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Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

10/10/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dawn Bowden AM
Hefin David AM
Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Julie Morgan AM
Llyr Gruffydd AM
Lynne Neagle AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Michelle Brown AM
Suzy Davies AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Eluned Morgan AM Gweinidog y Gymraeg a Dysgu Gydol Oes
Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning
Huw Morris Cyfarwyddwr Grŵp, Sgiliau, Addysg Uwch a Dysgu Gydol Oes, Llywodraeth Cymru
Group Director, Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, Welsh Government
Kirsty Williams AM Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg
Cabinet Secretary for Education

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Gareth Rogers Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Phil Boshier Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy 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.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The meeting began at 09:30.

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. We've received no apologies, although Dawn Bowden is running late. I'll take this opportunity to welcome Dawn formally to the committee but also to place on record our thanks to John Griffiths for his service to the committee. Are there any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay. 

2. Sesiwn Graffu gydag Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg a Gweinidog y Gymraeg a Dysgu Gydol Oes: Addysg Bellach ac Addysg Uwch
2. Scrutiny Session with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning: Higher and Further Education

Item 2, then, this morning is a scrutiny session with a focus on higher and further education. I'm very pleased to welcome Kirsty Williams, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Eluned Morgan, Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, and Huw Morris, who is the group director of skills, higher education and lifelong learning. Thank you all for your attendance this morning. If you're okay with it, we'll go straight into questions. The first questions are from Suzy Davies. 

Thank you, Chair. If we can just start with teacher training and teacher training for secondary school teachers in particular, obviously there's been what looks like a trend in recent years in filling the places for secondary school training. Obviously, this is at Welsh teacher training centres. Do you think there's still a problem recruiting teachers into the 300 priority places, or is there a trend where things are getting better?

Thank you, Suzy. I think, for this year's intake, although we're in touch with our providers, we're not in a position to be able to give figures for this year's intake for a couple of months. But what we have seen over recent years is that we are only recruiting to about 65 per cent of those targets. So, there is still a job of work to do to understand and to respond to those needs. So, what we're doing is first of all making sure that our ITE provision is world class, so that, actually, Welsh centres are the place to go to train to be a teacher. You'll be aware that we've recently been through an accreditation process for new ITE provision that will start in the next academic year.

We have looked at financial incentives. It's not the whole answer, I think, to these issues, but it's part of a mixture of things that we need to do. You'll be aware that, for priority subjects, with graduates with the very highest levels of qualifications, those financial incentives are now £20,000 a year.

We're also embarking on our first ever national ITE recruitment marketing exercise. We have initially done some work in the last year specifically targeting Welsh students in studying for priority subject degrees, e-mailing them, sending them materials to ask them to consider (1) becoming a teacher, and (2) crucially coming to do that training here in Wales. We are now part of a full national programme of ITE recruitment, giving people that idea that you can serve your nation and your community by training to be a teacher.

So, there's a whole package of things we need to do. In January of this year I set up an advisory board on the recruitment and retention of teaching staff, and we are awaiting some reports from that advisory group on what they feel that we should do next.

Thank you for that answer. I can see there's a lot of activity, but what exactly is it responding to? Presumably, some research has been done about why people don't want to become teachers so that the answers you come up with are appropriate answers. I can't believe it's just about ITE, although this is very valuable, what you're talking about. Is there something that's running through our younger learners at the moment that makes them think that teaching isn't a profession they want to go into? Is that something that's happening just in Wales or is it happening elsewhere as well?

09:35

No. I think what you will find is that this isn't a uniquely Welsh issue. I think they are suffering quite acute problems across the border, which proves to me that money isn't necessarily the entire answer, because, despite higher financial incentives to join ITE courses, they're not able to do that in England either. So, that proves to me—what the research does show—that it's not money alone that will get people onto these courses.

Interestingly, I don't even think it's a UK problem. Recently, as you'll be aware via my written statement, I attended the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory, which is a system-to-system conference. If you talk to education systems in different parts of the world, the one common factor that we are all grappling with is teacher recruitment and retention. In the USA, they have seen a 40 per cent drop in the number of students training to be teachers. So, in the Californian system, significant teacher shortages, and in Oregon, Washington. I met with New York state—significant teacher recruitment and retention problems in New York state, and in Finland, Australia. So, this is a common issue across the globe, really.

That's why we set up the advisory group under the chairmanship of Professor John Gardner—it's to understand what the issues are exactly that are preventing people or putting people off. One of the things that we have got strong performance in, and I think this is perhaps something that we're trying to follow up on, are employment-based routes into qualified teacher status—so, those are people who are training on the job. Those remain strong. There's high demand for those places, so much so that we've increased those places to 90 last year and 90 again this year, which says to me that—there's definitely a place for the traditional, 'Take a year off, do a postgraduate certificate in education in a university for a year'—actually, that type of course suits some students but it might be preventing other people from pursuing a qualification in teaching, which is why, of course, from next year, we will have our unique part-time PGCE route into qualification. So, that allows people to perhaps combine some of their employment opportunities, so they can earn while they learn, or maybe they've got caring responsibilities that prevent them from going to do a full-time course. I think that will give us an alternative route that people can take to gain qualified teacher status and work in our schools. So, there's no one thing, I think, that we can do that will solve this issue. But it is an international issue, I agree with that.

Okay. Well, that's what I was after finding out, and, actually, what you've just said about the part-time PGCE is pretty interesting as well, because if you can bring your outside world experience into teaching, that's got to help, hasn't it? 

Can I just agree with you? I think that is really, really important—that we have a diversity in our teaching workforce. I think the different dynamic that brings to a school and the experience that brings to children is really, really valuable. I was up in the Deeside Sixth just last week, talking to the A-level chemistry teacher. She had been a teacher for a while, she'd gone into industry, worked in industry, and now had come back into teaching. She said that she felt that that made her a better educator and she could talk with knowledge and experience about the opportunities outside of teaching that the students in front of her could pursue. I'm very keen to increase the diversity in our teaching workforce and I'm very keen in looking at career changers, who perhaps have different life experience and work experience, coming into our teaching profession. 

Thank you for that. Part of that diversity, of course—it would be great if you had more people interested in qualifying to teach through the medium of Welsh. Great aspirations; the trend's going the other way. No-one can solve this in 280 characters, I get that, but can you give us some indication about why you think this is proving still such an unattractive option when it's clear that there's a policy for this country to improve the number of Welsh speakers? You'd have thought there'd be a pretty good carrot for this. 

Sure. Again, data for recruitment for the 2018-19 cohort is not yet available and we are, as I said, keeping in touch with our ITE centres to keep a close eye on them. I think an important thing to recognise is that there is a difference between the number of people who are on courses where there is a specific designation that enables them to teach through the medium of Welsh and those people who have linguistic ability and Welsh ability but don't necessarily do a course that allows them. So, there is a difference. We do think that, for the 2016-17 cohort, there were an additional 130 qualifiers that, actually, were fluent in Welsh and who could have gone on to teach in Welsh-medium schools, didn't necessarily do a course that gave them that designation. But, clearly, we've got three academic years now to get to the targets that we've set ourselves. The evaluation of Welsh-medium provision in ITE reported at the end of last month, and the Minister and officials are busy working now to implement the recommendations of the report that was published, I think, on 28 September, to be able to move this agenda forward.

