Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

14/01/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dawn Bowden AS
Laura Anne Jones AS
Lynne Neagle AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sian Gwenllian AS
Suzy Davies AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Claire Morgan Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Estyn
Strategic Director, Estyn
Eithne Hughes Cyfarwyddwr, Cymdeithas Arweinwyr Ysgolion a Cholegau (Cymru)
Director, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru
Jassa Scott Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Estyn
Strategic Director, Estyn
Laura Doel Cyfarwyddwr, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol y Prifathrawon Cymru
Director, National Association of Headteachers Cymru (NAHT)
Mary van den Heuvel Uwch Swyddog Polisi Cymru, Undeb Addysg Cenedlaethol Cymru
Wales Senior Policy Officer, National Education Union
Meilyr Rowlands Prif Arolygydd EM, Estyn
HM Chief Inspector, Estyn
Neil Butler Swyddog Cenedlaethol Cymru, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol yr Ysgolfeistri ac Undeb yr Athrawesau
National Official Wales – NASUWT
Nicola Savage Trefnydd Rhanbarthol Undeb GMB, Rhanbarth Cymru a'r De Orllewin
GMB Regional Organiser Wales and South West Region
Rebecca Williams Is-ysgrifennydd Cyffredinol a Swyddog Polisi, Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru (UCAC)
Deputy General Secretary and Policy Officer, Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru (UCAC)
Rosie Lewis Trefnydd Rhanbarthol, Arweinydd Ysgolion Cymru, Unsain
Regional Organiser, Wales Schools Lead, UNISON

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
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 09:15.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:15. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Good morning, everyone, and can I welcome you 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. As usual, though, the meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference, and 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. As usual, 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've received apologies for absence from Hefin David MS, and there is no substitution. Can I ask Members if there are any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay, thank you. Can I just remind you that if I drop out for any reason, it's been agreed that Dawn Bowden MS will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin?

2. Craffu ar Adroddiad Blynyddol Estyn 2019 - 2020 (i gynnwys materion yn ymwneud ag effaith COVID-19 ar addysg)
2. Scrutiny of Estyn Annual Report 2019 - 2020 (to include matters relating to the impact of COVID-19 on education)

Item 2, then, this morning is scrutiny of Estyn's annual report 2019-20, which is also going to include looking at matters relating to the impact of COVID-19 on education. I'm very pleased to welcome this morning Meilyr Rowlands, Her Majesty's chief inspector, Estyn; Claire Morgan, strategic director at Estyn; and Jassa Scott, strategic director at Estyn. Before I invite Members to ask questions, I would just like to mention that this is the chief inspector's last annual report session, as we've received a letter from Meilyr—a copy of the letter to the First Minister—informing us that he will be retiring from his post at the end of August 2021. So, just in case there isn't another opportunity to do so before the election, can I place on record, Meilyr, the committee's thanks to you for all your work in your post and wish you all the very best for the future? Diolch yn fawr. 

Diolch yn fawr. 

Thank you very much. 

Okay, we'll move now, then, to questions, and if I can start by just asking you to outline the main role you've played during the COVID-19 pandemic and to what extent you've worked directly with schools and other education and training providers as well as local authorities and consortia, please.

Thank you. Well, as you know, we were one of the first organisations to react to the coronavirus crisis, not just in Wales but across the UK. Following discussions with Welsh Government, we suspended inspections and other visits to all education providers from 16 March. Since then, to simplify a complex picture, we have focused on two main activities. The first one is keeping in touch, engaging with education providers—that is, schools and all the other providers that we normally inspect—to reassure them, to support them, but also to gather intelligence about the situation. We've done that mainly remotely, but we've also made a small number of visits as well. We've undertaken over 800 engagement activities, and that's over half of the providers that we normally inspect. We've also kept in touch with our stakeholders, with local authorities, with regions, with our headteacher reference group, and so forth. As you know, what we were intending to do this academic year was to visit all schools, particularly, as part of our learning inspectorate change programme, and also specifically to find out how schools were preparing and planning for the new curriculum. So, that plan has made it a bit easier for us to transfer our activities from inspection to engagements that we were intending to do. Obviously, we were intending to visit the schools, but what we've been doing mainly is phoning them.

The second main activity, of course, is to provide Welsh Government and the education system as a whole with advice and guidance. We've published a lot of guidance, various types of guidance—good practice case studies and cameos, and so forth. Most of that guidance we've done ourselves, but some of it we've done with other bodies—with Welsh Government or with the regions—and they've been published jointly, but they're all available on our website, or in some cases on the Welsh Government or region websites. We've done some secondment of our staff too, to the Welsh Government in particular. And I think the other thing that needs saying is that the nature of our work has developed and changed as the pandemic has also changed, but we've had some specific tasks that we've been asked to do through the Minister's remit letter to us. That's been changed and updated, as you'd expect, during this year. There have been changes to that remit letter, and in particular we did a piece of work into local government, which is actually published tomorrow.

I think I've mentioned schools a lot, and I will tend to do that, but we have to remember that we've been doing equivalent work in other sectors as well, including post 16, and we're doing two particular pieces of work—thematic pieces of work—which, again, have been identified in an updated remit letter, specifically to do with post 16.

I think that's probably enough. I'm happy to answer any specific issues. Obviously, there's more detail on our website. We've published an annual plan. The annual plan was published later than usual because we updated it and changed it significantly, in July, I think, and that gave a detailed account of what we'd done in the spring and summer terms, and also other plans for the autumn and spring terms.

09:20

Okay, thank you. Can I just ask—you referred to the guidance that you've published and the advice that you've published—have there been any other ways that you've contributed to Welsh Government's decision making, other than what's publicly on the website?

As you're aware, there's been a large number of meetings where we were represented with Welsh Government and the regions and local authorities and so forth, and also other bodies have set up meetings, like Qualifications Wales. So, we've been involved in a very large number of those and, of course, we give oral evidence to those meetings.

Okay, thank you. And in terms of schools causing concern and those in statutory categories, how have you managed particularly to monitor those while we've been working in this remote world? And can I also ask about the pilot that Welsh Government was trialling with eight secondary schools causing concern and whether that's been suspended or if there's any progress?

I'll ask Claire Morgan to answer that question.

The schools causing concern continue to be a priority throughout the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, we redistributed our resources to identify a named pastoral HMI who would link with each of the 40 schools currently in a statutory category. So, we have what we call pastoral HMIs, who've been working and meeting regularly with the headteachers. Generally, our sensitive, flexible approach has been welcomed, and that constant dialogue with those headteachers has helped to offer some support in some very difficult circumstances. Our contact has been mostly remote, as Meilyr said, but we have visited a few schools where schools have requested that, and carried out what we call an informal visit. This has been quite useful as well, to see first-hand the challenges that schools currently face. We had planned to increase the number of visits, but obviously this has been interrupted now by the return to remote learning.

You mentioned, Lynne, the multi-agency panels. This was a strategy put together in partnership with Welsh Government to address the concerns about a lack of progress and the need for more co-ordinated support for the schools at most risk. It brings together all the stakeholders who have a responsibility either for supporting the school or for monitoring the school's progress. So, that would include the headteacher, governing body, local authority, the regions, ourselves and Welsh Government. To an extent, the pilot has been paused, but we have held two or three multi-agency panels or improvement conferences in the last few months. Generally, the strategy is working well, and it has been well received by the schools. In order now to maintain that momentum, on Friday we'll be meeting with Welsh Government and the Association of Directors of Education in Wales to review the arrangements and also to refocus the work going forward. So, that work is ongoing. And—

09:25

Thank you—. Oh, carry on. Did you have anything you wanted to add?

I just wanted to mention that we have still paused our own monitoring of schools. We have been in discussion with a couple of schools who were very keen for us to visit because they felt they'd made progress, but with a move now again to remote learning we'll relook at that. But we will open the discussions again with the schools who are keen to go forward.

Thank you very much, Claire. We've got some questions now from Suzy Davies.

Thank you. Welcome, everybody. Just to follow on from Claire's last answer—and it does apply to what I'm about to ask as well—can you just very briefly tell me the difference in what the work of the pastoral HMI is, and what we might expect consortia to be doing as part of their usual work?

The role of the pastoral HMI was to keep in touch with the schools that we would normally be visiting. We were having quite a lot of questions from those schools asking us when will monitoring take place, will it be paused, and if it does take place, how will it change. So, our role was to actually clarify our position with the schools, but also open the conversation about how they are dealing with the pandemic, and also the challenges they are currently facing. So, it was twofold, really—it was about our role in monitoring the schools as well as a general discussion about well-being and offering some support to the headteacher particularly.

Thank you for that. Just to speak about those golden days before the pandemic struck, perhaps you can tell us a little bit about your concerns about what you found during the period before March, because from what I can see from the report, it hasn't moved on a huge amount, and while of course primaries are still in a better position than secondary schools, and well-being, we're all pleased to see, has still very much got a tick next to it, there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of progress compared to previous years. I appreciate you're speaking to different schools, but in an era where sharing best practice is the name of the game, I'm wondering if you were surprised by some of what you found and what your concerns were about what you found.

09:30

The first thing to say, I think, is that we did about 60 per cent of the inspections that we were intending to do, so that half of the annual report is based on quite a substantial evidence base. As you suggested, what we found was very similar in nature to what we've seen in previous years. There has been some improvement and some consolidation of the improvements that we've seen over the years, and we've seen some good and excellent practice in some of the smaller sectors where there hasn't been excellent practice in the past. But when you're talking generally about primary and secondary education, the trajectory is similar to what we've seen in the past. And although there are some signs of improvement, it isn't the kind of progress we would like to see. 

I think the reason for that we've discussed in this committee several times in the past. I think you can boil it down to two main things that we'd like to see improve. I think on well-being, there is still more work to be done in terms of closing the gap with disadvantaged pupils, and we've been talking about the importance of community schooling in terms of that. We've published a thematic report on that recently. And then, clearly, we want the provision to improve generally—the teaching and learning experiences. That is the fundamental reason for introducing a new curriculum, because in order to see a step change in the teaching and learning, we need something like a new curriculum. 

So, I think those were the fundamental areas that we were still concerned about, and those correspond to what we've been talking about for the last few years. But there have been some improvements noticed. For example, in gearing up for the new curriculum, we have noticed that there is greater flexibility and creativity—a greater willingness to try new ways and new methodologies, new pedagogies. So, we have seen that, and I think that was something that we felt was very positive. As you say, we've been seeing signs of that in primary for the last few years. We published recently this curriculum report on secondary schools and all-age schools and special schools, and we've also seen a greater willingness to experiment and to try out new ideas there as well. I think I'll stop there and answer any other questions that you have. 

Thank you for that. Obviously, how you prepared your annual report will be different this time, and you've already mentioned that a little bit. You're raising all the really good points, Meilyr, which is pleasing to hear, but we're still in a situation where we have more primary schools, even, in an 'adequate' category than we have in an 'excellent' category. So, even with the early bleed-through of the pedagogies that are anticipated with the curriculum, in the schools you inspected this year it's still not a glowing report, even for the primary schools, if you compare those figures. And of course, the picture is more worrying in secondary schools. You pointed out that one of the reasons for the poorer—and it is poorer—results in secondary schools is that school leaders were setting low expectations. Have you got a comment on that? Because I think that should worry us all, particularly if you're finding those low expectations in areas of deprivation. 

09:35

Well, yes, almost by definition, if you're seeing schools—. And as you say, 'good' or better schools in secondary is about 50 per cent. Almost by definition, in those schools that are not doing that well, the expectations are often not high enough, and we see that not only in deprived areas but in more affluent areas as well. I think that is all related to what is the expectation set out in the new curriculum. I think the whole purpose of that is to have higher expectations.

Okay. Again, we're looking forward to the curriculum rather than what's gone wrong in some of these schools. Obviously, our worry about this, of course, is that, curriculum aside, a lot of this will be exacerbated by the effects of COVID, which others will speak about later. But apart from COVID, what do you think the main challenges have been, then? Why have these schools—? Bearing in mind they've seen previous Estyn reports for other schools, why have they not been picking up on the good ideas that are reflected in those reports—the previous annual reports and, indeed, your thematic reports?

Well, a lot of the things that we'll be talking about today, I'm sure, about COVID and education before COVID, are really complex issues. There's no easy answer to any of these things that you're asking about. There's an element to do with leadership, and that's why, for many years, we wanted the establishment of a national academy to support leaders so we get better leadership. I've probably said enough about the new curriculum; that's also essential.

When we talk about deprived areas—I've said a lot about this in the past as well, and as I've said, we've published a thematic report on it recently—the whole idea of a community-focused school is important, because the expectations need to be high in terms of what the school is expecting of the children, but it needs to be high in terms of what the community and the families expect of the children as well. So, the community focus is really important. There are two broad aspects of that. The engagement between the school and the community and the family, getting the families and the communities involved and interested in the education, consulting with them, making sure that they feel part of it—that's one side of it. The other side is supporting those families through a multi-agency approach.

As I said, we've got plenty of examples of good practice within the annual report, but also in various reports we've published, including the most recent one. Because there are barriers for many of our young people to enable them to learn, and we do need services outside of education to support those families, to enable them to get over those barriers, to enable them to succeed. We have been critical that there hasn't been enough done in terms of, as you were suggesting, spreading that good practice from the schools that are doing it.

09:40

Yes. And I think it's fair to point out as well that some of the most creative responses have been in areas of deprivation, so it's not entirely down to that. 

Just very quickly then to finish, leadership, of course, comes up frequently in our sessions, but teaching standards as well. Can you just give us a brief overview of your observations on teaching standards in the pre-pandemic year?

Sorry, I didn't quite catch that.

I just want to know about teaching standards and your views on what that's looked like in the pre-pandemic part of the year. Have you seen any general improvement there?

Well, I did indicate earlier that we have seen a small increase in readiness to be more creative in teaching. We've also seen, I think, a particular focus on making sure that young people are independent learners, resilient learners. I think that was something that we were pleased to see in terms of an improvement. And it was timely, in a way, that we saw a little bit of an uptick in terms of that prior to the pandemic, but there's still more work to be done on that. Some of my colleagues might be able to give you some specific examples.

Do we have time for that, Lynne? Sorry, I don't mean to be rude, I promise you.

Okay. What we've found is that, where schools have started to think about the new curriculum, they've turned to look at pedagogy and teaching. So, we've come across quite a few examples where schools have been quite innovative and are thinking more deeply about teaching and trying out new approaches. At Cwmtawe Community School, they've been trialling new approaches, looking at pedagogy, and they've been looking across subject areas, so moving towards areas of learning and experience, looking at maths, science and technology together. So, schools that are thinking about the new curriculum are being far more innovative around teaching.

Well, I think it's early days to say that because, certainly, this work is at a planning stage and early trialling. But, certainly it's a good start.

Thank you. We've got some questions now on schools provision during the pandemic, prior to January 2021, from Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, everybody, good to see you again. Can I just start by asking you how well you felt that schools switched to remote learning from the general provision in the lead up to the summer term?

