Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg - Y Bumed Senedd

Children, Young People and Education Committee - Fifth Senedd

28/01/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

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

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ellen ap Gwynn Arweinydd Cyngor Sir Ceredigion a Dirprwy Lefarydd ar Addysg a'r Gymraeg, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Leader of Ceredigion County Council and Deputy Education Spokesperson and Welsh Language for the Welsh Local Government Association
Huw David Arweinydd Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr a Llefarydd ar Iechyd a Gofal Cymdeithasol Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Leader of Bridgend County Borough Council and Health and Social Care Spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association
Ian Roberts Arweinydd Cyngor Sir y Fflint a Llefarydd ar Addysg, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Leader of Flintshire County Council and Education Spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association
Philippa Marsden Arweinydd Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Caerffili a Llefarydd ar y Gweithlu, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council and Workforce Spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association
Professor Sally Holland Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Children’s Commissioner for Wales
Rachel Thomas Pennaeth Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Swyddfa Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Office of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales
Sharon Davies Pennaeth Addysg ar ran Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Head of Education for the Welsh Local Government Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
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 09:14.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:14. 

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 that the public are excluded from the meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for the meeting, published on Monday. The meeting is, however, being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference, and, as usual, a Record of Proceedings will be published. Aside from the 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 is an issue with the translation, I'll ask you to pause for a moment while our meeting technicians reset the system. We've received no apologies for absence. Can I ask if there are any declarations of interest from Members, please? No. Okay, thank you. Can I also remind you that if I drop out for any reason, it's been agreed that Dawn Bowden MS will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin?

09:15
2. COVID-19: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Chomisiynydd Plant Cymru
2. COVID-19: Evidence session with the Children's Commissioner for Wales

So, item 2 this morning is an evidence session on COVID-19 with the Children's Commissioner for Wales, and I'm very pleased to welcome Sally Holland, the children's commissioner, and Rachel Thomas, head of policy and public affairs in the office of the Children's Commissioner for Wales. Thank you for joining us this morning. We're very much looking forward to hearing what you've got to say. We're going to go straight to questions, and the first are from Dawn Bowden.

Thank you. Morning, Sally, and morning, Rachel. How are you? I just wanted to start by asking you—this is more, really, a question for local government representatives when they come in, but I wanted to test it with you as well—what kind of feedback you're getting about the approach to blended learning, how well that's working and how well it's being received by pupils, really.

Bore da, pawb. Thanks for the opportunity to come today. I think it's becoming clear to us that we're seeing a real changing picture, particularly as schools' experience and confidence has grown in delivering blended learning, and we have seen significant roll-out of digital devices and connectivity, although my report published today shows that that's still not an even distribution throughout all schools and colleges. We do hear from some individual families who say they're still concerned—we've heard this month—that their children are getting work they can't understand and they'd like a different kind of provision, like perhaps they've heard from the school next door or the school in their community. We've also heard from young people in our survey, which is still open on our website till Friday. Looking at the first 13,000 responses, some children are saying they're finding it too much, a few saying they're getting too little, some are saying they're finding it still very hard to understand the work.

However, I have to say that we do have some clear evidence of a real stepping up of provision and enormous hard work by our schools, colleges and local authorities to rapidly change to the changing environment. So, the report I've published today called 'Getting Online', with responses from 167 school heads and college principals throughout Wales, indicates that they're really working hard to provide an offer that's right for their pupils and for their local catchment area. So, for example, they feel that there have been a lot of public calls for all-day live lessons, and they say, 'Well, actually, you've got to understand the pros and cons of live lessons. For example, if children are sharing devices or parents are working during the day and helping their children access lessons after school time, then having some pre-recorded lessons with a video explainer and different ways of accessing that can be better for pupils, as they can also rewind it and listen again. So, they're trying hard to provide a varied diet, and that's what we're hearing, certainly from schools who have responded to us, and we have reason to believe they're a fair representation of schools and colleges—

—and from young people themselves that it's better. So, for example, we did a listening exercise after the firebreak period for secondary school pupils who'd been out of school, and, universally, and these were children from all sorts of backgrounds—children in care, young carers, children in rural areas, urban areas—they all said, 100 per cent, it was really better than the summer term.

09:20

Sure, yes. And are you getting a sense of consistency across schools and across education authorities, or is it very much different wherever you are, depending on the circumstances it's been tailored to meet? Is that what you're picking up?

I think the consistency we're seeing is that everyone seems to have really upped their game, and there's much more increased confidence about what the right offer looks like in different schools. But, yes, we are picking up some reports of inconsistencies.

And children with additional learning needs are struggling. Often, we're hearing that in our survey; we've started analysing even though it's still open. And also in Welsh-medium education, really hearing from our survey and from some local authorities concerns where some children are reporting to us, 'I'm not understanding the work. No-one speaks Welsh at home. I think I'm going to change to an English-medium school.' And I heard from one local authority in south-east Wales just this week, actually, saying that they've had an increase in the number of requests to transfer to English-medium schools. So, that's another concern, although I know that Welsh-medium schools are working really hard to make sure children have access to spoken Welsh as well as written Welsh through a variety of digital means. It clearly is an ongoing worry for lots of families.

That was something that we picked up with Estyn, last week I think that was. So, that's interesting feedback on that.

Just to move on to your survey, Sally, perhaps you could tell us a bit more about what you found in terms of the digi offer at the moment—digital technology? I'm talking about particularly access to both hardware and the technologies. We've had some information through, I think, from your office about some of the stats around that, but can you perhaps just take us through some of your key findings?

Yes, absolutely. The reason we did this was because we were aware and we'd asked for—I talked about this in committee in early November—an audit of provision, and I think committee members had asked for that too, and we're aware that Government and local authorities have been working together on an audit, but we weren't clear when that information would be made public. So, we decided to try and get the data a different way, by going straight to school heads and college principals. And just in a week—it was only open for a week—as I say, we had 167 responses. And what was interesting was not just the stats, but actually all the free-text comments that we had explaining a bit more about what it means to give digital access to people. So, I'll start with the stats, but I would like to say a little bit about some of the social issues that heads and principals are facing. So, in terms of the statistics, there's a really varied picture. So, I suppose we were quite pleased to hear that lots of schools had access to—. They were pretty confident that all of their learners now had access to a device—they hadn't at the beginning of the first lockdown—and to connectivity. I've not managed to get the stat for that in front of me. Rachel, you might want to jump in in a minute with that statistic. But 12 per cent of schools had at least 20 per cent of learners without access to a digital device, and we were hearing in the free-text comments schools saying, 'Well, our area is a very socially deprived area. Lots of children have free school meals, and lots of our learners don't have access yet.'

Many were acknowledging the huge efforts made by the local authority to refurbish school iPads and laptops and get them out. Many acknowledged the Government funding that had come and the efforts to provide thousands of devices, but there were a number of comments saying they had found the supply very slow from central Government, and some were still waiting for orders that they'd made months before. So, there's clearly been a supply issue there, which some expressed some real frustration about. But they were working very hard to overcome some of those barriers. Some were delivering devices to the homes of pupils where parents were saying, 'My child needs a laptop, but I can't get out. I've got five children.' And if somebody was isolating, they were going out delivering devices. They've certainly been delivering hard-copy materials.

So, I was really impressed by the range of efforts. Some of them were just listing the range of efforts and the variety of diet that they're trying to offer pedagogically. However, the social issues were really, really interesting as well. Many schools said that a small number of their families just hadn't been in touch at all, and they'd really tried, about this aspect of learning, with phone calls, even home visits, to get them to engage in learning. Also, there is the issue about what families are juggling. So, of course, as you're all aware by now, you have parents working at home trying to support children in the evening, perhaps to catch up—parents needing the family laptop at times for work. Sharing has become a much bigger issue than it was in the first lockdown because there is more provision of live engagement, live lessons and live check-in sessions, even in primary school, but particularly in secondary school. So, it's harder to share a device if several children are meant to be online live at once. Some primary heads were saying, 'The older siblings are needing to be online live, so if we were running too many live sessions a day, our pupils just cannot join in'. So, lots of social issues, and parents' lack of confidence—parents who didn't have the confidence to get the pupils online, they didn't understand how to enter a Teams meeting, didn't have confidence with basic education, either. These social divisions, many of them, of course, existed before the pandemic and will exist after the pandemic, but the pandemic has really exacerbated them. 

09:25

Okay, thank you. Suzy, you indicated you've got a supplementary, and then I think Hefin wants to ask a question. 

Yes. Thank you, Chair. On that very last point, Sally, I think we heard from the Minister that even on Mi-Fi kit that had been distributed, it wasn't necessarily being used. Was that because of parental lack of confidence, or did you discover any other reasons for that? 

That was one of the reasons that heads cited, but also some said, 'They're not working in our area because we don't actually have the 3G or 4G connections'. So, as well as the social deprivation issues and lack of confidence issues—and sometimes, I'm afraid, lack of motivation issues in some families—there are also, of course, issues that are just about our connectivity issues across Wales, with quotes like, 'We live in a mountainous area and there are some real gaps in connectivity. So, if our families don't have broadband, they're really struggling.' That's where schools have been really working hard to pre-load lessons onto iPads and distribute them. They've been really ingenious, I think, at trying to support them in different ways, but it's clearly leading to inequalities and different access. One school said, 'We've got a real range, from pupils where every sibling has got their own laptop and workspace, and so completing all of their work, and others where there are six children sharing one device', and the parents were saying, 'We don't want more devices because I'm in a two-bedroomed house—where am I going to sit down with six children to all work at once?' So, as I said, social divisions that were there before the pandemic, unfortunately, have really come to the fore in a crisis.

Okay. I've got supplementaries now from Hefin, Siân and Laura. Hefin.

Thank you, Chair. Commissioner, I've been in touch with your office about this. I wonder if you'd look a bit at the positive side—I'm sorry, I've just joined the meeting because my computer decided to restart right at the beginning of the meeting and it seemed to be taking ages—but if it's been covered, I'm sorry. On the issue around children with additional learning needs, we recognised that, in March and from March onwards, those children with additional learning needs were not being classed as vulnerable and didn't have places in schools. I met with Carol Shillabeer at the Together for Children and Young People programme, with a group of constituents who are parents of children with additional learning needs, and it appears that the definition was extended. Now, the issue I'm finding is that in Caerphilly it's excellent and people who didn't have hub places before are being offered places. However, the National Autistic Society has come to me and said that this provision is patchy in different parts of Wales. So, Caerphilly are excellent, Blaenau Gwent not too bad, but there are other places where children with additional learning needs are not being offered these hub places in the short term. Are you aware of that as an issue and is it something that you could, through your office, look into?

Yes, it's something that we're monitoring carefully in our office and asking local authorities about. So, at the beginning, when we realised schools were going to be closed for a period over January, I wrote that same morning to directors of education and directors of social services just to seek reassurance, really, that they'd be able to make provision for vulnerable children of all sorts and children who need extra support, and that included restarting or continuing some of those frameworks that were put in at the beginning of the first lockdown to make sure that they are assessing need across agencies et cetera. I haven't heard back from all of them, but a number of them have written back to explain the provision that they've put in place. From attendance statistics, we haven't yet seen a breakdown of which children in which—I can't think of a better way to say it—categories are attending school at the moment, but we do know attendance is higher than it was in the first lockdown, and special schools, of course, have been encouraged to stay open, although some are operating a rota system, so that all children get some access, and some are operating a system of need, where they've assessed with the families and sometimes social services who should most benefit from coming into school. And, of course, there are children in special schools with parents who are critical and key workers. There are different—. I suppose the short answer is that there are different standards being applied across Wales. I think local authorities and schools would say that they're doing that based on their local circumstances. We've certainly had a number of individual cases into our office where families have been surprised and sometimes exasperated that their child, perhaps with no speech and significant needs, and who is unable to access distance learning, has not been offered a place. I do understand pressure on places is very high. We've suggested that they try and work with their school to come up with a solution and some have been able to do so and have subsequently been offered places. It is a tricky situation, because schools are under pressure around numbers, but I wouldn't say that there's an even offer right across Wales. It's being done locally.

