Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee

15/11/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jane Dodds AS
Jenny Rathbone AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates AS
Sarah Murphy AS
Sioned Williams AS
Tom Giffard AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Altaf Hussain
Substitute for Altaf Hussain

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alison Cumming Cyfarwyddwr, Dysgu Cynnar a Gofal Plant, Llywodraeth yr Alban
Director, Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government
Catherine Fookes Cyfarwyddwr, Rhwydwaith Cydraddoldeb Menywod Cymru
Director, Women's Equality Network Wales
Cerys Furlong Prif Weithredwr, Chwarae Teg
Chief Executive, Chwarae Teg
Dr Gwenllian Lansdown Davies Prif Weithredwr, Mudiad Meithrin; CWLWM
Chief Executive, Mudiad Meithrin; CWLWM
Jane O’Toole Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs; CWLWM
Chief Executive Officer, Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs; CWLWM
Johan Kaluza Uwch Gynghorydd yr Adran Dadansoddi Polisi, Asiantaeth Cydraddoldeb Rhywiol Sweden
Senior Adviser of the Department of Policy Analysis, Swedish Gender Equality Agency
Sharon Davies Pennaeth Addysg, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Head of Education, Welsh Local Government Association
Shavanah Taj Ysgrifennydd Cyffredinol, TUC Cymru
General Secretary, Wales TUC

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Claire Fiddes Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Rhys Morgan Clerc
Clerk
Yan Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

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

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

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 12:45.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 12:45. 

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

Good afternoon. I'd like to welcome everybody to the meeting of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, and members of the public. We are holding it virtually for public health reasons, but you can see that it's being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. The meeting is bilingual and, of course, there'll be simultaneous translation from Welsh to English. I've had apologies from Altaf Hussain, and I'm delighted to welcome Tom Giffard to join the committee in his place today. Are there any declarations of interest from Members, other than the ones that they've recorded in their public interest declarations? I'm getting shakes of the head. So, finally, if I drop out of the meeting for any reason, I propose that Sarah Murphy will temporarily chair the meeting while I try to rejoin.

2. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i wahardd y cyhoedd o’r cyfarfod heddiw ar gyfer eitemau 3 ac 8
2. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to exclude the public from items 3 and 8 of today's meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 3 ac 8 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 3 and 8 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

So, prior to the public inquiry we're holding into childcare this afternoon, which starts at 1.45 p.m., I suggest that we go into private session for the next item and also for item 8 of today's meeting. Are Members in agreement on that? I note nods of approval. So, we'll now move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:47.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:47.

13:45

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 13:45.

The committee reconvened in public at 13:45.

4. Gofal plant a chyflogaeth rhieni—sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
4. Childcare and parental employment—evidence session 1

Prynhawn da. I'd like to welcome all Members and members of the public back to the session of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, and we're now going to have our first panel meeting on our childcare inquiry. I'd very much like to welcome Cerys Furlong, Shavanah Taj and Catherine Fookes. I wonder if you'd just like to, for the record, just introduce yourselves, so we're completely clear who each of you are. Cerys, do you want to start?

Thanks. Cerys Furlong, chief executive of Chwarae Teg.

Hi, I'm Catherine Fookes. I'm the director of Women's Equality Network Wales.

Hi, everyone. I'm Shavanah Taj, and I'm the general secretary of the Wales Trades Union Congress.

Thank you very much indeed for making the time to be with us. The Welsh Government's childcare offer: the objective is to help parents, particularly mothers, to return to work or increase the hours that they do work. How effective do you think the programme is at supporting parents being able to work, particularly mothers? Who would like to go first? Cerys, and then I'll come to you, Shavanah.

I think the additional investment that we've seen in recent years has been welcomed as a step towards a more integrated and well-funded childcare offer in Wales, but there's still a long way to go. It's quite a patchwork of provision that's often too complex, inaccessible, inflexible and expensive for many parents, especially women.

Full-time childcare has been estimated around £227 per week, and average women's wages when working full-time is about £380. So, just for the average woman, let alone low-income earners, that's about 60 per cent of women's income. It's a huge financial burden. And we know that there's a lot of confusion around the system in terms of how to access childcare in the appropriate way around your working life, so if you are working in more inflexible workplaces, it can be hard to access the support that you are entitled to. And even when it comes to the provision that should be on offer, only half of Welsh local authorities say that they've got enough childcare provision to meet the free early years education entitlement.

So, a real patchwork at the moment, but the prize is there to be won in Wales, because we know that a more effective integrated childcare offer would really be a key enabler for women accessing work, in being able to progress in work, and I'm sure there'll be an opportunity to talk about some of the elements around that.

Yes, we'll come back to a lot of this in more detail. But just before I move to Shavanah, you talk about the need for a one-stop shop for information, but I thought we already had a one-stop shop, so in what way is that not working?

I don't think that's the experience of many parents. It wasn't my experience and it's not the experience of the parents that we talk to. For many, there's a patchwork in terms of the private provision that they may need to use to wrap around the free provision, and some of that provision is available in school settings, in foundation phase settings, some of it is not; some local authorities are able to offer it, some are not. And actually, when I think about my challenge in making that application as a parent, just being a mum at the nursery school gates and talking to many others, particularly those for whom English wasn't their first language, it's quite a difficult system to navigate. There's nothing that necessarily automatically flags to the right people at the right time how you access that support. So, there are other countries, for instance Canada is looking at a more integrated system and we might want to look at how we can emulate that, and perhaps just bring responsibility for all aspects to do with the childcare offer and early years education into one place in Welsh Government might help.

Okay, thanks. We'll come on to other countries in a moment. Shavanah, on that initial question, how successful do you think it is? We spend a lot of money on it.

Yes. So, I think the childcare offer itself has worked to some extent in Wales, because ultimately it has helped thousands of families and it has allowed more women in particular to be able to work. We're pleased that Welsh Labour has a programme for government commitment to expand on the current provision, and I think that's really important, particularly to allow parents who are in education and training to be able to access it. But the reality is that the pandemic has now changed a lot of things, and the needs, therefore, of working parents have dramatically changed. So this, I would say, is the right opportunity for us to reflect on how this actually works, and on how work and family life, but also childcare commitments, have changed since March 2020, so that we can ensure that childcare fits the needs and current realities of working parents.

So there are, I think, lots of changes that I would suggest that the TUC and the Wales TUC would definitely say are needed. At a national level, we're calling on the UK Government to introduce 10 days of carers leave, paid on full pay from day one in a job for all parents. Currently parents have no statutory right to paid leave to look after their children. But we would also say that, as far as the Welsh Government is concerned, the Wales TUC is asking for the Welsh Government to invest in childcare, because we need more funding for good-quality affordable childcare and, as Cerys has already touched upon, that's a real issue. That should be something that's offered throughout the year to support parents and help the sector to recover as well from the pandemic.

We recognise that the Government recognises that the sector most definitely currently relies on low-paid workers, and more often than not, many of them are on precarious job contracts. The role itself is highly reliant on the work of women, and it's extremely valuable for both parents and children, yet the rates of pay and the job contracts that exist within the sector don't actually reflect the value of the sector. Then, during the pandemic, of course childcare providers were particularly affected by the closures, and this meant that many childcare workers ended up leaving the sector themselves. Now, I know that in August the Welsh Government gave childcare providers £4 million, so it would be helpful, I guess, potentially for us to ask that the Welsh Government now carries out a bit of an audit to see whether or not that money was actually spent in the right places and that it is doing what we had hoped it would have done, because based on what we've heard so far, it's hit and miss.

But also, I think it's very important that we recognise there is a real lack of diversity in the childcare sector itself here in Wales. Wales needs a childcare sector that reflects its population. The race equality action plan, the first draft that went out to public consultation, didn't have a specific childcare section within it, yet many BAME-led women's organisations have actually said that this should have been included, and for some of the childcare provisions that are currently offered, for example, through Women Connect First, there is a big uptake for that support. But the reality is that we need to think about how we consider the issues of systemic racism within the sector itself, because at the moment it is a predominantly white workforce, yet the children and the population of Wales and demographic is very different. But also for disabled parents as well, and parents who care for disabled children, childcare needs to be much more accessible and suitable in order to reduce the options available to parents, and we increased, then, the pressure that's placed on parents. So, I would say that the Welsh Government needs to urgently look at accessibility as well within the sector itself.

13:50

Thank you. There are lots of issues there we want to follow up on. Catherine, anything you want to add to what Cerys and Shavanah have just said in their opening remarks?

Yes, thank you. So, WEN Wales is a membership organisation, so in the things I'll add I'll try to draw on what our members have told us. We did a survey asking them the questions that you've asked in your consultation. So, we wanted to get some of the lived experience of people, and basically 81 per cent of our survey respondents said that they didn't think the Welsh Government childcare offer had been effective for them, and the key things that they pulled out were some of the things Shavanah and Cerys have already talked about. So, there's a gap between when the main carer, who is often a woman, as we know, goes back to work after maternity leave when the child is one—then there's a gap of two years until the child is three where there is no free childcare provision. That's a huge gap, and in that time lag what's going to happen is the parents will talk about who's going to give up work, who's going to reduce their hours, and decisions will long have been made by the time the child is three about whether the woman continues to work. So, we would really like to see the age coming down to six months—the free childcare starting at six months.

Cerys has already said about it being inconsistent. She quoted the figure that about half of local authorities don't have the provision, but in rural areas that's even worse, and Wales is an incredibly rural country, as we all know. In 2020, local authorities had 18 per cent coverage, and now in 2021, it's only 8 per cent, so that's gone down. So, that's a question.

And a third point that I'd like to emphasise, because it hasn't been raised, is around working parents. Shavanah actually alluded, of course, to the fact that the childcare is going to be open, I think, to parents in training, but we feel at WEN that it needs to be open to women who are unemployed, to help them get into the workforce.

My final point at this point is around what happened in the pandemic. All those parents of children of nursery age had to home school their kids, and were expected to work at the same time. And the mental health crisis that I think this led to, in terms of having to try and school your children, look after your children and be expected to work, was huge. So, one of our considerations is around giving furlough to parents, furlough payments to carers of children who are of nursery school age in the event of a future lockdown when nurseries are closed, because I think that would help.

I've got one other thing around thresholds, but I'll save that until later. Thank you. 

13:55

Thank you very much. Ken, you just wanted to follow up a point, before I bring in Jane Dodds. 

Yes. Hopefully, this is just a helpful thing to clarify with regard to just something that Shavanah was alluding to on the workforce itself within the sector. Forgive me if I was wrong—I heard that there is racism within the sector. I think what it might have been is there's a lack of racial diversity within the sector, rather than racism. I was just hoping to clarify that. But if there is racism within the sector, I think we definitely need to look at that and hear more about it. 

I would say that there's definitely an issue as far as lack of diversity within the sector. That's for sure. And then, the issues of institutional racism, these are matters that have come up and were discussed in relation to the working group that was working on the development of the race equality action plan. It's something that has come up continuously within discussions, but, unfortunately, because of the fact that timing was a massive issue, we weren't able to properly examine this particular issue as part of the process of the development of the race equality action plan. But it is something that definitely exists, and we've had cases through the various different unions that operate and represent workers in the sector. So, yes, it's an issue, like it is in many places. 

Okay. Thanks for that. Jane Dodds, you wanted to ask some questions at this point. 

Yes, thank you very much. I wanted to look at the issues of childcare for parents who are not working, who are unemployed, and Catherine, you just touched a little bit on that in your response. But I just wondered if we could just hear from you what your ideal model would be for those children, because this isn't just about supporting parents, this is also about making sure that children's needs are met, particularly around stimulation and play. So, specifically if I could just ask you about the Flying Start programme, and what your thoughts  are around how that could be different, because the current situation, as we know, is that there's a higher offer to parents who are working compared to parents who are not working. Could you just give us your views, your thoughts and experiences around that, please? Thank you. Shall we suggest that Cerys goes first? Would that be helpful? 

14:00

Thanks, Jane. I'm happy to give you some initial thoughts, largely based on previous experience of working with adult learners, on the impact of family learning and early intervention and early years education, and the impact that can have on long-term outcomes, both educationally and socially for children. Catherine is absolutely right to point out the obvious gap in the current provision between the ages of one and three. Any working parent will tell you, and any returner from maternity leave—we have these conversations all the time as an employer—that they're having to make life-changing decisions at that point, because they can't access the childcare that they want. But also, that's a really important developmental period for young children, in terms of how they develop their social skills and how they develop their literacy and numeracy skills and the impact that that can have once they join school. We know that Flying Start, obviously, isn't a universal provision that everybody can access. I'd probably be duplicating the point that Catherine wanted to develop if I go any further. 

Shavanah, just your thoughts on the childcare offer to parents that are not working.

This is something that has come up, specifically, again, going back to the BME women's sector, and it's something that has been discussed quite a bit by organisations such as Women Connect First, but several others as well. Part of what they actually do is to support women who have gone through a range of different issues in their personal lives. It's about rebuilding their lives and rebuilding their confidence in order to actually be able to deal with day-to-day issues, but also to support their children, particularly when English is not the first language of the parent or even maybe the child that's due to enter into school at some stage.

