we are looking at to gain in terms of evidence, in terms of data. We've got some work that has come from Estyn in terms of their view, but there will be more needed. The first step is we've been engaging with those groups, identifying what is the evidence, what is the research that we need to look at. Alongside that, we're looking at specific groups of learners. While there will be learning loss across the whole cohort, our vulnerable learners, our early years, our Welsh language learners, our learners with additional learning needs, our learners who, potentially, are going to become not in education, employment or training, our learners who are moving from the qualification process that the Minister outlined to universities—how do we help them manage those transitions? We've developed what we call a framework that will inform our discussion at the next stage. We have the half-day conference with the rest of the middle tier, but including Estyn and the regions' local authority representatives, to consider if we have got the right range of evidence, the right areas that we're focusing on, but also looking at what are the potential roles in each of the other areas. So, for example, university students who are doing initial teacher education, can, in addition to that, be nurturing and supporting particular groups over and above their core commitment that will be within their initial teacher education programme.

So, we want to get a consensus—have we got the right range of evidence, have we got the right people involved, and are we getting them in a position where they can think through not only their own contribution, but how their contribution links to other areas? Such is the challenge, we need the engagement and commitment of all of those groups if we're going to get anywhere near meeting the challenges of addressing the gaps caused by this pandemic. And we can't be certain that this next stage is going to be smooth in terms of recovery of the virus. We had plans that we developed in the early part of December into the mid and late part of December, but those were changed and had to change in relation to the variant. So, the work is under way. We have identified a range of areas that we want to look at, and that next stage is engaging and gaining the commitment from that wider group. 

09:30

Okay, thank you. Just in a sentence, Chair: what work have you had to park while all this is going on?

Oh, my goodness me. Well, actually, remarkably, the department has been massively resilient, and, in many ways, we've looked to try and keep work going, but obviously deliver that in a different way. We have been constrained on some of the legislation—that's partly policy constraints within the department, but also constraints within the legislation teams to support the education department. So, the committee will be well aware of my disappointment that we have not been able to progress some of the legislative priorities we'd hoped to do, and, clearly, some of the programmes have not been delivered as we'd initially envisaged them to be, and they've had to be delivered in a different way. Remarkably resilient, but some stuff has slowed down and, as I said, personally, my own personal disappointment is the lack of progress that we've been able to make on some important legislative priorities that I did have.

Thank you, Minister, for answering those questions on COVID. 

3. Craffu ar Gyllideb Ddrafft Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer 2021-22
3. Scrutiny of the Welsh Government Draft Budget 2021 - 2022

We're going to move on now to our budget scrutiny. If I can start by asking you a general question about the fact that this budget is presented in a time of unprecedented uncertainty, and to ask you: how will the changed path of the pandemic since December impact on the 2021-22 education main expenditure group and school funding?

Well, you're right, Lynne—my goodness me, you think you're about to enter into a period of stability and you make your plans based on that and then this pandemic throws up a new challenge, and, in this case, the new variant, and then you have to review and reflect. I have to say, though, we've worked really hard across the Government to look at the broader impact of the pandemic on public services, and we've looked to try and instigate the fairest possible settlement to help partners prepare for the challenges they're facing now, and the challenges they're facing ahead.

So, the education resource and capital budget is, as you can see, £1.9 billion. That's an increase of £102 million, of 5.8 per cent from our revised baseline. But the changed path of the pandemic and especially the increased risk of transmissibility has resulted in further disruption to education, and we will need to look at how that potentially affects spending going forward. But we've tried to anticipate some of that—there's £12 million of the 2021-22 element of the recruit, recover and raise standards fund. But, clearly, we'll need to keep spending under review.

09:35

Okay. Thank you. And can you explain what processes are in place to identify and prioritise any additional funding from reserves that may be needed due to the pandemic later in the financial year, and what areas or budget lines are your top priorities, should any additional funding be available from reserves?

Well, the Government has tried to be very prudent in this regard. Because of the evolving challenges that the pandemic keeps bringing to our door, reserves are a sensible way to approach that. And we keep in very close contact with the Minister for finance to consider allocations in future budgets once we can better assess how the funding needs to be targeted as we move forward. In allocating any new funding, our approach will continue to be guided by the evidence about where we need to put those resources. So, I would argue that we're already trying to support our key priorities for investment. But, clearly, what continues to be kept under consideration—you've just heard from Steve Davies about further catch-up plans; we're particularly interested in looking at supporting learners in exam years. So, for instance, what can we do to help bridge that gap from the loss of learning before children go on to either further education college or university? Are there things that we can do in the summer to help bridge those gaps? Disadvantaged learners, for whom we know not being in the classroom has a significant impact. So, we'll continue to look at those. Obviously, we also have to think about FE and the logistical challenges of delivering vocational qualifications and delivery in that sphere as we go forward. And we'll also need to continue to consider what takes us back to the earlier questions about digital exclusion and support for remote learning, as that continues going forward. And we have to keep one eye—I don't want to be a doom-monger, but on what will the pandemic, or what might the pandemic, look like next autumn and next winter, and therefore trying to have even a longer-term view as to what would the education needs be again, should the path of the pandemic change once again in the autumn and winter of next year.

Thank you. And what projects and activities have been delayed in 2020-21, and how has that impacted on the draft budget?

Well, as I said earlier, whilst they definitely had an impact, we've still been able to deliver on the vast majority of the plans. And so, in that sense, the impact is not massive. Clearly, we've had to repurpose funds in the last year to meet different needs. So, we were able to lever in additional resources for digital exclusion, for instance, to be able to—. We couldn't run the school holiday enrichment programme as we would normally do over the last summer holiday, so we've had to make some changes to those plans. But we're hoping, for instance, that SHEP will be able to run this summer, and that could be an important part of our catch-up programme—slightly tweaking SHEP and what happens in the SHEP programme. So, we've been able to allocate an extra £2.15 million in this budget, because we anticipate that SHEP could be a really, really important programme for those seven to 11-year-olds, to help catch up.

Steve or Huw, I don't know if there's anything further. Sorry, Lynne—maybe I haven't given enough detail. I don't know if—. It's difficult to know whether Huw or Steve want to add anything, because, usually, if I was in the committee room, they'd be kicking me under the table at this point, to say, 'I've got something to add', and it's difficult to do that via a Zoom call. [Laughter.]

Apologies. No, Minister, nothing from me.

Nor me, Minister—you've covered it. Thank you.

There we are. Thank you. And just finally from me then, Minister, can I ask how you've worked with other Ministers across the Government to ensure a cross-portfolio approach to prioritisation, both in terms of prioritising areas and also around the decisions about the prioritising of other areas? Because we've seen massive shifts of money around the system in the last few months.

09:40

Yes. Yes, we have. Clearly, cross-collaboration through portfolios is particularly important in education—so, working very closely with the Minister for Housing and Local Government, recognising that where schools get the vast majority of their money from is via the local government settlement; working with her to, for instance, ensure that we have got the additional money for local authorities to provide continuity of support for free-school-meal children right the way through, now, this budget round. We know that taking that pressure off families—that they know that they can count on the continued provision of free-school-meal support during the school holidays I think is particularly important.

And I'm very, very pleased that we have been able to work with colleagues in the health field to identify additional resources in this budget to support our shared agenda and children's mental health and well-being. So, for 2021-22, the Minister for Health and Social Services and I have identified funding totalling £3.8 million to harmonise funding rates for early years and foundation phase. So, that's another area where that's been a longstanding concern in the sector and we've been able to address that. So, mental health, local government, free school meals and childcare rates are just some examples of where we've worked together to do that.

Okay, thank you very much. We're going to move on now to some questions from Siân Gwenllian.

Diolch. Roedd gen i ddiddordeb mawr mewn clywed am y cynllun adfer roedd Steve Davies yn manylu amdano fo. Oes yna arian ar gyfer y cynllun adfer penodol yna yn y gyllideb yma?

Thank you. I had a great deal of interest in hearing about the recovery plan, and Steve Davies gave us some details on that. Is there funding for that specific recovery fund in this budget?

Well, as I said earlier, there is in excess of just over £12 million for the RRR fund for 2021-22. That is reflected in the budget. We've also augmented this year's funding by providing an additional £7 million of resource to support coaching and mentoring, and we will keep that under review. I have to say that the finance Minister has been very willing, when we've been able to put forward a robust case—an evidence-based request for additional resources—and that's what we will intend to do going forward, as we continue to develop and finesse those plans, but the initial £12 million is there and we hope that we will be able to build upon that.

