Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg - Y Bumed Senedd
Children, Young People and Education Committee - Fifth Senedd26/11/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Dawn Bowden MS|
|Jack Sargeant MS||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Hefin David|
|Substitute for Hefin David|
|Laura Anne Jones MS|
|Lynne Neagle MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Sian Gwenllian MS|
|Suzy Davies MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Eluned Morgan MS||Y Gweinidog Iechyd Meddwl, Llesiant a’r Gymraeg|
|Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language|
|Huw Morris||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Kirsty Williams MS||Y Gweinidog Addysg|
|Minister for Education|
|Steve Davies||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Tracey Breheny||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Lisa Salkeld||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Tanwen Summers||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 9:15.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 9:15.
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I've determined that the public be excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. Notice of this decision is included in the agenda for this meeting published on Monday. As usual, the meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and all participants are joining via video-conference. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual.
Aside from that procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. If we become aware that there's an issue with the translation, I'll ask you to pause for a moment while we reset the system.
We've received apologies for absence from Hefin David MS and I'm very pleased to welcome Jack Sargeant MS, who is substituting for Hefin. Can I ask Members if there are any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay, thank you. Can I remind you, then, that if I drop out for some reason, Dawn Bowden MS will take the chair while I try to rejoin?
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
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.
Moving on to item 2, due to ministerial availability this morning, we've had to adjust the timings, so the Ministers are now going to join us from 11 a.m. to enable them to attend a Cabinet meeting this morning. As such, our consideration of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill will be our first item of substantive business, and as usual, as that's a draft report, that business will be held in private.
So, can I propose, then, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for item 3? Are Members content? Thank you very much. So, we'll now proceed, then, in private.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 9:17.
The public part of the meeting ended at 9:17.
Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 11:04.
The committee reconvened in public at 11:04.
Welcome back, everyone, to the Childen, Young People and Education Committee. Item 4 this morning is an evidence session with Welsh Government. I'm very pleased to welcome Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education and Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language. At the moment, we've got Huw Morris, group director, skills, higher education and lifelong learning and we are being joined by Steve Davies, director of the education directorate and Tracey Breheny, deputy director of mental health, substance misuse and vulnerable groups. Thank you for joining us this morning. We've got lots to get through, so we'll go straight into questions, starting with Dawn Bowden, please.
Thank you, Chair. Morning, Kirsty. I just wondered, could you tell us whether the need to make quick decisions about education provision has impacted on your proper consideration of children's rights? In particular, I'm thinking about whether there have been instances where children's rights impact assessments have not been published alongside statements or announcements, for example.
Thank you very much, Dawn. I think it is fair to say that, certainly at the beginning of the pandemic, things were moving at such a pace that, indeed, announcements were made before we were in a position to really undertake all the work that would normally be expected of us. This was especially true, as I said, at the beginning of the pandemic, where we had individual schools falling over and individual local authorities finding it very difficult to sustain education. Of course, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were also making decisions, sometimes with the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and other scientific advice being minimal at that time, because our understanding of some of the issues around the nature of the disease wasn't well known at that particular point, although we have worked very hard within the department to rectify that situation and to catch up.
So, following the summer, we have been in a position to keep the integrated impact assessment on pupils returning to school under constant review. It has been updated periodically, particularly as the impact of policy decisions on children and young people has become clearer, and as new evidence becomes available. Subsequently, since the summer, an integrated impact assessment was published towards the end of October, outlining the impact, for instance, of the firebreak measures on disruption to schooling. So, I think I'd admit, at the beginning of the pandemic, there certainly were issues, but we have worked hard to try and rectify that and get us in a better position as we move forward.
It would be your intention, moving forward, that impact assessments would be published alongside announcements and statements—yes? That would be helpful. The objective—
That's always the objective, but sometimes, again, we're making decisions in quite stressed situations, and time is of the essence, but we will always strive to do what we can to update the integrated impact assessment as we go along and as decisions are made.
Okay, thank you for that. Can I just ask you now about the year groups that returned to school, and really what drove your decision about which groups should return? There have been some concerns that it was more economically driven, in terms of not allowing the older age groups back. What was your thinking behind the younger age groups only being brought back to school early?
Yes, of course, Dawn. As you will be aware, the latest evidence from the technical advice group was used to help inform decisions, and we cannot make decisions around education alone; they have to feed into the wider picture of measures that the Welsh Government has to take. The firebreak was the shortest possible that we could make it, and therefore we had to do everything that we could to ensure that there was a maximum impact on driving prevention and spread of the virus down at that time. The scientific evidence suggested that limiting attendance at schools is likely to have an impact on slowing the spread of the coronavirus, especially when that is part of a wider set of measures. Therefore, restricting numbers attending school had a role to play in, actually, public health measures.
So, then, in balancing that advice, we also have to balance the advice of what we know is undoubtedly the impact on children of not being in school, and the ability of older children to have the independent learning skills and to be able to access blended learning was regarded as being better than that of our younger children. And therefore, they would be less affected by having to participate in blended learning for that week than our younger pupils. Of course, during that firebreak, we also had to make provision for our vulnerable children, so, even children in years 9, 10 and 11 who were regarded as vulnerable by their schools, then exceptions were made for those particularly vulnerable children. But the decision was based on our ability to contribute to a successful firebreak and recognising that older children are better able to engage in distance learning than their younger counterparts.
Thank you. So, how do you intend to monitor and evaluate whether there has been any particular impact on those older year groups?
Certainly. We continue to work with regional school improvement services, Estyn, and, indeed, local education authorities to monitor the success of blended learning and distance learning. And I would urge all Members who are interested in this, in their capacity as Members of the Senedd, to get in touch with their regional school improvement services who will be able to give you a picture of what was able to be put in place during the firebreak. And we continue, as I said, both as a Government and with other members of the middle tier, to monitor variations and the success of alternative provision.
