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Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

02/10/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dawn Bowden AM
Hefin David AM
Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Lynne Neagle AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sian Gwenllian AM
Suzy Davies AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Jo-Anne Daniels Cyfarwyddwr, Cymunedau a Threchu Tlodi—Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Communities and Tackling Poverty—Welsh Government
Julie Morgan AM Y Dirprwy Weinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services
Nicola Edwards Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Is-adran Gofal Plant, Chwarae a Blynyddoedd Cynnar—Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Childcare, Play and Early Years Division—Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

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

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

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

Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 11:00.

The public part of the meeting began at 11:00.

2. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
2. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've received no apologies for absence this morning. Can I ask if there are any declarations of interest from Members, please? No. Okay. Thank you. 

3. Addysg a Gofal Plentyndod Cynnar yng Nghymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth
3. Early Childhood Education and Care in Wales: Evidence session

Item 3 this morning then is a scrutiny session on early childhood education and care, and I'm very pleased to welcome Julie Morgan AM, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services; Jo-anne Daniels, director of communities and tackling poverty at Welsh Government; and Nicola Edwards, deputy director of the childcare, play and early years division in Welsh Government. Thank you all for your attendance. We’re very much looking forward to the session. If you're happy, we'll go straight into questions, and the first ones are from Hefin David.

Good morning, Deputy Minister. What are your primary objectives? Is it supporting the development of children or getting parents into work?

Well, I think you'll be aware from the range of programmes that we've got that we do feel it’s important to support both children and parents. There's obviously lots of evidence to show how important the early years are for children, how important they are for their development, and so, that is one of our primary objectives. But we also know how important it is for parents to have stable jobs, reasonably paid, so that can also help with the development of the children. So, we really see it that our plans are for both parents and children, and we believe that a high-quality, early-childhood education and care system can provide that. And, of course, in terms of when we talk about jobs as well, I think it’s really important to remember that the childcare system is a big employer as well and a very important employer. So that, actually, itself provides jobs.

So, the evidence we've seen suggests that, historically, Governments in the UK and devolved have focused on primarily getting parents into work. So, are you suggesting then that your focus is to change that and move towards early child development?

No, what I'm saying is that we want to give parents the opportunity to work. We don't want childcare to be a barrier to parents working because we think that working is one the best routes out of poverty, but we do also want to make sure that children have the greatest experience that they can have in the early years. So, we see it as one.

Okay. And that's quite a policy challenge to deliver both at the same time. 

The situation as it is is complex, and I think it needs simplifying. It is a challenge, but it’s probably one of the most important challenges we've got in Government, because what we offer to families with young children is one of the most important things we do.

And in your evidence to the committee, you said that the Welsh Government’s approach

'will build on a wide variety of programmes that are continually developing in order to support parents, families and children during the early years.'

And you've just said you want to simplify that. How do you simplify that, particularly with regard to the provision of funding and the way these things connect from the birth of a child into school? How will simplification look, and what will happen?

Well, we're not at the stage of being able to say what it will look like at the moment, but we're looking at ways of simplifying, because I think it’s absolutely right, it is a very complex system, because it’s grown up from all different routes. But we are having lots of pilot projects that are looking at ways of simplifying the system. We have got pathway projects in, I think it’s eight local authorities, who are looking at ways of joining up the whole system. So, we are looking at that, and I absolutely except that it is very complex and we want to find ways of making it simpler and easier to understand. So, we are working with local authorities and health boards to see how we can actually work together and simplify things.

And it's good to hear that that's your objective. Can I just come back to the first thing you said: 'We can't say yet what we're going to do'?

So, when will we have a policy plan and something that we can interrogate in more detail?

Well, I think we are near getting to an announcement where we will be able to say what direction we're going in, and because we have had—. Some of this work has been going on for a year or so, and we're getting the results of those pathfinder projects coming in. So, when we do have all those results, we will be able to say the direction that we want to go in, and I hope we'll be able to do that very soon.

11:05

I'm sorry I can't say too much about that because we haven't actually—. We need to—. 

Okay. And that's as far as you're willing to go. And if that's as far as you're willing to go, then I'll stop asking.

Jest eisiau deall ychydig bach am y pilot, y pathfinders yma mewn wyth awdurdod lleol. Ydy'r ffocws yn fanna ar y plentyn ynteu ydy'r ffocws ar rieni'n mynd yn ôl i'r gwaith?

I just want to understand a little about the pilot, the pathfinders in eight local authority areas. Is the focus there on the child or is it on parents returning to work?

The focus is on an early years system, but we've worked both locally and nationally. So, it's looking at both. I mean, actually, I think, perhaps, Nicola, would you like to or one of you like to describe one of the programmes? 

And can you just explain the vision? Is it a child-centred early years provision that we're thinking of in these pathfinder—?

So, in 'Prosperity for All', we set out that early years was one of the key priority areas, and within that we said that we wanted to create a more joined-up and more responsive system. So, when we talk about a system, we're talking about the services that are provided by health boards, so health visiting, midwifery, speech and language support, other kinds of therapeutic services, as well as all the important services that local authorities are providing, such as support for parenting, advice and guidance, employment support and childcare, obviously. And we've got eight pathfinders. I'll try and remember each of them. So, Flintshire, Newport, Blaenau Gwent, Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire—and then I've missed one, I think, because I've only got to seven—who have been working with us to look at how all of those services are currently delivered in their local area and whether and how they can reorganise those services to improve accessibility, to improve take-up, but essentially to improve the efficacy of those programmes in terms of supporting children, but often, obviously, in supporting children you have to support parents too and support the home.

Absolutely, because it's about making sure that we deliver the best start in life for children in Wales, but obviously parents are a critical element of that, so can't be excluded.

So, those eight pathfinders started their work in—I think it was—February this year. And they're still in the very early stages in terms of actually unpicking and mapping the current provision of services across their areas and then moving on to the stage where they'll develop proposals for how they might change the delivery of early years.

Just to say also, the one in Flintshire is also testing the impact of consistent funding rates for education and childcare. So, that's been going longer than the others. So, that's another important area because there's an evaluation of that project under way at the moment.

Sorry, but Caerphilly was the one that I forgot to mention.

In your report, the 'Alignment of the Childcare Offer for Wales to the Foundation Phase', one of the recommendations was that

'The Welsh Government, local authority education and childcare policy and delivery teams could merge'.

So, looking behind the scenes, those disparate parts of policy, delivering the foundation phase and childcare offer should merge. Is that the case? Has that been put under way and should we be looking at this structure in more depth?