The support that is required goes back to the fact that it is—. One thing is for sure, and that is that the offer at the moment is definitely not culturally appropriate, because it is often hit and miss and it depends on which local authority you fall under. Therefore, that makes a massive difference as well. And of course, with the population growth in Wales, and particularly as we're now seeing with more refugee families, for example, coming into Wales, a lot of the children are then left with a lack of—. And the parents themselves feel very unsupported and don't actually understand how they're supposed to navigate the system. I think this goes back to the point that we've—. You know, the Welsh Government has rightly put a significant amount of money, since the pandemic, into this sector, but we now need to see and audit it to see whether or not it's actually reached the right places. That's what I would say. 

Okay. Catherine, in your answer, I wonder if you can pick up how successful the Flying Start programme has been, because that is the one area where you don't have to be in work to get that benefit.

I can't actually answer that question directly, I'm afraid, Chair, around how successful Flying Start has been, but the point I wanted to make was around the threshold of the current offer. You can earn up to £100,000 a year to access the free childcare offer as I understand it. That seems to us really large at WEN, and we would like to see some modelling done to ensure that we're only targeting those families with the free childcare offer that most need it. That's the point that I was trying to make. If the Welsh Government's programme for government is around eliminating poverty and reducing inequality, then I feel that it would be better to lower that threshold and then perhaps use the funding that is then available to put towards greater provision of childcare for those that really need it and are on a lower income. So, apologies, Jane; I haven't answered your question directly, but I hope I've given you some useful information.

I suppose I was trying to interrogate the difference in what your reflections are, not necessarily of Flying Start, but what are the reflections around the offer in childcare to working versus non-working parents. We hear a lot about the offer around working parents, but I just really wanted to see whether you had any reflections or experiences around what could change, if anything, around the offer of childcare for non-working parents. I don't know if there's anybody who just wants to put up their hand—who just wants to say, 'Yes, I've got a view'. But I don't want to take up too much time, Chair, on this. I appreciate and thank you for the opportunity.

14:05

Just that Jane's question and our inability to answer it directly probably indicates that there's a bit of a lack of evidence around that question. The needs of non-working parents and the reasons why they may or may not be economically active are hugely varied and vary over people's time and what the individual circumstances of the family are. So, I think we need to know a lot more. It's not a homogenous group, if you like. Some people make active decisions to not work for reasons of their own, others are not able to work for all sorts of institutional and structural inequality reasons that we know about and understand.

But I think Catherine's point is the one that I suppose I'd like to leave you with, which is that we're actually reinforcing a lot of that structural inequality by making women have to make a decision about their long-term economic participation in the labour market at a point where they cannot access the childcare that the state is funding. If we brought that age down—and I would agree with Catherine on the threshold for the family income, as well—then we could better target the support and hopefully enable more families to make a proactive choice to be economically active.

Very good. That moves us neatly into the questions that Sioned Williams wanted to ask.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Prynhawn da. Rŷn ni wedi cyffwrdd yn fanna, onid ŷm ni, ar dargedu ac ar gyllid, felly eisiau gofyn oeddwn i i chi'ch tair pa newidiadau yn narpariaeth gofal plant sy'n cael ei ariannu gan Lywodraeth Cymru y dylai'r Llywodraeth flaenoriaethu, ac am ba resymau y byddai'r rheini'n flaenoriaethau, neu y dylen nhw fod yn flaenoriaethau, yn eich tyb chi.

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon. I want to focus on targeting and funding, which we've already touched upon. I wanted to ask all three of you what changes to Welsh Government-funded childcare provision should be prioritised by the Government, and for what reasons would those be your top priorities.

I'm happy to lead off if you want me to. Obviously, we've just talked about thresholds, Sioned, and that's one thing that I would definitely change—lowering the age to six months if possible; one year if not—and make it available not just to those who are working. But then, the other big thing is around investing in provision for those children with additional learning needs and disabled people, because we've found that there is a big lack of supply of childcare for disabled people. So, that's incredibly important. And that links very clearly to Shavanah's earlier point around the provision for people who speak different languages, for black, Asian and minority ethnic women, and so on. So, we definitely need better provision there.

The other thing that I would like to mention is—this is for slightly older children—holidays. It is really difficult. Twenty-five per cent of the child's life up until they leave school at 18 is on holiday, and I can tell you—. My children are a bit older now; they're 18 and 15 and they don't need so much input from me. But when they were younger, the holidays were incredibly tough and difficult, scrabbling around, asking parents, trying to get friends swapping, and if you're a single parent—I don't know how women do it. It's incredibly difficult. So, I think the holiday provision is a really big thing that needs to be changed and prioritised.

Diolch. Mae COVID, onid yw e, wrth gwrs, wedi effeithio ar y pethau ad hoc yna yr oedd menywod wastad wedi defnyddio yn ystod amser gwyliau, pan mae'r cyfnod gwyliau sydd ganddyn nhw i'w cymryd gan y gwaith byth yn ymestyn yn ddigon hir. Felly, rwy'n credu bod gan COVID ffactor pellach ar hynny hefyd nawr, onid yw e? Cerys.

Thank you. And COVID, of course, has had an impact on those ad hoc arrangements that women had always relied on during holiday times, when the leave they have from work is never enough. So, I think COVID has been a further factor in that too. Cerys.

Yes, good question. I agree with everything that Catherine said. Colleagues and I have been reflecting over the last few weeks, as we approach our thirtieth year as an organisation, on what are the things that have changed and what are the things that we need to be calling for. The depressing reality is that we probably couldn’t have more robust evidence that childcare is the single most important thing to enable gender equality. Thirty years on, we’re going to be saying the same thing that we have. Yes, universal free childcare, accessible for parents of nought to four-year-olds, might look incredibly expensive, but we need to look at what the opportunity cost of not doing that is. And if we waste more years and decades twiddling around the edges, if you like, on trying to provide support that’s going to remain patchy and inaccessible for too many, then we won’t see the great gains that we know we can from actually closing that inequality gap.

Catherine's absolutely right about wraparound childcare and holiday care. I just remember the nightmare, that sense of sinking doom a month or so out from the school holidays, just thinking, ‘How the hell are we going to do this?’ and try and remain and give a professional impression at work still. That’s the reality that so many people are facing.

And even where you perhaps financially can access the holiday support on offer, it’s quite competitive and difficult to get into some things. It’s hugely reliant on people having their own transport—because public transport is not our friend, when it comes to women ferrying children around from one place to another, from a child minder to a holiday club to a grandparent to your neighbour. So, yes, I think that, I suppose, just reflecting on that, yes, it may be expensive, but the cost of not doing it is more expensive, and we can just see that over decades and decades.

14:10

Sioned, is there anything further you wanted to add? Because, otherwise, I was—

Ie, jest hefyd eisiau rhoi cyfle i Shavanah i sôn am hyn. Ond, ie, yn amlwg, mae yna gyfyngiadau ymarferol. Rŷn ni'n gwybod beth sydd angen cael ei wneud, ond mae yna gyfyngiadau ariannol, a sut ŷch chi'n gweld y rheina'n effeithio ar y blaenoriaethau yma? Sut allwn ni oresgyn y cyfyngiadau yna—y cyfyngiadau ymarferol yna? Rŷn ni wedi siarad am y patchiness yma yn ddaearyddol, yn ddiwylliannol a hefyd o ran y math o ofal plant mae pobl ei angen—yn siarad fanna o ran beth oedd Catherine yn sôn amdano fe gyda phobl sydd ag anghenion arbennig. Felly, beth ellid ei wneud er mwyn goresgyn y problemau ymarferol yma, ac efallai ychydig bach am y rhai ariannol hefyd? Os yw Shavanah moyn mynd gyntaf.

Yes, I also wanted to give Shavanah an opportunity to cover this. But, clearly, there are practical constraints. We know what needs to be done, but there are financial constraints, for example, and how do you see those impacting on these priorities? How can we overcome those practical constraints that we've mentioned—this geographical patchiness, and cultural too? And also in terms of the kind of childcare that people need. Now, Catherine mentioned people with additional needs. So, what can be done to overcome these practical problems, and perhaps you could cover some of the financial constraints too? I don't know if Shavanah would want to go first on that.

Okay. Where I would start is that this is probably a good point to mention some evidence to back up some of the comments that have already been made in relation to how difficult things actually are when it comes to school term holidays in particular. So, more than 36,000 people actually responded to a UK-wide TUC and Mother Pukka survey on actually the challenges of managing work and childcare for the school holiday period. Ninety-two per cent of the total respondents were mothers, and they reported huge difficulty in finding sufficient childcare post pandemic. Nearly two thirds don’t actually have sufficient childcare for the six-week break. So, I think the data speaks for itself, and it backs up what has been said already. And we know that working mums, particularly across the public and the private sector, including here in Wales, were most definitely reporting huge challenges in terms of balancing their work and their childcare, but also what was happening at home as well. Nearly half of mums said that they were managing through some form of flexible working. Around two in five said that they would be combining home working with childcare as well at the same time. And more than one in four would be working more flexibly than previously.

So, there’s an opportunity here, really, for the Welsh Government to act, I would say, and it goes back to the fact there was a lot of discussion during the pandemic where we all talked about what the new world was going to actually look like and what we could do much better. So, there are lots of issues. We know, for example, for disabled parents, or for those who are actually caring for the disabled children, the situation can be even more difficult because they have more specific childcare needs as well. And, in relation to that, I would say that the disability taskforce that the Welsh Government has set up should definitely be seeing this as a critical issue that they should be working on, and also the race equality action plan—that group also has now, whilst it doesn't currently cover specifically childcare as a specific issue, I would say that, that group in particular, there's an opportunity for them to actually do some work in this area as well.

For me, what is very important is that we actually look at what support the Welsh Government can give for workforce development specifically. I think that in 2017, the Welsh Government published its childcare, play and early years in Wales workforce plan. However, despite that there was a focus on working in partnership, it didn't actually include trade unions at that time. The plan did, however, work with business providers in particular. So, I would say that, in terms of what we do next, workforce development is something that should be done through tripartite social partnership.

The plan should also very much now consider how we raise standards, how we look at specialisms within the workforce as well, so that we are providing the right level of services, and that we also look at qualifications as well. But the plan has never actually discussed, then, of course, how we raise pay within the sector or we actually improve terms and conditions. Because, as far as childcare workers are being asked to—. They're continuously being asked to improve every aspect of their work and qualification level, but we're never actually really talking about the level of pay within that sector. And so, we need to think—. The plan has got to focus very much on diversifying the workforce; I think that will really help in terms of service delivery. But we also, then, need to diversify what we're going to do around jobs as well. We can't just continue on with these badly-paid jobs; we have to look at raising standards, raising pay—terms and conditions should definitely be a primary focus for the Government. Because there are some—. Cerys already mentioned that there are examples of other countries who are definitely doing much better, where we can learn lessons from. The Scandinavian countries, they were amongst one of the first to sign up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the impact of a child-rights based approach and making that very visible in terms of the services. So, I think that there's an opportunity, really, there for us to look at, particularly as we move forward in terms of the economy.

There's a lot of discussion around the creation of a circular economy. So, when we talk about town planning and we talk about transport—transport, again, has already been mentioned—and employment practices, really to make sure that these are much more child- and family-friendly as well. In order for us to actually create that more fair and equitable Wales, I think that childcare has definitely got to be front and centre of all of our planning going forward.

14:15

Okay. I know that—. Can I bring Ken Skates in, because I know he had some questions on this area?

Yes, indeed. Thank you, Chair. It's a hugely important area, the quality of the childcare and how it's linked to the workforce and the skills of the workforce and the value that society places on the sector.

I was just wondering, in terms of the suggestions that you've already made—all witnesses—how do you think the suggested changes would actually contribute to a higher quality childcare provision, which, in turn, would, obviously, then address disadvantages and help to reduce poverty? Shall we start with Cerys? 

—contribute to that. As you know, we've called for bringing childcare and early years education in to a single department within Welsh Government. We think that that would provide greater policy coherence, strengthen the Minister's arm in trying to make the improvements we want to see, and to help improve the perception and understanding of childcare as a highly skilled aspect of the early years and education sector. And I guess, linking on from that, there could be and should be clearer progression pathways for those who enter the early years and childcare workforce, which may culminate in degree-level qualifications into teaching, into vocational education and so on. That helps to professionalise and upskill the sector, to make it more attractive, challenge some of those perceptions that it's low pay, low skill and therefore undervalued in our society, despite the fact it looks after some of the most vulnerable people in our society. So, I think the key for us is: let's view childcare as part of that early years education service, improve the opportunities for progression for staff within that workforce, which builds on the evidence that we've seen from Nordic countries and further afield. I agree with all the points on the rates of pay, by the way. Women are predominantly employed in these settings, and they're amongst some of our lowest paid workforce.

14:20

Indeed. And Catherine or Shavanah, is there anything that you'd like to add?

I'd just like to make a quick point, and it follows on really nicely from what Shavanah said about investing in the sector, and your question, Ken, about how investment would improve things. It's just a way of framing it all as well. I would like to see us thinking of investing in childcare as part of the green and caring recovery. So, as part of building back better, and building back fairer, I should say, we should see childcare as a green job, and, in fact, investing in childcare is three times less polluting than investing in something like construction. We believe that caring jobs are green jobs, and so we'd like to see a really big investment into care, and I'd like, in our excellent response—by the way, I can say 'excellent'; my colleague Jess compiled our consultation response, so—[Inaudible.]—because—[Inaudible.]—from Canada, they've put in place an action plan for women in the economy. They've committed the equivalent of £239 million in grants and bursaries to help train and retain the early childhood workers, and they've added £51 million of investment over five years to try and fill some of the childcare gaps. So, they're a really good country to look at in terms of a model for how we could really develop this sector. Improved rates of pay are absolutely crucial, and to improve the numbers of provision so that we actually fill these gaps in across Wales.

