Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd
Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd07/01/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Jack Sargeant AM|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM|
|Leanne Wood AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Claire Bennett||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Kirsty Williams AM||Y Gweinidog Addysg|
|Minister for Education|
|Megan Colley||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Lisa Salkeld||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Ross Davies||Dirprwy Glerc|
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 09:15.
The meeting began at 09:15.
Good morning. Bore da and welcome to the meeting. There is no need to turn off mobile phones or other electronic devices, but please ensure that those are in silent mode. We have apologies and substitutions. We do have apologies from Neil McEvoy and Michelle Brown.
So, we move straight on to new petitions. Item 3: 'Earlier notification of council budgets by the Welsh Government #SaveOurServices'. This is page 30 in your pack. This petition was submitted by UNISON Neath Port Talbot having collected 191 signatures. And the text basically calls on Welsh Government,
'to give budgets to councils no later than mid-January 2020 in order that firstly, local authorities comply with all legislative requirements in relation to budget setting process for council tax, and secondly so that they can give appropriate legislative budgets to schools in order for them to be in compliance with their own guidelines set by the Welsh Government.'
The background to this is that an initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 3 December. A research briefing has also been provided and the petitioners have provided further comments. What action would you like to take going forward on this issue?
I just think we've been overtaken by events, haven't we? I've got a lot of sympathy for what the petitioners say. It's a nightmare when you're trying to plan the delivery of services when you don't know what your full budget is going to be—whether that's schools or any other services that local government provides. So, the earlier they can get the information, the better because that gives them certainty. But given that we had the election, that just overtook everything and we are where we are with the timing of the budget now. It's far from ideal, but I don't think there's anything that this committee, or indeed even the Government, can do about it now.
I'd share Leanne's thoughts. I've got full support and sympathy for local authorities, but what is that we can do? Probably nothing right now. But again, I welcome the Minister's response in saying that it is their intention always to publish it as soon as possible. So, it's just unfortunate where we are really.
Yes. So, would you like to close the petition—
—and in doing so, thank the petitioners for bringing this to our attention and at least, as you rightly pointed out, it has transpired in the Minister being made fully aware of those concerned—?
And Members can go back to the Minister and remind them of the words that were said at this point, if there are delays in the future. It's not as if it's gone nowhere.
No, absolutely. Okay.
The next one: 'Don't leave Wales behind—teach menstrual wellbeing in schools'. This was submitted by Jade Morgan, having collected 846 signatures, and the text of the petition reads as:
'My name's Jade, and for 15 years I was told the severe pain I was experiencing as part of my menstrual cycle was completely normal. I suffered from excruciating pain, fatigue, and bowel and bladder related problems – all whilst trying to get through school, navigate puberty, and pass my exams.
I wish I had known that what I was experiencing wasn't normal – but symptoms of a common condition called endometriosis which affects 1 in 10 women from puberty to menopause...By working with Endometriosis UK, I hope we can do exactly that by persuading the Welsh Assembly to teach menstrual wellbeing in schools.'
We've had an initial response to the petition from the Minister for Education on 6 November, which is in your pack. A research briefing has also been provided and the petitioner has provided further comment. How would you like to go forward?
I think I would like to be able to see if we can get the 'what matters' statement amended. We've come on leaps and bounds in this whole agenda in the last three, four, five years. It wasn't long ago that we weren't able to talk about periods and menstrual cycles, and it was just considered a completely taboo subject. We've moved on so far from there now with the campaigns around period poverty and all the rest of it that it's something that is much more normalised, and so the idea that this is excluded—. I know the Minister has said that schools can be free to teach around this if they want to, but it's such a basic matter of women's health, I think we should do what we can and congratulate Jade for bringing the petition. It sounds like she went through hell in school and we should do what we can to ensure that girls don't have to go through that, I think, if we can.
I'd support that, yes.
We could write to the Minister.
Yes, write back to the Minister and ask whether a specific reference to menstrual well-being could be put into the 'what matters' statement. Okay.
Item 3.3: 'To Provide a Chronic Fatigue Department in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Marjorie Lasebikan, having collected 155 signatures. The text of the petition reads as follows,
'There is no Chronic Fatigue Department in the whole of Wales! Chronic Fatigue is being overlooked or thought of as depression. I would like to see a Department set up with a view to individuals being assessed properly. General Practitioners say 'there is no cure' or 'you haven't been assessed'. Without a Chronic Fatigue department there can be no research into finding a cure or no means of being assessed.'
We had a response to this petition from the Minister for Health and Social Services—in your pack—on 3 December and a research briefing has been provided. The petitioner has also provided further comment.
I don't think the Minister's response is adequate here. I think, possibly, the problem is that we're dealing with a relatively small group of people who are affected by this, but the condition is very debilitating. I've come across people, I've got some experience of having contact with people with this and people just get fobbed off. There may be no straightforward cure, but there are things that can be done to make people's lives a bit more comfortable—pain management and so on. I just don't think what we've had from the Minister is adequate at all, so I think we should write back and, in line with what the petitioner wants, make enquiries about the membership and the remit and programme of the steering group. We should also ask for a Welsh Government response to the criticisms made by Dr Charles Shepherd about the provision of services within the Welsh NHS as well.
Okay. Jack, are you happy to support that?
