Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

04/05/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams MS
James Evans MS
Jayne Bryant MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates MS
Laura Anne Jones MS
Sioned Williams MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alessandro Ceccarelli Pennaeth Polisi LHDTC+, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of LGBTQ+ Policy, Welsh Government
Emily Keoghane Pennaeth Polisi LHDTC+, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of LGBTQ+ Policy, Welsh Government
Jane Hutt MS Y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
Minister for Social Justice
Jeremy Miles MS Gweinidog y Gymraeg ac Addysg
Minister for Education and the Welsh Language
Kirsty Davies-Warner Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr yr Is-adran Tegwch mewn Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Equity in Education Division, Welsh Government
Sian Jones Pennaeth Cefnogi Cyflawniad a Diogelu, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Supporting Achievement & Safeguarding, Welsh Government
Zsanett Swain Uwch-reolwr Polisi Trais yn erbyn Menywod a Cam-drin Domestig, Llywodraeth Cymru
Senior Policy Manager, Violence Against Women & Domestic Abuse, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Sian Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Tom Lewis-White Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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

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

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:01.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:01. 

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

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

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

Welcome to today's meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining by video-conference. I'd like to remind members joining virtually not to use the 'raise hand' function on Zoom but to raise a hand physically if you'd like to come in. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. This meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. There are no apologies today. Heledd Fychan will be substituting for Sioned Williams for all business related to the inquiry into pupil absence and, for this meeting, that is item No. 6. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I can see no declaration.

2. Aflonyddu rhywiol rhwng cyfoedion ymhlith dysgwyr—sesiwn dystiolaeth 13
2. Peer-on-peer sexual harassment among learners—evidence session 13

We'll move on to the first item on our agenda, which is our inquiry into peer-on-peer sexual harassment among learners. This is our thirteenth evidence session and the last evidence session for this inquiry. I'd like to welcome Ministers and their officials here this morning: Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language; Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice; Kirsty Davies-Warner, deputy director, equity in education division; Sian Jones, head of supporting achievement and safeguarding; Zsanett Swain, senior policy manager, violence against women and domestic abuse; Emily Keoghane and Alessandro Ceccarelli, who share the role of head of LGBTQ+ policy.

So, we'll be quick to make a start, and I'd just like to remind Members and Ministers and officials that we've got a lot to get through this morning, so short, sharp questions and succinct answers would be very much appreciated. I'd like to thank both Ministers for joining us today and for your comprehensive paper that we received in advance of today's meeting. So, perhaps to start, could you both very briefly outline your level of concern about the issue of sexual harassment amongst children and young people and how much of a portfolio priority is it for each of you? Perhaps we can start with the Minister for education.

Thanks, Chair. In terms of my level of concern, I was concerned when I commissioned the Estyn report, and I'm still concerned having read the report, as we all are. Any form of sexual harassment is completely unacceptable and we should not tolerate it, and so it's a priority for me, it's a priority right across the Government, that every child and young person is supported and feels able to record any concerns that they have. So, I think the Estyn report provides very valuable evidence and information for us. There is much more for us to do, and we may come on to this, but I'm planning on asking Estyn to look at sexual harassment in the further education sector over the course of the next year as well to enhance our understanding and our evidence base for responding in the further education sector as well. So, there are a number of recommendations in the report—I'm sure we'll be covering them in the discussion—and I think there's a lot of work for us to do. There's a lot of work under way, which we'll hopefully get to talk about, but it's a key priority for me certainly. 

09:05

Thank you very much, Chair. I very much support what the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language has said in his opening remarks, because, for me, particularly as Minister for Social Justice of course, this is about ending violence against women and girls in Wales. And this is something we've laid out in our evidence paper; it's very much a cross-Government issue. In fact, I recall, as soon as the Everyone's Invited report was published, Jeremy and myself, and Julie Morgan actually, all met virtually that day to say, 'How should we address this and where are we taking this?' So, I know that the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy, which is clearly going to be expanded, will be key to take this forward, but I just want to say three things. This is about raising awareness amongst children and young people of equality, respect and consent, and the curriculum is crucial to that. It's about funding specialist services, which is cross-Government. It's not just about Women's Aid, or the Black Association of Women Step Out, it's about Hafan Cymru as well, and their specialist input. But it's also about partnership with all those partners who have a responsibility, devolved and non-devolved, within Government, specialist services, policing, probation—all of those who actually are responsible in terms of criminal justice as well. So, those are the key points for me.

Thank you, Ministers. Last week we heard evidence from some students from Coleg Cambria who came into the Senedd, and they told us that sexual harassment among peers is so commonplace that the pupils themselves often don't know when it's happening. How confident are you that we really know the true scale and nature of the problem across different sectors, and do you think that recent coverage, such as Estyn's report and the Everyone's Invited website, is revealing just the tip of the iceberg?

So, I think, as I said at the start, the Estyn report provides very, very valuable information for us, and the Everyone's Invited website, of course, provided some very disturbing testimony from a number of schools in Wales. But I think that the whole premise, if you like, of the report is that one of the fundamental challenges that we face is that children and young people aren't reporting what's happening because they don't have confidence that it will perhaps be dealt with in the best way, and there's a bit of a risk, which I think the Estyn report sets out really clearly, that there's a sort of normalisation that comes from that. And so I think my view on whether we have a sense of the scale of it is that the work Estyn has done, and others are doing, is helping us understand that scale, but since reporting is one of the key challenges, I don't think we can say that we understand the full scale of it.

