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

Children, Young People and Education Committee - Fifth Senedd

11/03/2020

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

Claire Morgan Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Estyn
Strategic Director, Estyn
Jassa Scott Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Estyn
Strategic Director, Estyn
Meilyr Rowlands Prif Arolygydd Ei Mawrhydi, Estyn
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Estyn

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

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

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

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.

The meeting began at 09:31.

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

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

2. Craffu ar Adroddiad Blynyddol Estyn 2018-19
2. Scrutiny of Estyn Annual Report 2018-19

Item 2 this morning is our scrutiny session on Estyn's annual report 2018-19. I'm very pleased to welcome Meilyr Rowlands, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Estyn; Jassa Scott, strategic director at Estyn; and Claire Morgan, strategic director at Estyn. Thank you all for attending. We're looking forward to hearing what you've got to say. We'll go straight into questions from Suzy Davies.

Bore da. Good morning, everybody. Thank you for the papers upfront, in which you say that the most striking feature of the education system, looking forward, of course is the curriculum and the change that that's bringing. How can we be sure that, during this period of change, standards don't slip? And also, from the point of view of scrutiny, will we be back in a situation where we're being told, 'You can't compare one set of results against the previous year's results, because of the nature of the change'?

Bore da, bawb. Thank you for the invitation to come here. I think that's a good question. I think any kind of major educational reform has got risks attached to it, particularly if those changes were made too quickly. I think this process of reform has been going on in the background for a few years now, so I think there is a track record of standards and provision not slipping. We've seen small incremental improvements. So, overall, I think we can be fairly confident that standards won't slip during this period of preparation.

Can I just ask: is that based on your evidence around primary schools, where the sort of ethos that we've seen in the curriculum has been already articulated through the foundation phase?

The track record I'm talking about is across the board, so it's very difficult to think of anything that's actually got worse over the last three or four years, so it's difficult to say that standards of provision are slipping. It might not be improving as quickly as we would like, but the purpose of major curriculum and, more generally, educational reform is to make sure that we do get a more substantial sort of improvement.

I think we should congratulate the profession for the work they've been doing. A large number of schools and teachers and leaders have been part of preparing the new curriculum and all the associated work, as well as doing the day job. I think their commitment and their engagement with curriculum reform, and engagement with wider education reform, is to be congratulated. So, I think going forward, we must make sure that that is continued; that this process that's called co-construction—engaging with the profession, making sure that they're behind all the changes—continues. I think that's what's going to make sure that we don't see any slippage. 

09:35

Okay, and on that point of comparing year on year, we will be able to make those comparisons legitimately then? 

Yes, certainly, in terms of our inspection outcomes and our inspection work, yes. 

Okay. That's great, thank you. Can I just ask you then about the difference in preparedness between primary and secondary schools, which I've just mentioned previously, and also what your views are on the impact of funding for schools on that as well? Because we're in a situation where a number of primary schools have got surplus funds, sometimes that's because of end of year additional funds just being magicked up, but there is a serious worry that so many secondary schools are in deficit and that, overall, secondary schools are in deficit. Is there a correlation between those two positions, that secondary schools may be less ready for this than primary schools? 

I think it's probably true to say that secondary schools have a greater challenge than primary schools generally in terms of preparedness for the new curriculum. I think that's why we welcomed the phasing in of the new curriculum. With any sort of education reform, you've got that danger of people wanting to see change as soon as possible on the one hand, and on the other hand you need time to pilot things, to make sure that people have the right professional learning and make sure that there's opportunity for evaluation and thinking and so forth. So, we've got to get that balance right.

Sorry, that could be difficult to do if a school doesn't have money to create that space, couldn't it? 

Yes. You raised two issues, I think. One, about the difference between primary and secondary: I think what I'm saying there is I think the fact that the new curriculum is going to be brought in for all the years in primary, but it's going to be phased in year by year for secondary is a recognition of that difference. In terms of funding, probably everyone in this room, and certainly me included, would like to see more money for the education system—any educationalist would like to see that. But, you know, that is a decision for local and central Government to decide how much they can afford. I think there is an argument for saying that the funding has become more challenging for schools over time.

Can I ask, just to keep it on track, are you finding that that's having an impact on secondary schools particularly—their ability to make space to get their heads around the curriculum? 

I don't think you can make that straightforward correlation. But if you do look at surpluses and reserves, they have been more or less constant for primary schools over a long period of time, but they have declined for secondary schools. So, I think there probably is an argument for saying that we need to look at the funding of secondary schools in particular because, overall, they're in deficit now. So, I think there is an argument for looking at that. The other thing that's worth saying about funding is that even a small decrease in real terms can be disproportionately time consuming to manage. So, you know, if you have a large school and you have to maybe make one member of staff redundant, it can have a real big effect on the morale in the school. But also the time it takes for the headteacher and the senior staff to make those decisions can take their eye off the educational ball because they're looking at these financial and staffing issues. 

Okay, thank you. Siân might develop that a little bit further on. The final question from me is: there's a general concern about the number of teachers that we have in the system at the moment, particularly at secondary level and in particular subjects as well. How do you think we can improve that? What impact is it likely to have on the ability of secondary schools to really get a grip on this? 

Obviously, the most important resource for the education system is the teachers. So, it is a concern that recruitment is getting more and more difficult and that targets for initial teacher training are not being hit. And we're not seeing them hit, if I remember correctly, even in primary, let alone secondary. So, there is a challenge, and I think we've got to look at this in the round. We've got to make sure that we have both a long-term strategy and a shorter term strategy for this.

So, long term, we've got to make sure that education is an attractive option for young people and more mature people to want to go into. So, that is partly to do with workload and staff well-being. I think there's a general acceptance now that that needs to be higher up on the agenda, that people need to take that seriously, and there's work going on regarding the workload issue.

09:40

I suppose what I'm coming to, and I will finish with this, Chair, is, we're asking our existing workforce to undertake a fair bit of continuous professional development—let's call it that—in order to get ready for this curriculum when they've barely got time for lunch as it is. Do you think that's going to have an impact on the ability of secondary schools to get to grips with this, albeit that there'll be a phasing in?

Yes. I think it will have an effect, but I think it'll have a positive effect. I think the new curriculum, one of the things about the new curriculum is that it re-professionalises the profession. It gives back agency and ownership to teachers. I think it's really important. And one of the reasons why teaching maybe hasn't been that attractive a profession is that teachers in the past have just been delivering a set curriculum, and now they've got a much more creative part in deciding for themselves how to teach something and what to teach. So, I think that is a very important part of attracting intelligent people into the profession.

There are short-term things we need to do, of course, as well. I think we need to have a much more varied set of routes into teaching, so I welcome some of the part-time Open University courses, for example. So, there are lots of ways—we were talking about maybe converting people from primary into secondary, particularly in Welsh-medium, where there's a shortage. So, all those kinds of varied routes, I think, into teaching, are important as well.

Yes, I think it's well worth exploring that. Yes.

Okay. Siân Gwenllian now has some questions on secondary schools causing concern. Siân.

Ie, jest cyn mynd i fanna, jest i godi fyny ar y pwynt olaf yna roeddech chi'n ei wneud ynglŷn â phrinder athrawon a cholli athrawon yn ystod blwyddyn gyntaf eu hyfforddiant nhw. Ydy Estyn wedi gwneud unrhyw waith thematig ar y pwnc yna, neu oes yna fwriad i wneud unrhyw beth? Ac yn edrych, hefyd, ar y cymhellion ariannol a sut mae'r rheini'n cymharu efo'r sefyllfa yn Lloegr; ydyn ni angen, efallai, meddwl am gymhellion ariannol, ddim jest ar gyfer pynciau arbennig, ond ar gyfer mynd i ysgolion lle mae yna broblemau, er enghraifft?

Yes. Just before going on to that, just to pick up on that last point that you made about the shortage of teachers and losing teachers during the first year of their training. Has Estyn done any themed work on that particular issue, or do you intend to do anything on that? Also, looking at the financial incentives and how they compare with the situation in England, for example; do we need, perhaps, to think about financial incentives, not just for specific subjects, but for going to schools where there are particular issues, perhaps?

