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

Children, Young People and Education Committee - Fifth Senedd

15/10/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dawn Bowden MS Cadeirydd Dros Dro y Pwyllgor
Temporary Committee Chair
Hefin David MS
Laura Anne Jones MS
Lynne Neagle MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sian Gwenllian MS
Suzy Davies MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alastair Lichten Pennaeth Addysg ac Ysgolion, y Gymdeithas Seciwlar Genedlaethol
Head of Education and Schools, National Secular Society
Angela Keller Cynghorydd Cymru, Gwasanaeth Addysg Gatholig
Adviser for Wales, Catholic Education Service
Dr Ruth Wareham Rheolwr Ymgyrchoedd Addysg, Dyneiddwyr y DU
Education Campaigns Manager, Humanists UK
Elizabeth Thomas Cyfarwyddwr Addysg Daleithiol, yr Eglwys yng Nghymru
Provincial Director of Education, Church in Wales
Kathy Riddick Cydlynydd Dyneiddwyr Cymru, Dyneiddwyr y DU
Wales Humanists Co-ordinator, Humanists UK
Libby Jones Cadeirydd, y Panel Ymgynghorol Cenedlaethol Addysg Grefyddol
Chair, National Panel for Religious Education
Paula Webber Swyddog Gweithredol, Cymdeithas Cynghorau Ymgynghorol Sefydlog ar Addysg Grefyddol
Executive Officer, Wales Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Lisa Salkeld Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Masudah Ali Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Rhiannon Lewis Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Sian Hughes Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sian Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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

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

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:25

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:25. 

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

Can I welcome Members to this virtual meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee? In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting, which was published on Monday. This meeting is, however, being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual.

Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. If we become aware that there is an issue with the translation, I'll ask you to pause for a moment while our meeting technicians reset the system.

I did have apologies from Suzy Davies, but I notice that she's actually here, so I'm not quite sure why that is. But anyway, glad to see you, Suzy.

You're not here for the second session. I do apologise. Right, okay. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? No. And finally, just to let you know that I'm chairing this because Lynne Neagle has dropped out for technical reasons, and so, as soon as she's able to rejoin us, she'll take over chairing the meeting again.

2. Bil Cwricwlwm ac Asesu (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 10 gyda Chynrychiolwyr Grwpiau Ffydd, Cymdeithas Cynghorau Ymgynghorol Sefydlog ar Addysg Grefyddol Cymru a'r Panel Ymgynghorol Cenedlaethol Addysg Grefyddol
2. Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 10 with Faith Group, Wales Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education and National Panel for Religious Education Representatives

If I can now move on to item 2, which is evidence session 10 with faith groups [correction: faith groups, WASACRE and NAPfRE representatives] on the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill. I welcome this morning's witnesses: Angela Keller, adviser for Wales, Catholic Education Service; Elizabeth Thomas, provincial director of education with the Church in Wales; Paula Webber, executive officer, Wales Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education; and Libby Jones, chair of the National Panel for Religious Education. So, welcome, all of you. I'd now like to move to questions of the witnesses. Can I start first with Laura Jones?

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, all, for coming in. I just wanted to start off asking a general question. Do you agree with the Welsh Government that the current curriculum is no longer fit for purpose and that a complete overhaul of what and how children and young people are taught is essential, or not, and why? Thank you.

Okay. Who'd like to go first with that? If you just raise your hand, then I can see who wants to speak first. Libby?

Yes, I don't mind going first. It's an interesting question, because I don't think we've ever been asked whether we think that the current curriculum is not fit for purpose, in my memory. But, I know that NAPfRE members are more than aware, having so much teaching experience between us all, that the current curriculum is over 30 years old, and times have changed, along with educational practice, initiatives and thinking. So, yes, we feel that there is a need for a fresh approach to teaching and learning.

We would agree with Libby, but to say that, currently, the curriculum is content heavy and it doesn't naturally allow learners to apply their learning in other contexts, which is really the sort of skill that we need in the twenty-first century and moving forward.

Good morning. Thank you, first of all, for giving me the opportunity to contribute this morning. The CES are very, very pleased to be working with the Welsh Government in fulfilling the national mission and were thrilled when our schools worked as pioneer schools and innovation schools too. So, we really, really are very pleased to see a purpose-led curriculum that's broad and balanced and meets the needs of individual children. But we're also really thrilled to see the freedom and innovation that's going to be given to professionals to be able to be creative and meet the needs of their communities. I think that that's a huge step forward from the existing curriculum. Obviously, we've got some concerns, and we are hopeful that we can work with the Welsh Government to address these, particularly around, obviously, the dual syllabi and the right to withdraw. But, you know, in principle, we are very, very supportive of the national mission.

09:30

Thank you. We will come on to those issues a little bit later. So, Paula.

Yes. I think WASACRE, as well, are quite excited to see some of the changes, and the fact that this is a purpose-driven curriculum and that high-level concepts are being explored within it. And, also, that it's being futureproofed and with future generations in mind. Overall, this reform was needed, and WASACRE have been pleased to be part of the process. I hope that Welsh Government continue to seek the advice of experts on some of the issues that we also have concerning RE going forward, and, obviously, we'll talk about those later.

But, overall, I'm very pleased—I must say this—that Professor Donaldson recommended that religious education sits within the curriculum and has its rightful place as an academic study within that curriculum as well.

Thank you. Angela and Paula have already touched on, just now, my second question on whether you think the Bill's purpose-led approach to the new curriculum is right. So, I'd be interested to see what the other people giving evidence have to say on that.

Obviously, there's a massive amount of flexibility with the new curriculum as well. I'm just wondering if you could maybe expand on your thoughts of that and how it's going to differ between all schools. So, therefore, do you agree with the main organising principles of the curriculum—the four purposes, the six areas of learning and experience, the three cross-curricular skills and the four mandatory elements—or do you think there's anything missing, in your view? Thank you.

I'm happy to go first again. So, I mean, yes, NAPfRE supports the purpose-led approach of the curriculum. We feel that it is important to have a set of overall aims and a shared vision of the learner to inform teaching and learning—that's really important.

In terms of flexibility, local determination is a familiar concept for religious education; it has been since 1944. It does allow the landscape, the demographic, the knowledge, the expertise and shared experiences of the locality to shape a dynamic and bespoke curriculum that benefits the learner and also benefits the wider community. So, flexibility for schools is welcomed by NAPfRE, however, concern has been raised about schools having discretion to depart from the agreed syllabus, which will have been developed locally and should be sensitive to the local needs of the schools already, and will have had regard, as per the new legislation, to national guidance. So, NAPfRE feels that this particular step is an unnecessary precaution, really, and it's concerned that some learners could lose out on specific aspects of education, including learning in RE, or some aspects of learning in RE that schools might not see as important as other things. So, obviously, that is a worry for us.

In terms of the four purposes, yes, NAPfRE is more than happy with the four purposes, and actually believes that RE makes a distinctive contribution to that. The six areas of learning and experience, the cross curricular-skills and the mandatory elements obviously include RE. So, again, we're very supportive of that. And we acknowledge that RE retains a defined place within the curriculum and it's now integrated in a meaningful way in the humanities. So, we see that as a really positive step forward.

Obviously, we have a concern, though, that RE could be lost within an integrated approach and that that may happen in some settings where RE expertise is limited, and there is limited RE expertise across Wales. So, that is, obviously, something that we would be concerned about, and we would say that there needs to be an extensive and specific package of professional learning to ensure that that doesn't happen.

The one last thing that I want to mention as something that is missing, it's not missing from legislation, but it is missing from guidance in an explicit way, and that's the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical—I had to read that—development of the learners. So, we feel that that really should be highlighted more in statutory guidance.

09:35

Okay, thanks, Libby. Elizabeth, you wanted to say something.