I should say that we already know is very disturbing, so that is, in itself, obviously a sufficient spur to action, isn't it? But I don't think we could say that we understand the full scale. And the reason—. We are working already on how we can improve reporting to make sure that that is robust and consistent, and what I hope we will see as a result of that is increasing confidence in young people that their concerns are taken seriously, I think, embedding a culture, if you like, in education settings, that harassment, bullying of any kind, is completely unacceptable. And I think also, in terms of how Government and others respond on a policy basis, that will improve, if you like, in the longer term, the data collection and our understanding of the issue. So, I think that question of reporting is absolutely fundamental to everything else that we're doing. 

Do you think that there's a clear enough understanding, really, about what sexual harassment is, and would you consider perhaps providing a clear definition in the various education safeguarding guidance, and training perhaps for front-line staff, just to say how distinct sexual harassment is from the wider bullying behaviour?

09:10

Yes, I do think there's a difference, Chair, in the level of specificity, if you like, or the level of common understanding, if I can put it like that, around the definition of bullying. I think it's less well developed, perhaps, in the context of sexual harassment. So, I think there is work we can do in the way that you suggest there. Obviously, the Estyn report itself contains a definition of sexual harassment, and the multi-agency action plan that we are working on with a range of partners, which I'm sure we'll come to discuss at some point, works to the same definition as the Estyn definition—the definition used in the Estyn report. I know colleagues will have access to that. But I do think that, in the work that we are currently doing around improving our guidance, our professional learning, in the space of sexual harassment, there is definitely scope for making sure that definition is what it needs to be and that it's well understood through all parts of the system.

Okay. Just finally from me, how much of a problem do you think it is that sexual harassment is not a specific criminal offence, and do you think the current law gives necessary means to address it?

I could come in here on that point. Really, I think we've got to look at this in terms of the context of this inquiry, particularly in terms of children and young people, and recognising that it's about the way they behave and how they learn, which was my earlier point about learning to be respectful, healthy relationships, which is crucial and we can work through in the school setting. But we just need to look at whether we've got, as you say, the right legislative base to actually address these issues, not just in terms of this inquiry but the wider perspective. What we're trying to do is, quite obviously, to educate our young people and empower them to have those healthy, safe relationships, so that they don't want to act in an abusive way towards each other. And I think this is about not necessarily thinking about specific criminal offences in that context, but actually very much about the way in which the culture and all the changes that are going to come forward as a result of this work are going to be important.

But I have to say, there is some legislative opportunity. We were pleased that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 actually has now included sexual violence as part of the definition of serious violence in that legislation. And that was an important development; we worked hard to convince the UK Government of that. But it's about partnership—this new serious violence duty is about partnership, working together to tackle sexual violence at all levels. And this is where we need to use that new opportunity in terms of legislation on serious violence, which includes sexual harassment, but it is back to how do we intervene, how do we prevent, and how do we educate so we can make this work. Of course, we have our own violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence legislation in place in Wales, and that has set us in such good stead, in terms of the strategies that we've had, to actually deal with these issues, with Hafan Cymru and all the specialist work in schools.

Thank you. And now some questions from Buffy Williams.

Thank you, Chair. My questions are primarily to the Minister for education. Do you accept there are shortcomings in the collection and use of data on incidents of sexual harassment in schools, and does this inhibit both the understanding of the problem and dealing with it?

Well, the simple answer to that is 'yes, I do', and I do think it has that effect. So, it goes back to the point I was making earlier, really—it's a cycle that is mutually reinforcing, isn't it, that people aren't reporting and therefore teachers aren't hearing issues reported. And that means that the scale of the issue, I think, is masked, but it also means that it isn't addressed in the way that it needs to be. So, I talked a little bit about the work we want to do on improving reporting to do that. At the moment, in terms of the data collection aspect of the reporting relationship, if you like, we don't collect data on, for example, instances of bullying in schools at a national level. So, that's collected at an individual school level and then it's collated by local authorities. But the practical challenge that we are grappling with at the moment is that there is a range of systems and a number of different bases on which that data is collected. So, it's not a consistent picture on a school level and, therefore, obviously, not consistent on a Wales-wide level. So, there will need to be work to amend regulations in order for that data to be both captured and reported, if you like, on a consistent basis. And we're working at the moment to look at what that entails in practice.

09:15

Okay. How is the Welsh Government responding to Estyn's recommendations on the collection and analysis of data, and when can tangible changes be expected? And are you confident that these changes will lead to a better understanding of the scale and nature of the problem, say, two or three years down the line?

Well, I am confident that better reporting and better data capture will improve our understanding of the scale over a period of time. You mentioned Estyn's specific recommendation on that. So, it's clear from that work, but also from the work that has been done on the anti-racist Wales plan, that the gaps in the data have led to a lack of sufficient understanding of the scale of the issues and that clearly has an effect on our ability to deal with it. So, that link is pretty clear I think. Our officials are scoping out a piece of work at the moment really, but the truth is it could be quite a large, long-term piece of work. We are scoping it now; we want to get it under way as soon as possible.

Thank you, Buffy. Now some questions from Sioned Williams.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. A chwestiwn i ddechrau i'r Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol: fe wnaethoch chi gyfeirio at rôl y strategaeth trais yn erbyn menywod, camdrin domestig a thrais rhywiol yn gynharach. Allwch chi amlinellu sut yn benodol y bydd cryfhau y strategaeth hynny—a rŷch chi wedi bod yn ymgynghori ar hynny yn ddiweddar—sut y bydd yn mynd i'r afael â'r broblem benodol o aflonyddu rhywiol rhwng cyfoedion ymhlith dysgwyr?

Thank you, Chair. And the initial question is to the Minister for Social Justice: you referred to the role of the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy earlier. Can you outline specifically how strengthening that strategy—and you have been consulting on that recently—how will that tackle this particular problem of peer-on-peer sexual harassment among learners?