Okay, thank you for that. Can I just ask you about the technical advisory cell's review of children and young people under 18 in pre-school or college following the firebreak? They've made various recommendations about asymptomatic testing and so on. What's your view on that and when will you be responding to that report?
Okay, thank you, Dawn. As you'll be aware, the latest evidence from both the Office for National Statistics and the real-time assessment of community transmission study, which has fed into the TAC report, demonstrates that cases in schools have risen. However, the ONS study is very clear that we have to be cautious about overinterpreting some of that data.
We also have to be mindful of non-COVID harms of not being in school, and SAGE is very clear about that, that with regard to children and young people, there is a low immediate risk from COVID, but there are significant longer term risks of children not being in school. We've already responded to the recommendations regarding further mitigating measures—those were published on Monday 23 November, which, obviously, the main focus of that was the use of face coverings within an educational setting. We provided, also, additional guidance at that time in terms of bubbles and trying to take additional advice around COVID security measures.
Okay. And you're still considering the issue of mass testing in schools at this stage.
Yes, absolutely. You'll be aware that the paper said that we should explore the possibility of usage of mass asymptomatic testing in schools and the logistical viability of such a programme. And, of course, that's exactly what we're doing; we are indeed exploring how asymptomatic testing can play a role as we go forward.
As I said, in answer to questions raised in the Senedd yesterday by both Suzy Davies and Siân Gwenllian, we are learning from the experience of where we have asymptomatic testing going on in our higher education institutions, prior to the end of the academic year, and we are working with the Merthyr Tydfil pilot to deliver asymptomatic testing in the four high schools in Merthyr Tydfil, the local college in Merthyr Tydfil, the special school in Merthyr Tydfil for older pupils attending that school and, also, the pupil referral unit. Students who receive their education outside the borough of Merthyr but live within the borough have also been contacted by the local education authority to alert their parents of the availability of asymptomatic testing. And, clearly, we need to learn the lessons from that logistically—who does that, how that's all operating and the consequences of doing that. And there are two issues that we need to consider: firstly, as part of wider disease control measures, but also, secondly, whether asymptomatic testing has a role in actually limiting disruption to education, whether that be both to staff and to students with regard to periods of isolation if they are regarded as a contact. We are also now actively considering moving quickly to parts of RCT. We need to learn the lessons about how that is working and understand the problems associated with asymptomatic testing in a school setting before we look to roll it out further.
Sure, and I guess it's been, probably, an easier exercise, in a sense, because the whole population's been tested in Merthyr Tydfil, whereas that may not be the case elsewhere, but—
There are certain advantages, definitely, to doing it in Merthyr Tydfil, because, actually, we've got quite a small number of high schools. If you can imagine if we were doing that in Cardiff, or we were trying to do that in Swansea—
And where the infrastructure isn't there. Yes, I take that point. Okay. Can I just ask you—
Are you moving on to something else, Dawn?
I was, yes.
Laura, you've got a brief supplementary. You're muted.
Minister, I just wanted to ask you—. I brought it up in the Chamber this week that, for example, in Caerleon Comprehensive School, my old school, there are 1,000 children off at the moment in years 7, 8, 9, 12 and 13. Obviously, something needs to be done, and really quickly. The testing sounds a fabulous idea, and I hope that works and we get it rolled out as soon as possible, like the masks—the new guidance you put out. But, something is going wrong there, and it's not the only case, it's not the only school across my region, particularly, that I'm aware of. How are you working with councils to ensure that you're advising them as much as is possible and everyone's doing the same thing? Because I know of other schools in other counties that are—
Briefly. I did say briefly, Laura.
Sorry, I'm trying to get my words out quickly, because I wasn't prepared. But other counties are using the track and trace properly, and 15 pupils are going off, instead of whole year groups. So, I'm not sure that some schools are using it properly. What awareness do you have of what's going on on the ground?
I can assure Laura that our officials are in regular contact with local education authorities to understand the decisions that are being taken at a local level. Local authorities run their test, trace and protect and provide advice to schools on who should be regarded as a close contact. Clearly, there is sometimes a differentiation in how local TTP teams are communicating and advising schools. But it's very, very difficult for a headteacher, if they're advised by their TTP team to ask those children to isolate, to ignore that advice. So, we continue to work both with public health colleagues and individual local authorities to understand the decisions that they are making, to ensure that they are proportionate and the minimum number of children are sent home.
With regard to asymptomatic testing, lateral flow tests, indeed, provide us with an opportunity, although I do have to give a health warning to the lateral flow tests as well. They are not perfect, and as we get into the understanding of the Liverpool pilot and the work that is going on with asymptomatic testing, there are some concerns being raised about the accuracy of lateral flow tests. They have a role to play, but I think we should all just be very careful before we think that they are the magic bullet that can solve our problems.
Okay. Thank you. Dawn.
Thank you, Chair. I'll try and keep my next couple of questions brief. I just wanted your views, Minister, on the consistency of blended learning and whether you're satisfied that schools are getting adequate feedback from parents and carers that pupils are getting adequate access to digital devices and broadband.
I think I've been honest to say that, certainly, during the first period of lockdown, pupils' experience was very, very varied. I think we have seen considerable improvement during the autumn term. Certainly, what was available in the firebreak was significantly better and of a higher quality than had been the case before the summer holidays. Provision has been part of our Estyn visits to all local authorities. You'll be aware that some of them were a bit jumpy about having Estyn come in, but that was part of the process to be able to gain some reassurance from Estyn around quality, and Estyn are intending to publish their review of that work in December. So, for instance, if I think about the issue around Ceredigion this week, and the outbreak in Cardigan and the closure of schools in Cardigan, Estyn have been full of praise, actually, for the work that Ceredigion council has done to put in place an effective blended learning approach. Dawn, perhaps you would like to have a conversation with Bishop Hedley school, who have been regarded by the regional consortia as having a really good level of provision in place.