Okay. I can see both Cerys and Shavanah want to come in, but we've only got 10 minutes left, so I wondered if you could—. I'm going to ask Sarah Murphy to come in at this point, and the points you want to make, Shavanah and Cerys, you can include in your next answer. Sarah.

Thank you, Chair. I was just going to ask, because you've all touched on this at some point, and Shav, you mentioned the UNCRC as well—. So, I'm meant to be asking about the extent to which Welsh Government-funded childcare meets the needs of different groups of parents and children, and I was just wondering if you could drill down into that and just give us a few more examples, I suppose, about how this really is impacting. I suppose, ultimately, what is there is meant to ensure that women can stay in the jobs that they have, or increase the hours that they have, and, from the research, it seems to be that that's quite mixed, the feedback that they're getting on that. So, yes, I suppose I was just hoping that you could give me some insight into the different groups, as you've mentioned, but some examples, and what you've seen as well and what you've had back in terms of the impact that that's actually having on the children too, starting with Shavanah.

So, the point that was just being made about green jobs in the sector, I would say—. I was over in Glasgow at COP and everyone is now at least talking about a just transition, but the just transition, from our perspective, has definitely got to be about having workers at the table, and that we shouldn't just be talking about big industries like coal, et cetera, but we should be actually talking about the services that we provide to the public. And this is one of those important areas, particularly because of the number of women who both use the services, need the services, but also work within the service itself as well.

But talking about—. Going back to, I guess, the point about—. I mentioned Scandinavian countries and what they're actually doing, and, some of the policy framework that exists, it supports families in a way that is much, I would say, better integrated than the UK. So, they focus on high-quality, intensive midwifery services, and they prepare parents for parenthood itself, and they have a generous parental leave that allows parents to form attachments with their child and adjust to their new life together as a family. And it's an intensive programme of child health nursing, together with a really open kindergarten system. And that helps parents, then, to find the support that they actually need in those early, formative years. And a comprehensive childcare system like that then, of course, enables people—women in particular—to feel comfortable enough to return to work. So, having policy respond to the stages of child and family life in a very logical and a very integrated fashion I think is something that would be really great if we could actually focus on delivering that here in Wales. I think that would be a really good opportunity.

But, in terms of some of the issues that we have, currently, parents have no statutory right to paid leave to look after their children. And, we would say—the TUC would say that, if this isn't addressed, many families are going to continue to face financial hardship. And the law allows many working parents to take only two different types of leave, both of which are unpaid. So, you've got emergency dependents' leave and parental leave, only available to employees, not all workers. So, for example, if you are a zero-hour contractor or you're on some kinds of precarious terms and conditions, you can forget about it. And, of course, a lot of this leave is very inflexible, and more often than not it has to be taken in blocks. And there is that requirement to give your employer 21 days' notice. So, there are all of those issues. But, I would say that, when it comes to Wales, there are things that we can do. And yes, of course, from a UK Government perspective, we would definitely like for them to introduce 10 days of carers' leave paid on full pay from day 1 of the job for all parents, but as far as the Welsh Government is concerned, I think it's about investing in childcare, putting more funding in for good quality, affordable childcare throughout the year. We recognise the sector that most definitely currently relies on low-paid workers, often in precarious jobs and conditions, and we also recognise that lack of diversity. And I think, going back to the race equality action plan group and the group that's going to be set up to look at the disability action plan, I think those are the—you've already got those groups that are ready made, of people with specialities. I think those are the people who we should be going back to and asking for further evidence and support to boost this and make it a reality. 

14:25

Thank you so much. Before I bring in Cerys, I was just going to ask as well, because, Catherine, you mentioned earlier on, when it comes to low-income families and what can be done, you suggested maybe doing some modelling around how maybe those on lower incomes can get more of the funding and more of the support, I suppose, that's out there. Cerys, I was just wondering, because I know that Chwarae Teg also submitted some evidence on this, if you could just give me some idea of any ideas that Chwarae Teg has put forward in terms of doing this as well. 

Yes, in our evidence we particularly highlighted the impact on low-income families and low-income women. So, our research that we published in 2019, 'Trapped', which was around poverty and women, found that up to the age of three, the costs of childcare are prohibitive for many women in low-paid occupations, and that working is not really an option unless you've got family, often women themselves, able to offer further unpaid care. And obviously, with the high proportion of women working part time—four in 10 are working part time—their earnings are a lot lower and therefore the offer as it currently is is not necessarily a good fit. 

One thing we talked about right at the beginning was in terms of the geographical differences and the differences at a local authority level around the provision of childcare; I just want to pick that up again. We do need to look at that geographical impact and why is it that, based on your postcode, you may be more or less likely to be able to access the childcare that you need to work, just compounding the economic plight of some people, particularly in rural areas. And then throw into that mix—and you start to see the intersectional impact of this—the language mix, both in terms of Welsh-language provision, English-language provision and provision for speakers of other community languages, and you start to see actually the complexity is really there. That data is there in terms of what local authorities are able to provide or not, how we're providing early years education, both through the foundation phase and through formal childcare. That's why I think it is important that we bring all of this together, so that you can actually look at it in the round. You certainly couldn't say, as great as the progress has been—and it is important to recognise that the offer is a good starting point to move towards a more universal childcare offer—as great as it's been, it's not been designed from the point of view of a parent or a child.

14:30

Fine. Could I just bring in Tom Giffard, because we are running out of time? We've touched already on the issue of childcare for school-age children, but why is it so difficult? Over to you, Tom.

Yes, sorry, Chair. I'm very conscious of time, so I'll just try and condense what I'm trying to ask into one question. Shavanah, you mentioned earlier the TUC survey where you found that two thirds of mothers didn't feel they had sufficient childcare at the summer holidays. I'm just curious, what approach, I guess, you think Welsh Government should take to tackle that and balancing that need to provide high-quality provision that meets the needs of children and parents that work as well. I'm just curious to get a little bit more meaning basically as to how you envision that looking.

Okay, if you can keep your answers brief, then we can perhaps get you all in if we need to.

Okay, so this goes back to, I think, the list of asks that we have. We have a list of asks from the UK Government, we have a list of asks from the Welsh Government, but I would say that the areas that Welsh Government has direct responsibility for, those areas where they have, for example, in local authorities, anything within the NHS and so forth, and within education, for people who work within those sectors at least, I think there's an opportunity, really, like there's been lots of discussion, for example, of the benefits of a four-day working week, the benefits of more flexibility, as far as employment is concerned. I think that we need to think about childcare in and amongst a much bigger picture as well, whilst we drill down to the various different things.

So, rather than just saying, 'Well, these are going to be all of the various different problems if we were to introduce the following,' but if we back that up with, 'Actually, this gives us greater flexibility,' it gives us—. There are lots of opportunities for the Government and for the employers too, but also for the individual. So, it goes back to what other countries are actually doing; what type of Wales do we actually want to be? If we do want to be a greener, a more just, a fairer Wales, and if we are going to be seen to be a nation of sanctuary, then I think childcare and the flexibilities that we've all discussed but also some of the barriers that currently exist, if we can find ways and means of overcoming some of those, I think that we have most definitely got a chance of having a just and green transition moving forward.

Catherine, you wanted to come in. Your final remarks, because we're running out of time.

My final remarks: on the school-age children, Tom, that's a great question, and I would suggest that it's some wraparound care. My local authority used to offer in a leisure centre, there was something from, like, ten till 12 for my kids. Well, that wasn't quite enough, because it wasn't a full working day, so at least if you could have full working days, that would be hugely helpful.

But my final remarks: I think we've all given lots of practical suggestions and I feel like the evidence is there—we need a real shift; we need to reduce the age that children can get the care; we need to make sure it's not just for those working; we need to model those thresholds; we need to increase the wages of those working in the sector; make provision available for disabled children; wraparound care; furlough payments; and that would really help, because at the moment, we've got 26 per cent of women in Wales economically inactive, and to make them economically active, we really need this childcare. So, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity and WEN Wales the opportunity to give you some of our evidence today, and I really hope it manages to move things forward.

Cerys, did you want to make a final remark? Why is Government not offering wraparound care? It's a bit of a no-brainer, isn't it?

I'll be very brief. The point I wanted to pick up earlier—Catherine mentioned Canada. Canada is also a real outlier in terms of gender budgeting, and we've flagged this in the gender equality review, Welsh Government committed in their manifesto to implement pilots around that. We really want to see progress on that, because if you make and implement policy and think about it through that gender lens, you solve some of these problems before you create them. Then lastly, in terms of outside-of-school provision, I think for me it's about getting the right balance between a universal service and flexibility that works for individual parents and families. For some parents that will be more important in school holiday time than perhaps 30 hours at age 3, so maybe we could get that balance a bit better.

14:35

Okay. I'm afraid we've run out of time. We did have a couple of other questions around international examples that we might be able to learn from in Wales, but we can write to you if there's anything further that you want to add on that. We'll obviously send you a transcript of what you've said, so if you could ensure that you haven't been misheard, and obviously correct them as required. Thank you very much, all three of you, for coming along today, as I appreciate you're all extremely busy. Thanks very much.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:36 ac 14:45.

The meeting adjourned between 14:36 and 14:45.

14:45
5. Gofal plant a chyflogaeth rhieni—sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
5. Childcare and parental employment—evidence session 2

Welcome back to the Equalities and Social Justice Committee, and we're now moving on to panel 2, to hear from childcare providers. So, welcome, Sharon Davies, Jane O'Toole and Gwenllian Lansdown Davies. I wonder if you'd just tell us for the record which organisations you're here  representing. Gwenllian, do you want to start? 

Prynhawn da. Gwenllian ydw i. Dwi yma'n cynrychioli Mudiad Meithrin ac ar ran y sector gofal plant ar ran CWLWM. 

Good afternoon. I'm Gwenllian. I'm here representing Mudiad Meithrin and CWLWM on behalf of the childcare sector.

Prynhawn da. I'm Jane O'Toole. I'm chief executive officer of Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs, also representing CWLWM. Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs supports out-of-school childcare clubs across Wales. 

Prynhawn da. Sharon Davies, pennaeth adddysg gyda'r WLGA. 

Good afternoon. I'm Sharon Davies, head of education at the Welsh Local Government Association. 

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, all. So, I'm just going to start off and get straight in there. How effectively do you think Welsh Government-funded childcare provision supports parental employment, particularly for mothers? So, Sharon, can I start with you, please? 

Yes. As you're aware with the child sufficiency assessment, that is a statutory obligation on all councils that they must complete. We're in the process now of completing that in preparation for June 2022, which is the next round. And within the assessment, all councils must consider the particular issues around access to childcare for a range of parents, not just mothers, but those who are currently working, parents seeking work or training opportunities, unemployment households, low-income families, lone-parent families, families from ethnic minority backgrounds and quite a number of other ones. Also within that, councils also need to consider the availability of childcare to support parents working atypical hours as well, because that's a big consideration, especially in this day and age.  

Although the CSA is a statutory obligation, there are no expectations that councils should meet the individual childcare needs of every working family. The objective is to ensure that, at a community level, there are strategic actions being taken with partners to address the gaps in childcare, and it's also about where the gaps in childcare are. So, I think, within the CSA, although there's work to amend it, I think it's a really good piece of work that does capture the needs within each council. 

Okay, thank you very much, Sharon. That's really interesting. Jane, I was going to come to you next. Do you think that it's effectively helping parents, and particularly mothers, to stay in work or to get back into work? 

Thank you, Sarah. We acknowledge the impact the 30 hours has made. We've done a parental survey recently, and across the pandemic we've noticed that the funding options have maybe not been or the childcare's not been there for all parents. We do find that there's a gap for Welsh-medium access to the childcare offer, which is something that, as an organisation, we're trying to address and we're working with Mudiad Meithrin to look at those gaps. We know that around about 11 to 17 per cent of parents can't access in the language of their choice as far as the childcare offer is concerned. And another thing that, as an organisation, we've noticed is that early years providers have concentrated more on the early years provision of childcare offer, and dropped what may be part of their provision that relates to school-age childcare. So, that's something that needs to—. There are sometimes good things and unintended consequences on other parts of the childcare sector.

I know that, as far as some parents are concerned, their universal credit only pays for some of their childcare, up to 85 per cent. They're on really, really tight budgets. They then can't afford to access additional childcare, because their budgets are so tight.

14:50

Thank you, Jane—that's really helpful. Gwenllian, do you think that, ultimately, what's being provided at the moment is enabling women to remain in work or to get back into work, or even increase their hours at work?

Wel, fel mae Jane wedi dweud, dŷn ni'n gwybod o dystiolaeth flaenorol fod mamau, i gyffredinoli, yn ysgwyddo mwy o'r baich, ond hefyd mae'n rhaid cofio, o ran y sector dŷn ni'n ei gynrychioli, fod 99 y cant o'r gweithlu hefyd yn fenywaidd, a nifer sylweddol ohonyn nhw yn famau eu hunain. Dŷn ni'n gwybod, o'r gwaith ymchwil mae Arad wedi ei wneud ar ran Llywodraeth Cymru, fod y cynnig gofal plant fel mae e'n sefyll heddiw wedi gwella'r sefyllfa i deuluoedd o ran tynnu ychydig o'r baich ariannol oddi arnyn nhw, ond dŷn ni hefyd yn gwybod bod yna fylchau daearyddol yn bodoli, fel mae Jane wedi dweud, o ran darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg, o ran darpariaeth i rieni â phlant sydd ag anghenion dysgu ychwanegol ac yn y blaen. Felly, dwi'n synhwyro bod y polisi a gyflwynwyd fel peilot i gychwyn yn 2017 wedi gwneud gwahaniaeth, ond bod yna ffordd eithaf pell i fynd, y gallwn ni ei harchwilio heddiw, o safbwynt cyflogadwyedd a rhieni.