I think it's really important to realise how difficult this has been for everybody. Clearly, it's been a really difficult time for learners and their families, a really challenging and anxious time for them. And it was unexpected, and I think that there clearly are lessons to be learnt from the unexpectedness of all of this; we can't really pretend, any of us, that we saw it coming. Just dealing with the non-education logistics—the hygiene and those sorts of aspects of things—has been incredibly time consuming and involved leaders and staff in a lot of extra work and a lot of decisions that had to be made at short notice.

So, to answer your questions, I think, overall, individual staff and the education system as a whole worked really hard to overcome these complex logistical challenges and rose well to those challenges. I think it is important that we acknowledge that and thank people for the hard work that they did do. And I think it's not just ourselves, our evidence, that exists for that, but I think, more generally, people have respected the profession. There's an increased appreciation of the importance of schooling, of attending school and of the work of schools and, I should say, other providers—post 16, colleges and so forth.

So, I think the focus initially was on both the well-being and the continuity of learning. I think the work on well-being was broadly successful. Schools went out of their way to keep in touch with families. With disadvantaged families in particular, they worked closely with local authorities to do that and there are a lot of examples of best practice in the annual report and other reports that we've produced to do with that. I think the evidence of that is varied, but the children, when they came back to school, I think staff felt that they had been resilient overall. They were quite pleased with their attitude to work and so on.

In terms of continuity of learning, I think we all know that it was very variable, at least initially, and I think there's no doubt, now that we're going back to a new period of lockdown, that the system as a whole is much better placed now than it was back then. So, we're hopeful that the quality will be much higher and the variability will be much less this time around. We can give you some examples of what happened, and I think that gives a little bit of colour to what I've just said, but I don't know whether that answers your question.

09:45

Okay. You can bring in examples perhaps in relation to my second question, because it follows on from that, which is really about what you saw in terms of schools managing the dual role that they had with remote learning, but obviously also having the on-site provision for the children of critical workers, for instance. So, how you saw that was managed.

Yes, well that's a very good example of some of the really difficult logistical challenges facing the schools. Clearly, it is very difficult to do those two things. It's quite difficult to manage distance learning and to do that at the same time as running a hub is quite an additional time-consuming challenge. On the whole, I'm not sure if that was the best arrangement, looking back with hindsight. I think what's happening this time around is probably better, so that the children that still go to school—the ones you mentioned there, the vulnerable and the children of critical workers—are probably better off in their own school, rather than several schools' children going to one hub, and the hub arrangement where you have really a caring arrangement, rather than an educating arrangement. But I think what's happening this time is that the children in school and the children who are studying at home are getting the same education.

So, you would see that as a key learning point from the first phase of the pandemic.

Well, I think it is a learning point. I think only time will tell if this arrangement is better, but I think it is better, yes.

Okay. And what did you see were the schools' main priorities? When we started to see the schools return in September, what seemed to be their key priorities when they came back?

Clearly, one of the first things they did was to start to assess where those children were. So, I mentioned that, in terms of resilience, staff were relatively happy in terms of the vast bulk of children, in terms of their general attitude to work and so forth, but what was a major priority was to assess where they were emotionally and where they were academically. In that period in September, we were beginning to find how varied the response, if you like, of the individual pupils had been to the period of lockdown education. So, some had made good progress; some had just done a bit of treading water and hadn't made a lot of progress; and in some cases, there was an element of even regression as well. So, there was a very varied picture, but clearly that detailed assessment stage was an important part of the catch-up programme. You've got to know where the children are before you can plan what is increasingly an individualised programme of catch-up for those children that need it. Clearly, the extra funding was important to enable some of that individualised, targeted catch-up work.

09:50

How successful, in your assessment, was that catch-up process? By the time schools finished for Christmas, how successful do you think that catch-up process had been?

It's a fair question, and I'm not sure that I can answer that question in terms of success, because there is a lot of work still to be done. I'm not sure whether you'd categorise that as success.

'Success' probably wasn't the best word, actually, but I take your point, yes.

A lot of work has been done, children have caught up, but there's still much more to be done. I think that this is one of our big worries, that the longer the pandemic goes on for—. I mean, children are resilient, more resilient than people maybe make out, and staff were quite happy, generally speaking, with their well-being and their attitudes when they came back in the summer, but this is carrying on now. We've had a disrupted autumn term and now we're into another period of lockdown, so the cumulative effect of this is not helpful. So, we would think that the catch-up programme is likely to be needed for years to come. The funding that is currently available is really welcome, but the concern is: will that additional funding be there in future years?

Sure. Okay. My last question, Meilyr, is just really around the balance between the academic standards being achieved and the well-being of pupils being achieved. I think you kind of touched on that in a response to Suzy earlier, but how well do you think that that balance has been struck?

I think it's been well struck. It's been reasonable. You've got to start with the well-being, making sure that the children are all right. The assessment needs to be carried out to make sure where the children are emotionally, but also where they are academically. I think that's been done well. I think the—. Yes, okay; I'll stop at that point, I think.

Okay, thank you. We're going to move on now to talk about the situation we're sadly in at the moment, which is the return to remote teaching and learning, and the first questions are from Siân Gwenllian.

Hoffwn i drafod y sefyllfa fel y mae hi ar hyn o bryd. Rydych chi wedi dweud, Meilyr, eich bod chi'n credu bod y system mewn lle gwell rŵan nag yr oedd hi yn y cyfnod cynt ar gyfer dysgu o bell. Rydym ni'n gwybod bod yna ganllawiau newydd wedi cael eu cyhoeddi ddoe gan y Llywodraeth o gwmpas hyn. Ydych chi wedi cael cyfle i sbïo arnyn nhw, ac ydych chi'n croesawu'r rhain?

I'd like to discuss the situation as it currently stands. You've said, Meilyr, that you believe that the system is in a better place now as compared to the previous period for that remote learning. We know that there are new guidelines that have been published by the Government around this. I don't know whether you've had a look at them, and do you welcome these guidelines?

09:55

Ydw, dwi yn croesawu'r canllawiau newydd. Maen nhw'n synhwyrol iawn ac yn mynd i'r afael gyda rhai o'r pethau oedd nifer fawr o bobl yn anhapus â nhw. Felly, fel ro'ch chi'n ei ddweud, ddoe ddaeth y rheina allan, ac maen nhw yn gaffaeliad.

Fel ro'n i'n ei ddweud, dŷn ni yn teimlo bod y system mewn gwell lle nawr nag oedd hi. Doedd yna ddim digon o addysgu byw o bell yn ôl yn y gwanwyn, ond mae pethau wedi gwella. Y rheswm dwi'n dweud hynny ydy does dim amheuaeth, dwi'n meddwl, gan unrhyw un bod sgiliau digidol staff, plant a theuluoedd wedi gwella yn aruthrol ers y cyfnod cynnar hynny. Yn ogystal, mae staff wedi cael llawer o hyfforddiant mewn swydd i'w helpu nhw i gyfarwyddo gyda'r feddalwedd newydd. Efallai meddalwedd oedd yn newydd iddyn nhw.

Mae plant yn y cyfnod ro'n nhw yn ôl yn yr ysgol wedi cael hyfforddiant ar sut i ddefnyddio y math yma o feddalwedd, a hefyd sut i ymdopi gyda dysgu o bell a dysgu annibynnol. Felly, mae yna nifer o resymau dŷn ni'n credu bod y sefyllfa yn debygol o fod yn well nawr, ac mae'r dystiolaeth gynnar, gynnar sydd gyda ni yn awgrymu ei bod hi—fod yna ddarpariaeth llawer ehangach o wersi byw ac o wersi wedi'u recordio ac yn y blaen ar gael.

Yes, I do welcome the new guidance and guidelines. They are very sensible and they get to grips with some of the issues that a number of people were unhappy with. So, as you said, they came out yesterday and they are very positive.

As I said, we do believe that the system is in a better place than it was. There was insufficient live learning available remotely previously back in the spring, but things have improved. The reason that I say that is that there is no doubt, I don't think, that digital skills of staff, children and families have improved a great deal since that early period. Additionally, staff have received a great deal of training to enable them to familiarise themselves with the new software—perhaps software that was new to them.

Children in the period when they were back in schools have received training in how to use these kinds of software, and how to cope with remote learning and independent learning. So, there are a number of reasons why we believe that the situation is likely to be better now, and the very early evidence that we have suggests that it is indeed better—that there is far wider provision of live lessons and recorded lessons and so on available.

Diolch ichi am hynny, ac mi fydd hi'n ddiddorol gweld beth ydy'r ymateb i'r canllawiau newydd yma. Yn sicr, mi oedd eu hangen nhw. Ond, mae'n debyg mi rydym ni'n mynd i barhau efo'r amrywiaeth a'r anghysondeb o ysgol i ysgol, ac yn sicr, o ran y bwlch cyrhaeddiad, rydych wedi sôn ar y cychwyn bod hwnna'n un o heriau mawr y system oherwydd ei fod o'n gysylltiedig yn aml iawn efo'r bwlch digidol a diffyg cefnogaeth yn y cartref ac yn y blaen. Faint o bryder ydy o i chi bod dychwelyd i ddysgu o bell yn mynd i ddyfnhau'r bwlch cyrhaeddiad? A beth fedrwn ni fod yn ei wneud amdano fo?

Thank you very much for that, and it will be interesting to see what the response is to these new guidelines. But certainly, they were very much needed. But it's likely that we're going to continue with this variety and the inconsistency from school to school, and certainly, in terms of the attainment gap, you mentioned at the beginning that that is one of the major challenges of the system, because it's connected very often with the digital gap and a lack of support in the home and so on. How much of a concern is it to you that this return to remote learning is going to widen that attainment gap? And what can we be doing about it?

Mae e'n ofid, ac yn sicr, o ran argaeledd yr offer ac argaeledd y rhyngrwyd a gallu teuluoedd i ddefnyddio'r offer hynny, mae e'n hanfodol bod y system at ei gilydd yn gwneud yn siŵr bod teuluoedd difreintiedig yn cael yr offer angenrheidiol. Does dim ots beth rŷn ni'n siarad am, ansawdd yr addysgu a sut rŷn ni angen mwy o wersi byw ac yn y blaen; os dyw'r offer ddim yno, neu does gyda chi ddim y gallu i gael rhyngrwyd o safon digon uchel, neu os dŷch chi ddim yn medru defnyddio'r offer, dŷch chi ddim yn medru cychwyn ar y daith yna. Felly, mae'n hollol hanfodol i wneud yn siŵr bod teuluoedd difreintiedig yn cael beth sydd ei angen arnyn nhw i ddysgu o bell. Ac, wrth gwrs, mae e hyd yn oed yn fwy anodd os oes gyda chi nifer o blant yn y teulu. Felly, mae hwnna yn ofid, ac mae hwnna'n rhywbeth mae'n rhaid i bob lefel yn y system addysg sicrhau ei fod e ar gael.

Well, it is a concern, and certainly, in terms of the availability of the equipment and the availability of the internet connection and families' ability to use the related equipment, it's vital that the system as a whole ensures that families in deprived areas receive the equipment that they need. When we're talking about the quality of education and how we need more live lessons, if you don't have the equipment there or if you don't have the ability to access sufficiently good-quality internet connection, or if you can't use the equipment, then you're not going to be able to start on that educational journey. So, it's vital to ensure that families in deprived areas receive what they need to enable that remote learning. And, of course, it's even more difficult if you have a number of children in a single family, and that is a concern, and that's something that all levels of the educational system need to ensure that they engage with.

10:00

A ydych chi'n meddwl bod angen i'r rheini sydd yn cael eu gadael ar ôl, oherwydd bod gynnon nhw ddim yr offer digidol, a ddylen nhw hefyd fod yn rhan o'r hybiau yn yr ysgolion?

Do you believe that there is a need for those who are being left behind, because they don't have the digital equipment, should they too be part of these hubs in schools?

Wel, dwi'n credu bod hynny'n bosibilrwydd ar hyn o bryd. Hynny yw, mae teuluoedd difreintiedig, disgyblion bregus, maen nhw yn medru mynd yno. Maen nhw hefyd yn cael rhywfaint o ryddid gan arweinwyr i wneud y penderfyniadau yna'n lleol. Felly, i ryw raddau, byddwn i'n cefnogi hynny. Ond, wrth gwrs, mae yna beryg, wrth gwrs, o ran iechyd cyhoeddus os oes yna ormod o blant yn mynd i'r ysgol, achos dyna pam mae'r ysgolion yn cael eu cau, fel petai, ar hyn o bryd. Felly, yr ateb ydy sicrhau bod gan y teuluoedd yr offer hynny.

Well, I do think that that is possible at the moment. Families and vulnerable pupils can access those hubs. There is also some freedom from school leaders to make those decisions on a local basis. So, to some extent, I would support that. But, of course, there is a danger, in terms of public health, if there are too many children going to schools; that's why schools are being closed at the moment. So, the response is to ensure that the families do have the equipment in the first place.

A ydych chi'n gweld, o'r gwaith cynnar rydych chi'n cychwyn gwneud rŵan, bod yna gysylltiad rhwng yr ysgolion sydd yn draddodiadol wedi bod yn tanberfformio a'r bwlch digidol? Oes yna gysylltiad rhwng bod y dysgu o bell yn hytrach na'r bwlch digidol, efallai, ond bod y dysgu o bell ddim yn gweithio mor effeithiol yn yr ysgolion hynny rydych chi wedi eu hadnabod fel y rhai sydd yn ysgolion o dan risg?

Do you see, from the early work that you are starting to do now, that there is a connection between the schools that traditionally have been underperforming and the digital gap? Is there a link between the remote learning, rather than a digital gap, perhaps, but that the remote learning isn't working as effectively as it could in those schools that you've identified as those that are at-risk schools?

Dwi ddim yn credu ei fod e, i ddweud y gwir. Mae'r dystiolaeth tipyn bach yn ansicr o ran hyn, ond dwi'n credu, pan ddechreuon ni, adeg y pandemig yn cychwyn, roedden ni'n disgwyl i weld yr ysgolion oedd yn tangyflawni yn y gorffennol, taw nhw fuasai'r ysgolion fyddai ddim yn medru ymdopi gyda sefyllfa newydd. Ond mae'r darlun yn fwy cymhleth na hynny; buaswn i ddim yn dweud bod yna gyfatebiaeth un-wrth-un rhwng y ddau beth yna. Dŷn ni wedi gweld rhai ysgolion a rhai awdurdodau efallai oedd yn tangyflawni yn y gorffennol wedi ymdopi yn dda iawn gyda'r sefyllfa yma. Mae hi'n her wahanol, ac mae e wedi dod â'r gorau allan o rai ysgolion ac efallai ddim cystal o ysgolion eraill. Mae'r sefyllfa'n gymhleth.

Well, I don't think there is that link, truth be told. The evidence isn't conclusive on that, but when we started, with the onset of the pandemic, we expected to see those schools that were underperfoming in the past, that those would be the schools that wouldn't be able to cope with a new situation. But the picture is more complex than that. I wouldn't say that there is a direct correlation between those two things. We've seen some schools and some authorities, perhaps, that were underperforming in the past that have coped very well with the situation. So, it is a different challenge, and it's brought the best out of some schools and perhaps other schools haven't done as well. The situation is very complex.