Well, probably not at the structure at this time because the report that you're referring to was looking at the first year of the delivery of the childcare offer and it did make a number of points, which we have taken on board. For example, we issued guidance last year regarding the delivery of the foundation phase, which supports widening the number of non-maintained settings that are able to deliver early education and we're also supporting co-location and partnership working between education and childcare providers through our capital investment programme. I think it's about £81 million that we put into the capital investment where we are developing childcare facilities co-located with the education facilities, because that was one of the things that came out from this report you're referring to. And, I mean, obviously, early years is one of the key priorities within 'Prosperity for All' and, obviously, education sits within one portfolio with the Minister for Education, and childcare is with me. But we're doing what we can to work together to try to bring those together, and that was one of the proposals in that report. But it's still very early to think about, at this stage, a structural change.

11:10

And I remember when you were on the committee here with me, sitting next to me, we had those discussions about co-location. I know the problem with not having co-location is that you could end up seeing a child travelling between three or more locations during the course of a day. Are you suggesting now that the actions you're taking will resolve that issue universally, or will it lead to a piecemeal resolution? And, if so, to what extent, what percentage of children will see that resolved as an issue?

Certainly, the co-location is not going to solve it universally because although we've been able to develop a lot of new facilities, or build on old facilities, there will be a lot of areas that we won't have covered. So, I can't say that there's going to be a situation where everything is going to be co-located because I don't think that would be feasible, and,for some of the providers, they wouldn't be in a position to move to a school.

But ideally it's a good situation, but, certainly, I think the discussions that there were on the committee, it's not ideal to take children for long distances between different providers, let alone the effect it has on the climate change issue. It's whether it's good for children as well. So, I can't say that they will ever be co-located, but as I said in response to your earlier question, we are encouraging the development of the foundation phase in non-maintained settings, which, obviously, is quite significant.

Okay. Thank you. I've got some questions now from Janet Finch-Saunders.

Thank you, Chair. What is the Welsh Government doing to address the big differences in the amount of early childhood education and care provision available in different parts of Wales?

Right. Well, thank you very much for that question. I mean, obviously, it would be good to see a greater degree of consistency, but I think it's important to acknowledge that there are reasons for that variation. Now, early education, of course, is the responsibility of the Minister for Education, and we are aware that different local authorities have adopted different patterns of providing early education. For example, local authorities are funded to provide 10 hours minimum of the foundation phase for three and four-year-olds across Wales, but there's quite a variance in how much is actually provided, with some local authorities providing a lot more historically. So, it does mean that there is a different pattern across Wales, according to what local authorities do.

But what I could say is, of course, the quality is very good, as the Estyn reports have shown; that the quality provided, the delivery of the foundation phase, is very good. But it does vary in terms of what is offered throughout Wales, and that is the decision of the local authorities, and it is a historical thing. I refer to this pilot in Flint, which is trying to test paying the same rate for foundation phase and childcare. We're going to have an independent evaluation on that soon, in November this year, so that will help us.

Obviously, I think local authorities' role in all this is absolutely crucial because they are the local, nearest people to decide how things develop in their own areas. And then, of course, we've got Flying Start, which is geographically targeted, which uses the data from income benefit to decide which are the areas where that is being delivered. And that is delivered where the highest proportion of children aged nought to three are living in income-dependent households. So, again, that determines the pattern throughout Wales. With Flying Start being geographically targeted, with the education being determined by the local authorities about how much there is, we know that there is a variance throughout Wales. We'd like to see facilities developed in each local authority throughout Wales that would answer the needs of the families and the children in those areas.

11:15

Before you move on, Janet, Siân's got a supplementary.

Jest o ran y cyfnod sylfaen, mae yna doriadau wedi digwydd, wrth gwrs, i wariant yn y cyfnod yna. Pa mor bryderus ydych chi ynghylch hynny ac effaith hynny ar y ffordd mae'r cyfnod sylfaen yn cael ei ddysgu yn ein hysgolion ni? Mae'r cyfnod sylfaen rŵan yn rhan o'r grant gwella addysg, sydd wedi gweld gostyngiad o 10 y cant, ac mae o'n gorfod cystadlu yn erbyn gwariant arall o fewn y pot mwy yna o arian. Felly, a ydych chi'n bryderus bod yna arian yn cael ei golli a bod hynny'n effeithio ar safonau yn y cyfnod sylfaen?

Just in terms of the foundation phase, there have been cuts, of course, in expenditure in that phase. How concerned are you about that and the impact that that will have on the way in which the foundation phase is taught in our schools? The foundation phase is now part of the education improvement grant, which has seen a reduction of 10 per cent, and it has to compete against other expenditure streams within that greater pot of funding. So, are you concerned that money is being lost and that that will have an impact on standards in the foundation phase?

I haven't seen any evidence. Obviously, I must reiterate the foundation phase does come under the Minister for Education, but I haven't seen any evidence of any standards being lowered, and the reports from Estyn are very good. In fact, I think the foundation phase is one of our great joys, that we absolutely celebrate it, and so I'd be very concerned if I thought there was any drop in standards in the foundation phase, and I certainly haven't had any evidence of that. I would want to guard against that.

Exactly, but if there are fewer teaching assistants in the system because of the cuts, it's going to impact on standards, at the end of the day.

I think we have to be very careful to see that lower standards are not implemented, because it was groundbreaking when we brought it in, and it has proved to be a great success, so we want to make sure that's guarded.

Going back to my original question about the big differences in amounts of early childhood education and care provision in different parts of Wales, the Welsh and UK Governments have followed a demand-driven approach to the childcare market, with subsidies mainly given to working parents. Is that a mistake? Should it be more universally available?

Well, some of our provision is universally available in certain areas. For example, the Flying Start provision is universally available in geographically defined areas, and I think that's very important, because that does mean that there isn't stigma, and so,in those areas, everybody can take advantage of it, and yet it is reaching those who are most in need because it's reaching those areas. So, I think that there is a purpose behind that.

In terms of when you say demand led, could you elaborate on that?

I know that—we've just had a useful briefing from David Dallimore, and, basically, there is this theory that there are too many resources—the demand-driven approach is based more on certain factors: geographic spread in terms of it being more universal, and whether that's the right way. How do children then mix with peers from different backgrounds, in their own peer or age group?

[Inaudible.]—because the offer is targeted at working parents—

—obviously, then the amount of availability is based on how many parents apply for it and take it up. Is that the context of demand led in that—

Right, okay.

It is universally available to all parents who meet the eligibility criteria of working, and I think what you're saying is that it should be available to everybody.