Well, as Jane has said, we know from previous evidence that, to generalise, mothers take on more of the burden in this area, but we must bear in mind, in terms of the sector that we represent, 99 per cent of the workforce are also female, and a significant number of those are themselves mothers. We know, from research undertaken by Arad on behalf of Welsh Government, that the childcare offer as it currently stands has improved the position for families in terms of removing some of that financial burden from them, but we also know that there are geographical gaps, as Jane has already mentioned, in terms of Welsh-medium provision, provision for parents with children with additional learning needs, and so on and so forth. So, I sense that the policy introduced initially as a pilot in 2017 has made a difference, but there is some way to go, and we could certainly look into that today, in terms of employability and parenthood.

Okay, thank you very much. Chair, so that we don't run over and everyone gets a chance, I'm going to leave it there for now, because there's lots to get started with and explore there. Thank you, all, very much.

Okay, thanks very much. Clearly, there are two objectives here. One is child development, and the other is parental employment. What are your priorities in terms of improving the offer to be the most inclusive and most effective. Gwenllian, do you want to start?

Dwi'n meddwl eich bod chi'n iawn, Gadeirydd, fod yna nodau neu amcanion deublyg yn perthyn yma o safbwynt gwella darpariaeth i blant, a meddwl am eu hanghenion nhw o safbwynt eu hanghenion datblygiadol, eu hanghenion iechyd a lles, eu hanghenion gwybyddol nhw, a'r hyn dŷn ni'n gwybod o dystiolaeth y Cenhedloedd Unedig ac elusennau fel Achub y Plant ydy po fwyaf o fuddsoddiad sydd yna ym maes polisi gofal plant a'r blynyddoedd cynnar, a thu hwnt i hynny o ran oedran, po fwyaf o fuddiannau sydd yna o safbwynt llesiant, datblygiad y plentyn, trechu tlodi, ac yn y blaen. Felly, o ran y meysydd ble byddwn i yn dymuno gweld newid, dŷn ni'n barod wedi siarad am yr angen i gynyddu buddsoddiad ym maes y Gymraeg, ac mae Jane a fi yn cydweithio er mwyn llenwi bylchau sydd yn bodoli yn y sector all-ysgol, yn ogystal â'r sector blynyddoedd cynnar. Mae'n bwysig iawn cynyddu ymwybyddiaeth ymysg rhieni o bwysigrwydd gofal plant wedi'i gofrestru, wedi'i gofrestru gydag AGC, Arolygiaeth Gofal Cymru, oherwydd mae yna'n dal i fod nifer o ddarparwyr gofal plant sydd yn gweithredu heb gofrestru, ac mae hynny'n ein poeni ni, o safbwynt yr impact posib sydd yna ar blant.

Yn y maniffesto ar gyfer etholiadau Senedd Cymru, fe wnaeth Mudiad Meithrin, gyda chefnogaeth gan nifer o fudiadau gofal plant hefyd, gefnogi'r symudiad tuag at gynnwys plant dwyflwydd yn y cynnig gofal plant, oherwydd y gwirionedd ydy, erbyn bod y plentyn yn dair a phedair oed, mae rhieni a mamau wedi dychwelyd i'r gweithle ers rhai blynyddoedd, a dŷn ni'n gwybod bod yna bwysau enfawr ar deuluoedd yn y cyfnod cychwynnol hwnnw pan fo babis yn ifanc iawn, ac felly, fel cam cychwynnol, mi fyddwn i yn dadlau dros gynnwys plant dwy flwydd oed yn y cynnig gofal plant, gan obeithio gwella ar hynny maes o law. Ac efallai mai'r pwynt pwysicaf ydy hyn: mae'n iawn inni siarad a damcaniaethu ynglŷn â hyn oll, ond yr hyn dŷn ni angen ydy gweithlu proffesiynol, cymwys, sydd yn cael cydnabyddiaeth ariannol o'r hyn maen nhw'n ei wneud, ac felly dŷn ni'n teimlo ei bod hi'n amserol hefyd inni fod yn edrych ar gynyddu y cyfradd cyllido drwy'r cynnig gofal plant, ac yn cefnogi'r symudiad tuag at ei gynyddu o i o leiaf £5 yr awr. Mae yna awgrym bod hynny'n debygol iawn o ddigwydd, ond mae'r gyfradd cyllido wedi aros yn ystyfnig ar £4.50 yr awr ers pedair blynedd a mwy, ac mi fyddai hynny, yn ei dro, yn helpu i fuddsoddi ymhellach yn y maes, yn y gweithlu ac o safbwynt adnoddau a gweithgareddau i'r plant hefyd.

I think you're absolutely right, Chair, that there are multiple objectives here in terms of improving provision for children, and thinking of their needs in terms of their developmental needs, their health and well-being needs and their cognitive development needs, and what we know from United Nations evidence and from charities such as Save the Children is that the more investment there is in childcare policy and early years, and beyond that in terms of age groups, then the greater the benefits there are in terms of well-being, child development, tackling poverty and so on and so forth. So, in terms of those areas where we would wish to see changes, we've already mentioned the need to increase investment in terms of the Welsh language, and Jane and I are collaborating in order to fill existing gaps in the out-of-school sector, as well as in the early years sector. It's very important to increase awareness among parents of the importance of registered childcare, registered with Care Inspectorate Wales, because there are still a number of childcare providers who are operating without registration, and that is worrying to us in terms of the possible impact on children.

In the manifesto for the Welsh Parliament elections, Mudiad Meithrin, with the support of a number of other childcare bodies, supported a move towards including two-year-old children in the childcare offer, because the fact of the matter is that by the time a child is three or four years old, then parents and mothers will have resumed work for some years, and we know that there is huge pressure on families in that initial period, when children are very young. So, as an initial step, we would argue for the inclusion of two-year-old children in the childcare offer and hope to make improvements to that in time. And perhaps the most important point is this: it's fine for us to talk and philosophise around all of this, but what we need is a professional, qualified workforce that is financially recognised for what they deliver, and therefore we feel it's very timely for us to be looking at the funding provision through the childcare offer, and we support the move towards increasing it to at least £5 per hour. There is a suggestion that that is very likely to happen, but the funding rate has remained stubbornly at £4.50 an hour for over four years. This, in turn, would help to invest further in the field, in the workforce and in terms of resources and activities for the children as well.

14:55

Okay. So, increasing the pay to £5 an hour and extending it to children aged two would be your top priorities at this stage, apart from the obvious one about much greater Welsh-medium provision.

Ie, a hefyd pwysigrwydd tynnu sylw rhieni at bwysigrwydd darpariaeth gofal plant sydd wedi'i chofrestru, oherwydd bod nifer—. Mi fydd Jane yn gallu ymhelaethu ar hyn a phwysigrwydd hynny.

Yes, and also the importance of highlighting the importance of registered childcare provision to parents, because many—. Jane can expand on this, certainly, and its importance.

Okay. Jane, please concentrate on what you want to add to what Gwenllian has already said, unless, of course, you disagree with that.

No, I don't disagree at all. As far as registered childcare is concerned, there's a number of funding options from Welsh Government that also hinder registered holiday care in particular—I know that we're coming on to holiday care later. But, 30 per cent of parents who we surveyed recently had no knowledge of the benefits of registered childcare. I think that that's something we really need to highlight. They don't understand that if they access registered childcare, they can access tax free childcare, universal credit and the childcare offer as well. All of these things also make the sector more sustainable, which is something that, ultimately, we want to do. I know that we're working quite closely with the other three UK nations on school-age childcare and I know that Scotland have recently brought in funding for low-income parents for school-age childcare. Is that something that we need to consider to help parents back into work when their children are in school?

I've also had a note from one of our clubs that offer Welsh-medium childcare in Cardiff. They are full to capacity because their schools aren't able to give them any more space—this is a private provider—but that means that they can't hold spaces for people on zero-hours contracts, people who are working different hours in different weeks, because that's the nature of a zero-hours contract, as we're fully aware. So, that's affecting, in this club in particular and I'm sure that there are other areas across Wales, the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, low-income families and single mothers. So, is that something also that needs to be considered when we're looking at funding options, and how clubs can run school-age childcare in the future?

Sharon, as well as giving us your top priorities, could you explain to us how it is that people are providing childcare for money without being registered, which is illegal? And what are local authorities doing about it?

In regard to councils and local authorities, they would have a service level agreement with the childcare providers and those childcare providers then would be scrutinised on the terms and conditions of those service level agreements to ensure the quality, the provision and that, obviously, everything is above board. Also, they're inspected as well by Care Inspectorate Wales, and Estyn where appropriate. So, I think the sector works really closely with local authorities, especially CWLWM and other partners as well, to ensure that the quality of the childcare is appropriate, and, obviously, that is captured then in the childcare sufficiency assessment to ensure that there is sufficient provision and that the provision, then, is of a high quality.

I would say that, in term of the priorities going forward, obviously, we've had a period of unrest, for want of another phrase, under the whole COVID situation, and that's why I think it's really key that we look now at the data coming out of the CSA that'll be done in June 2022. It's also looking at, as well, the childcare offer digital service, I think that's going to be key—the successful introduction of that, which is due out in June next year. And then, it's to continue to work to ensure sustainability of the sector and meeting parents' needs—and, again, that links back to the CSA. I think that's going to be the key piece of work going forward, because, as we know, as Jane's already mentioned, parents' circumstances have changed considerably in the pandemic, and I think that needs to be captured. We have seen a rise in zero-hours contracts, and that has a negative impact, then, on the childcare offer. So, it's just capturing all of that, to ensure that we put the right data to be able to progress on those priorities.

15:00

Yes, sorry, just regarding the unregistered provision. They can run for under two hours unregistered, and the holiday childcare—holiday activity clubs—can run under the exceptions Order, which is something that we need to look at.

Thank you for clarifying that, but, obviously, there are some out there who are breaching the law anyway.

Ken Skates, I think you wanted to explore how we're meeting the needs of different groups.

Thanks, Chair. It's astonishing, really, that so many children with different needs are still not having the sort of provision that would ensure that they have maximum opportunity in life. Can you just outline what you think the Welsh Government should be doing to make sure that parents can access inclusive and accessible provision, particularly for children who have particular needs, complex needs, or speak through the medium of Welsh? I don't know who'd like to go first—Gwenllian, perhaps.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Ken. Rydych chi'n llygad eich lle: mae angen darpariaeth gofal plant sydd wedi'i theilwra i anghenion amrywiol plant a'u teuluoedd, ond sydd hefyd yn darparu gwaelodlin a fframwaith o ansawdd sydd yn gyson i bawb. Rydyn ni'n falch iawn o'r cyfraniad mae aelodau CWLWM a'r sector gofal plant yn ei wneud i fframweithiau ansawdd a hefyd i'r safonau gofynnol cenedlaethol, sydd, wrth gwrs, yn cael eu craffu arnynt a'u diwygio yn bresennol.

Dwi'n meddwl mai un testun rhwystredigaeth ydy'r ffaith bod gennym ni, yn aml iawn, 22 cyfundrefn wahanol, oherwydd bod awdurdodau lleol yn aml yn gweithredu ar ddarpariaeth grantiau i ddarparwyr gofal plant mewn ffyrdd gwahanol, sydd yn ei gwneud hi'n anodd iawn i ni fod yn cynghori ein haelodau a'r sector ehangach ynglŷn â sut y gallan nhw fod yn cymryd mantais o wahanol gynlluniau. Mae, er enghraifft, Haf o Hwyl a gaeaf o les—Winter of Well-being—yn esiamplau o hynny, lle mae'r ddarpariaeth o ran yr adnoddau ariannol sydd ar gael gan Lywodraeth Cymru trwy'r awdurdodau lleol i'r sector yn wych, ond mae yna 22 cyfundrefn wahanol. Sut mae modd inni fod yn gwneud yn siŵr bod cylchoedd meithrin, gwarchodwyr plant, clybiau ar ôl ysgol, meithrinfeydd ac ati, yn gallu manteisio ar y cyllid yna, pan, mewn gwirionedd, does yna ddim un gyfundrefn genedlaethol o reolau a rheoliadau?

Dwi ddim eisiau siarad yn ormodol am hyn achos dwi'n gwybod bydd gan Jane lawer mwy i'w ddweud ynglŷn ag ysgolion, ond mae yn bwysig meddwl am sut mae'r cynnig gofal plant yn cydgordio ac yn cydgynllunio â strategaeth 'Cymraeg 2050', a'n bod ni cymryd o ddifrif y bwlch yna o 11 y cant i 17 y cant o deuluoedd sy'n methu â chael darpariaeth gofal plant drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Mae yna ystyriaethau mawr ynghlwm â hynny o safbwynt cynllunio gweithlu, a dwi'n siŵr y down ni at hynny yn ddiweddarach.