Yes, very happy. Chronic illness is disastrous for people's lives, or pain from it, so I'm more than happy to find out more information.
Okay. We'll write back to the Minister on that one. Thank you.
'Changing Places toilet facilities'. This petition was submitted by Llanelli Changing Places Campaign Group, having collected 1,273 signatures.
'This petition urges the Welsh Government to make Immediate Changes to Building and Planning Regulations to ensure that Changing Places toilet facilities, with Adult Changing Bench, Hoist and enough space for 2 Carers, are provided in all Large Public Buildings as they are Built, Redeveloped or Refurbished.'
An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 15 November. A research briefing has been provided and the petitioners have provided further comment.
The Minister said she's awaiting advice, but maybe we should go back again to the Minister and try and push that and find out some timescales just to update the petitioner.
Yes. So, we'll write back, Leanne—yes?
Yes. I'm staggered that this is still an issue that we're discussing. I remember being part of an equalities committee in around 2005, when we produced a report on this and made very similar recommendations. Here we are in 2020, still debating the same issue. So, it's sad, really.
Okay. So, we'll write back to the—.
We'll write back to the Minister and try and understand a bit more about the timescales in which he's going to consider the advice.
I mean, it's a reasonable petition. It's not asking for existing buildings to be adapted. It's asking for any new or refurbished buildings to be—. And they're large buildings as well, so it's not every public building even, is it? So, I don't think it's an unreasonable request.
I don't, no. I agree. Okay.
So, item 3.5: 'Remove the words which promote the recovery of oil and gas resource from the Welsh National Marine Plan'. This is page 76 in your pack. This petition was submitted by Susanna Kenyon, having collected 253 signatures, 80 online and 173 on paper. An associated petition on another website collected 937 signatures. The text of the petition is as follows,
'Now your Government has declared a climate emergency, we ask that these words should be removed from the draft Marine Plan: "optimising the economic development and recovery of UK oil & gas resource in order to
provide Welsh and wider UK businesses and consumers with a secure and resilient supply of fossil fuels".'
An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 19 November. A research briefing on the petition has been provided and the petitioner has also provided further comment.
We could see if the petitioner's happy with the progress, really, and—
Is there any more that the petitioner wants us to do?
There's very little, really, now, isn't there, that—?
Yes. I think in relation to the marine plan, obviously it's been made now. Some changes were made to the specific wording and I think in the debate in Plenary shortly before Christmas, the Minister made quite a lot of the changes that were made in relation to oil and gas extraction, and it was the large focus of the debate. So, in relation to the plan, there probably is little that the committee could do at this point. The petitioner is making some wider points that, overall, the powers over off-shore extraction should be devolved. That's a matter outside of the remit of this committee. And then she makes references to the sort of decarbonisation approach more generally of the Government, which the committee is considering through the petition on the climate emergency, say, for example.
It seems to me that this petition has run its course, really, and done—
Done its job.
—what it was there to do. Can we close the petition and thank the petitioner?
So, now we move on to updates to previous petitions: adopt WHO guidelines for air pollution into Welsh law and introduce a clean air Act for Wales—page 88 in your pack. This petition was submitted by the British Heart Foundation Cymru and was first considered in November 2018, having collected 688 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 5 November last year and agreed to write to the Minister for environment to ask for an update on the development of a clean air plan, an explanation as to why the production and publication of this has been delayed, and also information about how commitments made by the First Minister and his Welsh Labour leadership manifesto to bringing forward a clean air Act are actually being progressed. A response was received from the Minister on 26 November and the petitioners have provided further comment.
I share the concerns about timescale. It is happening—something is happening, isn't it? But this was something that was promised two years ago and is not likely to be implemented for another two years into the future, so I can see the frustration, and there are real implications to keeping air pollution as it is. So, is there anything we can do in terms of asking if the timescale could be speeded up and if this could be introduced into this term, rather than following the next Assembly election?
We could write to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask for more information.
Yes, I don't see there's any harm in doing that.
And get some definitive—
And the sooner the better, really. I don't see any harm in writing to the Minister to find out.
Yes, to see if we can accelerate the timetable.
Item 4.2: 'Give young people a voice when commissioning local services in Wales', page 93. This petition was submitted by the Changing Minds campaign group, first considered in October 2018, having collected 4,252 signatures. We last considered this on 17 September, agreeing to write to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask for a further update on the work led by the strengthening and advancing equality and human rights in Wales working group, and also to express the committee's support for the petitioners' call for a statutory requirement to include children and young people in the commissioning of children and young people's services. A response was received from the Minister on 22 November and the petitioners have provided further comments.
Well, it doesn't look as if the Government is going to move on it, does it, having ruled out new duties, so I'm not sure where else we can take this now, even though I've got great sympathy for what the petitioner is trying to achieve. I can't think where else we can take it.
Okay. Jack, any comment?
I can't add any more to that, apart from I think the petition is a very good petition, that young people and our future generations should have more of a voice in services, but I think the Government's made clear at this stage where they are, so I don't think we can take it further forward.
Okay, but we'll thank the petitioners for bringing this forward.