Ie. Mae yna drafodaethau ar hyn o bryd rhyngom ni a'r Llywodraeth ynglŷn â gwneud gwaith am y blynyddoedd cynnar yna. Mae'n bosib y byddwn ni'n gwneud gwaith yn y dyfodol agos ynglŷn â hynny. Dwi'n gwybod bod yr Athro Mick Waters yn edrych ar hyn, ar hyn o bryd, a dŷn ni wedi cael trafodaeth gyda fe. Dwi'n meddwl y byddem ni'n croesawu'r cyfle i edrych ar y cyfnod yma. Dŷn ni, wrth gwrs, yn edrych ar hyfforddiant cychwynnol athrawon, ond dŷn ni ddim wedi edrych ar y flwyddyn neu ddwy gyntaf ers nifer o flynyddoedd.

Well, yes, there are currently discussions ongoing between us and the Government about working in those early years for teachers. It's possible that we will be undertaking work in the near future on that. I know that Professor Mick Waters is looking at this currently, and we've had the discussion with him. And I think we would welcome the opportunity to look at this particular period. Now, we are, of course, looking at initial teacher training, but we haven't looked at the first couple of years for many a year.

Iawn. Diolch yn fawr. A jest er gwybodaeth, dwi wedi comisiynu darn o waith ar yr union fater yna hefyd, a bydd y gwaith yna'n cael ei gyhoeddi cyn bo hir. Dwi'n gobeithio cael trafodaeth efo chi ar hynny.

Right, thank you very much. And for your information, I've commissioned a piece of work on that particular issue, and that work will be published in due course. So, I hope to have a discussion with you about that.

09:45

Diolch yn fawr. Ie.

Thank you very much. Yes.

O ran yr ysgolion uwchradd, yn amlwg, yn fanna mae'r broblem i'w gweld, yn hytrach nag yn y cynradd. Faint o bryder ydy o ichi mai dim ond plant sy'n mynd i hanner ein hysgolion uwchradd ni sy'n cael y cyfleoedd da neu well, ac, yn wir, bod 10 y cant o'r ysgolion uwchradd yn methu, a bod 12 y cant o fewn arolygiad Estyn? Faint o bryder ydy hynna i gyd ichi?

In terms of the secondary schools, that’s where the problem lies, isn’t it, rather than the primary sector. How much of a concern is it to you that children’s chances of going to a secondary school that is good or better appear to be 50:50, and that, indeed, over 10 per cent of secondary schools are judged to be failing and 12 per cent are under Estyn review? How much of a concern is that to you?

Wel, mae e'n bryder, wrth gwrs. Dwi'n gobeithio y cawn ni gyfle i siarad am y pethau positif am y system addysg yng Nghymru, achos mae yna nifer o bethau da i adrodd yn eu cylch nhw hefyd. Mae'r sector cynradd, y sector arbennig, ôl-16—mae yna lawer o sectorau sy'n gwneud yn dda, a stori dwi'n meddwl sy'n arbennig o gadarnhaol eleni ydy ein bod ni wedi gweld unedau cyfeirio disgyblion yn gwella. Dŷn ni wedi gweld enghreifftiau o arfer ardderchog yn y sector yna am y tro cyntaf ers nifer o flynyddoedd, a dŷn ni hefyd wedi gweld arfer rhagorol mewn ysgolion arbennig annibynnol, hefyd sector—. So, dyna chi ddau sector ble mae yna blant bregus iawn, iawn yn mynd iddyn nhw. Felly, dwi'n meddwl bod hwnna yn rhywbeth calonogol iawn.

Ond, dŷch chi'n iawn, wrth gwrs, y gofid mwyaf i'r system, buaswn i'n ei ddweud, ydy ysgolion uwchradd, ac mae hwnnw'n fater o arweinyddiaeth a hefyd ansawdd y dysgu a'r addysgu. Dyna'r argymhellion dŷn ni'n eu gwneud fwyaf aml yn ein harolygiadau ni.

Felly, dwi'n meddwl bod yna angen ateb, fel yr oeddwn i'n sôn o'r blaen, hirdymor a byr i'r broblem yma. Yn y tymor hir, i wella ansawdd addysgu a dysgu, dyna beth yw prif fwriad y cwricwlwm newydd. Felly, dwi'n hyderus mai'r strategaeth yna yw'r strategaeth gywir. Mae'n mynd i gymryd amser, fel yr oeddwn i'n sôn o'r blaen; mae'n mynd i gymryd mwy o amser mewn ysgolion uwchradd am nifer o resymau, a dwi wedi sôn am yr heriau ychwanegol sydd gan ysgolion uwchradd mewn adroddiadau blynyddol blaenorol.

Felly, mae yna nifer o resymau pam mae ysgolion uwchradd yn ei gweld hi'n fwy anodd, o bosib, nag ysgolion cynradd. Mae'r plant eu hunain yn hŷn ac mae gyda nhw fwy o sialensau. Mae bywyd yn fwy cymhleth iddyn nhw, o bosib. Mae'n fwy anodd ymgysylltu â rhieni plant hŷn na phlant iau, ac mae hwnna'n bwysig. Dyna un o'r rhesymau pam dwi'n meddwl ei fod e'n bwysig bod gyda ni ysgolion cymunedol sydd yn gwneud yn siŵr bod y rhieni yn rhan o fywyd yr ysgol ac yn cymryd diddordeb mewn addysg eu plant nhw.

Dŷn ni hefyd yn gwybod bod cymwysterau yn cymryd lle blaenllaw iawn ym meddyliau ysgolion uwchradd, ac mewn rhai achosion yn ormodol felly. Felly, mae angen inni wneud yn siŵr bod y cymwysterau hynny yn cael eu diwygio yn sgil diwygio'r cwricwlwm, ac wrth gwrs mae Cymwysterau Cymru yn gwneud hynny ar hyn o bryd. A hefyd newid y mesurau dŷn ni'n eu defnyddio i fesur llwyddiant ysgolion. Mae yna waith wedi cael ei wneud ar hynny hefyd.

Ond mae yna bob math o wahaniaethau rhwng cynradd ac uwchradd. Yn cynradd, er enghraifft, y gwahaniaeth mwyaf amlwg, am wn i, ydy bod gennych chi un athro sy'n edrych ar ôl y plentyn am flwyddyn gyfan. Mae'r athro yna neu'r athrawes yna yn medru adnabod anghenion y disgybl yn dda iawn dros gyfnod, a dod i adnabod y plentyn ac, o bosib, y teulu yn dda iawn. Mae'n llawer mwy cymhleth i ysgol uwchradd wneud hynny; mae'n rhaid cael systemau ar gyfer hynny.

Felly, mae yna lot o bethau tymor hir mae'n rhaid inni ymateb iddyn nhw. Ond yn y tymor byr, beth sy'n bwysig ydy bod yr ysgolion hynny sy'n peri pryder yn cael llawer mwy o gynhorthwy, a dyna pam dwi'n falch ac yn croesawu beth sy'n cael ei beilota ar hyn o bryd, sef system o gefnogi'r ysgolion hyn sydd yn aml-asiantaeth. Felly, mae hwnna'n rhywbeth dŷn ni wedi galw amdano fe ers tipyn o amser ac wedi peilota ein hunain ychydig o flynyddoedd yn ôl. Felly, dwi'n falch iawn bod ni'n gwneud hyn mewn ysgolion uwchradd ar draws Cymru. Mae tua 12 ysgol yn y peilot yna. 

Well, it is of concern to us, of course. I hope that we will have an opportunity to talk about the positive aspects of the education system in Wales, because there are a number of good things we can report also. The primary sector, the special sector, post-16—there are many sectors that are doing well, and I think a story that's particularly positive this year is that we have seen pupil referral units improving. We have seen examples of excellent practice in that sector for the first time in many a year, and we've also seen excellent practice in independent special schools, which is also a sector—. Because these are two sectors where there are very, very vulnerable children in attendance. So, I think that's very encouraging.

But, you're right, of course, the biggest concern for the system, I would say, is secondary schools, and that is an issue of leadership, and also of the quality of the teaching and learning. Those are the recommendations that we make most often in our inspection reports.

So, I believe that there is a need to find a long-term solution, as I mentioned previously, and also a short-term solution to this problem. In the long term, to improve the quality of teaching and learning—well, that’s the main aim of the new curriculum. So, I am confident that that strategy is the right strategy. It will take time, as we mentioned previously; it will take longer in secondary schools, and that's for a number of reasons, and I have discussed the challenges that are additional for secondary schools in previous annual reports.

So, there are many reasons why secondary schools find it more difficult, possibly, than primary schools. The children themselves are older and they have greater challenges. Life is more complicated for them, possibly. It’s more difficult to engage with the parents of older children than younger children, and that’s an important factor. That’s one of the reasons why I believe it’s important that we do have community schools that ensure that the parents are part of the school’s life and take an interest in the education of their children.