Felly, dwi'n meddwl mai diffyg un gyfundrefn genedlaethol fyddai'r peth cyntaf y byddwn i'n rhoi ar y rhestr, a gobeithio y bydd y newidiadau rydyn yn eu gweld ar y funud i'r system anghenion dysgu ychwanegol yn help i sicrhau bod rhieni yn gallu cael at y gefnogaeth maen nhw ei hangen i blant sydd ag anghenion dysgu ychwanegol mewn darpariaeth gofal plant.

Thank you very much, Ken. You're absolutely right: we do need childcare provision that is tailored to the diverse needs of children and their families, but also provides a baseline and a quality framework that is consistent for all. We're very proud of the contribution that the members of CWLWM and the childcare sector make to quality frameworks and also to the required national standards, which, of course, are currently being scrutinised and amended.

I think one cause of frustration is the fact that we, very often, have 22 different regimes in place, because local authorities often operate on a grant basis for childcare providers in different ways, which makes it very difficult for us to advise our members and the broader sector on how they can take advantage of various schemes and plans. For example, Summer of Fun and Winter of Well-being are examples of that, where the provision in terms of the financial resources available from the Welsh Government through local authorities to the sector is excellent, but there are 22 different regimes in place. How we can ensure that cylchoedd meithrin, childcare providers, after-school clubs and so on and so forth can benefit from that funding, when, in reality, there isn't a single national system in place in terms of rules and regulations?

I don't want to talk too much about this because Jane will have a lot more to say about schools, but it is very important that we think about how the childcare offer actually goes hand in hand with the 'Cymraeg 2050' plans, and that we take seriously that gap of 11 per cent to 17 per cent of families who can't access Welsh-medium childcare provision. There are major considerations in relation to that in terms of workforce planning, and I'm sure we'll come to that later.

So, I do think the absence of a single national framework would be the first thing that I would place on the list, and hopefully the changes that we're currently seeing to the additional learning needs regime will be of assistance in ensuring that parents can access the support that they need for children with additional learning needs in childcare provision.

Thanks. Just to add to what Gwenllian said, with regard to school-age provision for children with additional needs, it's obviously quite incredibly more expensive to run that type of provision, and I know that settings really struggle. They have to do a lot of external funding, fundraising, and most of them are voluntary-managed committees run by the parents for their children to access these opportunities. So, maybe something around that could be considered, with looking at the one option for funding across Wales, because there are so many different options. We know that in the current round of funding, one local authority in particular has taken it upon themselves to just offer grants without an application, because they can see the need, and I think that that is something—. The childcare sector has really struggled, out of school in particular, because of the way that they're constituted. Across COVID, they've struggled to get the funding, and with 22 different iterations, it's been really hard for us as an organisation to support them to get what they need, but we have done in the instances that we can.

But I think I'd reiterate what Gwenllian says about one set of rules for childcare providers that's accessible to all, irrelevant of their language, their provision type or the way that they're managed, because they are part of the foundational economy, and we really need to make them sustainable and able to survive. In some instances, some out-of-school childcare clubs have not yet revived since March 2020, something that we really need to try and support. Seventeen per cent of those that closed are still closed because schools won't let them return to their premises, or they're just not getting the take-up, because people are still working from home. But in the future, if they close now, then they're not going to be there for future generations for childcare. 

15:05

Jane, just one more brief follow-up on that. Would a national system with one option for funding then also address the inequitable provision across Wales in terms of the amount of care that is available? Because at the moment, I think, only two in five local authorities, on average, have sufficient provision for working parents.

I think that if there was more funding available, more equitably—. I know that the CSAs are coming up and I know that, as CWLWM partners, we're doing a lot to support the local authorities with that. We're doing quite a big piece of work with regard to the Welsh medium alongside Mudiad Meithirn to look at those gaps, look where the provision needs to be, where we can extend cylchoedd meithrin to offer out-of-school childcare as well, support them to change their policies, procedures. As CWLWM partners, if we had one set of rules that addressed funding and we were able to roll that out equitably, then it would be much easier to support those settings going forward.

Okay. Very good. Sharon, did you have anything you wanted to add on that subject?

No, I would just echo, as well—

If you just want to agree, that's fine. Otherwise, there'll be further opportunities. So, Sioned, you wanted to ask a bit more about the after-school and wraparound care.

Ie, ac yn fwy eang, mewn ffordd. Beth yw rôl ysgolion yn y ddarpariaeth yma? Pa gyfraniad ddylai ysgolion ei wneud i gefnogi anghenion gofal plant rhieni ac i ehangu a gwella'r ddarpariaeth ar gyfer plant? Roedd Gwenllian wedi cyffwrdd arno fe, yr elfen yma o gydgynllunio ac o gydgysylltu. A dwi'n meddwl yn nhystiolaeth dwi ddim yn cofio pa un ohonoch chi, ond roedd yna sôn am y syniad yma—a dŷn ni wedi ei glywed e gan grwpiau eraill—o gael un Gweinidog, efallai, yn gyfrifol am ofal plant ac addysg blynyddoedd cynnar. Os ŷch chi'n cytuno â hynny, sut fyddai hynny'n gwella'r ddarpariaeth? Felly, rwyf i eisiau ichi sôn mwy am rôl ysgolion a chynllunio addysg yn hyn o beth.

Yes, and to look at it in broader terms, in a way. What's the role of schools in this provision? What contribution should schools make to support the childcare needs of parents and to expand and enhance provision for children? Gwenllian touched on this, this element of joint planning and co-ordination. I can't remember whose evidence it was, but I think there was mention of this idea—and we've heard it mentioned by other groups—of having a single Minister taking responsibility for childcare and early years education. If you agree with that, how would that improve the provision? So, I'd like you to tell us more about the role of schools and education planning in this regard.

Dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi'n deg dweud yn gyntaf ein bod ni fel sector yn teimlo ein bod ni yn cael cefnogaeth gan Lywodraeth Cymru a gan swyddogion Llywodraeth Cymru pan fydd hi'n dod i ddehongli rheoliadau, er enghraifft yn y cyfnod presennol, sydd yn parhau i fod yn gyfnod heriol. Ond mae yna ddiffyg dealltwriaeth ehangach o'r sector gofal plant, ac o bosib rydyn ni'n gweld hynny ar waith mewn ysgolion.

Un esiampl ydy'r hyn mae Jane wedi cyfeirio ato fo—cylchoedd meithrin a darparwyr gofal allysgol yn cael eu nadu rhag dychwelyd i safleoedd ysgol a dim, efallai, digon o ddealltwriaeth o'r impact mae hynny yn ei gael ar deuluoedd estynedig, er bod rhywun, wrth gwrs, yn cydymdeimlo efo'r ffaith bod penaethiaid hefyd yn ei chael hi'n anodd i ddehongli'r holl newid sydd yn digwydd o'u cwmpas nhw. Ond, yn sicr, beth fyddwn i'n hoffi ei weld ydy, lle mae yna gynlluniau i agor ysgolion newydd, er enghraifft, os ydy'r ffocws yna ar fod yn hyb cymunedol yn cael ei gymryd o ddifrif, yna bod yna ystyriaeth o anghenion darpariaeth gofal plant a blynyddoedd cynnar ar y safleoedd hynny. Ac mae hynny eto yn cydgordio gyda pholisi 'Cymraeg 2050'.

Mae yna hefyd symudiad o safbwynt yr agenda ECEC, sydd, dwi'n meddwl, yn beth da o safbwynt y plentyn, achos yr hyn rydyn ni eisiau ei gweld ydy mwy o gysondeb rhwng beth sy'n cael ei ddysgu a'r ddarpariaeth gofal mewn lleoliad gofal plant ac yn yr ysgol, oherwydd yr un ydy anghenion y plentyn, dim ots ym mha leoliad maen nhw—ydyn nhw mewn ysgol neu ydyn nhw mewn cylch meithrin neu mewn meithrinfa, er enghraifft. 

O safbwynt y Gweinidog a chael un Gweinidog, dwi'n meddwl bod hwnna'n gysyniad diddorol. Dwi'n meddwl, wrth gwrs, y byddem ni fel sector yn gefnogol i hynny, achos weithiau mae rhywun yn teimlo bod yna ddim digon o ganolbwyntio strategol ar faes polisi gofal plant, er gwaetha'r ffaith ein bod ni'n gwybod bod yr holl dystiolaeth yma'n dangos bod y cyfnod ffurfiannol yna yn y blynyddoedd cynnar mor allweddol ar gymaint o lefelau gwahanol pan fydd hi'n dod i nid yn unig dyfodol y plentyn ond, yn wir, dyfodol yr oedolyn. Ac mae'r hyn sydd wedyn yn digwydd pan fydd y plentyn yn hŷn—. Dydy o ddim yn gorffen am 3.30 p.m., fel mae Jane yn iawn wedi dweud; mae angen i'r ddarpariaeth gofal plant yna i barhau er mwyn bodloni anghenion cymhleth gwahanol deuluoedd. A dydy'r ffaith fod rhieni yn gweithio gartref ddim yn golygu chwaith bod yna ddim anghenion gofal plant yn dal i fod yn ddilys. Diolch, Sioned. 

I think it's fair to say, first of all, that we as a sector feel that we are supported by Welsh Government and Welsh Government officials when it comes to interpreting regulations, for example in the current period, which continues to be a very challenging time. But there is a broader lack of understanding of the childcare sector, and perhaps we might be seeing that in action in schools.

One example is what Jane's already referred to—cylchoedd meithrin and providers of out-of-school care prevented from returning to school premises and there not being enough understanding of the impact that has on extended families, although one sympathises with the fact that headteachers are also having great difficulty in interpreting all of the changes happening around them all the time. Certainly what I would want to see is that where there are plans to open new schools, for example, if that focus is on being a community hub, and if that's taken seriously then there should be consideration of childcare and early years needs on those sites. And again, that goes hand in hand with the 'Cymraeg 2050' policy. 

There is also some movement in terms of the early childhood education and care agenda, which I think is a good thing in terms of the child, because what we want to see is greater consistency between what is taught and the care provision in childcare settings and in schools, because the children's needs are the same, no matter where they are, be they in school or a cylch meithrin or a nursery, for example. 

In terms of having a single Minister, well, I think it's an interesting idea. Certainly, we as a sector would be supportive of that, because on occasion one does feel that there isn't enough strategic focus on childcare policy, although we do know that all of the evidence demonstrates that that formative time in the early years is so crucially important on so many different levels when it comes to not only the child's future but also the future of the adult. And what happens when the child is older—. It doesn't come to an end at 3.30 p.m., as Jane has quite rightly said; you need that childcare provision to be in place in order to meet the complex needs of diverse families. And the fact that parents are working from home doesn't mean that there are no childcare requirements. Thank you, Sioned. 

15:10

Diolch. Jane, hoffech chi ychwanegu at hynny?

Thank you. Jane, would you like to add to that?

Yes. I totally agree about the benefits of the ECEC coming in, but we need to also consider unintended consequences. At the moment, the out-of-school childcare sector delivers care for 3 to 14-year-olds, although in essence it's mostly primary school age. Bringing in ECEC could have the unintended consequence that out-of-school childcare clubs may only be able to offer care in the future from 5 years up, if the settings are delivering ECEC. So, it's something that we need to consider about how we can holistically take that forward. 

One thing as far as what schools can do to support out-of-school childcare in particular—it's quite interesting to note that most of our unregistered settings are based in schools, and that increases if they're Welsh medium and based in schools. So, that's something that we need to consider long term, really encouraging school-run settings to not see registration with Care Inspectorate Wales as another inspection but to promote the benefits of out-of-school childcare and the quality that registration can bring, improving outcomes for children through play, not through education, which going forward I think is really, really important. We really need to support this message of learning through play.

With the Welsh Government commitment for 30 per cent to continue to work flexibly or from home, that's going to have an impact on out-of-school childcare going forward. But if the sector's not supported to continue to deliver what is a really important provision, because parents—. Children should be allowed to play after school and not be sat while parents are juggling their work and home life balance from home. I think that's something really important to consider going forward. And looking at the Welsh-medium provision, the registered Welsh-medium provision in schools or in communities is something that also—it's increased in the Welsh medium rather than the English medium. So, it's something to consider going forward. 

Diolch. Oes amser i ofyn un bach arall, Gadeirydd, neu ydych chi eisiau symud ymlaen?

Thank you. Do I have time for just one more question, Chair, or do you want to move on?

I think we probably want to find out what Sharon Davies says about this, particularly as all of this unregistered care is in schools. 

Allaf i jest ychwanegu, Sharon, allech chi hefyd efallai sôn am ddarpariaeth yn ystod gwyliau'r ysgol hefyd, yn rhan o'r ateb? Beth all ysgolion wneud? Beth sydd angen ei wneud i gynyddu hynny?

If I could just add, Sharon, perhaps you could also mention the provision during school holidays too, as part of your response. What can schools do and what do we need to do to increase that?

15:15

I would agree, it's so important for childcare providers as well as schools to work together in a joined-up way, because at the end of the day, as Gwenllian quite rightly said, for children it doesn't matter where they're at. We need to ensure that there's continuity from—whether it's one place to another to another, it doesn't matter, really, in that respect. It's key that they're joined up. I know through the Welsh in education strategic plans, there was capital funding a few years ago—this was pre COVID—in regard to the 2050, the million Welsh speakers, that some LAs were able to access funding and Welsh-medium funding, obviously, for Welsh-medium provision, to put childcare on the sites of Welsh-medium schools, which has worked really, really well. But obviously, that was a small part of capital funding towards that.