Again, we've got new incentives, this year, both for people starting their course and then for teachers who complete their QTS after a year. So, we've added in new financial incentives this year to try and address some of those issues. But, clearly, these are ambitious targets and we will need to have a step change over the next three years if we're to meet them.

09:40

Thank you for that, Cabinet Secretary. Thank you for that answer. We're now talking about cohorts of students coming into PGCE and teaching degrees. If they're from Wales, they will have had Welsh as part of their education from day one, and we'll accept there are varying qualities in different parts of Wales, different attitudes towards it as well. But there isn't a single a person now who's been through Welsh education who can say they have no Welsh at all, unless they've moved into the system from, say, England very, very recently.

What is being done within the teaching qualifications, including the degrees, to ensure that, at least in Welsh universities, those nascent Welsh language skills are at least kept alive, even though we're not talking necessarily about being at a level where people can teach through the medium? It's the age-old question: once the school gate closes, is that the end of their Welsh use? So, is there something—it won't be Donaldson, but in the teacher training qualifications—that is keeping this going and, hopefully, increasing the usability of the Welsh skills they have?  

Well, in terms of how we can encourage children who have got Welsh skills as a result of their education up to 16, how they can continue to use those skills and, potentially, use them in the workplace, I'm sure Eluned will want to talk about some of the work, for instance, in other, non-teaching sectors. But, with regard to ITE, you'll be aware that, in the evaluation report, as I said, that was published, the report comes forward with two options in how we could develop an intervention programme to support Welsh language skills amongst all primary and secondary ITE entrants. So, what we'll be doing now as a result of that report is that we'll be working very closely with our ITE centres to develop and agree upon minimum provision that constitutes those skill levels within ITE provision for all teachers. 

You have your targets for 2021, in terms of numbers of teachers coming through the system, which is positive, although, clearly, the report or the review itself said that, actually, we need to double the numbers, really. But it's not just the trends that are going down; it's a cataclysmic drop, really. We've lost 24 per cent in the number of people over the last four or five years who are going into teacher training to study subjects that they could teach through the medium of Welsh. So, it's a huge turnaround that we're looking for, and I'm not getting the feeling that the level of ambition and the answers that you're giving here this morning reflect the level of action that's needed, really.

Well, first of all, as I tried to illustrate to Suzy, the figures on their own tell one story, but there are additional people in the system with an ability to speak Welsh and to be able to use—

I think it's 40 per cent of those who are currently in the system who don't—

—the language and skills. And if we look at qualifiers of ITE courses in Wales by degree type, actually, we see a different trend—we see numbers going up. So, there are statistics and there are statistics. Depending on which ones you look at, it's quite a complex picture. And that's why we had the evaluation report. We understand and we know and acknowledge that there is more work to be done. That's why we have got the evaluation of provision in ITE and that's why we'll be taking that ambition forward. We know what we need to do. As I said, we're not sitting back and hoping that something miraculous will change things. We are pulling levers and putting in place plans to improve that situation.

Thank you for that. Clearly, there are statistics and there are statistics, so could you just explain to us which statistics you've used for your targets for growth over the next three years?

09:45

Well, that comes as a result of the work done for the 2050—

Upon which baseline are you basing the increases that you're projecting?

We're using the baseline of 2012-13. There has been a decline since then.

That's the one I was using when I said '24 per cent reduction'.

There has been a decline in those numbers. That's why, as I said, we're doing the work that we need to do to reverse that decline. In using those numbers, we also know that there are additional people in the system who are not captured in those figures and who do have the linguistic ability to use their language positively in school settings. So, what I'm saying is that that doesn't tell us the whole story, but I will be the first to admit that there is a significant job of work with our ITE providers to ensure that we will have the skilled professionals that we need to deliver on our ambitions, and I'm not hiding from that.

Also, I just think it's worth saying that a lot of this is about building the confidence of those people who actually can speak Welsh, who are not teaching through the medium of Welsh, and to give them that support. First of all, we need to identify who these people are, so there is a job of work being undertaken now in terms of registration in particular—when people register, let's just make sure that we collect that kind of data.

We don't even do that consistently at the moment. One of the recommendations of the report is that there is no consistent approach to understanding this baseline data and there's no consistent competency test that people start at the beginning of their course, so we need a national approach rather than leaving it to individual institutions.

Have we missed any tricks, potentially, in terms of the reforms to accrediting ITE, for example, in terms of, maybe, strengthening aspects around the Welsh language and provision in that respect?

No, I don't believe so. The accreditation process, which is independent of the Government—the accreditation process demands of our ITE providers that their provision will be able to meet the goals of our curriculum. Our curriculum is very clear about the equality of the language and the ability of our children, through all stages of their education journey, to be able to be bilingual children.

So, that requirement, as far you're concerned, is there.

Before I turn to Hefin, can I just clarify—? In answer to Suzy Davies, you said that 65 per cent of the places in Welsh training centres had been filled. Is that 65 per cent of the priority places?

Sixty-five per cent of the priority courses are being met.

The decision by the Education Workforce Council not to accredit the University of South Wales with the ability to deliver teacher training—what are your views and concerns about that?

The process is independent of Government, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that, especially as I understand that there is an appeals process that may be being undertaken. What I would say is that from the very outset of our ITE reforms we have made it very clear that I expect very high standards in our ITE system, but the process is independent of this Government. I have confidence in the people who have been appointed by the EWC to undertake that process, but it is independent of me, and it's not appropriate for me to comment on that further.

I fully understand that and the need for distance for the EWC, but there'll be an impact on students and staff. Students, first of all: are you concerned that the reduction in providers might have an impact on students, and those students going through the second year at USW? Would you have concerns about that issue?

In terms of the overall numbers, we will be looking to commission from those institutions that have been accredited the number of training places that our planning tool says that we need. So, in terms of an overall number of places, we will commission from those accredited units.

Clearly, there will be a responsibility upon the University of South Wales to ensure that those students already in the system are able to complete their studies and their course, with the appropriate level of support and tuition to enable them to achieve their career aspirations and to graduate from that programme.

09:50

And what about the uncertainty for staff, or would you say that's an issue for the university itself?

These are autonomous bodies. They have to act accordingly, in compliance with any employment law or any statutory responsibilities that they would have as an employer. That's not a matter for me; that is a matter for the institution that is an autonomous body.

But I would be surprised if you weren't keeping an eye on this, given that it has been a key provider. Are you aware of when the appeal decision will be known?

My understanding is that the appeals process is ongoing, and next month, perhaps. But as I said, this is a process that is independent of Government—

It will potentially change the nature of the people from whom we commission places, but as I said, I do not have any concerns that we will not be in a position to commission the appropriate number of training places that we will need as a result of our planning.