We also know that qualifications take a very prominent role in secondary schools’ mindsets, and, in some cases, perhaps excessively so. So, we need to ensure that those qualifications are reformed as a result of the reform of the curriculum, and, of course, Qualifications Wales is carrying out that work currently. And also, we need to change the measures that we use to measure the schools’ successes. Now, there is work ongoing on that as well.

But there are all kinds of variations and differences between the primary and secondary sectors. In primary schools, for example, the greatest and most obvious difference, I would say, is that you’ve got one teacher who looks after a child for a whole year, and that teacher can identify the needs of the pupil very well over a period of time, getting to know the child and, possibly, the family very well. It’s much more complicated for secondary school to do that; there have to be systems put in place for that.

So, there are many long-term things that we need to respond to. But in the short term, what is important is that those schools that cause concern receive much more support, and that is why I am glad and do welcome what's being piloted currently, which is a system of supporting these schools, the multi-agency approach, that is. So, that is something that we have been calling for for quite a long period of time and piloted ourselves a few years ago. So, I'm very glad that we are doing this in secondary schools throughout Wales. I believe there are about 12 schools that are in that pilot scheme.

09:50

Rydych chi wedi dweud o'r blaen bod o'n peri pryder i chi bod yr ysgolion hyn sydd yn methu neu'n tangyflawni—dydyn nhw ddim yn cael eu canfod yn ddigon buan. Oes yna arwyddion bod hynny'n gwella?

You said previously that it's a cause of concern for you that these schools that are failing or underachieving are not identified early enough. Are there signs that that's improving?

Wel, un o'r pethau sy'n gadarnhaol iawn am y peilot yma ydy taw nid jest yr ysgolion sydd yn swyddogol yn peri pryder sy'n rhan o'r peilot, hynny yw, yr ysgolion dŷn ni wedi eu hadnabod, drwy arolygiaethau, sydd angen cael eu rhoi mewn categori statudol. Felly, mae yna ysgolion yn y peilot y mae'r awdurdodau a'r consortia wedi adnabod eu hunain fel ysgolion sydd mewn peryg o greu pryder.

Dwi'n credu ei fod o'n deg i ddweud nad ydym ni wedi cyrraedd pwynt lle bod yna system o griteria cytunedig ynglŷn ag adnabod yr ysgolion hyn eto. Dwi'n meddwl bod yna waith cychwynnol ar y gweill ynglŷn â gwneud hynny, a'r math o fesurau y byddech chi'n disgwyl cymryd i ystyriaeth ydy anfodlonrwydd gan rieni, staff yn gadael, newid yn yr arweinyddiaeth. Dŷn ni'n defnyddio holiaduron gyda phlant, er enghraifft, ac mae hwnna'n rhoi syniad go lew i chi o a ydy'r ysgol, o bosib, yn creu trafferth. 

Felly, dyw dim un o'r criteria yma ar ben ei hun yn dweud wrthoch chi, 'Mae hon yn ysgol sydd mewn peryg o greu pryder', ond, at ei gilydd, mi fyddai cael set o griteria fel yna y mae pawb yn cytuno arnyn nhw yn ffordd dda o fonitro ysgolion, dwi'n meddwl.

Well, one of the things that's very positive about this pilot scheme is that it's not just the schools that are officially causing concern that are a part of the pilot scheme, that is, the schools that we have identified, through inspections, as needing to be put in a statutory category. So, there are schools involved in the pilot scheme that the authorities and the consortia have identified themselves as schools that are at risk of causing concern. 

I believe that it's fair to say that we have not reached a point yet where we have a system of agreed criteria in relation to identifying these schools yet. I think that there has been initial work that has been commissioned or that is about to arrive in relation to that, and the types of measures you would expect us to take account of would be dissatisfaction from parents, staff leaving, a change in leadership. We use surveys with the children, for instance, and that gives you quite a good idea of whether a school is possibly facing difficulties.

So, there's not one single criterion alone that will tell you, 'This is a school that is at risk of causing concern', but taken together, having a set of criteria that everyone has agreed would be a good way of monitoring schools, I believe. 

Ocê. Wel, byddwn ni'n dod ymlaen at yr haen ganol mewn ychydig, ac efallai mai yn fanna mae'r broblem yn gorwedd. Hynny yw, os oes yna ddim system gytunedig gan y consortia a chithau, efallai mai yn fanna mae angen rhoi'r sylw.

Okay. Well, we'll be coming on to that middle tier later on, and perhaps that's where the problem lies, namely that if there isn't an agreed system from consortia and yourselves, perhaps that's where the focus needs to be.

Buaswn i yn dweud taw nid adnabod yr ysgolion yw'r broblem fwyaf. Y broblem fwyaf ydy gwneud yn siŵr bod yna gefnogaeth iddyn nhw a bod y gefnogaeth yn un sy'n aml-asiantaeth, lle mae'r holl asiantaethau sy'n cefnogi'r ysgolion yma'n cydweithio.

I would say that it's not the identification of the schools that is the greatest problem. The greatest problem is ensuring that there is support for them and that the support is multi-agency support, where all the agencies that support these schools are working together.

Ocê. Pa mor hir mae'n cymryd, felly, i ysgol symud o gategori gwelliant o fesurau arbennig yn ôl i fyny? Mae rhywun yn gweld weithiau bod yna ysgol ragorol, ac mewn pum mlynedd, mae hi yn y coch. Mae yna lot o amrywiaeth yn digwydd.

Well, how long does it take, therefore, for a school to move from an improvement category, in terms of special measures, to be escalated then? Because one sees sometimes that there's an excellent school, and within five years' time, it's in the red. So, there's a great deal of variance in that.

Buasai hynny tipyn bach yn anarferol—o fod yn rhagorol i goch. 

Well, that would be something quite unusual—to move from excellent to red.

Ie, yn raddol, efallai.

Yes, well, gradually, perhaps. 

Ie. Efallai wnaiff Claire ymateb i hyn.

Yes. Perhaps Claire can respond to this.

On average, secondary schools that are in need of special measures take just over two years, on average. Some are shorter; some are quite a considerable amount longer. It's a little less for schools that go into significant improvement. With primary schools, of course, it's much shorter because the issues are far less complex; it's easier to bring about improvements in teaching. When you've got large numbers of staff, you've got large secondary schools, it takes time to actually bring about those improvements, but it is a long time, just over two years, when you think that some pupils, maybe in key stage 4 for the two years—.

Certainly, we want to see schools coming out of category much quicker, and this is where the multi-agency approach certainly is a positive step. All partners involved in supporting the school are involved in these improvement boards. They focus on bringing about improvement in the areas of the school that are weakest, and it is the responsibility of everybody involved—that is: ourselves, the regions, local authorities, the schools themselves and their governing bodies—to look at how they can best support the school to bring about that improvement. So, it's getting an agreement on what the issues are, and then planning the support so that we avoid duplication, but that we support the school in the areas where they need more support. And we hope that this then will accelerate the improvement of the schools that find themselves in category. But, as Meilyr already said, there are some schools involved in that particular pilot that are at danger of causing serious concern. So, the pilot is trying out those two different approaches as well. 

09:55

Ocê, diolch. Jest yn olaf gen i rŵan, am y tro beth bynnag, y sefyllfa ariannol; rydyn ni wedi sôn am hynny. Petaech chi yn gallu—. Petai yna arian yn cael ei roi i mewn i'r system fory nesaf, ar beth fyddech chi'n ei wario fo? Pa agweddau fyddai'n elwa o gael eu cyllido?

Okay, thank you. And just finally from me, for the time being at least, the financial situation; we've spoken about that already this morning. If you could—. If funding was injected into the system tomorrow, say, what would you spend it on? What aspects would benefit from that additional funding?

Roeddech chi'n siarad am beth yn benodol fan yna?

Were you asking about something specific there?

Yn yr ysgolion eu hunain, petaech chi'n bennaeth ysgol, beth fyddech chi—

In the schools themselves, if you were a school leader, what would you—

O, petawn i'n bennaeth ysgol.

Oh, if I were a school leader.

Ie. Sut fyddech chi'n defnyddio unrhyw arian ychwanegol fyddai'n llifo mewn i'r ysgol?

Yes. How would you use any additional funding that would flow into the school?