I think the point that Janet's making is that some areas have traditionally got more childcare anyway because they have traditionally had more demand in those areas, so there's not a level playing field to start from. Is that correct?

I think that, historically, that is definitely true, and when you look at the take-up of the childcare offer, it's certainly taken up in some areas with a very high take-up rate. I think Ynys Môn was nearly 90 per cent or something—

They need more money, because they haven't got enough funding.

In other areas, it's much, much lower—in some of the cities, I know. So, there is a big range in take-up—

So, do you intend to bring something forward to address that?

We are planning to extend it. We're looking at the possibility of extending it to parents who are in education and training. So, we are widening the offer, yes. Obviously, we have to wait for the evaluation of that. It would be great to be able to offer it to absolutely everybody, but obviously we have got the finance to look at in terms of how we do that. But we are certainly planning to expand it.

11:20

We've got questions on the offer in a little while. Janet.

Does the Welsh Government intend to develop an integrated approach, then, against all settings? If so, given the current inconsistencies, how can quality be assured?

We are developing a more integrated approach towards the early years. As I've said, we're trying to have the foundation phase operating in more non-maintained settings, and we're already developing that. But Estyn and CIW will continue to inspect and regulate the early years sector to ensure standards, and, since January 2019, CIW and Estyn have moved to joint inspections for the non-maintained settings that are offering the foundation phase. So, that is a very positive move, I think, and is absolutely making sure that standards are maintained, because if we are having the foundation phase in non-maintained settings, that is a challenge where we want to be sure that the standards and the philosophy of the foundation phase are maintained. So, we have got the system of inspection to ensure that.

And finally from me, what specific steps have been put in place to take forward the commitments from the Welsh Government's 2017 childcare/play early years workforce plan to build a better understanding of the workforce's Welsh language skills to enable support for the sector to be targeted and to identify where capacity needs to be built for the future to meet the needs of the early years sector in a bilingual Wales?

We think this is very important, and we're pleased that 29 per cent of children taking up the childcare offer are in Welsh or bilingual settings, so we think that's very good. We have established a specific programme to develop Welsh language skills in the childcare and play workforce with the National Centre for Learning Welsh, to develop workplace Welsh language skills across the sector. So, we're actually working with that, and I think you've done something with those recently, haven't you? I don't know if you want to—

Yes. So, we have a stakeholder group where we've brought together a variety of people with an interest in the early years, childcare and play sectors, and we had a presentation just last month from the national language centre about the education programmes that they're rolling out, and how this is all coming together, which is quite interesting. We've been working quite carefully to make sure that the variety of work-based learning programmes that we provide and offer are also available in Welsh and bilingually.

Recruitment and retention within the childcare and play sector is quite challenging in any  case. Recruiting and retaining staff with really good Welsh language skills adds an extra dimension to it, and that it's a point that Mudiad Meithrin makes to us quite regularly, that they do struggle to find staff with the right skills. So, upskilling the existing workforce is a key part of it, but also doing more to attract people in with Welsh language skills in the first place in terms of the training courses that we're taking forward, and thinking about that in the context of the targets within Cymraeg 2050 and the aim to get to one million Welsh speakers. So, as the Deputy Minister said, we've got quite a number of children accessing the offer in Welsh-medium or bilingual settings at the moment. We're going to be doing some baselining work against that in terms of local authorities' Welsh in education strategic plans and education places, and what we can then do to increase the number of childcare places in parallel with that so that you can make sure that you start that pathway through learning Welsh, interacting with education and childcare through Welsh at a much earlier stage.

Just on this early point, anybody who's been through the Welsh education system, which is 20 years now, will have some Welsh language skills, obviously to differing degrees. For the entrants that are coming into childcare training now, there are going to be very few of them, realistically, with no Welsh at all, so what's actually being incorporated into the early years care training to make sure, at that stage, that the Welsh language skills are being developed, as opposed to an add-on later on?

You're quite right. Most people coming through the education system will have some awareness of Welsh although I think it's probably important to remember we do also employ people from outside of wales.

But they don't necessarily have Welsh that is appropriate. They've got Welsh that they've developed in school. It's not necessarily appropriate for then teaching that language to children, who may be coming from families who don't use Welsh at home. So, that might be the first interaction that child has with the language. So, there's a lot of that in terms of child development and how you develop children bilingually, particularly if they're coming from English-medium homes, and reinforcing the language in language choices. There will also be some people who are, perhaps—we see this quite a lot in the office—quite confident in terms of speaking Welsh but less so in terms of some of the paperwork, the reporting, the writing and the interacting with parents more officially, which we need to think about as well. But it is mainly about getting people to a point where they can transmit that language onwards in a confident and meaningful way. 

11:25

Okay. And it's ingrained in the early years training.

Okay. That's fine. Thank you for that. Thank you, Chair. 

Just before we move on, you said that 29 per cent of the take-up of the childcare offer is either through Welsh or is bilingual. Have you got any figures about how many children are accessing it in Welsh only?

We will have. It becomes—. With the way we do it, it's because of the way that the setting defines their language category, and that's how we collect it. We do go down to individual child level, although it's anonymised, data collection on a termly basis. So I'll have a look and see if we can send you through the last term.

Maybe if the committee could have a note, that would be really useful. 

Yes, that's fine. 

We've got some questions now on childcare from Dawn Bowden. 

Thank you, Chair. Deputy Minister, the evaluation of the childcare offer, when it was published last year, said that there was very little evidence currently available to determine what its impact was. You're going to be producing a second evaluation in November this year; do you expect to see some indications now of the impact?

Well, the evaluation of the first year of the childcare offer was very limited, because the childcare offer wasn't available throughout the whole of Wales. And it was a very early implementation phase. So, obviously it takes time to grow. And the evaluation for year 2, I think, will also show a limited impact for the same reasons. The offer became available across the whole of Wales only last April. So we've only got since last April that it's actually been fully available. And the parental survey was released to parents in June 2019, therefore any impact on parents in the authorities coming on board in the second year will also be negligible. So, it's from the next one, however, we hope that we will get more information. 

So you think, by the time we get to November 2020, you might have a better picture. 

The evaluation will be more meaningful, we think, then, yes. 

Okay. I take that point. What the first year's evaluation did show, however, was that 94 per cent of respondents said that they were already using formal childcare before the offer came into place. A couple of things, really: are you surprised at that, and is that likely to inform the way that you develop the offer in the future?