I've taken the time and trouble of meeting with a number of schools and pupils, including a youth representative group brought forward by the Youth Parliament and by the Children's Commissioner for Wales. Undoubtedly, there is still further work to do and there are some schools that will need to do better, but there has been a significant step change. If I think about my own daughter's education, in February she didn't even have a Hwb login. During the firebreak, both she and her sister, who are year 12 and year 9 pupils, received live lessons for the entirety of that week via Calon Cymru. I recently met with pupils at the high school in Llanrwst. Prior to the summer they'd had very few live lessons. During the firebreak, that school was able to provide live lessons for the duration of the week, and the pupil feedback that I listened to said that they'd enjoyed it very much, and thought it had been very successful. So I think that we have seen a step change, but there is further progress that we need to make, which is why we've set up a working group in conjunction with ADEW to get underneath some of the other issues that are causing difficulties in preventing this being as good as we would like it to be.
Okay. Thank you for that. Just a question now on elective home education, and whether you've got any concerns about the decision not to proceed with database regulations in this Senedd term. I understand it was around COVID capacity, but given the potential for an increase in elective home education, are you concerned that you've not been able to do that?
Yes, absolutely, it is a concern to me, and it would have been absolutely my wish to be able to proceed with greater regulation in this area, but unfortunately, we simply do not have the capacity to do that at this time. You will be aware that we are experiencing an increase in the number of parents that are choosing to deregister their children from school at this moment. That's happening for a variety of reasons, and we continue to work with local education authorities to understand what those reasons may be in individual family circumstances, to be able to provide reassurance about schools—because in many cases there are concerns about COVID security in schools—and to be able to discuss those concerns with parents before they make that decision to deregister. What we have been able to do as a Government is make available £400,000 to local authorities to assist families who have decided to home educate at this time. That has been allocated using the best data that we have available, and allows local authorities to support parents with the additional costs of home education.
Okay. Thank you for that. My final question, Minister, is around the decision not to proceed with registering teachers in independent schools with the Education Workforce Council. Primary legislation isn't required for that, and I wonder whether it is your intention to revisit that before the end of this Senedd term.
Again, it was our intention to bring forward regulations to ensure that those working in independent schools were required to register with the Education Workforce Council. People have very strongly held views, quite rightly, on this particular issue, but again, we haven't been able to have, primarily, the legal capacity to move forward at this time—we haven't been able to—so we are working with the EWC to look to work with the independent sector to register on a voluntary basis. Some independent schools already promote that amongst their members of staff, and I really do hope that this work can be picked up at a later date. What we have done is to prioritise work around interim suspension orders, which we felt was the most pressing safeguarding concern that has been raised with us with EWC, so that work has taken precedence over other work we would have liked to have seen.
Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Dawn. I'm going to bring Siân Gwenllian in next. Just a reminder to Members and Ministers that we've got a lot to cover, so concise questions, please. Siân.
Diolch yn fawr. Bore da. Sut ydych chi'n ymateb i bryderon Cymwysterau Cymru ynghylch y dull newydd sydd ar waith rŵan o ran asesu ar gyfer 2021? Fedrwch chi sôn am y gwaith mae'r grŵp cynghori newydd ar ddylunio a darparu yn ei wneud, a beth yw agwedd Cymwysterau Cymru tuag at y gwaith yna?
Thank you very much. Good morning. How do you respond to the concerns expressed by Qualifications Wales about the proposed approach in terms of assessments and examinations in 2021? Can you tell us a bit about the work that the new advisory group on design and delivery is doing, and what Qualifications Wales's response is to that work?
Apologies, Chair, I was just unmuting myself. Thank you, Siân. You're quite right, we have established a design and delivery advisory group, bringing together college and school leaders, supported by Welsh Government officials, and also supported by expertise from both Qualifications Wales and the WJEC, to develop the detail of the approach that I set out on 10 November. That work will be finalised in December so that guidance and supporting materials can be in place for the start of the spring term. That group is meeting on a regular basis and, as I said, that's the timetable that we expect them to provide policy advice to me to consider, and then for me, if necessary, to issue direction to Qualifications Wales.
Mi gawson ni sesiwn dystiolaeth efo cynrychiolwyr o Gymwysterau Cymru fel pwyllgor, ac mi oedd yna awgrym yn fanna nad oedd Cymwysterau Cymru yn hollol sicr a fyddan nhw'n gallu cadw at eu dyletswydd statudol i weithredu oherwydd y newidiadau sydd yn debygol o ddigwydd yn sgil gwaith y grŵp cynghori. Ydych chi'n credu bod hwn yn mynd i fod yn rhwystr? Ydy agwedd a phryderon Cymwysterau Cymru yn rhai real ac ydy hyn yn mynd i greu problem lawr y lein?
We had an evidence session with representatives from Qualifications Wales as a committee, and there was a suggestion made there that Qualifications Wales wasn't entirely sure whether they would be able to adhere to their statutory duty to act because of the changes that are likely to take place as a result of the advisory group's work. Do you believe that this is going to be a barrier? Are the concerns expressed by Qualifications Wales real ones, and is this going to cause a problem down the line?
Well, Qualifications Wales are quite right to remind everybody of their statutory responsibilities at this particular time that will need to be adhered to. Do I believe it'll be a barrier to the successful completion of this work? No, I do not, because, as I said, Qualifications Wales are there to support the work of the design and delivery group, and I believe that that working arrangement will be able to address any concerns.
Jest un cwestiwn arall, Gadeirydd. Yn y pen draw, chi fydd yn cymryd y penderfyniadau polisi ynghylch sut yn union fydd yr asesu yn digwydd. Beth ydy'ch teimladau chi o ran y balans fydd yn y dulliau newydd yma rhwng asesu allanol ac asesiadau a dulliau eraill o asesu mewnol?