Jest i fod yn glir: ydy'r £12 miliwn yma yn ychwanegol i'r £29 miliwn sydd wedi ei rhoi ar gyfer y gronfa dal i fyny, ynteu ydy o hanner y gronfa honno sy'n cael ei gario ymlaen i'r flwyddyn ariannol nesaf?

Just to be clear: is that £12 million additional to the £29 million that has been allocated for the catch-up fund or is it half of that fund that is being carried forward to the next financial year?

The £12 million for 2021-22 is—Steve, help me out here—that year's element of that.

Yes. So, it's half spent this financial year and the second half is next financial year, so the—. Yes? Am I right?

Ocê. So, dydy'r £29 miliwn ddim wedi cael ei wario eto, yn amlwg felly, nad ydy? Dwi ddim yn gallu gweld data cyhoeddus i ddangos lle mae hanner yr arian yna wrthi'n cael ei wario ar hyn o bryd, neu efallai dydy o ddim wedi dechrau cael ei wario yn iawn eto ar lawr gwlad.

Okay. So, the £29 million hasn't been spent yet, clearly. And I can't see public data to demonstrate where half of that funding is being spent at the moment, or perhaps it hasn't started being spent at a grass-roots level yet.

Oh my goodness me, no, it's being spent and it's being spent on people's wages predominantly. The vast majority of that money has been allocated to recruit additional people into schools and those people are in schools. The local authorities report that 1,052 roles have been recruited to utilising the RRR programme funding. Some of that funding was allocated to regional consortia to provide professional learning and support at a regional level, but the returns from local authorities, as I said, say that in excess of 1,000 people have been recruited as a result of those funds and those staff have been working in schools and continue to work now to support distanced learning.

A jest er mwyn ein helpu ni efo'n gwaith craffu, ydych chi'n fodlon anfon nodyn yn amlinellu'n union lle mae'r arian wedi cael ei wario cyn belled? Dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni wedi bod yn gofyn am yr wybodaeth yma, ac rydych chi wedi sôn y byddwch chi'n ei darparu, ond byddai'n dda cael y nodyn yna, os gwelwch yn dda.

And just to assist us with our scrutiny work, will you send us a note outlining exactly where the funding has been spent so far? I think that we have been asking for this information, and you have said that you will provide it, but it would be good to have that note, please.

09:45

Yes, that's absolutely fine—no problem at all. We can give you the data that has been given to us, and how those roles have been recruited to, and the programmes that are being delivered as a part of that. All I would say is a slight caveat to that: those roles were recruited to and signed off by local education authorities in the context of September. Some schools are now having to look again at their plans, and whether the initial use of that money is now appropriate, because of the situation we find ourselves in now. I know that some schools are reviewing whether those plans are exactly the same. But we'll certainly give you the details of the people that have been recruited so far, and the nature of the activities that they're involved in.

Diolch. Mae Estyn, wrth gwrs, wedi dweud wrth y pwyllgor bod yna dasg fawr yn wynebu'r system addysg er mwyn adfer addysg ein plant a'n pobl ifanc ni. Ydy £12 miliwn yn y flwyddyn ariannol nesaf yn ddigon i hynny? Dydy hynny ddim yn llawer pan rydych chi'n meddwl ar draws yr awdurdodau lleol i gyd. Ac os ydych chi'n teimlo bod angen mwy o arian, ydych chi mewn trafodaethau i gael mwy o arian o gronfeydd uwch-gefn, neu ydych chi'n gallu ystyried grantiau penodol i lywodraeth leol? Achos rydyn ni wedi clywed yn y Pwyllgor Cyllid bod setliad presennol llywodraeth leol ddim yn mynd i fedru delio efo'r dasg fawr o adfer addysg.

Thank you. Estyn, of course, have told the committee that there is a major task facing the education system to enable it to recover—the education of our children and young people. Is £12 million in the next financial year sufficient to do that? That isn't a great deal when you think across all of the local authorities. And if you feel that additional funding is required, are you in discussions to have additional funds from reserves, or can you consider specific grants to local authorities? Because we have heard in the Finance Committee that the current settlement for local government isn't going to be able to deal with this major task of recovering education.

Well, as I said earlier, we have continuity for the catch-up, for the recovery programme at the moment. As we work on plans now for a longer term programme, then we would look to resource that. As I said, I've got no complaints when it comes to the conversations I've had with the Minister for Finance; when we're able to put forward an evidence-based approach for good use of public money, then education is being supported. And we continue to work with the LEAs, and any additional costs that are being driven by COVID, of course, they have an opportunity to claim those funds via a different mechanism. But I can see Steve's got his hand up, rather than kicking me under the table—it's a much better system, Steve. [Laughter.]

Thank you, Minister. The Minister mentioned earlier in terms of return to school and the use of evidence, and this approach runs through exactly what we're discussing now. There have been significant shifts. We are working with our core partners in the middle tier, and part of that process is to identify where are the existing spends that we intended to spend, and where can we shift, if necessary, some of that money into this area. How can they contribute through things that they are already doing? And I mentioned universities' initial teacher education—how can we shift some of that activity? And I think, alongside that then, going to ask for additional support, we can prove that we've looked at every possible way that we can address what we're already doing, and then recognise and make a request that what's needed to supplement that, given that it's building on a lot of commitment and activity that's already been identified.

Diolch. Gaf i jest gofyn un cwestiwn arall am hwnna? Ydych chi'n rhagweld y bydd yna arian ychwanegol yn dod gan Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig, ac y bydd yna consequentials i addysg yng Nghymru? Ac a fyddwch chi'n barod efo'ch cynlluniau, er mwyn gwario hwnna yn y llefydd iawn ar gyfer y gwaith adfer sydd ei angen?

Thank you. May I ask one additional question on that? Do you foresee that there will be additional funding coming from the United Kingdom Government, and that there will be consequentials for education in Wales? And will you be prepared with your plans to spend that in the right places for the recovery work that is needed?

Well, Siân, there are a lot of caveats to that question, aren't there? Sometimes, we assume that there is going to be a consequential—gosh, sometimes, even the Westminster Government assume that there's going to be a consequential, only to find out 24 hours later that there isn't a consequential at all, and they have to admit that there isn't a consequential. So, these things are very complicated, and then of course the whole point of devolution is, just because a consequential is derived from one source in London—that's why we have our own Senedd, because then we make our own choices as to whether those moneys are going to be deployed in a similar way here. What's really important for us is that we utilise the money that we've been allocated in this budget to the best effect, making sure it reflects our priorities, and then if there is a need for additional resources above and beyond what has been initially allocated, that's what the supplementary budget process is there for: to be reflective of needs that change during a financial year.

09:50

Okay, thank you very much. We're going to move on now to some questions on curriculum reform and some more issues on school funding with Suzy Davies.

Thank you, Chair. Yes, Minister, you mentioned earlier on that we were all anticipating a period of stability here, and last year's budget was based on trying to improve funding to all our public services. Obviously, there's been a COVID response now that has completely thrown that out. How much has that enabled you to make your arguments with the Minister for local government about how much should go into the revenue support grant for schools, because obviously, they're going to need more now than they needed before, and how much have you decided should be reserved into the education budget so that you have direct control over some of that catch-up work, for example? How do you balance that?

Well, you're right, it is a balancing act, recognising that the vast majority of money that goes to schools comes from the local education authority and therefore ensuring that the revenue support grant to local government is as good as it needs to be and having conversations, not only with the Minister for local government, but indeed the leaders of local government themselves about the need within that budget to prioritise schools and to ensure that as much of that money gets to the front line—. What we then do in the education department is look to see where we need to add value on top of that basic core funding for education to deliver against specific Welsh Government priorities. So, for instance, our continued commitment in this budget to the pupil development grant, which continues to be a priority and allows us then to target money at those areas where we need to see additional support above and beyond the core funding of schools. So, there's always a balance, and people will always debate about whether the balance is struck correctly, but we're confident that this budget gives the local authorities the opportunity to fund their schools adequately as well as then allowing Welsh Government to work with local education authorities and schools on specific areas of additional need above and beyond core funding.

Okay, thank you for that. So, you think that the LEAs have basically enough money to fund schools, but there's no guarantee of course that that's where they'll spend it. They're under huge pressure themselves for a range of reasons. Are you confident that they will actually use this money for the purpose it was intended, or have you taken precautions in securing in the education budget a kind of just-in-case fund in case you find that schools aren't getting the money they were originally anticipated to have?