No, I'm not surprised at all. When it started off, it was only available in seven local authorities. In terms of how the families found out that it was available, they found it out through the childcare providers, where they already had their children there. So it was absolutely what we would have expected, and that will continue. But, of course, we were not able to fully advertise the childcare offer until it was available in all the local authorities, which was last April. So we are planning, this autumn, quite a big push now to try to make it available to everybody—so everybody knows about it. So, no, this is the pattern we would have expected, and I think anybody who's involved in starting up something in childcare will know you have to wait a number of years before you actually see it being fully taken up.

I guess the question that it raises in my mind is: does this mean that, actually, it hasn't been an incentive to get somebody back into work, because they were already in work and already had childcare provision? What you've done is you've directed money to people who were already spending that money anyway. So it hasn't been a move towards getting people into work because they couldn't afford childcare.

Well I think that that is something that we are moving towards, because the take-up of the offer is actually increasing each month, which is why I call it a great success. At the end of July, we hit almost 16,000 children accessing the offer, which obviously means that there are 16,000 families benefiting from this, and the feedback that we have had from parents is that they have been able to—. They've got more money available, which is obvious, which is great, because obviously more money is available to plunge into the economy and carry out that sort of thing, and we've got examples of parents who've been supported into work through programmes like Parents, Childcare and Employment to begin with, and then have gone on to access the offer. So, that's again a progression. So, I think we are seeing signs that people are moving on, have got more ability to be flexible in the work that they're doing, but I hope that when we look at it again, we will be able to see people actually moving into work because of having the access to childcare. 

11:30

Are you going to move on? Siân's got a supplementary. 

Jest cwestiwn ynglŷn â'r gyllideb ar gyfer y cynnig gofal plant. Os ydych chi'n rhagweld bod yna fwy a mwy o bobl yn mynd i gymryd i fyny'r cynnig drwy'r ffaith eich bod chi'n ei hysbysebu fo yn fwy, beth os ydy'r un sefyllfa yn digwydd ag sydd wedi digwydd efo Ynys Môn? Roeddech chi'n sôn am Ynys Môn. Mae'r take-up wedi bod yn dda iawn yn fanna, ond dydy'r arian mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi ei ddyrannu i Ynys Môn ddim yn matsio hwnna. Beth os ydy hwnna'n digwydd ym mhob awdurdod lleol ar draws? Ydych chi'n ffyddiog bod yna ddigon o arian yn mynd i fod yn eich cyllideb chi i ateb y galw?   

Just a question on funding for the childcare offer. If you foresee that there's going to be more people going to be taking up that offer through the fact that you're marketing it more, what if the same situation arises that has happened on Anglesey? The take-up has been very good there, but the money that the Welsh Government has been allocating to Anglesey doesn't match that. What if it happens in every local authority right across Wales? Are you confident there's going to be plenty of money available to respond to that demand?  

Based on the current levels of take-up and looking at the rates of increase each month, we expect to spend in the region of £50 million to £55 million in this financial year. Our published plans already include the provision of £40 million, and we're absolutely committed to making available the total funding that is needed to deliver on the offer. It is fantastic to see the offer being so well received on Ynys Môn, recognising, as Janet said earlier, it is demand led. We are managing it within the normal budgetary process. Local authorities will get the full funding that is needed. It's this year now that the big increase has happened; the previous two years—

So, local authorities won't have to find the extra money out of their own pots. 

No, absolutely not. This is funded by the Welsh Government. 

Ynys Môn will be very pleased to hear that. 

Thank you, Chair. You've already alluded to this in answer to Janet earlier on, about extending the childcare offer to those in training and education. You also talk about 'on the cusp' of returning to work. So, I'm not quite sure what 'on the cusp' of returning to work is, but from the committee's point of view, we're very pleased that you've reached that conclusion, because it was one of the recommendations that we had following the scrutiny of the Bill. So, can you say a little more about that, bearing in mind that I'm also conscious that you've told Hefin you're going to be making an announcement shortly? So you may not be able to say too much. But a little bit more about the inclusion of parents in training and education, what 'on the cusp of returning to work' is—what that means from your perspective—and how you've arrived at that decision now, six months into the programme. What is it that's made you move towards that conclusion? 

Well, obviously, the children and young persons committee made a very good case for education and training, in particular; I think that was one of the things that was at the top of the list. What we've committed to do is to review the programme, particularly looking at how we could bring in education and training, and that review will report early next year. So, early next year, we will have a view on how we could go forward. But the other thing that's also happened is that, obviously, with the new First Minister, that was one of his manifesto commitments—that he would bring education and training in. So, we're obviously following the—

Because that was one of the key drivers for that as well. 

Yes, so that is another of the key drivers, as you said—the committee and what the First Minister said. There are a wealth of programmes supporting parents into education, training or work, and many of those do provide support with childcare costs. But we have, by rolling out this programme, the childcare programme, highlighted some gaps where people have felt that they, particularly people who are in full-time education—and I can think of a number of people who are actually doing PhD studies—who are—the letters may have come in from some of your constituents—not able to access the offer as things stand. So, we are looking at people who are in full-time education and training. We're using the definition by the Office for National Statistics, aren't we, in terms of education and training. And on 'on the cusp of work', maybe that will have to be something we have to look at differently—those people who are actually maybe undertaking very short training programmes, preparation for work, maybe actually having interviews, where they need help with childcare, that they're sort of almost there. So, they may have to be dealt with in a different way, but I think we do want to look at those. This is expanding the offer; it's not making it universal, but it's moving on. 

11:35

So, what are the—? Overall, then, what are the factors that you're having to take into account? Is it going to be what is needed in order to encourage people back into work? Is it going to be cost? Is it going to be a combination of all of those things? What are going to be the key factors that you're going to be looking at?

Well, the position now is that anybody who fulfils the criteria in terms of the number of hours they work—we would look at that in terms of education and training, and then this expression 'on the cusp of work' we may have to look at differently, because they may not fulfil those numbers in terms of number of hours training. So, we'll get a criteria, and then they will have access to the childcare offer. But I just have to emphasise that there are ways of getting help with childcare already, and we wanted to make sure we don't duplicate. That's why this field is so complex, shall we say, because there's so many different ways that you can actually get help, and we want to be sure that we don't duplicate—

Sorry, Julie. So, all of this is going to be incorporated in this announcement that you're going to be making shortly—

Before you move on, sorry, I've got a couple of supplementaries. I've got Suzy, then Siân. Sorry, Dawn. 

Just on the cost element, because if you do roll out this programme, obviously, on the back of evidence through a review, it is going to cost extra money. Early years is one of the eight priority areas for Government. There are fairly generous Barnett consequentials coming from the comprehensive spending review and announcements on schools from the UK Government, and while I accept that you've only got annual commitments there, they're still substantial. How much money have you managed to secure for early years from the most recent announcement, and when have you planned to actually use that, maybe for some of this work?