Mae'n anodd gwneud y penderfyniad hynny, achos mae pob ysgol yn amrywio. Mae'n bwysig, wrth gwrs, bod arweinwyr gyda'r pŵer a'r gallu i wneud y penderfyniadau hynny eu hunain. Ond, yn sicr, yn y tymor byr, y math o beth fydden i'n meddwl ydy paratoi ar gyfer y cwricwlwm newydd. Mae hynny'n golygu rhyddhau athrawon i feddwl am beth mae'r cwricwlwm newydd yn ei olygu iddyn nhw. Mae'r ysgolion sydd wedi bod yn rhan o ddatblygu'r cwricwlwm wedi bod mewn sefyllfa ffodus o gael llawer o amser i feddwl am hyn. Felly, mae'n bryd nawr—a dyna beth oedd prif neges yr adroddiad blynyddol gen i eleni—i bob ysgol yng Nghymru ddechrau meddwl. Achos dwi'n meddwl bod y cwricwlwm newydd yn gyfle gwirioneddol i newid, i gael cam ymlaen go iawn i'r ffordd dŷn ni'n dysgu ac addysgu o fewn ysgolion. 

Ond mae hynny yn golygu bod angen amser ar ysgolion i feddwl am hyn a, thrwy feddwl, i gysylltu gyda'r gymuned, i siarad gyda'u plant hefyd, i weld beth mae'r gymuned ehangach yn ei ddymuno i weld yn y cwricwlwm newydd, achos mae e i fyny i bob ysgol. Er bod y cwricwlwm newydd yn gosod fframwaith, mae e i fyny i bob ysgol i benderfynu beth maen nhw'n ei ddysgu, a beth maen nhw'n ei ddysgu er mwyn paratoi eu pobl ifanc ar gyfer y byd newydd yma sydd gyda ni yn yr unfed ganrif ar hugain. Felly, i roi ateb arwynebol braidd, byddwn i'n rhoi amser i hyfforddiant athrawon. 

It's difficult to make that decision, because every school is different. It is important, of course, that leaders do have the power and the ability to make those decisions themselves. But, certainly, in the short term, the type of thing I would have thought would be to prepare for the new curriculum. That means freeing up teachers to think about what the new curriculum means to them. The schools that have been a part of developing the curriculum have been in a fortunate position in that they've had plenty of time to think about this. So, it's now time—and this was the chief message of my annual report this year—for every school in Wales to start to think. Because I think that the new curriculum is truly an opportunity to take a forward step in terms of how we teach and learn within schools.

But that means that time is needed for schools to think this through and, in that thinking, to contact the community, to talk to their children as well, to see what the community in its broader sense would like to see being in the new curriculum, because it's up to every school. Although the new curriculum sets a framework, it is up to each and every school to decide what they're going to teach, and what they're teaching in order to prepare their young people for this new world that we have in the twenty-first century. Therefore, to give you a somewhat superficial answer, I would be setting time aside for the training of teachers. 

Gaf i jest ychwanegu un peth? Dwi'n meddwl beth rydyn ni wedi gweld dros y blynyddoedd diweddar yw bod awdurdodau lleol, i ryw raddau, wedi gwarchod yr arian sy'n mynd i ysgolion, ond effaith hyn yw ein bod ni'n gweld llai o arian yn mynd i mewn i rai o wasanaethau'r awdurdod lleol; er enghraifft, y gwasanaethau sy'n cefnogi lles, sy'n hyrwyddo presenoldeb, sydd efallai yn cefnogi ymddygiad a helpu ysgolion. Dwi'n meddwl bod yr holl ffactorau yna yn cyfrannu at sut mae ysgolion yn gallu cefnogi eu plant a, yn y diwedd, gwella eu hunain. Dwi'n meddwl bod yr ochr yna yn bwysig hefyd—yn yr ysgol neu'r awdurdod lleol, os oes arian ar gael, bod y gwasanaethau yna yn gallu cefnogi'r plant i lwyddo. 

Can I just add one thing there? I think what we've seen over the years recently is that local authorities, to some extent, have safeguarded the funding that goes to the schools, but the effect of that is that we've seen less funding going into some of the local authority services; for example, those services that support well-being, that promote attendance, and that perhaps support behaviour and assistance for schools. So, I think that all of those factors contribute to how schools can support and assist their pupils, and to improve themselves. So, I think that side of things is important as well—in the school or in the local authority, if funding is available, it should be allocated to all of those things so that those services can also support the children to succeed. 

10:00

Just before we move on to the middle tier, if I can just ask about the quality of teaching? There's been a consistent message from Estyn that that is the weakest part of the system in Wales. The Government recognises that and has invested a very significant amount of money in that area, yet it's still an issue again in your annual report. You haven't said whether it's getting better or going in the right direction. What is your assessment of whether we are seeing the improvements we need to see in the quality of teaching?

I think, in nearly all the elements of our framework, the picture is fairly similar. So, in terms of quality of teaching, we have seen gradual but quite small-scale improvements in primary. So, you can feel that that is going in the right direction. In secondary, it's more or less level; we haven't seen it getting particularly better or particularly worse. One of the things that's really important to realise is that the curriculum is about the quality of teaching. It is about the teaching and learning; those are two sides of the same coin, if you like. What's important is the learning experience that our pupils get in school. From the perspective of the pupil, it's the learning; from the perspective of the teacher, it's the teaching. They are two sides to the same coin. 

I think there's no doubt and I think there's general agreement that, in order to have a step change in the quality of teaching and learning—. I think it was Einstein who said that if you keep on doing the same thing, you'll get the same result. So, you're going to have to change something, and what's changing is the curriculum. I think there's general consensus that this is the right approach to improve the quality of teaching. And that's exactly what all schools need to do now: to think how does this new curriculum affect them in their particular school, in their particular circumstances, in the context of their particular children. How can they use this opportunity now to improve the teaching and learning in their school?

Mae o'n peri pryder i rywun, achos os ydy'r safonau addysgu a dysgu jest yn aros yn yr un man yn yr uwchradd, ac rydyn ni'n gwybod bod 12 y cant o ysgolion uwchradd o dan adolygiad Estyn ac 11 y cant ohonyn nhw mewn categori mesur arbennig, rydyn ni'n sôn am hanner yr ysgolion bron iawn, a dim gwella yn yr ansawdd dysgu yn gyffredinol. Felly, mae yna gohort mawr o blant yn cael eu dal yn y sefyllfa yna, ac wedyn mae'r cwricwlwm newydd yn dod i fewn. Dwi'n gweld y cyfleon, ond wedyn mae'r ysgolion sydd yn gwneud yn dda yn mynd i fynd, 'Www', ond mae ysgolion sydd yn fanna ar y gwaelod ac mae rhywun wir yn pryderu am y plant yna. Ai dyna lle ddylai'r ffocws fod ac unrhyw arian ychwanegol? Rydych chi'n sôn am ei roi o tuag at ryddhau athrawon; efallai mai yn yr ysgolion fanna mae angen rhoi'r sylw. 

It does cause one concern, because if the teaching and learning standards just stay the same in the secondary sector, and we know that 12 per cent of secondary schools are under Estyn review and 11 per cent of them are in special measures, we're talking about half of the schools almost, and no improvement in the teaching quality in general. So, there is a major cohort of children captured in that situation, and then there's a new curriculum that comes in. I see the opportunities, but these schools that are doing well are going to go, 'Wow, up there', but schools are there in the bottom layer and one is genuinely concerned about those children in those schools. Isn't that where the focus should be and any additional funding that's allocated? You talked about releasing teachers for training, but perhaps it's in those particular schools that we need to focus. 

Dwi'n cytuno y bydd yr ysgolion gorau yn croesawu'r cyfleon ac y bydd eu safonau nhw yn gwella hyd yn oed yn fwy. Wedyn, o ran yr ysgolion eraill, mae yna, mewn ffordd, ddau gategori bras iawn, sef y rheini sydd angen dim ond ychydig o gynhorthwy i'w helpu nhw i wella—. A dwi'n meddwl bod y cwricwlwm newydd a'r gefnogaeth gyffredinol sy'n mynd i fod o gwmpas hynny yn mynd i fod yr ateb i'r ysgolion hynny. Mae'n mynd i fod yn gyfle i ansawdd yr addysgu a'r dysgu i wella. Ond dŷch chi'n iawn, mae yna gohort arall, llai, sydd angen llawer iawn fwy o gymorth, ac maen nhw'n mynd i weld ymdopi gyda'r cwricwlwm newydd yn anodd, oherwydd bod ganddyn nhw nifer o broblemau eraill.