Okay, thank you. Suzy on this—mindful of what the Minister said about it being an independent decision.

It's not directly about USW; it's about the geographic spread of provision. I wonder if you could just give us a snapshot of what that looks like, and whether you think—certainly for PGCE or postgrad courses, anyway—that if they're not accessible geographically and we've got students who already have three years' worth of debt, they're not going to be looking to, necessarily, live away from home for a fourth year, and may want to study nearer home. Has there been any research done on the access to these postgrad courses, about where people are coming from and whether that's had an impact on the fact that some of these places haven't been filled?

Currently, with our current providers, there is a significant geographical spread. There are centres here in the south-east, there are centres in the south-west, in mid Wales, and in north Wales. Obviously, accessibility is an issue for us. We do think that, for some students, accessibility is an issue, and of course that's why we are responding with our part-time PGCE route, which actually will be location neutral, because you will be able to study that as a distance learner, and so you will be able to remain in your community and undertake that course. So, that's part of the attractiveness, I believe, of offering that to people. So, if geographical disadvantage is stopping somebody from pursuing a career aspiration to qualify as a teacher, our new part-time PGCE, as I said, will allow them to do that.

Okay, thank you. We're going to move on now to talk about reform and reconfiguration of the post-16 education sector. Janet Finch-Saunders.

Thank you. Good morning.

There are some encouraging provisional signs regarding the demand for part-time undergraduate study for the first year of Diamond, but the £12.5 million reduction Higher Education Funding Council for Wales is having to make this academic year has potentially placed the funding for part-time provision under pressure. Is there a danger that, without maintaining and growing this funding, Welsh Government will undermine the Diamond reforms and increase the cost of part-time courses?

Let's be absolutely clear what this Government has done for part-time students. We are unique, Janet: unique in the UK and, I believe, unique in Europe, in the parity of the support that is available for full-time and part-time students. So, Welsh part-timers have something that they do not get if they are in England or if they're in Scotland.

It's too early to have definitive figures for the impact of Diamond on the number of people who are undertaking part-time study. I don't want to get into trouble by not having that verified data, and I know Members get testy with me for anecdotal evidence, but I can tell you this: there is one provider that is reporting at this moment a 40 per cent increase in the number of students that are registered to start part-time study with them this year, as compared to last year, and that reflects really, really well, compared to the onward downward trend that we see across the border for part-time.

What this means, for us as a nation, is that people are able to take this opportunity to upskill themselves and to be able to develop their qualifications and to be able to move themselves up career ladders, and I think that's such an important economic factor for us. So, rather than feeling doom and gloom about the prospects for the part-time sector, the early indications, at least, show that the Diamond reforms are leading to an increase in demand and, more importantly, an increase in uptake—students taking advantage of that system to go away and study.

09:55

Thank you. Is the Welsh Government able to reassure the committee that its ambitions for the post-compulsory education and training reforms are still in line with the original Hazelkorn recommendations, and go beyond the Labour manifesto commitment of simply replacing HEFCW with a new funding body for HE and FE?

Okay. So, you will be aware, Janet, that the agreement between myself and the First Minister that brought me into the Government and the Government's programme state very clearly about our desire to pursue the recommendations of the Hazelkorn report. I hope, by the end of this week, we will have published the responses to the technical consultation, and we will continue to move forward. And I would argue, certainly, that the reforms that we are intending to implement do go beyond just simply a body that replaces HEFCW and joins in FE. It's a much wider remit to the potential new commission. And, as I said, I believe we've had in the region of about 450 responses to the technical consultation and I'm pleased to say that there remains a consensus—we will always have some arguments about the details—but there remains a consensus on the direction of travel that we are pursuing. A summary of the consultation responses will be available to Members and will be published by the end of the week.

Okay. Is the Welsh Government still committed to introducing the PCET Bill before the end of the fifth Assembly, and are you confident this will happen?

Well, I'm absolutely determined that we will get the PCET legislation on the floor. It's a substantial piece of work, as you've just alluded to. This goes just beyond abolishing a single body. So, it is a substantial piece of work, but I believe that we are on track to be able to do that by the end of this term. But it's a big piece of work.

Can I just pick up on that? I mean, it is going to be a big job, and, clearly, there's a strong focus on creating the commission and putting the structures in place, but, of course, one of the drivers is that we want to effect a cultural change in the way that people perceive post-16 education. This thing about parity of esteem and all that kind of agenda. And a key part of this process, therefore, is the vision that people are waiting for. When are we going to see this coming forward? Because I think we're putting structures in place, so there's a big discussion about the technical stuff, but I feel there's a bit of a vacuum in terms of the vision.

Right, okay. Well, maybe you should have come to the cross-party group on further education last night.

Well, I would disagree with you because, of course, the technical consultation has followed what we had last year, which was a consultation on the vision, on what we needed to do to bring the sector together beyond just HE and FE, to the inclusion of sixth forms; work-based learning providers; apprenticeships; and bringing all of that together under one body. I believe that that gives us an opportunity to have better strategic planning; to help us prevent duplication; to help us bridge gaps that are not available for learners at the moment. It will, hopefully—. My vision is that it will promote collaboration between institutions rather than simply having the market-based process that we see in other places where there's competition rather than collaboration.

I want to see it strengthen links between schools, FE and HE, strengthen links between schools and employers and business, to make sure that we've got better information and advice services so that young people know what their pathways are and can make really informed choices about what's best for them, to help them make them. So, I think: we've done the vision, we're now doing the technical consultation, that will be published by the end of the week, and we'll move forward with our overarching vision that Hazelkorn elaborated and that we are now taking forward.

So, you would be very concerned if FE institutions were saying that we really need to see the vision, that that's the next step, that we really need to understand the vision.

But, I've met—. As I said, I was with one of our excellent FE leaders just at the end of last week; it wasn't raised with me then. I do understand that there are concerns from the FE sector about will the vision be realised. I think there's a shared understanding of the vision, but I understand and I do see some nervousness about, actually, in the end, will this just be HEFCW by another name, and, the opportunity for FE, will this be realised in this new body? We need to keep ensuring that, as we go forward and develop the policy, and as we develop, eventually, the legislation, that that parity of esteem and that true equality across all parts of the sector is realised.

10:00

Okay, thank you very much. Our next questions are from Michelle Brown.

Good morning, Cabinet Secretary; good morning, Minister. Your paper to the committee says that there's a need for more analysis and research into the outcomes for learners from different backgrounds. At the same time, Welsh universities have declared £104 million towards equality and opportunity activity for 2018. If you don't have the analysis, how can you be sure that the investment that's being made by the Welsh universities is actually going to have a positive outcome in the right places and lead to better outcomes for underrepresented groups?

Okay. Well, of course, that would be one of the duties of the new commission set up as a result of our post-compulsory education and training reforms that I would anticipate. The universities are required, under the Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015, to produce fee and access statements, and the £104 million that they have to take off their fees to be able to promote this work—those fee and access plans have to be signed off by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales as being robust and truly promoting equality of opportunity. They're also there to promote access and the opportunities for people to aspire to higher education.