Just one final question, Chair. Ultimately, it's you who will be taking the policy decisions with regard to how exactly the assessments will take place. What are your feelings in terms of the balance in these new approaches between external assessment and assignments and other methods of assessment done internally?
Well, Siân, that's the whole point of having a design and delivery group. There's no point in me setting that up if I have decided for myself what that balance is. Quite rightly, I will be awaiting the policy advice that they will give to me and then I will make a decision.
Ond mi fydd y penderfyniad polisi yna—mae o'n benderfyniad ar lefel uchel iawn ynglŷn â'r cyfeiriad i fynd iddo fo, pa un ai i roi lot o bwyslais ar asesiadau allanol neu ganran ohono fo ar asesiadau allanol. Buaswn i'n credu bod hwnna'n benderfyniad polisi sydd angen bod yn glir i'r grŵp cynghori cyn iddyn nhw wneud y gwaith manwl.
But the policy decision—it is a decision at a very high level with regard to the direction of travel, whether to place a great deal of emphasis on external assessment or a percentage of it on external assessment. I would say that that's a policy decision that needs to be very clearly presented to the advisory group before they do the detailed work.
Well, I take a different view. The whole point of setting up a design and delivery group, which was the recommendation of the independent review, was for them to make policy advice to me. I will consider that advice that is given to me. It seems pretty perverse to me to issue instructions to the design and delivery group. That would be a fait accompli, wouldn't it? The issue is we've made a policy decision that grades will be partially awarded on the basis of externally set and externally marked assessments. But I was very clear in my statement to the Senedd that I am now awaiting further policy advice about how that is best operationalised.
Ac mae'r amserlen yn mynd yn iawn? Mi fydd yna benderfyniadau yn cael eu cyhoeddi cyn diwedd y flwyddyn?
And the timetable is going well? There will be decisions made before the end of the year?
I believe that the group is working incredibly hard, and we have already been able to make further decisions and clarifications, as you will have seen at the beginning of this week, with regards to the January series and the non-exam assessments. And we're working as quickly as possible, because I recognise that both school staff and students want as much clarity and reassurance as possible.
Okay. Thank you. We've got some questions now, Minister, on higher and further education. If I can just start by asking you about the financial sustainability of the higher education sector. There were some very significant concerns about that before the summer. What are the early indications as to both the financial and the recruitment positions of the sector this academic year?
Thank you, Lynne. Huw will be able to give perhaps some more detail, but, clearly, the situation facing higher education institutions was a challenging one because of issues surrounding additional expenditure and impact on income at the beginning of the lockdown period. We have been able to provide £213 million to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and that includes an additional £27 million that has made up the HEI recovery fund. We've also been able to make a further allocation to HEFCW of £10 million, recognising the additional extra support that students need at this time.
With regards to recruitment, Huw will correct me if I'm wrong, but we have seen strong recruitment—very, very strong domestic recruitment—to the sector in Wales, across all of our institutions, which is very welcome indeed. It's a real vote of confidence in the quality of Welsh HEIs that so many students, not just Welsh students, but students domiciled in other parts of the United Kingdom, have chosen to come and study at Welsh institutions.
The impact on international students is still not fully understood because some institutions have decided to stagger their starts for international students this year. So, I don't think we have a full picture of the international student recruitment, but domestic recruitment has been strong. Huw, I don't know if there's anything else to add at this stage.
Just to confirm that the recruitment has been much better than was expected earlier in the year, both for international and domestic students. The financial position of the institutions is stable. We meet regularly with HEFCW, the funding council, to review the financial position of each of the institutions, and when we last met with them last week, we had positive news from the chief executive and chair of that organisation.
Okay. Thank you very much. And can I ask then, Minister, if you can outline your current understanding of the scale and nature of COVID-19 transmission that's occurring in both the HE and FE sectors? How many infections are we seeing, and is the Welsh Government planning to start publishing regular updates on infections in those settings?
Okay. Sure. With regard to further education colleges, Public Health Wales data shows that, from 1 September, which was the start of the autumn term, through to 18 November, there were 381 cases of COVID-19 in staff and students either working at or attending further education colleges in Wales. It is not possible, based on the information to date, to determine whether transmission is taking place within the institution, or whether—. Staff and students live lives outside of their colleges, and it's often very difficult to understand where the initial source of the infection was. Colleges have worked incredibly hard to make their premises and their operations as COVID-secure as they possibly can.
With regard to higher education, obviously, we saw not insignificant cases in the early part of the academic year, centred very much around accommodation. But, again, thanks to the hard work of everybody involved, we are now seeing cases associated with universities dropping and falling and falling. In some cases, actually, those cases have remained relatively low throughout. Obviously, at the start of the term, we had the cases at Aberystwyth University. The ability of that university to keep infection levels as low as they have is a testament, again, to the hard work of the vice-chancellor, Elizabeth Treasure, at Aberystwyth, the close working relationship that she has with both the local authority and the local health board and the work of the students' union in communicating the messages. And, of course, it also then boils down to the individual students themselves who are making really good choices and taking all the measures that they can. But we are seeing a drop now in cases associated with universities. Huw, I don't know if there is anything else.
Well, I can confirm that that is the case, that the cases have reduced in recent times. I can say that we do collect data on the number of individuals who were reported as infected, but the mechanisms for doing that vary between institutions and, as the data is not yet wholly stable, I don't think it's in a state to be published at this time. But we will be working with partners in Public Health Wales and the universities to get to a situation where that might be possible within the confines of data protection and so forth.
Okay. Thank you very much. And just finally from me then: how confident are you, Minister, that all students who need to be tested to come home for Christmas will be able to have a test, and what's the maximum testing capacity versus expected demand?