Well, Suzy, we have to trust our colleagues in local government to respond to the needs in their local communities. I mean, we've been very clear—both myself and the Minister for local government—about the need to use the revenue support grant to support front-line services and to get as much money as possible out to schools. There are wider discussions here to be had, aren't there, about education funding models. This budget, I believe, strikes that balance between core funding via our traditional LEA model and additional resources above and beyond that from the education budget to support shared priorities.

Okay, thank you. So, not necessarily a contingency fund within the education budget. You mentioned school funding models. The Sibieta review did come out a bit later than you were anticipating, I know that, but you must have had some sort of steer about what it would contain. Did that influence your budgeting thoughts in any way, particularly as regards what will go into the RSG?

Well, certainly, and I'm very grateful, and it gives me an opportunity to put on record my thanks to Luke Sibieta for his hard work, which was slightly delayed, through no fault of anybody, because of COVID. And, my goodness me, in some of my meetings with Luke, I could see the struggle that we're all familiar with, with home schooling and doing your day job at the same time, in various obvious ways. So, I'm grateful to him. Now, obviously, that work was commissioned in very different circumstances, and I certainly wouldn't think that in the middle of a pandemic, when we're all dealing with as much as we're dealing with, that a whole-scale change to how we fund our schools would have been appropriate. But, clearly, the report does talk about areas where, potentially, we do need to look at levels of funding as being adequate. As always, I'm concerned about our poorest pupils, and the report does talk about how we should be supporting or funding the education of our poorest pupils. And I would argue we've seen an increase in the PDG to more than £100 million this year to support the education of our most deprived children. On top of that we've been able to put an additional £2 million into the PDG access fund.

Luke's report also talks about post-16 education and sixth-form funding, and you'll be aware that in this budget we are prioritising funding for 16 to 19, in both school sixth forms and in colleges, by providing £21.7 million in recognition of increased demographics, and there's also £7 million allocated within the main expenditure group to provide against further commitments in that sphere. So, although we haven't been able to have the bandwidth, both within Government and outside of Government, for that whole-scale debate about school funding and mechanisms for school funding and funding formula, we have been able to take some of the headline issues and try to react accordingly.

09:55

That's what I was after as an answer. Obviously, the whole thing couldn't be applied in the current circumstances, but it has been useful to you is all I was—[Inaudible.]

Well, I hope, Suzy, it's been useful to all of us. It's almost like a public service document, isn't it, ahead of a Welsh general election. Hopefully, Luke's work will be useful to all political parties as they think about their manifesto.

I'm sure you'll see it reflected in certain places, yes. Just before I move on to the curriculum, can I just double check what assumptions you've made about teachers and FE staff pay in setting the budget? We need to see some recognition of the extraordinary work that they've done this year.

Okay. Well, teachers pay is a significant element of any school or local authority budget and, therefore, additional resources to local authorities—. We've been able to provide £5.5 million to support the costs of 2020-21 pay award. That's above and beyond what local authorities should have reasonably planned for and expected, and so we've been able to make those adjustments.

Can I say that the Welsh Government has not received any additional funding through the Barnett formula to provide for public sector-wide pay awards for 2021-22? We will continue to work to address that from within our own funds. Whilst we didn't receive any additional money, just under £20 million has gone into the schools part of RSG formula to try and address costs in that area. With regard to FE pay, you know it's always been a priority for me that we maintain the principle of pay parity between FE and schools. It's simply not acceptable if you're teaching the same course, but you happen to be doing it in a sixth form or you happen to be doing it in an FE college—it's not fair that people are paid differently, and this budget ensures that that pay-parity principle is maintained, as we go forward.   

Okay. Thank you. In neither case though, if I'm right, is that secured. I'm just a little bit worried that local authorities in particular might say, 'Oh, the Minister's got extra in her education budget, she can top up what we've got more for, teachers' pay.' I don't really want them coming cap in hand to you next year because they've run out of money. That's where I'm coming from.

Just very quickly on the curriculum then. In this current year and, actually, just prior to the current year, you committed a lot of money to teacher training and curriculum development. What's that been spent on so far? Has it made the difference you thought that it would do? And have you used that intelligence to inform what you need to spend next year?

You're right, we're trying to build upon foundations that were previously laid in previous budgets as we move towards curriculum implementation and reform. So, in this budget we see an extra £8.3 million to go towards supporting introduction of the curriculum. The additional £8.3 million for 2021-22 reflects on the progress, as I said, that we've already made with regard to new bilingual resources, which is particularly important, as well as additional resources for other parts of the curriculum reform, such as RSE and RVE, where we know we need to provide additional resources.

We've been able to continue with a £50 million professional learning fund. We said that we needed to invest in teachers, and we can't do that in just one year's budget, so we've been able to build, for a number of years now, on ensuring that there are professional learning funds available. There will also be £5.5 million-worth of investment to regions to, again, help them in their curriculum preparation work in terms of supporting schools to get ready. And we also have been able to provide just over £1 million to Qualifications Wales, as they continue their work with regards to the future of qualifications as a result of curriculum reform. So, whether it be professional learning money, whether it be an allocation for working on resources, regional support in terms of supporting preparation, or even the qualifications end of it, there is money in this budget that builds on previous budgets to move us closer towards the realisation of the new curriculum.

10:00

Okay, then. Just finally, Chair, if I may. I appreciate what's in the budget; I'm just trying to get to the bottom of why those particular figures. Because they must, actually, relate to the figures that went before and the achievements of the spending of the previous amount of money. So, I don't think we've quite got that answer, but I appreciate what you're saying.

The innovation schools, you know this committee's concerns that the costings for curriculum development being based on findings from 20 innovation schools was perhaps a bit precarious. Have you, considering we're in a difficult period, had opportunity to consider other sources of information that might help you better understand, really, how much you're going to need, not just this year but ongoing for the curriculum? Thank you.

Can I say that what this budget does is include an uplift of more than £6 million to support schools' engagement with the curriculum, alongside the baseline? So, we will constantly engage in that process. We've provided updates to the regulatory impact assessment, but in terms of direct costs, it's about creating that space. So, it's not necessarily additional resources of that kind, but it is about creating that time and space within the school day to allow people to engage in the process. Additional costs, as I said, are covered off in terms of resource planning, et cetera, but, Steve, perhaps you can assist.

Yes, Minister. I think the issue of 20 innovations schools, moving forward, we've taken that advice, that research, that activity, and the Minister will be making an announcement in relation to the curriculum implementation plan, which will set out a range of activities as well as a range of partners who will be delivering on those activities. It's been built on an evaluation with those groups of the work to date. There have been some challenges, for example, around the professional learning. We're at early days. The ability, the flexibility, the agility of the system to do that training online delayed. But, actually, our review of the work of local authorities, which the Minister is carrying out now—the review and challenge—is actually identifying a significant increase in the number of teachers who are now engaged in training in that area. So, we're learning lessons from before, the process we've been through, but, I think, next week you'll get a more detailed plan on implementation, which will identify the key activities and the key responsibilities.

Can I just say it's absolutely remarkable to me? We had a meeting with the Central South Consortium just this week. They have got more individuals enrolled on the national professional qualification for headship programme than ever this year. So, even in the midst of this pandemic, potential school leaders are stepping up to the plate and engaging in professional learning. And you would have thought that we'd have seen a massive drop-off this year, that people have got other things to be thinking and worrying about. But even in these most difficult times, we're delivering it slightly differently, but there is a real desire and a real demand for professional learning opportunities, and it shows, I think, real hope for the future, that even in the middle of a pandemic, you can recruit more potential school leaders onto your NPQH programme than you did previously. Amazing.

10:05

Okay, thank you very much. And Vikki Howells, now, has got some questions on how we're targeting funding at the link between deprivation and attainment.

Thank you, Chair. My first question is about support to help digitally excluded learners, and based on our previous discussion at the start of the session, Minister, I think I know what you'll say as an answer to this. But what assessment have you made of any costs of this in the upcoming financial year? Do you expect that there will be any further financial support needed? And I'll just tweak the question slightly based on your answer to the previous question. I know that you said connectivity is coming out as the major source of the problem, so have there been any discussions with internet providers or mobile phone providers about how they could maybe step up to the plate?