Okay. The next two items we're going to consider together—4.3 and 4.4: 4.3 is 'Ban the sale of puppies by pet shops and all commercial 3rd party dealers in Wales (Lucy's Law)', page 100 in your pack. This petition was submitted by C.A.R.I.A.D., and was first considered in January 2019, having collected 11,195 signatures. 'Call for better enforcement of puppy farms in Wales', that petition was submitted by Laura Clays and was first considered in November 2019, having collected 112 signatures.
We last considered the petitions on 5 and 19 November respectively, agreeing to group them for consideration together in the future. The committee agreed to write to the Minister for environment to request a timescale in which she expects the urgent and immediate review of the dog breeding regulations to be completed, and for decisions over how progress could be made. A response was received from the Minister on 26 November. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed but have not provided further comments.
Have we had any further information regarding the review, whether or not there's been a response from the Minister on that? It was due to be received at the end of December.
By the end of December, yes.
No, we've received nothing subsequently to this letter.
We can't really do anything until we've got that information, then, really, can we?
I'd wait until we've got the announcement from the Minister, following the review.
Item 4.5: 'Declare a Climate Emergency and fit all policies with zero-carbon targets', page 105. This was submitted by Extinction Rebellion and was first considered in May 2019, having collected 6,148 signatures.
We last considered this on 1 October, agreeing to write to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask for clarification of the membership, role and schedule of the Cabinet sub-committee established since the climate emergency declaration, and also to ask what support and funding the Welsh Government would be willing to contribute to the establishment and facilitation of a citizens' assembly on climate change. A response was received from the Minister on 23 October. On 18 December, the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee published an annual report on the Welsh Government's progress on climate change. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed, but have not provided further comment.
The Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee report—didn't that say that the Government's declared climate change emergency hadn't really affected policy, it hadn't really changed anything? So, it was quite critical of the Government, and it would be in line with what this petitioner is saying as well. The responses are all around this Cabinet committee, but the petitioners are asking for funding for a citizens' assembly, which is a different thing completely. So, I don't want us to lose this. I think we need to keep a watching brief, certainly in terms of the Cabinet sub-committee. But, also, I think we need to look at what the Government says in response to what the climate change committee have said, about their criticisms of the climate change emergency, and then revisit, perhaps, in the light of those—when we've got all that information.
Yes, I'd support that, to keep a watching brief and revisit if necessary, but being mindful that we don't want to duplicate the work of the other committee. But, I'm more than happy to just sit on it for a while and watch what happens. It's the major issue of the world. I wouldn't like to close it just yet.
Okay. 4.6: 'Children's used uniform scheme'. This petition was submitted by Rachael Mackay, Topaz class, Monnow Primary School, and was first considered in May 2019, having collected 54 signatures. We last considered this on 5 November, agreeing to write back to the Minister for Education to ask what support and encouragement the Welsh Government is able to provide to schools and other bodies facilitating the operation of used uniform schemes, such as that operating in Denbighshire. A response was received from the Minister on 27 November. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed, but have not provided further comment.
Would the petitioner then be aware that there's £5 million available now in the form of access grants? Presumably, they would go to schools from local authorities, and they can then be free to spend on school uniform schemes, if that's what they so wish. Is the petitioner happy with that as a response?
We haven't received a direct response from the petitioner to the latest letter in which that information about the grants is provided by the Minister. We could go to the petitioner and ask for a specific view on that. I think the Minister's letter around the funding implies that different local authorities may deal with that money differently, and award it in grants differently. In relation to the petitioner, I'm not sure of the age of the petitioner, in terms of whether the petitioner is a pupil or a teacher. The question may be—we may want to find that out before asking the question, or ask the question in a certain way.
Okay. Well, it's quite specific in terms of talking about every city in Wales, isn't it? We haven't got many cities, really, so if we wanted this to be a widespread service, there'd have to be flexibility in the text of the petition, anyway. But, it seems to me that the Minister's response provides for quite good flexibility if there's a grant available. So, if the petitioner's happy with that as a response, then we could close the petition, but I don't want to close the petition if there's something more they think we should be doing.
Shall we try and find out the information and go from there?
Yes. We'll approach the petitioner and ask for their view specifically on that.
Yes, okay, great.
Item 5 on the agenda, we have a paper to note, and that's, 'Ensure access to the cystic fibrosis medicine, Orkambi, as a matter of urgency'. We closed the petition on 19 November following confirmation that the Welsh Government had reached agreement with Vertex Pharmaceuticals over making Orkambi available to patients in Wales on the NHS. Correspondence has since been received from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust thanking the committee for its efforts in helping to achieve a positive outcome. So, if I can invite the committee to note the correspondence, and again thank the petitioners for that. It's been a really successful outcome.
I'm going to propose a short break before the evidence session with the Minister that begins at 09:45. Okay? Thank you.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 09:40 a 09:45.
The meeting adjourned between 09:40 and 09:45.
Good morning. Bore da. I welcome the Minister and Welsh Government officials to the meeting. And if you could introduce yourselves for the record.
Certainly, Chair. Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education. And, this morning, I'm joined by—
Claire Bennett, curriculum assessment division.
Meg Colley from the safeguarding and supporting achievement team.
Thank you. We are grateful to you for attending today to discuss several petitions that the committee is currently considering. Primarily, the purpose of this session is to discuss petition P-05-862, 'Tackling school bullying'. We thank you for your previous correspondence in relation to this issue. However, following the recent publication of your revised anti-bullying guidance in 2019, and evidence we've received from the petitioner and a number of other stakeholders, we do feel that today's session will assist in clarifying more issues.