Diolch. Yn olaf gen i yn yr adran fach yma: pa mor effeithiol ydy'r awdurdodau lleol a chonsortia wedi cydweithio efo'r ysgolion i sicrhau parhad cyson tra bod y cynnig addysg o bell yn digwydd?

Thank you. And finally from me in this particular section: how effectively have local authorities and consortia collaborated with schools to ensure continuity of learning whilst the remote learning provision is offered?

Wel, fel y gwnes i sôn ychydig ynghynt, roedd hwn yn gwestiwn penodol gwnaeth y Gweinidog ofyn inni wneud, trwy'r llythyr gorchwyl, ac mae hwnna'n cael ei gyhoeddi yfory. Jassa oedd yn gyfrifol am gydgordio'r gwaith yna. Gwnaf i ofyn iddi hi i fynd i'r manylion.

Well, as I mentioned a little earlier, this was a specific question that the Minister asked us to focus on, through the remit letter, and that is published tomorrow. It's Jassa who was responsible for co-ordinating that work. I'll ask her to go into the details.

Diolch, Meilyr. Fel mae Meilyr wedi dweud, rŷn ni wedi gweithio'n agos iawn gyda'r awdurdodau lleol i gasglu tystiolaeth ar y gwaith maen nhw wedi bod yn ei wneud. Ac rydyn ni wedi gofyn i rieni, i arweinwyr ysgol, i blant eu hunain, i staff yn yr ysgol am adborth hefyd, ac, ar y cyfan, mae'r adborth yna wedi bod yn bositif am y gwaith mae'r awdurdodau lleol wedi'i wneud gyda'r ysgolion yn ystod y cyfnod yma. Yn sicr, mae ysgolion wedi gwerthfawrogi yr arweiniad mae awdurdodau lleol wedi'i roi, ac, yn sicr, jest yr help practical maen nhw wedi'i roi ar bob cam o'r daith yma.

Yn sicr, rŷn ni wedi gweld bod, lle mae patrymau o weithio wedi bod yn eu lle yn barod—. Er enghraifft, ym Mhen-y-bont, maen nhw'n cael early-help locality service models—sori, dwi ddim â'r Gymraeg ar gyfer hwnna—lle mae patrwm, er enghraifft, o wasanaethau gwahanol yn gweithio gyda'i gilydd, rydyn ni wedi gweld eu bod nhw wedi trosglwyddo'r fath o weithio yna yn gyflymach i ymateb yn gynnar yn y pandemig. Hefyd mae'r consortia wedi gweithio gyda'r awdurdodau lleol ac ysgolion i rannu arfer da. Maen nhw wedi creu enghreifftiau o arfer da ac arweiniad, ac wedi paratoi cyrsiau, ac yn y blaen, i helpu i ddatblygu sgiliau athrawon yn ystod y cyfnod yma. So, rydyn ni wedi ffeindio llawer o bethau positif, ac mae llawer o enghreifftiau yn yr adroddiad yna. Yn sicr, rydyn ni wedi sôn yn barod am y ffocws ar les ac wedyn, efallai, yn mynd mwy i'r afael â'r safbwynt ansawdd dysgu o bell. Dyna un o'n hargymhellion ni yn yr adroddiad, so mae angen cael mwy o ffocws ar yr ansawdd yna yn yr ysgol ac o safbwynt yr awdurdod lleol hefyd.

O safbwynt y consortia, dydyn ni ddim wedi ffeindio bod yr ansicrwydd yn y de orllewin wedi really effeithio ar sut mae ysgolion wedi teimlo—eu bod nhw wedi cael cefnogaeth o'r awdurdod lleol. So, mae'r ysgolion wedi bod yn eithaf positif. Ar y cyfan, rydyn ni wedi ffeindio bod ysgolion yn llai clir o rôl y consortiwm yn ystod y cyfnod yma. Maen nhw wedi sôn mwy am beth mae'r awdurdod lleol wedi'i wneud, so mae hwnna'n fwy amrywiol ar draws Cymru.

Fel mae Meilyr wedi'i ddweud, o safbwynt yr awdurdodau sydd wedi achosi pryder i ni o'r blaen, dydyn ni ddim wedi ffeindio bod hwn wedi effeithio ar sut maen nhw wedi cefnogi ysgolion yn ystod y cyfnod yna. Ar yr ochr arall, mae rhai ohonyn nhw wedi ymateb yn really positif, ac wedi llwyddo cario ymlaen gyda rhywfaint o'r gwaith gwella a chael y ffocws ar daith gwella eu hunain ar yr un pryd â chefnogi ysgolion hefyd.

Thank you, Meilyr. As Meilyr has said, we've worked very closely with local authorities to gather evidence on the work that they've been doing. And we've asked parents, school leaders, the children themselves, and staff in the schools to give their feedback too, and, on the whole, the feedback has been positive about the work that local authorities have done with schools during this period. Certainly, schools have appreciated the leadership that local authorities have given, certainly just the practical assistance that they've been able to give at each step of this journey.

Certainly, we've also seen, where working patterns have already been in place—. For example, in Bridgend, they have early-help locality service models—sorry, I don't know the Welsh for that—where there is that pattern, for example, of different services working together. And we have seen, where that's been in place, that they've been able to transfer that kind of way of working more swiftly in response early on during the pandemic. Also the consortia have worked with local authorities and schools to share good practice. They've created examples of good practice and guidance, and have prepared courses, and so on, to assist and develop the skills of teachers during this period. So, we have found many positive things, and there are several examples in that report—certainly, what we have already mentioned with regard to the focus on well-being, and then, perhaps, getting to grips more with the quality of remote learning. Those were some of the suggestions that we made in the report, so there is a need to have a greater focus on that quality of provision in schools and on the local authority level as well.

From the point of view of the consortia, we haven't found that the uncertainty in the south west has impacted how schools have felt—that they've received support from the local authority there. So, the schools have been relatively positive. On the whole, we've found that schools are less clear about the role of the consortia during this period. They've spoken more about what the local authority has done, rather than the consortia, so that's a more varied picture across Wales for the consortia.

As Meilyr has said, in terms of the authorities that have caused concern for us in the past, we haven't found that this has affected the way that they've supported schools at this time. Indeed, some of them have responded very positively, and have succeeded in continuing with some of the improvement work, and have maintained that focus on the improvement journey at the same time as supporting the schools as well.

10:05

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae hwnna'n ddiddorol iawn, a dwi'n credu y dylen ni fod yn edrych yn fwy dwfn ynglŷn â beth yn union sydd wedi digwydd, achos mae hwnna'n rhoi darlun gwahanol, efallai, i beth fyddai rhywun yn ei ddisgwyl. Diolch, Lynne.

Thank you very much. That's very interesting, and I believe that we should be looking in greater depth at what has happened, because that gives a different picture, perhaps, to what one would expect. Thanks, Lynne.

Thank you. And we've got some further questions now from Laura Jones.

Okay. Firstly, can I welcome you, but also apologise for being in my bedroom? I am one of those parents that's home schooling currently, and I've been banished up here because my son needs the whole of the kitchen table today, apparently. But what I've noticed is—he's 10—the quality of teaching in this lockdown is far, far better than the first lockdown. That's just my personal opinion, but I know it is so different between schools, and even between classes. Particularly in the first lockdown, there was massive differences between the quality of home schooling between classes even, as well as schools, but this time around it does—from reports from parents across South Wales East, I am hearing a lot of progress has been made. So, that's a positive step, so lessons are obviously being learnt. 

The Minister confirmed to me yesterday in our Plenary that connectivity is still the biggest barrier for some people having the learning that they should be getting, but also the devices. And the question I asked the Minister yesterday highlighted the fact that some local authorities are means-testing giving out those devices—I was just wondering if you were aware of that—based on whether a child is receiving free school meals. Now, obviously, some parents are struggling to get devices, have devices, as well as the number of children in the families—if they're able to not buy one themselves for every child to have a device. There are parents just about that threshold of free school meals that are missing out, and it's those children that need devices that are not getting them. So, I'm just wondering if you could look into that for me.

I was just wondering—as well as everything else that's been mentioned—what else do you think needs to be done to maintain the continuity of education in the current time, and can you identify any concrete, practical steps that the Welsh Government and the education sector should take in the short and medium terms to assure us? Thank you.

10:10

Thank you, and I certainly agree that it's essential that those families that need it get the equipment and the connectivity that they need, because that's the sine qua non of any distance learning. So, we have to have that. Earlier, we welcomed the updated guidance from Welsh Government as well, but I'll ask Claire if she's got any other suggestions.

There's probably no magic bullet, but I think there is more to be done around identifying and sharing the best practice so that we can address that variability and increase the quality generally. So, I think there's more to identify it, but also to make sure that schools are aware of the solutions, because there are some schools finding very quick solutions to things, so I think that's one thing that we do need to address.

We need to build on the relationship with parents, as well, and provide timely advice on how they can help their children. We know that it's a difficult challenge, particularly where there's more than one child at home, trying to support all children, but I think parents have benefited from high-quality advice from some of our schools, and it's helped them to help support their children. But I think it is also about making sure that all children have access to the digital equipment they need, and I think, Laura, you've already raised that as a concern. So, there are a couple of things there that we need to address.

I think there's no doubt that the pandemic has strengthened a sense of community and common purpose, and we know that lots of our schools have worked together in clusters, almost creating new communities. We've been meeting with our headteacher reference group and we've picked up lots of examples where schools have almost created new communities so that they could give one another, as headteachers, support in very difficult circumstances, but also look at the challenges schools are facing and, between them, find solutions. I think one example is Ysgol Nantgwyn—it's an all-age school in RCT. They've been working as part of a super cluster of around 20 schools, and everybody benefits, I think, from working closer together, and that sense of community and common purpose has benefited our learners.

Thank you. My son has been getting some face-to-face learning, and I know there have been bigger calls for that, but, at the same time, I'm juggling a one-year-old, working at home and a 10-year-old, and, in my example, the flexibility of not being online, having face-to-face learning all the time has actually worked out very well, because we can do it when we have time to do it, and then send the work in. But nothing compares to face-to-face learning within our schools, and so that time he does get with some pupils and his teacher is so important, particularly because he's seeing other children as well, because that is such a massive problem, and I am seeing big effects on mental health in that way. I'm not sure if that's been covered today, but there's no comparison between being at school and being at home school. He is not getting the learning that he should be getting and needs, and he's not getting that interaction that he needs. But it's good for the situation we're in and I think that the school are doing the best that they can do, in my opinion, and I hope that's the case across the board.

Do you have any views about what should happen with qualifications due to be awarded in 2021 and potentially 2022 if the current disruption of education persists much longer?

Thank you for that question. It's really, really difficult, clearly, and, in the short term, I think it's a question of making sure that there's a practical, workable, pragmatic solution, because I think everyone appreciates, or should appreciate, that there's no solution that will please everyone in terms of this. And what's made it even more difficult to plan, of course, is that I don't think people were realising or thought it was likely that we'd have the extent of the lockdown that we have had now. So, these changes are pushing us away from externality to more teacher assessment, and I think it's important, if we're going in that direction, that we have an agreed quality assurance system. I think it's positive that the way that this is being planned by the design and delivery advisory group is involving the headteachers of secondary schools, who would be the people who have to deliver this. So, it's really positive that those people are involved in it.

I think, seeking a longer view, part of the reason we're in this quandary now is that we do have a qualifications system that's overly dependent on one way of assessing, which is examinations. I think we do need now to take this opportunity to reconsider the qualifications system and to see whether we can have a more balanced system that includes several sources of evidence in our assessment of what young people can do. I'm not one of those people who are wanting to do away with examinations. I think examinations have a part to play in that system of more than one type of assessment that come together to give a rounded view of what an individual child can do. 

10:15

Yes, it's extremely difficult, isn't it, to know what's best—the impact on both ways, really. 

The technical advisory group report on the new COVID-19 variant and its impact on education in Wales, which was published on 7 January, suggests consideration be given to a range of more robust controls, including inspections for compliance. What's your view on that proposal? Thank you. 

Our view is that schools have been implementing the hygiene measures very carefully and rigorously and well. I think the small number of visits we've made to schools and what they report to us indicate that they're doing this really, really thoroughly. And if there were any changes to the regulations and advice, I'm sure that they would implement them really carefully. So, I don't really see that a big campaign of inspection of hygiene practices would be a good use of time or money. 

Okay, thank you. We've got some questions now on the impact of COVID on certain groups of learners from Dawn Bowden. 

Thank you, Lynne. I just wanted to explore with you a little bit how the pandemic has impacted on different groups. You talked a little bit earlier about the impact on kids from more deprived backgrounds, so I'd like to know a little bit more about that, but also how it's impacted on different age groups, and I guess I'm thinking particularly about those learners who were in their final exam years, and so on. So, there would be different impacts on different age groups, and I'd just like to get your sense of how those different groups were impacted on. 

Thank you for that question. I think this is a really important point, and it's a point we made in the annual report and in the foreword to the annual report. I think it is an important issue. This is one of the reasons why the pandemic has been so difficult to address by schools, because it has affected different groups in very different ways. I don't really find it very helpful to discuss which groups it's affected most. So, for example, people will say that it's affected younger children most. I don't think it's a competition, but there's no doubt that it has affected younger children in quite a big way. There are several ways of looking at it, but if you're out of school for a certain period of time, proportionately that time is greater if you're five years old than if you're 15 years old, and children that age are learning so quickly and so much. So, there has been a big effect on younger children in terms of literacy, numeracy, their cognitive and, even, their physical and certainly their social development. So, all of those things are important in addressing that.

In terms of older children, of course, there's an argument that it's affected them worst as well. As you were saying, it must be awful for children facing examinations. At least with the younger children, we've got many years of education to try and put this right for them and to catch up, but, for the older children, there's uncertainty about examinations, and, of course, in terms of mental health, this must be the group that you're worried a group, because we all know that adolescence is a difficult period anyway, and to be deprived of working with your peers and so forth, and the uncertainty around qualifications and what you are going to do with your life and so forth, it's really difficult. So, the focus on well-being is really important for all groups, but particularly for these older children.

And the group in the middle also, the ones who have transferred from primary to secondary, that is difficult—we all know the transition. We've talked to this committee in the past about the importance of transition and why all-age schools might be a good idea, because you don't have such a big problem around transition and so forth. Transition has been much more difficult during this time. Jassa is leading on equity and on special educational needs, so I'll pass on to Jassa in terms of those two groups of children.

10:20

Thanks, Meilyr. I think we've talked over the years with you about how stubborn that attainment gap is and we've already touched upon that today. For disadvantaged pupils, there have been lots of interventions over the years, and we've still largely failed to actually address that gap, although we have had some success in actually raising attainment. I think there's general agreement that those most disadvantaged groups will have been more affected by the pandemic and the loss of learning is likely to be greater, as we've touched upon. Without a doubt, schools have prioritised these learners and they've worked really closely with local authorities to try and put in services to identify and support vulnerable and disadvantaged families and learners, and that's gone beyond just keeping in touch. There are lots of examples in some of the school reports we've published of schools delivering packs of resources, not just digital resources but actual paper, pens, books—the basics that people need to actually do some learning in their houses.