Yes, those discussions have been happening between officials and telecommunications companies of all sorts, and there is a real keenness on behalf of those organisations to assist where they can. So, those discussions are happening. We are continuing to look to see how we can best use our EdTech capital funding to address both the supply of devices as well as other solutions, and whether some of the £50 million can be used to further extend support at this time. And I should let colleagues know that I've recently approved further investment of just under £12 million in this financial year to purchase an additional 50,000 devices for schools.

Thank you, Minister, and I know you've touched on that in your answers to previous questions. There could be additional pressures on the pupil development grant as we move forward, and do you think that the budget allocation will be adequate?

Well, funding for PDG is at the highest level since the introduction of that particular grant, and my goodness me, we're going to need that. So, PDG reaches over £100 million in the forthcoming budget. With regard to PDG access, which, of course, is demand led, an early indication from the pupil level annual school census data reports an increase in demand for that budget, and that has been reflected in an increase to the PDG baseline to be able to respond appropriately to what we perceive will be an increased demand because of the economic circumstances that families will find themselves in, and therefore wanting to access support that is available.

Thank you. And my final question is about funding for mental health support, and we all know the impact of the pandemic on our young people's mental health. There are some fantastic schemes out there, like the Welsh Government's Spectrum project. Do you think that the increased allocation for the whole-school approach to mental health and well-being will be adequate to meet potential demand?

Okay, well, I'm very grateful to my colleague the Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language for providing an additional £4 million to support that work. That additional funding builds on the £5 million that we made available in 2020-21 previously, and that will go to support our response to COVID-19. That's a significant increase on where we began these particular interventions. We will also be maintaining the additional funding provided in last year's budget for mental health for higher education, because those needs aren't going to go away either, and in further education as well. So, we're moving from a whole-school approach to a whole-system approach to supporting mental health. Children and young people's mental health needs don't necessarily stop when they finish school; we need to make sure that there is support there within further education and higher education.

10:10

Thank you. We've got some questions now on higher and further education from Laura Jones.

Minister, what factors drove the allocation of resourcing between higher education provision and further education provision, and how does the budget represent an optimal balance between the two?

Well, Laura, as you know, higher education is dependent on student loans, and funding is determined through the Diamond review. For FE, this is determined by the forecast of student numbers and other units of resource required to deliver learning experiences per student, and we keep that balance under review throughout the year. During my term of office, I've increased funding to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales by around 80 per cent between 2016 and 2020-21, which I have been very pleased to do. But, Huw, this is over to you if there's anything further you'd like to add.

Minister, about the increase in funding to the sector. I think from our understanding, the amount of money has gone up considerably from around about £118 million to closer to a figure of £220 million over the period of your office.

So, £32 million has been transferred from the student support budget to higher and further education and £7 million of this went into further education provision. Can you explain to what extent this is in line with the Welsh Government's commitment to reinvest its savings from the Diamond review back into the HE sector, and what is the purpose of the £7 million? Thanks.

Okay. Well, we've been able to absolutely honour our commitment to ensuring that savings accrued as a result of higher education finance reform are ploughed back into the sector. The £7 million is a contingency, which we have always kept back in recent years. That has meant that we haven't always used that money, so rather than just sitting on it at the moment, from the past experience, we feel that we can adequately move that money to be deployed in another area. But, Huw, perhaps you could explain further about the £7 million contingency and how we're using that this year.

Yes, the £7 million is a transfer to the further education provision budget expenditure line to support our commitment to lifelong learning and the work that we're doing to develop offers in that area.

Just before you move on, Suzy, was your supplementary on any of those points?

Yes, it was, actually. Huw Morris, yesterday, in the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, you explained that as far as apprenticeships were concerned, you didn't know what the effect of COVID was on that, but more money would be needed, and you didn't really know at that stage how much. Is there a similar problem for you when it comes to the FE and HE institutions themselves? Has that been a complication for you?

We've kept the financial position of those institutions under constant review with the principals and representatives from both sectors, and you will have seen the announcement earlier this week of £40 million for higher education to provide for students who are in hardship. We met as recently as yesterday with the chair and chief executive of HEFCW to look again at what the impact of COVID had been this term, and what it might likely be over the course of the rest of the spring, and I'm confident that we have measures in hand. That may require additional money, but at this point, we don't have a feel for the scale of that.

No, that's clear. Thank you very much. Thank you, Lynne.

Thanks. Minister, although funding for FE and sixth-form provision is increasing due to demographic changes, does the draft budget reflect an increase in funding per learner or an increase in the number of learners?

It's an increase in the number of learners, primarily. There have been adjustments in terms of the level of funding per learner, and we've been keen to make sure that there's parity between the students and pupils in different institutions.

Okay. Investment in the sixth-form and FE has been increased, as you said, but what demographic changes are expected over the next financial year?

We're expecting an increase in student numbers. I can't recall the precise numbers, but we'd be happy to write to the committee and provide details for that.

10:15

Apologies, Minister.

That's fine. I'd be kicking Huw back under the table at this point. [Laughter.]

Funding for adult community learning remains unchanged from the 2020-21 budget. Can you set out the reason for this decision?

The funding methodology for adult community learning was reviewed and changed in 2020-21. These changes resulted in a levelling of the playing field across local authorities, and those changes required a transition for many authorities, both in terms of increases and decreases. So, there were some local authorities, because of the change to the funding formula, that saw a decrease, but there were others that saw, in some cases, not an inconsiderable increase. But clearly, just because the money is there—you have to be in a position to use that money. So, we've had a kind of like a damping process, really, to mitigate in those local authorities that have seen their allocations go down, but also to create space for those local authorities to build up the capacity where there will be more money coming into their local authority under this budget stream.

At the time of the publishing of the draft budget, we are still in negotiations around the level of that damping, so that we don't—. We need to make that transition so that it's fair across Wales, but we need to do that in a way that doesn't significantly undermine some local authorities. So, we're still working out exactly the damping and the transitioning arrangements. We need to move, but we need to do that in a fair way and a way that doesn't completely destabilise the sector in some local authorities. Whilst that work is ongoing, I can confirm that we will look to fund an increase for adult community learning where we're able to do so, but we just need to continue to have those discussions.

Okay. Thank you, Minister. How does the draft budget support the Welsh Government's commitment to lifelong learning?

Funding for part-time provision in colleges and adult community learning will both be increased as a part of the in-year processes. The lifelong learning is—. There isn't one pot of money that allows that to happen. So, our student finance resources—we've seen a significant increase in the number of part-time learners that are now accessing higher education that previously didn't do that before. Because of the way in which we're using the resources, our individual learning accounts have now been able to be spread out and increased right across Wales, allowing those people who are in work but are looking to improve their employment prospects to gain more qualifications. So, lifelong learning doesn't sit in one particular budget; it's a suite of interventions right the way across the post-16 sector that allows individuals to learn and develop their skills and undertake training at a time that is right for them. Huw, I don't know if there's anything further you'd like to add.

We are preparing for lifelong learning through the personal learning accounts initiative, and there are details in the budget on the funding for that. 

Thank you. On that, what outcomes does the Welsh Government expect from the increased investment in personal learning accounts, and what's the basis behind that?

We believe that the increased investment in the PLA programme would enable at least an additional 2,000 employed people, furloughed workers, all those that are at risk of redundancy, to learn new skills or gain higher levels of qualification in what are priority sectors. The account programmes and the learning associated with them are a result of a discussion with regional skills councils, as well as strategic areas, about where we think employment prospects are best. We think at least an additional 2,000 individuals will be able to be assisted as a part of that programme expansion.

Okay. Thank you. We've got some questions now from Hefin David, which are also being asked on behalf of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, with whom we share some of the remit. Hefin.

What progress has been made in the draft budget towards the Reid review recommendations and achieving those through sufficient funding?

An additional allocation of £7.5 million was made previously for research Wales innovation funding, including the civic mission activities to enable HEFCW to bring forward its plans for the reintroduction of funding for innovation and knowledge transfer. In addition, a further £6 million was allocated to support research and development by increasing and sustaining the levels of quality-related research funding and postgraduate research funding. HEFCW have implemented the research Wales innovation fund to meet the Reid recommendations, and it's intended that the research Wales innovation fund will incentivise and reward performance by higher education institutions in Wales, particularly in terms of external income capture, which was one of the main challenges set down to us by Reid. The implementation of Reid is also central to meeting HEFCW's vision for research and innovation in Wales. Institutions were invited to submit three-year strategies for that. Huw, I don't know if there's anything further to add around how we're working forward to implement the recommendations.