Later in the session, we also wish to ask a couple of questions in relation to two petitions that concern collective worship in school assemblies, but we're going to start the session today with bullying in schools. We will move straight into those if you're content.
And I'm going to start with: can the Minister explain the legal status of the new challenging bullying guidance, published on 6 November 2019?
Thank you, Janet. As you have just stated, since the petition was submitted to your committee, we have indeed published our new guidance in November of last year, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to come before the committee to talk about the contents of the new guidance, and to reiterate the emphasis that I place on ensuring that all of our children feel very safe and secure in our schools. That's of paramount importance to me, and, of course, is the bedrock for a child being able to make the most of their opportunities within our education system. Our vision that is contained in the guidance is a challenge to tackle bullying holistically, addressing the root causes that sometimes lead a child to behave in a negative way towards their peers, but to also create an inclusive and engaging environment for all of our children.
With regard to the status, 'Rights, respect and equality' provides statutory guidance to school governing bodies and to local authorities, but there is also advisory guidance for children, a young person's version, and advisory guidance to parents. So, it comes as an entire package, but with regard to governing bodies and local authorities, the guidance is statutory. Therefore, I believe that is strengthened from the previous position, where advice on anti-bullying was only advisory in nature. That, I hope, demonstrates my commitment, and the Government's commitment, to take this agenda forward.
Thank you. The petitioner has asked that there should be rules or legislation to ensure that anti-bullying policies are carried out by school staff. Does the Minister believe that this guidance provides the necessary provision to ensure that staff do so?
Yes, I do believe that the new statutory basis on which the guidance is based, as I said, for governing bodies and for local authorities, which emanates out of primary legislation of the Education Act 2002 and the Education and Inspections Act 2006, does ensure that school staff and the entire school community will have a responsibility to take these issues forward. You will be aware, under current legislation, that all schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy, and there was advice that schools should have an anti-bullying policy within that. The new guidance now requires all schools to have a specific anti-bullying policy. It also requires schools and local authorities to record bullying and collect data around bullying, which, again, I think takes us in a more strengthened position from what we had previously, where that was not the case.
Thank you. The Children's Commissioner for Wales called for a duty for schools to record incidents of bullying. To what extent does the status of the guidance meet that call?
Okay. So, I believe that the guidance does do that. I would be the first to admit that under previous advisory guidance that wasn't necessarily the case. I think that was a gap in our system that we have tried to address in the new policy.
It sets out very clearly within the document about how we would expect data and incidents to be recorded and collected. And whilst we have not provided a template around what an anti-bullying policy would look like for schools, we have provided templates for schools and local education authorities about how they should record bullying incidents, to try and provide uniformity of data collection across the piece. So I think it does take us a step forward from where we were previously. And it is quite clear within the documentation about our expectations of how incidents should be recorded, how data should be collected, and also how that data is then used to reflect and update anti-bullying policies within schools.
The circumstances in which children and young people are living their lives can change dramatically over quite a short period of time. So, at the beginning, 20 years ago, we wouldn't have been talking about online cyber-bullying. There are new ways in which perpetrators can act against another child and we need to be able to ensure that any data collection allows a school to reflect on maybe an incident that perhaps is happening. I know, Leanne, for instance, you've raised many times in the Chamber issues around hate crime arising out of the Brexit referendum. So, sometimes we see different trends, and this recording of data isn't just to record numbers, but actually it's to help inform policy, both within a school and a local education authority.
That data we would expect to be collected at the school level, to help, as I said, inform schools' own reactions. But we'd expect that data to be shared with local education authorities, and of course that is a crucial part of a county-wide approach, but also to help us with ensuring success and implementation, but also to look at compliance as well. So local education authorities receiving that data may be looking for trends and be able to use that then to support schools with their work, if they had concerns that a school was not responding accurately.
I just wonder if I can ask a follow-up question to that. You said in your answer there that you 'expect' and that schools 'should'. I wasn't really clear as to whether or not that was a duty and you expected all reports or allegations of bullying to be recorded or whether there is some discretion as to which incidents are recorded and which are not.
No. We set very clear expectations that schools have to record incidents—all incidents. And as I said, to help schools do that, we have provided a template. We're not specifying that that particular template from Welsh Government has to be used, but we have made that available both to schools and local education authorities, firstly for workload issues, but, secondly, providing that, we hope, will give us an opportunity to have consistency of approach in terms of recording. So, as I said, there is some flexibility about what an anti-bullying policy would look like, because that might be different in each school. And also what's really important for me is that the school develops that in conjunction with the whole-school community, and with children themselves. I think it's much more powerful to be a successful policy, rather than us hand one to a school and then the school says, 'Right, we've got it.' If children and staff have been involved in the development of what your anti-bullying policy will look like in your school, I believe that gives us much more chance of it being successfully embedded in the whole-school approach around behaviour. But for the template and the recording, then I believe that there was sense in providing a template for schools to be able to use that.