Felly, dwi yn cytuno bod—. A dŷch chi ddim yn sôn am lawer iawn o ysgolion—rhyw 200 o ysgolion uwchradd sydd gyda ni, felly mae'r ganran honno'n gymharol fach, mae'r nifer yn gymharol fach—ond mae angen llawer mwy o gymorth arnyn nhw. Dyna pam bod y peilot yma o'r dull aml-asiantaeth o gefnogi'r ysgolion yna yn bwysig. Dwi yn meddwl eich bod chi'n iawn fod goblygiadau cyllidol i gefnogi'r ysgolion yna. Dwi ddim yn credu ei fod e'n anferth, ond yn sicr mae yna rywfaint o arian ychwanegol ei angen ar gyfer y gefnogaeth i'r ysgolion yna.

I do agree that the best schools will welcome the opportunities and that their standards will improve even more. But then, with regard to the other schools, in a way, there are two very broad categories, which are those that need only a little support just to help them to improve—. And I believe that the new curriculum and the general support that's going to be surrounding that will be the solution for those schools. It's going to be an opportunity for the quality of the teaching and the learning to improve. But you're right to say that there is another smaller cohort that has a much greater need for support, and they're going to find coping with the new curriculum difficult, because they'll also have many other problems.

So, I do agree—. And you're not talking about a huge number of schools—some 200 secondary schools is what we have in Wales, so that percentage is relatively small, the number is relatively small—but they need much greater support. That is why this pilot scheme of the multi-agency approach of supporting those schools is important. I do believe that you're right to say that there are funding implications to supporting those schools. I don't think it's enormous, but certainly there's a certain amount of funding that is needed to offer those schools that support.

10:05

Thank you, Chair. The Minister recently told the committee that a number of recent Estyn inspections of local authorities' education services have been disappointing. Do you agree? That, of course, is based on the inspections carried out under the current cycle.

Yes, indeed. I think we've done nine inspections of local authorities' education services so far this cycle. We've got another two this academic year. We'll have done half of them by the end of the academic year. We'll then evaluate how things have gone. But of those nine we've put three into category—we've identified them as causing concern—and they're Pembrokeshire, Powys and Wrexham. So, we do have concerns about those authorities. So, we'll be supporting those authorities, moving forward. But I think a common factor in those inspections was secondary schools. So, we've talking quite a bit about secondary schools this morning, and I think that, again, is a factor in those local authorities.

Thank you. You say that the proportion of secondary schools causing concern is a challenge for several local authorities and for the system as a whole. Which local authorities are these—you've probably named them all—and have these been inspected yet under the current cycle?

I think you're taking about three secondary schools in a category in Pembrokeshire, Wrexham and Torfaen. So, we've inspected Pembrokeshire and Wrexham already, but we haven't inspected Torfaen yet. And two schools in a category in Powys, Newport and Gwynedd. And we've inspected Powys and Newport, but we haven't inspected Gwynedd yet. So, in answer to your question: we've inspected most of those, but not all of them.

Okay. What is your latest assessment of how well the regional consortia are supporting and driving school improvement? Does this vary across the different regions? 

It certainly does vary, but I'll ask Jassa to go into more detail.

We haven't directly inspected the regional consortia since—I think 2017 was the last time we did some direct monitoring with them. But I think, over the last three years, we do feel that they've improved their knowledge. They're still relatively new in the big scheme of things. So, they did take a little while to embed, and I think that came across when we did the work that we did with them back in 2017. But, more recently, they've improved their knowledge of individual schools' strengths and areas for improvement, and they are using this knowledge better to support and challenge schools, and particularly schools causing concern. But obviously, as we've been talking about this morning, there's still work to do.

I think they've prioritised well the work that schools are doing around literacy and numeracy, but their support for schools to develop digital competence has been a bit weaker. Even though we've had the framework as an early part of the curriculum developments there, we haven't seen quite the focus that we've seen on other areas. I think for schools causing concern, what we found—and we do look at their work through our local authority inspection, so we are getting some first-hand evidence of their impact through that—they're not always focused, in those schools causing concern, on improving teaching and learning, so actually getting in and looking and working with teachers and with staff to actually make improvements there.

I think, generally, their support for secondary schools has had less impact across the consortia than it has for primary schools, and I think sometimes that's because they're struggling to recruit appropriate specialists, to support with secondary, or perhaps they don't have the depth of strong practice that we talked about earlier within their region. So, they're having to work a bit harder to find effective practice, to share practice and to get the secondary expertise and knowledge to support those schools. We will be, over the next year, looking specifically at the work of consortia to support curriculum reform work. Well, we think we will be—we haven’t had our remit letter yet. But that's one of the areas we've discussed, about doing some specific work on over the next year to look in a bit more depth.  

10:10

So, what is the cycle of inspections for regional consortia, and how robust are those inspections? What areas do you cover?

Well, regional consortia aren't actually statutory entities at the moment, and we don't have specific inspection powers relating to regional consortia. What we have are powers to inspect school improvement. So, on each of our local authority inspections, there will be, usually, an area that we're looking at that relates to school improvement, and that would involve us looking at the work of the consortia that the local authority has commissioned.

What we've agreed with Welsh Government is that, over the next few years, we will take a thematic approach. So, the first area that we've said is that we'll look specifically at how each of them is supporting curriculum reform, and report on that. So, that will report specifically on the different ones, but it wouldn't be the same as doing an inspection of their work at this time.

Well, I think that's something to be discussed over the next few years. There's, obviously, local government legislation that has been debated recently, which has the potential to create corporate joint committees, and school improvement was one of the areas that is being considered there. So, there may be an opportunity, if that's created, to think how we then adapt inspection to look specifically at that. So, I think there is an opportunity. I think we do get a handle on their work through the local authority and, ultimately, it's looking at what that consortia brings to that local authority and to the schools and the pupils in that area that's the important bit, I think, ultimately, to see the impact there. So, we are looking at them in that way, and then taking that thematic approach, but we'll keep reviewing it over the next couple of years.

Thank you. And what are Estyn's views on the latest position regarding regional working in south-west and mid Wales? Would it be preferable for school improvement advisers to be based in the consortium, Education through Regional Work, rather than each local authority employing their own, as is the case at present?

If I can just go back to the last question as well, what we did in order to inspect regions was we paused our local authority inspection cycle back in 2014, I think, for about three years. So, then, we spent time looking at regions, basically, because we didn't have the resource to do both at the same time. So, we're in negotiation with Welsh Government currently, so that, going forward, we can look at local authorities and regions at the same time. If regions become statutory entities, that would be in legislation, and then you could have legislation that gives us directly the powers to inspect them, which we don't currently have. So, we have to, effectively, wait for Welsh Government to ask us to do that work. But, as Jassa said, currently, what we intend to do in the short is to do some thematic work on that. 

In terms of ERW, they were the region that, at the end of the last cycle of regional inspections, we were still monitoring. We are concerned about their progress, particularly in the light of recent developments. So, for example, the chair of the joint committee has resigned, the managing director remains a temporary appointment and there are no clear plans for a permanent leadership. Some of the leadership team have left—the capacity has gone down—and various staff that were appointed last summer have already left. The budget has not been agreed and certain key meetings—executive board and joint committee meetings—have been cancelled.

So, we are particularly worried about ERW, and, because of that, we will be going in to visit them in April—next month—and we'll be visiting all of the authorities to make sure that they do have a plan for an appropriate school improvement service going forward. But, Jassa, probably, can say a little bit more about our plans there.

10:15

Yes, I think you asked a specific question about, you know, which is better. I think our view has been that, generally, the local authorities are too small to deliver that whole range of school improvement services, particularly given the national reform agenda at the moment. We felt last summer, when we went to ERW, that they'd managed to reach the best possible model, given the constraint they've placed, collectively, on themselves—that they want to deliver aspects of school improvement locally, through the local authorities, and have some central capacity.

So, we felt that, given that they wanted to do some locally and some centrally, enough thought had been put into that structure last summer and that it could be workable. There were key aspects such as support for secondary schools causing concern and there was some capacity centrally that could support areas such as Powys. Unfortunately, as Meilyr has described, some of those aspects have since been disbanded or those staff who were on secondment have gone back, so I think it is a key risk, particularly for some of those authorities you've talked about that are causing concern, such as Powys or Pembrokeshire—that they haven't necessarily got that local capacity to support their schools causing concern. So, you've got some concerns within school capacity and you've got concerns about local authority capacity, and what you don't have there now is that collective capacity centrally that might support them.