10:20

Just to say that Universities Wales conducted its own Reid review too recently. We contributed to the thinking on that. That publication is about the future of these initiatives and how they might be amended. 

Okay. How is the draft budget preparing for the end of EU funding with regard to research and innovation?

Hefin, you will know very clearly that structural funds have previously formed a crucial part of the efforts to build research and development capacity and capability in Wales, including significant expenditure relating to applied research and innovation, so it's really, really challenging, given the indication around how the replacement for structural funds is going to work. I think there are real concerns from within the Welsh Government and real concerns within the university sector around that replacement.

We also have to have a conversation around how—I'm trying to find the right word—a discussion around levelling up is actually implemented when it comes to research and innovation funding. We have concerns about how the replacement for structural funds will be allocated in a transparent process and will allow our universities to utilise those funds in the way that they've done previously. Huw, perhaps you can, again, provide additional details. 

Just to say that we're expecting the UK Government to publish some outline of its proposals for the shared prosperity fund at the beginning of February, and that might provide a measure of the scale of a replacement for structural funds from the EU into Wales. Also, just to emphasise, I've been in meetings that the Minister has led with her counterpart in London, Amanda Solloway, to emphasise the need for levelling up and the position of Wales with regard to the need for replacement funds. And—

Sorry, I don't want to interrupt you, Huw. Are you finished?

Just to say that it's an active campaign that the Minister for Education and other Ministers have been engaged in across the Government.

I was going to ask you, Minister, specifically about your interactions with your Westminster counterpart. Do you find them productive when it comes to recognising the scale of the challenge in the budget for Wales?

Can I say that colleagues in the Westminster Government certainly make themselves available? There is certainly scope for lots and lots and lots and lots of conversations. Whether those conversations are always productive is a different issue. So, we have lots of opportunities to make the case for Wales. Sometimes, whether that case is heard, or acted upon, or the asks that Wales has are acted upon, is different. But there is certainly plenty of scope for interaction. Sometimes I'm concerned about whether that then translates into real action that responds positively to the asks that Wales makes. 

So, what happens in these—? You have constructive meetings, and then the actions aren't followed through. 

Okay. Thank you. Just before we finish, Minister, can I just go back and clarify on the £7 million to help the most acutely impacted learners, which you touched on earlier, and is also referred to in your paper in terms of COVID recovery? Is that additional to the £29 million or part of it?

10:25

That's additional money above and beyond the £29 million, recognising that there are specific parts of the cohort that are—. Everybody is affected, but there are specific concerns, and those are the ones that we rehearsed earlier. So, for instance, those children that are coming to the end of qualifications, early years, children who are attending Welsh-medium education for whom perhaps Welsh is not the language of the home, disadvantaged children, children with additional learning needs. So, everybody is affected, but there are concerns that there are parts of the cohort that have specific challenges above and beyond general catch-up that need additional resources. 

Okay. Thank you very much for clarifying that; that's very helpful. We have come to the end of our questions, so can I thank the Minister and her officials for attending this morning and for answering all our questions? As usual, we'll send you a transcript to check for accuracy for both the sessions that we've had this morning following the meeting. Thank you again, Minister, and thank you to your officials, too. The committee will now break until 10:45. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:26 a 10:48.

The meeting adjourned between 10:26 and 10:48.

10:45
4. Craffu ar Gyllideb Ddrafft Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer 2021-22
4. Scrutiny of the Welsh Government Draft Budget 2021 - 2022

Welcome back, everyone. Item 4 this morning is a further scrutiny session on the Welsh Government draft budget. I'd like to welcome Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Health and Social Services; Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language; Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services; Albert Heaney, deputy director general, health and social services group at Welsh Government; Claire Bennett, director of communities and tackling poverty at Welsh Government; Tracey Breheny, deputy director of mental health, substance misuse and vulnerable groups at Welsh Government; Dr Heather Payne, senior medical officer for maternal and child health at Welsh Government; and Steve Elliot, deputy director of finance at Welsh Government. Thank you all for joining us this morning. Can I just remind Members that I have agreed that the Minister for health and Steve Elliot will be leaving after their questions, due to a press Government commitment? We'll go, now, then, straight into questions, and the first questions are from Hefin David.

My questions are on the transparency of spending on children's health, which I'd like to direct, firstly, to the Minister for Health and Social Services. Minister, are you able to tell us approximately how much of the £9.2 billion that is within the health and social services main expenditure group has been allocated to provisions specific to children and young people?

I don't think I can do that in the way the committee would want me to, and that's because, as we've touched on before in the budget conversation, the great majority of budget that we have is allocated in an unhypothecated way for health boards and trusts for their delivery plans. It is, though, worth pointing out that within the planning framework we're very clear about our expectations for children and young people's services. In particular, there's a section around children and young people with priorities around prevention, timely access, primary community care, mental health and reducing health inequalities. So, actually, you'll see how the spend is really allocated out in the way that health boards then run their budget lines in particular.

And also, it's worth pointing out that it's not just about those areas within the planning framework, but over this next year, we expect to make progress on implementation of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016, and that will require health boards to spend more money, because the next duty that's going to come in is the paediatric in-patient services. So, there are specific example where we can say that there'll be money targeted at that, and I know you may well have questions later on on workforce, but actually, the great majority of this goes into unhypothecated funds, but health boards have to deliver against the planning framework that is very clear on the priorities for children and young people that those health board plans have to meet.

10:50

It makes it difficult to then scrutinise at this point in the budget, doesn't it, in these circumstances? So, are you assuring us, therefore, that children are getting a fair share of funding in comparison to adult services?

Yes. I think I can give that assurance because of the way our planning framework is set out. It's very clear now, and in the updated annual plans, those points would have to be recognised. I know that you may want to take up with Eluned Morgan points about mental health, emotional well-being—those will be services for the whole population, but children and young people are a key priority within that and I think the planning framework makes that very clear. We always have this challenge around budget time and more generally when it comes to health spend about how much we say, 'You need to have these whole-population organisations to meet the needs of the whole population in a way that makes sense', because children, as I've regularly said, don't exist on their own; they exist in context with their family and their community. And how much we want to have direct control over what health boards spend and to direct them, to have a more micro-managerial approach to health board budget lines. It's a tension always, so I've been pretty consistent in the way I've tried to set out the approach we have from the centre and what that means in terms of allocation, but actually, the planning framework has sharpened up and made clearer the expectations to deliver against. And you'll see more of that when it comes—whether those updated plans are approved. 

And the draft budget provides for an initial package of £77 million in COVID funding across all portfolios for 2021-22, how did you assess what specific children's health and social care needs should be accounted for in that allocation, and what will your approach be when the remainder of this package is allocated across the portfolio?

Well, the £77 million is the first allocation for the whole Government, so it isn't just a health and social services allocation. Within that £77 million, the health part of it is the £10 million for contact tracing, to invest in that. Now, we're going to need to look at that again as we move forward, because contact tracing isn't going to end in the middle of the summer; whatever happens with the Senedd elections, we're going to need to have a contact tracing system for some time to come. 

So, the Finance Minister and Trefnydd will be able to set out more about the whole-Government look on the £77 million. When it comes to future priorities, health is obviously going to be part of that, and as well as contact tracing, the other very obvious one is going to be vaccination and our capacity to continue testing and the additional capacities that we're going to need. So, field hospital maintenance is part of that too. Now, not all of those are necessarily directly and specifically and uniquely about children and young people. But what we do know is for a path out of where we are with lockdown and all the alternative harms it causes, despite the fact that it reduces transmission, children and young people are a group of people who actually do have a real harm that comes from lockdown. So, all of those things may not be directly about children and young people, but the sooner we get out of lockdown with suppressed and reduced—and sustainably reduced—virus transmission, there'll be a definite benefit for the rights and interests of children and young people. So, it's never quite as simple as there being a specific amount that you could identify in a budget line in the way that you can do, for example, when we introduce the duty on paediatric in-patient nursing.

Okay. So, looking at the budget allocations as a whole across Wales in relation to children and young people's health, you've said that it's up to the health boards to manage their allocations in the way that you described initially in answer to my first question. But different health boards are in different financial positions, aren't they, and some are in very difficult financial positions. So, how can you be sure that the allocations are sufficient in each board and that there don't then become geographical differences in provision across the country? 

10:55

Well, the starting point is that we've made real progress on financial discipline within health boards in Wales, and I think there's a lot of credit that goes to the finance delivery unit and the director of finance, whom Steve works with, in delivering some of that financial discipline so that our health boards are genuinely in a better position.