And also, you have to look at the need and the demand within the area. What you don't want to do, then, is put it on the school site, as it were, and then put somebody else out of business. You do have to look at the demand within the area as well. But I absolutely agree we need to work together on this.

I think there are difficulties as well within—. As Jane mentioned, we do have very good settings that work within school sites as well, and they work in collaboration really well, and I think the key there, then, is to use that as good practice and to share that across, where it works really, really well, is to share it out then. Diolch.

Okay. Can I bring in Jane Dodds at this point, please? You're still muted. You're muted, Jane.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Wyt ti'n gallu—? Diolch. Jest un cwestiwn, os gwelwch yn dda, a hynny ynglŷn â'r fframwaith. Rydyn ni'n edrych dros Gymru i gael pethau'n fwy cyfartal ynglŷn â'r cynnig. Pa syniadau sydd gennych chi o gwmpas hynny, os gwelwch yn dda, yn enwedig ynglŷn â'r iaith Gymraeg? Dwi eisiau gweld yn union beth fydd yn gwneud y cynnig ar gyfer yr iaith Gymraeg yn fwy i rieni, os gwelwch yn dda. Efallai cwestiwn jest i Gwenllian. Dwi ddim yn siŵr os oes barn gan y bobl eraill. Diolch.

Thank you, Chair. Just one question, if I may. And it's a question on the framework that we're looking at in order that we provide greater equality in terms of the childcare offer. What ideas do you have around that, particularly in terms of the Welsh language? I want to look at exactly what would enhance the Welsh language offer and how that can be done, and that's perhaps a question for Gwenllian. I don't know if our other witnesses have a view. Thank you.

Diolch, Jane. Wel, i adleisio rhywbeth ddywedodd Sharon, mi oedd y chwistrelliad yna o gyllid cyfalaf yn arbennig o bwysig o ran ehangu darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg yn y sector ysgolion a chydgynllunio gyda’r cynnig gofal plant, a dwi'n meddwl bod y math yna o gynllunio strategol yn bwysig. Felly, mae gwireddu'r cynlluniau hynny—mae'r cynlluniau hynny wedi cael eu heffeithio gan y pandemig—mae gwireddu'r cynlluniau yna yn mynd i fod yn allweddol bwysig.

Yn ail, mae ymateb i waith ymchwil Arad a gweithredu i lenwi'r bwlch yna sydd rhwng 11 ac 17 y cant dros Gymru o safbwynt darpariaeth gofal plant drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg yn bwysig, a dwi'n edrych gyda diddordeb ar y gwaith mae'r mudiad a Chlybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs yn ei wneud ar y cyd er mwyn sefydlu darpariaethau sydd yn fwy cynaliadwy o safbwynt ariannol, achos os ydyn nhw'n gynaliadwy'n ariannol, maen nhw'n fwy tebygol o aros ar agor, a hefyd maen nhw'n fwy tebygol o fod eisiau ehangu, ac mae gwaith cynllunio gweithlu yn arbennig o bwysig, ac mae her recriwtio wedi bod yn y gweithlu cyfrwng Cymraeg ers blynyddoedd, ond mae'r wasgfa bresennol ar y sector cyfrwng Saesneg hefyd yn cael dylanwad ar y gweithlu cyfrwng Cymraeg, felly mae eisiau i ni weld mwy o fomentwm, mwy o fuddsoddi mewn cynlluniau work-based learning. Mae gan y mudiad gynllun ysgolion lle rydyn ni'n cynnig cymwysterau gofal plant mewn 18 o ysgolion uwchradd. Mi fyddai cyllid i fod yn ehangu ar hynny yn dderbyniol iawn, achos rydyn ni fel mudiad wedi cymhwyso bron i 3,500 o unigolion dros y blynyddoedd diwethaf i fod yn gweithio o fewn y sector blynyddoedd cynnar a gofal plant, ond dydy o ddim yn ddigon; mae'n rhaid i ni wneud mwy. Mae'n rhaid i bartneriaid o fewn colegau addysg bellach wneud mwy hefyd, fel bod gennym ni economi gymysg yn wir o safbwynt y sawl sydd yn gallu darparu cymwysterau ar gyfer y gweithlu cyfrwng Cymraeg. Felly, cyfuniad—i ateb eich cwestiwn chi, Jane—o gyllid cyfalaf, cydgynllunio, meddwl am gynllunio'r gweithlu, a sut rydyn ni'n hyrwyddo gyrfaoedd o fewn y blynyddoedd cynnar a'r sector gofal plant cyfrwng Cymraeg.

Thank you, Jane. Well, to echo something Sharon said, that injection of capital funding was particularly important in terms of expanding Welsh-medium provision in the schools sector and for joint planning with the childcare offer, and I think that kind of strategic planning is important. So, delivering those plans—of course, they have been affected by the pandemic—but delivering the plans is going to be crucially important.

Secondly, responding to the Arad research and taking action to fill that gap of between 11 and 17 per cent across Wales in terms of Welsh-medium provision—and I look with interest at the work that mudiad and Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs are doing in terms of finding financial sustainability, because if they are financially sustainable, they're more likely to remain open and they're more likely to expand, and workforce planning is also extremely important. There's been a recruitment challenge in the Welsh-medium workforce for many years, but the current pressure on the English-medium sector is also having an impact on the Welsh-medium workforce, so we need greater momentum and we need more investment in work-based learning schemes. Mudiad has a schools programme where we provide childcare in 18 secondary schools, and funding to expand on that would be very agreeable indeed, because we as an organisation have qualified almost 3,500 individuals to be working in the childcare and early years sector, but it's not enough, and we need to do more. We need partnerships in further education to do more, too, and to ensure that we have a mixed economy in terms of those who can provide qualifications for the Welsh-medium workforce. So, to answer your question, Jane, it's a combination of capital funding, joint planning, thinking about workforce planning and how we promote careers within early years and childcare, particularly in the Welsh-medium sector.

15:20

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi ddim yn gwybod os oes gan bobl eraill rywbeth i'w ychwanegu, ond mae hynny'n helpu. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gwenllian.

Thank you very much. I don't know if others have anything to add, but that's very helpful. Thank you, Gwenllian.

Jane, if I could just quickly come in there just to add on to that, as far as the childcare offer's concerned, obviously it's available during the holidays, and so it's really important that the out-of-school childcare sector is there to support that delivery during the holidays, including through the medium of Welsh, and also that other pots of funding from Welsh Government, such as the school holiday enrichment programme, the Playworks holiday programme and the summer of fun/winter of well-being funding doesn't jeopardise the sector, because those pots of funding are for settings that are running unregistered because they're allowed to under the exceptions order, but that then does—if I could just give you one example—a Welsh-medium organisation has had summer of fun or has had funding to deliver in half term a programme for five days that has made a normally viable holiday club not run, because they've run on a school site where the club is based. So, that holistic approach to delivery really needs to be addressed going forward to ensure the sustainability of the childcare offer providers in the future.

Thanks, Chair. We were just talking there about the out-of-school childcare sector, and I'm pretty keen to get an assessment of the impact you think COVID has had on that particular sector, and how the Welsh Government—what they can do now to support the childcare sector to recover and adapt to new challenges. The inverse question, I guess, would be my second one, which is: have there been any positive impacts of COVID-19 on parents and the childcare sector, and what opportunities do you think there are going forward?

Thank you, Tom. The impact of COVID on the out-of-school childcare sector in particular, I think it's been the hardest hit of all parts of the sector. As I mentioned earlier, a number of clubs still aren't able to reopen for various reasons. They have really struggled because of the way they were constituted to get funding, initially, although we have addressed that in future iterations. It has adapted. Going forward, it would be good to think about, if we go into lockdown again, how the childcare sector can support education to continue to deliver for parents who are critical workers or vulnerable children.

There are many, many good stories as far as the impact of the pandemic. I think the sector's pulled together in a way that we never realised was possible. There are some really, really good stories about delivery, about how settings have supported children even though they weren't getting funding, going out delivering packs and delivering online, even though children weren't able to attend. So, still supporting parents who are working from home—these clubs weren't getting any funding, but still looking at the intrinsically motivated staff that continue to deliver. I think we just need to build on that and make sure that the sector is sustainable for the future, and hopefully, no further lockdowns.

Yes, Jane—

Tom, did you have further questions for any of the other witnesses?

No, but I think Gwenllian wanted to come in to respond to that.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Tom. Roeddwn i jest eisiau tynnu sylw at y ffaith bod yna 183 o leoliadau gofal plant ar gau heddiw dros dro yn sgil sefyllfa COVID allan o 3,333. Y newyddion da ydy y bydd y rhan fwyaf o'r rheini yn ailagor ymhen wythnos, 10 diwrnod, pan fydd y staff yn gallu dychwelyd i'r gwaith, ond y budd mwyaf i fi ydy'r peth mwy haniaethol yna, sef bod lleoliadau gofal plant wedi gallu aros ar agor llawer cyn ysgolion, a'u bod nhw wedi gallu felly parhau i ddarparu gwasanaethau i blant bach sydd yn ôl eu natur, yn fregus. Maen nhw ar groesffordd mor bwysig yn eu bywydau, ac felly mae cael y ddarpariaeth gofal ac addysg dysgu trwy chwarae yna mor ofnadwy o bwysig.

Ac mae yna bethau wedi newid er gwell. Mae'r sector wedi tynnu at ei gilydd, yn union fel roedd Jane yn dweud. Mae yna bartneriaethau gwella perthnasau wedi digwydd, ond siawns mai'r peth mwyaf fyddem ni am ei osgoi eto ydy gweld unrhyw symudiad at gau darpariaethau gofal plant, gan gydnabod yr effaith ddifäol mae hynny'n cael, nid ar y sector ond ar blant yn fwyaf penodol. 

Thank you very much, Tom. I just wanted to highlight the fact that there are 183 childcare settings closed temporarily now, because of COVID, and that's out of 3,333. The good news is that most of those will reopen in a week or 10 days' time, when the staff are able to return to work. But the greatest benefit for me is that less tangible thing, that childcare settings have been able to open far before schools, and were able to continue to provide services for very young children who are, by their nature, very vulnerable. They're at such an important crossroads in their lives, so having that learning through play and childcare provision is so hugely important.

And things have changed for the better. The sector has come together, just as Jane said. There have been partnerships formed, but the main thing that we would want to avoid would be any move towards the closure of childcare provision, recognising the very detrimental impact that that can have, not on the sector but on children specifically.  

15:25

Okay. I just wanted to pick up with Sharon one of the points made by Jane O'Toole, which was that there was in one instance she mentioned, a SHEP project, a holiday programme, put into a school where there was a holiday provision already running which, obviously, needed to get contributions from families. And obviously, that made it non-viable because the SHEP programme is free. That's quite difficult to understand in the context of, certainly, my constituency where fewer SHEP programmes were running than normal, and there were very few. There was less holiday provision provided in the area that I represent than before, so I just wondered how does the WLGA not knock out provision, as well as trying to increase it, because all these schools are funded by the taxpayer. There seems to be a huge demand that's not being met at the moment, some of which is COVID-related. 

SHEP is run over the summer holidays, not during half term. 

It's only run for a certain amount of time, and the learners that SHEP is targeted towards aren't learners—there have been surveys done over several years—that would use childcare. So, there isn't a clash, and we do ensure every year that we aren't taking children away from the childcare sector for SHEP. SHEP is a strategically-run programme that works in school with school staff to continue their learning over the summer period, recognising that there's a long gap for some children within the summer holidays, and that SHEP then continues the learning for these children. 

Obviously, with the pandemic, the summer that's just gone, SHEP was back up and running, and we had additional funding from Welsh Government, and through that additional funding, we had more schools that wouldn't necessary through a business-case scenario run SHEP programmes on their site, and they were hugely successful. Obviously, we had to take in the COVID restrictions on a smaller scale and everything, but the SHEP programme over the summer holidays was hugely successful. 

But we do work very closely—we do ensure that we do not take the children that would necessarily access childcare. As I've mentioned, we've done the surveys, and time and time again the surveys indicate that these parents don't access childcare, and therefore—. It's a different demographic of children. 

Overall, would you accept that there is a huge unmet demand for wraparound care for primary school children? 

I think this is an area that Welsh Government does need to look at, and we all need to work collaboratively on this. Again, we have to take into consideration we've got workforce demand, especially in the Welsh medium as Gwenllian and Jane have both mentioned, and that's not going to—. They're not solvable overnight. We do need to invest and I think behind it as well, a key behind any of this is funding, because it has to be sustainable for the sector as well. It's all very well setting up; these are businesses, and sometimes it's having that inclination as well and the right business model, as well as the provision. And sometimes, that is lacking, and that's where councils, that's where local authorities are key. They do have people within the LA that do support but, again, it's capacity and funding—it's limited. 

Very, very briefly, there are definite opportunities for the SHEP programme, the Playworks holiday programme and the Summer of Fun to utilise registered childcare. We've done a pilot, it works, so can hit that demographic that SHEP is looking at, but also looking to sustain childcare provision that's registered. There's definitely an opportunity.

15:30

Okay, well, perhaps we can hear about the detail of that outside this meeting. Thank you very much, all of you, for your contributions. You will be sent a transcript of your contributions. Please do check them to make sure that we've accurately captured what you were wanting to say, and thank you very much indeed for helping us understand better exactly what the challenges are in this sector. So, diolch yn fawr iawn.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Hwyl fawr.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:31 a 15:45.

The meeting adjourned between 15:31 and 15:45.