Thank you, Chair. Minister, you mentioned the rise of hate crime, and so on, and Leanne's mentioned that a number of times in the Chamber. But I think that's a wider issue now. We've seen it—or certainly I've seen it, and witnessed it—in football matches just over this Christmas period, and I fully agree with Gary Neville when he said that Governments should take the lead on this. So, I welcome the guidance and I believe that this is a step in the right direction. But, Minister, how do you determine whether or not schools are complying with the Government's expectations, and if they're not, what sanctions will there be for schools or governing bodies that do not comply with these expectations?
I think, firstly, you're right, Jack, hate crime is something that isn't just an issue that we're having to tackle within our schools—there are broader societal behaviours that we need to tackle. But school and education, I believe, has a crucial role in challenging some of the, perhaps, assumptions that children come to school with when they've heard them, perhaps in their community, or even within their family, and this gives us an opportunity and a space where we can challenge behaviours and views and language and be able to provide an opportunity to do that. There is a specific section within the guidance on hate crime and on bullying as regards protected characteristics. So, there is a specific section within the guidance on that.
With regard to compliance, there are a number of ways that we would expect a school to—. The first thing, I think, is really important, and I need to get this on the record, just in case there is any, not misinformation, but there is not a clear understanding: the guidance was published in November; we are giving schools and governing bodies to the end of this academic year to put these policies in place. So, I just want to put that on the record.
So, it's not statutory yet, then.
No, it's statutory now, but what we have—. The guidance is on a statutory basis, but we have said that, in terms of implementation, we would expect all schools to have their anti-bullying policies in place—because this is a new requirement on them—by the end of this academic year. So, we've given them time to actually do it.
We are working with Association of Directors of Education in Wales officers—so, those are directors of education and education welfare officers in our local authorities—to support them in supporting their schools to ensure that this is being worked on. We will do an online survey in the spring to check progress on where individual local authorities are, and schools are, in their process of ensuring that they are compliant with the statutory guidance. And then, of course, there will be a number of ways in which that will continue to be monitored. So, we would expect a school self-evaluation process to be the first part of that. We would expect local education authorities to monitor schools' compliance with the guidance.
There will be, of course, a continuing role for Estyn. Estyn already, as part of their inspection framework, look at support and look at anti-bullying policies in the school—that we'd expect to happen. And as part of our ongoing reform to school evaluation, which sits alongside our curriculum reform, as Members will be aware, we have held schools accountable in the past to a very narrow set of performance measures that have solely related to academic levels and academic performance. In our new evaluation regime, I want Wales to be at the forefront of including child well-being as part of how a school supports children, as well as their academic learning. And we're continuing to look at international advice and evidence to see how best we can capture that. It's a work in progress; it's not complete yet. So, we would expect schools' own self-evaluation, Welsh Government's evaluation of performance within schools and Estyn to ensure that the guidance is adhered to and implemented successfully.
If I can just ask a follow-up question to the question that Jack asked. We've had information from Show Racism the Red Card, and the number of racist incidents reported has increased by 21 per cent over the previous year, and there's been a 46 per cent increase in exclusions as a result of racist incidents—143 learners excluded for racism. You've acknowledged that hate crime is on the rise. How are you monitoring this? Because you can have great policies in place, but if these racist incidents are increasing all of the time, then something's going wrong with the system, isn't it?
First of all, we want to collect that data. Whether the data is good or bad, we need to know what that data is, and I believe the new guidance puts us in a better position to understand and to have proper collection of data at a school level and at a local authority level. If that data tells us—and I would instinctively agree with you, Leanne, and certainly the evidence from organisations like Show Racism the Red Card, the children's commissioner, and just conversations that I have with headteachers, and I'm in a different school every week—I think the anecdotal evidence that I would receive from headteachers is that they too feel, in certain communities and in certain schools, that this has really come to the fore at present, for whatever reasons that is. The Welsh Government—my colleague Jane Hutt and I have worked together. We will be specifically using some EU transition fund to develop hate crime in schools projects, so that's looking to work with the Welsh Local Government Association and third sector organisations to actually put programmes into schools to address this behaviour and to provide support to staff, lessons to children, to actually get under what may be driving those increases in those statistics. So, collecting the data is one thing, but taking action to address what that data is telling you is a different issue, and that's why, as I said, both myself and Jane Hutt have worked together to work alongside, as I said, the third sector and the WLGA to be able to put new resources into a hate crime project in school.
Do you have any intention to try to communicate with parents around that as well, because your messages are undermined, potentially, in schools if kids are going home and hearing racist chants at the tv when the football's on?
Yes, absolutely. Part of the guidance is advice to parents. So, although we can't have statutory guidance for parents on how they parent, this is a toolkit of resources, and the advice for parents is to try and reinforce what children might be told in school—to provide advice to parents, not only if their child is a victim of bullying, but, actually, if your child might be a perpetrator, what you need to be doing, what advice you need to be giving as a parent, and sources of help, because parenting can be a really challenging job, as you and I both know. So, sometimes parents need help and they need to know. So, this is an attempt to be able to provide information to parents as well, and what we know is that to successfully address issues around bullying, that parental engagement with the school is going to be important. The guidance for schools states that, but also we have produced, as I said, specific material for parents, and we've been using Welsh Government's communications channels to make parents aware of that since the publication in November—so our Education Begins at Home Facebook pages, our Education Wales Facebook pages, Education Wales Twitter feed, my Twitter feed—saying to parents, 'Look, this information is out there for you. It's available online. If you're worried about your child, if you're struggling to know what to do to best support your child, there is this advice out there for you to have a look at. It also signposts, doesn't it, to other organisations that may be of assistance to parents?