We are looking at—. It's quite early days, still, for that new regulatory regime to come through, so we ask HEFCW, when I meet with HEFCW, about the adequacy of those plans. Equity is an important part of my approach to higher education. That's why we're introducing the Diamond reforms—so that those from the poorest backgrounds can be adequately financially supported and are not put off from going to a university. And we're also looking—. I would envisage under PCET a better mechanism of tracking destinations for learners. So, for instance, in the FE sector, we're introducing new joint monitoring for outcomes for sixth-form learners and FE learners, because we've never tracked them in the same way. So, we're introducing that now so that we can see the destinations for those two sectors, but the PCET reforms give us an opportunity to do that right across the board. Huw, is there anything else I need to add?

Well, I'd just reinforce the point the Cabinet Secretary made about the fee and access plans being the vehicle through which we get universities to specify what they're going to do, and the funding council tracks that. To make sure that we're doing that in a full and appropriate manner, periodically, we ask for that system to be reviewed. I think it was in 2017 that the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods—the research arm of Cardiff University—reviewed the system and looked at how widening access was being promoted by different institutions and whether that was working in all parts of Wales. The report from that group was considered by one of the sub-committees in HEFCW and they are revising the process as a consequence. So, I think we can be confident that there are ambitious targets that are monitored, and, periodically, the system as a whole is reviewed.

Can you tell us what sort of research and data the universities are basing those access plans on? I assume they'll all have slightly different methods—I appreciate that—but can you give us any idea of how they actually formulate these access plans?

So, there are data collected across the UK by a body called the Higher Education Statistics Agency. They produce detailed breakdowns, along with UCAS, of where applicants come from, which institutions did they study at, what courses, what their particular characteristics are, including their socioeconomic status, and that data is then analysed at a UK level and in Wales, through HEFCW and its agents, to track what's happening at different institutions at different stages, not just in terms of who's applying and who gets access, but who progresses and what happens to people once they've graduated. 

10:05

So, there is already data there. I'm just wondering how that data that's already there differs from the research and analysis that you were talking about in your paper. They must be different, then. What specific analysis and research were you referring to in your paper? 

That's shorthand—the HESA data, and institutions use that. We also then use WISERD and other organisations to supplement that piece of work. I think there is a challenge to some of this going forward. So, the Office for Students in England now is having some discussions about access to HESA data. This is a source of real concern to me, that Welsh institutions may not be able to have the ready access to that data because of changes the OfS may be making. So, we supplement where we think that there's value to be added in additional breakdowns, or in additional slicing of data and understanding of what is motivating people to come forward.  

And to give you a specific example of that as it applies in north Wales—. So, take a university like Wrexham Glyndŵr University; they have quite a large intake of mature students. The data that's collected and analysed at a UK level tends to look at people who are going into university at a young age, not a mature profile. So, some of the analysis that we do in Wales—indeed, the deliberations of the sub-committee that I spoke about earlier—is about how do we make sure that those differences in Wales are reflected in the data and reflected in the targets that are set. 

Okay, thank you. The next questions are from Hefin David. 

Cabinet Secretary, are you in favour of more university mergers? 

I wouldn't use the word 'agnostic', but what I'm in favour of is a healthy, strong and sustainable HE sector. If individual institutions wish to collaborate or, indeed, go further to a formal merger then, obviously, that is a matter for them. We're not pursuing or urging a policy of mergers, but, if individual institutions feel that is of benefit to them and their students, obviously, we would have an interest in that and making sure that they were robust plans, but that's a matter for individual institutions. 

Well, again, what HEFCW are interested in is a sustainable HE sector that is strong but, as I said, I do not have a burning desire or a set policy to try and pursue mergers. 

Okay. That's a little bit of a contrast with your predecessors, then.  

Okay. The reason I say it is because I was kind of on the inside when Cardiff Metropolitan University was under pressure from the then Minister to merge with the University of Glamorgan and Newport. It was a very difficult time for staff and, indeed, for students. You had the University and College Union and the Minister pushing it; the vice-chancellor of Cardiff Met at the time very much against it. So, do you think that it's really—? You're agnostic, but do you think perhaps it's not worth the disruption that can occur to staff and students? 

As I said, Hefin, I have no formal policy for reconfiguration or mergers. That's not to say I don't believe in collaboration between institutions. Going back to the issue of ITE, a very interesting programme came forward from Cardiff Met and Cardiff University for their ITE provision. So, I'm all for universities and institutions working together, but there's no formal policy. These are autonomous institutions. If they see that there is an advantage—I would hope for the student first, and, if we put the student at the front of this process, then we would obviously have an interest in that and making sure that that was the right thing to do. But, certainly, there is no pressure from us as a Government to pursue an agenda of mergers.  

Just to be clear, then, that's likely to be a policy for the foreseeable future as well; you're not going to change that view. 

I have no intentions at this stage, but 'Events, dear boy'. [Laughter.] You know, sometimes there may be a situation that I cannot foresee at this moment that would necessitate, for the benefit of students, the benefit of Wales, a merger. So, never say never, but, at this point in time, I do not foresee us changing that policy.

10:10

Yes, just looking back at that time, which I remember very vividly—

I had many meetings with Cardiff Met. Do you feel there has been any disadvantage to Cardiff Met because that merger didn't go ahead?

I, personally, am not aware of any disadvantage to Cardiff Met, but I would recognise—I would absolutely recognise—for staff and students caught up in those deliberations and those issues, then that would have had a personal impact on them. In terms of the institution going forward, I'm not aware that they are currently struggling with any disadvantage from that discussion. And, as I said, I'm really heartened by some of the really interesting collaborative work that Cardiff Met are interested in doing, and new partnerships and new collaborations between institutions, whether that be Cardiff Uni or local colleges, and I think that's to be welcomed.

So, following on from what Hefin said, was it worth all the fuss?

Well, look, as it's turned out, we have a strong institution in Cardiff Met, and I think, rather than looking at the past, we need to look at the future. But, of course, there was some reconfiguration and we need to understand any lessons that arose out of reconfiguration, and HEFCW are currently doing some work, actually, to look at reconfiguration, the experience of reconfiguration that did happen, and were benefits realised and what are the lessons that can be learned from that process. So, they are doing a piece of work to reflect, and that will, perhaps, help inform us as we go forward.  

I'd just say—Julie Morgan was one of our heroes at the time, I've got to say.

And still is. 

If I turn that on its head and have a look at University of South Wales, one of the concerns I'm getting from former colleagues and staff is that the Newport aspect—because it was a merger between Newport and the University of Glamorgan—has been somewhat denuded by the merger, and the amount of activity in the new Newport campus and elsewhere in Newport has been reduced by the merger. Are you aware of those concerns that staff may have?