The budget process is ongoing internally, so I think 'secured' is probably a slightly premature phrase. 

Am I allowed to ask instead how much you've asked for, then? All I'm after is some reassurance that you will be getting some of this money, and as it is one of the eight priorities, certainly we would expect to see you getting a substantial amount of money for early years. 

As one of the Government's priorities, we would expect to get any money that came as a result of any Barnett consequentials. 

Okay. And it will be in the draft budget that we know for sure if it is successful. 

And the committee will want to look very carefully at that, obviously. 

How much would it cost to move to a child-centred approach, which means that every child would be able to access the childcare offer, rather than doing it from parents?

We are looking at that. We're having a longer-term review, in terms of what it would mean if every child had access to the childcare offer. We don't have those figures yet. We've got the one review looking at bringing in education and training. That should report early next year, and then we've got another longer-term review, looking at what a universal offer would mean. 

Yes. So, there are approximately, at any given time, around 73,000 three and four-year-olds in Wales. There's some slight rounding in the numbers there, but approximately 73,000 at any given time. Based on the current eligibility criteria for the offer, it's about 34,000 children, we believe, are eligible. This does, of course, vary, depending on a whole range of different factors, and we certainly know from what we're seeing from the offer that, even where people are entitled to something, they don't necessarily take it up. And even if they do take it up, they don't necessarily take up their full entitlement, which is also something that we'd have to think about in terms of any modelling on costings. 

11:40

It's because of the requirement that, in a two-parent household, both parents must be in work.  

One of the points that the committee made very strongly in our report on the Bill was that we wanted to see a much more child-centred focus, and one of the issues that came out in scrutiny was whether, actually, three and four-year-olds were the right age to be actually targeting if we're looking at things like child development. Have you given any consideration to the actual age group that's covered when we know that, for many children, it's the first 1,000 days that makes that fundamental difference? 

We are aware that there is a case that says that two years old is a very important time. We are looking at that as part of the overall longer review, yes. We are aware of the information and what you're saying about the younger the better. 

Yes, my final question, Chair, thank you, is about the parent, childcare and employment programme, which is jointly funded by the European social fund and Welsh Government. It has been quite successful, in terms of its numbers anyway, in getting economically inactive parents into work. What are the plans for this programme, if and when we leave the EU and we lose the ESF funding for that? 

Well, the programme has recently been extended, with delivery continuing until June 2022, with additional ESF funding of £5.6 million. That's recently happened, and obviously this programme provides intensive employment to parents who are not in education, employment or training or economically inactive and where the childcare is the main barrier, and it has been a very, very successful programme. So, the UK has guaranteed funding for all EU projects approved by December 2020, and this includes the PaCE programme. I think there was also another—. I only heard it verbally. I heard some other guarantees on the radio recently from the UK Treasury about guaranteeing some of these funds. I don't know whether anybody else heard that. But the Welsh Government can only draw on the UK Government guarantee for claims that aren't paid by the European Commission, and so the current arrangements are staying in place. 

Oh, I see. Yes. So, that's when all the current commitments expire, basically. Yes. So, we don't know—. To do that it would have to be part of Government planning in terms of—

—funding, but there have been some promises from the UK Government recently, but nothing definite. 

Okay, thank you. Siân's got some specific questions now around the Childcare Funding (Wales) Act 2019. 

Fel rydyn ni'n gwybod, wrth gwrs, mae'r gwaith efo Cyllid a Thollau ei Mawrhydi wedi dod i ben, a dwi'n gwybod nad chi oedd y Gweinidog gychwynnodd y broses yma, ond beth yn union sydd wedi mynd o'i le? Beth ydy'r materion sydd wedi peri eich bod chi wedi rhoi'r gorau i fynd lawr y llwybr yna? Mae o'n rhwystredig iawn i ni fel pwyllgor fuodd yn craffu'n helaeth ar hynny ac yn codi lot o bryderon yn ei gylch o. Ac mae yna lot o amser wedi cael ei dreulio yn trafod y Bil cyllido, ac arian—£1 miliwn, dwi'n deall—wedi cael ei wastraffu, os liciwch chi, yn ddi-angen. Felly, beth yn union sydd wedi mynd o'i le? Pam nad ydych chi'n trafod efo cyllid a thollau ddim mwy?

As we know, of course, the work with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has ended, and I know you weren't the Minister who initiated this process, but what exactly has gone wrong? What are these issues that have come to light that have made you suspend that? It's very frustrating for us, as a committee, who scrutinised that extensively and raised a lot of concerns about that. And a lot of time has been spent talking about this funding Bill, and money—£1 million, I understand—has been wasted, if you like, unnecessarily. So, what exactly has gone wrong? Why aren't you discussing these things with HMRC?

Obviously, we've had a lot of discussion with HMRC about all these issues, and we've got a very good relationship with HMRC, because they have been very helpful. But I want to reassure the committee that the work that you did—and I was on the committee as well—wasn't wasted in considering this Act. And the work that was done with HMRC has helped us to move to where we're moving now. While the Act was concerned with putting the necessary statutory process in place for HMRC to deliver the offer, it was drafted in such a way as to vest the relevant powers to administer the offer, including confirming parental eligibility, in the Welsh Ministers. So, this means we have the flexibility to take matters forward ourselves, as we are currently proposing, or to work with others in future. So, it vested that in the Welsh Ministers. And the Act also contains a number of other provisions that were important to confirming eligibility. These include the data-sharing provisions, which provide for access to certain information held by UK departments, including HMRC. And we're considering how these provisions will support the development of a single, national system to support the offer, and we'll be working with those departments over the coming months on that.

And then, looking beyond the data sharing, the Act does enable us to put in place arrangements for civil penalties and criminal sanctions, if necessary, so that we can protect the system against fraud, and safeguard sensitive information. Having thoroughly considered all the different options, my predecessor was confident that, based on the information given to us at the time, HMRC represented the most cost-effective option. That was what we thought at the time. But it became apparent during 2018 that more parents wanted to be able to access the offer than were actually eligible and, therefore, with the potential to extend the eligibility, I did decide that a more flexible, local digital solution is what would serve the interests of Wales best. 

I think that there were lots of reasons why we changed our minds while we moved forward. One of the very important ones was that, at the beginning of this process, local authorities were only willing to do it on a temporary basis, because they felt it would become too much of a burden for them, basically. But, having done it now for a period of time, they are very happy to continue doing it—we've had very positive feedback about the good relationships they've built up with parents and they are happy to continue doing it. So, I think that's another very important development since the beginning.