But there's no doubt that our conversations with schools show that, in that return in September, there is definitely more of an impact for some of these groups, and, in those bits about their social skills, I think, particularly with some of the youngest children, regression in their actual ability to be able to sit down, to go to the toilet—some of the things that help a school day, to make them very ready to actually start learning. Schools have had to do some work to re-establish some social routines and approaches to learning for some of those learners as well. But the way that schools and services have pulled together has been really positive—work with educational psychologists, behaviour support teams, working around the school to collaborate and to try and build those relationships and, not to repeat what we've said, that community-focused school approach to actually make sure services are delivered in a multi-agency way around the family.

The other group that we tend to talk about is learners with special educational needs, and we've found that there's been some really good work to continue some of the statutory processes for those groups of learners. So, on the whole, local authorities and schools have made good use of the technologies we're using today to actually continue to deliver some of the review work and some of the initial assessment work, and so on. Inevitably, some of that has been impacted by the inability to provide face-to-face support. Overall, in the work we did around local authorities, we surveyed parents and the majority—in October this was—were positive about the additional support that schools have provided for their child, and where they did have concerns, these tended to relate to maybe poor communication about how their child's needs might be met, or whether the support that is in a statement would be fully provided in a remote learning situation.

I think there has continued to be some targeted support. That communication with parents, particularly for those groups of learners with special educational needs, has never been more important, but I think there has been, certainly, more additional challenge for those groups of learners as well in terms of the periods of remote learning and what has been possible. The report that we'll publish also picks up on some really good practice of how families were supported to support their learners during that period. I'll stop there.

10:25

Laura, time is very tight, so I'll try and come back to you later if I can, but we do need to push on at the moment. Dawn.

Thank you. A couple of my questions have been answered in that response from Jassa, so thanks very much for that. So, my final question, really, is just about the impact on the Welsh language. Have you identified any particular difficulties? Has there been some regression? I'm thinking particular about those children in Welsh-medium schools but not necessarily in Welsh-speaking families, and whether you've identified any regression in those Welsh language skills.

Thank you, yes. I think there has been some regression, almost inevitably. It's been really challenging for those children you've identified in Welsh-medium schools who don't speak Welsh at home to experience and practise their Welsh language skills. I think, probably going back to your previous question, it's probably a bigger effect on the younger children who haven't maybe established all their basic oracy skills. So, there's inevitably been a regression there. I think schools obviously—Welsh-medium schools—are very determined to try and make sure that as many opportunities are made as possible, and we've got lots of examples of good practice, and not just in schools. Mudiad Meithrin, for example, have been preparing materials to enable children to hear language and to use the Welsh language, and so forth. I think also, when the children do go back to school, their Welsh language skills recover pretty quickly. So, that is the positive side of this.

I guess, Meilyr, my question would be what examples have you seen, because, obviously, what I'm very conscious of is, if a child is not from a Welsh-speaking family but they are learning through the medium of Welsh, and those parents don't speak Welsh, how is that education being delivered when parents are playing such a critical role in the delivery of education at the moment with home learning.

10:30

Yes. Parents shouldn't be teachers; they're there to support emotionally, if you like, the children and to encourage them. The teaching should come mainly from the school. And it is important, particularly for language skills like this, that children get the opportunity to hear it and get involved. I think children in Welsh-medium schools particularly do need some of that live teaching and some of that recorded, and also opportunities to talk with their peers. We've got lots of examples and, I think, as the system moves on, it's becoming better at arranging those things. I was hearing the other day about schools that had changed the way they were teaching this week; they thought it didn't work with a big group of children talking together, so they had lots of little Zoom rooms so that the children would talk with each other in smaller groups, for example. So, I think the practice is improving but you're right to identify it; it is absolutely crucial that they get that opportunity when they're not in school to practise. 

I think there's been a good priority given to this by regions and local authorities as well, and nationally. So, actually, there have been quite a lot of really helpful resources developed and put on Hwb—reading books and all kinds of things that can be accessed to support parents who are perhaps not from a Welsh-speaking background to actually support their children in schools, and I think there's been quite a lot of collaboration between Welsh-medium schools to do that as well, which has been positive. In the survey we did in October of parents, they were largely positive about the support they'd had from their school to help develop their children's Welsh skills, so that was positive to hear as well. 

Diolch yn fawr. Mae naws yr hyn rydych chi'n ei gyflwyno i ni y bore yma yn eithaf cadarnhaol, yn eithaf positif. Hynny yw, rydych chi wedi pwysleisio bod plant a pobl ifanc yn wydn ac rydych chi wedi sôn hefyd am rai o'r materion cadarnhaol sydd yn dod trwodd yn sgil y pandemig. Ond, mae yna 'ond' mawr, onid oes? Fedrwch chi yn gryno ddweud wrthym ni beth rydych chi'n meddwl fydd effeithiau tymor hir y pandemig ar addysg plant a phobl ifanc yng Nghymru? Hynny yw, pe na baem ni wedi cael y pandemig, a fyddai angen gwaith mawr dal i fyny, ynteu ydy hi'n realistig i feddwl rŵan fod angen cyfnod o ganolbwyntio ar addysg ein plant ni a gwneud y gwaith dal i fyny? 

Thank you very much. The nature of what you're presenting to us this morning is quite positive. You've emphasised that children and young people are resilient and you've mentioned some of the positive issues that are coming through as a result of the pandemic. But, and there's a major 'but' here, isn't there? Could you briefly tell us what you think the long-term impact of the pandemic will be on the education of children and young people in Wales? If we hadn't had the pandemic, would there be a need for a major piece of work to catch up? Is it realistic to think now that we do need a period of focusing on the education of our children in order to do that catch-up work?

Dwi'n ymddiheuro am fod yn bositif—

I apologise for being positive—

Na, does dim eisiau ymddiheuro. 

No, you don't need to apologise.

—ond dwi'n teimlo, mewn argyfwng fel hyn, ei bod hi'n bwysig bod arweinwyr yn bod yn bositif. Rydyn ni gyd yn gwybod y byddai neb ohonom ni'n dymuno cael y pandemig. A rhoi'r ochr iechyd o'r neilltu, mae e wedi amharu ar addysg ac, yn sicr, mae yna lawer o waith dal i fyny a byddai neb yn dymuno ein bod ni wedi ei gael e. Ond mae angen bod yn bositif. Mae angen sylweddoli, dwi'n meddwl, fod yna wersi pwysig i'w dysgu a bod y broses o newid—. Rheoli newid yw'r sialens fwyaf i arweinwyr, pa un ai eu bod nhw ar lefel ysgol neu awdurdod, neu yn genedlaethol. Mae trefnu newid yn her, ac un o'r pethau mae'r pandemig yma wedi ei wneud yw cyflymu newid. Mae hynny i'w weld mewn nifer o feysydd pwysig o ran beth roeddem ni wedi'i adnabod—ni fel arolygiaeth, a hefyd bawb arall—oedd angen ei newid yn y system yng Nghymru. Mae'r meysydd yna wedi gweld newidiadau yn ystod yr adeg anodd a phwysig yma.

Dŷn ni wedi sôn yn barod am bwysigrwydd lles a'r ffocws dwysach sydd wedi bod ar les yn y cyfnod yma. Mae lles ac iechyd, wrth gwrs, yn rhan o'r cwricwlwm newydd. Y pwyslais ar greu dysgwyr annibynnol, gwydn, fel roeddech chi'n dweud—mae hynny yn greiddiol i'r newidiadau addysgiadol dŷn ni'n gobeithio'u gweld, ond mae'r pandemig yma wedi helpu hynny hefyd. Mwy o ymgysylltu gyda theuluoedd a rhieni—dŷn ni wedi sôn am hynny y bore yma. Mae hynny wedi gwella a symud yn ei flaen. Mae'n dal i fod mwy o waith i'w wneud, wrth gwrs. Mae'r cysylltu wedi gweithio, dwi'n meddwl, lawer iawn yn well nawr na fuodd e, ond efallai nad ŷm ni'n ymgynghori gyda rhieni ac yn gofyn am adborth digonol oddi wrth deuluoedd o hyd.

Mwy o ddysgu wedi cael ei dargedu i anghenion unigolion—dŷn ni wedi gweld hynny'n tyfu. Mwy o hyblygrwydd a chreadigrwydd o ran addysgu a dysgu, gweithio mewn partneriaeth gyda chyrff eraill—mae hynny wedi gwella yn y cyfnod yma. Mae hwnna, dwi'n meddwl, yn un o'r negeseuon a'r gwelliannau mawr rŷm ni wedi eu gweld, y ffordd y mae ysgolion ac awdurdodau yn cydweithio. Gobeithio bydd y pethau yma yn parhau ar ôl y pandemig, nid yn unig yn ystod y pandemig. Ffyrdd newydd o asesu a'r drafodaeth a gawsom ni ynghynt ynglŷn ag arholiadau, mae'r pethau yma i gyd yn bethau pwysig, a dwi'n meddwl, o dynnu'r rheini i gyd at ei gilydd, yn y tymor hir, mi allech chi ddadlau—wrth gwrs, dim ond amser a ddengys—y byddwn ni mewn gwell lle i wneud y newidiadau addysgiadol yna roeddem ni'n bwriadu gwneud, ac efallai roedd rhai pobl yn meddwl, 'Wel, wnaiff y newidiadau yna ddim digwydd.'

—but I think, in a crisis like this one, it's important that leaders are positive. We all know that none of us would wish to have had the pandemic. Setting aside the health issues, it has disrupted education and, certainly, there is a great deal of catch-up work to do and none of us would have wished to have had that. But we do need to be positive. We do need to realise, I think, that there are important lessons to be learnt and that the process of change and to manage change is the greatest challenge for school leaders, be they on a school level or an authority level or, indeed, nationally. Organising change is a challenge too, and one of the things that this pandemic has done is to accelerate change. That is to be seen in a number of important areas in terms of what we'd identified—we as an inspectorate, and also everyone else—as needing to change within the system in Wales. Those areas have seen changes during this difficult and important time.

We've already spoken about the importance of welfare and well-being and the more intensive focus on well-being at this time. Health and well-being are part of the new curriculum. That emphasis on creating independent learners and resilient learners, as you mentioned, is at the heart of the educational changes that we hope to see, but this pandemic has assisted that process too. Greater engagement with families and parents—we've spoken about that, too, this morning. That has improved and has moved forward. Of course, there is more work to be done. The connection has worked, I think, far better than it has been, but perhaps we don't consult parents enough and ask for sufficient feedback from families still.

More learning focused on the needs of individuals—we've seen that increasing. Greater flexibility and creativity in terms of teaching and learning, working in partnership with other bodies—these have improved during this period. I think that's one of the messages and improvements that we have seen, namely the way that schools and authorities collaborate. Hopefully all of those things will continue after the pandemic, not just during the pandemic itself. New ways of assessment and the discussion that we had earlier about examinations, all of these things are important, and I think that in drawing all of these things together, in the long term, one could argue—of course, only time will tell—that we will be in a better position to make those educational changes that we had intended to make, when perhaps some people thought, 'Well, those changes will never happen.'

10:35

Dydych chi ddim yn meddwl, felly, fod angen—

So, don't you think, therefore, that there is a need—

Siân, we've only got time for one more question—just to say that now.

Ie, ocê, fe wnaf i drio crynhoi felly. O beth rydych chi'n dweud, felly, rydych chi'n credu bod y capasiti yn y system i gefnogi plant a phobl ifanc wrth iddyn nhw ailgydio yn eu haddysg, a dydych chi ddim yn credu bod angen cynllun adfer addysg ôl-COVID i ganolbwyntio ar rai agweddau ac ar rai plant yn benodol.

Yes, okay, I'll just try to summarise. From what you say, therefore, you believe that there is the capacity in the system to support children and young people as they return to their education, and you don't believe that a post-COVID education recovery plan to focus on some aspects and certain pupils in particular is necessary.

Na, dwi yn cytuno gyda ti fod angen hynny. Fe wnes i ddweud yn gynt yn y cyfweliad yma fod angen i'r arian ychwanegol sy'n bodoli ar hyn o bryd barhau i'r dyfodol achos, yn sicr, mae ysgolion a chyrff eraill wedi adnabod anghenion penodol ar gyfer disgyblion penodol, ac mae angen iddyn nhw gael y gefnogaeth sydd ei hangen arnyn nhw. Mi fydd hynny yn ychwanegol, achos nid rhywbeth yn y tymor hir yw hynny, ond rhywbeth sydd angen ei wneud yn syth o ran yr unigolyn yna, ac mae hynny ar ben yr holl waith sydd gan ysgolion i’w wneud beth bynnag. Felly, mae yna angen am arian ychwanegol i dalu am hynny.

No, I do agree that there is a need for that plan. I said earlier in this meeting that we do need the additional funding that currently exists to continue for the future, because, certainly, schools and other bodies have identified specific needs for specific pupils, and they need to receive the support that they need. That will be additional, because that's not a long-term thing, but something that needs to be done immediately for those individuals, and that is above and beyond all of the work that schools have to do regardless. So, there is a need for additional funding to pay for that.

10:40

Diolch. Lynne, oes gen i amser am un arall? 

Thank you. Lynne, do I have time for one other question? 

Y sector blynyddoedd cynnar ydy’r un agwedd dydyn ni ddim wedi'i thrafod y bore yma, ond dyna ni. 

The early years sector is the one aspect that we haven’t discussed this morning, but there we are. 

Claire yw'r arbenigwraig ar hynny.

Claire's the expert on that.

I'll just say, then, that historically the funding for education has been low for non-maintained settings. Across local authorities, there are inconsistencies in the amount paid to settings, and the funding for education continues to be lower than the childcare offer. Certainly, during the initial lockdown period, a few local authorities continued to fund settings, whereas others stopped funding earlier, and many settings are now telling us that they're concerned about financial sustainability. So, there are concerns.

Thank you. I recognise the concerns in this area and I think the committee will want to write to you about that following the meeting, if that's okay.

Just finally then from me, Meilyr, just given that this is probably one of your last appearances in front of the committee, are there any reflections that you'd like to share with the committee on your tenure as chief inspector? Maybe you could share with us what advice you're likely to be giving to your successor.

How much time do I have? [Laughter]

Well, I started teaching in 1981 and I have seen the Welsh education system mature over that time and become more self-confident. Indeed, if it's not inappropriate for me to say, this committee is a good example of that. I think I went in front of the committee first in 2004, and those of you who can remember, it was very different then; it was chaired by the Minister, for example. So, we've got a much better education system. During that time, we've seen new bodies that were needed get established. And I think what is emerging is more of a team Wales approach—gorau chwarae cyd chwarae. I think the idea of collaboration is—you know, we're a small country and I think we do need to work and pull together. I've always been impressed by the way the Irish and the Scottish do this, for example.

So, my advice to my successor and to the education system as a whole is to work to bring people together. I mean, obviously, people will have disagreements, but we need to be able to agree on a common approach and then try to implement that. That is what I've seen, and the curriculum is a good example of that. There's broad agreement, there's a lot of goodwill across the piece for the new curriculum, because people realise that education reform has to start in the classroom. Teaching and learning are at the core of education and that's what the new curriculum gets to. Therefore, it affects the whole system. So, it's collaboration and working together. And it's been a pleasure to come in front of the committee and see the committee grow and mature as well.