Can I just add to that that the hate crime in schools project is actually to develop critical thinking skills for children, so they can think independently of, perhaps, some kind of beliefs that they're hearing at home? So, it's about developing those skills in pupils.
No, I think my next question is regarding the anti-bullying policy—a model of one—but I think that was answered in an earlier question. My only comment is: would we be able to have an update on the spring evaluation to understand where schools are?
Absolutely. I'm very happy to let the committee know how that spring survey goes. What we're doing is keeping in close touch with education welfare officers in local authorities and ADEW, especially around governor support. So, if they are aware that, actually, there is more help, training and information that schools need to be able to successfully implement this, then we're keeping in close touch with them to be able to respond positively to that. That's why we're doing it in the spring, because we're leaving it until the end of the academic year for people to be in that place. If, in the spring, we find—if we'd left it to the end, and we'd gone, 'Oh, my goodness, they haven't done it', then we wouldn't have had any time to readjust the support available. If we do it in the spring and if we're finding that, actually, there's more support that the Government needs to provide, we'll be in a position to do that, then, in the summer term.
Have you given any consideration to including within the guidance minimum standards? Children in Wales have suggested that policies should have minimum standards in order to be able to monitor delivery.
I'm aware of what Children in Wales have said about minimum standards. The expectations that we've set out very, very clearly in the document, I think, in other vocabulary, could be described as minimum standards. This is a de minimus approach—this is what schools have to do—so this is absolutely the minimum of our expectations. Schools can do extra things on top of this if they wanted.
I believe that what we've set out here—I'm not clear from Children in Wales's evidence if they actually give some hard, concrete examples of what they expected those minimum standards to be.
I think they were concerned about the inconsistency of approach within different places and different schools, and the argument is that minimum standards would introduce consistency. Do you think that your de minimus approach will ensure consistency?
Yes, I think we're absolutely clear, as I said, about our expectations and what we would expect to be done. Schools can do additional things on top of that. We did think very carefully, as I said earlier, about having a standard anti-bullying policy that all schools had to—you know, 'This is your anti-bullying policy.' But I think that really would have detracted from the ethos that we were trying to build, in that we wanted schools to develop their own policy, and do that in conjunction with their own pupils and with their own staff, and their entire school community. The danger of me just handing something to them would have led to, I think, a lack of engagement, because in developing this policy there's a real chance, isn't there, to use the development of the anti-bullying policy within schools themselves as a really valuable lesson, by asking children and working with individual classes? As I said, I think that will give us more ownership of that policy rather than simply a diktat coming down, but we've been very clear in the document about minimum expectations and what schools have to do, and what those policies have to include.
Okay. Can you explain, then, how the guidance is linked to other evaluation and accountability mechanisms, as has been suggested by the children's commissioner?
Sure. I think the document itself is very clear and makes lots of connections to other aspects of the curriculum—so, for instance, the digital competence framework. So, when you're thinking about online bullying, the document references, 'When you're thinking about online bullying in your anti-bullying policy, this is something to include in your digital competence framework curriculum.' So, when you're teaching children about safe usage and being safe online, and being a responsible online user and being protective of yourself, there's linkage. There are links to travel behaviour policies. We know, sometimes, that school transport and travelling to and from school—that's when, maybe, incidents happen. It makes links to what behaviour policies in schools should look like. It makes links to exclusion policies.
Obviously, at the moment, we are in the middle of—it's not complete yet—our work on the whole-school approach to mental health and well-being, which will culminate in a toolkit for schools to be able to assess where they are in terms of well-being for schools, not just in terms of bullying but in general.
Will that be something that Estyn will be looking at, then, as well as the bullying—the mental health side of things as well?
Yes, absolutely. Can I be absolutely clear that Estyn, already, under the existing framework, would expect schools to be able to demonstrate what they were doing in terms of well-being, and that will continue? Estyn also, in their meetings with school governors, already will ask school governors how they are complying with statutory guidance and legislation. Governors will already be asked those questions and have to demonstrate that. That's one of the benefits of putting the guidance onto a statutory footing, because if Estyn asks governors to account for how they're taking legislation and statutory guidance into effect in their schools, this, now, will have to be a part of that, in the way it wasn't before. And as I said, Leanne, although it's still a work in progress, because it's highly complicated and complex, and I don't want to reduce well-being to simply a tick-box exercise in a school evaluation, because we don't want to reduce it to just that, and also we've got to—. When looking at how you monitor school performance, we've got to be really careful of making sure that we're doing good, not just looking good. So, how you make that meaningful—. So, that work is ongoing in terms of, as I said, a reformed evaluation framework, which will sit alongside the curriculum, which I'm determined will include how schools address pupils' health and well-being, because schools—. Yes, qualifications and academic success is important, but schools are about so much more than that.
Can I just ask one final question on that? Mental health is clearly a growing and problematic area of policy, but are you also taking into account neurodiversity? I asked you earlier on about school exclusions, and my understanding is that a very large percentage of school exclusions are related to people who are neurodiverse. Clearly, that fits into this agenda and we wouldn't want to be penalising people because of their neurodiversity or excluding them for bullying when that may not be the root cause. So, what account have you taken of that in all of this, please?