The second point to make is that—the Chair will recognise this from her time when she was a bright new Member of the institution, when it was created, about the conversations on health board funding formulas. So, all of the pain and the difficulty that Members had to go through to look at a new funding formula—the Townsend formula—we've now updated that.

We're in the second year of looking at growth funding being allocate on a new basis. That specifically takes account of different population need, and that includes children and young people, and it includes a range of indicators around healthcare inequalities as well. So, we're deliberately allocating future funding on a basis that is up to date and takes account of where organisations are.

We have a bigger challenge, which we discussed in your sister committee—the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee—and that is about the fact that sustainable health service funding is built on the Nuffield and Health Foundation reports that talk about both real-terms growth in funding, which we have been provided with, together with a level of efficiency savings. Those efficiencies haven't been achieved this year because of the pandemic, and Wales isn't unique in that.

There will be additional pressures, moving through this next year and the year after, to make sure that we're on a genuinely sustainable footing, but I think that the new formula is one that is recognised as being a fairer deal for growth funding than the Townsend one.

You'll recognise from your own career in local government that there are times when funding formulas have to be revised. It's not always as easy as we'd like, and that's why the money is allocated to growth funding rather than the core funding that is already in health boards' underlying budgets.

The geographical inequalities that you say that these measures have been put in place to address are not just about organisations, about funding formulas and about management of budget; they're also about the demographic profiles of certain areas. So, for example, reception age children in Merthyr are twice as likely to be obese as children in the Vale of Glamorgan, and we know that children of this age are significantly more likely than the Welsh average to be obese if they live in areas of high deprivation. So, how are you going to make sure that the money you allocate to children's health is addressing those issues that are faced by specific groups of children living in pockets of deprived areas across the country?

What I can indicate is that the formula does take account of demographic indicators; so, population health measures; it takes account of the different level of costs for different age groups; it takes account of the costs for where you have a higher level of younger people, so the birth rate is different; it also takes specific account of deprivation as well.

If you want more specifics on that, then either Steve could provide it or, if it's helpful, we can send you a fuller note on the indicators that the new formula does take account of. Some of that is a relatively technical exercise, but I think we can provide something, in the way that I think we have done for the health committee, that sets out the basis on which the new formula comes in and why we think it's a fairer and better match, which takes account of the population specifics in different parts of Wales that I think you're pointing to.  

That would be useful, I think—to have a note—but I think it is, obviously, important to recognise that the formula just works on the growth aspect of the budget, so there are remaining questions about how the core is prioritised. Hefin.

My screen is telling me I'm muted. That's fine, Chair. Thanks.

You're okay, are you? Okay, we'll move on now, then, to some questions from Vikki Howells, who wants to ask about the impact of the pandemic.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning, Minister. We all know, of course, that the pandemic has had a significant impact on delivering routine healthcare. You've suggested that you think it will take pretty much a full Senedd term to resolve this. We know that you intend to develop a three-year plan to address the backlog, with confirmation of funding for the first year by April 2021-22. What assessment have you made of the impact of these delays on children? How will the funding that you're planning to announce for that year begin to address these issues, specifically to children and young people's routine healthcare?

11:00

Okay. So, some aspects of children and young people's routine healthcare have obviously carried on because they've been designated as essential services. There are some things that you can't stop. So, maternity services have obviously carried on. Babies haven't stopped being born during the period of the pandemic, so that's essential work, and so the work of health visitors as well that is essential has carried on. There were different challenges about that provision. So, there are additional PPE requirements, but that's a service that still carries on as you would expect it to as far as possible. 

In other aspects, some of the more surveillance work, that's part of our challenge. Heather Payne may want to come in, but we're working together with not just the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health when it comes to how we maintain and safeguard routine aspects of care, but about what we restart. And if you think about the overall picture of the significant increase in waiting lists and waiting times because so much activity has been paused because of the greater PPE requirements, even before we went into the more significant impact of this second and third wave, and what that's meant in terms of having to close off other areas of activity—. And you can see that in both the broad area of children's activity, where there's less demand in, so that's meant that paediatric staff have helped in other parts of the service, but it's also in some of the specific services that have been paused and can't carry on. I was talking earlier this week with Dr Payne about cleft palate services, a specialist service, but one that is time critical, and it's a UK-wide picture that that's been held up. There's a real challenge there. So, that's a very specific service that we're looking to make sure that we can restart and have as much activity as possible, and that's really only about children and young people, but it's been directly affected by the pandemic. So, you have those specific examples, but in the broader picture, there are a whole range of essential children and young people services that we have safeguarded, but that big backlog is definitely going to affect children and young people, and there's no getting away from that I'm afraid. 

Heather, before you come in, can I ask—maybe you could comment as well on the fact that I've heard of children who are now facing a long wait for things. And, I think, a year in the life of a child is a very long time when you look at that developmentally. Maybe you could comment on how those kinds of factors are being taken into account, especially when we know children have lost so much as a result of the pandemic.

Yes. I think, on your point about a year in the life of a child being a very long time—and you don't need to be a parent to recognise that either, but I look at my son and people in his school year and there's a huge difference. He's a summer baby, July, and he's in the same school year as people born nearly a year earlier than him, and it does make a really big difference. And thinking about what that means for a child as they're developing, with a service that could make a difference, that is very definitely in our mind, and it's part of the reason why we are working alongside the relevant royal college and practitioners to understand what's possible with the capacity we have, and that's crucially about staff more than money, and then how we restart services to take account of the differing needs of children and young people. Sorry, Dr Payne.

Thank you very much. Absolutely. The pandemic has affected everybody. but it's affected children in a different way, because most children's need for health and well-being doesn't actually depend on health services, it depends on the rest of society, their parents, their community. However, the important bits of health services that we offer children, as the Minister says, haven't stopped. So, the antenatal care, the maternity care—fundamentally important for their ongoing well-being, but also, child health screening, because screening and prevention is the biggest chunk of routine health services, which includes immunisation. And, as the Minister says, those have continued. They have adapted to the fact that we all have to do things virtually, face-to-face where necessary, virtually where that is better for everybody, and so those things have continued. We've even done a lot of work with our colleagues in the health service to improve things like routine screening of the neonatal and six-week physical examination, which is a screening procedure, and again, we've done a lot of work even over this time of lockdown, when people have been incredibly busy, to improve the quality of that. 

In terms of specific things where actual surgical intervention is really needed, like with cleft palate, again, the availability of theatres was the problem that interfered with children getting this incredibly time-sensitive set of operations—so, surgery for hair lip and cleft palate, affecting their appearance, self-esteem and communication lifelong. And so that was interrupted. We are working extremely hard with the specialist commissioning services to actually make sure that we fix that, and so we've made some progress. Even within this time, we've also made sure that we now have a 24/7 neonatal transport service. So, again, some things have been considerable successes.

The well-being of children, again in terms of additional learning needs, school attendance—that is the biggest single thing that actually supports children, and the whole-school approach to mental well-being. Again, those things, we are working across our portfolios in order to make sure that those things are in place as far as possible. 

There is no denying that we've all had to work differently, but the imaginative response to having to work differently has actually been productive in lots of ways. So, the main thing is that we are monitoring all these things with things like the Healthy Child Wales output process, putting in place—we already have the screening uptake, we have immunisation uptake, we have school attendance uptake; we have these figures and are publishing them on our COVID dashboard. That is in preparation now. So, whilst we've all had to adjust, we have tried to address the problems and have a way to actually monitor them.

11:05

Thank you. Turning to funding for training and education of the NHS workforce, the draft budget includes an 8.2 per cent increase for that, up by £2.1 million to £27.9 million for the next financial year. How much of that, Minister, do you see being spent on the paediatric workforce and will any of this be used to try and address the concerns that this committee has heard that parts of the paediatric workforce have been moved across to adult services to deal with the COVID pandemic?

Well, within that overall budget increase, we have got specific areas that you can identify, again, around children and young people. So, further increases in midwifery training and a 10 per cent increase in child nursing training places, and we've got a longstanding commitment to increase and then maintain our investment in the health visitor workforce as well. So, we have made specific provision around children and young people. When it comes to the way that staff have been allocated, I think we had some of this conversation the last time I was in committee, about whether, for example, health visitors at one point had been reallocated, where they'd gone back to their health visiting duties, and they have. 