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned. This is really important and a real opportunity as we expand the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy. We were already wanting, considering and planning to expand that strategy before the Estyn report, before Everyone's Invited was launched. We recognised that we needed to look at the safety of women and girls outside the home, in the workplace, as well as inside the home. Obviously, domestic abuse and sexual violence in the home are absolutely at the forefront of that strategy, but expanding it, we needed to consult, engage and get this right in terms of the way forward.

And it's interesting that, only two years ago, I met with some young people who were very concerned about harassment on public transport. We know now, in terms of Sarah Everard and the tragedies that we're seeing in terms of violence against women and girls, that this is something that is sadly and horrifically endemic in society. So, just to say, in terms of consultation on expanding this and seeing that young people, not just in school—. Because obviously this is something that is beyond the school day as well that we need to address in the new strategy. We did have a young person's version of the consultation document; we had online surveys; we involved the Children's Commissioner for Wales and Children in Wales. So, I think the way forward will be absolutely, again, cross-government, cross-agency. The way forward will actually help very much, matching with the way forward that's being taken by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language in response to the Estyn report and what we're particularly doing in terms of the curriculum.

09:20

Roedd e'n drawiadol, a dweud y gwir, faint o ymatebion gawsom ni i'n hymgynghoriad ni ar gyfer yr ymchwiliad yma. Allwch chi esbonio ychydig yn fanylach? Roeddech chi'n sôn yn y fanna ynglŷn â sut mae hyn yn rhywbeth sy'n croesi adrannau yn y Llywodraeth; allwch chi ddweud sut yn union mae polisïau Llywodraeth Cymru yn ystyried effeithiau croestoriadedd ac effaith gronnus anghydraddoldebau megis rhywedd, hil, anabledd, yng nghyd-destun aflonyddu rhywiol a thrais yn erbyn menywod a merched?

It was striking how many responses we had to our own consultation for this inquiry. Can you explain a little more? You mentioned how this is cross-cutting within Government; can you just tell us how Welsh Government policies do take account of the impact of intersectionality and the cumulative effect of inequalities such as gender, race, disability, in the context of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls?

This is something that has been a growing understanding, I would say, Sioned, in terms of my portfolio particularly, as Minister for Social Justice, but then clearly extending across Government, particularly in relation to education, and also—. I mean, I mentioned earlier on, and in evidence from the Deputy Minister for Social Services, it is absolutely embedded in this cross-Government approach. But also, at this point in time, we have our particular focused plans that we're taking forward in terms of the anti-racist plan, the draft LGBTQ+ action plan, the disability rights action plan, and at every step of the way recognising the intersectionality issues there, and becoming more and more powerful and more acknowledged. And this is absolutely crucial in terms of how we take forward the new strategy for VAWDASV, but also for each of those plans, because the Estyn response particularly, really, in terms of not just the violence against girls, abuse and sexual violence against girls, but homophobic violent harassment as well, it's very clear that we're actually—. I think we're positioned in the right place in terms of understanding how this all has to interact in terms of an intersectional approach to tackling inequalities in terms of those issues. I hope that I will be tailoring everything, and you will see this as reports and as plans actually come forth for implementation.

Diolch. Ie, roedd adroddiad Estyn a'r dystiolaeth rŷm ni wedi ei derbyn i'r ymchwiliad yma yn dangos bod y broblem yma yn effeithio yn anghymesur ar ddysgwyr LHDTC+. Felly, ar ôl iddo gael ei gwblhau, sut bydd y cynllun LHDTC+ yn mynd i'r afael ag aflonyddu rhywiol? A hoffwn i ofyn yn benodol pryd fydd y cynlluniau a'r canllawiau traws cenedlaethol statudol a ymrwymwyd iddynt yn y cynllun gweithredu yn debygol o gael eu cyhoeddi. A sut byddan nhw'n rhoi sylw i aflonyddu rhywiol, achos fe glywom ni gan awdurdodau lleol ac ysgolion eu bod nhw'n dal i aros am y canllawiau traws yma?

Thank you. Yes, the Estyn report and the evidence to this inquiry did show that this problem disproportionately affected LGBTQ+ learners. So, when it's completed, how will the Welsh Government LGBTQ+ action plan tackle sexual harassment? And I'd like to ask specifically when the national statutory trans guidelines that were committed to in the action plan are likely to be published. How will they address sexual harassment, because we did hear from local authorities and schools that they are still waiting for these trans guidelines?

O ran y canllawiau traws, ydych chi eisiau i fi ateb hynny, ac wedyn, efallai, Jane, byddwch chi'n moyn—?

In terms of the trans guidelines, would you like me to answer that, and then, Jane, perhaps you would like to come in?

I'll just say something on that aspect first, if I may. Just to say, this is an area that is very important to me personally, because having grown up as a gay young person, I have first-hand experience of what it's like to be at the receiving end of homophobia, so I think that this is a very key priority for me, as education Minister, and I think it's quite shocking to think that young LGBTQ+ kids in school today are still receiving bullying and sexual harassment on that basis.

So, in terms of the work we are doing on the trans guidance specifically, over the course of the rest of this year, we're taking forward the development of a whole-school approach to relationships and sexuality education, and clearly LGBTQ+ inclusion will feature significantly in that, and it includes specific guidance to schools to support trans children and young people. It's clear, just in the way that, Sioned Williams, your question was suggesting, schools are keen to have clear and robust guidance—and training as well, actually—to support trans children and young people.