09:30

Diolch a bore da. Dwi eisiau mynd at eich adroddiad chi, yr un sydd wedi cael ei gyhoeddi bore yma o dan embargo, ben bore yma. Mae yna dri gwelliant rydych chi'n sôn sydd angen digwydd. Rydych chi wedi sôn am yr olaf, sef gwella sgiliau rhieni, ac mae hynny'n brosiect tymor hir. Mae'r ddau arall yn ymwneud (1) efo'r dyfeisiadau, ac rydych chi'n gofyn i awdurdodau lleol a Llywodraeth Cymru symud yn sydyn i ateb y problemau sydd yn dal yn bodoli, felly ydych chi'n meddwl mai'r awdurdodau lleol ddylai bod yn arwain hwn a ddim yr ysgolion? A wedyn rydych chi hefyd yn sôn am y dyfeisiadau Mi-Fi mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi bod yn rhoi allan, ond yn dweud bod angen mynd ar ôl y darparwyr band eang yn y Deyrnas Unedig ar frys fel bod yna gynigion yn dod yn debyg i'r hyn sydd wedi digwydd yn Lloegr. Oes yna drafodaethau yn mynd ymlaen, o'ch dealltwriaeth chi, ynglŷn â hynny, a lle maen nhw arni?

Thank you and good morning. I want to turn to your report that was published this morning under embargo, first thing this morning. There are three recommendations for improvement that you've mentioned. You've spoken about the last one—that's improving the skills of parents, and that's a long-term project. The two others relate to (1) the devices, and you are asking local authorities and the Welsh Government to move urgently to respond to the problems that still exist in that regard, so do you think that it's the local authorities that should be leading on this work and not the schools? And then you also talk about the MiFi devices that the Welsh Government has been distributing, but you say that there is a need to go after the broadband providers in the United Kingdom as a matter of urgency so that there are proposals similar to what has happened in England. Are there discussions ongoing, as you understand it, in that regard, and where are they at, at the moment?

Okay, yes. So, in terms of supply, it seems to be quite a complex situation between schools and local authorities to work that out, and to some extent both of those entities are reliant on essential supplies coming nationally. But the local authorities and Government have assured me that they're working together to close any remaining gaps—

So, you're putting the onus on them rather than on the school in your report—on the local authorities and Government, rather than on the individual schools—

Yes, because—

The schools that responded to us seemed to have fairly done everything they could to get what they had. They were reliant on others, then, to give them more supplies. In terms of the access to data and free data, when the story came out that pupils in England seemed to have better access from some of the companies than pupils in the devolved nations, certainly, one of those companies—BT—contacted me directly afterwards to say that they were very keen to extend the same offer to children in Wales and that they were working with Welsh Government on that. I have asked—. Welsh Government have said they're talking, publicly. They haven't said that to me, but I know they've said that in public statements. I have asked this week for an urgent update on where that's at. Some companies have given data already, and some parents have told us, as have some schools, that preloaded data cards have been available from schools, some of which has been given by some of the companies. But, obviously, we don't want children in Wales to have a less-good offer than children in England, so it's just something—a gap that needs to be closed. They have as many, proportionally, customers in Wales as they do in England. 

09:35

Thank you. Just a couple of really small questions. First of all, sorry I was a little bit late—connectivity is a big problem, even in Usk, and I'm hardly rural rural. So, I'm sorry about that; I just thank God that I don't have live lessons to deal with for home schooling.

Just quickly, you were talking about the devices and them being dished out. I was aware of a few cases that they were only being given out—even if they were needed—to those on free school meals, which, obviously, is wrong, because there's a big gap above that where people are device poor.

The other one was physical education. I'm not seeing any—. Well, I don't know; maybe it's just I'm not aware of the issue. But I'm not seeing any emphasis on physical education during the home schooling. I'm just wondering what your thoughts were on that.

And also mental health, which is by far my biggest concern about our children being stuck at home. I'm just wondering—are you making any recommendations to schools to try and help them combat that problem that we're all worried about? Thanks.

Okay. Sorry, I should have written them down as she went.

The first one was free school meals and whether that should be—

Free school meals, yes; I've got them. And then physical education, yes. 

So, on free school meals, that's, obviously, not the policy. The overall policy is it should be need, whatever that need this. We did come across some isolated cases where that was being applied where there was short supply, but we're not aware that that's been a continuing set of criteria in any local authorities or schools, and we would discourage that, of course, because, as you quite rightly say, the need can well be beyond that. But we've not seen that as a widespread issue. We did look into it when there were reports of it, and we could only find one area where it had been happening for a while.

On physical education, certainly, some schools have been encouraging greatly physical education and have been providing lessons in that. Again, it's a case of whether children are getting the support to take that up at home and have the resources and the time and the space to take that up. But I haven't had any reports that that's been emphasised less in terms of what's been suggested for children at home. I am meeting with the head of Sport Wales in the next couple of weeks to talk through some of the physical health implications of lockdown and to see what we can work on together.

On mental health, I do know that, obviously, this is a key concern, and it's a concern that's coming through very strongly in the data that we've analysed so far in our survey that's over on our website. As I said, yesterday we were looking at the first 13,000 responses, and hearing some—. It was quite sad, reading through a lot of the responses. Although some children were saying, 'I feel safe at home and I'm happy to be at home'—and, you know, we must keep a balance here—certainly, some were saying they were finding it really hard this time. And schools are well aware—

I think not seeing their friends—. In my opinion, it's not seeing their friends—

Not seeing their friends continues to be the top concern, as it was last time. It's their top issue, by far. So, that's coming out very strongly—not seeing friends, not seeing family. And, of course, not being in school, that social impact seems bigger, almost, than the educational impact this time, because, as I say, schools have really worked hard on the education offer, but they can't replicate the social offer. I think it is hard. Schools, obviously, are offering all sorts of advice and support about mental health. We are asking, in the survey again, whether children will feel confident to access school counselling and other mental health services, and, in all of those questions in our survey—which, of course, thousands of children have access to lots of pop-ups giving them that advice straight there and then on the survey. So, I think we're all working hard to make sure children get that advice.

There is—. The whole-school approach to mental health is well on its way to being rolled out, and I and Lynne, as Chair of this committee, and many others have been keeping a close eye on what that will look like in terms of supporting children through the pandemic and beyond. So, we do have the makings of a much more joined-up and coherent offer, I would say, across Wales on a whole-school approach to mental health, but we're keeping a close eye on whether that will be funded and how it will be rolled out.

What I was hearing from staff and young people last term, when they were in school, was that there were concerns about how they were in school, as well, because of all the coming and going, all the self-isolation periods, et cetera, and the going into school not knowing if they were going to be sent home that day. So, it was actually quite tough for them last term, as well as during lockdown. So, we'll obviously be reporting on this within a fortnight on our survey findings, and we'll have a lot more data for you then on how children are during this period.

09:40

Okay. Right. Thank you very much. And we need to move on now; we want to talk more medium term, about how we get children back into school for face-to-face learning. And the committee's particularly keen to look at what positive action can be taken to get kids back, and Siân is going to start the questions on this.

Yn sicr, dyna ydy'r bwriad efo'r sesiwn bach yma—trafod sut i ailagor yr ysgolion yn ddiogel. Beth ydy'ch barn chi ynglŷn â rhoi blaenoriaeth i staff ysgolion efo brechiadau, a beth ydy'ch barn chi ynglŷn â phrofi, cynnal profion mewn ysgolion?

Certainly, that is the intention with this section of the meeting— discussing how to reopen schools safely. What is your opinion on prioritising schools' staff in terms of vaccinations, and what is your opinion on testing in schools?

Okay. So, I'm very keen on teachers being prioritised for vaccination and wrote, with the other UK commissioners, to the UK joint committee on vaccinations recently to make that point. We have received a reply, saying that they will remain in the second wave in the current plans of priority, although they are looking at occupational groups that should be prioritised at that point, and would be taking into account our views that teachers and school staff should be part of that. And they pointed out that teachers and school staff who have—many do fall under the priority groups, of course, because of age or illness or other risk factors.

I do want to emphasise, though, that, in calling for teachers to be a priority, I'm not saying that schools wouldn't be safe for children to return without teachers being vaccinated. That's certainly not a call I'm making. I think the reason for asking for them to be prioritised would be to provide help, provide confidence. Even knowing that it was coming—even after they'd returned to full in-class teaching, knowing it was coming would show recognition to them as front-line workers, increase confidence amongst teachers and parents—we have to remember some parents did not send their children back to school last term at all—and, of course, reduce infection rates within schools as well, so as to avoid children going in and out. I can only rely on what we've been told by people like the UK vaccinations committee and our chief scientists—that teachers and school staff are not at higher risk than other occupational groups. But that doesn't belittle the concerns, the anxiety, that many school staff feel. So, I think we do need to be recognising that and giving them some reassurance that their efforts are being recognised and acknowledged. We can't eliminate risk in all settings, and we know that other occupational groups also are concerned about the risk—transport workers, supermarket workers et cetera as well. 

Rydych chi'n rhoi pwyslais ar athrawon. Dwi'n gwybod eich bod chi wedi dweud staff ysgolion hefyd, ond ydych chi'n meddwl, yn y drafodaeth yma, fod yna ddigon o ystyriaeth yn cael ei roi i gynorthwywyr dosbarth, sydd efallai mewn cysylltiad mwy uniongyrchol efo'r plant yn aml iawn na'r athrawon? Ydyn nhw'n cael digon o ystyriaeth yn y drafodaeth yma ynglŷn â brechu staff ysgolion?

You emphasise teachers there. I know that you said school staff as well, but do you think, in this discussion, that there is sufficient consideration given to classroom assistants, who are perhaps in closer contact with the children very often than the teachers? Are they being given sufficient consideration in this discussion on vaccination of school staff?

Yes, you're quite right that it's often our teaching assistants who will have the closest physical contact with children and, absolutely, they're—and, you know, they're, in other ways, more vulnerable staff in that they're much lower paid, they're often on shorter term contracts et cetera. And we know that people in lower paid groups are at more risk, for all sorts of other reasons, including overcrowding. But, yes, absolutely, they are a key concern.

In terms of special schools, we have some real issues there with many of the pupils themselves being vulnerable clinically, and often more physical care tasks haven't been carried out with children. So, I am pleased that the staff who will be dealing with these physical tasks, whether in special schools or in mainstream schools, have been told they'll be prioritised for vaccination. I don't have data yet on how that's been rolled out.

09:45

Hefin's got a supplementary on vaccination, and then I've got a supplementary on it as well, before we move on to testing.

Just very quickly. The point that JCVI make is that the priorities have to be—in order to have maximum effect—on age and vulnerability, not profession. And it's a key point, isn't it: if the vaccinations are to work and to lower hospital admissions, it's got to be focused on that area. And if you start looking at prioritising other professions—it's very difficult to separate teachers out from police, out from shop workers, out from delivery delivers—you're actually then moving away from that objective. Isn't that an issue, and that, really, the discussion should be based on the next set of priorities, not this one?

Before you come in on that, Sally, my question was similar, really. I wanted to clarify what exactly you were calling for when you said that school staff should be prioritised. Are you saying that they should be prioritised after the first nine groups, which are the ones most at risk of dying from COVID, and then we should look at teachers when we're considering the second phase, or are you suggesting teachers are bumped up that and taking people off those first nine groups?

I think that school staff should be recognised as a specific occupational group. I think, in terms of where people should go in the ordering of that, I do think that's—we've got to accept and respect the views of our epidemiologists and scientists on the ordering of that. You could say a commonsense view might be that someone who just falls into the priority groups, like myself being over-50, who works at home—it might be common sense if you feel that perhaps younger staff in front-line professions should have higher priority, but I do understand that the epidemiology doesn't necessarily support that. It's about recognition and confidence for me, but the ordering of that and the roll-out—I know it's being done as fast as it possibly can, and—[Inaudible.]—are working so hard, and I think that where that should happen has got to be in the hands of the people in charge of those programmes.