Yes. The Church in Wales schools are committed to pluralistic education, and we believe that the purpose-driven new curriculum is very much that. We think that the principles of the Bill resonate with the ethos of the culture in Church in Wales schools as well, and we are happy with the structure of the AoLEs, although have concerns, as Libby has said, in terms of some of the aspects of religion, values and ethics, and possibly being lost within an integrated curriculum as well as the references to spirituality and moral development, but, actually, that's not reflected in any of the supporting documentation. We feel that perhaps that's something that needs to be more fully recognised throughout the Bill.

We also have concerns—well, we're supportive of the pupil-centred, practitioner-led approach that's proposed. We think that's really important, and the levels of autonomy that are actually given to school leaders and practitioners. However, we have the reservation that that's not the case for all practitioners and for all school leaders, because of the proposals to do with RVE, which sets them very firmly apart from that, and I know we'll come on to that later—

Thanks, Elizabeth. Angela, did you want to say something?

Yes, not to add too much, because I've already said that we're very supportive of the national mission and the four purposes, particularly the child-centred support and the belief in practitioners. However, to echo Elizabeth, we are concerned that, certainly in church schools, that level of trust in the professionalism of our teachers doesn't seem to be there in the legislation, and that will be a concern for us.

And just to echo a point—perhaps to elaborate on something that Libby mentioned, in terms of RVE, values and ethics, I think in most schools, are seen as the responsibility of the whole school and spread throughout the curriculum. So, I would have a concern that perhaps it would be now compartmentalised within a subject, and RE may be lost or values and ethics may be lost, so that would be just an addition there.

Sorry, Paula, you may have wanted to say something, but I will move on to the next section, because I think it's covering and leading very nicely into that point you've just raised there, Angela, which is about the change from RE to RVE, and I've got a couple of questions I'd like to ask you about that.

So, firstly, really, was just a general question about your views on the change from RE to RVE and whether the name change adequately reflects the proposed changes. So, perhaps we could deal with that first, because I'm looking to find out what your views are on the range of beliefs and philosophies, or world views that might be encompassed in RVE. So, Paula, do you want to start with—

I would love to start with this, because this is a massive issue in terms of the way forward for religious education. WASACRE do—on the whole, there are some people who support the view of RVE, but the vast majority of SACREs and SACRE members, I would say, don't support the new name, nor do any professional bodies, including WASACRE and NAPfRE, and the Association of RE Inspectors, Advisors and Consultants—all of those. And if you look at the response from WASACRE, we are—[Inaudible.]—in support of this name. Now, there are mixed views. WASACRE represents the views of 22 different SACREs in Wales, so as you can imagine, there are lots of different views, but we did take a straw poll when the name change was consulted on, and we did not agree that RVE—I can't remember hardly anybody, if anybody, supporting that name.

So I think we might be split on what name should go forward, but I think we're pretty, on the whole, united in the fact that this is not the right name. In fact, it takes us backwards. It stops, as Angela said, values and ethics from being a whole-school responsibility. And the way forward in terms of where RE was headed on an international level was towards a name change, perhaps, to 'religion and world views'. In the first consultation, Welsh Government got that wrong because they added an 's' on the end of the word 'religion' and put 'religions and world views', which took away from the fact that religion as a concept was being taught rather than religions in silos, which we are trying to move away from. Religions are much more messy than teaching them in silos. So, for example, you could have someone being brought up with a Hindu mum and a Muslim dad, and their view is not straightforward. So I think to look at 'religion and world views', which the RE framework was headed towards when it was being written, is a much more suitable name.

I'm very aware that I'm speaking on behalf of 22 different SACREs and that there are major concerns within schools of a religious character about retaining the name 'religious education', but I think from a professional point of view, the major name change that we would have liked to have seen is 'religion and world views' and not 'religions and world views', because it makes a vast difference. In terms of the first consultation on the name change, if you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer, and I think that's what's happened here. They shouldn't have put that 's' on the name, and I think it would have been vastly supported by lots more people if that hadn't happened in the first place.

09:40

Okay, I understand. Has anybody else got any views on this particular issue, and really, how you expect RVE, under the new curriculum, to differ from RE in the way that it's provided in schools of a religious character? Anybody else want to—? Libby, and then I'll call Siân in for a supplementary. Sorry, Libby, go on.

It was just to say that NAPfRE members didn't support this particular name, and they did suggest 'religion and world views'. They don't think that 'values and ethics' added on to 'religion' adequately describes the scope, and it makes it—Paula talked about it going backwards, and it doesn't really reflect the rigorous and academic nature of the subject, which is a worry. Values and ethics are only two areas within a much wider scope of RE. As I think Angela mentioned, values and ethics are the responsibility of all subject areas, and are in the four purposes.

The other concern is that it could be misinterpreted by teachers, parents and learners. If we aren't going to have the right to withdraw for parents, that could cause some real challenges, because there could be—without really extensive professional learning for RVE, teachers could really get that wrong in what they're teaching, and that could have a huge effect on parents' rights if they're not allowed to withdraw.

You asked another question there—. I'm going to stop now, because you asked another question and I do want to answer that, but—

It was about how you expect RVE to differ from RE as currently provided in schools with a religious character. So, I think you've covered it, to a large extent, but can I bring in Siân, because she has a supplementary?

09:45

Yes, absolutely.

Diolch, a bore da. Oes yna ddim peryg, o ganolbwyntio'r drafodaeth ynghylch enw'r maes newydd yma, i'r drafodaeth fynd ynglŷn â'r enw a'n bod ni'n anghofio, mewn gwirionedd, fod angen trafod beth yw cynnwys y maes llafur a bod angen canolbwyntio ar hynny, a dweud y gwir, a bod y drafodaeth am yr enw yn dipyn bach o red herring?

Thank you, and good morning. Isn't there a risk that we focus the discussion around the name of this new particular area, and that the discussion centres around the name and that we forget that we need to discuss the actual content of this particular syllabus, and that we need to focus on that, and that the discussion around the name is something of a red herring, perhaps?

Yes, could I? We did warn this, if I remember rightly, that the name change would take away from the content of the RE framework, at the time. And I think you're right, it's the content that's more important, but I think the name is its identity and I feel that that isn't a red herring, it's a major worry, and I really feel strongly about that. I think that a name sums something up, it gives it its identity, and religious education is a multidisciplinary field of study, and that is not summed up in the name.

In terms of the changes going forward, in the current curriculum, RVE has to be objective, critical and pluralistic. This is not new, it is the law as it stands, and in terms of pushing forward a new name on that basis, that's how it should be. But it should be in practice as well as in the theory of it, and without extensive professional learning and expert advisory support, then there's an issue there going forward, that the implementation of this curriculum will be inadequate, because it's a mandatory element of the curriculum, and it has lots of sensitive issues that are attached to it. So, in that sense, it differs from maybe some of the other subjects within the curriculum, and therefore there is a need for expert advisory support as well, throughout Wales. I think there is a lack of confidence amongst teachers about teaching views other than Christianity, and that's backed up by the last Estyn thematic key stage 2/key stage 3 review. So, a lot of training is needed.

In terms of the content of the curriculum, what is going to be different is maybe the way that we look at different religions, and there is going to be a change, but that's been driven not by the curriculum for Wales but by expert opinion, international opinion as well, and extensive research. And I wouldn't like that research to be ignored in the way forward, because it has got to be taken into account, and I felt that it was being taken into account for a long time, but that perhaps it's being ignored a little bit now.

Okay. I'm very conscious of time now, because we've got an awful lot to get through this morning, so unless there's anybody that's got anything crucially different to add—. Angela, could you be very quick and then I need to hand the chair back to Lynne Neagle as well for the next section? Sorry, Angela. Go on. 

[Inaudible.]—but I think to develop in terms of the content, it's important to recognise that in Catholic schools and, I believe, in church schools generally, the content of RE is already pluralistic. It does cover not only the tenets of our own religion, but also other religious views and world views as well. So, I think it's quite important—. You're absolutely right, Siân, that RE is at the core of our core curriculum, however it's very important to recognise that we already deliver things like non-religious interpretation. So, in some respects, for us, it won't change dramatically, other than the possibility of having to deliver a second syllabus. 