It's obviously a very complex piece of work, and it raises a number of issues that need to be addressed sensitively as part of that whole-school approach in order for it to be effective. But it is definitely a gap that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, and I would be disappointed, I think, if it wasn't substantially complete by the end of this year. It may take a little longer than that, but that is what I want to see us doing, really.

09:25

Thank you very much. Following that, following the Minister's response, powerful response, I was just going to say something about the LGBTQ+ action plan timelines, et cetera, but before I do that, I was just reflecting on school experience, as the Minister has said, and recently, I met with a group in a comprehensive school in my constituency—actually, it was the school council—and they said, 'Would you come upstairs now and meet our Q&A group?' And I said, 'Oh, yes, that would be good.' And it was young people that had set up a group that was called Queers & Allies and a Q&A group, and they were actually meeting in the library area, and they had children and young people from all year groups. They said it had changed the way they could all work together and support each other, and it was supported by the school. I think there's quite a—. I did say I'd invite them in when we have our next update on the LGBTQ+ action plan, but I think you probably will know of some evidence of that kind.

Just to say very quickly: you'll know about the consultation that took place for the LGBTQ+ action plan; that was last year. The Deputy Minister is taking the lead on this, Hannah Blythyn, and a huge amount of work going on as a result of receiving the consultation responses. They're being actually analysed independently. But, as the Minister has said, this is about the commitments in that plan to provide comprehensive, strategic, and in terms of the professional learning and training, in designing a fully LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum. This is training to empower professionals as well, of course, tackling homophobic, biophobic and transphobic bullying, and it's the right space to put it.

So, it is complex, as Jeremy has said, and we've got to have the resources to help families of LGBTQ+ young people as well, through parenting. So, I think the point about—. I think the Deputy Minister is going to be updating on the progress with the plan quite soon, and of course, the plan will include—as you say, as you've asked, Sioned—the national trans guidance for schools and local authorities.

Diolch. Jest cwestiwn bach i orffen. Rwy wedi eich clywed chi, Weinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol, yn y Siambr yn dweud mai eich nod chi yw gwneud Cymru y lle mwyaf diogel yn Ewrop i fod yn fenyw. Ond yng ngoleuni adroddiad Estyn a'r dystiolaeth rŷn ni wedi ei chlywed, a yw ysgolion yng Nghymru yn lleoedd diogel i ferched a phlant a phobol ifanc LHDTC+?

Just a brief question to finish. I've heard you, Minister for Social Justice, say in the Chamber that your aim is to make Wales the safest place in Europe to be a woman. But in the light of Estyn's report and the evidence that we've heard as a committee, are schools in Wales safe places for girls and LGBTQ+ children and young people?

I think, possibly, the responses to this inquiry will show our commitment as a Government to making that change, because at the moment, as a result of Everyone's Invited and the Estyn report, we know that violence against girls and harassment is far too common, and this is a problem for society, as we've said in our evidence, but I think just giving some examples, like my example from that school in my constituency, we've just got to get that kind of engagement. We have got to get the data, the reporting. We're back to what the education Minister said: the reporting is crucial, that they can speak up. We've got to get young people to see that our Live Fear Free campaigns are for them. We've got to raise awareness about stalking, harassment and, of course, this can happen on school transport, we know, as well as getting to and from school. And I do think our Call Out campaign—people think this is for adults, but this has got to be for everyone, and it's really calling men particularly to call out and challenge what they see in terms of harassment against girls and women. But, actually, now, we've got to focus on women and girls in public, exercising, for example, as well, public transport support. We know this is a huge issue across society and we want to feel that this can be, in terms of led by Government and specialist organisations—. Obviously, Live Fear Free is for our girls and young people. And I think, as I said, the LGBTQ+ action plan will come forward with some very clear, strong guidance in this respect.

09:30

Diolch yn fawr. Diolch, Cadeirydd.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Ministers. I'm just going to ask you some questions about education settings' management of sexual harassment. We've touched on it already, Ministers, but what is your reaction to some of the evidence that we have received, including in our survey of children and young people, that, in some cases, schools and colleges are not taking cases of sexual harassment seriously enough, and learners do not feel sufficiently supported to report incidents and challenge behaviour? The lecturers who accompanied our students last week told us how difficult it can be for staff to talk about these issues with pupils, and it's so sporadic and so different teacher to teacher. Do you acknowledge that the Estyn report and evidence to this inquiry suggests teaching staff need more training than they are currently getting? Thank you.

Well, I think it's really, really important that teaching children and young people how to safely challenge all forms of abuse is essential, and teachers and the teaching workforce want to do the right thing, as I think the evidence that you've heard suggests to you. So, I definitely think there is a role that quality professional learning has to ensure that we can get to a place where learners feel confident in speaking to school staff—sometimes that's teachers, sometimes that's not—and that school staff equally feel confident in responding to those concerns. And because of the issue we talked about earlier—that reluctance to report and, therefore, greater invisibility of the issue—I think we need to break that cycle. I'm not going to talk more about the reporting; we've talked enough about that. Obviously, if you want me to say more I will, but I think we've covered that, really.

On the new curriculum, I don't want to suggest the new curriculum is a solution to all of the challenges that we face here, obviously, although it's a very important contributor. One of the key principles in the new RSE statutory guidance is that learners are supported to identify and be able to recognise all forms of discrimination and harassment, and so on. So, that's very much at the heart of the new RSE statutory guidance regime, and it also expands on and clarifies approaches to teaching and learning that support this, which I hope is helpful. But, obviously, it's not enough for us to be teaching positive RSE, if you like, in the classroom, if the overall school environment isn't also reflective of those values, really. So, that whole-school approach, which we've touched on a little bit, I think is really important. 