So, you're saying that you're happy with the nine priority groups, but then teachers and school staff should be looked at in the next phase? Just to be clear about that.

I think the response—. We did have a prompt and helpful response from the joint committee on vaccinations, explaining more about the epidemiology of this and the mortality epidemiology in particular, which made a strong case for sticking with the current priority groups, which are making strong and fast progress throughout the UK. They've said clearly they would be looking at different occupational groups for the next priority phase, but what I would be really worried about seeing would be many expectations that we waited for all school staff to be vaccinated before children could return to school and college. I think that—. We've got to weigh up different harms and risks throughout this pandemic, and it would be very difficult and disappointing if that was to be the case.

Thank you. Suzy, you had a supplementary—was it on vaccination?

Yes, it was just a point, really, that only a quarter of teachers—I don't know about teaching assistants—are over-50. So, if we're talking about waiting for teachers just to get their vaccinations because of their age, a lot of them will be waiting a long time. Thank you.

Okay. Thanks, Suzy. Back to Siân, then, on the testing.

Jest eisiau cael eich barn chi am hyn, yn enwedig oherwydd bod yna ychydig bach o drafodaeth ynglŷn â pha mor effeithiol ydy'r lateral flow tests, ac ynglŷn ag os ydyn nhw'n mynd i gael eu cyflwyno, pwy ddylai fod yn eu rhoi nhw yn yr ysgolion. Dwi'n meddwl bod yna dipyn bach o drafodaeth am hynny'n digwydd hefyd.

I just want your opinion on this issue of testing, especially because there's been a bit of discussion about how effective the lateral flow tests are, and if they are going to be introduced, who should be carrying out those tests in the schools. I think there's been some discussion on that too.

I think, because the majority of pupils—about 90 per cent—have been learning at home at the moment, the discussions on this haven't really been as public of late, but I'm reassured they're continuing quietly between Government, local authorities and the unions. I can see that bringing in better access to testing regimes, including mass testing, could be a really helpful mechanism, one of the many helpful mechanisms we could use to get children back into schools, but we would have to be aware of the various drawbacks of that.

In terms of who should be doing it, certainly school leaders and college leaders have pointed to the many logistical difficulties they could face if it's left down to them. We're seeing in places where there have been outbreaks, whether that's in factories or some towns, public health teams coming out and doing that testing. So, you could have a situation where, in a school or college where there's been a particular concern about an outbreak—so I'm talking much more about one-off incidents rather than a routine approach—that public health units could be deployed there. I haven't got up-to-date information on what the Government's—whether they've made an agreement yet on this process, but I can see it could have a role.

Just catching up with the other commissioners in the rest of the UK and Ireland recently, they're in very different positions. Ireland doesn't have any children in school, including children of key workers or vulnerable children, whereas Jersey have got all of their children in school. Now, that's a very small island and they can control who's coming on and off it, but they tested all of their older pupils before they went back into school, found very little infection, actually, and then they are testing periodically to pick up infections as time goes on. Now, that's a very small scale, but it is another approach, potentially, to look at.

09:50

A phan fydd hi yn ddiogel i fwy o blant fynd yn ôl i'r ysgolion, sut ydych chi'n meddwl y dylai hynna ddigwydd? A ddylid blaenoriaethu rhai grwpiau? Ydych chi'n cytuno hefo cael rotas? Ydy'r blynyddoedd cynnar—ai dyna lle ddylai'r ffocws cyntaf fod o ran cael plant yn ôl i'r ysgol?

And when it will be safe for more children to return to school, how do you think that that should happen? Should some groups be prioritised? Do you agree with having rotas? Are the early years where the initial focus should be in terms of getting children back in schools?

I think there's a very strong argument for having foundation phase, the under-sevens, back in schools as quickly as we can. They clearly shouldn't be learning on screens for much of the day. Some of the responses to our headteacher survey said, 'We don't want our foundation phase pupils to be learning online for more than about a quarter of an hour a day where we might do a live check-in with them.' But that may then require, of course, a lot of support at home, and that support will be varied, and there are language issues. Whether they don't have Welsh as a first language, or English as a first language in other households, that can be a real issue for those early years, and some of them have missed almost all of their early schooling so far. So, there's a real argument for foundation phase pupils to be in as soon as they can. Also, obviously, because we know the risk is lower with our youngest children in terms of virus spread.

However, I think that we do need to recognise that children of all ages are missing school very much at the moment, and I think that some of them would be really disappointed if they felt that their needs in that way weren't being recognised. We heard this after the firebreak, some of the older pupils that were out were saying, 'Well, it doesn't seem fair if it's always us that have to be out, because we have real needs to be in school as well', and it's what we're picking up from the survey as well. One child, who was an only child, who is in the seven to 11 age bracket not currently being talked about as a priority said, 'I feel so lonely at home. I don't see my friends or my teachers, I just wish I could go back to school.' That's just one quote that I picked out yesterday. So, in a way, something like a rota system, if it has to be part time, might be better, but I would love, of course, to see children being at school as much as possible as soon as we can possibly reach agreement on the best way forward to do that.

Dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni i gyd yn cytuno efo hynny, ond bydd rhaid blaenoriaethu'r grwpiau, a'i wneud o mewn ffordd systematig, mae'n debyg. Dydw i ddim yn hollol glir ydych chi'n dweud, 'Oes, mae angen i'r blynyddoedd cynnar gael y blaenoriaeth yna', ynteu ydych chi'n gadael hwnna i fyny i'r Llywodraeth i benderfynu?

I think that we all agree with that, but there will be a need to prioritise groups and to do it in a systematic way, that's the likely approach. I'm not entirely sure whether you are saying, 'Yes, we do need the early years to be prioritised', or are you leaving that up to the Government to decide?

09:55

I think the Government will look at evidence on that, but I think if I was asked for a group to prioritise I would probably say foundation phase. But I just want to emphasise that all children need to be in school, and if that can only be done, perhaps, through for the first few weeks, with every child, every year group having one day in school a week, or two days in school a week, it's something for them to look forward to and structure their expectations of their week around. 

I symud ymlaen, mae yna nifer o opsiynau ymarferol y gellid eu rhoi ar waith er mwyn dechrau ailagor yr ysgolion. A gaf i jest rhoi ffocws ar un ohonyn nhw, sef newid amser y tymhorau? Beth yw eich barn chi am hwnna, a sut ydych chi'n meddwl y gallai hwnna ddigwydd mewn ffordd ymarferol? Hynny yw, beth fuasem ni'n ei wneud? Pa ddarn o ba wyliau y buasem ni'n newid a lle y buasem ni'n rhoi o, petawn ni eisiau mynd i lawr y llwybr yna?

Moving on, there are a number of practical options that could be implemented to start to reopen schools. Can I just place a focus on one of them, namely changes in term times? What is your opinion on that, and how do you think that that could happen in a practical way? What would we do, and what is your opinion in terms of which holidays we should change? Where would we place the dates, if we wanted to go down that route?

What I want to see is the Government working with all parties to have everything on the table, to look at all potential—. That would include changes to term dates, absolutely; it would include potential part-time schooling or rota-based schooling; it would include some year groups going back and not others. What I think is probably difficult at the moment for children, parents and staff is too much speculation and too much of this going out in public. So, that's why I've asked this week, actually, for some calm, reassuring messages from Government to children and the general public as to what areas they're looking at, what evidence they're looking at, and that they are doing everything they can to get children back in school.

I'd like children to hear that they've not been forgotten and their struggles of being at home have not been forgotten, and that everyone has their backs. Because I think what we hear from the survey is that some do feel that their struggles are not being recognised and that people have almost forgotten them. So, they need those strong messages. But if we have lots of, 'Perhaps this, perhaps that' being played out in public, or if I'm making calls for summer opening, part-time opening or saying we must have a date, 'We must have them back on this date', then actually we know that children and adults sometimes will pick up half a story and think, 'Oh, right, so it's this now, or it's this now'. Over the exams, young people said they found that really difficult. They just wanted to know for sure, and they'd rather wait and know for sure. Again, just a quote from a primary school child who said in the survey, 'We don't really think it's a good idea to have a lot of announcements, because I think it makes children worry.' And so, I think they need calm, reassuring messages that we have their backs. We're going to explore every option to meet their needs and we'll let them know as soon as that's been worked out.

So, I'm not avoiding the question, Siân, because I do think it's a good idea and I think it should be on the table, but what I want Government to do is work their socks off—as, to be fair, I think they probably are—with all the parties involved, including myself, to look at all the evidence, including the social evidence we are bringing them from children, and they'll have all this evidence from children at the beginning of next week to look at, that they use all the evidence they have to get the right solutions for our children. No-one, I think, and none of you in the committee, is pretending it's easy; it's going to be difficult to get it right, but we all need to pull together and find some solutions here. 

Ac yn olaf gen i, Gadeirydd, cwestiwn ynglŷn â'r rhaglen adfer. Mi glywsom ni gan y Gweinidog yr wythnos ddiwethaf, neu gan bennaeth yr adran addysg, a dweud y gwir, bod yna raglen neu gynllun adfer ar y gweill ganddyn nhw. Ond, ychydig iawn o arian sydd yn y gyllideb ddrafft i gefnogi hyn—£12 miliwn o arian newydd, a dim arian newydd drwy'r setliad llywodraeth leol. Ydych chi'n meddwl bod yna ddigon o flaenoriaeth yn cael ei rhoi, a blaenoriaeth ariannol, i'r angen rŵan i gael cynllun adfer ar gyfer y cyfnod nesaf?

And finally from me, Chair, a question with regard to the recruit and recover programme. We heard from the Minister last week, or from the head of the education department in Government, that there was a recovery programme in the pipeline, but there's very little funding in the draft budget to support that—£12 million of new funding, and no additional funding through the settlement for local government. So, do you think that there is sufficient priority being given, and priority in terms of funding, to the need to have a recovery programme for this next period?

I agree that resources are going to have to be a priority to support our children through the next period, and all resources will be welcome. In terms of the current recovery programme, I haven't yet seen any data on the effectiveness of that, the one that's in this school year. There are case studies on the Hwb website as to how the money has been used in different schools, but I haven't seen any data on the effectiveness of that. I think we will want lots of resource into schools. But I suppose one thing I just want to say about catch-up programmes et cetera is that I think we're going to have to be really careful not to put too much pressure on children and young people in the language we use, but also the actual things we expect of them over the next year. We're already hearing from children and young people that they feel quite overwhelmed by all the work being sent to them at home; we're hearing that from secondary school exam years in particular. They'll have lots of needs, including lots of well-being needs, when we finally are on the road to recovery.

Some primary school teachers may decide that, actually, what the children need to do is relearn how to socialise with peers and relearn how to play and spend more time working on some of those issues, rather than just drilling them in reading and writing and maths, which I know you wouldn't advocate anyway. And in secondary schools as well, they're going to need space to look at well-being and increase confidence, as well as some of those basic skills. So, I would support a continuation of—sorry, I'm struggling to remember the exact word—where they don't have to do the curriculum. It's not a requirement at the moment, and I think that should continue for as long as necessary. They should be able to meet the needs of their pupils and reach the goals that are right for them. And also, of course, we don't want to be seeing unnecessary testing and that kind of pressure being put on pupils. We need to make sure that they're supported to rediscover a joy for learning and to learn at their own pace over the next couple of years.

10:00

Well, it will be interesting to see what Estyn's role should be over the next while. I'm sure they will have a key role to play, but I think it would probably be best to ask Estyn, local authorities and school leaders as to what exactly their role should be. I would hope they would go in where there are concerns, but their routine inspections are something that certainly should be looked at.

Okay. Thank you. Suzy, did you have a supplementary on this or do you want to go on to your set of questions?

I'm happy to go on to my set of questions. Actually, I do agree with Sally here. Estyn does have a role, but it may be different—in the short term, anyway.

I just wanted to know what your thoughts were on the Minister's decision regarding the changes to assessments for pupils this year. I think we all understand the reasons why it has happened, but what do you think about the longer term consequences of the decision?