Okay. Elizabeth, very quickly. You're still muted, Elizabeth. 

[Inaudible.]

09:50

Okay. I would agree with Siân. I think the issue that the RVE framework hasn't yet been published makes this debate really very difficult, and I think that that is one of the issues that perhaps we need to think about, particularly when you set that alongside the lengthy list of philosophical convictions that are referenced in the European convention on human rights. I think there is a danger, without the much-needed professional learning, that there will be a real problem to balance religious and non-religious world views. There is a risk, therefore, that there could be a very secular approach to the delivery of religious education—not that it needs to be a religious approach, but it could be that religion and religions are sidelined. And I think that that's a real concern with the quite specific definition that's been given within the Bill as well. 

Okay, thank you all very much. And I'll now hand the chair back to Lynne Neagle. 

Thank you, Dawn, and my apologies, everyone, for losing my internet. The next questions are from Suzy Davies on the different syllabi in different schools. Suzy. 

Thank you all. Just to round off the evidence you were giving moments ago, what is there currently on the national curriculum that you're not teaching in faith schools? [Interruption.] What's the problem?

Well, we don't believe that there is a problem, and we feel that this whole piece of legislation has been predicated on the belief that there is actually a problem, and that the delivery of religious education in schools of a religious character is not pluralistic. We see terminology such as a lack of pluralism means indoctrination, and that sort of link is actually really quite offensive in many ways. But we don't feel that religious education in schools of a religious character is anything other than pluralistic. That's the law, and we certainly have had no references that that is being broken in any of our schools in that respect. 

That's good. That's what I wanted to ask—whether there is any evidence from parents or, indeed, young people themselves where they'd claimed that the education that they're getting doesn't comply with the national curriculum, despite being in a church school. 

Thank you, Chair. No, there is no evidence to suggest that. The right to withdraw exists, and parents do not withdraw their children from RE. So, as Elizabeth said, we think that the legislation is starting from a false premise that we are not delivering pluralistic and balanced RE, whereas in fact we are. And as I said earlier, we do engage with other religions and with non-religious interpretations also. So, we would say that there is not a problem and there isn't a need for this part of the legislation. 

Suzy, because of the time we are going to have to move on to talk about the different syllabi. 

That's what I am going to do now. So, in terms of there being more than one sort of syllabus, why do you think that there is in the Bill a requirement for a child to be able to request the agreed syllabus when, basically, you're claiming that the agreed syllabus is part of your own syllabuses anyway? I appreciate we haven't seen the framework yet. 

Thank you, Chair. We don't understand why there is the necessity to have two syllabi. If a syllabus is published and schools are supposed to be publishing their curriculums by law anyway, then there will be transparency within that publication. There would be no need to have to publish two syllabi if one syllabus is actually supporting pluralistic religious education—religions, values and ethics. We feel that that would be very clear. 

Okay. Can I just assume you've all got the same views so that I can move on? Would that be right?

09:55

Just one extra thing. It's not that I disagree with Liz at all; I do agree with Liz. I just wanted to say that NAPfRE is aware that some learners do attend schools with a religious character because they have no other choice, and their families' personal beliefs aren't reflected by the religious character of that school. We're aware that that happens. It doesn't happen very often that they absolutely can't go to another school, but it does happen. And I think that's where this has come from. But I completely support Liz and Angela in believing that there isn't a problem, and that it's entirely reasonable and achievable for a school with a religious character to have a curriculum that is objective, critical and pluralistic. 

And how difficult would it be for a school of religious character to provide a separate syllabus?

The CES has actually produced a paper on why this would be onerous for schools of a religious character, which I'm happy to share. Obviously, we can't go into that now in such detail. But, obviously, it's the practicalities of having to provide two syllabi, two sets of professional learning, teaching time, practicalities of maybe having to send children out to other schools. But apart from that, I think it is, for me, particularly looking at professionals within the schools—it's that lack of trust in teachers in schools of religious character to deliver RE in a balanced and pluralistic way. As Libby alluded to, the law already means that we have to do that. For me, one of the biggest issues that seems to underpin this is the removal of the right to withdraw that safety net for parents. And that, to me, is one of the issues to address, that if that safety net was there, there is no need to provide this additional legislation. 

Do you think that the inclusion of the obligation to tell parents that they've got a right to the agreed syllabus, as opposed to the denominational syllabus, is valuable?

Thank you, Chair. We believe that that's simply emphasising further that teachers, leaders, practitioners in schools of a religious character can't be trusted. The implication of that is that it has to be put in law, otherwise they're not going to be open and transparent about the value of religion, values and ethics that is being taught within the school. I think it's absolutely unnecessary, and I think it's an additional blow to those people working in schools of a religious character. 

Yes, I think, from WASACRE's point of view, every child within Wales should be entitled to objective, critical and pluralistic RE. That is set out in the humanities AoLE, it's set out in the RE framework, and will be. And every school, whether it's a community school or a school of religious character, has to have regard to that guidance. So, therefore, is there any need for more than one syllabus? What we need is good professional learning, to know what is objective, critical and pluralistic RE, what is good RE, and a good advisory service to ensure that is implemented, because, actually, the framework says it's got to be objective, critical and pluralistic, and that's no matter what school it's in. 

Just to finish off, does it annoy any of you that non-religious schools aren't under an equivalent obligation to offer a denominational syllabus, for example, when you're being asked to provide an agreed syllabus?

It seems inequitable, certainly for children who may be in a school, to flip it on its head, who may not have access to a church school, not to be able to also access RE that is from their own faith base. And that seems inequitable, whereas a child in a church school would, under these proposals, have the ability to essentially opt out of denominational RE and have the agreed syllabus. So, that seems a point of inequity to us. And it is disappointing that church schools are being treated in a completely different way, with the inclusion of the second syllabus and having to teach 'in accordance with', rather than the professionals within church schools having this teaching 'in regard to' in exactly the same way as their colleagues in non-church schools. So, it is a disappointment, I think, and a grave worry to all professionals within schools. As the headteachers' letter mentioned— which was sent to the First Minister, and, again, I'd happily distribute that—I think there's a real danger that the Welsh Government will lose the trust of the Catholic community, of parents, of professionals, going forward, and that would have a significant impact on the delivery of the national mission.

10:00

Yes. On many of the points, I would concur with Angela in terms of there being an inequity in terms of schools of a religious character and schools without a religious character in the community. And I would support the comments that the absolute right of parents in a school of a religious character seems very far removed from the fact that parents of faith in schools without a religious character do not have that absolute right. So, again, it's setting the schools very, very clearly apart, and there's real disquiet about that.

No, just to say that I noticed the inequity in the language in terms of 'in accordance to' and 'with regard to', and that shocked me, I think, when I read it. So, I would agree on that. But, like I said, every school—every child—should have objective, critical and pluralistic RE anyway.

Does Siân want to come in on this? I want to ask about the right of withdrawal, but if Siân's on this, I don't mind—.

Diolch. Jest i fi gael o'n glir yn fy meddwl fy hun: pam, felly, fod angen cael sylabws sydd yn ymwneud efo statws crefyddol yr ysgol o gwbl? Hynny yw, petai pob ysgol efo'r un un sylabws, fyddai yna ddim problem, a bod ddim un plentyn yn gallu optio allan ohono fo. Ydy hwnna—? Dydy hwnna ddim yn glir i fi—beth yn union rydych chi'n geisio ei ddweud.

Thank you. Just so I can get it clear in my own mind: why then does there need to be a syllabus relating to the religious status of a school at all? If every school had the same syllabus, then there would be no problem and no child could then opt out. That is not clear to me—what exactly you're trying to say here.