Thank you, and thank you very much for those observations and your kind words about the committee. We do, again, wish you well and thank you for all your engagement with the committee that you've been part of. 

We have come to the end of our time, so, again, can I thank all three of you for attending this morning? It's been a really useful and fruitful session. As usual, you'll be sent a transcript following the meeting to check for accuracy, but thank you, again, all three of you, for your time this morning. The committee is now going to break until 11:00, but if Members could stay, please, initially. Diolch yn fawr.

10:45

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:45 ac 11:01.

The meeting adjourned between 10:45 and 11:01.

11:00
3. Sesiwn dystiolaeth ar effaith COVID-19 ar addysg gyda chynrychiolwyr o'r undebau llafur
3. Evidence session on the impact of COVID-19 on education with representatives from the trade unions

Welcome back, everyone. Our next item is an evidence session on the impact of COVID-19 on education with representatives from the trade unions. I'd like to thank all of the trade unions for agreeing to attend the meeting at such short notice today; we very much appreciate it. Just to reiterate that the aim of the session is for us to look at working together to identify clear, practical, constructive and realistic steps to ensure continuity of learning and a safe return to face-to-face learning as soon as possible.

I'd like to, then, in particular welcome Eithne Hughes, director of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru; Laura Doel, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru; Rebecca Williams, deputy general secretary and policy officer at UCAC; Mary van den Heuvel, Wales senior policy officer at the National Education Union; Neil Butler, national officer for Wales at NASUWT; Rosie Lewis, who is regional organiser and schools lead for Unison Cymru Wales; and Nicola Savage, who is the GMB regional organiser for Wales and the south-west region. Thank you all for joining us this morning.

We'll go straight to questions, then, and if I could start by asking what further concrete action could the Welsh Government or other organisations take in the short term to support your members to deliver continuity of learning while schools are closed to pupils. Who'd like to start? Was that a hand, Neil?

Well, it wasn't, but I don't mind starting, Chair. At the moment, we're in a situation where, obviously, schools are carrying forward now with blended learning, and blended learning—obviously, there is some face-to-face for the children who are in the schools, but, obviously, there's a certain amount of distance learning going on. I would say two things about this. Firstly, in England, we know that all teachers have been issued with a laptop and equipment that facilitated this kind of work; that has not happened in Wales. There are going to be some of our members who are going to be forced to go into school settings to carry on this work because they haven't got equipment from the employer to carry it out. So, that would be the first thing. The second, which I think is more urgent, is that there are many children out there who are not able to access the equipment to access the video-conferencing and live streaming that are taking place with regard to this. I think those are the issues that are of absolute urgency. There are other issues with regard to training, resources and so on and so forth, but I think those are the most pressing.

Okay. Who'd like to go next? If you could just raise your hand, I'll bring you in. Eithne and then Rebecca.

Just to add that, I think there needs to be a clear understanding of the pedagogy of delivering online learning; I think that is a significant element that does need to be addressed. I would further say that there needs to be parental support issued in order that at home there can actually be support from all quarters, which is clearly set out in guidance. Further to this, my third point would be that schools collaborating to share good practice I think would also be a very strong way forward for all of us in order that people are not working in individual settings. Thank you.  

11:05

I'd echo more consistent training, and not just on the technical side, although that's important, but also the pedagogy and varying according to age group. Also, I think staff should be allowed to work from home, if they are equipped to do so and want to do so. They shouldn't be forced to go onto school sites. But, of course, they should be allowed to go on to school sites if that's necessary for the provision. Sorry, I wanted to speak in Welsh. 

Mi wnaf newid i'r Gymraeg nawr. Hefyd, un peth arall sy'n bwysig iawn yw sicrhau bod yna ofal plant i unrhyw staff sydd yn gorfod darparu dysgu ar-lein. Diolch.  

I'll switch to Welsh now. Also, one other thing that's very important is to ensure there is childcare for any staff who have to provide online learning. Thank you. 

I agree with all of the points, particularly around making sure that there is provision for online learning. That's obviously really important, and we need the training, and other people have highlighted that. But I just wanted to say that we also need to be aware that we're in this situation now, but it's likely to go on for a while. So, in the context that some children and young people and some education staff are in schools, we need to make those settings as safe as possible. I'm sure you'll cover that in other questions, but those two are very much interlinked in terms of where we need to be. We need to be focusing very much on online learning and making sure that there is access for everybody, but we need to make sure that school settings are safe at the same time. 

Thank you. You've covered some of the challenges being faced by your members already in that first answer. Are there any other challenges that you are hearing about from your members, both in terms of delivering remote learning and also the work in delivering support in schools to critical workers? Laura. 

Thank you, Chair. Thanks for bringing me in on this point. I agree with what colleagues have already said. But just to expand on the challenges of supporting the children of key workers and vulnerable children in the onsite provision, I think one of the challenges at the moment is around capacity, and I know that we've been speaking to the education Minister and her officials on this issue this week. We appreciate that the list of key worker children is a national list that we are working from and, of course, schools want to do as much as they can to support the national effort and make sure that emergency services and key workers in particular are able to go and do the work that they are able to do in order to protect the rest of us.

I think the challenge is that, as time progresses, we are seeing the number of people applying for key worker spaces in schools rise, and I think the challenge is going to be that balance between what is a safe number to have in a school setting and what isn't. Now, what we don't have at the moment—and we are, again, working with officials on this—is any updated guidance around the safety aspect of the onsite provision. So, we're still working from information that we had previously. We don't have an update on, for example, mitigation measures to combat the new variant, because obviously what we do know about the new variant is it is much more transmissible, yet schools are unable at the moment to look at risk assessments and put in additional mitigation to support the hub provision.

Now, what is a challenge, of course, is how do you combat that list, how do you make it fair. Without advice on this, I think it is a critical issue, because we are seeing schools now going from 5 per cent to 10 per cent to creeping up to 20 per cent to 30 per cent capacity. Now, if the Minister's decision, which was the right one in our view, was to close schools because of the rise in community infection rates, we can't have a situation where actually more and more and more children are coming back into the onsite provision, because actually that goes against why they were closed in the first place.

So, what we need is that balance, and I accept that it is a difficult balance to be made, but ultimately the decision will be made by schools and governing bodies with their risk assessment, because they will hit what they believe to be a safe capacity, determined by a risk assessment. At that time, whether there is specific guidance on capacity or not, that will be their judgment call to make. And I think what we need to look at is wider support, maybe even beyond a school setting, in supporting children of key workers and vulnerable children, so that we don't reach that point. There's no school leader that wants to get to a situation that says, 'Do you know what? There are too many young people wanting to come on to our school site and I don't think I've got the capacity to do it.' Nobody wants to get to that situation. But there needs to be an acceptance that, at the moment, the trend is that the figures are rising, and as it goes on—

11:10

Thank you, Chair. Our members have raised issues regarding their safeguarding. So, where we've got learning support providing online assistance to learners with special educational needs et cetera, they've raised their concerns about their safeguarding, particularly around using the chat facilities, and that different schools have got different approaches in how they meet the needs of the learner and meet the needs of the individual on the purposes of safeguarding. I think what we would be looking for is a consistent and national approach. We know that some schools are recording those sessions for the purposes of safeguarding, and then destroying them after x period of time. And I think for our support workers that—. Like I say, we need a single approach. We ran a meeting last night with our learning support assistants et cetera, and it was consistent throughout in terms of how different authorities and schools are handling that.

Yes. I wanted to make two long points, really. Firstly, I just wanted to emphasise, I think, that all of us would agree that none of us want to be in this place. Nobody joins the education workforce to be working from home, away from children and young people, or in a setting that they're not used to. Everybody, from our members' perspective certainly, and I'm sure the other trade unions would agree—everyone wants to be back in the classroom. I think we just aren't in that place at the moment. So, I just wanted to say that.

From our perspective, in terms of what would help, I think it's going to have to be a multi-layered approach. None of us have mentioned vaccines yet, but we do think it's important, from our perspective, that the education workforce is vaccinated.  

Yes. Don't worry—don't worry, I'm not going to expand, but I think that needs to be part of a range of measures. So, from our perspective and what we've asked for, obviously, we need to update that guidance and there needs to be a review of risk assessments for those members, children and young people who are in those settings now, but also going forward. But then there have got to be other things. We've got to make sure there's social distancing, we've got to make sure that there are masks in the classroom, and we've got to make sure there's a range of opportunities there to make those as safe as possible, because children and young people live in families and communities. So, in Wales, we've got 28 per cent of children and young people living in relative, low-income poverty, and those children are much more likely to live with a disabled person or with someone from—the statistics call it a non-white ethnic background; so, with people from a black background. And those people, we know, at this point in the virus, are more likely to suffer extreme consequences if they catch COVID. So, we've got to make those settings as absolutely safe as possible for everybody.

Okay. Thank you. Can I just ask, then, about the idea of a minimum education offer for all learners, which is floating about in response to the variation in provision that is perceived as being offered at the moment? You'll have seen, I'm sure, that the Welsh Government made a further announcement on that yesterday in relation to young people who are in exam years, but can I ask you for your view on— you know, should there be a minimum offer? And should there be a minimum offer also in terms of how much of that offer is dedicated to live learning? Who'd like to start? Neil.

Well, Chair, by 'live learning', I presume you mean the livestreaming that is going on as part and parcel of the process of blended learning. Well, first of all, there is absolutely no evidence that live streaming and synchronous learning, in that sense, are of any more value educationally than asynchronous and non-live streaming. We supported the Welsh Government and the document they produced on live streaming last summer, which was actually a very good document. But it did state in that document that it was voluntary for teachers and could not be directed. That was really important as far as we are concerned, because, first of all, there had been no training with regard to this activity, no resourcing with regard to this activity, and there were obviously child protection and, indeed, general data protection regulation issues involved with it. Now, to our shock and surprise—although I don't know why I am surprised, because this seems to be happening a lot—this was all changed last week, and then it became a compulsory aspect. And I understand, and given, from this question, that it looks as though people are going to be thinking of moving on to a minimum requirement in terms of live streaming and so on and so forth.

Now, I'd urge caution on this, not just from the perspective of the teachers, but it goes back a little bit to what I said at the start of all of this, but from the perspective of the pupils. There are large numbers of children out there who do not have access to the equipment to be able to participate with this, and they will miss out and they will be discriminated against because of this. Now, you could make the argument, of course, 'Well, for the majority of children, they will be able to participate in this', but, given that there is no evidence that it's actually of more value, I don't think it's worth discriminating against those children who are more likely to come from more deprived backgrounds.

I'll finish on this as well, Chair: I was told by a teacher the other day that, at the end of the working day, she had to give comfort—socially distanced, of course—to a pupil who was in tears because they'd spent from 9 o'clock in the morning till 3.30 in the afternoon stuck to a computer screen. And it's extremely debilitating for those of us who are having to presently do it; you will understand this. It's extremely exhausting, it's extremely debilitating, and it's an entire change in working practice, not just for us but for the children as well. So, be careful about what you're doing and what you're thinking here. I know there's a lot of pressure towards this, because people think of teaching and learning as being that face-to-face interaction. Well, there are lots of elements that involve teaching and learning, and I would urge a great deal of caution before we start going down this road.

11:15

Okay, thank you. And, of course, it's the Government who decides the policy; the committee is looking to feed in. Can I just clarify, before I bring Rosie in? It's not my understanding that anyone has said that this is compulsory, simply that the term 'voluntary' has been removed from the guidance. Can you clarify that, Neil, please?

Yes, I can. That's absolutely true. But, of course, that makes it compulsory when it becomes a direction of a school leader, because what they removed—what they said is that you would not be able to direct. So, effectively, then, the decision now goes down to school level, but then, if the headteacher directs you to do it, then that's compulsory. So, to be honest with you, Chair, I think that's a bit of a red herring. It would become compulsory for teachers to do once they are directed by school leaders.

Yes, thank you, Chair. Apologies, I lost my internet connections slightly earlier, so I don't know if this has already been raised. And it's linked to this, but also linked to your earlier question about what further action can be taken to support the continuation of learning. Our support staff members who work as teaching assistants can clearly provide a lot of support to members—clearly, just what Neil was referring to about a teacher having to comfort a pupil. The role that our support staff play in schools on one-to-one, and, clearly, helping children who perhaps need a little bit of extra support, is going to be a particular skill that now moving that to online or perhaps over the telephone, or offering that kind of more pastoral support and guidance to pupils, I think is going to be really key. Because this is a real change for everybody about how we work and how we access education for children, how they're going to learn, and their styles are going to be challenged because of the fact that we are now moving to an online or a blended learning approach. And I just think, while our members are very resourceful and have lots of those skills, they would also need some training in how perhaps to do that. Because I'm sure that there will be some skills and some techniques that can be acquired in order to be able to support the notion that more children can get something out of this way of learning.

11:20

Thank you, Rosie. I'm going to bring Eithne in next. Eithne, maybe, in your response, you could pick up on Neil's point about this, effectively, being compulsory, then, for teachers. Would that not depend on the decision of the leadership team in the school whether that was the case?

What I'll say is that, in my experience—and Neil and I are going to disagree on this—headteachers will wish to negotiate with their staff and discuss exactly what the provision would be for learners in the best interests of those learners, rather than making a direction as such, which is generally a counterproductive way of leading and managing the workforce. So, I would disagree that that would be a default position. I would say it to be, because the paragraph around being voluntary has been removed, that it doesn't necessarily mean the opposite of that, but we would have to agree to disagree on that one. What I would say is that there does need to be a richer virtual learning environment for children as a basic provision, and it is not simply about synchronous or asynchronous learning or children who are looking at worksheets—it is about a variety. And I think that is the key to any of this in discussing exactly what it is that we should have as a basic provision for our children. I think we also need to make sure that we are looking at the richness of pedagogic approaches that are not simply about children sitting in front of screens all day. No one wants that. We know, as parents, we constantly say to our kids, 'Put your phone away', or, 'Get off that computer', and we know how disadvantaging that can be for our youngsters and, indeed, the workforce. This is about a variety of virtual learning environments, not just a binary discussion about live teaching or recorded teaching. I think it's much richer and broader than that.

My point's been made. 

Thank you. The point I wanted to make has just been made; I won't repeat.

I just wanted to talk about equality and access to high-speed internet or high-speed broadband connections. We can talk about continuity of learning and how do we ensure that that happens and whether there should be a minimum requirement. We've talked on a number of occasions about internet access and the availability, but I'm not clear on whether that provision has been made to all learners.

Okay. Well, we're coming on to that now, with some questions from Laura. But just before we do, can I just ask? Neil, you said that all teachers in England have been given or are being given a laptop. The committee isn't aware of that—can you point to where you've seen that, please?

Not now, Chair; I understand in the past that has been the case. They've been issued with laptops in the past. This is not necessarily connected with the COVID crisis; they've been issued with equipment from the employer. That is my understanding. If I could very quickly, Chair, obviously, respond, because Eithne's absolutely right, we won't agree on this one. Whilst there is widespread good practice in terms of management in schools in Wales, and I must say that, and that collaborative approach that Eithne was illustrating, quite clearly, from our perspective, we see an awful lot of command-and-control type of school management as well. There are a lot of headteachers out there who are not backward in coming forward in directing their staff, and, if you are directed, it becomes compulsory to do.