I support the decision. I think it was the right one in the current circumstances, because what we needed this month was something that we could guarantee to children and staff wouldn't change. Whilst other solutions could certainly have got some academic merits, there'd be no guarantee that any kind of external assessment wouldn't need to be cancelled, because it's been so hard to predict things as the year goes on. What I've been emphasising all along, and will continue to emphasise, will be that we have systems to ensure fairness and consistency in how centre-assessed grades are carried out. A system for appeals—I was pleased to see there are already plans in place for that, and that children who are not currently in school, including elective home-educated children, have a chance to gain their qualifications. So, all the things that we were worried about last May but it was very late to get them in place at that point, we're pushing hard to make sure that they're in place this year.

Most importantly, children need to learn this year and get the skills they need to progress onto the next stage. And that should be the emphasis, rather than targeted swotting for one particular paper, I would say. So, it does rely a lot on professional judgment and professionals making sure that they do get that learning in time. I think this is the best way forward. I have to say that we know there will be so-called grade inflation, because exams have a different effect on how we grade children—they don't always bring out the best in all pupils—but I don't think that matters. I think what matters is that children get the learning they need, and that's recognised, that employers and universities will understand what these young people have been through, and that they will, I hope, do their best to support them on to their next stages.

10:05

I think that's what I was getting to with longer-term consequences, really. Maybe universities will be understanding of this, because it affects every single person applying for a university place, but I do wonder a little bit about how future employers may look at this. We're in a situation where we're going to have a big cohort of young unemployed people anyway as a result of COVID—they're the biggest losers in this in terms of employment at the moment, it seems—and then they're going to be joined by a group of young people in two or three years' time with qualifications that may not seem to employers as robust. Do you think that's a genuine concern, or do you think by then the world will have forgotten about the distinction?

I think it's a concern that some young people have. They've said that to me, and to the Minister, because I've facilitated sessions with the Minister for young people too. They want to know their qualifications are worth something, and that's important to them. But speaking as a small employer myself, I think that any employer that took that view would be absolutely coming from their own place, because these young people have learned so much, and had to grow up so much over the last year, that they all bring so many different skills. They've had to learn independently, they've had to learn to adapt very quickly to different forms of learning and different life situations. Many have given back to their communities as well. I think that they're a fantastic cohort of young people for future employers and for universities. We should give that message to young people very strongly—that they will have gained so much through all that they've been through, and they will gain from it throughout their lives.

I'm really glad you've said that. As an employer myself—perhaps I shouldn't confess this online—I don't necessarily look at people's qualifications. I want to know what they're like, what they're good at, what they want to be good at, and I'm hoping other employers will feel the same about that.

There is a separate question, though, isn't there, about pupils who've gone before and pupils who will come after. There is something that needs to be thought through about the comparability now for students coming through in five or six years' time who've experienced compromised education at the moment, but will still be sitting what might be something more like traditional exams by then. Is there any indication yet that that group, years 7 to 9, are worried about what this is looking like?

In terms of pupils that came before, I think we need to trust the professionalism of our teachers. They've seen so many pupils go through, many of them are examiners themselves, and they know what an A looks like, they know what a C looks like. I think where we have grade inflation it's because, on the day, six pupils have potential to have a C, but two of them may fall down to a D on the day in an exam situation. So, that's where we get grade inflation, because you can't predict that when you're doing centre-assessed grades. You should give them all a C as their centre-assessed grade, because they all have that potential.

However, in looking at pupils coming next, we certainly will need to look at what our younger pupils have missed out on, and to support them to gain the skills and knowledge and academic confidence that they need. But I think, as we've discussed in this committee before, this whole situation gives us an opportunity to really look at what our exam assessments should look like in the future, especially under the new curriculum. There's a consultation just opened from Qualifications Wales about GCSEs, for example, and there's an opportunity for us to really think hard about how we recognise all learners' skills and abilities as they go along. Personally, I would want to see less of a reliance on traditional exams and one-stop pass-fails at the end of years of learning.

Okay. Thank you. I think in terms of your views on what we need for longer term catch-up, you already answered in questions to Siân. So, that's it from me, Chair. Thank you.

Okay. Thank you very much, Suzy. Commissioner, if I can ask you about safeguarding. Your counterpart in England expressed concerns last week that vulnerable children have become invisible due to COVID-19, because there's been a significant drop in referrals to children's services in England. You'll be aware that there's been lots of coverage of that, and also, this morning, David Tuthill from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was expressing concern about the impact of lockdown on safeguarding children in Wales. Yet, last week, the Deputy Minister told the committee that she had been assured that numbers of referrals in Wales—'more average' were the words that she used. Have you got any comment on that? Are you aware of any particular concerns and is there anything that you think the committee should be aware of? 

10:10

As I said, both in the first lockdown and this month, I've sought reassurance from local authorities about how they're identifying and supporting children who are out of school and may be getting universal services and may be getting support there. I am confident that we have a system for that in Wales. They quickly, in the first lockdown, and have continued—much more cross-agency working than there was before, I have to say, and a more robust system of identifying children and checking that they are supported. I've been reassured that that has come immediately back into place in January, and it didn't completely go away last term, either. 

Case referrals did fall hugely in the first lockdown, although my understanding is that they recovered—and I presume that's what the Deputy Minister was talking about last week—in the last term to much more usual levels. The year's figures will be lower, and that's the case for—. I had my child sexual abuse round-table, where I bring together key partners, including the police, last week, and again they were saying that referrals are low on those issues, because, of course, children aren't in—. They need to be not only parachuted back into school for a brief period, or youth centres and play centres, but actually have time to build trusting relationships before sometimes they can discuss what's going on at home. 

So, I think we can't quite say yet. The early indications are that we haven't had as dramatic a drop of children becoming looked after as we've seen in England; in fact, figures haven't gone down at all this year. Some of that is due to children not leaving care, and care orders not being rescinded. We also appear not to have had, thank goodness, the significant rise in child homicide and serious injury that has been reported in England. Again, I've asked about that several times to a number of agencies, including Government, and they say they've got no indication of that so far. Those serious incidents, of course, have to be reported centrally. Numbers, luckily, of course, are very low on those anyway—but we have no indication of that. I can't say for sure why that is—whether it is because we've been able to develop a more robust inter-agency system of safeguarding, or whether it's been sheer good fortune—but that's what the figures seem to say.

I don't think we'll know for a long time exactly what children's experiences have been. In our current survey, it's mainly the same as the survey that we did last May, but we have added some additional questions where we wanted to know more, and one is on safety. We've asked thousands of children who indicate that they don't always feel safe, or never feel safe, in what circumstances those are. They have supplementary questions that include safety online, safety at home, safety in the community and elsewhere, and a chance to say more. We will have a bit more data on that in our large-scale survey. So, we're keeping a close eye. And I think children will have been missed—absolutely, they will have. Some children will not have had the chance to say what they need to say to trusted outsiders, but we haven't seen the trend so far that has been reported in England. 

The early indications from looking at the 14,000 plus responses we've had to the survey already seem to show that the main thing people are selecting if they do say they're feeling unsafe is around worries about the coronavirus, rather than home, community or other settings. Like Sally said, we're still to work through all of that, but the early indication is that it's the ongoing worry about the virus.

10:15

I want to say as well that children's services workers are still physically visiting children and those services have continued throughout—I think that's quite an unseen aspect—and also youth services and others have really worked hard on that. Just in our survey, there was a quote from a teenager just saying he or she wanted to pay tribute—and I cannot find the quote; it was in front of me—to the youth services. I will name them: 'Neath Port Talbot youth services', he said, 'have been brilliant. They've provided my family with food parcels, they've kept an eye on us, they've checked we're okay and they've checked we're safe.' So, I think that there is a lot of work going on that a lot of people wouldn't see, and we know that schools, where they're concerned about a young person, some of them are doing daily phone calls and check-ins. Again, I think that's quite unseen by the general public and that happened—[Inaudible.] I'm not at all complacent about this, Chair, though, and I'm still watching and waiting to see, really, what children's experiences have been.

Okay. Thank you very much. And thank you very much, both of you, for answering our questions. The committee is really looking forward to seeing the findings of your refresh of 'Coronavirus and Me' published. We think it's a really important piece of work. Laura, we have finished now, and you're on mute.

I just have a really quick question, sorry. I don't know if we've covered it, because—

Laura, we've finished, I'm afraid. I was just thanking the commissioner and—

I'm happy to answer an e-mail from Laura.

There we are; you can put it in an e-mail. So, thank you, both, for attending this morning. As usual, we will send you a transcript of the Record to check for accuracy. Thank you very much, both, for your time. It's been really, really useful to the committee this morning. Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch am y cyfle. 

Thanks for the opportunity.

Thanks for the opportunity.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:17 a 10:31.

The meeting adjourned between 10:17 and 10:31.

10:30
3. COVID-19: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda chynrychiolwyr Llywodraeth Leol
3. COVID-19: Evidence session with representatives from Local Government

Can I welcome everybody back to our second evidence session this morning with representatives of local government? I'm very pleased to welcome our panel this morning: Councillor Ian Roberts, leader of Flintshire County Council and education spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association; Councillor Ellen ap Gwynn, leader of Ceredigion County Council and deputy education spokesperson and spokesperson for the Welsh language as well for the Welsh Local Government Association; Councillor Philippa Marsden, leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council and workforce spokesperson for the WLGA; Sharon Davies, head of education at the WLGA; and we're being joined shortly by Councillor Huw David, who is leader of Bridgend County Borough Council and health and social care spokesperson at the WLGA. I thank you all very much for joining us. The committee is really keen to have a positive discussion this morning about what we can do to get children back to face-to-face learning, but first we're going to talk about some of the issues that are happening while they're currently off school, and we've got some questions from Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, everybody. I just want to start, really, by asking you about blended learning and the offer between schools and whether you think there should be a more specific minimum offer or standards, and also what kind of oversight that you have on the provision of schools across your authority areas.

I'll start. I think we all need to recognise that the amount of learning that we've done as adults during this period, particularly how to use media such as this, has been absolutely immense. And that applies to our school staff as well, who, if you told them this time last year that now they would be delivering a curriculum online, would possibly have laughed, with a slight watch of what was going on in other countries. So, it's been a massive learning curve and very, very difficult.

I've received a number of positive e-mails from parents, as leader of Flintshire, about the work going on in our schools. I know that the regional consortia, GwE, have monitored what's going on in our schools. We are in regular contact with our headteachers about what's going on with regard to remote learning, but I think I need to caveat it with remote learning and online learning can only ever be a substitute for a well-prepared teacher in front of a class of children who want to learn. And particularly for the youngest children, remote learning—. I really do think schools will have done their best for the foundation phase, but remote learning is not a provider of the kind of experiences that the children would have had had they been in school. So, with that caveat, I think schools have responded to the challenges. I know that Estyn did look at the kind of provision that was being impacted. I would hope that we don't need a standard, because once we have a standard, then we need a whole system of inspection of that standard—is it being met, and so on? So, to begin with, I think our schools have done a fantastic job during this lockdown, and our pupils, our students have done a wonderful job as well throughout this.

10:35

Thank you, Ian. Ellen, you wanted to come in, and then Philippa.

Bore da i chi i gyd. Byddaf i'n siarad yn Gymraeg, os caf i. Diolch. Jest i ddilyn o beth ddywedodd Ian yn fanna, dwi'n credu, efallai, yma yng Ngheredigion roedd mantais gennym ni mewn ffordd, achos bod y Gweinidog wedi gofyn i ni, ers blwyddyn neu ddwy nawr, ddechrau defnyddio dysgu o bell o dan gynllun E-sgol, a gychwynnodd i fyny yn ynysoedd yr Alban i helpu darparu dysgu mewn ail iaith neu ddysgu iaith gyntaf hefyd, o ran Gaeleg, allan i wahanol ysgolion oedd ar chwâl a ddim digon o athrawon ganddyn nhw. Dyna oedd sail y cynllun. Ond mae o wedi cael ei ddatblygu gennym ni yma yng Ngheredigion ac, oherwydd hynny, roedd yna dipyn o arbenigedd o ran dysgu o bell i'w gael yma, a dwi'n gwybod bod ein staff ni wedi bod yn cynnal gweminarau er mwyn helpu siroedd eraill i uwchsgilio eu staff hwythau hefyd.