Thank you, Chair. In part, Siân, it's to do with the trust deeds of the schools. So, voluntary-aided schools of a religious character will often have a trust deed, and one of the key elements within that trust deed, particularly for voluntary-aided schools, is that religious education must be provided in accordance with the tenets of faith. So, for us, it would be according to the teachings of the church in Wales, and similar for the Catholics. So, in the first instance, there's an obligation, a very technical and legal obligation, on schools of a religious character to—

Would somebody else like to come in while we're waiting for—?

So, why not get rid of that? If the problem is that the trustees—there is some legal problem with the trustees having to abide by a rule that says that they have to bring some kind of religious denominational syllabus, and you're telling me that RE should be the same across the schools, why not get rid of that bit? Because then it would be, really, much simpler for everybody, because every child will follow the same syllabus.

I think—. What you would be actually asking is for—. If you get rid of the trust deed, you get rid of the Catholic or you get rid of the school of a religious character; it is the framework for why we exist. What I would argue is that it's not about the starting point, it's not a matter of content, it's where we start from, and I would argue—and I think Elizabeth would do the same—that the RE or RVE we offer, you could look at the RE curriculum directory for Catholic schools that is already published and you will see that it is objective and critical and balanced. So, we would argue that what we do is already meeting the legal requirement, and therefore there is no need. It's beginning from a false premise. We already do this. It's making a problem that doesn't exist.

10:05

Okay. Elizabeth, and Paula, if you haven't got anything new to add, I do want to move on now to talk about the right to withdraw, because Dawn has that question, and, Suzy, I'll bring you in as a supplementary. Dawn.

Okay. Thank you, Chair. So, it really is just about your views on the new proposals that parents will not have the right to withdraw—what your views are on that and what you think any potential consequences of that might be.

Thank you, Chair. It was just to say that this is quite a controversial issue, as I'm sure you are aware, and there were different views on the right to withdraw from that from members. Some colleagues would welcome the inclusion of the right to withdraw for all schools, and that it remains there as a safety net. To take away a parent's rights is a big deal and there will be instances in all types of schools where RE or RVE might not be taught correctly—that's not just in schools of a religious character; that's in community schools as well and schools without a religious character—if the PL isn't there, if the continued professional development isn't there, and if there isn't an advisory service to support schools with that going forward.

However, most colleagues believe that it shouldn't be included because it won't be needed, and that parents shouldn't need to withdraw their children from objective, critical and pluralistic RE. And if that's happening in all schools, which we're hearing is happening in schools of a religious character as well as in community schools, then there's absolutely no need for it. But it will require professional learning, it will require support, it will require advisory services in local authorities or consortia on school-level curriculum design in order to make sure that the RE is what it should be. And that's the same within the diocesan educational services as well.

Yes. The Catholic Education Service, the Catholic church, believes that parents are the principal educators, and so, for us, the right to withdraw is a very important part of providing education. We don't believe that the state—. The state in schools is there to support parents in their responsibilities, and the right to withdraw actually encourages very constructive dialogue with parents. It is back to what Elizabeth said earlier on about not having to legislate to inform parents, because that dialogue with parents, and the right to withdraw as part of that dialogue, is enshrined in our schools. So, we believe that it's very important to retain this, and the fact that it is rarely used shouldn't be the reason to take it away; it's a sign that it actually works very effectively.

Is there anyone else who's got anything new to add on this? No.

I was just going to say, Chair, it does seem to me that, if we're talking about something that is going to be a central part of the new curriculum, we wouldn't allow parents to voluntarily withdraw their children from maths or English or Welsh or any other subject, so should we allow them to withdraw from RVE?

10:10

Yes, I agree with that, and, on this vote, WASACRE took a straw poll, and we voted to remove the right to withdraw, but it might be different in schools of religious character. I think the right to withdraw is a safeguard against court action in some cases, but, if every child is receiving objective, critical and pluralistic RE in all schools, then is there a right—is there a need?

Thank you. We're going to move on now to Siân Gwenllian, who's got some questions about relationships and sexuality education.

Diolch. Symud ymlaen i faes arall sydd yn eithaf cynhennus hefyd, efallai. Beth ydy'ch barn chi am y cynigion ar gyfer addysg cydberthynas a rhywioldeb orfodol i'w haddysgu drwy'r cwricwlwm i gyd? Ydych chi'n cefnogi'r newid yma i gynnwys cwmpas ehangach o rywioldeb a pherthnasedd iach?

Thank you. If we can now move on to another contentious area, or it could be contentious, at least, what are your views on the proposals for mandatory relationships and sexuality education to be taught throughout the curriculum? Do you support this change to include a broader scope of sexuality and healthy relationships education?

I think, in the first instance, I should say that Church in Wales schools have always followed the national frameworks for personal, social, health and economic education and RSE, so, in that context, we actually welcome the opportunity for children to study developmentally appropriate RSE. I think that's really important. I think the importance of mutually loving and respectful relationships and the emphasis on relationships education is very important. We welcome the emphasis on children and young people understanding their own self-worth as well. And the fact that there is going to be a code written on the face of the Bill—we support that, because we think that that will give much-needed clarity. This will be a contentious issue, and we want to work with wider organisations to ensure that this is implemented smoothly.

Just to pick up on Liz's point there, we believe that high-quality RSE is vital for the development and protection of children and young people. I would echo what Liz says: working with other organisations, and particularly working with the parents, we've always been of this mind. The Catholic schools have an RSE programme that stretches from three to 19, so already in existence, and a great deal of good practice, so I think you can see, from our point of view, that this is an essential area, and we're very supportive.

Oes gennych chi unrhyw bryderon fydd y rhieni ddim yn gallu tynnu eu plant o wersi addysg cydberthnas a rhywioldeb? Beth fyddai'r canlyniadau yn sgil dileu'r hawl i dynnu allan? Oes yna unrhyw broblem efo hynny, ynteu ydych chi'n meddwl y ddylai pawb ddim cael yr hawl i dynnu allan?

Do you have any concerns that parents won't be able to withdraw their children from RSE lessons? What would be the results of scrapping that right to withdraw? Are there any problems arising from that, or do you think everyone should not have the right to withdraw?

Who's going to answer the question? Elizabeth.

Thank you, Chair. We would be of the opinion that every child should learn about RSE in a safe environment, rather than perhaps hearing the playground version, the internet version; there are so many other means for children to access perhaps inappropriate guidance on relationships and sexuality education, so we think it's really important for all children to have access to high-quality but developmentally appropriate relationships and sexuality education. We think that that's very, very important—for all to hear the same messages there.

I would echo Liz's view, that high-quality RSE that's developmentally appropriate and age-appropriate is essential, but I would also argue that maintaining the right to withdraw would involve parents in that dialogue, so that any parents who did have concerns would enter into the dialogue with the school and become actively involved and actually wouldn't withdraw, whereas they might do if that right were taken away. So, that would be our concern, that removing the right to withdraw would actually create a problem that presently doesn't exist.

10:15

Yes. Sorry—go on, Lib.

I was going to say that NAPfRE members have not discussed their position on RSE, so I can't comment, sorry.

And from a WASACRE point of view, our remit is RE, but just to say that we support the four purposes and the opportunity for learners to become ethical, informed citizens and healthy, confident individuals. 

Iawn. Dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni wedi colli'r Cadeirydd eto.

Okay. I think we've lost the Chair once again.

Yes, we've lost the Chair, so you've got me again—[Laughter.]—until she comes back. So, Siân, are you finished with that set of questions, because you were going to ask the next set as well, weren't you? So, do you want to carry on?

Diolch, Gadeirydd dros dro. Y cynghorau ymgynghorol sefydlog ar addysg grefyddol—y 'CYSAG' rydyn ni'n eu galw nhw yng Ngwynedd a Môn—beth ydy eich barn chi ar gynigion i ychwanegu cynrychiolwyr o grwpiau eraill i'r cynghorau yma, a hefyd i'r cynadleddau meysydd llafur cytunedig? Peth da ynteu peth drwg? Cychwyn efo Paula, efallai.