In terms of the support for the teaching workforce in this area, we've developed quite a lot of online resources over a period of time, or we've been refreshing that. Some of it is actually for teaching staff on Hwb, and some of it's actually for learners themselves, and we've designed that with young people. But in terms of the training for staff, I do think there is the need for more of this. There is quite a lot of material in terms of professional learning online. There is a body of guidance in the RSE statutory guidance space. But from a professional learning point of view, we invest vast amounts of funds in the development of professional learning—obviously that's particularly happening at the moment because of the new curriculum—and we are looking at what resources and professional learning is required for staff, and what training modules are required for staff, to give them the confidence to be alert to issues of sexual harassment in school and to feel that they are using the right language, saying the right things and hearing what they're being told in the right way. It must be really challenging, I think, if, obviously, you want to do the right thing, but you haven't necessarily had familiarity with that. So, I think it's really important. The role of professional learning and training is, I think, the way in which we help break that cycle, if you like, of not reporting and therefore not hearing what's being said. So, I think there's a lot of work that we can do and we're already doing, actually, in that space.

09:35

I think this is, again, about support that comes from our broader cross-Government work in terms of VAWDASV, and to recognise that, also, our professional educators are also parents and parts of the community as well. And it's crucial that we also look at all of the issues in terms of the support. I think that this is something where we also have to recognise that there are huge issues now in terms of online safety, which I think is a crucial issue in terms of how we can support our pupils and young learners, as well as the whole school situation in terms of what they're up against and how society has changed. It's how to keep up with it, isn't it, but that's so critically important.

Okay. Thank you, both. How do you respond to calls that we had last week when we had some students in—we've already touched on it today—on how important awareness is? Their suggestion was that there is an awareness-raising campaign in schools and colleges, targeted at learners themselves, making it absolutely clear what is and isn't appropriate sexual behaviour. What are your thoughts on that, please, both?

I think it's a good idea and I think it's the kind of thing we'd want to look at as part of that broader communications strategy, if you like, which we look at through the multi-agency action plan. So, I'm really keen to hear what the committee has to say in its report on that.

Yes. Also, I think it does go back to the fact that, although there is now a big push for extra recognition of awareness-raising in schools—and I mentioned the Call Out Only campaign, Live Fear Free—there has been a lot of good work done, which we funded, in terms of VAWDASV, in terms of Hafan Cymru's Spectrum project. In a sense, that's an awareness-raising campaign and guidance as well, which actually can be very much helping school governors, for example; there is actually some guidance for governors. They've got to take this responsibility and understand this as well, and I'm sure that you've taken evidence to see how important this is. And also, just a comment that I hadn't mentioned, in terms of VAWDASV working very closely with the police and the schools programme—we've mentioned it quite a bit in our written evidence to you—and seeing that this is something that they're addressing and taking responsibility in terms of VAWDASV in a much more forceful way, I'm co-chairing with Dafydd Llywelyn, the lead police and crime commissioner, the implementation of the wider strategy, because this has to be a real devolved and non-devolved responsibility that we're taking forward. And that's all about awareness-raising amongst our criminal justice agencies as well. They've got to take this seriously, but we can start with the very educative role, particularly the Hafan Cymru schools liaison and police programme, et cetera.

Thank you. It was suggested by the students, just quickly, that perhaps something as simple—as well as media and social media—as a poster throughout schools and colleges, just really simply outlining what's right and what's wrong would be an effective thing to do.

Right, my final question—

I just wanted to flag, in this space, because I think that's a very interesting question you've just put there, because, in some ways, we've had to look very creatively at new ways of doing things, but I think, also, there are easier solutions that can be impactful as well around this, so I think it's really important to look at all that range. So, anything that learners are saying to you about what they would appreciate, I think Jane and I would be very keen to hear on that specifically. Just to flag, though, some colleagues probably have noticed the work that we did with the Football Association of Wales around online misogyny, and we're developing that campaign further now to look at online sexual harassment more broadly, and working with the FAW on that—so, trying to find ways of raising awareness and doing that in a way that learners feel are relevant to them, perhaps. So, I think any creative ideas in this space would be very welcome.

09:40

That's brilliant to hear, Minister. Thank you. Yes, sometimes, those simple things are most effective, aren't they? We tend to go into too much detail sometimes.

Final question on that, actually, on sexual harassment being a problem inside and outside school: do you believe there is sufficient clarity over boundaries of schools' and families' responsibilities between what happens in school and outside school? Current guidance regarding exclusion says schools can take action regarding behaviour outside school but not on school business in order to maintain good behaviour and discipline as a whole. With this matter of judgment being for the headteacher, to what extent do you believe headteachers across Wales are using this judgment consistently and effectively in this regard? Thank you.

Yes. Well, I think the Estyn report spells out the challenge quite clearly for us, doesn't it, really, about the relationship between incidents, either online or off school premises, and what that means for the life of the school. Jane was saying earlier that this is a societal challenge, and schools aren't able to solve, if you like, all the challenges in this space, but obviously they have a very critical role in equipping our young people to respond and to know what's right and wrong. Whether or not the behaviour is happening on and off the school site, though, there is obviously link-up with the world of the school, not just in terms of the point I made about the school's responsibility to equip learners to understand what healthy attitudes are and how to report, but I think that whole-school approach, that preventative, proactive approach in the culture of the school, is key, and I think part of that is making sure that everyone feels confident that every incident reported is taken seriously and that they work in partnership not only within the school, but also with that range of external partners and agencies that have a significant role to play as well.