When it comes to in-patient or acute services, again, it's been a factor that during the pandemic, we have seen increases in some demand and activity at the most significant end in critical care, but we've also seen falls in demand and in people coming in to other parts of our system. And that's been the case in both emergency department care and that's certainly been the case when it comes to paediatric admissions as well, whether scheduled or in-patient. So, we've actually had less demand, and what's really happened is that the allocation of people is partly because people have volunteered to go and work in other parts of the service with different needs and different demands. It's about making sure that we're not denuding parts of our service when the demand is actually there. 

So, I wouldn't want anyone to have the impression there's been a permanent transfer of people out of paediatric services, because that isn't the case. And I know that the royal college have suggested that they think the consultant workforce needs to increase and, to be fair, if you had any particular royal college, they'd probably describe the fact that they thought that the workforce in their area should increase as well. So, it's both about the specifics as well as about the whole system around them as well. This year's allocation is about continuing to invest in NHS staff. There is a focus on children and young people within the services around them. We need to continue working, though, with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health about where we are with the consultant workforce and how they work alongside other people. We have, though, got a range of additional specialist training posts for paediatrics within this round as well. So, that may not be everything that the royal college would want to see us do, but it is real progress in that direction and a reflection of the reality of the pandemic.

11:10

Okay. Thank you, Vikki, and thank you, Minister. We're going to move on now then to some questions on the budget for emotional and mental health from Suzy Davies.

Thank you. You know that this is huge area of interest for this committee, so I'm hoping that we'll be able to get full answers from you. The budget's got a new allocation of £20 million for mental health to increase support across a range of areas because of the effect of the pandemic on mental health. Obviously that's very much welcome. If we just park for a minute the question of the contribution to the whole-school approach, what can you tell us about how that £20 million is going to be allocated to children and young people's mental health?

Is it on? There, I've been unmuted.

Thank you. I think, first of all, we've got to put this in the context of just understanding that we recognise that there is, potentially, a mental health crisis that will occur as result of this pandemic. There was already an issue in relation to mental health, but I think there is a particular issue that we need to address in relation to children and young people, and that's why that has been recognised in the budget this year. So, just the general budget—there's been a £42 million uplift, with £33 million of this within the health MEG, and £9.4 million within my MEG. So, you correctly identified that £20 million of that, which is not specifically the schools, child and adolescent mental health services, and whole-school approach—but £20 million of that is within the health budget. Now, what is it going to be spent on within that budget?

First of all, £7 million of it will be on the delivery plan priority. So, we've got very clear priorities within the delivery plan. That includes things like eating disorders, perinatal and psychological therapies and CAMHS. So, some of that money will go on those, and, of course, that means that children will have access to a part of that funding. So, if you think about eating disorders, that is clearly something which will be used by teenagers, perhaps, a lot more than other sections of society.

On top of that, £4 million will be for tier zero, so this is the missing middle stuff that we're talking about. And, obviously, that means that there will be an opportunity for children to access that tier-zero support as well. Another area within that £20 million will be for crisis care. So, we know that those crises arise for all kinds of reasons, and what we're trying to do is to develop a cross-Government response. We've got to understand that just because you've got a mental health crisis, hospital is not necessarily the right route for you. There may be lots of other areas where we could help. Social services may need to be involved. For adults, it may be that there is a debt crisis, or whatever. So, we're trying to make sure it's a much more cross-Government approach on that. And then there will be some money for memory assessments, so, obviously, less of that will be relevant to children and young people.

Okay. Thanks. Is there anything in there that's specifically targeted towards children with a learning difficulty who also have a mental health issue?

Well, some of that—if it's within that priority plan, then it will be covered. But that intersectional funding is something that—. Learning disability is something that will be covered by the Deputy Minister's portfolio.

It was just to get a sense of this cross-Government working, and that was an obvious question to ask. I don't know, Chair, have you got a chance for the Deputy Minister to come in for 30 seconds on that?

Hello. You've got—[Inaudible.]

Right. I think the learning difficulties will be covered under that plan and, certainly, the particular issues related to children with learning difficulties is well recognised.

11:15

Okay, well, thank you for that. Because, obviously, it's not the same as mental health per se, but there's a big crossover. Can I just go back to the other Deputy Minister, then, and ask about the tier 4 provision? You started to talk about crisis there, but, obviously, this committee has also had a really strong interest in tier 4. Our concern is that this isn't as Wales-wide as it could be. Can you tell us a little bit about how that expenditure, first of all, has been decided, and what do you think it's likely to be spent on?

Well, certainly, what we're talking about is about £5.4 million, and we've prioritised CAMHS investment here. I'm very clear that, if we can, we should be supporting children within their communities. So, that community approach to CAMHS is, I think, where we need to focus. But we've got to recognise that there will be more vulnerable children that may need that in-patient treatment, and some of that funding therefore will be provided for that tier 4 provision.

So, what's happening at the moment is that the decision as to where that funding is going to go is going to be informed by the national collaborative commissioning unit's review of the two tier 4 units—so, the Tŷ Llidiard and the north Wales adolescent service. So we're looking—and we've been monitoring bed capacity within CAMHS—and all of that's going to be fed in for us to understand where the gaps are so we can target that funding. So, the actual lockdown of where the allocation's going to go hasn't been determined yet, but we're waiting for that review in order to inform exactly where we should be prioritising that funding.

Okay, that's helpful. Before I move on to the whole-school approach, which is my final question, can you give us an indication whether there's any of the capital allocation in your budget being pencilled in as a contribution towards a new in-patient facility anywhere in Wales?

So, there is some funding for support that we're looking for. We've got Tŷ Llidiard, obviously, that we're talking about, but I don't think there's any specific additional funding for the capital investment.

Obviously, what we do have, though, is £2 million that is ring-fenced with the intermediary care fund for complex care cases. And you'll be aware that Powys, for example, has already accessed that funding to provide facility for complex care children. And we're encouraging other health boards and regional partnership boards to come forward with proposals here. I had a meeting recently with the local authorities just to encourage them to basically pick up this funding that is sitting on the table to address this really important area.

Okay, thank you. And then, finally, I've mentioned the whole-school approach and the additional money coming in from health for that. What are your proposals for monitoring the effectiveness of that, and how did you conclude that that was an appropriate figure to be putting into that combined budget?

So, we've been working with Cardiff University in terms of the evaluation assessment. What we've got to understand is that there is a theory of change. There are lots of different things working on the pressures on children, and we need to know, when we press this button, what's the outcome going to be. So, Cardiff University has been doing a lot of work on that for us, and they're also leading us—and it's a separate contract—to evaluate school counselling provision. And part of that will also be about looking as to whether we should be including primary schools further in terms of mental health support. At the moment, there's a separate contract, then, that's been paid to people in work, and they're evaluating the CAMHS In-Reach to Schools pilot. And the point here is that we know that the interim report that has been written, in relation to the whole-school approach, which was published last March, was really positive. That was published in the summer, sorry. We'll wait for the final evaluation, but we're expecting it to be good, which is why we're already earmarking funding so that we can roll out that whole-school approach across the whole of Wales.

11:20

Okay. Does anybody else want to add to that? I was just going to add a supplementary about how will that fit in with your recently decided missing middle money? Will there be any kind of crossover of the spend there?

So, this is something that we absolutely need to hook up, which is why we did have this task and finish group, which was a school-school approach, and now it's a whole-system approach. And we have to make sure that these two things work together. So, you'll be aware that that early help and enhanced support that's being developed for children and young people; we need to pleat these together now to make sure that they are feeding off each other and working together. So, at the moment, they're still slightly parallel systems, and we need to bring those two together.

Thank you. And, of course, there was a committee recommendation that the task and finish group changed to being a whole-system task and finish group, and we're very pleased to see that being taken forward. So, Siân, now, has some questions on perinatal mental health.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Pa ganlyniadau ydych chi'n disgwyl eu gweld yn sgil y cyllid sydd ar gael i fyrddau iechyd ar gyfer gwasanaethau iechyd meddwl amenedigol cymunedol? A sut byddwch chi'n monitro a ydy'r byrddau iechyd ar draws Cymru yn buddsoddi digon o arian yn y gwasanaethau yma?

Thank you, Chair. What outcomes do you expect to see from the funding that is available to health boards for community perinatal mental health services? And how will you monitor whether the health boards across Wales are investing sufficient funding in these services? 