15:45
6. Gofal plant a chyflogaeth rhieni—sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
6. Childcare and parental employment—evidence session 3

Welcome back to the third session of our childcare inquiry, and in this panel we are going to be hearing from Alison Cumming, director, early learning and childcare for the Scottish Government, and Johan Kaluza, senior adviser at the department of policy analysis of the Swedish Gender Equality Agency. Thank you very much indeed, both of you, for your papers. One of my colleagues is going to start the questioning.

Thank you, Chair. And thanks for joining us today, I'm really, really grateful. Can you just outline, just to begin with, how early years in your respective nations has enabled parents to remain in or to enter into work and to progress in employment, with a particular focus, if you may, on mothers? Alison, would you like to go first?

Yes, thank you. Good afternoon, committee, it's a pleasure to be with you today. So, in Scotland, our approach to early learning and childcare, as we've called it since 2014, has had a slightly different focus. So, our primary focus for our investment has been on investment in improving children's outcomes, but we recognise that by doing that we're also creating opportunities for parents to access or perhaps return to work, training or study.

So, from August 2021, we've seen the funded entitlement for all three and four-year-olds and around one quarter of two-year-olds almost double, from 600 hours a year to 1,140 hours a year, which is roughly—1,140 was chosen because it's roughly the same number of hours a child is in primary school. But, the reason we've specified it as 1,140 hours is that you don't have to take those hours in that pattern that children are in a primary school, you can take it over a greater number of weeks but take a fewer number of hours per week. So, say about 22 hours a week over 50 weeks, rather than taking the 30 hours over the 38 weeks of the school year. So, what that does is it gives parents flexibility in terms of how they access that statutory entitlement, to flex to their working pattern. If that is what helps them to do so, they can flex that over the course of the week, the pattern of provision.

But, it's not enough for us just to provide the hours, we've also been looking at what are the additional opportunities and investment that Scottish Government can make that then help parents who are not currently in employment to perhaps get closer to employment. We have created a parental employability support fund, which is not just about the early learning and childcare offer, but is available to parents with children of all ages, to provide them with employability support and to find opportunities to increase their earnings through employment by gaining or progressing in employment that's fair work employment.

We also recognise that, for a lot of families in early learning and childcare, the parents could perhaps benefit from access to community learning, adult learning opportunities, so we've invested in some specific programmes, such as the family learning Scotland programme, which is effectively a train the trainer programme. So, by December, we will have a network of over 430 trained practitioners in the Peep Learning Together Programme, who'll be able to work with parents in order to—. In the first instance, they will gain a recognised qualification in child development, they will gain confidence in supporting their child's development, but what we find is that that tends to also lead to parents perhaps going on to enter further study or get a job in the childcare sector.

So, I'll pause there and allow Johan to come in, but very happy to take any further comments on those points. Thank you.

Yes, thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

So, the question is somewhat difficult to answer from a Swedish perspective, due to the fact that childcare has been one of the pillars of our gender equality policy since the 1970s. So, the estimations and stuff like that are sort of hard to imagine today. So, I try to give an informed answer on what we know.

So, since the 1960s and 1970s, childcare, together with parental leave policies and taxation policies, have been sort of the focus of gender equality and getting women to enter the job market, creating this dual bread-winner—oh, what's the term in English—dual bread-maker model. So, both men and women should have an income; that's sort of the goal of the Swedish policy since then.

Then, in around the mid-1990s, as Alison made reference to, we started to incorporate more thoughts around the educational benefits of preschool to children. So, around the millennium, we changed the name from 'childcare' to 'preschool'. So, almost all small children go to what we call preschool. So, from the age of one, preschool is available.

So, around 2001, we introduced—the translation would be—'public preschools', but almost everything is publicly funded preschools. But, the reform that we introduced was a price ceiling on preschools, and we gave access to parents who are on parental leave with a second or third child—we gave those parents access to a limited amount of hours. We also included unemployed mothers and fathers in the preschool system for at least 15 hours a week. What research saw then was an increase, especially in mothers—on average, a 17 per cent increase in mothers' employment chances, if they were unemployed. If they had two or more children, these numbers increased up to around 35 per cent. So, what we have seen is that—.

I should also mention that around 86 per cent of men and 84 per cent of women are in the labour force, as participants. So, those numbers come in here. But, the employment rate went up when we introduced the reform of giving unemployed mothers, I should say, access to preschools. There were no significant effects on men. It was less-educated mothers who benefited the most, but then, exceptionally, the next group were women who had university degrees, two plus years. So, those high-school degrees, and lower university degrees, didn't have that much effect. So, in this sense, I would say that the preschool system—. It's quite clear that job creation, for both men and women, benefits from preschools. 

15:55

Brilliant. Thank you. I was going to ask whether you've got any information on the economic and social benefits of your respective policies. It's obvious from what you've both already given us today that there are great economic benefits. Are there any other social benefits that you just want to flag up whilst you're giving evidence today, from your respective countries, of the childcare policies that you have? 

Well, I'll come in first there. I think, just to, probably, elaborate on the point that I made, that the primary rationale for investment has been about children's outcomes, and that's about a whole range of outcomes, it is about their social and emotional well-being, but also looking at the contribution that access to high quality—and we know it has to be high quality to have this impact—early learning and childcare has on their future levels of attainment.

We have—. We're obviously at a very early stage of that move from 600 to 1,140 hours, and we have a monitoring and evaluation strategy for that expansion that's supported by a baseline evaluation—the Scottish study for ELC—which will help us, hopefully, to demonstrate the impact that this investment has had over a period of time, as well as those children's outcomes, in creating those additional opportunities for parents, if they wish, to enter employment or access training or education opportunities.

We have a third set of benefits identified from the expansion, which is really around family well-being, which has recognised in a lot of ways that an early learning and childcare service can provide holistic support to the family. It can be a source of support for parents as well, not exclusively those in more challenging economic circumstances, but across the range on a whole range of issues, supporting them, perhaps, with questions about their child's development, but also potentially being able to signpost other services to them—financial support, financial advice services, for example.

And we also in Scotland are going through the implementation of the recommendations from an independent care review under the banner of 'keeping the promise', and the promise being our promise to children and young people currently in the care system, which points to a holistic family support model, and we're very much trying to line up the expansion of early learning and childcare to support that holistic family offer also. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Ie, rŷn ni wedi clywed fanna y prif elfennau sydd yn rhan o'ch strategaeth chi o ran addysg blynyddoedd cynnar a gofal plant. Beth fyddech chi'n dweud yw'r agweddau gorau ar eich polisi yna? Beth rŷch chi'n meddwl yw'r hyn y gallai cenhedloedd eraill fel Cymru ddysgu ohonyn nhw? Mae gen i ddiddordeb arbennig yn y safon genedlaethol yma sydd gyda chi yn yr Alban, fod y cyllid yn dilyn y plentyn. Dŷn ni wedi clywed lot yn y sesiynau blaenorol, y dystiolaeth flaenorol dŷn ni wedi cael y bore yma, ynglŷn â patchiness, ynglŷn â'r ffaith bod darpariaeth yn amrywio yn ddaearyddol o le i le, o awdurdod lleol i awdurdod lleol yng Nghymru. Felly, os allwch chi ymhelaethu tipyn bach ar hynny. Dwi ddim yn gwybod os oes gyda chi rywbeth tebyg, rhyw fath o safon genedlaethol y gall pobl ddisgwyl o ofal plant ac addysg blynyddoedd cynnar yn Sweden hefyd. 

Felly, ie, os allwch chi ddweud beth yw'r agweddau gorau yn eich barn chi ar eich polisïau chi yn hyn o beth, a beth rŷch chi'n meddwl byddai Llywodraeth Cymru yn gallu dysgu fwyaf ohono.

Thank you very much, Chair. Yes, we've just heard about the main elements of your strategies in terms of early years education and childcare. But what would you say are the best aspects of your policies in those areas? What do you think that other nations such as Wales could learn from you in that regard? I'm particularly interested in this national standard that you have in Scotland, that the funding follows the child. We've heard a great deal in previous evidence sessions this afternoon on the patchiness of provision, and the fact that provision varies geographically from place to place, from local authority to local authority in Wales. So, if you could expand on that. I don't know if you have something similar, some national standard that people can expect in terms of childcare and early years education in Sweden too.

So, perhaps if you could tell us what are the best aspects of your policies in the area of childcare, and what you think the Welsh Government could learn from you.

16:00

Thank you. I'll pick up the answer to that question to start with, and our experience in Scotland. And I should say, at the moment, I suppose it's learning from our policy design; obviously, we don't have the evidence yet from policy implementation on this. But one of the big questions for us—. Because we were designing the early learning and childcare expansion with quality in mind, we didn't want it just to be about creating that capacity—which, don't get me wrong, has been a huge challenge and it's been a fantastic achievement by our delivery partners in local authorities and providers in the private and third sectors to do that, to increase the workforce, to provide greater physical spaces—but how did we know that we were actually delivering that high quality.

So, the solution that we came up with in the policy design was to have a minimum set of standards, so that parents knew that, wherever their child was accessing their funded entitlement, there were some basic components of quality and we were assured that was going to be an experience of high quality. We developed a quality action plan in 2017 that set out a number of actions where we identified drivers of quality, a lot of which—which wouldn't be a surprise and draws on all the international literature—is about the workforce. So we recognised, well, what are the drivers of high quality, and then what are the things that we could reasonably set as expectations for all providers across the sector to deliver. And just as a point of context at this point, I'll add that we have a mixed provision in Scotland, between local authority public sector provision, which was historically about three quarters of our provision, and about a quarter being delivered by private and third sector. So, we wanted to make sure that it was similar across the board, and also to create that level playing field of access also for private and third sector providers, which had been expressed by parents and by those providers as a concern in the past.

So, we do have components and criteria in there that are really around the investment that the setting makes in the workforce; there's a direct link to inspection gradings as a measure of quality. We didn't want to introduce new measures over and above and create a new regulatory burden—so, what was already there that we could point to, but also to look at some additional things around investment in the continuous professional learning of the workforce, for example, that wouldn't explicitly be drawn out in inspection. It was also an opportunity for us to draw in elements of the provision that are not statutory but that are really important, such as children having access to nutritious food throughout the day, and it's helped to safeguard that. And it's also, we hope, a really important mechanism for delivering fair work for the sector, for the private and third sector, recognising that relationship between a well-paid, well-rewarded, highly qualified workforce, across a range of different types of qualifications, in delivering those high-quality experiences for children. We have fair-work criteria in there as well, which, effectively, sets an expectation that all the registered childcare staff delivering the funded hours are paid at least the real living wage.

So, if I'm picking up, if I describe the system in a little bit more detail, the main responsible entity for preschools are municipalities or local governmental organisations—through taxes, they are the ones paying for preschools. Our current system comes from our economic crisis in the 1990s, where funding was cut to preschools, and parents needed to put in more money themselves, which goes a little bit against the Swedish model in this way. So, around 2001, we created this new setting, with a price ceiling, which wasn't mandatory. So, every municipality could choose if they wanted the price ceiling or not, but if they chose a price ceiling, the national government would fund a large compensation. So, in the introduction, only two of our 290 municipalities chose not to have the price ceiling, and, two years later, those two have been introduced to the system as well.

So, we came from a system where parents needed to pay a lot themselves, which created problems for lower income families, and now we have a system where you pay a maximum of 3 per cent of your income for a preschool for a first child, and then, for the second child, that's lowered to 2 per cent, and then, if you have three children—a third child—you're paying 1 per cent of your income, but with a price ceiling of—. If I'm correct here, and I have Googled the amount, it would be £128 per month. So, that's the ceiling for one child in preschool. And I would say, from a best practice point of view, we still struggle to have—. We have certain locking effects for certain groups, especially women, foreign-born women especially, and we can see that these women are a little hesitant to send their children to preschool and attend the labour market. In my statement, I draw on a Norwegian study that giving them free access to preschool would increase their employment rate. So, I would say, from a best practice point of view, the price ceiling that we have makes it affordable for lower income families to also send—. And that's one of the aims of this system, and I would say it's quite successful, given the amount of children who attend preschool and the amount of hours they attend as well. So, that's one effect. Yes.

16:05

Very good. So, can we now go on to hear questions from Sarah Murphy? 

Thank you, Chair. That actually follows on quite nicely, Johan, because my question is about the impact that this has had on addressing inequalities for children. So, you talked then about how you've addressed some of the inequalities in terms of access for people from lower income backgrounds, but specifically—. And I suppose the good thing about this as well is that you've had this in some form or another from the 1960s or 1970s, so, now, I suppose as well you can see the impact that that has had on generations. So, could you tell us a little bit about how the system has also addressed those inequalities in children, in their outcomes? 

That's a good question. I've seen some research, and that goes back to not the last question, but the second last question, of other aspects in Sweden. We have seen that attending preschool, especially for lower income children, gives them better chances in school later. So, school results—. I'm not really an expert on pedagogical issues, but I have seen—. There are quite robust studies on this, especially for children from low-income households. If they have attended preschools, they have better school results later, and this price-ceiling system has created higher attendance amongst almost all groups, especially when both parents are working, because then you have full access to the system. If one is unemployed or on parental leave, you have the minimum of 15 hours, but some cities also have more. For instance, in Stockholm, we have 30 hours, even if you’re unemployed. So, that we can see as a social issue.