On the second point that you made, around the exclusions guidance, the objective here, obviously, is to have guidance that provides a consistent framework for the head to make judgments based on specific circumstances. So, as, I suppose, with any guidance, there is a balance to be struck between the consistency of approach and responding to individual circumstances, which is I, think, possibly particularly important in this context. But, clearly, where there is a link between what's happening not solely on the school premises, where there is a link between that and good behaviour and discipline in the school itself, obviously that does provide the head with discretion to act, and I trust heads to be making informed and balanced judgments, based on the guidance that we are providing.

Thank you. Just really quickly, Chair, if I may, one thing that was flagged up in our conversations last week was the use of mobile phones in schools and colleges and the accessibility of them being on desks and things like that, exacerbating the problem, really. Do you think a whole-school approach, a Wales-wide approach would be good, on guidance on mobile phones and whether they should be put away, or whatever we decide, to help teachers? Teachers seem to be struggling with that the most, actually, and the abuse that comes from it. Thanks.

Speaking to teachers when I visit schools, I think there's a range of views on this, isn't there? Sometimes it's perceived that, actually, trying to manage the presence or otherwise of phones is itself more disruptive, so I think there's a very fine set of judgments that need to be reached. But I do think that our role is to provide guidance for schools to make those judgments, based on their circumstances, really. But the point you're making in the context of this area specifically, not least given the role that online sexual harassment is playing in what we're looking at today, we will want to look at that as part of our whole-school approach more broadly, certainly.

09:45

Thank you. I'm never quite sure if you're going to unmute me or not, so I have that moment of bated breath, waiting. Ministers, I want to ask a question about the multi-agency response and the wider context. I'll probably touch on online later on, but to start, to what extent are you confident that the most serious cases of sexual harassment between young people get the necessary multi-agency and safeguarding response that they need, and also, in less serious cases, that schools still have access to the range of specialist services that they need to support pupils? Any of you can have a go if you want. It's primarily to Jeremy, but both of you can have a go at these.

Shall I say something about in school, Jane, and you might want to say something about outside school?

Just to say at the start, all education settings in Wales, obviously, have a legal duty to ensure that children have access to a safe learning environment, and in June last year, I wrote to all schools in the light of the publication of the material by Everyone's Invited, to remind schools of the support, advice and policy resource available to them in discharging that duty.

There's also, as I'm sure colleagues will be aware, a body of statutory guidance specifically in relation to safe learning environments and safeguarding in school, which is the 'Keeping learners safe' regime. That has specific provisions on peer-on-peer abuse and harmful sexual behaviour, and includes particular guidance to schools on the appropriate response from a safeguarding perspective. There's also, I hope, helpful material in there and modules to help staff understand in a bit more detail their particular roles. There's a kind of audit tool that enables school leaders and those with a particular responsibility to make sure they are discharging those responsibilities within the school, but also drawing on the expertise, support and interventions, where needed, of the range of external agencies.

One of the key roles is the designated safeguarding person, the DSP, in school. They should be getting training that enables them specifically to discharge their responsibilities in conjunction with those other agencies. One of their responsibilities is looking at how that mix of interventions can help create a preventative approach in school itself, and also, obviously, bridging, as I say, with those agencies outside schools. So, that'll be part of the whole-school approach that we've talked about in a number of different ways today. Additionally, it's a role that cascades into the broader teaching and other staff workforce, the training and awareness that the workforce more broadly needs, both on their own responsibilities, but also on how to ensure, through the existing structures in the school, that those external agencies are engaged properly when they need to be in responding. So, that's from a schools point of view.

This is crucial where, as I said, it links to our VAWDASV strategy, our national strategy, and the way that that's being extended, and, of course, the police play a key role in that particularly. I think also, reflecting back when the Minister, Jeremy, and I met after the Everyone's Invited campaign, we also met very quickly with the police, led by Gwent Police, who were already looking at these issues in terms of their role. Obviously, it's a sensitive role in terms of a multi-agency approach. We have to get this right, and I think that's where the learning that's taken place and bringing all the guidance together—. There is a lot of guidance in terms of safeguarding anyway in terms of tackling any sexual harassment, but also safeguarding children and learners in their education settings. So, actually, what's crucial is that we can then bring this together in a multi-agency approach to ensure that these issues, and particularly the multi-agency approach, actually is meaningful and it works and it's not just brought in when things are going wrong. It's an ongoing, early-intervention, preventative, educative function.

09:50

Okay. Thank you. It's quite good, Minister, that you talked about the policing in Wales programme. You've mentioned it and many stakeholders have mentioned it to us. But last week in committee we heard from one of the students that, while he was at school, a police officer told him that his peers and the boys could not be sexually harassed. Now, that's totally untrue and not right. So, what I want to know is: are you confident that the policing in Wales programme is actually helping tackling the problem of peer-on-peer sexual harassment and that, actually, it isn't just girls that can be sexually harassed, it is boys as well? I want to know what discussion you could have or have had with the police and crime commissioner and police forces to address findings that we heard last week, to make sure that when people do come forward and tell police that they have been sexually harassed, they actually believe they're going to be believed and listened to.

This is very important evidence, isn't it, that your committee has taken. I meet regularly with the lead PCC. We've been discussing with Dafydd Llywelyn issues around misogyny and sexual harassment in schools, in the context of VAWDASV particularly, but ongoing issues that the police have got to address. It is good to see that Estyn is positive in their report about the Wales police schools programme, which, actually, the Welsh Government funds. It's one of those areas where we're funding it. It's not devolved—it's like the police community support officers. But we're funding it and we invest in it. It's actually also match funded by the four Welsh police forces. We need to feed back that grave concern of that evidence from that young person. I certainly will be raising that in my regular meetings. But I think also, just to reassure the committee that the police are implementing the recommendations from a review of the programme. It needed a review, the Wales police schools programme. It took place back in 2019, and I can give you some more information, if that would be helpful, about what came out of that review. It might be useful to feed back to you. But I think if you look at the core programme, it always has, for years, included substance misuse, anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse, but it also includes online safety, sexting, child sexual exploitation and consent. But it is vital that we pick up that kind of evidence from a young person. So, thank you again for drawing that to our attention today. I hope that you'll see the role that we can play with the police, going back to the multi-agency approach. They are learning and developing as well, and they will respond to the evidence coming forward.