Thank you, Chair. Well, firstly, I apologise to you all—I'm in my bedroom, because I am one of those parents home schooling at the moment, and I've been turfed out off the kitchen table for a project. I'd just like to say that face to face in school is, obviously, the best, and I'm sure we all want our children to get back in school as soon as possible, as Mary has said. But I'd just like to just quickly comment on what Mr Butler said about face-to-face learning, and it is very important, but also, from my experience, the flexibility is very important as well, of not being online live all the time, being able to fit it in, because I have a one-year-old, a 10-year-old and I'm working from home myself. So, that's something to bear in mind, definitely. Variety is key, but are you seeing that children still aren't getting digital hardware, because that's what I'm experiencing in my capacity from my area of south-east Wales? I'm hearing that a lot of children are still not having access to digital hardware, to laptops and things that they need, as you've discussed already. But the Minister's outlined in the Plenary yesterday that connectivity, as Nicola just said, is the biggest barrier to a lot of people still being able to learn from home. But I've heard a lot of local children—

11:25

Laura, we do need to have short, punchy questions, please, as we discussed beforehand.

Sorry. Some are being means tested, as children have not been getting laptops because they're not getting free school meals, and, obviously, that threshold just above that is very important, and they're missing out. So, could you comment on that? Thanks.

Before I bring anyone in, maybe you could pick up on the point that Nicola referred to, as well, about internet access and it not just being the hardware. Mary, first.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Laura. Yes, those points are really important. As we understand it, it is a bit patchy across Wales in terms of access, and my executive members tell me that there is more work being done at the moment to try and ensure that more children and young people have access online. It's really important that that work is undertaken to see where we are, because, ultimately, as we've already said, if you haven't got access either via an appropriate device or via your connectivity, then those are extra barriers to learning that we don't want. So, I would say that there is a bit of a mixed picture at the moment, but hopefully that's something that the Welsh Government can help our members to resolve with the children and young people in their settings.

Well, I'll just quickly say that it's not just the internet access, it's the quality of the internet access as well. I think for families with large numbers of children and, indeed, the adults all pulling off the bandwidth at the same time, it depends upon quality, and quality internet, actually, is very expensive. So, I think that's an issue as well.

Very quickly in terms of a response on the flexibility, I'd absolutely and entirely agree, but, of course, live streaming is not flexible, because a child has to be in one place at the right time, and that makes it entirely inflexible, and, again, having large numbers of children would make that extraordinarily difficult to do.

Can I just ask you, Neil, on that, because I think the concerns about having a more uniform home offer have come because people are aware of the variation in what children and young people are getting? So, if there is to be less prescription, as you were seemingly saying, what's the alternative to make sure that young people do get a really good-quality education while they're off school, while they're at home learning?

I think it's extremely difficult for the centre to prescribe this, and, actually, it's something that Eithne and I might agree on here. I do actually think that this has to come down to the school level, the community that the school serves and the present situation there in terms of what is going to be best at that level, as I say, given the community that the school serves. So, I would say that those decisions have to be made at a school level.

I'd emphasise, by the way, Chair, that we're not against live streaming. We know that a lot of our members are engaged in it and are actually enjoying what it adds to the diet that they're producing. It's just that we don't like the aspect that we believe it has been made compulsory for those who do not think it is a positive addition. So, to put it bluntly and to put it shortly, leave it to the profession. The profession cares about children, it cares about the education of children. We know what we need to do in schools, given the community that each school serves.

Dau bwynt, un ar y model cenedlaethol a'r presgripsiwn. Dwi'n credu y byddai fe'n well inni osgoi pennu hyn a hyn o oriau o ffrydio byw neu o wahanol bethau, achos dwi'n credu bod angen yr hyblygrwydd a'r amrywiaeth, ond mi ellid creu rhyw fath o fodel sydd yn cymell ysgolion i ddarparu cymysgedd o ffrydio byw, sesiynau wedi'u recordio i'w gwylio unrhyw bryd, a deunydd gweledol i'w lawrlwytho a gweithio arno yn lled annibynnol. Dwi'n credu dyna'r lefel o fodel fyddai'n ddelfrydol, os unrhyw fodel, ar lefel genedlaethol.

Wedyn, ar fater y cysylltedd band eang, dwi ddim ond eisiau ychwanegu ei bod hi'n broblem i rai ysgolion hefyd. Ac i'r ysgolion hynny sydd â staff yn dod i safle'r ysgol i wneud y ffrydio byw, mewn rhai ysgolion mae'r bandwidth mor gul does dim modd i fwy na hyn a hyn o athrawon fod yn ffrydio'n fyw ar yr un pryd. Felly, mae'n broblem i gartrefi ac i blant a disgyblion, ond mae'n broblem i rai ysgolion hefyd.

Two points, one on the national model and prescription. I think it would be better for us to avoid setting so many hours of live streaming and so on, because I do think we do need that flexibility and variety, but we could create some kind of model that encourages schools to provide a mixture of live streaming, recorded sessions to be watched at any time, and visual materials to download and work on relatively independently. I think that's the level of model that would be ideal if we were to have any model on the national level. 

And then with regard to connectivity and broadband, I just want to add that it's a problem for some schools as well. Those schools where staff come to the school site for that live streaming, in some schools the bandwidth is so narrow that you can't have more than a certain number of teachers live streaming at the same time. So, it's a problem for homes and for children and pupils, but it's a problem for some schools as well.

11:30

Okay, thank you. If it's okay, we will move on to the next section now, just because of time, and we can try to pick up anything that we've missed as we're going along. So, the next section is more on the medium-term plan around what we can do to actually get schools open for learners again, and the first questions are from Suzy.

Thank you, everyone. Yes, this is about getting schools open and keeping them open. Mary, you mentioned vaccines earlier on; if I can ask you to park that in your answers at the moment and park testing in your answers, can you let me have your views on some of the other suggestions that have come forward for keeping schools open—teaching outside, ventilation and, very specifically, bringing former staff back into the workplace to help with the teaching? Obviously, Welsh Government has given £29 million for that to happen, so I'm curious to know if you think it's a good idea.

Yes, thanks, Chair. Thank you, Suzy. I have said some of the things already, so I won't go through all of the things that we think should happen, but it does really need to be a range of things now that happens in terms of making the return to school as safe as possible. I will say that we need to be realistic about looking at the science and recognising that we're probably not going to be in full classes any time soon. So, I think we need a long lead-in time to getting back to school. What normal looked like to us at this time last year is not going to happen, I don't think, reading the science, for a while. We've been looking at the SAGE report from just before Christmas and we've been looking at the guidance we've had from Welsh Government. We are engaged with Welsh Government in looking at the operational guidance, but as colleagues have already said, some of that needs to happen right now because children and young people are in school right now.

I'd also say thank you for raising the extra money. Isn't this an opportunity to use our supply workforce, absolutely, to engage in extra activities that may be needed to help children and young people in school and college settings? So, yes, thank you.

Okay. Before bringing somebody else in, would you have a particular view on changing school terms at all, just to—? There may be a much longer discussion on that in years to come, but in this short to medium term, is that a goer? Are your members totally resistant to that, or are they open-minded on it?

Sorry, are you asking me, Suzy?

I think it's going to be extremely difficult, isn't it, at this point, because everybody's been working really hard, so I think it's a really difficult discussion to have. And if we do have those discussions, I would expect Welsh Government to be having those discussions with us as early as possible. I think it is going to be extremely difficult, and I think we're at a very dangerous place with the virus right now, so I think everyone's under an awful lot of pressure. So, I think talking about that kind of thing distracts, in a way, from looking at the safe measures that we can do to make the settings as safe as possible.

Okay, I've got Laura then Neil, so maybe if you can concentrate on the positives that Suzy is asking about, and also reflect on the fact that the SAGE advice before Christmas was based on the very high level of infections and maybe comment on what's possible if that infection rate comes down, because I think that would be really useful as well. Laura, then Neil.

Thank you, Chair. I think there are a few things, for us, that need to happen to be able to bring children back into school. First of all, we need to get the safety issues under wraps. We've had this discussion, we've raised it previously, so I won't go over those points, but we need to get a grip on that situation and deal with the here and now. We have concerns about the lack of information on risk assessments and the lack of information on further mitigation measures. I think what we need to be mindful of as well is that we're talking about a workforce that has worked incredibly hard, under incredible pressure, and, yes, is still working in an environment that is actually quite frankly quite scary, when you don't have those further mitigation measures in place and you're being expected to go back into the workplace. I think we really need to get a grip on that before we look at any longer term strategy for going back into school.

Also when you mention, Suzy, around term dates, I don't think, and this is just my view, that it's helpful to have that conversation right now, when at the moment, actually, we're dealing with the current situation, and we need to deal with how safe it is to be back in school and what measures need to be put in place to make it safe before we start to look at anything else, because I really think that the health and safety of school staff and learners needs to be the priority.

11:35

Okay, well, maybe both things could be discussed side by side really, but, anyway, I'm happy to move on.

I've got Neil next, then Nicola, and then I've got Eithne as well.

If I could start on term dates, just taking it further from what Laura said, it's our experience that the workforce is on its knees at the moment. Some appalling workload implications have been visited upon them and I don't think there'll be a positive response if we were to turn around to them and say that we're thinking, or the Government's thinking of changing the term dates.

So, you're not getting enough new teachers coming into the system to help spread that load.

If I could come on to new teachers into the system, that would certainly be welcome, but what must not happen, and what cannot happen, is a return to what the situation was before Christmas, which was large numbers of young adults shoehorned into small spaces and told they couldn't wear face masks or face coverings. I mean, that was the situation. That's the reality of the situation and what surprises me is that everyone is surprised that we are where we are because of that. There's a recognition in the TAG report that—. It says,

'The relatively higher numbers of contacts which children appear to have had'.

They've said that in terms of the increase: 'appear to have had'. Well, of course they've had that, because all these young adults in secondary schools have been in these bubbles. Bubbles don't work. Bubbles have brought us to where we are, so that can't happen. So, what is going to have to happen is social distancing.

Now, as you say, let's park vaccination, then what can you do to facilitate that? Well, you're going to need two things. Firstly, you're going to need a lot more space. If you want to return a 100 per cent cohort, you're going to have to have a lot more space, so that means utilising other buildings other than schools; and secondly, you're going to need a lot more staff. So, that brings us back to the point in terms of more teachers. So, a lot more staff, a lot more space, because you're going to have to have social distancing going forward. So, if vaccination is out of the question, that's the only way you're going to be able to safely bring back 100 per cent of the cohort.

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to refer back to Suzy's point in terms of potentially changing school terms. I think the GMB would be open to that conversation. Many of our members are actually on term-time-only contracts, and that would be a potentially positive conversation to be having with those individuals. What we do know from past experience is that the change in the weather does have an impact, and it does allow that environment where we can be more creative about those spaces that are being used. I don't necessarily think it's a wrong conversation to be having at this moment in time. We need to be taking a pragmatic approach. We need to be planning for what we can achieve post March, when that weather starts changing, and like I say, I do think that it's something that we should be discussing, and the earlier that we can discuss that, the better.

Okay, thank you. Eithne, would you like to come in now? I wondered maybe if you could also pick up on the term dates issue, and maybe comment on the fact that nobody in SAGE has said that the contacts were actually in the classroom. The fact is that we just don't know where these infections are actually spreading in schools.

First of all, I would say we'd need to have some hard evidence as to why we're changing the term dates. Presumably the notion is in order that we are extending learning and teaching time to recoup that that is lost, so we'd have to look at that very carefully. But it would be a negotiation, and we saw how difficult that negotiation was, extending one week at the end of last summer, and how complicated that became in its own right. So, we would need to look at that carefully, but I think it also needs to not be a distraction from some of the practicalities that can actually take place in order to return schools safely. So, I think it's about not riding too many horses on this one, to try and get schools back again fully operational.

I think some of the things I would say is that, to come to your point, Chair, we do need to have modelling around the effect of children being the index case when they go back into their communities against the new variant, and I think that is something that is missing in the science that we were presented with in the technical advisory cell report that was just published at the beginning of this month. So, what is the effect of those children in school possibly asymptomatically going back into their communities and into their families as a result of keeping schools open?

The other piece of research I think that needs to happen is research that's happened in Switzerland: what is the effect of mobility in communities in having schools open? They saw schools being open as being the third greatest factor in actually influencing the R rate in the wrong direction as a consequence of having schools open. All of the movement that happens getting children to and from school has had a negative effect on the R rate. So, we need to have some facts wrapped around this. I would also suggest some of the practical elements are to reduce class sizes and to increase the workforce, because the workforce is going to need to be much greater in order to pull in some of the catch-up sessions for our children who are the least advantaged, and to try and close some of those gaps, but that needs to be a sustainable fund, not just something that is short term or even medium term. It really does need to be something further down the line. We can't have classes of 30 with people expected to try and help catch up within that. It's not realistic and it's not sensible.

My final point would be that local authorities need to look at their estates and check whether they are fit for purpose given the current COVID crisis that we have. Is ventilation something that is actually doable? Are windows nailed shut because actually the estate is so ancient and dilapidated, and funding hasn't been put into those estates, and so it becomes a problem for those classrooms to actually have a safe, ventilated space? So, there are so many elements. I know money is not infinite, and in fact it's going to be worse given where we are at the moment, but schools really do need to have further funding in order to support that safe return. Thank you.

11:40

Okay, just before we go to Rosie, then, what would your view be about maybe the opening up other public buildings to teach children and get them back into an in-person learning environment, Eithne?

I think it's something to look at and it's something to consider, but what it will need is a doubling of the workforce, so I think it comes back to the initial point that I made about making sure that we have got enough boots on the ground in terms of our profession. You would need to have people cleaning those spaces, you would need to have those spaces repurposed very fully.

Can I come back to one other thing that I didn't mention? I'm sorry, Chair. One of the things that some of our members have said is that they would be happy in the interim period before schools open to have those schools used as vaccination centres while they're empty. That seems to me to be a very sensible use of some of the school settings at the moment, as an interim measure.

Okay. I'm going to bring Rosie in now, who's been waiting very patiently, and then I'm going to go back to Suzy, and I'll bring you in first next time, Laura. Rosie.

Thank you, Chair. Just quickly some points in relation to Suzy's question about ventilation and working outside, just quickly to say that what we've heard in the past is some mixed messages about that, and I think, in terms of the ventilation, if we could have some clear communication that was sent to all schools, appreciating that each setting is different and, as we've heard already, some of them have varying means in terms of opportunities to open windows, et cetera. But, in one meeting we're hearing that all windows, turn doors need to be left open; in another meeting with scientific advisers we're hearing, 'No, you can just open it for an hour before lessons', et cetera. So, obviously, people are interpreting that advice in different ways, and what we're hearing from our members is that pupils and staff are sitting in schools with hats, gloves, scarves on and, clearly, that's not conducive to a good working and learning environment. So, I think some very clear guidance on that would be really useful, because it has been mixed, the message before, and clearly people are interpreting it differently.