As I said, it's not for me to second-guess the judgment of previous Ministers who pursued— 

—a particular policy agenda. With regard to Newport, we are aware of concerns. Obviously, one campus closed completely, and there are concerns about the level of activity at the new campus. And we continue to discuss with the University of South Wales and the local FE college what offer is available to the local population, but also the wider contribution that that institution can make to the rest of Wales, and we continue to have conversations with both the college and the university about utilisation of the facilities in Newport and opportunities that could be made available in Newport. 

That's interesting, because that's the first time I've heard it confirmed from the Government that those concerns that have been raised by former staff and colleagues in Newport are actually echoed by yourself, then.

Well, as I said, we're aware of them. We take our time to listen to people. When people raise issues with us, we take them seriously. Clearly, going back to the point that I believe Suzy made about geographical coverage, we want to make sure that FE and HE opportunities are available for people throughout Wales, and we continue to work with providers in that area to explore what can be done to enhance the opportunities.

And, from a financial point of view, they had £25 million for the merger. Are you satisfied that's value for money, and, at this point in the 10-year plan, that things are going as they should, with incomes being squeezed across the sector?

Yes. I mean, it's difficult, isn't it, to second-guess what would have happened, what might have happened, if the merger hadn't gone ahead, around the financial stability and sustainability of an institution. How do you prove that, if that hadn't happened, something worse or something better might have happened? It's difficult to do that and to second-guess those judgments, but, as I've said, what I am interested in—. And I can't change that decision that was made by a previous Minister—it wasn't my decision—but what I can do is to ensure that any lessons learnt, any evaluation of that particular set of circumstances, can be looked at and can help inform future policy, which is why HEFCW is doing the piece of work. When that's published, you and I will be in a better position to understand whether the aspirations of that particular merger were realised, not realised, and if we were in that situation again, could we do it better next time? 

10:15

Okay, so you'll reflect on that later. At this point in time, you don't have any concerns about the long-term sustainability of the University of South Wales.

Thank you. The Welsh Government's draft outline budget for 2019 states that it will continue to provide £20 million to further and higher education in 2019-20. Can you outline how this will be allocated between HE and FE and if conditions will be attached to the funding?

Janet, you will have to wait until the end of the month, when the detailed, main expenditure group by main expenditure group lines of the budget are published, otherwise I will be stealing the finance Minister's thunder. There is a process by which the Welsh Government's budget is dealt with, and those details will emerge later on this month.

But can I just say on conditions—? You will be aware that there are conditions attached to Government spend, both in the FE sector and in the HE sector. Those budgets will be subject to those existing arrangements; so, for instance, in the HE sector, the remit letter to HEFCW.

Can I just pick up on funding, generally? Sorry. Because, we did talk about HEFCW and part-time funding earlier, and I'm not sure that we addressed the issue of this £12.5 million cut in a specific budget line from HEFCW, because what they've done, if I understand correctly, is that they've put four priorities into one budget line, which includes part-time teaching, and cut that budget line by £12.5 million. Are you not concerned that that'll have an impact on part-time teaching, given that it's such a success story that you're proud of?

HEFCW have to take cognisance of the remit letter, but then, ultimately, they are free to allocate resources as they see fit. What will drive part-time provision is the students taking it up, and universities responding to that desire and that need within their institutions. So, at this moment, I don't have any concerns.  

Okay, thank you. We're going to move on now to look at the parity of esteem between academic and vocational post-16 education. The first question is from Michelle.

Thank you, Chair. Welsh Government wants to achieve parity of esteem between academic and vocational education, and I think that's a very laudable aim. Higher apprenticeships are a key part of this, but Estyn's recent inspection found that only four providers from 17 were achieving good outcomes for learners. What action do you propose to take about this, to make sure that those learners have much better outcomes across the board?

First of all, just to make it clear that that is very much our intention. I think we have got work to do to make sure that we do reach that parity of esteem, but let's be clear that, in relation to these higher level apprenticeships, we were concerned that, actually, we weren't doing as well, perhaps, as we should be, which is why we commissioned Estyn to look at this specifically, and what it was that we were doing well, and what we needed to improve on. One of the things that we found is that we are doing very well in relation to foundation courses in terms of attainment—we've got 83 per cent attainment levels—but if you look at that at higher level apprenticeships, then we've got 77 per cent, so what is going wrong there? But, also, it's worth underlining the fact that, actually, we're still miles ahead of England, who are only reaching levels of about 61 per cent. So, we're already doing much better than England, but we're ambitious, and we want to make sure that if we are serious about this parity of esteem, how do we get there if we're not offering the kind of quality that we'd like to see in those higher level apprenticeships?

So, some of the recommendations in that report, we'll be taking up. We want to increase the number of new employers and mentors within the system. I think we're also very keen to make sure that people don't repeat learning that they've already done. That's a danger and it takes up too much time. So, there are lots of these recommendations that now we'll set in motion, and I think the important thing for us then is to understand that, in relation to who's doing well and who's not doing well in the FE sector, the bulk of where that finance goes is actually doing quite well. It's pushing some of the private sector providers where we need to actually make sure that the quality is where we want it to be, and is, very importantly, matching the needs of employers. So, we've constantly got to be looking at the courses: are they responding to the needs of the market and what employers are looking for? And that means revising the offer sometimes in terms of the courses. 

10:20

Where are the difficulties arising—? You refer to difficulties arising with the private providers. What are those difficulties? 

Well, some of it is about, perhaps, not giving the kind of guidance that we'd like them to give in-house. So, they're perhaps not doing the kind of on-the-job work that we'd like them to do. So, I think it's making sure that, when they're in the workplace, they are still being pushed to attain those levels. But I think it's clear that what we need to do is to also listen to what the advisory board that we've set up in relation to apprenticeships is also asking us, and we've got the Confederation of British Industry advising us on that as well. 

Do you have a service level agreement with the private providers?

Yes. I mean, the whole thing is under a tender procedure, obviously, and we will be revising that soon. There'll be a new apprenticeship procurement process that we'll be undergoing and starting to look at that process next year. So, there's an opportunity there for us to drive change in the system. 

Would you be willing to share the targets under the SLA with the committee?

Well, I think the—. I can't see that there'd be a problem with that, so I'm sure we could do that, but I think the way to make people move, quite often, is through making sure that you put the finances where they need to be, and then they're likely to shift. And, so, I think, in responding to this Estyn report, we can then build that into the next framework. 

Yes, thank you. Right, I wanted to ask about the investment. If we're going to get parity of esteem, we've got to, probably, get more investment in. Could you say why there isn't more investment in degree, and there doesn't seem to be any investment in Master's-level apprenticeships at universities? 

Well, I think we've got to be careful that what happens is that the state doesn't pick up what, currently, people are prepared to pay for themselves, and, so, we've got to just make sure that that balance is right. So, what's happened in England, for example, is lots of people who were previously sitting Master of business administration courses, for example, are now switching into apprenticeship programmes. So, the system—it means that, previously, they were prepared to pay and now the state is paying or the employer's playing it in a slightly different way. So, I think we've got to just be aware about how—making sure that we don't get employers passing that responsibility that, actually, they have to upskill and to uptrain their workers and pass it back on to the state, whereas, actually, they need to step up as well as employers. 