That's great, thank you. And through you, Chair, I think it would be interesting if we could have some feedback from the police forces in the meetings that you have, Minister, to actually see what their response would be to that claim that boys can't be sexually harassed, and actually get their feedback, if that's okay, Chair.

I've got one more question. It's for both Ministers, but probably primarily for Jeremy. It's a non-devolved matter, but the students last week told us that the internet, particularly content on some social media platforms such as Snapchat, TikTok et cetera, is having a negative impact on young people's understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship. So, how do you believe that wider societal issues, such as online activity, have transformed and intensified the problem of sexual harassment with young people? For example, to what extent does young people's exposure to harmful and inappropriate content online, including extreme pornography, create an unhealthy attitude towards relationships and sexuality? Because they have got, in Westminster, the online safety and harms Bill, and I'm just interested in how you believe this might improve things and actually improve sexual harassment, but with young people.

It is clearly part of the issue, isn't it? The problem is clearly the prevalence of access to online sexual content, including pornography of all sorts, really, and I think we've seen plenty of that talked about in the media this week, as well. Sometimes that's the way in which young people are learning about sex and sexual relationships, which is obviously unhealthy. I think legislation can help, but I think it's a much broader set of questions and concerns, really. I think one of the points we were making—just to supplement the point that Jane was making earlier—is that this is coming up in the multi-agency plan that we're developing at the moment, really: how we can make sure that the wider community, if you like, is engaged in this work. So, obviously there's a role for, specifically, parents, carers, guardians, but also the wider community. This is a set of challenges that is manifesting itself in this discussion, obviously, given the nature of it, and in the life of a school, but it isn't essentially caused by the life of a school; it's a much broader, more societal question that that. My own view is that it's pretty well established, and that has a significant contribution to make, really.

09:55

Yes. I think it is very important, in terms of the Online Safety Bill, that we get this right. Obviously, it's in Westminster, it's non-devolved, but we've engaged with it. I was very pleased, because there were concerns that it didn't go far enough. We had the initial White Paper on online harms. So, it's a real opportunity here to get this right, and I'm glad that the committee that actually looked at this, the joint select committee, actually did their response to it, which was to strengthen the Bill—that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport actually did agree to some of the recommendations. It's critically important we get this right, because there's a real opportunity here in terms of legislation, which we mentioned, of course, earlier on—the role of legislation is crucial, because we know this is where we do not have the power or the ability to really influence or intervene. So, this is a crucial bit of legislation coming forward.

Thanks, Chair. That's the end of my questioning, but I'm glad to hear that the Welsh Government have engaged on the safety and harms Bill, because, as you said, this needs to be got right, because there are so many areas in devolved competency that do feed into this, around education and family relationships and the NHS and everything else; it does fill in to actually making it a robust document. Diolch yn fawr iawn, thank you very much.

Thank you, James. And finally, some questions from Ken Skates.

Thanks, Chair. I'd agree, and echo what James has just said, actually, about the threat that social media poses for young people more generally in society. Dan Wootton in the Daily Mail about a week ago wrote an interesting article where he described Twitter as a bullying cesspit where debate goes to die, and said that Elon Musk is its final hope. I think that's pretty accurate—Elon Musk probably is the final hope of cleaning it up and making sure that it doesn't lead to young people in particular suffering. Obviously, the Online Safety Bill is critically important as well. But if either fail, then surely the fallback position in Wales is to roll out clear, strong national policy in terms of use and misuse of digital devices in schools and colleges. So, I think any update on the Government's consideration of having a national policy on this, a national set of rules and guidance, as outlined by Laura, would be very helpful in the months to come.

I'm just going to ask questions regarding the education establishment, and in particular the new curriculum. Obviously, the new curriculum is a very bold and ambitious step forward, but what reassurance can you give us that teachers are going to be receiving the necessary guidance and training and support to successfully deliver relationships and sexuality education so that the new curriculum supports and complements efforts to tackle peer-on-peer sexual harassment? That's a question directed mainly at the education Minister, at Jeremy.

That guidance, training and support, as you say, is absolutely essential, obviously, in delivering RSE in the new curriculum effectively, and that is around specialist expertise. Quite often, what we know to date is that the teaching of what we currently call sex education, if you like, often relies on external agencies, but we want to make sure that teachers have the support that they need directly to be able to integrate RSE into the curriculum in the way that the new curriculum is conceptualised and also to help create that broadly supportive environment beyond the classroom in the school. So, we're developing a national approach to professional learning in response to this. We're funding that, obviously, and that will include co-constructing specific support for schools to deliver the RSE requirements of the curriculum.

School improvement services, obviously, around Wales as well are developing resources in this space and undertaking a needs analysis to inform that national approach to professional learning in RSE, and we're dedicating specific additional funding so that third party organisations and agencies can be themselves engaged to help us to deliver and to develop some of this professional learning. I think you may have heard from some of the organisations we've been working with in the course of your inquiry. So, that is going to be absolutely essential to deliver the code and the guidance in the way that the new curriculum envisages it. And I think it will also provide—. The curriculum is going to take time to roll out, isn't it? It'll also provide a body of resource and training that is available for other years, not simply those years for whom the curriculum is being introduced. So, there will be a cohort of learners in schools now who won't be receiving the curriculum, but the availability of this resource and professional learning to the teaching workforce will, I think, benefit them as well. 