And in terms of the change in the term dates, again, we'd welcome those discussions but we would need to know that there was enough planning and time put into that, rather than surprises coming our way, which, perhaps, we've seen in the past, and I think that doesn't help anybody. So, in order for us to go on that journey together, I think the timing and planning for that needs to be considered.

And thirdly, one of the other areas that I think is a real concern—and we see it with our members, particularly—is moving between classes and bubbles. So, a lot of our members who might be supporting pupils have had to do that. So, again, in terms of employing more staff, if we can prevent the cross-contamination, if you like, from staff having to move across classes and working with particular pupils, I think that would be another good move. 

11:45

Yes, some very helpful answers there. Thank you very much. I'll turn to vaccines—we'll have to keep it fairly brief. I think you all know where I'm standing on this. Perhaps you can tell me what your views are on why you think the school workforce should be vaccinated, or whether they should, where in terms of priority, and what the purpose of that decision is. 

Okay. I'm going to bring Laura in first because I promised, and then Neil. Laura.

Thank you, Chair. I think all the unions, and I won't speak for colleagues, are united in the view that the school workforce—the whole workforce—should be vaccinated. We're of that view because of the evidence that we have seen around community transmission rates and the figures that I'm sure my colleague, Neil, will quote now following my point, around the number of teachers and school staff that are testing positive for COVID. I think if the Government's priority, as it said it is, is to keep schools open, we need to look at and throw everything we can at making sure that they are safe environments, and that the workforce is protected and has the confidence to be able to go into those environments.

Now, of course we appreciate there are people in the community that are of significant priority, and we wouldn't do anything to stand in the way of that. However, as a front-line workforce, which we believe all school staff are, they should be a priority group for vaccination. This isn't about just giving confidence, this is about protection and, so far, we feel that there has not been enough protection afforded to this workforce, who continue to go into those environments at the moment, even though they are closed, to support the hub provision, and yet they have not been afforded that opportunity. 

Before we move on to others, can I ask then how you respond to the information the Minister gave out the other day, which is if you vaccinate 20 care workers, you've saved a life. It may not have been care workers but health workers, but it's something like 62,000 teachers save a life. Are there mixed reasons about why people should be vaccinated at a certain time and priority? Is it all about getting people back to school rather than saving lives?

I think it goes back to my earlier point about what is the priority. If the priority of the Government is to keep schools open, there needs to be that protection afforded to the workforce. I was confused by—. I heard the Minister's statement on that and I think, quite frankly, it's a little bit of a simplistic view to say, 'If we do x, this is the result'. You're talking about wanting a profession to go back to work, yet you are not affording them the protection to be able to do that. These people feel unsafe, we know that they are testing positive, we know that the workforce is significantly depleted, and we know that conversations that we've just had around capacity are already an issue. If we are to see a more full return to school, we know that we're going to need a workforce to be able to do that. We know that we're going to need more people, in fact, to be able to do that. And to protect the ones that we've got and to encourage new ones to come forward, there needs to be that protection in place.

11:50

Thank you. I think Laura has said that very eloquently, actually, so I will not add very much. All I will say is that from the work that we've done in England on this—we did a freedom of information request for local authorities in England—and from the data that we got back from the authorities who returned that information, we found that, in all of those authorities, education workers were at least three times more likely to contract COVID, which we think exposes this falsehood that somehow the school environment was safe with regard to COVID.

Yes, thank you, Chair. I would agree with the points that have already been made. I just wanted to add that we're clear, though, that the vaccination is important and is important particularly because education is a priority, but also that that doesn't take away from all the other discussions around potential rotas of children to reduce the numbers in a classroom, or potentially looking at public buildings, potentially looking at really important things like masks in a classroom and social distancing. As we know with the rest of society, it's really important that, once you're vaccinated, you still follow all of the rules, because you can still get poorly, but also those children and young people, as we've already highlighted, could get poorly and be taking the virus home to their families. So, it is absolutely important as part of a range of measures, and I just want to make that really clear.

Okay. Is there anyone from Unison or GMB who has a view on vaccination, please—how important vaccination would be in order to make sure we could get schools open. Rosie, then Nicola.

Really sorry, my internet went again, Chair, so I hope I'm not repeating points. Yes, in terms of our members, I think somebody touched earlier on not only them feeling safe but more confident about coming back into work. I think somebody has already mentioned that the—. Oh, am I still with you?

I will, yes. Our members have raised concerns regarding those who are providing personal care and about those groups being prioritised. So, if we were looking at the school staff as a whole, under what circumstances can those individuals expect to be vaccinated, and at what point during that cycle, and what constitutes personal care? Some of our meetings have focused on learners who have got additional needs, but, for instance, where we've got people delivering learning and face-to-face care for those who are needing nappy changes or help with toileting and things like that, does that provision expand to that group of individuals as well? That was one of the main focuses of a recent meeting as well. I think I'd want that further clarified to give those individuals some confidence in what they're doing on a day-to-day basis.

I think, yesterday, the Minister did give some reassurance on that in the Chamber, so hopefully that's of some help.

Those were my questions. Rebecca's hand was up. I don't know if you want to grab her before I finish.

Yn gyflym, iawn, iawn, ydy, mae e ynglŷn ag arbed bywydau. Mae e ynglŷn â rhoi hyder i staff. Ond ar lefel hollol ymarferol, mae brechu ynglŷn â gallu ysgolion i aros ar agor a gwneud yn siŵr fod yna niferoedd digonol o'r gweithlu yn ddigon iach i allu cadw'r ysgolion ar agor dros y tymor hir.

Very quickly, yes, it is about saving lives. It is about giving confidence to staff. But on an entirely practical level, vaccination is about schools' ability to stay open and to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of the workforce sufficiently healthy to be able to keep the schools open in the long term.

Diolch. Mae eu cadw nhw ar agor yn bwynt pwysig, dwi'n credu. Diolch. 

Thank you. Keeping them open is an important point. Thank you.

Thank you, Chair.

Bore da. Does yna neb wedi sôn cyn belled ynglŷn â phrofi asymptomatig torfol mewn ysgolion a cholegau er mwyn gwella'r broses o reoli heintiau a chynnal hyder pawb. Beth ydy eich barn chi ar brofion o fewn ysgolion? Lle mae'r drafodaeth yna arni ar hyn o bryd? Oes yna unrhyw arwydd bod hyn yn mynd i ddigwydd yn y dyfodol agos? Oherwydd mae'n debyg, fel rydyn ni wedi bod yn trafod, bod yr haint yn mynd i fod efo ni am sbel ac mae profi yn un arall o'r arfau yn y bocs y gellid defnyddio er mwyn ceisio ailagor yr ysgolion mewn ffordd saff.

Good morning. Nobody has spoken yet about mass asymptomatic testing in schools and colleges to improve the process of controlling infection and engendering that confidence. What's your opinion on testing in schools? Where is that discussion at at the moment? Is there any sign that this is going to take place in the near future? Because it appears, as we've been discussing, that the infection is going to be with us for a while yet and testing is another of the tools in the box that could be used to try to reopen the schools in a safe way.

11:55

There's just been research that was produced yesterday about asking the UK Government to rethink mass lateral-flow tests as being, if you like, almost counterproductive to determining some of the asymptomatic and symptomatic cases that are there as part of that mass testing process. I think that is being discussed today, but that evidence is already there, putting a question mark over the efficacy. And of course, we've got lots of scientists saying lots of different things, don't get me wrong. Science is rarely science any more, it's got so many opinions wrapped around it. 

Our view as far as lateral-flow tests in schools are concerned, looking at contact groups, is that we're very happy to support the Government's mission in rolling this out with the correct science behind it that proves that it is safer to do lateral-flow tests with close contact groups than it is to actually keep those close contacts at home. I still haven't actually had a response around that. So, is it safer to keep those children at home than it is to put those children back into school day after day, being tested? I understand the educational argument for bringing them back into school, but that's not what I'm asking here; it's about the science of bringing them back into school and the safety of the community and the safety of the school and wider communities. So, those, I think, still need to be answered.

The second point that I would make is that, if the science is correct on that one and it is safe to do so, then schools will be happy to support that process in the same way that they would support an MMR vaccination programme or any other medical programme that is brought into school, but not administer it; it needs to be overseen or supported by those in health, such as a school nurse—a seldom-seen thing these days, I'm afraid—or someone from health, without diminishing the NHS, in order to oversee and support that. We certainly do not see there to be—we are not awash with staff who can actually administer this. Schools are a very delicate ecosystem, as I'm sure we all know. If you take some of our staff out, either administratively or your senior leaders or your classroom teachers, you're then diminishing support for the teaching and education of those children in doing that, which is counterproductive to all of our aim to get children back into school to educate them. Thank you.

Just before we move on to Laura, can I just clarify, Eithne, are you saying that you wouldn't be willing to do that, then? You wouldn't be willing to administer the lateral-flow tests in school yourselves as school staff?

What we're saying is that there isn't the capacity to do that. We haven't got enough staff to do it. We would support it if it was done in exactly the same way as it would be with an MMR vaccination programme, for example, which comes into school—it's sorted, the schools will make sure that the listing is correct, the schools will make sure that the children are lined up correctly and are not misbehaving and so forth. But anything beyond that, really, I just don't see that schools would have the capacity to do that.

Okay. So, that's a 'no' then, is it, just to be clear? Yes. Laura.

I won't repeat everything that Eithne has already said, because she has just made the points I was going to make, but just around the issue of capacity, I think we need to be clear that we know that there's going to be a lot of catch-up to be done in schools and school staff need to be allowed to concentrate on their core business, which is teaching and learning. I think if that's what we want, then, of course, schools will support lateral-flow testing, but there needs to be an understanding that, although they will support it, they cannot be expected to administer it and concentrate on the core business at the same time. They just can't do that.

Thank you. Hopefully, my internet won't drop out this time.

12:00

Apologies. Just, really, to say that, again, with those points, we would support lateral-flow testing with the proper staffing arrangements, but we've already talked about alternatives in terms of how we would get children back to school and maybe looking at other venues et cetera. We had a presentation—a webinar—about the school in Merthyr that had already undertaken this as a pilot. One of the clear things was that you needed space, so in order to undertake that on a regular basis they were using their school hall. Well, if we're already talking about, perhaps, having to move children into other spaces and utilise other space within the school setting in order to reduce class sizes, clearly the halls aren't going to be available because they will have other uses. I just think there are those kinds of practical reasons that also need to be considered when we're doing this. So, it's marrying everything together, really. On one hand, we can't say, 'We can utilise all school space' if lateral-flow testing is also going to be incorporated, because the space—it was quite phenomenal how much that needed to be considered, if you were going to undertake this as a way forward.

Colleagues have made most of the points I was going to say about space, because space in school is really important. I was going to add that, of course, it would be voluntary for staff to be involved in any testing, but we have said as well that it should be health or the local authority leading this work. In terms of education, the schools are, obviously, really key, but it's not just getting children and young people through the door; it's having those staff available to ensure that children and young people can be engaged in learning. So, it needs to be other people who could be leading that work.

Jest cyn i ni symud i ffwrdd o'r profion, ydy'r drafodaeth yn parhau ynglŷn â phwy sydd yn mynd i fod yn gweinyddu'r profion yn yr ysgolion? Ydych chi'n trafod fel undebau efo'r Llywodraeth ynglŷn â'r mater yma?

Just before we move on from the tests, is the conversation continuing about who is going to be administering these tests in the schools? Are you discussing this as unions with the Government?

The discussions are ongoing. Whether we're getting anywhere with it is another matter. I think the unions have made their views perfectly clear on this. It's not about being unwilling to do it, it's not about not wanting it to happen and not understanding the value of testing, as long as the science supports it; it's a capacity issue. That's the concern.

Just to confirm, yes, the conversations are ongoing, but there is already, it seems to be, a different approach in one authority. We're aware that they—well, there are a couple of authorities in the Cwm Taf area where they are looking to employ people specifically to do that role, rather than use the existing workforce. So, I think where those things are happening, then there is a possibility that this could be rolled out. But, obviously, we were having these conversations and then we moved to the schools closing in their normal sense and moving to online learning. So, it's marrying that timescale up as well. But, certainly, where there are authorities where staff are specifically being employed to undertake this role, then, clearly, that, apart from some of the other issues we've raised about space, might ease this in terms of moving forward. 

What we've noticed, certainly as support unions, from the pilot schemes that we've been shown up in Merthyr is that the individuals who were delivering those tests were support staff. I've got great concerns about that. So, the demonstrations that we saw and the room setups that we saw were covered by lunchtime supervisors and learning support. All of those testing results and monitoring of the testing—dealing with what I would call the dirty side—were dealt with by support staff, and I think that's just wrong. 

Symud ymlaen at fasgiau—mygydau—a'r defnydd o'r rheini, eto fel ffordd o geisio cael yr ysgolion yn ailagor mewn ffordd saff, beth ydy'ch barn chi ynglŷn â defnyddio mwy o orchuddion wyneb mewn mwy o sefyllfaoedd? Hefyd, os fedrwch chi jest sôn am yr arolygiadau o gydymffurfiaeth sydd yn cael eu crybwyll a beth ydy'ch barn chi ynglŷn â rheini. 

Moving on to masks and the use of those, again as a way of trying to reopen schools in a safe way, what is your opinion on the greater use of facial coverings in more situations? Could you also talk about the inspections of compliance that are being mentioned? What's your opinion on those? 

12:05

Thank you, Siân. Absolutely, masks need to be part of the range of measures in place to ensure that everybody is as safe as possible in a classroom setting. We know now that the virus spreads through aerosol, and part of that is ventilation, obviously, but we've already highlighted that ventilation in a classroom is an imperfect solution. So, it's all of these things. Somebody described it, I think, earlier this week, as a Swiss cheese solution; every single measure has a hole in it, but when you put them all together you're in a much better place in terms of safety of school staff, but of children and young people as well. Because although we've highlighted children and young people being disadvantaged through learning, we know also that children who are taking the virus home may be making their family and community poorly, and bereaved children don't do well educationally either. So, we've got to look at this in the round to keep everyone as safe as possible. 

Just on the use of face coverings, again, I think what we need to see is the science that says it's safer to have children in classrooms wearing masks, and on the flip side, what is the current position with children not wearing masks. So, I think we need to have something wrapped around this. Because I think we do know that if children are wearing masks wrongly, or wearing them all day, or, indeed, if they have got disabilities, it may be detrimental either to them physically or indeed their educational development. So, I think there does need to be a holistic view of this. It's not just about feeling safe and confidence; it needs to really be taken as a total view.

In terms of compliance, we're told time and time again, and it's certainly our experience, that the measures that schools are taking are very effective and those measures in schools are incredibly tight. What I would like to ask, coming back to a point that was made earlier on, is: is there further mitigation required in schools in order to respond to the current new variant of the virus, and, if so, what is it? We still haven't got answers around that. Are we able to just keep everything the same, but have further inspections? Because that doesn't to me seem to be a sensible way forward. Thank you.  