So, how are you going to judge that? How are you going to tell when, maybe, you should start putting some money in?

Well, what we are doing is we're putting money into areas where we know there are skills shortages. So, we're focusing where we want those apprenticeships—and particularly at the higher level—to be. So, for example, we're looking at ICT; we're looking at construction. There are areas where we definitely need to be focusing our attention. So, that's where we'll be prioritising our funding, and that's what we're doing already. 

And that's for degree-level apprenticeships, not Master's. Just degree-level apprenticeships.

Right, thank you. And then, in terms of getting data, could you clarify the progress on developing outcome and destination data for higher apprenticeships? Your plan seems to suggest that data won't be available until 2020-21, at the end of the programme. 

10:25

And that's because we're only just starting on this, and it takes a long time for people to complete an apprenticeship. So, we won't have anybody going from the higher level apprenticeship into a destination until around 2021, so there's no point in measuring that until that point.  

Right. And then, can you tell us when you'll publish Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol's new operational plan to develop post-16 Welsh-medium provision, which was presented during July, and clarify if the plan requires additional funding? 

So, there is a report that was published in July, and we are waiting for the operational actions from that report to be published, probably within the next month. In terms of the implementation of that programme, some of that journey has already begun, so they're not waiting for the report to—. We're not waiting for the actions to be very clearly set out; actually, some of that work has been done. For example, already, there's been a review of the governance. We're also looking at the kind of research that needs to be done in that area. I think what's clear, and something that's very much driving me as the Welsh language Minister, is this understanding that you reach 16 and you get this fall off a cliff in terms of the number of people who actually speak and use Welsh. So, that's the thing that we need to address, and that's why moving now into that area of further education is crucial. And the report, written by Delyth Evans, did suggest that we do need to move into this area but, actually, there wasn't necessarily a need for further funding in that area. But it may be something that we will consider, but it's something that we'll try and absorb, perhaps, from within the department. 

A relatively modest amount of money was being made available this year to be able to kick-start some of this work, but we are mindful of the recommendations from the Evans report. So, future allocations will have to reflect the priorities within the implementation plan, and that's not just money that goes directly to y coleg, but also trying to get better alignment between other budget lines that support the Welsh language, and making sure that all budget lines that could help on this agenda are aligned to the recommendations and the implementation report.  

Thank you. Just on coleg cenedlaethol's extended remit, have you had—? I haven't read the Evans report, but is there anything in there about the role of increased use of Welsh in adult community learning, for example? That's a further education pot, isn't it? 

Yes, it is, and we are very much in touch with adult community learning, and they are aware of the responsibilities they have in relation to the Welsh language. The issue, of course, with adult education, is that they have undergone some quite dramatic cuts. 

Oh, yes, I don't mean the higher education sector that's taken over responsibility for this; I'm talking about community learning, low level, just having Welsh there. And, you know, as you mentioned yourself, post 16, people stop using it, so getting it in wherever you can as part of a strategy. 

They're free to choose partners, then, are they, to help them deliver that? 

And also to work with the new organisation that we've set up to promote the learning of Welsh, in particular, that is based in Carmarthen. So, that's something also that's being driven, and they're working closely, I think, on this. 

There's lots of innovative practice. So, for instance, up in Wrexham, if a student has gone into the college to do A-levels, then they may decide to do those A-levels through the medium of English. But if they were previously in a Welsh-medium school, they are actively encouraged—indeed, persuaded—to do their Welsh baccalaureate through the medium of Welsh. So, they may be doing their A-levels in English, but if they've come from a Welsh-medium school, the college proactively seeks them out and makes sure that there is provision for them to do their Welsh bac qualification through the medium of Welsh, or, for instance, they are working very hard to form tutor groups. So, the tutor group—you might be doing your qualifications in English, but your tutor group will be a Welsh-medium tutor group, so that you are placed with other students who have come from Welsh-medium schools, and your tutor does all that tutor work through the medium of Welsh. So, there are other ways in which we can continue to help support children's linguistic ability, even if they have made a decision not to formally study their A-levels, for instance, or a course, through the medium of Welsh, and we're constantly looking at new ways. I think one particular aspect of the market—if we call it that word—that we're interested in are those students who've been to Welsh-medium schools, but at 16, perhaps, as I say, decide to go to a college. So, for instance, here in Cardiff, looking at childcare, and the opportunity—you know, there's a sector where we know we need a Welsh-medium workforce.

10:30

So, again, it's trying to target those children, and track them from a previous Welsh-medium education into a college, capturing their language skills, and finding ways in which they can use them. Merthyr college—there's a Welsh-medium champion in Merthyr college actively looking for children who have come from a Welsh-medium background, and they are allocated roles as Welsh-medium champions within the college, to promote. So, there are lots of innovative ways, especially in the FE sector, that they're looking to keep children's linguistic skills relevant, and they're using them, even if they make that decision to switch the language of their tuition.

Well, that's encouraging to hear. My question was about community learning, where it's essentially older people who perhaps are coming back to education in a way that wasn't as formal as it was before, if I can put it like that—so we don't lose sight of them as well. I've still got an abiding worry that there's a cohort in the middle here of people who we might lose, and maybe pass on bad attitudes towards the Welsh language to their children, despite the fact that those children now have huge opportunities to absorb Welsh language skills and make the most of them.

Thank you, Chair. I'd like to ask about the regional skills partnership—partnerships, I should say—because they are having a direct influence now on courses and provision in FE, and with degree apprenticeships in universities as well. You, I believe, received the Graystone review back in March, so could you tell us a bit about what was in it, and what the recommendations are?

So, some of the recommendations—. So, we wanted to review it because it's still relatively new. They've only been up and running about two or three years. He brought out some positives—things that we, I think, are doing well. I think they found that the voluntary partnership approach was quite effective. He did suggest that, actually, what they need to be producing is much shorter, sharper, focused reports. There was a suggestion of a lack of transparency, in terms of reporting from those regional skills partnerships, and that's obviously something now that we've undertaken to review. And there, I think, is an understanding that what we need to do now is to put in place those changes. But, on the whole, what we've done is to reinforce our commitment to the regional skills partnerships, and in particular now, through allocating £10 million to further education colleges to respond directly to the wishes and the desires of the regional skills partnerships, you can see actually the status of the regional skills partnerships has just grown significantly. Because now there is an outcome as a result of their recommendations. So, you've seen quite a dramatic shift, I think, in the respect for regional skills partnerships over the past year.

So, are there any recommendations in terms of governance as well—

—because, clearly, there may have been concerns about the way that people ended up being members of the partnerships? You touched on transparency—clearly, that's an issue as well. So, just particularly on governance—.

So, on governance, I think there was an understanding that that needs to be looked at again, and that we need to get the right people around the table. And what is interesting is, I think, because it was a voluntary approach, because now people can see an outcome, we're getting different people now really showing an interest in being a part of the regional skills partnerships. So, governance is something again we're going to be addressing and following up the recommendations on in that Graystone review. Is there anything to add to that?