10:00

How are preparations going so far for the introduction of RSE? Do you think, as the former children's commissioner and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children have called for, that all RSE leads are going to be in place by this September?

Yes, that's what I want to see. So, we've contacted all local authorities in Wales, via the Welsh Local Government Association, seeking information on where they are in terms of appointing the RSE leads within their own structures as well as the RSE leads in each maintained setting, because there are two levels of RSE lead that need to be in place. We've received, I think, 16 responses so far from the 22 authorities. The responses with regard to the leads within the local authorities themselves are mixed at the moment in the secondary schools—. Well, in some areas, it's only secondary schools that have them in place; in others, it's more broadly in place. So, there's a mixed picture at the moment, but we are working with authorities to make sure that the leads are in place in time, obviously.  

Excellent. Thanks, Minister. Just one last question from me. Obviously, the new curriculum won't apply to young people who are currently in secondary school, and therefore they may not benefit from some of the support that we've been discussing today. How do you intend mitigating this so that everybody in education at the moment will benefit from a valuable new provision in terms of RSE?

Yes, that is a really important question. I do think it's important not to see the new curriculum as a solution to everything that we've been talking about, because it obviously isn't. So, the ethos of the new curriculum is for RSE to be embedded in the curriculum, isn't it? So, in the way that we have specific, dedicated sex education and personal and social education at the moment, that will not be the ethos of the new curriculum. So, in that sense, it is very different. But I do think the consistent theme in the evidence that you've heard, in the work that Estyn has done, and the discussion we've had today is that quite a significant contributor to how we move forward in this area is making sure that the professional learning is there for teachers and that the resources are there in order to be able to deliver on the new RSE curriculum. And those resources and that training are available to all teachers, whether they're teaching the new curriculum as it is rolled out or whether they're still teaching the current curriculum. So, I think that will make—. That is a huge asset, really, which will be a step change even for those years that aren't going to be getting the new curriculum, if you like. 

Perhaps I could just come in, just to give the perspective of, when we were taking the Bill through the Senedd at the end of the last session, if you recall, through the committee—and some of you sat on that committee—how important the evidence was for RSE from Welsh Women's Aid, NSPCC and Stonewall Cymru, that, actually, there was a recognition that this was going to lead to a change. And now, I think, with your inquiry and the Estyn report, we've got a real opportunity to make that cultural change as things develop and emerge, and that it has to be a cross-Government and it is a cross-Government responsibility. 

10:05

Thank you, Minister. I'm just wondering about support for parents to talk to their children about some of these issues, because we have heard how difficult it is for parents to keep up with different technologies and platforms. Do you see that there would be any support—that you could provide any support for parents? 

Well, there are some online resources available at the moment, but, obviously, one of the recommendations that Estyn made in its report was to strengthen the partnership work, if you like, between schools and parents in relation to this area. So, we've written to all the directors of education to alert them to that recommendation. Obviously, we look forward to supporting, as appropriate, them in that work. But, in the meantime, we're looking at other opportunities for how we can support engagement with parents. I touched a little bit earlier, just in passing, on one of the key chapters, if you like, or areas of focus, in the multi-agency working strategy, which is around parents, carers and guardians and how we can make sure that the support they get from the various agencies that have a role to play is what it needs to be, really. So, that's one aspect of it.

The other thing I think, Chair, if I may, and we talked a little bit about this in the Chamber yesterday, is around the role—and Estyn talks about this as well, actually, in the report—that schools with a community focus can have in this area. Schools have learnt many different ways of engaging with parents over the last two years, and some of that has been incredibly innovative, actually. But it's one of the areas of focus that we've got as a Government to extend community-focused schools in Wales. You've got good examples in your own constituency, Chair, of that. So, the work of family engagement officers that we're funding, and also the community-focused schools managers, I think some of that work will also enable us to support schools in their work with parents as well, which will benefit this particular area.

Thank you, Minister. I'm just wondering what the role of the regional consortia is in supporting local authorities, particularly with regards to the new curriculum. 

Well, they've got a very important role, haven't they, in supporting, both in terms of professional learning but also in understanding where schools are in terms of their need for further support. So, that needs analysis is under way at the moment, specifically in the context of the RSE professional learning that we're developing. So, we're drawing on what school improvement services are learning from their work in schools in terms of the gaps in provision, if you like, and the further needs that schools have, which they're reporting through consortia. That's then helping us shape the Wales-wide professional learning commissioning and offer. 

Thank you. Are there any other further, final questions from Members? Are we content we've asked everything of the Ministers? Just to say as well, just going back to one of the questions that James had asked around the Online Safety Bill, just to let you know that we have written to Welsh Government from this committee around the Online Safety Bill, and we are also in the process of writing to the UK Government on that as well, just so that you're aware. But I really appreciate, and we really appreciate, you both joining us today. That's the end of this session on the inquiry, and you will receive a transcript within the next few days and week just for checking in due course. So, thank you for joining us. Diolch yn fawr. 

3. Papurau i’w nodi
3. Papers to note

Okay, and we'll move on to the next item on our agenda, which is the papers to note. And we have two papers to note. Are Members content to note those papers? Yes, I see Members are content to note those papers. 

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

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

So, we'll move to item 4, which is to move into private session. So, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Yes, I see Members are content. So, we will now proceed to meet in private.

10:10

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:10.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:10.