Thank you, temporary Chair. If I can turn to the standing advisory councils on religious education—'CYSAG', as we call them in Gwynedd and Anglesey—what are your views on the proposals to add additional groups as representatives to these councils, and also to the agreed syllabus conferences? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Perhaps we could start with Paula.

So, WASACRE are against adding an additional group. There are three committees currently on SACRE: one representing religion and belief, one representing the teaching profession and one representing the local authority. So, we are against adding a group AA and see it as unnecessary, because there was guidance from the Minister back in 2018 to say that we should no longer follow the advice of circular 10/94, and exclude humanist and non-religious views from that committee. So, I think the rightful place is actually on committee A, without—in WASACREs view—any subdivision of that group, which could cause division within the SACRE itself. 

It is the local authority that appoints members to SACRE, and I think the local authority should ensure that their SACREs are diverse and inclusive. But WASACRE is opposed to having an additional group; we feel that it could potentially cause an imbalance in—. When you vote on a SACRE, each committee has one vote, so would it cause an imbalance there in the voting? But we're fully supportive of inclusive and diverse SACREs.

Ond petai'r grŵp ychwanegol yn cael ei gynrychioli, fyddai hwnna ddim yn arwydd ein bod ni, fel gwlad, yn symud i fod yn fwy pliwralistig, ac y byddai pob llais yn cael ei glywed wedyn ac i gyd-fynd yn well efo'r sylabws newydd? Libby.

But if this additional group were to be represented, wouldn't that be a signal that we, as a nation, were moving towards being more pluralistic, and that every voice could then be heard, and that that would better accord with the new syllabus, perhaps? Libby.

Libby. Oh, sorry—. I'll ask Libby first and I'll come back to you, then, Paula. Sorry.

Thank you, Chair. So, NAPfRE don't agree with a separate group with voting rights, but would support a group within group A. So, currently, according to the law since 2018, people with non-religious convictions could be on committee A if the LA felt that that was appropriate for that committee. So, we don't have any problem with an additional group within committee A to ensure that non-religious convictions or people who have non-religious beliefs get a place. We don't have any problem with that. But we would have an issue, as Paula has said, if that separate group had a separate voting right, because that would create imbalance. Really, what that would mean—. For me, that would mean that every different religion that is represented on SACRE would need a separate voting right. If they are within group A, then group A has one vote. If they are within group B, then group has one vote et cetera, et cetera. So, it's that that is the issue.

The other thing that I just want to say is that SACRE is responsible not just for religious education; SACRE is responsible for collective worship, and that isn't included in this curriculum or this review of the legislation. So, some of our members have questioned the appropriateness of, and the need for, this proposal at this time. We fully support non-religious beliefs being represented on SACRE, but in the right way, so that there is fairness and balance.

10:20

Mae hynny'n swnio dipyn bach fel defnyddio rhyw ddadl dechnegol er mwyn peidio â chynnwys grŵp neu farn sydd, erbyn hyn, yn farn bwysig iawn o fewn ein cymdeithas ni.

That sounds as if you're using a technical argument in order not to include a group or a view, perhaps, that is now a very important view held within our society.

I don't think that we're excluding anybody. I just don't see the need for an additional group. I think they should be included within the groups that currently exist, and that that should be encouraged and expected. I just don't see the need for an additional group at all, and I think that that is WASACRE's view—that the groups should remain the same, but that non-religious views are represented within that committee, and are welcome.

We have welcomed, since we've been allowed to, a move away from circular 10/94. Members from non-religious views choose SACREs and they made an excellent contribution, and some SACRES had already co-opted them in the past because they weren't allowed on committee A. I don't think that anybody is saying they can't join us or anything like that, and we would want their views to be heard. It's just unnecessary that it's an additional group. It should be included, definitely.

Ocê. Y cwestiwn olaf gen i yn y section yma, Gadeirydd: ydych chi'n meddwl bod CYSAG yn cael dylanwad ar wersi crefydd, gwerthoedd a moeseg? Sut mae'r sylabws newydd a'r cynghorau yma yn mynd i weithio law yn llaw, o ran dylanwadu ar y cynnwys ac yn y blaen?

Okay. A final question from me in this section, Chair: Do you think that the SACREs do have, or will have, an influence on RVE lessons? How are the new syllabus and the councils going to work hand in hand, in terms of influencing content and so on?

Sorry, I forgot. [Laughter.] I do think that, currently, RE does lack expertise in some schools. Therefore, teachers and schools do need the support of SACREs on the teaching of RE. But I just want to highlight the fact that, in 2008, SACREs demonstrated that they are supportive of national initiatives, and they can contribute to those and work within those really meaningfully to benefit all learners.

We've got the national exemplar framework, which was adopted, or slightly adapted, by all 22 SACREs. So, actually, I think the influence—and I think it's inferred that this would be a negative influence—is actually not substantiated. I think the influence is a good influence. We're encouraging schools to create their own curriculums at a school level, and they will need support with that.

This whole idea of cynefin and locality: that's what SACREs have been doing for years and years. When we have advisers that support SACREs, who know where there is a lack of expertise within the SACRE and know where to go and find that expertise, through national bodies such as WASACRE and NAPfRE, you know, that is, again, an extra layer of support for schools. But I would say that I see effective SACREs as being a good influence.

10:25

Yes. I totally agree with Libby on that—effective SACREs are a driving force for good RE and take a keen interest in supporting teachers in schools. Teachers of religious education have had somewhere to go for help and for support, and I do feel that, since the advisory service has been weaker, the SACREs are finding it more difficult to do a job. But we work together, and, as Libby said, if you look at England, there are 158 different syllabi; in Wales we have our national exemplar framework. What we are doing now is nothing new; we already have worked together with Welsh Government to produce syllabi that SACREs follow.

Okay, thank you, Paula. I'm going to have to move on now—thank you, all, for that, and thank you, Siân—to the final set of questions. I'm very conscious of time, so I'm going to ask Hefin David to ask the final set of questions. You won't see Hefin because he's got some problems with his video connection, so you'll just hear the audio. Hefin.

And that's a blessing for everyone. [Laughter.] How well will teachers in faith and non-faith schools be equipped to teach religious education, and to what extent will there be a need for further professional learning for teachers? And do you think that's accounted for in a cost estimate for the Welsh Government's regulatory impact assessment? Can you hear me?

Okay, did everybody get that? Yes. Okay, who wants to go—?

Yes, yes, we can hear you, Hefin. It was a little bit iffy at the beginning, but I think we got the question. Who wants to go first? Libby.

Thank you, Chair. I just want to say that, as with any change, all teachers in all types of schools will not be fully equipped for the new curriculum and therefore won't be equipped to teach RVE, unless they have specific professional learning and continuous professional development. So, I don't think that it's been taken account of. It's identified in the explanatory memorandum, the need for PL, but, as far as I can see, it's not included in the regulatory impact assessment. But it is vital that RE receives that initial and continuous professional learning, including support and advice on curriculum-level design, and that's especially important if we're going to take away their right to withdraw. So, whilst there's fantastic RE going on currently in schools across Wales, this is a new curriculum and it is a new approach, so, yes, they will need to be upskilled.

WASACRE and NAPfRE produced a paper for the Welsh Government on the professional learning that was needed for RE in the new curriculum, and it was agreed by Welsh Government that that is needed, hence it being in the explanatory memorandum. However, I don't think that there's been money provided for it or any brief to the providers, or any indication of who those providers will be, to roll this out. And given that there is professional learning taking place on the new curriculum throughout Wales at the moment, I don't think that that's actually needed. And if RE is a mandatory element of the curriculum—the right to withdraw has been removed and the sensitive issues with which we deal—it is absolutely needed, and we need to know where that funding is and who is going to deliver the professional learning.

Okay, thank you. Elizabeth. You're muted, Elizabeth.

I would agree with Paula and Libby's concerns with regard to professional learning, and I am concerned that it hasn't been fully addressed within the regulatory impact assessment as well. The very small number of schools that were actually asked about potential issues with professional learning were not asked about the humanities AoLE, and therefore were not asked about RVE as well, and the implications that that might have for significant training for all teachers—professional learning for all teachers in Wales. That question wasn't specifically asked.