 

11:45

Yes, but for your transparency around your particular view that it needs to be more flexible and expanded upon and, therefore, going down the HMRC route was—

Yes. We knew that from the beginning. I mean, that's, you know—. So, it was a principle decision rather than any sort of technical matters to do with the Welsh language standards. That's been cited as one kind of—. But I'm really understanding more now that, really, what it's about is that you want to have a more flexible, and expand on the offer and that this would curtail—going through HMRC would put limits on that.

That is one of the reasons, but there were issues about the Welsh language, which we can go into in detail, if you'd like. There were some issues about that. They would be able to process things bilingually, and I think that was probably told to the committee when we looked at the HMRC. But, in terms of the Welsh language standards that the Minister has to use, there would be some difficulties in them doing it.

But would you say that your main change came about because you wanted to be more flexible rather than any difficulties—

But there are—. As I say, there are other reasons. Those technical reasons probably do end up being quite important—

But the committee was told by the previous Minister that HMRC wouldn't have any problem at all with delivering according to the Welsh language standards.

So, in terms of some of the technical issues we had, if you want to start with the bilingual provision and the Welsh language standards, HMRC do provide a bilingual service at the moment for their customers in line with their Welsh language scheme, and I think we can all appreciate that schemes are quite different from the requirements of the standards. And there were some issues when we got into the detail of the standards that the Welsh Ministers are required to deliver to that caused some concerns in terms of how HMRC were going to do it, particularly in terms of the multiple IT systems that go into building up the childcare services. So, for example, there are a number of what are called 'special characters' in the Welsh alphabet, such as the to bach, for example. The HMRC IT system has some issues with that.

Yes, well, with due respect, the to bach has always been there—

Oh, yes, I completely agree. Unfortunately, however—

—and HMRC would have been able to tell you, really early on, you would have thought, that it was—. I don't really want to go into it, because I think we've got to the crux of why HMRC was dropped. I think it's been dropped because Julie feels that the offer needs to be more flexible, and I can understand why you would say that. 

11:50

If we bring in training and education, for example, we wouldn't be able to do that via the HMRC, it would have to be done by the local authorities. Foster parents have to be done via the local authorities. Any people of immigration status of no resource from public funds, that would have to be done via the local authorities. And with the local authorities also wanting to do it—. I mean, there are other things with using HMRC—if any changes were made with the English offer, for example, because this would be delivered via HMRC with the English offer, that would cause difficulties for the Welsh offer. So, we wanted something more flexible. I don't know if there's anything more you want to add on that. 

The only thing I'd add is that—and, again, I think the Minister has referred to this—the costs that HMRC presented us with at the end of the discovery phase were significantly higher than the costs that had initially been outlined and that we outlined to the committee in the regulatory impact assessment. So, our conclusion is that we can deliver a cheaper system and a system that has the flexibility that the Deputy Minister has referred to by working with local authorities rather than HMRC. So, there is an important issue around value for money as well and making sure that the investment that we're making into developing the national system is one that—that, in a sense, that investment stays in Wales. So, obviously, the money that we're paying over to HMRC to run the system would be supporting HMRC and their employees wherever they may be based, many of them not based in Wales; investment in local authorities to administer the system means that we're retaining more of that investment here. 

Well, I congratulate you on persuading local government and WLGA to change their minds, because they actually told this committee that they favoured the HMRC option—and this is only going back a few months—because it will remove—and this is quoting them—

'it will remove the administrative burden of receiving applications and checking eligibility from local authorities'—

blah, blah, blah, blah. So, they've obviously changed their minds as well, which is, you know—. I congratulate you on that, but it does present us as a committee with a little bit of a problem, really, because, if we're told one thing a few months ago and then we're told something completely different today, you know, evidence—we have to go on evidence that we've heard, and the evidence has changed now.

I think, during the period since it was discussed on the committee, the work with the HMRC has helped highlight to us where we needed to go. So, I think we did learn a lot and it certainly has helped show to us where we think is the best place to go. I would like to pay tribute to the local authorities, because they've been great partners in this and they're very positive about moving forward keeping the work. And there's also a feeling that, because they are so much closer to the local public than HMRC is, they're able to build up links with families and help with some of these difficult issues. Because I'm sure many of you may have had individual cases—I certainly have—where there's been quite a lot of complexity about helping people fill in the forms and look at their eligibility. So, I say well done to the local authorities. And thanks to the HMRC, because we've had nothing but a very positive relationship with them.

Thank you. Ms Daniels, you referred to value for money. How much is it actually going to cost to change this system from being a temporary arrangement with local authorities to a permanent one? And how much more is it going to cost for the more flexible system that you have in mind? They're not going to do this for nothing. How much extra are you giving them, and will they use it for this? How are you ensuring it's used for this?

So, at the moment, local—. So, two things. Just to start by saying the eligibility checking process is not undertaken by all 22 local authorities. 

So, part of the reason for using 10 is to try to ensure that we build economies of scale and that we have a more efficient operation. Those authorities that undertake that function are given a specific grant in order to do that. That grant is ring-fenced to that purpose.

11:55

At the moment, it's about £2.5 million.

Just for the administration. They get separate funding for the childcare, obviously.

So that, as I said, is a ring-fenced sum that they use to administer the offer. We are now starting the detailed work to define the new system requirements so that we will have a single application process across Wales, moving forward. As part of that work, we'll need to consider the detailed costings, but our initial estimate suggests that it would be less than the cost proposed by HMRC.

Okay, when those costings are worked up, perhaps we could have a note comparing the two figures.

Yes, we would be very happy to share more detail on that.

If it became a universal offer, would those costs reduce? Would there be so much bureaucracy involved in checking eligibility and stuff if every child was open to the offer?

So, clearly, if every child is eligible, then a large part of the process falls away in terms of the need to verify income and so on. That doesn't mean that there's no administration. For example, with the foundation phase, which is universally available, there is an application process and there is an administrative function that sits alongside that. At this point in time, I couldn't give you any indication of—

But it would be substantially less, wouldn't it, because they wouldn't have to do all these eligibility checks and all those things?

They wouldn't have to do the eligibility checks, but they would still have to make payments to the childcare providers and make sure they were paying for the right number of hours in respect of each child. So, parents would still need to tell them where their child was going, and there would still need to be some work alongside that.

Okay. Siân, do you want to ask about the Welsh language?