Well, I was just going to say, I don't see why we couldn't share the review with you.

That might be helpful. And we are actioning the recommendations from that review.

10:35

The normal course of action would be, of course, to have published it and then to publish a Government response. Any reason why that wasn't done? I find it quite strange that you're saying that you're actually actioning the report and you still haven't published it. As a committee, we've not been party to any of that, really.

I don't see why that can't be done. There's nothing to hide here, so why wouldn't we? We're the people who commissioned the report—

I'm the one asking the questions. [Laughter.] No, but you're right. I just find it strange. I just find it odd that that hasn't been published.

Okay. Well, we'll certainly get a copy of that to you.

May I just say: we ask a number of people periodically to comment on what we do, and agencies we work with do the same. The status of those reports varies. I don't suppose we'd anticipated there would be the interest in this issue that there is and so, as the Minister said, there's no problem that I can see with that.

And do you have a timeline in terms of by when you want to introduce some of the reforms that you're looking at now, because of this report?

Some of them have already been introduced, so we're not waiting. The transparency issue that I think there was a bit of concern about—that's already been introduced. So, it's just about making sure that people understand what is going on in these regional skills partnerships. I think that's really important—

Well, quite, given the influence that they have now. Yes, sure. 

Just another short one on the regional skills partnerships, really: how effective are they in supporting the planning and delivery of Welsh-medium provision in post-16?

I think there's more we can do in relation to that. But I think there are aspects where we're already changing in respect of specific sectors. So, if you think about the care sector, for example, what we do need is more people who have those skills to speak through the medium of Welsh in the care sector. And, coming back to the point that was made earlier, what we're doing now is looking at the curriculum: to what extent can we include—? You don't have to do your whole course through the medium of Welsh, but there are aspects that would be very useful. So, those kind of things are being taken on board now in terms of the courses.

One of the things that the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol are looking at is building the resources that will be needed in order to mainstream those into, in particular, those front-line service areas where we have a skills shortage.

Thank you. Cabinet Secretary, you know that this committee has taken a very keen interest in the emotional and mental health of our young people. In the summer, the English universities Minister made an announcement about the development of a new mental health charter. That followed some concerns about young people dying by suicide across the UK. Is Welsh Government expecting Welsh universities to sign up to that charter or are you planning to work on your own?

Thank you for raising this. I think it's really important that whilst for many, many, many young people moving away from home and starting their degree course is an incredibly exciting time and something they look forward to hugely, it can bring significant stresses with it, especially for first-year students, who, as I said, are moving away, perhaps are suddenly responsible for finances in a way they've never been responsible for, for all the day-to-day living that perhaps they've relied on other people to assist them with. So, it can be quite a stressful time. So, it is right that we look at how we can support health and well-being for students, especially mental health and mental resilience.

So, I very much welcome the work on the mental health charter, and HEFCW are engaged and keeping a very close eye on what's going on to see the opportunities for Welsh universities to participate in that. But this was on a recent agenda item that I had with HEFCW, and indeed with the vice-chancellors, when I met them last week, or the week before last. So, they are developing their own strategic approach to well-being and health for students, which will be underpinned by a co-created action plan with the universities themselves on supporting students with mental health problems in particular. So, the strategic approach and the action plan are being developed by HEFCW at the moment and HEFCW are also meeting with colleagues from England and Scotland to see the opportunities for a universal approach across the UK to supporting students.

The universities, when I met with them recently, all shared a commitment to do better in this particular area. One, because it's the right thing to do, but, actually, stopping people from dropping out and not completing their courses obviously is of a financial benefit to the institution. So, it's actually the right thing to do for their students, they want to do it for that reason, but, actually, there is a strong financial underpinning to ensure that students complete their studies.

So, it's looking at, again, each university looking at individual approaches of how better they can do that. But it's not just responding to students who become unwell, it's actually, 'What can we do to in the campus to maintain good mental health?' So, rather than just trying to fix a problem once it's occurred, it's 'What can we do?' And you'll be aware of individual institutions taking different approaches. It's not something that we dictate, but individual institutions—when they do exams, how work is assessed and marked and graded—are taking different steps to promote well-being, as well as then responding to situations where students become unwell.

We do know that financial pressures can be a source of huge stress for students, so we are constantly working with the Student Loans Company to make sure that the services that they offer to people are as good as they can be, and that there are no unnecessary delays that, perhaps, put a student under pressure or give students worries about their financial situation. And I would argue our Diamond reforms, which allow students access to a living wage—for some students, completely by a grant, for some students, a combination of grant and loan, with no expectation at all that your parents will contribute, which is not the case in other places where there is an expectation of parental contribution—that actually, hopefully, addresses some of those financial worries that some students may have. But I am aware that if people are waiting for their grant or people are waiting for their payments, that can be a source of stress. So, ensuring that we have good performance by the Student Loans Company is crucial. 

10:40

Okay, thank you. And I'm sure the committee's very interested to hear the update on that. Are you able to give us any indication of timescale by which you'd expect HEFCW and the individual universities to actually have this work in place? 

I'm not sure, but I will write to the committee and let you know. In fact, we can probably provide, from Universities Wales and from the work that's going on centrally, a list of proposals that are being undertaken.

Thank you very much. The next question is from Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, Chair. I wanted to ask you about the pay dispute, and I know that you're not the employer, because I know that's going to be the first answer— 

You're right, that is the first answer. [Laughter.] Well anticipated.

But we are in a stalemate here and you clearly have an interest in making sure that this dispute is resolved quickly in the interest of the students and the reputation of the colleges et cetera, et cetera. I can see how this dispute has arisen. When we've seen the teachers' pay settlement, we've seen FE settlements in England and Scotland higher than what's on the table here. And I am concerned, and I do think this is where the Welsh Government does have a role, because I am concerned that the employers seem to be using the funding issue as the reason not to have a reasonable settlement with staff.

So, they've walked away from the table, they've said, 'One per cent, take it or leave it. Unless Welsh Government gives us any more money, that's the end of that.' And I'm really concerned about that, because this is potentially going to have a major impact on whether we can recruit and retain staff in FE colleges. And I look at the college in my constituency, Merthyr college—it's a tertiary college, they're providing A-level education across Merthyr and they're astounding results they've been getting as well.

I'm coming round to the question in a moment. It's really: what more do you think you can do as a Government to try to get these parties back round the table and not allow the dispute to become a political football?

Thanks very much for that. I think, first of all, you're absolutely right—this is about ColegauCymru's negotiation, but we are keeping a close eye on the situation. I think it's probably worth emphasising that the reason this has come about, or part of the reason, is because you've seen that pay settlement in relation to teachers' pay and we've had the consequential. So, sixth-form teachers are happy. The people actually providing the same teaching course in a different institution, you can understand why they may say, 'Something needs to change here.' The problem here is that it's about that, actually, that falls to the Welsh Government. We don't have that. Or at least it falls to FE colleges to fund that, and it's up to them to come up with that proposal. We are keeping a close eye on things. I think it's fair to say that we'll wait until they get further along down the line, but we are extremely aware of the sensitivities of the situation.