Furthermore, those questions took place in November, which was prior to the publication of the change of name. We've still obviously not had sight of the RVE framework to assess what needs to be done. So, I really feel that—. And the same could be true of RSE as well, in that respect, in that we don't know what we're teaching, therefore, we don't know how much professional learning there's going to be. So, I don't feel in terms of the financial implications of that that that's been addressed for all schools generally and, additionally to that, for schools of a religious character with the potential of the two curricula and so on, and I don't think there's been appropriate consultation on that.

10:30

Okay. I'm very conscious that we're running out of time now, so, Angela, have you got a very quick contribution before I ask Hefin to ask the next questions?

Yes, the CES were unable to really engage fully with the RIA because we were unaware of what actually was in the Bill, so, as Elizabeth says, it was virtually impossible to look at the cost implications of the proposals, because we didn't know what they were. Certainly, if you look at the introduction of the second syllabus, you're looking at two sets of professional learning, two lots of supply costs for people to come out of school and all that goes hand in hand with that. So, I don't think the RIA does take account of the impact, particularly on schools of a religious character.

Just a final question: are there any other barriers that we need to be aware of that we haven't discussed so far—barriers to successful limitation?

Thank you. Really, really importantly for NAPfRE, and I'm sure everyone will agree, the delay in sharing the RE framework with SACREs as the major stakeholder for RVE—or one of the major stakeholders for RVE. That could result in reduced time to amend the final document before it's published, and it is a real, real concern, because time is going on, and according to the timeline, SACREs will be expected to hold their agreed syllabus conferences in 2021, and it's October 2020. So, if this document is not shared with SACREs as soon as possible, they will have limited time to actually have that engagement and have that consultation before it goes out to public consultation, and I think in order to ensure that SACREs are fully consulted, that needs to happen now.

Thank you, Libby, for bringing that up. That was the point that I was going to raise, and just to say that I'm aware that there have been significant changes to the RVE framework since the group writing the framework has disbanded, and SACREs have not had sight of those changes and this is supposed to be a collaborative process. We do need to hold our agreed syllabus conferences in plenty of time and have a final say on what is in that document before it goes out to public consultation. It's important that experts are included in writing this document and that it's not just being written by Welsh Government.

All right, thank you very much for that, and thanks, Hefin, for those questions. Now, before we break, I do have one further question to ask you, just a point of clarification, really, if you can help with that. You said earlier that religious schools already comply with requirements for agreed syllabus religious education, but it's problematic if they're made to do it for RVE under the Bill. Can you explain how those two arguments sit alongside each other? Angela.

The line of argument I was taking is that we're already pluralistic and balanced, not that we deliver the agreed syllabus. It's that the religious education curriculum directory, the Catholic RE, already complies with law rather than that it takes on board the agreed syllabus.

10:35

Yes, agreed syllabi are locally determined, so there has never been just one agreed syllabus. There are 22 agreed syllabi within Wales, but from 2008, all of the SACREs worked together to produce one that they adopted or adapted. So, there's never just one.

Okay, that's fine. Elizabeth and Libby, you're okay with that for clarity? Yes, that's okay, that's great. Thank you all for that.

So, thank you all for coming in this morning. It's been really helpful to have your input into this inquiry. So, the committee will now break until 10:50. Thank you all very much.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:36 a 10:52.

The meeting adjourned between 10:36 a 10:52.

10:50
3. Bil Cwricwlwm ac Asesu (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 11 gyda Chynrychiolwyr Grwpiau Anghrefyddol
3. Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 11 with Non-religious Group Representatives

Okay, can I welcome everybody back to the Children, Young People and Education Committee, to our eleventh evidence session on the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill? I'm very pleased to welcome Dr Ruth Wareham, education campaigns manager at Humanists UK; Kathy Riddick, Wales humanists co-ordinator at Humanists UK; and Alastair Lichten, head of education and schools at the National Secular Society. Thank you all for joining us. We'll go straight into questions from Laura. 

Thank you, Chair, and thank you all for coming today. I just want to kick off with a general question, really. Do you agree with the Welsh Government that the current curriculum is no longer fit for purpose and that a complete overhaul of what and how children and young people are taught is essential, or not, and why, please? Thanks.

Yes, we do. We particularly agree that the curriculum for RE is outdated and it fails to reflect the diversity of religions and world views in Wales today. It doesn't adequately encompass the belief of the 57 per cent of the population who are now non-religious, and it needs to be futureproofed as well for the changes that are going to come to the way people follow their different beliefs.  

For RSE, also, we think there needs to be a change in how children are being brought up in this modern society, to make sure that they can stay healthy, happy and safe. 

Yes, just to follow up on what Kathy said, really, in terms of the RVE curriculum, the current RE curriculum, not being fit for purpose with respect to the population changes that we've seen over the years in Wales. So, 57 per cent of the adult population—well, the whole population—are non-religious, but actually that figure rises amongst younger people to over 70 per cent. So we really need to see those views reflected in our curriculum.

Thank you. Laura, unless there's anything anybody else wants to add. Alastair.

Yes, I would echo what both of the previous contributors have said. We need to recognise that much of the legislation surrounding the curriculum dates from before devolution, and when we come to religious education, many of these structures have their roots in the England of the 1940s—a different country in more ways than one. A curriculum for Wales in the twenty-first century requires legislation that's crafted in Wales in this century.

10:55

On that, the Bill's purpose-led approach, because the new curriculum is so flexible now, do you agree with that sort of approach, all that flexibility, and do you agree with the main organising principles for the new curriculum—the four purposes, the six areas of learning and experience, the three cross-curricular skills and the four mandatory elements—or is there anything missing, in your view? 

It's worth saying that we agree with the four purposes in general and the six AoLEs. We very much like the children's rights focus, particularly in one of the four purposes that seeks to cultivate ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world. We like the fact that human rights and children's rights in particular are embedded throughout the curriculum, but we do have some concerns about flexibility and gaps in certain areas of the curriculum and in the legislative framework, which we'll discuss in a little bit more depth when we get to talking about RVE and RSE in more depth. We think it's really important to balance that flexibility with the right of all children to receive a broad and balanced curriculum. 

I would say again that we've been very supportive of and engaged in the curriculum process, and that starting ambition to centre it around children's rights I think is absolutely the right approach in the twenty-first century. It's an approach that other parts of the UK should be learning from. And with that flexibility and that centring on children's rights, but trusting schools, that flexibility can be great. However, that also does raise certain areas of concern, which I'm sure we'll come on to. The danger of flexibility is that the good schools do it very well, but then that leaves gaps. 

Okay. We'll move on then to some questions from Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to ask whether you were satisfied with the provisions in the Bill around the inclusive range of religious and non-religious beliefs and world views being included. How important do you think the change from RE to RVE is in this regard? 

We welcome the inclusion of non-religious beliefs and that they're put explicitly on an equal footing with religious perspectives. It's really important and it's certainly leading the way in the UK in terms of the way that religion and belief is viewed. The name change is critical because RE is such an old subject, it has an old approach to it. So, having a name change that signals the inclusion of non-religious world views as equal to religious views is really important. We originally supported 'religions and world views' as a name that would be representative of the subject, but we have no problem with RVE—religion, values and ethics—as the chosen name moving forward. 

Sorry, Kathy, did you just say you are happy with the change in name? 

Yes, we think—

Just to pick up on what Kathy said, really, I think a change in name that recognises this broader scope to the subject is absolutely necessary. Now, our preference at the outset would have been for 'religions and world views'—and that's religions with the 's', which some groups have perhaps had an issue with—because that then puts religious and non-religious perspectives on that equal footing. But 'religion, values and ethics' also recognises that broader scope, whereas 'religious education' sends a message that all you're teaching about is religion. And for parents and pupils, particularly those who perhaps live a non-religious life, we want to make sure that they recognise that that subject is relevant to them as well—that it's relevant to all of us. So, that inclusive language in the name, it might just be looked at as a name and that it is the content that matters, but actually the name signifies what's happening in that subject. So, we are happy to change the name to 'religion, values and ethics', because it marks a really significant step in the right direction.