I don't think that that was the real reason why the change happened.

Nevertheless, the committee was given very concrete assurances that the Welsh language side of this was going to be covered off. Have you got anything that you want to add on that? Obviously, for us as a committee, we believe what we're told when we are given assurances. So, that's quite concerning for us, really, that that suddenly then became an issue, when both HMRC and the Minister at the time told us that this wasn't going to be a problem.

So, I think it's the point that I was talking about earlier. There's a difference between a bilingual service in the context of what HMRC understood that to be, in the context of their scheme, and the very detail of the standards when they got into their IT systems.

Shouldn't that have been something that was worked out at the beginning?

Possibly, but they did need to do quite detailed work, not just into their own IT systems, but the feed-in systems from the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Post Office as well, to understand the full complexity of how the standards would comply across all of that. They do provide a bilingual service. It was just some of the specific details of the requirements placed on the Welsh Ministers, because it is the Welsh Ministers' standards that they would need to deliver against that they were struggling with.

Yes, but those standards were there right from the very beginning.

I think that the committee would feel that that should have been bottomed out at the beginning, really.

Okay, just before we move on to Flying Start, can I just ask: the Minister mentioned a longer term review of the childcare offer. Are you able to give us any indication of when that will report, please?

We haven't set out a definitive timescale on that as of yet because we've been focusing very much on getting the review in terms of training, education and on the cusp of returning to work up and running. But sometime next year.

Okay, thank you. We'll move on now to Flying Start and questions from Suzy Davies.

Thank you, Chair. Can I just begin by asking you how you respond to the assertion that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds do better in a mixed socioeconomic environment than in a targeted environment?

I think that's what Flying Start does, isn't it? Yes, I would have thought that was likely.

Well, the reason I'm asking you that, of course, is because this committee has suggested, perhaps, changes to the outreach system to target more disadvantaged children, and not necessarily capture people who happen to be in a geographic area.

So, you're saying that you feel that a universal offer in certain areas is not advantageous to—

12:00

Well, I'm asking you, really. If it's the case that we're only going after disadvantaged children, which would take very precise targeting—

I'm not only going after disadvantaged children. I feel that we should be offering something for all children, and our considerations are for all children. The reason we've targeted Flying Start is because it would be great if we had enough money to have Flying Start throughout the whole of Wales, but we just don't have that sort of money. Because I think Flying Start has proved to be a great—very successful. 

I'm going to ask you a few more questions on that. Because just in response to this committee's 2018 report, you did say that:

'defined geographical targeting of Flying Start support will be considered as part of the Welsh Government’s work on the Early Years system.'

That suggests you still have geographic targeting in mind. So, if you're looking at a very mixed source of economic experience for children, what are the geographic boundaries you're considering?

At the moment, Flying Start can go beyond the geographical boundaries, with the extension—

Yes. I think they can use 10 per cent of their income to go beyond the geographical boundaries, and many of them have done that. But, obviously, there are four elements to Flying Start, and only those geographical areas have got the four elements, but there could be the opportunity of extending some of that beyond the Flying Start geographical areas. We're looking at this.

I believe it's much more—. I believe very strongly in having a universal system, where everybody is able to access it.

I appreciate that as well. But, obviously, there are huge cost implications for that—unless you're giving us some insight into what you're going to say next week, I don't know. But actually, defining anything geographically, which now seems to be fairly arbitrary, because it's not targeted purely at disadvantaged children—on what basis are we choosing the geographic areas we are choosing at the moment?

Well, they're chosen then because of the benefit take-up in those particular areas. So, it's reaching some of the poorest children, but not all of the poorest children, but it's reaching the poorest children in a way that is not stigmatising, and where the services are open to everybody, and I think that's very important.

Okay. Well, having established that, we have fairly recent research here that a third of children living in poverty in Wales are already falling behind at the age of five—that suggests that two thirds of them aren't, but it's still a very worrying statistic. Not all children live in Flying Start areas; how are you going to reach that third who, even at such an early age, are already falling behind? How many of them are in Flying Start areas?

I think the actual number of children in poverty, the most disadvantaged that we reach through the Flying Start areas—I think it's about 46 per cent. Is that—? Do you know the actual percentage?

It's about a quarter of total children are in there, but—

So, just to give you a few of the numbers, there are just over 36,000 children benefiting from Flying Start services. That equates to about 23 per cent of children, overall, in Wales. And because of the nature of the benefit take-up data, and because we don't assess eligibility within a Flying Start area, we can't be absolutely certain how many children within a Flying Start area are actually in poverty. So, it's an estimate, and it's a range, and the range is that around 45 per cent of children in Flying Start areas would be in poverty.FootnoteLink

Well, that's interesting. I would have expected it to be much higher than that, particularly if the geographic areas had been targeted on benefit claims, effectively. Are you disappointed that the proportion is—basically, 55 per cent of those children aren't living in poverty. That's what you're saying, isn't it?

Well, I'd offer two observations. One: the nature of poverty in Wales is actually, generally, more dispersed than perhaps sometimes is appreciated. Yes, we have very concentrated areas of—

Well, actually, we do appreciate it, which is why we're asking this question. [Laughter.]

Okay. So that's one issue to think about. Sorry, I've lost my train of thought now, in terms of the second—oh, sorry: whether you're in or out of poverty is, in one sense, very black/white. But in reality of course—in terms of the income definition, it's very black/white. But, of course, there will be a large number of people who are just above, but also families who move in and out, so it's quite a transient population in some senses, in terms of people having incomes that aren't stable, people having jobs that go with that that aren't stable. So, at any one point in time, you're only sort of capturing a snapshot of what's happening. In reality, it's a bit more complex than that.

12:05

I accept that. I mentioned a third of children living in poverty had fallen behind at five; by the age of 14, half that number is still falling behind, so something has happened between that third and that half to improve the life chances of those individual children or young people. Is that attributable to Flying Start? Can you say that candidly? Or is it a happy coincidence, where there could be some causation, but we can’t prove it?

We certainly think that Flying Start is making a positive impact, both on the point at which children go to school, and then subsequently. And I think as the committee knows, we’ve been working with the SAIL—secure anonymised information linkage—and the databank there to look at how we can do longitudinal studies to track children’s progress, to look at the extent to which outcomes are effected by Flying Start interventions.

We probably don't have time for this level of detail today, but half of those children are still behind at the age of 14. So, I'd be curious to know if there's any immediate plans to help them catch up or make sure that their successors don't fall into the same position, the same trap. Have you got anything high level that you can mention at this stage?