So, that's why we're going to go and do a slightly more detailed link visit to try to understand how they are mitigating the risks that we see are arising as a result of some of those things that have happened recently. Our understanding is that there's a joint committee meeting of ERW on 19 March, so, hopefully, after that point, we'll have a little bit more information about how they're planning to manage that collective set of services going forward—it's a little bit of an unknown at the moment.

You were asking, 'Would it be better for every authority to have their own team?' But, before regions were invented, if you like, we were saying consistently that they tended to be too small. What happened in practice was that authorities did come together voluntarily to have joint advisory services. So, you had Cynnal in the north west, you had the Education and School Improvement Service, you had Gwent—so, they naturally did come together in groups, maybe a little bit smaller than the current regions, but they, of their own accord, produced something not very dissimilar to a region.

Ie, jest ar ERW. Ydy'r ffaith bod yna anghydfod yn digwydd ar y lefel uchel yn treiddio lawr i'r ysgolion ac i'r plant? Ydy'r plant, y disgyblion yn ne-orllewin a chanolbarth Cymru yn cael eu heffeithio gan hyn? Ydy'r safonau yn gostwng yn y rhan yna o Gymru?

Yes, just on ERW. Does the fact that there is a dispute on the highest level feed down to the school and to the children? Are the children in south-west and mid Wales affected by this? Are standards decreasing in that part of Wales? 

10:20

Wel, mae'n anodd dweud yn uniongyrchol, ond dŷn ni wedi arolygu naw awdurdod ac mae dau o'r rheini yn yr ardal yna, felly, mae'r diffyg cefnogaeth ar y lefel yna, fel oedd Jassa'n dweud, o bosib yn rheswm pam mae'r awdurdodau hynny'n cael trafferth hefyd.

Well, it's difficult to say directly, but we have inspected nine authorities and two of those are in that area, so, the lack of support at that level, as Jassa was saying, may be the reason why those authorities are suffering difficulties.

Ac mae'n glir bod llawer o bobl ar draws yr ardal yn treulio egni ac amser yn cael sgwrs am y peth yma. Mae unrhyw aildrefniad yn cymryd egni allan o'r system, so, mae'n glir bod yr amser yna ddim yn cael ei dreulio, efallai, ar fuddsoddi mewn gwella ysgolion, ac mewn cefnogi staff mewn ysgolion. So, fel mae Meilyr yn ei ddweud, dyw hi ddim yn glir, ond mae llawer o egni yn cael ei ddefnyddio yn y sgwrs yna sy'n cario mlaen.

And it is clear that many people across that area are expending energy and time discussing these issues. Any reorganisation does take energy out of the system, so it is clear that that time isn't then being spent, perhaps, on investment in improving schools and supporting staff in schools. So, as Meilyr says, it's not clear, but a lot of energy is being expended in that particular discussion that is ongoing.

What disadvantages could there be from Neath Port Talbot's intention to withdraw from regional working via ERW? And I've got to be honest, up in the north, I know that there are concerns about regional consortia, and when local authorities are under pressure financially, it questions, sometimes, the value of regional consortia. So, what disadvantages could there be from Neath Port Talbot's intention to withdraw from regional working via ERW?

I think we've talked in general terms and we feel that local authorities probably are too small on their own. In general terms, you can't say that any particular authority couldn't, maybe, put things together in such a way that it's effective. Also, it has a knock-on effect on the rest of the consortium, if one withdraws. I don't know whether, Jassa, you've got anything to add to the general points we've made.

I mean, I think, what you've alluded to there, it has the potential to be a destabilising factor across the whole of the national model that we've got for supporting school improvement at a time where Welsh Government are kind of relying heavily on that consortium model to help support curriculum reform and to drive professional learning and be the conduit for lots of the aspects of reform that we've talked about. So, I think that potential risk of any destabilising across the system is a disadvantage generally.

I think—. Clearly, we've talked about that capacity at a local level. There is that aspect of what that means in terms of the joint capacity across the other authorities there. And I think it's just what I've already talked about in terms of being a distraction at a crucial time for support where schools need to feel that they're confident in where they need to go for support. I should say that we're planning, as part of that visit that we do in April, to survey schools in that region about the support that they're getting, be that from their authority or from the central teams in ERW. That's something we did at the time when we did the inspections previously, and we thought it would be helpful to get some first-hand views of any disadvantages or impact that they might be feeling, really.

Okay, thank you. And then, finally, for me: what involvement has Estyn had with the strategic education delivery group chaired by Professor Dylan Jones and what are your expectations for how it will improve the work of the middle tier?

We've been members of that group right from the beginning. I personally am on it and colleagues are on it as well, and I'm a member of the sub-group that does some of the background work for that group as well, and Estyn has given several presentations to that group. I think the group is important. I remember commenting the first time it met that it was welcoming. The rather obvious thing is that you get all the strategic educational organisations together in one room, but it had never been done before, as far as I know. So, it was a really important step forward for that to happen. I'm a very firm believer in making those relationships, building those relationships, so that people understand what each of us contributes to the whole of the education system. We need to have that forum to be able to make sure that we're clear about what each of our roles is.

10:25

Okay, thank you. We've got some questions now from Dawn Bowden. 

Thank you, Chair. Morning, all. In your report you talked about in early settings where skills development is less effective, that children begin to feel at a very early age that they can't do certain things. I don't know whether that is anecdotal evidence or is that specific outcome-based evidence—whatever, it's quite worrying. But what do you think the long-term effect on a child's development has in that respect? 

It's probably worth saying that skill development is a strength in about three quarters of our schools—primary schools and early years settings. But in a minority of schools and settings, as you've picked up, children are often introduced to things too early. So, they're introduced to phonics, they're introduced to learning to read, when they're not at that developmental stage. And really, long term, it means the children lose confidence, because if they're introduced to these things too early they don't succeed, they tend to need additional support, and it can give them a negative impression, it can give them negative thoughts about their ability. So, we need to address that, and really it's about—

Sorry, what sort of age range are we talking about here?

These would be children from three to five. 

So, this is very, very early on. 

And is there something, then, in that—and I don't think there's much we can do about that, but it may be in terms of the way that the schools or the early learning settings address this—you will have children at a very young age that have almost a year's difference in their age group, so they're born just before 1 September or just after 1 September? So, that's a huge gap, isn't it, at that point in their development? 

Is that not being addressed in a way that those children are being taught and approached at that age? 

There is more work to do with this minority of schools that are sometimes trying to have ambitious expectations for these young children, introducing things too early. So, there is some development needed to make sure that there's a secure understanding of child development so that the skills are developed at the right time for each individual child, so that they have success, they make progress, and then, as they go through schooling, they have a far more positive, can-do attitude. So, there is some more work to be done. You know, we've got a lot of excellent practice in the early years settings and in our primary schools that we can learn from to make sure that it's consistent across all the settings. 

Okay. So, it's working well in some areas? 

Right, okay. That's fine. In terms of reading and literacy skills, we still remain quite low in the Programme for International Student Assessment ratings for reading, and I know there is a particular concern about the impact on boys in that regard. What do you think are the most pressing priorities that face them around reading and literacy? 

I think literacy has been, and still is, and still needs to be a top priority. I mean, literacy clearly is something that underpins the rest of education, so it really does need to be a top priority. I think it has been a high priority, but we need to continue prioritising it. We've seen some improvements over the years. For example, we've given a lot of attention to writing over the years, and making sure that children get the opportunity to write in an extended way, not just short sentences, but having the opportunity to have extended writing, and there's some evidence that that now is beginning to have an effect. But almost ironically, the same sort of issue is true of reading. So, it's not just reading small little snippets—we need to encourage children to have a love for reading and read whole books. So, I gave a little bit of attention to that in the annual report—that that needs attention.

I think the other thing I would emphasise is that this is not just for the foundation phase, it's not just for very young children—it's really important at key stage 2 and in secondary school. One of the things we have been worried about, and I think there was some reflection of this in PISA, is that there are strengths in reading in Wales. So, PISA, for example, said that children in Wales are very good at comparing lots of little snippets, but what they're saying, and they're saying this themselves, is that the love of books is decreasing, and the number of children who read regularly whole books. So, I think there is something there for teachers to set and model a good example, to show their own interest in reading, to encourage children to read themselves.