Okay, first of all, we can confirm that all institutions in Wales will have the ability to offer tests to students, either through the project that is being partly overseen by the Department of Health and Social Care in England—. Slightly different arrangements will exist at Cardiff University, who have constantly, throughout this process, ran their own asymptomatic testing programme. And that includes the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, who will be having a testing centre set up in their rather beautiful foyer.
We cannot force students or compel students to take an asymptomatic test, but all students, as I said, need to think about their own risk and their own risk assessment about to where they're returning and to whom they're returning. Testing can play a part of providing some extra reassurance, especially for those students who feel that they're going home to potentially a vulnerable family circumstance. And it's difficult to ascertain what demand will be. And we are aware of some anecdotal evidence that some students may be reluctant to actually take an asymptomatic test, but at this stage, I am not concerned about the fact that we will have more students wanting tests than we are able to deliver at this point. But again, Huw, I don't know if there's anything further we can add. You're on mute, Huw.
There have been substantial increases in capacity in recent weeks and it might be helpful if we offered to write to you with some details of what the plans might be by area or institution.
Thank you, that would be really helpful—thank you very much. I've got some questions now from Suzy Davies.
Thank you, Chair, and good morning, everyone. Just following on from this issue of testing, certainly the local health board in the Swansea area has indicated that, if a student tests positive, they're then being encouraged to go and get a different test or a more traditional test. I don't know if that's come through to you at all, which potentially is a disincentive, isn't it, because it means that the whole process takes longer? In terms of disincentives, we're obviously going to have some students who stay behind—they won't be going home. And they may be staying behind because they're one of the lucky ones who've still managed to have some part-time work. What would you be saying to them in order to make sure that they do take tests and don't go to work, if they might be infected, but not realise it?
My understanding, Suzy, is that the advice that you've been given by the Swansea health board area is consistent with advice in any asymptomatic testing programme. So, for instance, if you give Merthyr as an example, if you test positive on an asymptomatic test, everyone is advised to go and get a traditional test after that to confirm that diagnosis, because, as I said, there is some concern about the accuracy around lateral flow testing. So, that is consistent advice. It's not because that they are students, or because it's Swansea; that's just the procedure, I believe, wherever you are in Wales if you receive a positive lateral flow test.
You're quite right that some students may decide to stay in their university towns for a variety of reasons. It could be because of work; it could be because they decide that the risk associated with going home is one that they don't want to take. We have worked with the universities to make sure that there are support systems in place for students who are required to or choose to stay at their university town and to ensure that support is available. Our advice to students is that if you're in that position and you feel that potentially you could need additional support, then you should let your university know that that is what you're doing. They're not mind readers, but if students are staying, it would be helpful if they let somebody at their university know that they are going to be there, and that they could be in a position of needing additional support.
I think it is important to recognise that although we're advising students to leave during the travel window, for some students, that's not possible. So, Suzy, you talked about part-time work, but we do have students who are on clinical placement or on work placement who need to stay longer, and I'm very grateful to those students, who are continuing to be an important part of our infrastructure at this time as well, as they continue to learn. I think it's important to recognise that that's particularly challenging for those groups of students, who will not be leaving their campuses as early as some of their colleagues.
That's a good point. I've actually got some of those students living next door to me as it happens. But we heard last week that for those who are staying behind, or even those who are on campus at the moment because term hasn't quite finished yet, that the guidance that is available to universities doesn't really facilitate the kind of social events—sensible social events—that might contribute towards students' well-being, particularly their mental health. Are there any ongoing discussions about how campuses could be made safer for students to do their non-academic work?
What's been really important in all my conversations with NUS Wales is that students are treated no less favourably than other sections of the population, and, therefore, non-academic activity is governed by the rules that exist for all of us in terms of activity. So, there's nothing to preclude student hubs, societies, organising activities in the same way as that doesn't stop our local WIs or our local young farmers' clubs or youth groups operating activities in line with COVID restrictions, whether that be indoors or outdoors.
Okay, thank you. I'm just going to switch to further education now. The post-16 learning plan was devised in July 2020 for implementation in September. I wonder why there hasn't been a sort of review of that to see what the consequences of that plan are. We've also got the £23 million that you've given further education institutions; an autumn review of how that's being spent is also due to report now. Is that right? I wonder if you can give us an update on both those questions.
As always, Suzy, we're trying to create a balance of business-as-usual activities and reviews and reporting that we would usually expect, but also recognising that keeping the doors open and delivering during this difficult time is putting huge strains on college administrations and ColegauCymru, so we're trying to do only stuff that is really adding value at the moment, rather than necessarily trying to review issues.
But we did announce a package of funding and support, which you've just referenced, that amounted to £23 million. That's funding for digital exclusion, catch-up support for learners, and we're continuing to work with the sector to identify any additional costs associated with our COVID-19 response. And as you've said, we're looking to be able to review the adequacy and the efficacy of the funding that has been made available. But, Huw, I don't know how close we are to being able to publish anything.
Just to reassure people that the plans in FE and HE are regularly reviewed. We've set up consultation groups with representatives from all of the institutions in those sectors; they meet with officials to discuss how those plans are operating. And, in addition to that, officials meet on a monthly basis with the principals of further education colleges to monitor progress. I'm not certain, at this point, as to the date of the publication of any formal review of those activities, but I can look into that and write to the committee, if that's helpful.
Yes. Are you able to give us just one example of evidence you might have had from, let's say, ColegauCymru, generally? One particular thing that they're worried about that they haven't got enough money for.
Well, I'm not sure that it's about enough money, but there have been concerns about the support for vocational learners and their assessment. That's more to do with us making sure that the examination bodies and the arrangements for those tests are adequately provided for, and I'm confident that they have been.