11:00

Could I come in on that? In some ways, it's actually very sad the extent of the negative perception of RE, and many people's negative experiences with RE. It may be because they're remembering from their own school days. So, a change of the subject name—I think, also, we're not entirely happy with it, but happy to make do with 'RVE'—does reflect that that's a new start. It does still frame religion as the default, which is not necessarily appropriate. The trend within RE has been towards greater pluralism, and towards more of a child's rights or learner-centred approach, but that's not been the case in all areas. But, pupils today, growing up in Wales, they're growing up in a country that's never been more religiously diverse, or less religious, and critically engaging with religion and belief issues requires an understanding, not just of a range of world views, but of issues across world views, such as secularism. It is sad that some still see the non-religious world views, which will be held by the majority of pupils, as an optional add-on that can be bolted on, or that can simply be covered under humanism, important as that would be. And just to add to that I think RVE and the change in name, and changing how we conceptualise this—hopefully that will come along with a change to what we would call the 'advertising space mentality'. And that's been the primary driver of more pluralism and more diversity in the curriculum over the last few decades. It has been adding additional advertising space for different world views, rather than taking a critical overview of the whole area. 

Can I just add as well—? I think the other important thing to say from the outset, with the sort of idea that we're adding non-religious world views to religious world views, is that, actually, this does not amount to a substantive change in the law. The law already dictates that RE should be covering a range of world views, on the basis that it should be objective, critical and pluralistic. The only case law in this subject—the case of Fox v. Secretary of State for Education—found that leaving out non-religious world views was unlawful. So, although we hear a lot of noise that this will dilute the subject or this will somehow dumb it down, which we have heard from religious organisations—that, somehow, teaching about non-religious perspectives will mean that the subject is less intellectually rigorous—the law already dictates that this should be the case. This should already be happening. But these changes signify it to everybody, so that everybody is aware that this is the position, and that's why it's so important. 

If I might add on that, we need to remember, if we think about centring the learner's experience on children's rights—what does it say to a child who is non-religious, as the majority of Welsh pupils will be, or whose family is non-religious, to be told that their family, themselves being reflected in the curriculum devalues it or dilutes it? We need to remember that it's not just a theoretical thing; it's actual people's experiences as well. 

Yes. I just wanted to make the point that many of the schools that I work with across Wales have already changed their subject name and their department name, and they no longer call it RE; they call it a variety of different things, because they find that's what attracts the children towards the subject, to study the subject. So, I think, in this sense, a name change is catching up with what teachers already want. 

Lovely. Thank you. We've got some questions now from Hefin David, who is just with us on audio. Hefin.

To what extent does the panel believe that the same RVE curriculum should be compulsory in all schools, irrespective of their religious character, and should all children and young people have the right to receive RVE having regard to the agreed syllabus?

11:05

I heard all of that, but you were quite quiet there. I managed to make it all out. 

Yes, please.

Okay. To what extent does the panel believe that the same RVE curriculum should be compulsory in all schools, irrespective of their religious character, and should all children and young people have the right to receive RVE having regard to the agreed syllabus?

The Minister reiterated earlier this week in her update report the importance of an all-Wales framework that is fit for all children in Wales. We believe that there shouldn't be any segregation in what children are taught. RVE has been designed to be critical, objective and pluralistic. It's been designed by a group of experts from WASACRE, NAPfRE, from the Church in Wales, who all sat down together to design the framework. So, it should be fit for purpose for all schools and all children should have the right to receive that education. 

We're here in the children and young people committee, so I think it's helpful if we continually centre children's rights rather than religious schools' interests. The ambition that all children in Wales have access to critical, pluralistic RVE—all children—was a really important and positive part of the new curriculum project, and it's concerning and sad to see any efforts to water that down. If we start from a child's rights perspective rather than religious interests or faith school lobbies' preferences, then it's very hard to justify children not having that entitlement.

I just wanted to second what Alastair said, really. The ideal situation would be for all children in all schools to be receiving this critical, objective and pluralistic RVE curriculum in line with their locally agreed syllabus. Now, we realise that that—which I don't think is a particularly radical option, but is treated as though it is a radical option—isn't currently on the table, because we are going to allow faith schools to continue with a faith-based version of the subject, which they try to argue is already critical, objective and pluralistic, but it just isn't the case. That's a very high bar to satisfy in law. In law, critical, objective and pluralistic—you can't have that objective part if you are teaching from a particular faith perspective. No matter how much you want to try and bolt on other religions or world views into your curriculum, you're coming at it from a particular stance, and you won't meet that standard in the law—it just can't meet it. It's substantively different; it's qualitatively different religious education.

So, given that that is going to continue and the right to withdraw is going to be removed, we need to protect the rights of families and children who are, for some reason, attending a faith school but don't share the faith of that school. And that happens quite a lot because there are people who live in rural areas where their only local school might be a faith school, so they are going to be attending their local school on that basis. And, yes, they used to have a right to withdraw, but it's better that they now have access to an RVE curriculum rather than just being sat in a corridor or sat in another room with a teaching assistant and not having that vital part of their education. So, while what is proposed in the Bill is not the ideal state of affairs, it is absolutely a really significant step in the right direction.

It's a lot better.

Yes—is that better? Okay. It's moving in and out. I didn't quite get everything that was said, but I got the gist of it. What impact will there be on schools with a religious character with regard to the requirement, possibly, of two syllabi?

Well, there's no doubt this would be an inconvenience for some faith schools and, again, I would say it's not a position that we'd support. As Ruth has just said, this isn't what anyone coming at it from a child's rights or a secular perspective would say is ideal. We can talk about—. We game-planned out all the problems that this could cause for schools that need to do two syllabi, but the fact is it's the faith schools and the faith school lobbies' opposition to pluralistic—the agreed syllabus RE—that has led to this situation; they've demanded that they can continue to teach denominational RE. Frankly, that's their cross to bear at this point.

It would be far more parsimonious—it would be so much simpler just to say, 'Okay, well, if you just teach the pluralistic RE, you don't need to create two syllabi.' Schools are not religious communities, and no matter how much some people like to treat them that way, obviously, if we have denominational schools—and that's a discussion for another day—they're going to want to teach religious education in a denominational way, but that should be very separate to the academic subject of RVE, which all pupils should be entitled to. If schools wanted to voluntarily do an extra-curricular option that covered that denominational RE, that would be fine, or it could just be left up to faith and belief communities.

11:10

The most important thing is that children have access to the right thing; that they don't have to be educated in the denominational sense of RE if they choose not to be, if they're not of that faith, and non-Christian children are having to go to faith schools because of geographical implications.

So, CPD is vital and making sure that the professional learning is there for teachers within faith schools to support them. But these schools are also part of networks with other schools, with community schools, that will have developed a syllabus for RVE. So, they're not having to start from scratch with the development of a second syllabus; they can work with other schools. But also, if their own syllabus is going to be pluralistic, as it should be, then it's not going to be that much of a stretch for them to deliver RVE as well. So, it would be a sense of working with the currency of this and seeing what needs to be adapted from there. There is going to be an impact on them, but we certainly don't think it's anywhere near as big as it may have been made out to be. And as long as the professional learning is there and there are teachers within faith schools who have the right training and CPD to be able to deliver a pluralistic RVE, then it should become just part of the way they deliver their curriculum.

Yes. Just to say, the idea of having teachers who are suitably trained to teach this subject is really important here. And one impact that there might be and that we actually think there should be on religious schools is that we should rethink the laws around faith school employment.