Felly, mae yna dipyn o waith wedi'i wneud, ond, fel dywedodd Ian, roedd y rhan fwyaf o athrawon yn dysgu o lefel isel iawn i fod yn deg â nhw, ac maen nhw wedi llwyddo i godi i'r gofynion sydd wedi cael eu rhoi arnyn nhw mor ddisymwth, ac wedi gallu perfformio'n arbennig o dda. Mae'r adroddiad Estyn dŷn ni wedi'i dderbyn yn ddiweddar yn hynod o gadarnhaol ynglŷn â'r profiadau mae'r plant yn eu cael. Felly, dwi'n hapus o'n rhan ni yma.

Dwi'n gwybod, efallai, nad yw'r ddarpariaeth yr un peth ar draws Cymru, ond, cyn hyn, mi oedd yna gyrsiau yn cael eu darparu o bell i blant a phobl ifanc oedd ddim yn gallu cael mynediad at ambell i bwnc, er enghraifft. Pethau fel cymdeithaseg, er enghraifft—roedd hwnnw'n cael ei ddysgu o bell i sawl un ar draws Cymru oherwydd nad oedd yr arbenigedd ar gael iddyn nhw yn lleol. Felly, mae yna dipyn o brofiad yna, ond mae yna lot o waith i fynd. Ond dwi'n credu mai dim ond canmol ein staff sydd rhaid i ni, fel maen nhw wedi codi i'r angen i helpu plant wneud cystal ag y gallan nhw o dan yr amgylchiadau anodd mae pawb yn gweithio oddi tanyn nhw. Diolch yn fawr.

Good morning to all of you. I will be speaking in Welsh, if I may. Thank you very much. Just to follow on from what Ian said there, I think that perhaps here in Ceredigion we had an advantage in a way, because the Minister had asked us, since a year or so, to start to use remote learning under the E-sgol scheme, and that started up in Scotland to help to provide learning through a second language or first language in terms of Gaelic, to other schools that were distributed and didn't have sufficient numbers of teachers. That was the basis of the project, which we then developed here in Ceredigion. As a result of that, we had a great deal of expertise in terms of remote learning available here, and I know that our staff have been holding webinars to help other counties to upskill their staff as well.

So, there is a great deal of work that has been done, but, as Ian said, the majority of teachers were learning from a very low level, fair play to them, and they've succeeded to rise to the expectations placed on them so suddenly, and they've been able to perform very, very well. The Estyn report that we have received recently is very positive with regard to the experiences that children are having. So, I'm content in terms of the experience here.

I know that the provision isn't perhaps the same across Wales, but, previously, there were courses being provided remotely to children and young people who weren't able to access some subjects, such as sociology—they learnt remotely across Wales because the expertise wasn't available to them locally. So, there is experience there, but there is a lot of work yet to be done. But I think that we should only be praising our staff in the way that they have responded to the expectations and the need to help pupils achieve as well as they have done under very difficult circumstances. Thank you very much.

Thank you, Chair, and just really to echo what both Councillor ap Gwynn and Councillor Roberts have alluded to there, which is the fact that it is ever evolving. I think that's where we're all at. It's something that has taken on such a great pace to provide that blended learning for our learners, and it's not been without its challenge, because these were steep learning curves for everyone, and that includes the parents, the pupils, the teachers, the support staff—everyone had to go on a huge journey in order to provide that. And I'm pretty comfortable—. Across most of our authorities, I would like to think that exponential learning that has been gained will do our pupils well in the long term.

But, as Ian has already alluded to, this is only a stop gap, isn't it? This isn't a replacement for that face-to-face learning, which is what so many of our pupils need going forward. But, I think, given the circumstances, given the breadth of learning, we have to actually, again, praise our staff for what they've done because they've gone above and beyond in order to grasp the new technologies. Imagine if you were a teacher towards the end of your career, and actually this is huge, isn't it? Being able to plan and prepare things in this vein must be like, 'Wow, I wasn't expecting to do this in the last years of my teaching career', or what have you. I suppose younger teachers or more recently trained teachers may adapt quicker, but they can help each other, can't they, in those environments. So, I think that's what's really important, and I think there's been a huge collective effort, and I know, for Flintshire and Ceredigion, that's happened, and the same in Caerphilly. We've worked extremely hard, with our heads and our staff, to make sure that we can provide the best possible provision, given the circumstances.

10:40

And I think that was the point, really, Philippa, as well, was about the consistency of support across authorities to schools. So, I mean, obviously, from an all-Wales perspective, are you satisfied that the regional consortia and local authorities have got that oversight to try to ensure that there is an element of consistency in terms of the way that the remote learning is being delivered?

Yes. So, if I can come in. Sorry. No, absolutely. I think there's been, again, even in those areas, Dawn, there's been a massive push and a massive learning curve, and they've provided seminars and things for teachers to help bring them up to speed, so that there is a level of a standard, and that has been pushed out through—well, particularly through our consortia, and I think through others as well. They've had to set a level, they've had to provide. There had to be guidance, didn't there, from Welsh Government as well, about expectations sitting alongside that.

So, I think everyone has worked extremely hard to level up that standard and to bring everyone to at least a certain level. No doubt most of these things could be better in time, but time is of the essence and we need to provide the best possible provision for those pupils now, don't we? So, I would say that I'm satisfied with the progress that's been made to get to a specific standard. It's always something that needs to be improved upon, as with every provision in education. You always set your sights higher again, don't you?

I wanted to come in on the additional learning needs issue, if that's okay.

Okay. So, in the original March lockdown, we saw that a lot of children with additional learning needs, including those statemented, weren't captured by the vulnerable definition, and a group of us in Caerphilly, as far as the ALN group, met with Carol Shillabeer's Together for Children and Young People programme, who then managed to get the Government to broaden the vulnerable definition to include SEN children and statemented and beyond statemented. I've noticed in Caerphilly—and I've got to say to Councillor Marsden—I've noticed in Caerphilly that there have been people offered places now that weren't offered places in the initial lockdown, and it seems to be exemplary in that children are now getting those places that didn't have them before. But I've spoken to the National Autistic Society, and that is not the picture across Wales. And I've had evidence from neighbouring authorities to Caerphilly that children with special educational needs are not getting on-site provision. So, this patchiness is a concern.

What I'd like to hear from the WLGA, and from leaders of local authorities, is: what is happening in individual authorities and how is this universal provision, which every ALN child is entitled to, how is that going to be offered universally, given the example that Caerphilly has set?

Okay. Would some of the other authorities like to comment on that, then? Who'd like to go first?

Yes, I'll come in. In Flintshire, our special schools are open and are taking young people—all young people—on a week on, week off basis, to ensure that there is fairness and equity across the system. We accept vulnerable learners into our schools, and that includes not only additional learning needs but will include those with poor connection, so digitally deprived and so on. So, I have to say that I haven't had, as cabinet member for education and leader, a vast amount of complaints about the provision in Flintshire. And, certainly, as far as we are concerned, up here in the north-east, I think that the schools are doing their best.

But I do have to say, as WLGA spokesperson for education—and I'm sorry, Chair, I might be crossing over into another issue now—I did write a letter to the Minister, asking that staff in special schools and in mainstream schools, who are under the category of providing intimate care, should be considered for early vaccination to allow the students to return to school. So, I don't know if that was the appropriate time to bring that in, but I think it is pertinent because some of those with additional learning needs will be in the intimate care category as well.

10:45

Okay. Thank you. Would anybody else like to—? Ellen.

Diolch. Gaf i jest gefnogi beth mae Ian Roberts newydd ei ddweud? Mae'r un peth yn wir gyda ni. Mae'r plant bregus i gyd yn dod i mewn i'r ysgol. Mae'r ysgolion arbennig a'r unedau arbennig yn dal ar waith, ac erbyn hyn, hefyd, rydyn ni wedi cydweithio gyda'r bwrdd iechyd i sicrhau bod y staff sydd yn rhoi'r gofal personol yna i'r plant yna wedi cael eu brechu erbyn hyn. Felly, mae'r gwasanaeth yna gyda ni beth bynnag. A rydyn ni hefyd yn sicrhau bod y plant sydd yn cael eu gofalu amdanyn nhw—y plant LAC, er enghraifft—yn dod i mewn i'r ysgolion yn rheolaidd er mwyn sicrhau bod eu lles nhw yn cael ei ofalu amdano, ac mae'r teuluoedd yma hefyd yn cael galwadau ffôn rheolaidd i sicrhau bod y plant yn iawn o dan yr amgylchiadau presennol. Diolch.

Thank you. May I just endorse what Ian Roberts has just said? The same is true with us. The vulnerable children are all coming into schools. The special schools and the special units are still operational, and, of course, we've collaborated with the health board to ensure that the staff that do provide that personal care have been vaccinated by now. So, we do have that service now. And for those children who are looked after—the LAC children, for example—they come into schools regularly to ensure that their well-being is being safeguarded, and their families here as well do receive regular phone calls to ensure that the children are okay under the current circumstances. Thank you.

Can I ask Councillor Marsden as well? I just understand that, in Caerphilly, headteachers in schools—outside of special schools—are given freedom to offer vulnerable children places that go beyond statementing and school action plus. It seems to be happening, from people who have contacted me.

Yes. Sorry, my mute took a while there.

Thank you. Yes, Hefin, you're absolutely right: there is that provision, as you're aware, in Caerphilly, for those vulnerable children that come under the ALN or statemented, and that's really important, isn't it? And I'd like to thank you for the work you did there in highlighting that as well, because I think it was really key to ensuring that that provision was there across all our schools. But I think it's important, isn't it, on that note, in terms of the ALN provision, ensuring that those children are—because, for them, it's about routine, isn't it, and it's about that structure that they need, and they're going to struggle more—possibly more—outside of the school environment. So, it was important that we embraced that, and I think maybe we could use Caerphilly as a case study to share the best practice, maybe. I don't know whether that's useful in terms of our approach to this sort of thing, whether that might be something that we can consider as we've been given as an area of good example. So, I don't know whether that's really answered your question, Hefin, but I think it would be useful to share how we've been able to do it, and maybe—. I understand that in some areas there may be difficulties, but it's how we overcome those difficulties, isn't it, for those particular groups of pupils.

And it would certainly be helpful to capture that, and to understand what's happening across Wales too. And I think that's a piece of work that the children's commissioner wants to take on, and also the WLGA will be interested in, I'm sure.

Okay. Thank you. Just before I bring Suzy in, Ian, I understand—. I've got some drilling next door, which is making it really difficult to hear, but I think you were asking about—. You said you'd written to the Minister about the need for vaccination for staff who are involved in personal care. That has already been agreed; they're being treated the same as social care staff. So, the Government has responded to that already. Suzy.

I just wonder if you can say quickly, between you, whether you've changed your list of key or critical workers during the course of the last few weeks or not. I mean, obviously, when we had the first lockdown the same question was being asked, and so I'm just curious to know whether you've extended the list of critical workers during the last few weeks, so that more children can attend their schools.

In Flintshire County Council, we have followed a policy that when schools reach 25 per cent of their normal capacity, the headteachers should contact the local authority and discuss how we would restrict the amount of young people going into school. I must admit, I have had a couple of e-mails, which have expressed concerns about the amount of people going into schools, but I've also had some saying that there isn't enough capacity in schools. It's very difficult for school-based staff to be educating young people on site as well as providing the blended learning that's necessary for those who are not on site. So, I think this is a particularly difficult question. I think at the moment, as far as Flintshire is concerned, we have followed the Welsh Government rules, the seven categories, and we have kept to that, although some schools are either dangerously close to or above the 25 per cent level for social distancing that was recommended.