Well, that leads me nicely to my last question about vocational exams. We all understand that the majority of these are UK-wide qualifications, and so are being treated differently from general made-in-Wales qualifications. But what can you tell us, at this stage, that you've learned from what happened in the summer, and what should we do now to ensure that those vocational learners are getting a fair deal, if you like? They're no less impacted by the all the COVID closures and so forth than the general qualifications learners.
Well, that's absolutely true, Suzy. The difference comes in our ability to make decisions with regard to those qualifications. We have asked Qualifications Wales to work with the other regulators to ensure that a pragmatic approach is taken with regard to those learners, and gives them clarity about the way forward. Guidance for vocational qualifications was published in October, which sets out the principles that awarding bodies must apply when making adaptations in response to COVID-19. But, it does mean that, at this stage, we're not in a position to be able to issue direction as we have been to general qualifications that are overseen by WJEC and Qualifications Wales.
So, Qualifications Wales is keeping in close contact, as I said, with the regulators in other parts of the UK, but I appreciate that it is a different situation, and that potentially causes concern for vocational students at this time. We will report back to the committee when we're in a position to further understand what further adaptations may be made by those awarding bodies elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Well, can I just have a supplementary on that, then? Are there any qualifications that are made in Wales but are vocational in nature—health and social care, for example—that are being treated differently from the general qualifications?
Well, Suzy, if you're referring to, for instance, in January, where there will be some health and social care examinations sat in January, they are badged jointly. They're City and Guilds qualifications, although they have been approved by the WJEC, but they are City and Guilds, and that's why there is a differentiation. Because, whilst they're approved by our regulator, they are actually awarded by a different body.
Okay, thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Suzy. We're going to move on now to some questions on mental health from Jack Sargeant.
Diolch, Chair. Bore da, Ministers. I'm conscious of time, so was going to address this to both Ministers, but perhaps the Minister for mental health can take a lead on this first question. How is mental health support being co-ordinated by the Welsh Government for learners and students across the whole post-16 education sector, in particular adult community learning to apprenticeships? So, obviously, across three portfolios there: yourself, the Minister for Education and the economy and transport Minister.
Shall I start, Lynne?
Go on, then. That's fine, yes.
So, obviously HE and FE, they both have a duty of care in place for the students they have within their systems, and they need to have mechanisms in place to support them. Obviously, when students reach a threshold at which they cannot help them any further, they will then be passed on to the NHS through, usually, the primary care services through their GPs, and then, perhaps, on to secondary care of more specialist care. So, that's generally the way the system works.
Okay, Minister. And you're confident that all regulators are working well together to assess the need for that as well.
Well, HEFCW is obviously—. Maybe the education Minister could deal with that aspect of it, but HEFCW's got responsibility while they're in their duty of care, but obviously once it gets into the NHS system, then it's the Welsh Government that has that oversight.
Minister, do you want to come in?
Sure, thank you very much, Jack. Just to be able to let you know that, as I've said earlier, we've been able to allocate an additional £10 million to HEFCW specifically to look at issues around mental health and hardship. HEFCW published a circular on 20 October, setting out their plans for allocating that money, and that provided provisional allocations to institutions so that they could use that to support people in a number of ways. That money will be made available to institutions and also to the National Union of Students, because we're very keen to support student-led initiatives. Obviously, universities have a very important role in making sure that they are doing what they need to do, but we felt that student-led initiatives also needed to be supported, and therefore there are specific allocations to NUS organisations to allow that to happen.
Thank you for those answers, Ministers. To the Minister of mental health, please: we've heard lots of evidence of children and young people really struggling to access mental health, so I do welcome the extra funding that the Minister for Education has just told us about, but what assurance can you give us that mental health services will not be deprioritised during this current situation and any future waves of COVID-19, and that the children and young people will be able to access appropriate—but perhaps I can underline 'timely'—mental health support across the whole spectrum of need?
Thanks very much, Jack. Just to say that mental health right from the beginning of this crisis has been badged as an essential service, so there shouldn't have been any difference in terms of people being able to access the service. Obviously, they've had to adapt in the face of COVID, but a lot of that consultation now has been, perhaps, moved online, but that service is available. We expect that position to remain as it is. You'll be aware that we also revised our action plan in terms of 'Together for Mental Health' for these two years in the face of COVID, and that children and young people remained a priority along with perinatal services. So, I'm glad to say that that's still in place.
We've also asked health boards to look into any examples where people have had difficulty accessing the services, and like you, Jack, I've heard about individuals who've been having trouble. In fact, I made a point, very early on as the Minister, to make sure that I'm speaking to people who've been trying to use the service, who've been having difficult accessing the service. And one of the things that I've asked for in particular from the Wales Alliance for Mental Health is some examples of where people are struggling to access the service, because I'm slightly concerned that there may be a disconnect between the data that we're collecting and what's actually happening on the ground. So, I've asked the Wales Alliance for Mental Health to come up with some examples of, perhaps, where people are not being able to access the service so that we can address that issue. And I will be meeting with the vice chairs who have responsibility for mental health in the next couple of weeks, where, obviously, this will be on the agenda.
I'm particularly concerned about child and adolescent mental health services, so that is going to be an item that will be on the list for discussion with the vice chairs. And also, you may be aware that one of the things that we're planning to do now is to move the task and finish group from a whole-school approach to a whole-systems approach, and I'm planning to make sure that CAMHS is a standing item on that agenda as well.
The other thing is, of course, you'll know that we earmarked £7 million additional funding, and that was released in two phases. The first phase was at the beginning of the pandemic to make sure that we could maintain those mental health services, and the second phase, then, which was released in September, was to support those priority areas in the delivery plan—so children, mental health and young people were actually key in that. The other thing is that we've released an additional £2.7 million to support tier 0 support. So, it's that kind of non-medical intervention that I think we really need to address in future, and you'll be aware that the youth mental health toolkit is available. The call helpline is also available, and obviously there is that £5 million additional funding for the whole-school approach that has gone into extending school counselling.