16:10

Fantastic. Thank you very much. Alison, I was going to ask you: what steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure high-quality, early years childcare when extending provision over recent years, given that this is particularly important in achieving the objectives you have around reducing the poverty-related attainment gap?

Thank you. I think the national standards, in a lot of ways, are our policy mechanism for seeking to ensure that level of quality across all early learning and childcare providers delivering that funded entitlement. We’ve also invested a lot in the workforce expansion and been very thoughtful about ensuring that we’ve got 8,000 additional full-time equivalent members of staff in the workforce, just in the public sector, as a result of this expansion. So, it’s been really important to us to invest in high-quality modern apprenticeship places, college places, to increase those pipelines of people coming into the sector and supporting the sector.

I also mentioned we developed a quality action plan, which is really about: what are the things we can do at national level to support investments in quality? One of those, as an example, was investing in the development of some online, continuous professional development modules for the workforce, recognising that there was a bit of an inequality in access to training opportunities for some members of the workforce.

And one of the big, I would say, hallmarks of quality in Scotland and the hallmarks of ELC expansion that I haven’t mentioned yet this afternoon is about ensuring access to outdoor play and learning opportunities, and recognising that as an area that can be hugely beneficial to children’s development, as well as to their health. So, one of the criteria in the national standard, that I haven’t mentioned yet, is ensuring that children have daily access to play and learning opportunities. Some parents might choose—. We’ve got some fantastic fully outdoor nurseries in Scotland that they could choose, but, for the majority of children, that will be about attending a more conventional or more traditional indoor nursery environment, but have access to outdoor play opportunities as part of that. So, that has been a big priority for Scottish Ministers in taking forward the expansion also.

Thanks very much. We now move on to Jane Dodds. Would you like to come in with your questions, please?

Thank you so much, Chair. Lovely to meet you, and thank you, both of you, for your time this afternoon. Mine is around parents with atypical work patterns. I know, Alison, you talked a little bit about the offer in Scotland and that you can vary that. Can I just ask as well about people who are working weekends, for example, or are working outside of what we would see as a 9 to 5? And the same for you Johan.

And then a very general question, if I can slip this in, is how, culturally, do we need to change in Wales, so that we can be a little bit ready to see the value of childcare. The UK is thirty-fifth in the childcare provision quality list, and we see that Sweden is at third. So, just some general comments there, aside from that specific thing, really quickly, around atypical work patterns for parents. Thank you, Chair. Diolch. Perhaps Sweden goes first.

16:15

So, the question about hours, there is quite a—. The system allows for—if I'm right now in the translation—from 6.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.. So, 12 hours is sort of quite general. There is a variance between local governments, but these 12 hours of 06:30 to 18:30 are quite general. And there are examples in Sweden where they have introduced what's called 'nattis'—night childcare during night hours and so on. But I would say that the political debate about this topic in Sweden right now is around those mothers and fathers who are working hours that have no access to preschools. So, if we are going to see changes in our system, from a national point of view, I would guess it would be to also include parents working night shifts, et cetera, et cetera, but there's no right today to have that. But, certain local governments have introduced that, sort of.

The second question is quite hard, because, I mean, my generation—I was born in the mid-1980s—everyone has sort of gone to preschool. So, everyone in my surroundings are sending their children to preschool, because it's almost natural; it's sort of a practice that we have enabled in our system. So, as with the parental leave system, being home x amount of months, both men and women are sort of in our childcare system, and the same is true for preschools. So, how Wales—. Because I grew up in the system, it's hard to analyse what you should do. But it takes time. I mean, we started introducing this in the 1970s. I read some estimates last week, when I prepared this, that the system was sort of fully operational by the end of the 1980s, mid-1990s, sort of, so it takes time also. Like today, preschool teachers are teachers. They should go to teachers' school, which you have to educate people. The system takes time to build and that goes parallel with, I guess, the quality issues and that then gives parents confidence to let children go to preschools. So, it's a system change, sort of.

Thank you. On your first question about atypical working patterns, well, it comes back to that our policy design was based around maximising the impact on children's outcomes. So, to an extent, we haven't set any requirements for local authorities as the commissioners, effectively, of the funded entitlement in Scotland, to accommodate atypical working patterns. The legislative framework for the 1,140 hours offer does contain a couple of things that are relevant. We don't attempt to define what a flexible offer looks like, but we have set a requirement on local authorities to consult at least every two years with their local communities in order to understand their early learning and childcare needs, and then to reflect that back in the services they commission or provide themselves.

We do have a maximum session length within our legislative framework, which is 10 hours a day. We increased it to 10 hours through the expansion to 1,140, and it's become more common over the last few years to see particular local authorities—. The private sector has tended to operate longer days anyway, but more public sector nursery provision is operating over those 10 hours, in perhaps 08:00 until 18:00 session blocks, which can more align to parents' working patterns.

A quick couple of other points on that. In terms of the session lengths and how parents are able to access those, there's also the opportunity to access funded entitlement through a child minding service, which may operate more flexibly, but we do also have a national standard for child minding services, which adapts what's there for the larger childcare, nursery-type settings for the nature of child minding services. And finally, we have also been looking outwith our funded childcare offer for under-fives at how we can support access to more flexible childcare, recognising that that's more a childcare need than an early learning and childcare need. So, for example, our social innovation partnership funding has been providing some support to an organisation called Flexible Childcare Services Scotland—a third sector organisation—which has been looking at ways to maybe provide childcare by the hour, for example, in some communities, and more flexibly, to reflect the needs. Because we know that very often it's families who have lower earnings who can face the greatest challenges in terms of those atypical working patterns. So, I wouldn't say that we have completely addressed that, but it's for the reasons that we're focusing more on that early learning element in terms of the nature of the service.

In terms of culture, it's really interesting. I think one of the elements that's probably set the Scottish Government's approach to date apart from other administrations within the UK has been that more child-centred approach to early learning and childcare, from that point of view that children's entitlement shouldn't be determined by their parents' working status, and that has been a very deliberate policy choice. And actually, that policy choice, I think, was instrumental in us gaining support from the childcare sector, based on their values—their child-centred values—and from the local authorities as well. This was a joint endeavour about improving children's outcomes that has really been central to the success of the expansion.

16:20

Tom Giffard, I wondered if you could pick up the issue of workforce development and fair work, but also how the childcare offer is an equitable service for people from different demographic groups.

Yes, okay. Thanks, Jenny. I'll just start then by asking, as Jenny alluded to, I guess, what key measures your nation has in place to support workforce development and fair work within the childcare sector. Do you feel it's sufficient, and are there any future plans to build on those arrangements?

Yes. Can you elaborate a little bit more? I'm not—. I think there's a language barrier here.

Okay. Well, shall we go to Alison first, and then that will probably help clarify what we're speaking about? Alison.

Thank you. Good afternoon. In terms of, as I mentioned, investment and ensuring the early learning and childcare workforce is remunerated in accordance with the value of the role that they provide to children, we've had a big focus on seeing how we can secure payment of at least the real living wage to all registered childcare workers who are delivering that funded entitlement. There are some legal and competence challenges around how we secure that, because the Scottish Parliament doesn't have devolved competence over employment law, so there are ways that we use through the national standards and through local authority commissioning arrangements, and we've set out guidance for local authorities on how, through their commissioning and contracting practices, they can ensure that there are fair work practices in all the private and third sector settings that deliver the funded entitlement. One of the real examples of how you can demonstrate fair work is by paying at least the real living wage. But, as you can tell from my slightly elongated description of it, it's not something that's directly straightforward, it takes a little bit to secure it, but we see it as really important for ensuring parity in the workforce, because we've had a history of the public sector workforce in ELC being paid more highly than the private and third sectors, and we know that one of the drivers of quality, one of the most important drivers, is workforce. So, we want to see that overall investment in the workforce and in their levels of pay.

We don't ask for full living wage accreditation, but we do ask that, as I say, those who are directly involved in providing childcare for the funded entitlement are paid at least the real living wage. Through some survey work that we've done recently, we can see that that is having an impact on the pay practices in those businesses and those providers across their whole workforce. It's helping to raise up to real living wage levels those members of staff who are maybe outwith the direct scope of our funded entitlement, because, obviously, we couldn't be using the funding for the hours to go towards cross-subsidising of privately purchased childcare.

16:25

So, I guess I picked up what the question surrounded, and the answer would be in Sweden our main focus on fair work is that it's the employers and the working unions who decide the labour market rules to a high degree in Sweden. But then, this system—. So, many of the decisions around working hours—not working hours, but wages, et cetera, et cetera, are decided between the workers' union and employers. But the municipality or the local government has responsibility to put on—. All private and third-party preschools are audited by the municipality and local governments, and the local government-run preschools are governed by a national agency. So, we have a national agency for school inspection, and they are both auditing the municipality-driven preschools and the municipality systems for auditing private preschools. So, I would guess through that and then our labour market function, this solves a lot of these questions as well.

Thank you, both. I'm conscious of time, Chair, so I'll pass back to you if that's all right.

All right. Just specifically, though, on one point, which is about the high-level skills that may be required in the workforce if you're working with children with disabilities. So, how is that expertise both developed and rewarded in your system? You can't just leave that to the unions, I'd have thought. Johan.

I would pass, sort of, but generally, I would say labour market issues are passed to unions and employers. Then of course, you could either be employed as a preschool teacher with four and a half years, I think, of an university education, or as a preschool assistant, and that's a non-university degree, it's a high school degree. And through that, then there are expectations on salary et cetera, et cetera, so the competency comes from—. And through that also, our labour market negotiations work, sort of. So, it's competency-based, but of course, there are measuring systems and also minimum requirements. I think there should be at least one preschool teacher per child group, especially if you have certain mechanisms around that, but that's not connected to the wages directly.

16:30

No. So, are you—just to clarify, in every preschool setting, do you have at least one member of staff who has a university degree, is an educator, yes?

Yes. You need a university degree to have a preschool—. Yes.

Thank you for that. Alison, quickly, on the whole issue of how to ensure that all nurses have the capacity to meet the needs of particular children.

We have a strong focus on, I suppose, on all children, through the qualification requirements for the workforce. The Scottish Social Services Council is the workforce regulator for the social care sector in Scotland, including daycare of children services who provide ELC, and there are certain qualifications that people working at different levels within early learning and childcare would have to obtain, and we would ensure that those qualifications frameworks reflect the full requirements of meeting the needs of the children who they're caring for.

Within that, to come to your point on graduates, it's a requirement that if you are the manager in the setting, you are educated to degree level and there are specific degrees, qualifications you'd have to hold. It could be a teaching qualification, or it could be a relatively new degree for us, the BA in childhood practice, which has been introduced over the last 10 years.

We have also, aligned to the expansion, created 435 posts across Scotland for equity and excellence leads, and they're not counted in the ratios in their settings, but they are required to have that graduate-level qualification, but they are there sort of targeted to the nurseries that provide services to our most deprived communities, to provide additional graduate-level workforce working directly with children and families to help support a team and to help support children in those areas.

Thank you. If we need any more information on that very important point, we'll perhaps correspond with you on it.

Final question to Johan: you talk about discontinuing the cash for care system, and I just wondered if you could clarify, does that mean cash to enable somebody to look after a child at home, rather than in a nursery setting?

Yes, so we have discontinued that system, and we have a parental system, giving parents a part-time allowance, so that instead of going to preschool, you can stay at home, and our current administration has discontinued that—our former introduced that, and our current has discontinued it based on the factors that, especially for the women we want to get into the labour force, it's an obstacle for them. So, it's a political division, this cash—

16:35

Thank you for clarifying that. And just finally, Alison, you're planning to develop a system of wraparound care. I'm assuming you have some sort of piecemeal system already, like we have in Wales, where some schools have wraparound care and others don't, and it very much depends on the initiative taken by individuals either within the school or in the local community surrounding the school. Could you just tell us what you've got at the moment, and your ambition moving forward? Is it going to be a universal system?

We have a commitment to build a system that is free to those on the lowest incomes and to which others make a fair and affordable contribution. While policy decisions are still being taken on the exact shape of that, I think it's unlikely it would be a universal entitlement in the same way as the 1,140 hours early learning and childcare offer. But we do see the investment in wraparound childcare as being a slightly different focus than I described for early learning and childcare earlier—it is more about supporting parental employment, and we see it as a direct and important investment in tackling child poverty. We have statutory child poverty targets in Scotland, and we're looking to design a wraparound childcare system in a way that really supports parents to access those—as I describe them—fair work and employment opportunities, to help raise household incomes.

So, it will have a different focus. At the moment, the system in Scotland is quite similar to how you describe—it very much depends on where you live what might be available, but what we're looking to do is improve, I suppose, the access in a range of communities to school-age childcare, and we have a commitment in our COVID recovery strategy that was published this autumn to start early phasing of childcare systems. So, I think it could look quite different, and rightly look quite different, in different parts of Scotland by the time we're finished. But it's very much a live set of design questions for us, but we will hopefully have more to share in the coming weeks and years. Thanks. 

Thank you very much indeed, both of you, for your contributions. Johan, particularly for yourself, we will send you a transcript in English of what you have said, but also Alison as well. It's very important that you read it to make sure that we haven't misheard what you were saying, and you obviously should correct it, and then we will ensure the record is correct for your contribution. Thank you very much indeed, both of you, for helping us, and your extremely interesting contributions. Thank you very much indeed.

Thank you for the opportunity.

We'll now move into private session. If the technicians could let us know once we are actually in private session. 

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:38.

The public part of the meeting ended at 16:38.