Just in terms of what we’re thinking of doing with Flying Start—. The key thing about Flying Start is the collaborative way that it works with the health visitors and all the speech and language therapists and childcare, and we’re looking at ways of trying to get some of those elements to reach a wider group. And as I said, we talked about earlier the eight earlier years transformation pathfinders that we talked about in the local authorities—we talked about that earlier—so, that’s where we’re going to look at Flying Start and how we can try to make it more accessible to more children. So, we do want to extend the benefits of Flying Start. We do want to make it available to more children, and that’s what we’re looking at. And we’re looking at that in those eight pathfinder areas. And you'll have to wait to see what we come up with—

No, no—we'll ask you more about that in due course. Actually, that job would be an awful lot easier if you knew how many children within Flying Start areas were taking up all four elements. Why don't you know that? Why is that data not collected?

So, the approach that we’ve taken to evaluation in Flying Start—. The committee will have seen the various evaluation reports that have been published, and I know that you’re familiar with the work that, as I say, we’ve been doing with SAIL. We’re currently focusing on individual data collection, and through that we want to be able to report on levels of engagement, but also outcomes for children. We’ve been piloting that new approach in six local authorities. We hope to be able to extend that, and we hope to be able to provide more evidence about the interventions and the impact that they then achieve.

Okay. All right. Because, to be honest, I would want to know if a child’s chances have improved primarily because they’re getting good-quality childcare or primarily because their parents are taking up parenting courses. There’s got to be some indication somewhere in here about which of these four elements is making the greatest difference.

I would just caution in terms of expectations. It will always be quite difficult to definitively provide answers to that, because many parents will be taking these things up in combination. So, disentangling which has had the effect is, obviously, quite tricky—in particular, all parents will be getting the enhanced health visiting. Not every parent will take up parenting support, not every child will need speech and language help, so—

Disentangling what's helped and what hasn't I think will always be quite a difficult thing to do.

But it would also be helpful to know which combinations work best as well.

Just on the final point from me—yes, 88 per cent of Flying Start's childcare offers were taken up, but we've had some local authorities where the take-up has dropped dramatically. I think Denbighshire was down a fair bit, wasn't it, and Ceredigion, I think, had had a poor take-up. Have you got any indication why? I'm thinking of Denbighshire particularly, where there is a tradition—taking up third-party childcare is cultural there, whereas in Ceredigion, for example, there are far fewer places available in the first place and less of a tradition of children taking up childcare. But what's happened in Denbighshire?

12:10

I think there are a number of different reasons why parents do decide not to use a facility, and, obviously, that always exists, but each local authority has a Flying Start account manager in place to support them in the delivery of the programme and the account management activities, and there are formal account meetings that look at this sort of thing once a year—

—and these meetings will take place in November 2019. That's when the specific delivery issues will be discussed in depth, so that's when we'll find out what has happened and why there may have been a drop.

Can I just ask about the timing of that? Because if you already know that there's a 6 per cent drop, why will it take the best part of a year to—well, November's only next month, to be fair, now, but why will it take that length of time to establish why there's a drop? You'd have thought if you'd seen a trend like that—

Obviously, they meet at certain times and they will assess what's happened. That seems quite normal to me.

Okay, but we'll get a note on that, is it? It's just that they knew this six months ago.

In November, we'll have more information about this, so we can let you have information about that.

That would be really helpful, just for—. I'm sure constituents in Denbighshire will want to know about that. And then finally from me, Chair, if I may, Flying Start beneficiaries—it's got a specific explanation of what a Flying Start beneficiary is, but I think, particularly in view of the evidence we've heard on this committee about parental support in connection with the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement, for example, this committee is very concerned about what's out there in terms of parental support. Eighteen per cent of Flying Start beneficiaries have parents attending the informal parenting courses; that's 18 per cent, that's not very high. Any idea about what you might be able to do to encourage take-up or is that very locally decided?

If I can add to that, obviously, somebody only has to attend one course—we've got no way of knowing whether parents are completing the whole of a course, really.

Obviously, the offer is there for parents to take up the parenting courses, and there are four elements to Flying Start, and maybe some of the parents don't feel that they want to or need to. I don't think we've got any more evidence on that for take-up—

Well, the reach of this is going to be important, because we need the reassurance on the back of the legislation that is going through at the moment.

Parenting courses are, of course, one aspect of parenting support, but not the only one, and they'll be appropriate for a lot of parents, but for some not. What all parents do get at an enhanced level in Flying Start is the support of the health visitor, so the health visitor is, in effect, providing a significant amount of support for parenting. Now, that can be practical things like weaning or potty training et cetera, but, actually, it's also about managing a child's behaviour, managing how a parent develops that bonding and that attachment with their child. So, the role of the health visitor in supporting a parent to be a parent is absolutely critical, and every parent in Flying Start areas will be getting that enhanced level of support. Of course, it's not just in Flying Start areas now, because with the Healthy Child Wales programme, the universal programme of health visiting visits, we have a much more consistent and standardised set of visits and engagements with parents that cover a lot of these areas.

In addition, I'd also add that when parents use the childcare in Flying Start, or childcare generally outside of Flying Start areas, there is often a lot of working between the childcare setting and the parent over parenting—again, managing a child's behaviour, managing any issues that the childcare worker thinks are emerging in terms of whether it's eating or, again, toileting. So, parenting courses are important, but it's really essential that we see those in the broader context of the different ways in which lots of professionals interact with parents, providing them with advice, guidance and support, and actually what works for parents in terms of how they take on board some of that advice and that help. Sometimes a formal course is quite off-putting for parents, but the sort of quiet word, the top tips, the advice that a friendly professional gives can be very, very impactful.

12:15

That's a really helpful answer. It does raise, unfortunately, another question about whether a health visitor in those circumstances might find themselves in a difficult position if they're dealing with a parent who has smacked a child, but we'll leave that for Stage 3.

But thank you; that was a helpful answer. Thank you, Chair.

Okay. Thank you. Are there any other questions from Members? No. Okay. Well, can I thank the Minister and the officials for attending this morning? As usual, you'll be sent a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but thank you again for your attendance. Thank you.

4. Papur i’w Nodi
4. Paper to Note

Okay. Item 4 is papers to note. There's just one today: the letter from the WLGA regarding the Childcare Funding (Wales) Act 2019 in response to our letter asking about the change in approach.

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public for the Remainder of the Meeting

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 5 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 12:16.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:16.

Cywiriad/Correction: The latest stats show 27 per cent of children benefit from Flying Start. The estimate of those in poverty is 36-44 per cent.
 

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