You're absolutely right, and that's why we're trying to look at bullying in a holistic way and trying to understand, if a child is behaving poorly, negatively, or is a perpetrator of bullying—not just simply writing that child off, but trying to understand, with an expectation of working with that child, what is leading that child to behave in a certain way. There could be as diverse reasons as there are diverse children in our system. It could be that they've heard something horrible at home and had no idea that that is not an acceptable way to speak to another pupil. It could be of adverse childhood experiences, trauma that they themselves have endured or witnessed, and, as we know, children then may play that out in a different circumstance. It could be additional learning needs or it could be neurodiversity. There could be a whole host of reasons why a child behaves in a way. And that's why this guidance seeks to address bullying in that holistic way so we also understand what is driving the behaviours of children who are perpetrators because they could have been bullied themselves in a different setting, which is leading them to behave in this way.
So, it's not about writing children off, but it is about saying, 'All children need to be safe. We do have to tackle bullying, we have to take it seriously, but a part of doing that is trying to get underneath what is driving those behaviours in the first instance', and, certainly, greater understanding of that and awareness of that across the school community I think is really important, and neurodiversity could be one aspect of a child's being that we need to better understand and why that then might lead, in some instances, to behaviour that other people find challenging.
Okay, thank you.
Okay. Are you happy to move on to collective worship? Okay. Can the Minister explain the issues in relation to collective worship that have caused delays in responding fully to the petition? In a letter to the committee in May 2018, the Minister said the work around collective worship was nearing completion.
Okay. So, I think the first thing to recognise is that as an issue—. You as a committee will know this better than anybody, because you're in receipt of petitions that are (1) calling for collective worship of a Christian nature to be abolished within schools and another petition asking for it to be kept. Clearly, there are strongly held views on both sides of this argument, and there is certainly a complex legislative background that has led us to the situation we find ourselves in at the moment, dating back to the Education Act 1944. That provision in 1944 has been carried through in various education Acts that have followed, right the way up to 1988.
The work that I related to you in my letter back then was to look at trying to understand some of the legislative complexities and about why—not why, but how we're in the situation we find ourselves in at the moment and how that legal framework may have been influenced by the Human Rights Act 1998, European Court of Human Rights cases, and United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child cases. So, this is a very complex area. That policy work has been completed, and what it has demonstrated to me is that this is highly complex and will need a great deal of public consultation, and would need a change in primary legislation if the Government was to adopt a policy of abolishing collective worship. And the honest answer—and there's no point in me trying to spin it in any other way—I have to make choices around priorities of what I and my officials spend our time on. We are engaged in the largest single education reform programme, I would argue, in the history of devolution, and my priority has got to be on establishing a new curriculum for Wales, and therefore we have just simply not prioritised more work on this very, very complex and not an easy issue, when we've got so many other things to do within the department. So whilst we've done some policy work, a decision on whether to go out to do more consultation on changing a system, I have decided not to prioritise given what else we're doing within the department at the moment.
Okay, thank you. Can the Minister explain further the competing interests around human rights, equalities legislation and the UNCRC?
Well, as I said, these are potentially complex issues around rights to education, the competing rights of a child and the child's wishes as opposed to, potentially, a parent's wishes. The rights with regard to the role of the state to ensure an education. So they are complex, they are competing, and as I said, whilst we've been able to do some policy work around sketching all of that out, it is clear to me that, if the Government was to make a policy decision to end this practice, then that would require significant consultation with all stakeholders and those that have, as I said, strongly held views in this regard, as well as primary legislation. And I've taken the decision at this stage that our priority is working on the curriculum, and therefore we won't be exploring some of these complexities in a public consultation or legislation in this Assembly term.
Okay, thank you. Jack?
Thank you, Chair. I'll ask this question, but I believe your view will be the same from the answer you've given in the first response. How do you respond, Minister, to the views of Wales Humanists that statutory Christian worship contradicts the ethos of the new curriculum to ensure that learners become ethical citizens of Wales and the world? And you've previously stated, in October of last year, that your priority is developing the new curriculum, I'm assuming your position remains the same.
Absolutely. We are heading to a big, big deadline in our curriculum reform journey. The final version of the curriculum will be published at the end of this month, and as you can imagine, a considerable amount of time, resource and energy, not just within the education department, but with all the education players in Wales, including schools—that is what we're focusing on and we're asking people to focus on.
I think it's important to say that collective worship is not part of the curriculum; it is discrete from the curriculum. It's obviously an important part of the organisation of the school day, but it's not a formal part of the curriculum. The curriculum, and our proposed reforms to religious education, are, indeed, crafted to be a conduit to the realisation of one of the purposes of our curriculum, which is ethical and informed citizens. So, you'll be aware that we have consulted on potential changes to RE, we've changed its name, for instance, to reflect not just traditional, what people would regard, perhaps, as traditional, well-known religions, but also belief systems that are similar to religions. So, we are proposing to rename the subject as 'religion and world views' within our curriculum changes, which reflects the broader nature of what we would expect to be covered in that particular topic. The humanists themselves have been deeply involved in helping us develop that aspect of our curriculum, and we are making and we have made some changes where that has been relatively easy to do. So, for instance, humanists now have the right to request and to be part of our Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education, which have a role to play in what a religious syllabus looks like within our schools.