10:30

It's probably a wider societal problem as well, isn't it? I'm thinking about gaming, electronic gaming, computers.

Absolutely. I think there is some sort of link with the digital world, and the way people read—the actual technique of reading, is evolving. But I think reading is so important, and developing a complex vocabulary is so important in being able to communicate, in order to get a good job, to have enjoyment out of life—all of those things are so important. We ourselves are going to give this quite a lot of priority in future, so we're doing a major piece of work on language acquisition, which will cover some of this next year. Every year one of our thematics is the major bit of work we do, and we try to support that with a conference. So, that will be the focus that we give to our work next year—it is on language acquisition.

Okay, thank you for that. Just one other supplementary on that, I guess, is whether you have a good idea of how many young people are coming out of school at 16—so, those that are not staying on to do A-levels—and are coming out with an inability to read or white. Do we know what the figure is for that?

I can't tell you that off the top of my head, but I'm sure that there will be evidence. That's not something we inspect as such.

No, no, but there should be evidence around that. Okay.

There has been a shift in that there's been continued emphasis in post-16 education and training around literacy and picking that up. For example, anyone who's studying in a further education college will have to do resits. There's an aim to try and get everyone to a basic level. In apprenticeships they'll use essential skills and so on to try and get that basic level of literacy as well, so there is an emphasis. I think one of the worrying indications, maybe, that post-16 sectors find is that sometimes even when learners are coming out with a basic qualification in a GCSE, potentially in English or a literature subject, they don't necessarily have a really good foundation of some of the basic skills as well. So, there is a lot of work to do in this area.

Okay, all right. Could I just move you on—? Sorry—

The only thing I would add to that is, I guess, it's quite small, the number of people who don't have basic reading. I think one of the things we need to emphasise is that learning reading is something you do throughout your life, and what we need to do is to develop, in particular, pupils' higher level reading skills. The fact that they can just read isn't the end of the story; they need to be developing those higher level reading skills and continuing to widen the range of things they read, and be able to develop their vocabulary at a higher level. 

10:35

Absolutely, yes—those higher level skills of comprehension and inference and those sorts of things. 

Sure, okay. Can I just move you on, then, to numeracy and whether you can tell us if you're satisfied with the progress in numeracy, because I think we were doing better on the PISA results in maths in Wales than we did previously? So, what are your thoughts on that? 

I think there is a fairly clear good news story here. PISA shows improvements and a lot of that can be attributed, I think, to the new GCSE mathematics numeracy. I think there's much less predictability in that work; you can't approach it in a formulaic way, either the pupils or the teachers in terms of teaching it. There's much more problem solving. It's about applying what you've learnt in the core mathematics lessons to new situations in subjects across the curriculum. I think that that GCSE numeracy has built on the work that's been done lower down on the national numeracy framework, which has the same philosophy of applying that mathematics knowledge in a problem-solving situation. That has been a really good news story, really.  

That's something to be positive about, anyway. That's good. My final question, Chair, is: in your view, to what extent is Wales on track to meet the target of 500 points in each of the domains in the 2020-1 cycle for PISA? 

I think that that target is somewhat arbitrary, but assuming that we continue on this journey that we are on—the current change programme of the new curriculum and so forth—I think we would expect to see those improvements we've seen in science and in mathematics to continue. We've talked about reading and I think we will be giving more attention to reading. I think the education system more generally, hopefully, will give more attention to reading. So, I would hope to see improvements there as well. 

The only other thing I would add is that there is some research that indicates or suggests that the effect of schools is greater on mathematics and science than on reading, and the reason for that is you don't do a lot mathematics or science in the home. But the attitude towards reading is very much dependent on family and community factors, more so, maybe, than mathematics and science. So, I think that's another reason why I think a community-school approach is really important. You need to get everybody on board; it's not just what the teacher does in the classroom—it's important that the whole family and the community thinks that reading is important. 

Just on numeracy, it was interesting because one of the schools in my constituency have actually contacted my office and a number of other organisations across the constituency to ask us how we use maths in our work. So, they're obviously trying to relate that now to everyday life and working, which I thought was quite good. 

That's good. 

We've got some questions now around progress of specific groups of pupils. If I can start and ask you how concerning is it that the gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and other pupils has not narrowed in the last 10 years, especially given the £475 million pupil deprivation grant investment.

10:40

Yes. I think secondary schools and the issue of poverty were the two things I've noted in the annual report. So, I think it is a concern to us. I think it is worth also remembering that compared to other countries, for example, in PISA, we do compare quite well in terms of equity. There's also an argument that maybe poverty and austerity have increased, so that we're in a way running to keep still. And I think also, as I was suggesting about the reading, poverty really is a social phenomenon. Schools can't solve that on their own. So, there are a lot of caveats to be made around the fact that that poverty gap hasn't closed, but that's not to say that schools can't do something about it, and I've suggested in the annual report a sort of a two-pronged approach. One is the new curriculum. I think there is evidence in the international research that teaching and learning, better teaching and learning, helps disadvantaged poor pupils disproportionately. So, they gain more from it that their peers. So, I think improving teaching and learning, and we discussed that earlier this morning about how the new curriculum is really all about improving the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. 

So, that's one approach, and then the other approach, which I've also mentioned earlier, is having a community-focused approach to schools. The schools that do more successfully tackle the poverty gap are the schools that take that kind of approach. It means helping the pupils. It means helping their families. It's about making pupil well-being really high on the agenda. It's very difficult for children to do well in school if they've got all kinds of things happening in their background. So, it's important that schools can maybe signpost those families to other services that can support them and help them. So, it's quite a complex—. It's challenging for schools to go down this route, and I think the more help we can give schools to take that approach, the better. But the schools that do do it do benefit a lot from it. They have better engagement from parents, from the families, and that then reflects back on the work of the children. 

And we've just published a collection of good practice about how schools support vulnerable learners, and we'll be teasing out the aspects around community-focused schools a lot more in a report that we'll publish in the next couple of months. So, we've kind of drilled down and looked at what some schools are doing in that area in a bit more detail. 

Yes, just quickly. Obviously, I think we've all been to schools where the PDG is actually used to engage parents more for exactly the reasons you say. But I just wanted to interrogate the deprivation gap a little bit, because, of course, even though, as you say, there's perhaps more equity in Wales, one of the reasons for that is because our children from better-off backgrounds do less well, and considerably less well than their peers in the other parts of the United Kingdom. So, whereas their attainment gaps are pretty dreadful, that's one of the reasons—that our better-off children aren't doing as well as perhaps they might do. Is that a concern as well? We don't want this rush to the middle, do we?

I think it's essential that all groups of pupils do as well as they possibly can, absolutely. So, it's not quite the same issue, but we've talked about the importance of making sure that more able and talented children do well. 

They're not the same, clearly, because you have more able and talented children from poor backgrounds. Differentiation is a challenge for schools, but it's absolutely essential that all groups of children do as well as they possibly can. So, in things like PISA, in terms of reading, for example, we can't just say it's that group that needs to improve—all the groups need to improve. And I think that's why something like the new curriculum gives schools more scope to tailor their teaching and learning to the particular groups that they have, whether they’re more able, whether they're advantaged or whether they're disadvantaged.

10:45

Okay. Pupils' confidence in their school's ability to help them with their emotional and mental well-being is much less at secondary school and that's been a consistent theme as well from your reports. Why do you think that is?

Yes, you're right. As we mentioned earlier, we do pupil surveys before all our inspections, and across a number of those indicators, like, 'How well does the school listen? Do adults in school care about me? How well does the school deal with bullying?'—quite a lot those ones around well-being do tail off. Nine out of 10 pupils at key stage 2 have that confidence, down to half at key stage 4, as you say.

And I think there are a number of factors that we think contribute to that: I think one of the factors is that pupils face, sometimes, more challenges as they get older in those teenage years, but they also become more reflective and perhaps more discerning. And I think what we find in secondary schools is perhaps secondary school pupils notice sometimes the differences between their everyday life that they experience in school and perhaps the messages that they're getting about well-being in terms of their lessons, in terms of assemblies and in terms of school policies and so on. So, they are probably more discerning in noticing those differences and maybe there are some of those differences also there in primary school, but the pupils don't notice.

I think we've already touched upon things like the differences in the way that, at primary school, you would tend to have a go-to adult, which is your teacher. The best secondary schools find ways to make sure that pupils do feel that level of support and feel there are trusted people, but it's more of a challenge to make sure that that happens, because of the way they're operating.