I had a really interesting discussion this week, also, with the Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health, and some of the figures that they were talking about were really quite shocking: the fact that 80 per cent of mental health issues start in children and young people. I think there's something that we absolutely need to consider there in terms of where we're putting the emphasis in future.
Thank you, Minister. I'm pleased—. I think we're coming on to questions about perinatal services shortly, but I'm pleased that you mentioned that you're looking at some of those issues there, and, again, I underline timing, and I do think there's a real need to try and address it. I think there's some really hard work that's going to have to be done on that, because I welcome you allowing people to come forward to share their experiences, but when we go back to 'timely', it's difficult to speak about that anyway, but it's particularly difficult when perhaps you feel let down by the system. So, I think we really do have to look strongly at appropriate—and, again, I'm using the word underlined, because I think 'timely' services is definitely right.
If I can address my final question, Chair, perhaps to the Minister for Education. Looking at the positives of what's happened during the ills of coronavirus, perhaps the actual learning from home situation and blended learning has come up with some good and positive news for some students who perhaps face difficulties in school, particularly going to school with mental health—. So, what positives can we learn from those students who do face barriers and take those lessons away so that we can implement them in the future?
Thank you, Jack. Quite understandably, the nature of human beings means that we all want to get back to normal as quickly as possible, but we have to recognise that the old normal wasn't working for some children. And if there are any silver linings to be garnered from this terrible, terrible thing that we find ourselves in, are new pedagogical approaches and the now widespread use of technology in schools to be able to address some of these issues. We know, and the committee members will know, that mental health and physical health issues sometimes can prevent children from attending school on a regular basis. Specialist provision sometimes can curtail the ability of a child to follow a full and broad balanced curriculum and those chances are narrowed down. I think some of the pedagogical approaches that we're learning about—better use of information technology equipment and distance learning and blended learning models—give us a real opportunity to address different ways in which children and young people can perhaps access education in the future.
With regard to FE colleges, many of our FE colleges are operating on a week in, week out rota basis, with many of their lectures recorded. And the feedback that we have had from colleges is that, actually, for some students, especially those students who have caring responsibilities, or whether they have added pressure in their life, the ability to be able to go back and rewatch a lecture at a time that is convenient to them, or for students who perhaps would struggle in the classroom just hearing that lecture once, the ability to go home and look at that again—stop, start, reflect on what they're being taught—actually is really, really helping them with their learning. So, I think there are definitely lessons to be learned.
Thank you. Thanks, Chair.
Okay, thank you, Jack. Just before we move on to perinatal mental health, can I just say, Minister for mental health, that the disconnect that you've referred to has been very much in evidence to this committee? It was picked up in our follow-up to 'Mind over matter', and we're very much looking forward to debating it on 16 December. So, we're going to be move on now to talk about perinatal mental health with questions from Laura Jones.
Thank you. May I take this opportunity in this committee to welcome you to your role, Minister for mental health, Eluned Morgan? I think it's fantastic that the Welsh Government have put you in place to do this really significant and important work.
I just wanted to ask you on perinatal health: has the Welsh Government assessed or been made aware of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of perinatal mothers? Because, as we know, partners weren't allowed at screenings or early scans in pregnancy, and birthing partners weren't able to be present in the initial stages of the birthing process. Obviously, it has a massive impact. I myself have got a one-year-old, as you know, and I said in the Chamber I went through a very traumatic time where we both nearly died, and I needed someone present with me very quickly and very early on, because I didn't know it was going to happen so quickly, what I went through. I just wondered also how this may have affected the babies and their partners and what impact have you noted? How is the Welsh Government responding to this? Thanks.
Thanks very much, Laura. Just to be clear, there are some parts of society who have suffered a lot more than others, and there are some life events where, clearly, it is hugely important to have your partner there with you, and giving birth is probably one of the most important. I also have received letters in relation to this from people who have had really traumatic births who are really concerned about that situation of not being able to be there with their partners.
Obviously, what we've tried to do is to make sure that it is continued as an essential service. So, this is another area where we have made sure that we have not decreased the service, and we have received assurances that perimental community services as well, which were very much a part of what this committee wanted to see in relation to the very good report that you wrote, and has been really useful in terms of making sure that that community service was introduced, also have remained accessible throughout the COVID crisis.
We're working closely with the national clinical lead for perinatal mental health to understand any impact and to agree how we need to respond to that. So, we're waiting to hear back from them at the moment. Waiting times for services are going to form a part of that update, and we have requested, now, health boards—for that mental health data to be provided to us in the next few weeks. Hopefully, we can give you an update, then, in January as a committee.
Thank you, I appreciate that, Minister. It's encouraging that you are deeming it an essential service and carrying it on in that regard. Have you seen an increase in referrals—just a quick question?
Well, we haven't got the detail on the referrals at the moment. We've got a weekly health monitoring tool that we've been using, but it hasn't gone into the detail of the referrals, so that's something that we will be asking for, but it's not been possible to issue the standard six-monthly perinatal service data request because of the pandemic, but we are expecting to start that again, and, as I say, to get that information back to you, hopefully, by January.
The other thing is that, obviously, this links in very closely to maternity, which is also considered an essential service. So, that has continued, and the Healthy Child Wales—we've tried to continue that as far as possible as well. So, any difficulties in terms of access, that information has been passed on to the national clinical lead, so it is important that people know that there's a facility there and a way through the system.
Thank you, Minister. What is the current position on establishing the interim in-patient mother and baby unit in Tonna, including the staffing level of units, and have any further decisions been made on a permanent option? Have there been any developments regarding access to an in-patient mother and baby unit for patients in north Wales? Thank you.