10:45

Thank you for that, Minister. When you say you're keeping a close eye on it, have you actually had conversations with ColegauCymru? Because I note what you just said there: 'We'll keep an eye on it and wait and see what's happening.' Well, all the unions are currently consulting. One has already balloted for industrial action. We could have the other unions also balloting for industrial action. I mean, this isn't something we want in the FE sector, clearly, so is there anything more proactive that Government could actually be doing to try to bring a resolution to this dispute?

Well, we are listening and speaking to ColegauCymru, and also we're aware of what the unions are saying as well. So, I think that's probably as far as we can go at this point. When they come to a conclusion, and when they come to us and say, 'Look, this is the consequence and this will finish'—at this point, we have no idea where that settlement is likely to fall.

Yes, thank you. Yes, we wouldn't expect you to make an announcement on this, because it's happening outside of Government, but there is a principle here, isn't there, in terms of pay equality between schoolteachers and FE? So, would you not wish to see a situation where we do have greater equality in that respect?

In relation to teaching, I think it's fair to say that we would wish to see pay equality in relation to teaching, yes.

Okay, thank you. You emphasise 'in relation to teaching'—my next question is that, of course, within FE establishments you have teaching staff and non-teaching staff, and if there was to be some sort of increase, then would you not expect all staff to have that?

Well, let's see—that's up to ColegauCymru to negotiate and to discuss, so let's see what the outcomes are.

Because some of the non-teaching staff are the lowest paid, as well, aren't they? So, you know—.

Let's wait for the outcome of the negotiations. I think we are very aware of the situation. ColegauCymru are in that negotiation. We're aware of what the requests are from the trade union members, and we'll wait to see what they come up with before responding formally.

Could I just briefly as well ask about pensions, because that's coming down the line, potentially, isn't it, and the impact that's going to have on FE? One college was saying it will cost them £1 million if it happens next year. Are you thinking about any steps that you could take to support them, potentially, because obviously this is coming down the line, really, isn't it?

Well, I think, already, we've got the situation in relation to teachers, and again what we've seen is the consequential and the UK Government honouring that. Again, what we don't have, necessarily, is that money coming down from the UK Government for us to be able to support it in the way that we might like to. It's early days on this, but it's something, again, we're keeping an eye on.

The fundamental question, really, is: if the money doesn't come down the line from Westminster, are you in a position to underwrite that?

Well, we'll wait until we see that situation arising, but we're aware that that is an issue that we're going to have to deal with in future.

In relation to the pay dispute, it's the committee's understanding that ColegauCymru's position is that, in order to meet a pay award that is commensurate with schoolteachers, an additional 3.5 per cent or £10.1 million is needed. Are you aware of that being their position?

Okay, thank you. The final question is from Hefin David.

You will have had, Cabinet Secretary, a letter from Professor Colin Riordan on 26 September regarding essay mills, in which he refers to the other letter that was sent by him and 39 vice-chancellors regarding essay mills and the fact that it's legalised cheating. In the letter—it was actually to me—that was copied to you, he says:

'We have requested the UK Government commission the QAA to publish a draft Bill by or before the beginning of the next parliamentary session. We've also requested the Department for Education give support to the establishment of a UK centre for academic integrity, which would research, analyse and combat academic misconduct. Any support that the Welsh Government can provide in this regard will also be appreciated, so I'm copying this letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Education.' 

Can you just give me your opinions on that, please? 

10:50

I think 'legalised cheating' is a polite way of describing what goes on. My officials have been in touch with their counterparts in the UK Government to see if we can co-ordinate a UK approach, which I think is necessary. I don't think there's any merit in us trying to do this on our own; it would be pointless. I hope that we can agree a formal approach as quickly as possible, and I will take every opportunity—. We're trying to establish a meeting with the UK Minister for HE before Christmas, and I will take every opportunity that I can to ensure that we can take some very, very strong action in this regard. But it does have to be done at a UK level.

I want people who attend our universities and who work hard to achieve the grades that they get not to be disadvantaged by people who look to find an easy way out and are not willing to put—. I think it undermines the individual effort of individual students who are doing the right things, as well as the integrity of our system. I'm proud of the quality of the system that we have in the Welsh HE sector, and I want that maintained. I hope that we can agree a UK approach to ending this practice. 

Okay. And in addition to the specifics regarding the quality assurance agency and the proposed centre for academic integrity, let's be clear: what we're talking about it outlawing those websites that offer to write essays for cash. 

Yes. And quite often, very bad ones as well. [Laughter.] My understanding is—

Well, they get through the system and they guarantee—. The websites, and I've experienced this, and I mentioned it in First Minister's questions—

The websites say to you, 'Unless you tell anyone, you won't get caught', and students are believing that. The new student grant system—some of that money will go to these websites. 

Absolutely, and, unlike you, I have no experience of this myself—

Well, I have experience of it. I've not done it, but I've experienced it. [Laughter.]

I'm so old, Hefin, that such internet sites didn't exist when I was a student. [Laughter.] But, you know, I'm sure you listened to it too: a recent article, on a radio station, where, actually, it was an experiment just like you did—a student deliberately went through this process to expose, but, actually, what they got in return wasn't even very good. It was a particularly poor essay on the portrayal of women in Victorian literature, so they weren't even getting very good value for their money. [Laughter.]

But, clearly, this is a terrible and abhorrent practice in our system, and, as I said, I will do everything that I can to work with colleagues across the United Kingdom to find a solution to this. If I thought it would help if we did it on our own, we could do that, but it won't help if we act unilaterally. It has to be a UK approach. 

And just—final question—with regard to the representations you've made, do you feel that the UK Government is open to this course of action?

Well, officials are the ones who have had those direct, face-to-face conversations, rather than me. I hope to do that when I meet the Minister, hopefully before Christmas. Huw, would you like to comment? 

We haven't had anything formally, but I understand from what I've heard in England that there is an interest to do something. Whether that will take the form of a Bill in the timescale you've outlined, I'm not sure, but as the Minister said, we'll be exploring that with officials through the ministerial meetings. 

Okay, thank you. Are there any other questions from Members? No. Okay. Well, can I thank you all for attending and for answering all our questions? As usual, you'll have a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but thank you very much for your time. 

3. Papurau i’w Nodi
3. Papers to Note

Item 3, then, is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Education regarding eligibility criteria for free school meals. I'd like to return briefly to that when we go into private. Paper to note 2: a letter from the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care on the Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill. Paper to note 3: also from that Minister, which is his response to the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on the Bill. And paper to note 4: also a letter from that Minister to the Finance Committee on the Bill. And the final paper to note is from Mind Cymru regarding the task and finish group on a whole-school approach to mental health, and I will update Members on that when we go into private. Happy to note those? 

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 for the Remainder of the 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.

Item 4, then: can 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? Thank you. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:54.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:54.

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