10:50

Okay, thank you. Did anybody else want to come in on that, or should I go back to Dawn? Dawn.

Thanks, Lynne. So, my next question, really, was around access to digital hardware and technology. And just to put it into context, we had the Minister for Education in for scrutiny last week and she was saying that 120,000 pieces of hardware had been delivered, with a further 35,000 due for imminent delivery, but she also did say that Welsh Government had identified connectivity as a much bigger issue than the end kit. Now, from your perspective as local government leaders, what is your understanding of the current position on this, and what do you see as your role in this regard in terms of the roll-out of both kit and accessibility through broadband and so on?

Morning, and apologies, I raised my hand on a previous item. It was just around the really important provision for children with additional learning needs. I don't think I can follow the exemplary performance of Caerphilly, and I'll certainly look to learn from them, but certainly, in Bridgend, we've kept our special schools open, as we have across Wales. I was only talking to a parent last night of a child with additional learning needs in my local mainstream school, and his child is attending that school because that meets the needs of that individual child. So, it is about the individual circumstances and needs of that individual child.

Just in terms of the IT, then, we really welcome the investment that we've seen in the technology, but also, critically, the access to the internet connection and broadband. That is important. Given the forecasts and predictions of how much longer we will need to continue to deliver remote and blended learning, I think it's important that there is a commitment to funding beyond March. I think that would be really helpful, so that local authorities and schools can plan for that, roll it out and provide reassurance to families. I know that, also, additional funding has been available to improve broadband connectivity in some of our communities, where it isn't just about funding and kit, it's also about the overall quality of the broadband connectivity. I know there's been a multimillion-pound investment in that, and I'm sure that every MS, as does every council leader, wants to see that built on and further extended, because it's never been more important, has it, in terms of digital inclusion, that all our communities have access to that. Thanks, Chair.

Okay, thank you. Before I bring anybody else in, Siân, is this supplementary on this?

Cwestiwn am y digidol, ond efallai ar ôl i fi glywed atebion y lleill yn gyntaf, cyn inni symud i ffwrdd.

A question on digital, but perhaps after I've heard responses from the others first, before we move away from this.

Okay, and if I can just remind you that you don't all need to come in on every issue. It's a question of if you've got anything new to add, really. Ellen, you indicated, and then Philippa.

Dwi ddim yn credu bod yna broblem offer fel y cyfryw, achos dwi'n gwybod bod ein hysgolion ni wedi sicrhau bod eu plant nhw i gyd wedi cael unrhyw offer oedd yn yr ysgol os nad oedd darpariaeth yn y cartref ar gael, ac mae yna fwy o offer wedi cael ei brynu hefyd. Mae'n rhaid imi ddweud, mae cynigion wedi dod wrth rai, er enghraifft y clwb rotari, i helpu i brynu offer i wneud yn siŵr bod teuluoedd lle mae yna fwy nag un plentyn angen offer yn gallu ei gael. Ond dwi'n credu mai cysylltedd yw'r broblem gyda ni mewn ardaloedd mwy gwledig, achos mae lot o ardaloedd gwyn, fel maen nhw'n eu galw nhw, lle does yna ddim derbyniad da yna. Ond mae'n rhaid imi ddweud, mae'r ysgolion yn paratoi gwaith ar bapur os oes yna broblemau dybryd i blant. Felly dydyn nhw ddim yn cael eu gadael ar ôl; mae'r athrawon yn sicrhau bod y plant yn derbyn gwaith iddyn nhw allu ei gyflawni ar bapur os oes rhaid.  

I don't believe that there's a problem in terms of the equipment, because I know that our schools have ensured that all their children have received any equipment available in the school if they didn't have provision in the home, and more equipment has also been purchased since then. I have to say that there are offers coming forward from, for example, the rotary club, to help to buy equipment to ensure that families, where there is more than one child, do have adequate equipment. But I think it's the connectivity that's a problem in more rural areas, because there are many white-spot areas, as they're called. There isn't good reception there. But the schools are preparing hard copies, paper copies for children if there are problems in terms of connectivity. So, they're not being left behind, they do ensure that the children do receive work so that they can complete it on paper if there's a problem in terms of connectivity. 

10:55

Thank you, Lynne. Ellen has touched on most of what I was going to say, and so has Huw, but I think it's important, isn't it—there are multiple elements here. It's about connectivity, it's about access to hardware and the devices, it's about the ability to be able to use those devices as well, which I think could be a slight barrier. If some parents aren't used to using these sorts of devices, it's going to be difficult for them to help their children to help themselves as well. So, I think it's important that we wrap around this as a big—. It's a huge problem in some areas, and even in south-east Wales where we are—well, south Wales—we've still got connectivity issues as well because we're partly semi-rural, and the further you get away from our bigger towns, it is difficult. So, I think there are multiple barriers here.

The devices have been bought, and I'm proud to say that Caerphilly led on the procurement of the edtech devices and did an outstanding job in providing those as well. But I think it's understanding that, okay, we can give those devices, but we still need to resolve the broadband issues and the Wi-Fi issues in homes. That's something that is a bigger thing, isn't it, because we could say that where more people are going to be working from home now, there's going to be even more pressure on those broadband providers to get that connectivity working properly. We've all, probably, experienced bandwidth fall-off, et cetera, so the more people who are working from home, whether that's schoolchildren or adults, it's going to be difficult. So, there is an additional pressure.

I also think it's about that engagement of parents to help them as well to understand what they need to do with that equipment, because not everyone knows. Sometimes the children know more, but just to get to the point where you're up and running and everything's good—it's what happens if it falls down. What do you do? You haven't got an IT guy stood behind you saying, 'Just press that, do this', and that can be difficult, and it can disrupt the work, can't it? Those are the bigger things that I think need to be considered going forward.

Okay. Thank you. Siân, a very brief supplementary. 

Jest ynglŷn â'r dyfeisiadau MiFi, mae adroddiad y comisiynydd plant yn dangos bod yna fylchau yn dal i fodoli efo hynny. Ydych chi'n meddwl rŵan bod yn rhaid i'r trafodaethau ddigwydd efo'r darparwyr band eang, gan nad ydy'r system MiFi yma ddim wir yn mynd i fod yn cyrraedd pawb?

Just with regard to the MiFi devices, the children's commissioner's report states that there are still gaps in that provision. Do you think now that the discussions need to happen with the broadband providers, as the MiFi system won't reach everyone?

I think everybody's happy with that suggestion. Nobody's disagreeing. Great. Okay. Thank you—Ellen.

Dwi ddim yn gyfarwydd â'r system, a does neb wedi codi'r mater gyda fi, ond y diffyg cysylltedd sydd angen edrych arno fo. Hwnna yw craidd yr holl beth os oes problemau gan bobl—y diffyg cysylltedd a thrio cael y cwmni, boed yn BT, Openreach neu bwy bynnag, i wneud y gwaith sy'n anghenrheidiol a'i wneud yn brydlon ac yn amserol. Hwnna yw'r broblem. Felly, byddwn i yn gofyn i Lywodraeth Cymru i wasgu arnyn nhw. Os ydyn nhw dan gytundeb, mi ddylen nhw fod yn cyflenwi'r cytundeb yna yn brydlon, a dydy hynny ddim wedi bod yn wir yn y gorffennol. 

I'm not familiar with the MiFi system, and nobody's raised that issue with me. But there is a lack of connectivity that does need to be addressed that's at the heart of this whole issue. It is that lack of connection and trying to get the companies, be it BT or Openreach, to do the work that needs to be done to rectify it so that it's done promptly. That's the issue. So, I would ask the Welsh Government to press the providers. If they're under a contract, then they should be fulfilling the terms of that contract, and that hasn't been true in the past. Thank you.  

Mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi rhoi pwyslais ar y dyfeisiadau MiFi a ddim wedi bod yn gwneud y trafod efo'r cwmnïau band eang, fel sydd wedi digwydd yn Lloegr, tan rŵan. Ydych chi'n cytuno bod yn rhaid symud i fanna yn sydyn, felly?

The Welsh Government has emphasised these MiFi devices and haven't been having the discussions with the broadband companies, as has happened in England, until now. So, do you agree that we need to move in that direction quickly?

I think everybody's agreed that they want that to happen. Just before we move on, then, to talk about getting schools open, can I just ask you a question about child rights impact assessments, which the Government is meant to do when taking any decisions affecting children? Obviously, local authorities make these really big decisions about closing schools as well, and you're not under any duty to do a children's rights impact assessment. Do you think you should have to do one of those before taking the decision to close a school?

11:00

Are we talking about school closure in general terms in normal times now or—?

No, I'm talking about the kind of situation we're in with the pandemic, really. Because, obviously, it was hard to get them open, wasn't it, and now they're closed again. So, I'd just be interested to know whether you think it would be useful for that kind of impact assessment to be done, which could then be published.

Whether or not it needs to be a duty for each local authority—I would have thought personally that this would have been an issue for Welsh Government. If Welsh Government is saying that schools need to close, then the Welsh Government should provide the impact assessment for that impact on children and young people. But what I will say is we've all seen some very eloquent and capable young people on television talking about their experiences. Of course, it's not possible to have that with foundation phase children, is it? So, I am concerned that the debate becomes rather skewed in favour of the older children rather than the younger children.

Okay. Thank you, Ian. I think in terms of the CRIA, the Welsh Government do have to produce a CRIA, and they publish it. But obviously, some local authorities can take that decision to close schools without Welsh Government setting the direction on that. Do you think it would be a good idea for you to have to publish a CRIA to make it clear how those decisions are affecting children? Ellen, have you got a view on that? 

Oes, Gadeirydd. Rydyn ni fel cyngor wedi derbyn safonau'r Cenhedloedd Unedig ar hawliau'r plentyn, felly fel cyngor, mi fyddem ni'n gobeithio ein bod ni yn dilyn y ffaith bod hwnna'n bolisi gennym ni. Os ydy'r ysgol yn gorfod cael ei chau, penderfyniad prifathro a chadeirydd y llywodraethwyr yn lleol yw hynny. O dan amodau arferol, mae gyda nhw yr hawl i gau ysgol o dan amodau penodol. Ond byddwn i'n gobeithio y bydden nhw'n cymryd hwnna i ystyriaeth.

O dan amodau'r pandemig, wrth gwrs, maen nhw'n gorfod gwneud asesiad risg, a dwi'n gobeithio y byddai hwnna'n cynnwys y risg i wahanol oedrannau, fel mae Ian wedi tynnu sylw ato fo. Achos dwi'n cytuno efo Ian; dyw'r plant lleiaf ddim yn cael yr un budd o weithio ar sgrin ag y mae'r rhai hŷn yn gallu ei gael, achos maen nhw'n arfer dysgu trwy chwarae, a dydyn nhw ddim yn gallu gwneud hynny ar-lein i'r un graddau. Felly mae yna lot o bethau sydd angen edrych arnyn nhw'n llawer mwy manwl ynglŷn â'r ffordd rŷn ni yn cefnogi y gwahanol cohorts oedran yna. 

Yes, Chair. We as a council have accepted the standards of the United Nations on the rights of the child. So, as a council, we would hope that our staff would be acting according to that. If a school does have to be closed, as you say, it's the decision of a headteacher and the governors locally. Under normal circumstances, they have the right to close schools under specific circumstances. But I would hope that they would take that into consideration.

In terms of the pandemic, they do have to undertake a risk assessment, and I would hope that that would include the risk to different age groups, as Ian has mentioned. I agree that for the younger children, they don't receive the same benefits from working from a screen as the older children, because they're used to learning through play and they can't do that online to the same extent. So, there are many things that need to be looked in greater detail in terms of how we support the different age cohorts. 

I think, actually, it's worth pushing a little bit harder with your question, Chair, if we might, because we're aware, aren't we, of situations where the councils have taken different views from the Minister on whether schools should remain open. I think we need to be realistic that headteachers are going to take a strong steer from the councils as well. So, you know, they've got that autonomy, but I think the influence of local authority decisions is quite evident on those decisions.