So, at the moment, teachers who teach in faith schools, who teach religious education in faith schools specifically, but actually all teachers in faith schools, can be prioritised for jobs on the basis of that faith. And if that's the case but what you want in RE are people who are able to teach in this critical objective, pluralistic fashion, you are going to have to open up your employment practices, and we would suggest that one way in order to do that is to do away with the right to select all teachers on that basis, or at the very least, make it a rule that there have to be teachers in the school who are suitably qualified to teach this other kind of RE, not coming at it from a religious perspective. Now, that's not to say that somebody who is religious can't teach in this way, but it's just to say that it's not a genuine occupational requirement of the role. So, we think that that is something that perhaps needs to be looked at if we're suggesting that faith schools need to be teaching this, which we absolutely think that they ought to be.

Okay. With regard to voluntary-aided schools, should they be required to advise parents of the right to request RVE in accordance with the agreed syllabus rather than denominational RVE?

Kathy then Ruth. If you all agree, you don't need to say that you all agree. Kathy.

It's very important parents are—[Inaudible.]—a full explanation of what their rights are in respect of the curriculum that they can request, and that should be done on a regular basis, and should be explained in detail to the parents.

11:15

This is just to add to the point about there being total transparency about the availability of this option. If there is an option available to parents, it should be transparent, similar to the right to withdraw. I think one reason perhaps why we don't see as much withdrawal from faith-based RE as we might, given the demographics in Wales, is perhaps because parents aren't necessarily aware that it is an option. But if something has been laid down in law, why would it not be the case that the school was entirely transparent about the fact that this was a right that parents had?

We also think, in line with our views on putting children at the centre of this, that older pupils should have the option of opting in to agreed syllabus religion, values and ethics lessons, and there would be an easy point to allow this to happen, which is that we look at pupils aged from year 10 upwards, and they could pick that perhaps at the point where they were opting into their various options, when they're choosing their exam subjects. As children grow older, the rights have to transfer from their parents to them at the centre of this, and to protect their religious freedom and their freedom of religion and belief. We think that's another thing that should be on the table, really.

Okay, thank you. Before you come in, Alastair, Siân had a supplementary, I think.

Yes. Diolch, Chair. I'm just interested in understanding whether you think—. You think, obviously, it's a compromise in the curriculum now to allow the second syllabus to happen, if needs be, in faith schools. Is that the right compromise, if you understand, or would there be another way of respecting that faith schools exist, and we want to see them continue to exist, so is there another way of achieving the same goal, rather than allowing the two syllabi to continue?

Alastair, could you pick that up, as well as any point you wanted to make?

Yes. If you're going to allow denominational schools, and that's a big debate that should be had, but if you're going to have them, then why not make the pluralistic RVE the default, and the denominational RVE the opt-in? And I think we all know the answer is that there wouldn't be very much demand for the denominational RVE. This is not something that families are necessarily desperate for. If we cared about children's rights, and we were determined to have this two-system, then surely the pluralistic should be the default.

We experience all the time in our case work the difficulties, the barriers, and the outcasting that happens when parents try to exercise their right to withdraw. Unfortunately, schools do often make this very difficult for parents—and by extension, for children.

Presumably, that would entail a legal change in the status of the schools.

No, it wouldn't.

It would simply require them to—. You could simply permit faith schools to have the opt-in option of denominational RVE. But we understand why faith schools are so reluctant to make anything opt-in, because they can put barriers up to opting out, but there's not a massive—even among those who choose faith schools, there's not a huge driving demand for that to be denominational RE.

Do the other two agree with that, or are you happy with the compromise that's there at the moment?

I think the compromise is quite an innovative one in terms of trying to balance what is a reasonably controversial issue, and trying, at the same time, to make varying stakeholders as happy as they can be. I would tend to side with Alastair in that, yes, the RVE syllabus in line with the locally agreed syllabus—that critical, objective, pluralistic syllabus—should really be the default one, but the only other option that you have, if you're going to, say, protect the rights and interests of children and their families, if you're removing the right to withdraw, is this one. Otherwise, you have the right to withdraw, but that just means that those children are just denied this education, and that can't be right. We want as many children as possible to have access to this curriculum.

11:20

Kathy, before you come in, could I ask you to move a bit closer to your device, please, because you're quite quiet? Sorry.

Is that better?

I totally agree with what Ruth has said. This is a very good compromise, because the right to withdraw was never satisfactory. It was always difficult for the parents to exercise that right, and it was difficult for the children to be segregated and given nothing in place of RE within faith schools. Whereas this way, they get the option, they get the option explained to them clearly, and they get given a really good education in RVE in place of denominational RE. So, it's a good solution.

Okay, thank you. We've got some questions now then from Dawn on the right to withdraw.

Thank you, Chair. I'm just interested in your views on the Bill's provision that removes the parents' right to withdraw from RVE, which are currently there. And, in particular, I'd just like to explore a little bit, Alastair, the National Secular Society's view. You've got some concern that that potentially could be legally challenged. I'd be interested to know why that would be, given that this is going to be a core aspect of the curriculum, and there wouldn't be legal challenges on—. You wouldn't expect parents to be able to have the right to withdraw their children from any other aspect of the core curriculum—English, Welsh, maths or whatever. So, I'd be interested to hear more about that.

Thanks. There's no doubt that this is, perhaps, the most difficult and controversial area of the proposals. I don't think that anyone loves the right to withdraw; I think we all recognise that there are significant problems with it. It's designed to protect children from proselytisation, but it can be used to shield children from knowledge about other religions and world views.

We also need to recognise that there's a fundamental difference between—. You say parents don't have the right to withdraw from other areas of the curriculum. I mean, maths and English don't tend to be used for proselytisation—would be the starting difference. I don't know, you might have some very Evangelical maths teachers. 

It's very clear that the Minister has taken extensive legal advice on this. Throughout the process, there's been a clear acknowledgment by the Government that simply ending the right to withdraw does open potential legal problems. It's a standard, effectively, across Europe that, if education is genuinely critical, pluralistic, non-proselytising, that you don't necessarily need the right to withdraw, but if we don't have that right, if we don't have that clear access to it, then this is just simply going to open legal challenges. Parents who may have been reluctantly withdrawing their children from RE at school for years because of proselytisation, if they're suddenly told they can't withdraw, but there's this new option, and then that option isn't necessarily accessible or it's not that different, it's simply inevitable. And that's not something that I look forward to or want. I don't think that's anything that anyone, wherever they sit on the right to withdraw issue, wants—it's just the reality of what will happen.

The points that Alastair makes are one of the reasons why, when it was initially announced that the right to withdraw would be removed from religion, values and ethics, we were very concerned about that proposal. Because, at that point, nothing had been proposed as a workaround in faith schools. And if you were just to remove the right to withdraw altogether, there is a real threat that those pupils wouldn't be receiving the objective, critical, pluralistic curriculum to which they're entitled. That's why getting the content and the delivery right is so important, and why we've emphasised those points about professional development, but also about recruiting the right sorts of teachers who are able to do this, and also to have it inspected in the right way, and not by the denominational bodies. Because it will be open to these legal challenges, and perhaps not just in religious schools. Some non-faith schools teach religious education in a way that veers into proselytisation sometimes. Now, they are not supposed to do it that way, but we work with parents and children all the time who experience these things happening in schools.

So, our support is qualified on the basis that we have to look very carefully at ensuring that the curriculum meets these legal standards, and that we realise that that's a really high bar. So, when you hear religious organisations saying, 'We already do this', they don't already do this. When they are teaching from a faith perspective, they don't already do this. If you look at the international case law on this, you will see how high that bar is, and that they would not meet it at present.

11:25

The new curriculum puts teachers at the heart of the design of the syllabus that they deliver. As long as they have the correct professional learning, and as long as they are supported by diverse SACREs and RVE advisers, and then they have the independent inspections to validate that they are delivering correctly, then there will be no need for the right to withdraw. But it's putting that support mechanism around the teachers so that they have the correct learning and development, that they have the support that they need, which is diverse support that represents the community that they are serving, and that they are inspected by an independent body.