So, despite the fact that we've had these impacts on perinatal mental health work plans, we are really pleased to say that we've managed to continue to establish that in-patient provision on the Tonna site. So, that's part of the Swansea Bay University Health Board area. The work has commenced on site and it's due to be completed in March 2021.
The staffing arrangements—so, that recruitment is ongoing at the moment, and we're hoping that we can get some staffing in place to prepare for the transition. In terms of the final decision on the site, we'll assess the demand that comes as a result of the establishment of Tonna. We'll obviously have to assess that against value for money as well. So, we'll just keep an eye on those developments, but, obviously, our hope is to make sure that we can have a permanent facility.
In terms of north Wales, the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee have been speaking to north-west England NHS to see if there is capacity for Welsh residents to be able to access their services. You'll be aware from your committee report that the facility—that there aren't enough births, effectively, to justify setting up a facility in north Wales.
Thank you. Minister, were any of the workforce with roles involved with pregnancy in the perinatal period redeployed during the first wave of the pandemic, and do you expect them to be redeployed for the COVID-19 vaccination programme? To what extent will these roles and services be protected given the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child's life? Thank you.
Well, in the beginning, certainly in the first national lockdown, some health boards did redeploy some of those health visitors, and part of that was because, obviously, some had the skills that were required, but secondly because of sickness levels elsewhere in the NHS, so there was a need to reposition them within the service. All of the health visitors have now gone back to their day jobs, and during the second phase—they haven't been redeployed during that second phase. What we're hoping to do is to make sure that we continue to work closely in terms of face-to-face contact where we can, but, obviously, if that's not possible, there are facilities there now to be doing that in an online way.
We'll have to look at the situation in terms of rolling out the vaccine. I think the assumption is that it's primary care services that will be taking the lead on that, but I think that discussion is still ongoing.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Okay, thank you. Just before we move on from mental health, Minister, you mentioned the COVID monitoring group, and that has been cited very regularly by Government when committees have raised concerns about the disconnect between what we've been told about mental health being prioritised and what committees are hearing is happening on the ground. You also said that the COVID monitoring group wasn't collecting information on referrals, so can you just tell us what exactly the COVID monitoring group is doing, and how it's monitoring things if it's not having basic information about referrals?
Specifically, the COVID monitoring group wasn't what I was referring to there. This is the data that is usually collected in relation to perinatal mental health teams. So, what's happened is that that has been suspended for a while, the collection of that data. As you know, it has happened in other areas as well, but that is now being reinstated. So, that is different from the COVID monitoring group. But, just for your information, in relation to mental health, my intention is to establish a group that will be specifically looking at the impact of COVID on the mental health situation in Wales, but I'll be giving more details on that in the next month or so.
But there is a COVID mental health monitoring group now, isn't there?
There is, but that's not related to what I was talking about in terms of perinatal care specifically. That was a different data collection.
Okay. And are they monitoring this disconnect that you referred to?
So, the disconnect—. So, this is something that I've discussed with the officials that I've been working with—that, what I'm hearing from the ground, what I'm hearing from the third sector, is not the same as the evidence that I'm getting. I think that the problem, probably, is that we're just measuring certain things, and we need to expand what we are measuring. So, that's the direction of travel that I'm hoping to take, and that's certainly something that I've been moving forward with my officials. But I think what's key is that we need to get information from people who are using the system and who are finding it difficult to access the system—so, making sure that we're measuring the right things. One of the things that's come across as a key issue for me is communications. So, if we simply improved our communications with the people who are using the system, made it easier for them to access the system, I think that would go a long way.
Okay, thank you. And if I can just finish with a final question to the Minister for Education, then, because we've managed to cover a lot of ground through everybody being generally very disciplined, one of the things the children's commissioner told us when she was in recently talking about the pandemic was that she thought what she described as a more assertive national offer should be made available to children and young people in the event of them having to learn from home. Have you got any comment on that, and have you got any plans to tighten any guidance issued to consortia and local authorities based on that statement?
As I said earlier, Lynne, we are expecting to publish the report by Estyn, who were charged this term to undertake work across all 22 local authorities. If as a result of the recommendations from Estyn we felt it was necessary to give further advice, guidance or anything stronger, then we will reflect that once I'm in receipt of the Estyn reports.
Okay, thank you very much. Okay, are there any other questions from Members? No. Okay, well can I thank you, both Ministers, for your attendance this morning and also to the officials who've joined us? We've covered lots of ground in a short time and we very much appreciate your time. As usual, we'll send you a transcript to check for accuracy, but thank you very much again, both of you and the officials, for your attendance. Diolch yn fawr.
Okay, can we move on, then, to papers to note? Papers 1 to 7 are all information the committee requested from health boards regarding support available for children and young people's mental health. So, if we can note 1 to 7 together, please. And then paper to note 8 is a letter from me to the Welsh Government regarding the support for the mental health and well-being of learners. Paper to note 9 is a letter from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists to the Minister for Health and Social Services on winter planning. Paper to note 10 is a letter from us again to the Minister for Education regarding the impact of COVID-19 on remote teaching and learning. Paper to note 12 is a letter to me from the Minister regarding the impact of COVID-19 on remote teaching and learning. Paper to note 12 is a letter from the Petitions Committee to us regarding a petition calling for environmental awareness to be made compulsory and a key module within schools in Wales. Paper to note 13 is a letter from me to the Minister for Housing and Local Government regarding the Welsh Government draft budget. Paper to note 14 is a letter from me to the Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language regarding the draft budget. And paper to note 15 is a letter to the committee regarding the decision not to proceed at the moment with the hearing for the chair of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. Are Members happy to note those, please? Thank you.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod, ac o'r cyfarfod ar 30 Tachwedd, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting, and from the meeting on 30 November, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Can I then propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting and the whole meeting on 30 November? Are Members content? Thank you. We'll now proceed in private.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:12.
The public part of the meeting ended at 12:12.