Can we just repeat the question to you, Councillor Roberts: do you think this is something that all local authorities should do? I appreciate what Ellen ap Gwyn has said, and Swansea does the same, but is this a duty you think all local authorities should assume?

I take it we're referring to the situation particularly just before Christmas.

Well, in the summer, I think that was also contractual. It was to do with days teachers are required to work within a contractual year. Therefore, teachers were being asked to work a week extra in one contractual year, to be paid back in the next contractual year. That's certainly the issue as far as I was concerned.

Can I just stop you there? Because I don't think we want to go into the detail of why particular decisions were made. I think what we're looking for is a view on whether, going forward, it would be the right thing for local authorities to do a child rights impact assessment that would show transparently why decisions are taken and how they're impacting on children.

11:05

Okay. I have absolutely no problem in doing a child rights impact assessment. At the time when schools were closed at Christmas, my granddaughter, who's four, had self-isolated, and then her school was closed because of COVID amongst the staff in school, including senior members of staff in the school. So, I don't think there is a problem there. What you're asking is are local authorities prepared to justify any decisions they make with closing schools, and I would give you a firm 'yes' there. So, if Welsh Government want schools or local authorities—. And let's remember, it's local authorities justifying the advice that they are giving to schools, because the decision to close schools—we advise our schools to close, but the decision lies with the headteacher and the governing body of that school, not with the local authority.

Okay. Does anybody else want to come in? Philippa, did you want to come in?

I think from my perspective, and I can say this for Caerphilly, children are at the heart of any decision we make in our schools, and for headteachers, that'll be first and foremost at the top of their decision making. Because assessing any risk in school and any decision to close is a difficult one, I absolutely get that, but I would like to think—and I think this runs probably throughout many of the authorities up and down the country—that children are at the heart of that decision making in terms of the impact that's going to have on them.

The decision to close a school is a serious one; we all get that. It's done because, if they were possibly left open, there would be a risk to children in other ways. So, I think it's understanding that children are at the heart of that decision making, and I think that's really, really important to emphasise—that, certainly in our decision making, and any talks between our director of education and headteachers, that would feed through from a cabinet member's point of view and from mine as leader. Children are at the heart of our decision making in order to establish whether it's safe to keep the school open, yes or no, in terms of the children and the impact it's going to have on them. I'm not sure that's answered it, but that's certainly where I sit.

Do you think it would be useful, though, to formalise that by using a CRIA, which could then be published, and everybody could see the rationale?

I know what we've done is we've sent out letters from our director of education to all parents setting out why we have done something in a school. So, we're transparent in that regard, anyway. We're already doing that. I know what you're saying—should it be more formalised, and should it probably formulate a standard process. Maybe, yes, and then at least everyone is doing a similar thing, and everyone knows that there's a standard that needs to be adhered to. I get that, and I think that's important, but what we don't want to happen is for it to become overly bureaucratic, because those decisions are already done in other risk assessments. I think they're picked up in other things—the decision-making processes. So, without knowing the real detail of that, I think it's something that should be welcomed, because we need to be open and transparent, absolutely, but I'd like to think, particularly the three leaders sitting round here today, that we contact our parents on a regular basis to say what we're doing and why we're doing that, and that's important, isn't it?

I think Councillor Marsden has made a really important point around the need for these decisions to be made very, very quickly. Before Christmas, these decisions were being made overnight, literally—late into the night, decisions made by headteachers in consultation with the director and with my chief executive, because schools simply did not have enough staff to keep their schools open, because of the level of infection and self-isolation. So, as long as the process reflects that—that decisions have to be made overnight—and there's a way of reflecting that, then I'd certainly welcome the principle that how those decisions are made, and the impact that they have on children, is at the heart of that decision-making process. Having a safe number of staff to run a school is, of course, the first and foremost principle that is at the heart of that decision-making process. So, I'd welcome that, provided it's streamlined and it can be understood by parents, carers and children as well, because I think it's important that children understand why those decisions are made, because it is about the rights of the child. 

11:10

Absolutely. That's the centre of everything, isn't it? We'll move on now then to some questions from Siân. 

Diolch. Brechiadau i ddechrau. Ydych chi'n cytuno bod rhaid i athrawon a staff ein hysgolion ni gael eu brechu fel rhan o'r cynllun i ailagor ysgolion, ac ydy hanner tymor yr hydref yn cynnig ffenestr ar gyfer gwneud hynny? 

Thank you very much. Turning to vaccinations to begin with, do you agree that teachers and school staff need to be vaccinated as part of the plan to reopen schools, and does the autumn half term provide a window for doing that? 

Dwi'n credu ein bod ni i gyd yn gytûn, achos rydym ni wedi bod yn trafod gyda—. Wel, mae Ian a finnau a Philippa wedi bod yn trafod gyda'r undebau, ac mae eu teimladau nhw yn dod trwyddo yn gryf. Maen nhw yn teimlo—. Dwi'n gwybod yn lleol bod athrawon yn ofnus o fynd yn ôl o dan yr amodau presennol, a dwi'n credu os ydym ni am gael ein system addysg i redeg yn iawn, yr unig ffordd dwi'n meddwl rydym ni'n mynd i gael hyder yr athrawon i fynd nôl i mewn i'r ysgol o dan amodau arferol ydy eu cael nhw wedi eu brechu. Ond dros amser, os ydym ni am fynd yn ôl fesul cohort—ac mae yna drafodaeth ynglŷn â hynny yn mynd rhagddi, achos nid yw'r Gweinidog wedi gwneud penderfyniad—mae trafodaethau yn digwydd ynglŷn ag efallai agor ysgolion ar gyfer cohorts gwahanol o blant, yn enwedig, fel mae Ian wedi sôn yn barod, y plant lleiaf oherwydd y ffordd maen nhw'n dysgu ac yn ymwneud ag athrawon mor agos yn yr oed yna. Byddai'n bwysig bod yr athrawon a'r cynorthwywyr i gyd yn cael eu brechu os ydy'r cohort yna yn mynd yn ôl.

Ynglŷn â phlant hŷn yn mynd yn ôl, dwi'n credu mai'r blynyddoedd arholiadau mae pawb yn gwasgu i fynd yn ôl gyntaf, fel bod yna ddim gormod o blant yn ôl yn yr ysgol ar yr un pryd, i ddechrau, beth bynnag, a bod y pellteroedd angenrheidiol yn gallu cael eu cadw er mwyn iddyn nhw gael eu dysgu wyneb yn wyneb. Ond eto fan hyn, mae yna wasgfa yn bendant gan yr undebau, a dwi'n teimlo yn bersonol hefyd o ran risg i'n pobl ifanc ni a'r staff, achos mae rhai o'n staff ni yn yr oed sydd yn ymddangos yn fwy mewn perygl nawr, sef rhwng 50 a 60—dim pawb, wrth gwrs, ond mae yna gyfran o'r athrawon mwy profiadol dwi'n siŵr yn yr oed yna. Dylem ni fod yn edrych i gael nhw wedi eu brechu fel bod ni yn gallu ailgychwyn dysgu wyneb-yn-wyneb mor fuan â phosibl. Diolch. 

I believe that we are all agreed, because we have been discussing—. Ian and I and Philippa have been discussing this with the unions, and their feelings are coming through strongly. They feel—. I know locally that the teachers are concerned about returning under the current circumstances, and I think that if we want to have our education system up and running correctly, the only way that we're going to have teachers' confidence in returning to schools under normal circumstances is to get them vaccinated. Over time, if we want to return cohort by cohort—there is an ongoing discussion about that, because the Minister hasn't made a decision on that yet—discussions are taking place with regard to perhaps reopening schools for different cohorts of children, especially, as Ian has mentioned, the younger children because of the way that they learn and the way that they interact so closely with teachers at that age. It would be important for teachers and the classroom assistants to be vaccinated if that particular cohort were to return. 

With regard to the older cohort, it is the exam years that everyone is pushing to go back first, so that there aren't too many children back in schools to begin with, because of the need to maintain social distance, and so on, for them to be taught face to face. But again, in that regard, I think there is pressure from the unions and I personally feel as well in terms of the risk to our younger children and our staff, because some of the staff are in some of those more vulnerable age groups between 50 and 60—not everyone, of course, but there is a proportion of the more experienced teachers in that age group. We should be looking to get them vaccinated so that we can restart face-to-face teaching as soon as possible. Thank you.

Buaswn i'n licio cael barn Philippa a Huw. 

I would like Philippa and Huw's opinion on that. 

Siân, I do apologise, I didn't hear all of your question, sorry, because my bandwidth is really bad. I picked up on a little from what Ellen said but if you could say it again, sorry. 

Ydych chi'n cytuno bod rhaid i athrawon a staff ein ysgolion ni gael eu brechu fel rhan o'r cynllun i ailagor ysgolion, ac ydy hanner tymor yr hydref yn cynnig cyfle i wneud hynny? Mae yna rai gwleidyddion yn Llundain wedi awgrymu y dylai hynna ddigwydd. 

Do you agree that teachers and school staff need to be vaccinated as part of the plan to reopen schools, and does the autumn half term provide an opportunity to do that? There are some politicians in London who've suggested that that should happen.  

Siân, I think the politician in London suggested the February half term, not the autumn one. 

I panicked then. I thought, 'Oh my goodness, don't say that, that's the summer term gone'. I panicked then.

We certainly have. No, absolutely, and I'd echo, really, what Ellen has already said in terms of if we can have a system whereby teachers and certain cohorts can be vaccinated, that would relieve some of that anxiety around this, because there are high levels of anxiety amongst our teaching staff and our support staff in terms of venturing back into the workplace. 

Just imagine how different this is, as cohorts of workers, compared to office workers that are being advised to work from home. That hasn't changed and that's not going to change for quite some time. We all know that. The transmissibility of the new variant that we know is now dominant is a concern, and I think that is the overriding worry and anxiety that people are faced with. And also, older pupils as well, because they are just like adults in terms of the transmission of the disease. We need to understand that there are going to be high levels of anxiety everywhere. I think we need to look at vaccination and maybe certain cohorts, as Ellen said, in terms of primary and foundation, because they do not socially distance. That's the mitigation problem we have got, because that is not happening, so it still presents a problem.

Bubble size, for me, is key. We need to reduce bubble sizes in those cohorts as well, so we're reducing down the impact of transmission. Again, we all know our classrooms aren't big enough, very often, in some cases, in some of our older schools, shall we say? Maybe the twenty-first century schools are in a slightly different position. It begs the question about whether pupils of higher ages should be rota-ed to go in, so they're in for some days and off, so that they have a blend, and face coverings are probably going to be needed in the classroom. But I would certainly think that you should look at teaching cohorts, and set another priority listing within those so that we can have a safe return.

11:15

So, are you saying that the teaching staff and school staff should be prioritised within the nine groups that are happening now, or are you talking about the next tranche of vaccinations?

Yes, obviously we've got the bands now, with the priority levels, and I think they need to come in as maybe sub-groups within some of those. Some of them will fall in naturally, because of age—that's already been pointed out—and maybe underlying health issues as well. I think it's important—. I absolutely know the Minister was not for budging on professions being included in the list because it was set independently and it was obviously to limit the number of deaths. Now, that was the aim, wasn't it? Those priority lists were given because it's all about death prevention. We get that. We've still got to look at it in a priority—we absolutely need to—but how on earth are we going to reconcile that anxiety versus the need to be vaccinated? We've all got those anxieties. Everyone in society is anxious to be vaccinated, aren't they? There's no difference in the school environment. In fact, it's highlighted in the sense that they are, in some cases, not going to be able to socially distance themselves, just because of the nature of it. So, I think there needs to be a recognition that there may need to be an alteration to that priority list, and maybe introduce sub-groups, if that makes sense.

Huw, before you come in, if you could be clear as well on the second question Siân asked: whether you want teachers to be moved up the priority groups that have already been established or looked at as the next set of priorities, because obviously people moving up means other people who are considered more vulnerable come out.

Yes. I've got Huw and then Ian. Huw, I think you're muted.