But I think it is important, and that's one of the reasons, again, not just capacity reasons, but if we—. We don't want to conflate collective worship with our curriculum reform, and there is a danger that that might happen if we were trying to make changes all at one time, if the Government decided to make a change.
But there's a massive contradiction at the heart of your policy here now, isn't there, because you're saying that—and I commend you for taking this progressive approach to world religions and ensuring young people understand the differences. It's linked back to the question of bullying earlier on. The problem with a Christian-based assembly—. I'm not against assembly, I think bringing kids together is a really good idea, the problem is the Christianity emphasis, and what you're saying there, by making it a Christian assembly, is that Christianity tops all of the other religions. So, that undermines the message that you're giving in your religious education, doesn't it?
I think, firstly, whilst the majority of collective worship should be of a Christian nature, individual headteachers are able to make an approach to their local education authorities to change the nature. They don't all have to be Christian in nature—
But that's not equality, is it?
Well, what I'm saying is to describe it as solely being of a Christian nature is not actually the way the system operates at the moment, or reflects—
Doesn't the law say it has to be, from the 1980s—that it has to be a Christian—?
It's the majority—predominantly, but not always. And, as I said, individual headteachers are able to make approaches to their local education authority to be able to reflect, potentially, the religious diversity that they may have within their school population.
As I said, it is not part of the curriculum. The curriculum itself looks to—. As well as the academic pursuit of religious studies, which can be a highly academic and stretching subject, it is also there within the curriculum to be able, as you quite rightly said, Leanne, to introduce children to a diversity of views, both religious and non-religious, preparing them to go into a world where they will mix with and live alongside people who will have a religious view, a non-religious view, or a variety of views, and learning to be able to respect that, to be cognisant of that, by being a good friend, a good neighbour—
And I think that's great, and you should be commended for doing that. It's fantastic. But then, you're undermining that message by focusing predominantly on Christian worship.
I—sorry, go on.
One of the other complications with the legislation and the nature of the system is the fact that we've got schools of a religious character, and so that's another—. In thinking through how one might approach a change to the role of collective worship, it's also thinking about how that works across all the different types of schools, with schools of religious character, in some cases, the ethos of the school is based on the—
Tenets of their religion.
—tenet of their religion.
So, I don't think anyone's disagreeing that there are some issues in here that need addressing; it's a question of how to go about doing that and when to do it, and recognising that there are different perspectives. As we've had quite a lot of engagement with a range of faith organisations, all kinds of different organisations, in the very recent past, there really are very strongly held views on lots of these issues that need to be explored through dialogue with those stakeholders and providers of education to arrive at a position that people can be supportive of. I think some of this isn't just—. The underlying legislative position is complicated, but, actually, finding a path through that everyone feels comfortable with is not a quick thing; it's a thing that you have to do through discussion.
Leanne, I would be the first to recognise that if we were drafting a law now, starting from scratch, on a blank piece of paper, the world that we live in in 2020 is very, very different to the world that we lived in in 1944, and the education—
Can I just correct you on that, because in 1944, as I understand it, from our briefing, it said that there had to be collective worship, but the Christianity element wasn't introduced until the 1980s? So, this is relatively new, and when it was introduced, it was political. So, if that political change could be made in the 1980s—if there was a will to make equality of religion in schools a priority, then you could do it now, couldn't you?
I'm not saying that there is nothing to stop us doing it now, and I'm not saying that, if I was starting from a blank piece of paper, I would enshrine the law in the way that it is. Personally, I think it should be left to the individual headteacher and the individual school to decide how they operate this. But what I'm saying is, it's not straightforward, and it would require a change in primary legislation. We have a constraint on what we are able to do in terms of legislation, both primary and secondary. I have utilised all the slots available to me, and lawyer time available to me, by doing things like prioritising statutory anti-bullying guidance. You're right—it is about priorities and at the moment, my priority is to see the successful implementation and the legislation around that curriculum. There may well be a time when this will become the priority, but at the moment, it is not something that we have chosen to prioritise against all the other reform that is being undertaken in the department at the moment.
Okay. That's clear.
Any other questions?
Yes, just one. Will the Minister give consideration to updating the 1994 circular on religious worship that's been suggested by Bangor University?
As I said, Jack, it might be worth saying that we have updated elements of the circular during this Assembly term. The most obvious example is the inclusion—is the reform to the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education membership, and ensuring that humanist views could be included in SACRE, as they have an important role in helping devise local religious education syllabuses, and we were concerned that not all views were included in that SACRE membership. Therefore, we have changed the circular to ensure that there is a broader-based membership of that, and I think all SACREs—that has been welcomed by all sides. There's been no pushback from other religious groups to the inclusion of other people within the SACRE. So that's an example of where we have been able to make change, in a way, through dialogue and through consensus.
Thank you. All that remains now, then, is to thank committee members for the questions and thank the Minister, Kirsty and your officials for attending and answering the questions. A copy of the transcript will be sent for you to check for any factual inaccuracies. Following the session, the committee will consider the evidence we have heard and agree the next steps that the committee wishes to take. Thank you.
Thank you very much for your time and your interest.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I now move to item 7 on the agenda, a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of this meeting. So, I propose that we resolve to meet in private. Are Members content? Thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:28.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:28.