Diolch yn fawr. Rŷn ni wedi bod yn gofyn i'r byrddau iechyd i fonitro'r sefyllfa. Roedd yn rhaid inni ofyn iddyn nhw—. Roedden nhw wedi gofyn inni a fyddai'n bosibl iddyn nhw gael saib yn ystod y pandemig, ac rŷn ni newydd gael adroddiadau yn ôl oddi wrth bump o'r byrddau iechyd—ni'n dal i aros i'r ddau fwrdd arall i adrodd yn ôl ar beth yw'r sefyllfa sy'n ymwneud â perinatal mental health. Beth rŷn ni'n gofyn i'r byrddau iechyd ei wneud yw sicrhau eu bod nhw'n dod lan at y safonau sydd wedi cael eu sefydlu gan y Royal College of Psychiatrists. Felly, dyna yw'r kind of minimum standards byddem ni'n gofyn am, ac rŷn ni wedi rhoi arian ychwanegol mewn lle yn yr £20 miliwn yna i sicrhau eu bod nhw'n symud tuag at y safon yna, a bydd y disgwyliad yna—. Rôn i yn gobeithio y bydden nhw wedi gallu gwneud hwnna eleni, ond yn amlwg mae'r pandemig, efallai, yn golygu bod yn rhaid inni ei wthio fe nôl ychydig. Ond bydd yna ddisgwyliad, yn sicr, y bydd hwnna'n cael ei gyrraedd erbyn blwyddyn nesaf.

Thank you very much. We have been asking the health boards to monitor the situation. We had to—. They asked us whether it would be possible for them to pause that work during the pandemic, but we have had a report back from five of the health boards—we're still awaiting reports from two other health boards on what the situation is with regard to perinatal mental health. What we are asking the health boards to do is to ensure that they come up to the standards that have been set by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. So, that's the kind of minimum standard that we are requiring, and we have allocated additional funding within that £20 million to ensure that they do move towards that standard, and that expectation—. We did hope that they would have been able to do that this year, but obviously the pandemic, perhaps, means that we have to push that back a little bit. But there will be an expectation, certainly, that that will be reached by next year.

Ydych chi'n meddwl y bydd angen arian ychwanegol i'r gwasanaethau iechyd meddwl amenedigol cymunedol oherwydd y pandemig? A oes yna arwydd bod yna gynnydd mewn atgyfeiriadau at y gwasanaethau? Achos byddai rhywun yn dychmygu, chi'n gwybod, ei bod hi'n arbennig o anodd i berson sydd newydd gael plentyn i fod ar ben ei hunan yn hunan-ynysu ac yn y blaen yn y cyfnod yma.

Do you believe that there will be a need for additional funding for the perinatal mental health services in the community because of the pandemic? Is there any signal that there has been an increase in referrals to these services? Because one might imagine that it is particularly difficult for a person who has just given birth to be on their own self-isolating and so on at this time.

Wel, rŷn ni'n aros i gael yr analysis yna, fel dwi'n dweud, a byddwn ni'n edrych ar y data yna yn ystod yr wythnosau nesaf. Byddai'n fwy na pharod i adrodd yn ôl i'r pwyllgor pan rŷn ni wedi cael siawns i edrych ar y canlyniadau yna. Efallai erbyn mis Mawrth bydd y canlyniadau gyda ni, a byddwn ni wedyn yn gallu gweld yn glir beth yw'r sefyllfa.

Well, we are waiting for that analysis, as I said, and we will be looking at that data during the coming weeks. I will be more than willing to report back to the committee when we've had an opportunity to look at the results of that. Perhaps by March we will have those results, and we will, then, be able to see clearly what the situation is.

Roeddwn i'n gweld, o ran y dyraniadau sydd gan y byrddau iechyd, fod Bwrdd Iechyd Prifysgol Betsi Cadwaladr yn dyrannu tipyn mwy o arian tuag at y gwasanaethau cymunedol nag ydy'r lleill. Dwi'n meddwl fy mod i'n deall pam; fedrwch chi egluro?

I saw, in terms of the allocations that the health boards have received, that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is allocating a great deal more funding towards the community services than the others are. I believe I understand why; could you explain why?

Wel, dwi'n meddwl bod, efallai, mwy o waith gyda nhw i gyrraedd y safon sydd wedi cael ei sefydlu gan y royal college, ac felly byddem ni'n disgwyl y byddai—. A dyna pam rŷn ni eisiau cael rhywfaint o hyblygrwydd yn y system fel bod rheini sydd, efallai, tu ôl, yn gallu gwario mwy o'r arian rŷn ni'n rhoi iddyn nhw ar y llefydd lle mae yna wendid, efallai.

Well, I think that there is more work for them to do to reach the standard that has been set by the royal college, and so I would expect—. And that's why we want to have some element of flexibility in the system, so that those who are, perhaps, slightly behind, can spend a little bit more of the funding that we allocate to them in those places where there are weaknesses. 

Ydych chi'n disgwyl i beth o'r arian yna gael ei wario ynglŷn â'r trafodaethau sy'n digwydd efo gogledd-orllewin Lloegr ynglŷn â chael gwasanaeth cleifion mewnol? Neu ydych chi'n meddwl bod yna achos i'w wneud dros ddatblygu y syniad mae'r bwrdd iechyd ei hun yn ei gyflwyno, sef i gael rhyw fath o ddarpariaeth fewnol yn y gogledd, fyddai hefyd ar gael ar gyfer merched yn Lloegr?

Do you expect some of that funding to be spent on the discussions that are taking place with north-west England in terms of having an in-patient service? Or do you believe that there is a case to be made for developing this idea that the health board itself is putting forward, namely to have some kind of in-patient provision in north Wales that would also be available for women in England?

11:25

Wel, mae'r rhain yn wasanaethau arbenigol iawn, ac felly mae'n rhaid i chi sicrhau bod digon o boblogaeth gyda chi. Rŷn ni mewn trafodaethau gyda gogledd-orllewin Lloegr ynglŷn â sefydlu, efallai, cwpl o welyau gyda nhw yn yr uned maen nhw'n meddwl ei ddatblygu, ond, wrth gwrs, un o'r pethau byddwn ni'n awyddus iawn i'w wneud yw sicrhau bod y ddarpariaeth yna yn gallu cael ei chyflawni yn Gymraeg hefyd, felly mae'r drafodaeth yna yn mynd ymlaen ar hyn o bryd.

Well, these are very specialist services, so you do have to ensure that there is sufficient population to be covered. We are in discussions with north-west England with regard to establishing, perhaps, a few beds with them in the unit that they are thinking about developing, but, of course, one of the things that we would be very eager to do is to ensure that that provision can be provided through the medium of Welsh as well. So, that discussion is ongoing.

Felly, dyna ydy'r trywydd, er gwaethaf dyhead y bwrdd iechyd i drafod y posibilrwydd o wneud yr un peth ond bod y lleoliad yng Nghymru yn hytrach nag yn Lloegr, ond bod y ddarpariaeth ar gael i ferched yn Lloegr hefyd er mwyn y pwynt rydych chi'n ei wneud, er mwyn ei wneud o'n gynaliadwy.

So, that is the route that you are pursuing, regardless of what the health board is saying it wants, which is the possibility of doing the same thing, but that that service would be provided in Wales rather than in England, but that that provision is available for women in England as well for the point that you make, to ensure that it is sustainable.

Mae'r trywydd ar hyn o bryd yn edrych fel ei fod e'n fwy tebygol o fynd i'r gogledd-orllewin, ond, wrth gwrs, yma yng Nghymru rŷn ni wedi rhoi £1.6 miliwn o gyfalaf i ddatblygu'r ganolfan yn Nhonna yn Neath, ac felly mae hwnna'n mynd yn ei flaen ac rŷn ni'n gobeithio y bydd hwnna'n agor nawr ym mis Mawrth, a dwi'n gwybod bod y recriwtio ar gyfer hwnna eisioes wedi dechrau.

The route we're pursuing at the moment is that it's more likely that it would be located in the north-west of England, but, of course, in Wales we have allocated £1.6 million of capital to develop the centre in Tonna in Neath, so that is going forward, and we hope that that will open in March, and I know that the recruitment for that has already started.

Okay, Siân? Thank you. Okay, moving on now then to talk about safeguarding and looked-after children with some questions for the Deputy Minister. If I can just start and say that we know that the pandemic is estimated to have cost local authorities around £325 million in the first six months of 2020-21. Given the very challenging situation faced by local authorities, how can you assure us that sufficient resources are being directed to front-line children's services for safeguarding purposes, and have you assured yourself that such services are robust?