Oh right. Okay, I've been unmuted. So, every Government in the UK has made a decision on the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, and I think it's really important that their advice and their recommendations are followed, and their recommendations are then endorsed or considered by the chief medical officers across the nations of the UK. I hope that the joint committee will consider subsets of people under the age of 50. Obviously, there's a prioritisation programme in place, isn't there, for vulnerable people and age groups for people above the age of 50, but once we get below the age of 50, then I think there is personally a very strong case for looking at certain groups and certain professions, and of course, teachers, I think, should be part of that, but I think that decision and those recommendations should be made by the leading experts in the field.

But I think that that recommendation needs to be made by the joint committee as soon as possible, because people are looking to the future, aren't they? The vaccination programme is making extraordinary progress in Wales at the moment, and we're very pleased to see that. So, it means that people are thinking about going forward, but we also need to consider some other groups like, for example, police officers. There will be other groups of front-line workers who have face-to-face contact with the public—and they're doing that now, actually—police officers being a case in point—where they have to attend to incidents and they have to attend to incidents where, more often than not, people are not being mindful of the rules, are they? They're not being socially distanced if they're dealing with sometimes aggressive, violent people.

So, that would be my ask—that the committee looks at that as soon as possible. But I'm certainly supportive of the principle of teachers—because Welsh Government has absolutely said, and I think the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have said that schools are their priority. They're everyone's priority, aren't they? If we're going to look at and think about which aspect of society and life that we recover and restart first, then schools are going to be at the top of everyone's list, aren't they, and we have to do what we can to enable that to happen. I'm sorry that that was a long—

11:20

I'm taking from that that you're saying in the second tranche, and Philippa is saying in the first tranche, so there is a difference of opinion.

Yes. I'm going to bring in Ian now, and then I'll bring Philippa back in. 

Thank you very much for that, Chair. I do think we need to go back a step on this, first of all. If we're talking about wholesale vaccination of school staff, then, that will, of course, include teachers, classroom assistants, cleaners, caretakers, escorts and the taxi drivers who take the children to school. It's absolutely immense. But what I do think the first step that is necessary is a plan from Welsh Government for which year groups, if any, will be prioritised, because I think we would accept that we're not going to have the big bang when it happens, 'Everyone back in school today'. Because then, the argument moves to what goes on at the school gates, for example, when children are being dropped off and picked up and the dangers at the school gates. But I do think it then flows on from that that if, for example, Welsh Government decides that the examination groups, the oldest years, and, I would hope, the youngest years who need to be taught in experiential play settings, are its priorities, then it becomes a different matter, doesn't it, because the whole of the workforce may not return at one point. It may be that certain phases will return before others. Well, then, any demand on the vaccination supply is far less.

So, what I would personally like to see is almost a road map—to use one of the phrases of the moment—for a return for schools. What are the priority years to begin to return into schools? And once we see that, we can then see whether or not we can—[Inaudible.]—vaccination. Do I support the vaccination of teachers? Well, I suppose as a former teacher of 35 years, yes, I do support the vaccination of teachers, but I don't think that any return to school will be the big bang, 'Right. End of half term, end of whenever; you all go back to school on day 1 and that's it'. So, I agree fully with everything Huw said about the joint vaccination committee. We need to take advice from the scientists and we need to take advice from the education—[Inaudible.]—on which year groups are our priorities, which should go back first, and then see, decide, 'Well, do those year groups need, or do the teachers of those year groups need, vaccination?' So, it could be a staged approach, where the whole of the school system is not all done at once, in my opinion.

11:25

Okay. I've got Philippa wanting to come back in—can I just say that we are running very badly behind? So, if witnesses are happy, we will roll on by 15 minutes. Philippa, briefly.

Yes, I'll try to be brief. As you've probably noticed, I do like to talk. But I just want to go back to what Huw said, and I do wholeheartedly agree with what Huw stated there, and I don't think I was very clear in terms of that first tranche. What I was trying to say is that they need to decide in the next phase that there may be a sub-group, similar to what they've done now. So, I would absolutely—. So, it's not about the first phase, Siân. For me—I absolutely agree with Huw—it's the second. But they need to ensure that that group of workers is in that. That's what I'm saying, in terms of looking at—. You know, there are certain professions that we know are going to be in vulnerable situations.

Okay. You've changed your mind, really. That's not what you said first time round, but never mind. So, shall we—? Do you want me to move on?

I'm just wondering what preparations councils have made for providing school transport and making—

No, I want to—. That's not a supplementary, that's a different issue, so I'll carry on with Siân and I can bring you back in. Siân.

Diolch. Ie, os fedrwch chi roi atebion byr o ran (1) y profion—ydych chi'n meddwl bod hwnna angen bod yn digwydd rŵan o fewn y cynllun i ailagor ysgolion? Ac yn ail, oes dadl dros newid amser y tymhorau?

Thank you. If you can give succinct answers to this—on, first of all, the tests and whether the testing programme needs to be taking place within the plan to reopen schools. And secondly, is there an argument for changing term times?

Who'd like to start? The committee's really keen to look at anything, really, that gets kids back to school. Who'd like to start?

Sorry, Chair—can I just say that two of us have got a ministerial meeting at 11:30? So we're going to have to choose between you and the Minister, to discuss educational matters. Perhaps the other two members can stay on. But we can stay on for a bit longer. Diolch.

Okay. Did you want to come on that now, and then head off, Ellen? Is that—?

Iawn, diolch, Siân. Sori, wnes i ddim gwrando yn iawn pan oeddet ti'n gofyn y cwestiwn, y darn cyntaf, achos roeddwn i'n poeni am y cyfarfod nesaf.

Thank you, Siân. I'm sorry, I wasn't listening to the question—I didn't hear it fully, because I was concerned about the next meeting.

Siân asked about testing and what your views were on using the tests, and also if you think rejigging term dates might be a possibility to recover lost learning.

Diolch. Ynglŷn â phrofi, dwi ddim yn credu bod y profion lateral flow yn hynod o ddibynadwy, yn ôl beth rydyn ni'n dechrau deall oddi wrth y gwyddonwyr. Wedyn, does yna ddim llawer o ffydd ynddyn nhw, mae'n rhaid i fi ddweud. Dwi'n credu y byddai'n rhaid i fi ofyn am fwy o farn wyddonol pan ydyn ni'n cael cwrdd gyda'r swyddogion o ran Iechyd Cyhoeddus Cymru. Rydyn ni'n cael briefings yn eithaf rheolaidd oddi wrthyn nhw, ond byddwn i am ofyn yn fwy manwl iddyn nhw ba mor effeithiol maen nhw wir yn, o ran y canlyniadau rydyn ni'n eu cael allan ohonyn nhw. Felly, dwi'n amheus o hwnna—dyna ateb y cwestiwn yna.

Yr ail gwestiwn—dwi'n credu bod yn rhaid inni ailedrych ar y tymhorau, achos mae'n edrych yn debyg, medden nhw, wrth symud ymlaen, wrth gwrs, mae yna lai o ferig o golli addysg yn ystod tymor y gwanwyn a thymor yr haf oherwydd y tywydd, a mwy o ferig dal pa bynnag heintiau yn ystod y gaeaf. Felly, dwi'n credu bod hi'n bryd i ni edrych, efallai, ar ddosbarthiad y tymhorau ac efallai cael pedwar tymor byrrach â mwy o frêcs. Ond mae honna'n ddadl y bydd yn rhaid cael mwy o amser i'w thrafod hi. Ond dwi'n credu ei bod yn amserol, efallai, inni ailedrych ar ddosbarthiad y cyfnodau dysgu a chyfnodau'r gwyliau yn ystod y flwyddyn. Achos mae'r hen drefn amaethyddol, wir, sy'n mynd yn ôl i ddechrau'r ganrif ddiwethaf—. Mae'n rhaid inni edrych ar beth sy'n angenrheidiol yn y cyfnod modern yma. Diolch.

Thank you. With regard to testing, I don't think that the lateral flow tests are entirely reliable, in terms of what we understand from the scientists. So, there isn't a great deal of confidence in them, I have to say. I think that I would have to ask for more scientific opinion on that when we have the meeting with officials in terms of Public Health Wales. We do receive briefings regularly from them, and I would want to ask for more detail from them in terms of how effective these tests are with regard to the results that they provide. So, I do have doubts about that.

Secondly, I do think we do need to look again at term times, because it looks likely, they say, that, in moving forward, of course, there is less danger of losing out on education during the spring and summer terms because of the weather, and more of a danger in terms of viruses and disease in the winter. So, I think it is time for us to look at the distribution of term times, and perhaps have four shorter terms with more breaks. But that's a debate that will have to be had in greater detail, when there's more time to do so. But it's timely for us perhaps to look again at the distribution of the teaching periods and the vacation periods during the year. Because the old arrangement is related to agricultural timetables, isn't it, and goes back to the beginning of the last century. So, we do need to look at the modern period now. Thank you.

11:30

Thank you. Ellen and Philippa, we don't want to keep you from a meeting with the Minister. So, unless there's anything that you want to add, Philippa, before I bring Ian in—.

No. It's—. I think Ellen was referring to her and Ian have got to go, but I do have a meeting myself.

I have to go now, Chair.

Yes. I do think that the debate on whether or not we need fundamental change to school terms, or a temporary change to school terms, is one that should take place first of all with the unions, who will obviously have a particular view on this. I wouldn't like to give a view on this at the moment, because I am fully aware that a teacher's contract is 195 days, of which 190 are with children, spread over the year, which is set out in advance.

So, I would respectfully suggest to the committee that it would need to ask, in the first instance—. We know that, in the summer, it was the issues over teachers' contracts and the views of the unions that came in, and I would be fully supportive of this matter being discussed between Welsh Government and the unions in the first instance. I would wish to hear what the unions' voice is on this.

And we did put these very points to the unions when they were in two weeks ago, but, obviously, the primary role of this committee is to explore what is best for children and young people. I should also be clear that nobody—. Siân, in asking that question, is not suggesting that people have leave taken off them. This is about rearranging things to make hay while the sun shines, really, as people had the opportunity to do last summer, to maximise the learning. But thank you for your answer anyway—

Sorry, if I can come in, I do remember a few weeks ago, when I think it was the local government Minister and the Minister for Education were in a leaders' meeting, the leader of Denbighshire County Council suggested having additional holiday around half-term and balancing that up by taking holiday away at another point. I have to say that both Ministers were not particularly receptive of that view at the time. 

Okay. Well, my understanding is that, at the moment, everything is on the table. Philippa.

Thanks, Lynne. I think, to echo some of the points that Ian's just made there, it's important, isn't it, that through, for example, the school social partnership forum, which I chair—. I think it's really important that we have these conversations as employers—that's us, local authorities, because we are the employers—that we sit down with all of the unions—that's the support unions and the education unions—and our directors of education and Welsh Government officials. I think it's really important for us to have those open and frank conversations. It is a great forum for debating many topics. We have made great progress in that forum, because I think it's quite a safe environment for us all to talk and share the concerns about these sorts of issues. I think that that gives—from an elected provision, in terms of members in my own authority, it's important that those debates are had. Similarly, for trade union members, it's important that they can feed up, and that their voices are heard through this forum.

It has been a really good forum. We've met almost weekly, I think, Ellen and Ian—I think we have. We have had something like 23 meetings to discuss many of these items—the ones that you've just raised now through your questions. And it's important, isn't it, that we all sit around the table, we hear it from one source, and we debate them at the same time, because that's the best way to actually find the best course of action for our pupils—again, being at the centre of everything—and also the safety of our employees. We should not forget that, because there is still a real threat out there. Having just said that I've stood in a funeral procession this morning, it is a real threat, and we mustn't forget that in all of what we're talking about. I do have to go now, so I hope that—

Okay, thank you. And I think that Ellen and Ian have to go as well. Is that right?

Okay, well, thank you to the three of you for attending anyway. Thank you. Okay. Siân, have you got any further questions? 

11:35

Well, it's Huw and Sharon, really—if you're happy with that, Huw and Sharon. You're in the hot seat, Huw. [Laughter.]