Thank you. My concern here is I think that this horse may already have bolted. We were calling for face coverings right from the start with regards to this, but we had a situation whereby there was a lot of resistance to that for all education workers and the children. Then, they did change it with regards to education workers, there was a change with regards to corridors and outside, but there was still—I think it's in the operational guidance that face coverings are positively discouraged in classrooms. My worry is that we can talk about face coverings now, but my message would be we can't have what we had before—a return to that situation of large numbers of children shoehorned into classrooms. So, that's why I think the horse has bolted rather, because what we must have is social distancing, because we know that social distancing is an effective measure, whilst there are lots of arguments and issues, and Eithne's raised a few, with regards to face coverings. So, whilst face coverings would be welcome, whilst we would welcome a change in the operational guidance to ensure they're worn in the classroom as well, I think we've moved on. We need social distancing in schools. As for measuring compliance, we absolutely would support the measurement of compliance for health and safety and risk assessments in schools. We would support that. 

Thank you, and thank you for being so clear on the policy on face coverings. That's very helpful. Can I just ask, before we go to Rebecca—? If you're saying we need fewer pupils in school, how would your union feel about, then, having a rota system of fewer children coming in, similar to what we saw in the summer, really? Would that be something that would be acceptable to your members, do you think? Neil?

I was just asking you, really, because you said about having fewer children in school. 

Anything that would enable social distancing would be something that we would be more than happy to have a look at. So, in terms of rotas—yes. Just as long as we could maintain social distancing in classrooms, we would certainly look at that as a measure, yes.

12:10

Ie, dwi'n credu tra bod dim modd cadw pellter cymdeithasol o 2m, mae gwisgo gorchuddion wyneb yn mynd i fod yn bwysig, ond gan gymryd i ystyriaeth unrhyw eithriadau hollol deilwng. Ac mae yna, er gwaethaf ymdrechion gorau ysgolion, ddigonedd o sefyllfaoedd lle dyw'r 2m yna ddim yn gynaliadwy. Felly, dwi'n credu bod yna bwysigrwydd o hyd i orchuddio wyneb.

O'r hyn dwi'n deall, mae gan yr Health and Safety Executive yr hawl i wneud spot checks yn barod ar ysgolion, felly dwi ddim yn gwybod os oes angen unrhyw beth mwy na hynny. Mae hynny yn ei le yn barod, o safbwynt iechyd a diogelwch.

Ac o ran y cwestiwn rotas, dwi ddim yn credu y byddai unrhyw wrthwynebiad i hynny mewn egwyddor. Yn sicr, byddai fe'n help anferthol o ran sicrhau pellter cymdeithasol. Y cwestiwn yw: sut i'w wneud e? Hynny yw, yn y gorffennol, beth rŷn ni wedi ei wneud yw rhai blynyddau cyfan yn dod i mewn, ond efallai mai beth fyddai'n well, o ran pellter cymdeithasol, fyddai bod yna ran o bob dosbarth er mwyn cadw dosbarthiadau unigol yn fach. Ond, wrth gwrs, y pen tost wedyn yw sut i staffio. Ond, hynny yw, gallwn ni drafod hynny, yn gallwn, os mai dyna yw'r opsiwn orau, o ran cael dychwelyd i'r ysgol, hyd yn oed yn rhan amser. Wedyn mae angen i ni drafod y lefelau staffio a phatrymau staffio.

Yes, I think whilst there is no way to maintain a social distance of 2m, then wearing face masks is going to be important, but taking into consideration any exceptions, of course, to that rule. And, despite the best efforts of schools, there are plenty of situations where that 2m rule isn't observable. So, it is still important to have those face masks.

As far as I understand it, the Health and Safety Executive does have the right to undertake spot checks at the moment already in schools, so I don't know whether there is a need for anything additional in that regard. That is in place already, in terms of health and safety.

And with regard to rotas, I don't think that there would be any opposition to that in principle. Certainly it would be a huge help in terms of helping to ensure that social distance is maintained. The question is: how to do it? In the past, we've had some entire year groups coming in, but what would be better, in terms of social distance, is that part of each class would come in to keep those individual class sizes small. But the headache then is how to staff that. But we can discuss that, can't we, if that is the best option, in terms of returning to schools, even if that were to be part time. Then we do need to discuss that.

Okay. I've got Nicola, and we do need to move on then if possible. Nicola, briefly.

Thank you. Rebecca's just covered my points, thank you very much.

Thank you. I was going to say, when we were looking at all the options at the beginning of the pandemic, and we worked very closely then with Welsh Government about what could possibly be, and nothing was off the table—it was blue-skies thinking—there was a suggestion there that we may look at having some kind of a rota system. Lots of ideas were being shared by the unions and, I think, rather than having a discussion with everybody, it seemed to be that most people, as long as that was done properly and we had an input in that and we could see the benefit of that, that most of the unions would consider that a rota system would, potentially, be an option, certainly in terms of trying to reduce the spread of the virus.

Jest eisiau gwybod beth ydy'r berthynas rhwng eich undebau chi yng Nghymru a phencadlys eich undebau chi ar draws y ffin, o gofio bod addysg wedi'i ddatganoli bron yn llwyr? Dydy hynny ddim yn berthnasol i Rebecca.

I just want to know what the relationship is between your unions in Wales and the headquarters, as it were, of your unions across the border, bearing in mind that education is devolved almost entirely? That isn't relevant to Rebecca.

Thank you. I will answer the question, although, with respect, I think it's a bit of a cheeky one, because it's in terms of how we work and how we organise. I would say, by the way, I think we all organise and work differently, so, in that sense, you need answers from each of us.

Certainly, as far as the NASUWT is concerned, we cover the whole of the United Kingdom, and in each of the devolved nations we have a separate management and a separate council so that we can make sure that the union is absolutely in tune with the nation and the members that we serve in that nation. So, in a sense, it's almost like a—. It's not a federalised structure, but it's almost like a federalised structure, to ensure that we are relevant to each of the individual nations.

Very similar situation to that that Neil describes in that I have three-weekly meetings with the UK. We talk about the differences in terms of jurisdictions and there is a very clear understanding. When I say 'UK', I'm talking about England. We've got a very clear understanding as to what each of the four nations have in terms of its own characteristics, its devolved government, devolved education, and that is absolutely crystal clear. One of the things we do do is, where we can link together strategy—because some of these issues are clearly pertinent to all four nations, obviously—we do link those up. So, we see a lot of similarities as well as actually appreciating the differences.

12:15

Thank you. I want to say I echo what the others have said in terms of national offices and how they are operating across the country. What I would say is, particularly in Wales, we have a much better relationship with our Welsh Government. We work to the best of our abilities in social partnership, we take a collaborative approach, and I believe that we've been ahead of the game in Wales because of that. We've done some fantastic work around policy making and feeding into those guidelines, taking into consideration our own individual cohorts of members, and I guess I would like to say 'thank you' to those people for allowing that to happen.

Thank you, Nicola. Laura and Rosie, is there anything new that you want to add? If not, I want to move on to the next set of questions.

Really quickly, Chair, and this might not be appropriate, but what's the purpose of the question? Are we not answering it properly? I'm just unclear of—if I knew the context, we might be able to answer it a bit better.

Does it lead to tensions between you, as an organisation working in Wales, with your headquarters who may have different ideas, different—? I mean, you're going to say that everything is hunky-dory, I know, but, you know—.

But we've had an answer. I think you've given us your perspective, which is helpful. And thank you, Nicola, for those kind words about the social partnership model that we've got in Wales. I'm going to move on now to Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning—well, it's 'good afternoon' now, isn't it—to everybody; it's nice to see you all again. It's particularly nice to see my old colleague Rosie down there.

Can I just ask you about the medium to long-term situation? We heard from Estyn. They talked about the long-term effect of COVID and how some pupils may have regressed on some of the key skills like literacy and numeracy, and the impact that that would particularly have on some of the more disadvantaged groups. So, (a) I'd like to have your views on that and whether you agree with that, but more importantly, I think, is what steps, what practical steps do you think, now, need to be taken to address that?

I'm happy to start on that. I think that, clearly, the disadvantages have been exacerbated as a consequence of this pandemic, and I don't think anyone would say differently in terms of academic achievement, in terms of poverty, in terms of us seeing, actually, where the cracks are in the system that have been widened as a consequence of the pandemic and have become gaping holes, if you like, societally and educationally. We also, though, however, I think need to acknowledge that there are some positives that have come through as a consequence of this dreadful period of time. Some of those are around new skills that have been acquired by children, new skills that have been acquired by the workforce in terms of being more technologically advanced than we may well have been, had we not been in this position. We've had to get to a very difficult space very, very quickly that may otherwise have taken years to get to. But needs must, because the devil's currently driving. So, I do think we need to have a look at that as well.

There is research from Michael Fullan in Canada that is very clear about some of the effects on 60 per cent of those who would normally be disengaged from education becoming more engaged as a consequence of using technologies correctly, which is a position, obviously, we would like to get to. The problem is the 20 per cent below that who remain disengaged and remain those who are very difficult to reach. So, I think we need to look at it—you know, the good, the bad and the ugly around this particular set of circumstances, but not just ignore the good that has also come from this in terms of children and, indeed, the workforce.

Yes, I'd echo all of that, especially Eithne pointing out the good aspects to this, but we will not and we cannot, obviously, lose sight of the appalling tragedy that this has been for the cohort of children whose education has been affected by this, and that's what hurts us and certainly hurts our members—all teachers, and they're teachers because they care for children and they care for education. 

In terms of a practical thing, all I would add to this is that we've had the catch-up programme that was brought into being. That's going to have to be extended, I think. I think we're going to be looking at that not just for this academic year, but I think we need to be thinking about that, possibly, for the next and possibly the year after that as well, because I think the damage is going to be long-standing and there's going to have to be a lot of work, especially picking up on the disengaged that Eithne referred to.

12:20

Dwi'n credu, mewn byd delfrydol—a dwi'n gwybod bod cyllid wastad yn broblem—byddem ni eisiau gweld mwy o bobl yn y gweithlu addysg, yn athrawon ac yn gynorthwywyr dosbarth. Achos mae hyd yn oed y lefel diagnostig, os liciwch chi, o weld ble mae'r plant i gyd arni a gweithio mas faint ar eu hôl hi maen nhw wedi cwympo, ac o fewn un dosbarth, beth yw maint y bwlch rhwng y plant, sydd wastad yn fawr, ond mae'n mynd i fod hyd yn oed yn fwy ar ôl hyn i gyd. Dwi'n credu bod angen mwy o bobl yn yr ystafell ddosbarth, a mwy o grwpiau ymyrraeth penodol i allu helpu i fynd i'r afael â hyn. Gallwn ni ddim dychmygu jest mynd yn ôl i beth oedd gyda ni gynt, mewn ffordd, a meddwl bod hynny'n mynd i ddatrys y broblem. Dwi'n credu bod yna gwestiynau hefyd, efallai, a fydd yn cymryd amser hirach i weithio mas, ynglŷn â sut mae'r cyfnod yma wedi newid agweddau plant tuag at addysg. Efallai ymhlith rhai bydd yna fwy o werthfawrogiad o gael mynd i'r ysgol a bod wyneb yn wyneb gyda'r staff a gyda'u cyfoedion; efallai ymhlith eraill, byddan nhw'n dweud, 'O, cawsom ni gyfnod hir hebddo fe. Pam bod angen inni fynd yn ôl nawr?' Felly, dwi'n credu bod yna bob math o lefelau o sgileffeithiau; rhai byddwn ni'n gallu mynd i'r afael â nhw yn gynt na'r lleill. Dwi'n credu bydd angen ymchwil, ond bydd angen mwy o bobl—mwy o weithlu—i fynd i'r afael ag ef.

In an ideal world—I know that funding, of course, is an issue—we would want to see more people in the education workforce, be they teachers or classroom assistants. Because even the diagnostic level, if you will, in terms of seeing where all the children are in terms of their progression and working on how far behind they've fallen, and within one classroom, what the size of the gap is between children, which is always large, but it's going to be even larger after all of this. I think that we need more people in the classroom, and more intervention groups to be able to get to grips will all of this. We can't imagine just going back to what we had previously, in a way, and thinking that that's going to solve the problem. I think that there are questions that will take a longer time to work out in terms of how this period has changed attitudes of children towards education. Perhaps amongst some there'll be greater appreciation of being able to go to school and have that face-to-face interaction with staff and with their contemporaries; perhaps amongst others they'll think, 'Well, we had a long period without it, why do we have to go back now?' So, I think there are all kinds of levels of impacts; and some we'll be able to get to grips with sooner than others. I do think that there will need to be research, but we'll need more people—a larger workforce—to get to grips with this.

Okay. I've got a couple of questions; I'll probably pull these two together actually—

—because I wanted to ask you about what your views were on what should happen with qualifications due to be awarded in 2021, and potentially 2022, if this disruption goes on much longer, which, you know, we anticipate it could be for some time. And what you think the implications, obviously, are going to be for the curriculum—the new curriculum—and whether the 2022 timescale is still realistic, given the current circumstances?

Thank you, Chair. I think it's really important now that we do have a situation where we are much more trusting in terms of our teacher workforce in terms of awarding grades. I think it's worth highlighting that the algorithm last year really wasn't helpful in terms of health and well-being for our young people, but also highlighted a flaw in the system that we believe is always there; there's always an algorithm that sorts out grades. And we think now is a real opportunity, particularly in the context of the new curriculum, to be really looking at these qualifications, which we know some of that work is being done by Qualifications Wales. I've forgotten what my second point was, sorry.

Suzy, were you indicating then? Very briefly, then, before I bring the others in.

I have remembered, if that's okay, Chair.

Sorry. My second point, really, was just that, yes, the new curriculum—if I get your question correctly—I think, is wildly ambitious now, isn't it? And we were saying that a few months back, actually, to get the curriculum delivered on time, but the additional learning needs stuff that's coming in in September, and then the new curriculum for 2022, I think those things are going to have to be looked at in the context—not that nobody doesn't want these things to happen—but in the context that we are in the middle of a pandemic.

Thank you. If I could start with the new curriculum. We thought the timetable for the new curriculum was wildly ambitious before we'd ever heard of COVID. I remember being in a meeting with a Welsh Government official who called the new curriculum 'a paradigm shift in pedagogy', which, effectively, seems a cultural revolution that was going to have to take place in learning and teaching in schools. Now, whether you agree with that or not, the idea of this paradigm shift taking place now seems particularly unrealistic. This was going to be the year when schools prepared, when schools did the training on this and we did the professional development. When Estyn suspended their inspections, they were going to come into schools to look at the work being done and to disseminate that work. This was going to be the year for that preparation, that year's gone on COVID, and we've had to respond to COVID. So, in that sense, what we thought was wildly ambitious before, we think now is just nigh on impossible, and I think that a lot of serious thought should be given to extending the timetable.

With regard to qualifications, we've been in meetings with Qualifications Wales, we understand the appalling pressure that they're under, and, indeed, teachers are under. All we would ask, and we'd ask this of Qualifications Wales, is to get us the information as soon as possible to disseminate to teachers, because, obviously, they've geared up for the qualifications as they've presently been told—they were told before Christmas—but I understand that's possibly going to change again. So, that work needs to be done very, very swiftly indeed.

12:25
Laura Doel 12:26:12