We still have some concerns about personal and social education and the health and well-being support, which we've made a recommendation about in the past in some of our thematic reports, but also recently in some of our secondary school inspection reports. And I think I already touched upon the fact that sometimes, when the budget is tight, it can be some of those—they're not peripheral in their importance, but they're not the teacher in the classroom: well-being support assistants and so on and family liaison workers—staff in the school who perhaps really support that pastoral care that the school as a whole can provide—it may be that those are the roles that are less prevalent at times of less funding.

So, I think there are some great members of staff doing a really good job, but perhaps they're not those members of staff who can support teachers and support pupils in creating that kind of caring environment. Maybe there a fewer of them around. So, I think there's not an obvious answer and part of it is that they do become more discerning and perhaps more vocal in those responses generally, as they get older. So, you might have a truer reflection of opinions than perhaps—. And that might explain some of the difference with primary, where, generally, they're quite positive about everything across most of the schools that we ask.

So, it's not that secondary schools—because you've said that in a previous inspection report—are just not as good at prioritising mental health and well-being.

I think there's an element that it's more of a challenge for a secondary school to provide an effective set of support from that whole-staff awareness of some of the challenges. And one of the pieces of work we've done recently is around adverse childhood experiences, and we have found that primary schools have taken that and embraced it. Once you've trained your staff, then they've got that knowledge. They're the ones who are working day to day with the schools.

Secondary schools haven't always taken a whole-school approach to that. They might have trained a set of staff. So, maybe not every member of staff has the same level of understanding, but also those staff aren't spending the same amount of time with pupils. So, in terms of getting to know pupils, picking up on signs that they may be struggling, or that there might be concerns—it's much more of a challenge. You've got to work a lot harder as a secondary school to make sure that staff have that knowledge and that you've got the tracking systems that can put those different bits of  information together to actually mean that you can target support where it's needed.

10:50

I'm just thinking again about specific groups of pupils. Obviously, we've had one case in north Wales, in an independent school, where there were serious concerns. What's that done to your desire to monitor and check what's going on in these independent schools? Are they regulated sufficiently?

I'll pick up on that as well. Just to explain how we work with independent schools, initially, to give the context. So, there are different kinds of independent schools. So, some have boarding provision, and where they have boarding provision, Care Inspectorate Wales would look at the boarding side of it, we'd look at the educational side of it. There are others where they may have a linked children's home, which can be another room in the same house, or it can be a number of miles away, and similarly there CIW would look at the residential aspects of the care and we'd look at the school. So, I think, there's a focus in the independent school standards regulations, which is a minimum that all schools have to meet to maintain a registration. There is a focus in that on how that school looks after and cares for its pupils, and there are focuses on that element of boarding provision where relevant, and the national minimum standards that the care inspectorate look at that have aspects around supporting well-being as well.

What we do find in our inspections is that, overall, we generally find that pupils' well-being develops, they make good progress, and that care, support and guidance that schools give is good. What we mean by that, really, practically, is that they are developing their resilience and their self-esteem. In special schools, this might mean particularly that those pupils learn to manage their anxieties better so that they improve their behaviour, which may be one of the reasons why they're in that specialist setting. In mainstream independent schools, what we find is that people develop their tenacity, their curiosity for learning—their resilience in that way.

But there are shortcomings sometimes. For example, there was one school where we found that they weren't making appropriate referrals to child and adolescent mental health services. So, these schools do operate independently by their nature, and their awareness, perhaps, of some of the guidance and support that is out there—sometimes, maybe, there can be more to be done, and I think we've talked to Welsh Government about that.

What's Estyn's role in that—to bring that level of awareness to those schools?

I think we do through our inspection guidance, and the independent school standards do refer to Welsh Government guidance—it's something like 'Keeping learners safe', which is a really key document, which supports safeguarding and caring across schools. That's regularly discussed and talked about and referred to with those schools.

So, I think the other area is that sometimes we don't have the intelligence about what—. So, for example, if there's been a safeguarding referral from a school, we don't necessarily always get that information, which means that when we do go to inspect, we may not have the full picture to help us tailor our inspection activity. So, that's something we've raised—

Al right, okay. Do you mind if I move on to the next question?

We're going to have to skip those, I'm afraid, and talk to the last set of questions, just because of the time pressures. Hefin.

Hoffwn i ofyn yn Gymraeg, os gwelwch yn dda. Pa rôl, os o gwbl, a gafodd Estyn yn adolygiad diweddaraf yr Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development o gynnydd mewn gwella ysgolion pan ymwelon nhw â Chymru ddiwedd y flwyddyn ddiwethaf?

I'd like to ask in Welsh, please. What role, if any, did Estyn have in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's latest review of progress in school improvement when they visited Wales in late 2019?

10:55

Wel, mi gawsom ni ein cyfweld. Felly, gwnaeth y tri ohonom ni gael cyfweliad gan y swyddogion o'r OECD. Gwnaethom ni gynnig tystiolaeth iddyn nhw. Dwi'n meddwl, pan fydd yr adroddiad yn cael ei gyhoeddi, mi fyddwch chi'n gweld bod yr OECD yn tynnu ar ein tystiolaeth ehangach ni, yn dyfynnu ein hadroddiadau ni—yr adroddiad blynyddol a hefyd rhai o'n hadroddiadau thematig ni. Dyna'r rhan cymeron ni yn y gwaith yna.

Well, we were interviewed. Therefore, the three of us had an interview with the OECD officials and we offered evidence to them. And I think that, when the report is published, you will see that the OECD does draw on our broader evidence and will be quoting our reports—the annual report and some of our thematic reports. That is the part that we played in that work.

Diolch. Pa mor arwyddocaol ydych chi'n credu fydd rôl y national evaluation and improvement resource wrth godi safonau ysgolion?

Thanks. How significant a role do you believe the national evaluation and improvement resource will play in raising school standards?

Dwi'n meddwl ei fod e'n bwysig iawn. Claire sydd yn gweithio ar hwnna yn benodol, felly gwnaf ofyn i Claire i siarad yn fanna.

I think that it's very important. It's Claire who has been specifically tasked with that, so I'll ask Claire to speak about it.

I think working together with the practitioners, the regions and representatives from local authorities is a great opportunity to develop a national approach, because we know across Wales there's some excellent practice, but we know there are schools that struggle to bring about improvement. So, this national resource has the potential to provide schools with detailed guidance on how they can approach not only self-evaluation, but, more importantly, how they can bring about that improvement. So, it will be a resource that develops over time. It's starting—we're piloting currently with around 40 schools. Half of those have been involved in developing the tools and approaches right from the start, and 22 new schools have come on board this year. But we anticipate that there will be lots of tools and approaches within that resource that schools can use to improve the quality of self-evaluation throughout the school: primaries, secondaries, PRUs and special schools. But it will focus on establishing a culture within the school that focuses on improvement, that establishes a reflective culture where all staff are involved in development. So, we're hoping that this tool—it's still currently in development, but we hope that that will support schools really well.

Okay. And, with regard to comparison of performance, does the lack of comparative attainment data raise difficulties when you're inspecting and drawing conclusions and standards in schools?

Not really, no. I think there was a bit of a myth that a lot of this performance data was just for Estyn, but actually it never has been. When we inspect, we look at a whole range of aspects of the work. We look at standards, we look at teaching and learning in the classroom, we look at well-being, we look at care support and guidance, we look at leadership, we look at all of these things, and we look at it based on first-hand evidence—what we actually see in the classroom. So, we're quite happy to continue to inspect schools, and we in fact support having less emphasis on data because, although data is useful, and we hope that schools will continue to analyse their data and use that data to help them self-improve and self-evaluate, we don't actually need it and it has actually created a bit of a high-stakes culture. So, I think stepping back from that culture is a good idea.

Okay, thank you very much. We've come to the end of our time, so can I thank you all for your attendance? As usual, you'll receive a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting. But thank you very much again for coming in this morning.

11:00

Diolch yn fawr—thank you.

3. Papurau i’w Nodi
3. Papers to Note

Item 3, then, is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a ministerial update on the emotional and mental health of children and young people in Wales—next steps for 'Mind over matter'. Paper to note 2 is a letter from the Minister for Housing and Local Government regarding teachers' pay and pensions, and paper to note 3 is a letter to the Minister for Education from us regarding the school funding review. Are Members happy to note those? Thank you.

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

Can I then propose under Standing Order 17.42 that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting? Are Members content? Great. Okay. Thank you.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:00.

Motion agreed.

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