Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People, and Education Committee

02/12/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams AS
James Evans AS
Jayne Bryant AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates AS
Sian Gwenllian AS
Sioned Williams AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Siân Gwenllian ar gyfer eitemau 5 i 11
Substitute for Siân Gwenllian for items 5 to 11

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Aled Roberts Comisiynydd y Gymraeg
Welsh Language Commissioner
Amanda Wilkinson Cyfarwyddwr, Prifysgolion Cymru
Director, Universities Wales
Becky Ricketts Llywydd, Undeb Cenedlaethol Myfyrwyr Cymru
President, National Union of Students Wales
Cerith Rhys Jones Rheolwr Materion Allanol, Y Brifysgol Agored yng Nghymru
External Affairs Manager, The Open University in Wales
Dafydd Evans Prif Swyddog Gweithredol Grŵp Llandrillo Menai a chynrychioli ColegauCymru
Chief Executive Officer of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai and representing ColegauCymru
David Jones Cadeirydd, Cymwysterau Cymru
Chair, Qualifications Wales
Dr Ioan Matthews Prif Weithredwr, Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol
Chief Executive, Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol
Dr Lynn Williams Ysgrifennydd, Cadeiryddion Prifysgolion Cymru
Secretary, Chairs of Universities Wales
Dr Rachel Bowen Cyfarwyddwr Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Colegau Cymru
Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Colleges Wales
Guy Lacey Cadeirydd ColegauCymru a'r Prif Swyddog Gweithredol Coleg Gwent
Chair of ColegauCymru and Chief Executive Officer of Coleg Gwent
Gwenllian Griffiths Prif Swyddog Ymgysylltu, Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol
Chief Engagement Officer, Coleg Cymraeg Ceneldaethol
Joe Atkinson Ymgynghorydd y Wasg a Materion Cyhoeddus, Undeb Cenedlaethol Myfyrwyr Cymru
Press and Public Affairs Consultant, National Union of Students Wales
Louise Casella Cyfarwyddwr, Y Brifysgol Agored yng Nghymru
Director, The Open University in Wales
Maxine Penlington Cadeirydd Bwrdd y Llywodraethwyr ym Mhrifysgol Glyndŵr Wrecsam ac yn cynrychioli Cadeiryddion Prifysgolion Cymru
Chair of the Board of Governors at Wrexham Glyndŵr University and representing Chairs of Universities Wales
Yr Athro Elizabeth Treasure Cadeirydd Prifysgolion Cymru ac Is-Ganghellor Prifysgol Aberystwyth
Chair of Universities Wales and Vice Chancellor of Aberystwyth University
Yr Athro Maria Hinfelaar Is-gadeirydd Prifysgolion Cymru ac Is-Ganghellor Prifysgol Glyndŵr Wrecsam
Vice Chair of Universities Wales and Vice Chancellor of Wrexham Glyndŵr University
Philip Blaker Prif Weithredwr, Cymwysterau Cymru
Chief Executive, Qualifications Wales
Sharon Davies Pennaeth Addysg, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Head of Education, Welsh Local Government Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Phil Boshier Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Tom Lewis-White Ail Glerc
Second 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 09:04.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:04. 

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

Croeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg heddiw.

Welcome to this meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee today.

I'd like to welcome Members to the meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with some participants joining via video-conference. The Record of Proceedings will be published as usual.

Aside from the procedural adaptations relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Sioned Williams will be substituting for Siân Gwenllian for items 5 to 11. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I can see no declaration of interest.

And finally, if I drop out of the meeting for any reason, Ken Skates has agreed to temporarily chair while I try and rejoin. 

09:05
2. Craffu ar Adroddiad Blynyddol Cymwysterau Cymru ar gyfer 2020-2021
2. Scrutiny of Qualifications Wales Annual Report 2020-2021

So, as we move on to the first item on our agenda—it's the scrutiny of Qualifications Wales's annual report 2020-21—I'd like to welcome David Jones, chair of Qualifications Wales, and Philip Blaker, chief executive of Qualifications Wales. Welcome, both. It's good to see you here this morning.

I'll start by asking a couple of questions around the summer 2021-22 exam series decisions. Just looking back to summer 2021, perhaps you can give your assessment of how the summer 2021 awarding process was received by all stakeholders. 

Good morning. Perhaps I can start our response to this one and if I can do so in Welsh, if that's okay.

Y peth cyntaf, bore da, bawb, a diolch am y cyfle i fod yma. Mae wedi bod yn flwyddyn arall anodd dros ben a hoffwn i ddiolch i bawb o fewn y sector addysg—[Anghlywadwy.]—y colegau, Cymwysterau Cymru, y Llywodraeth a phawb arall, ond yn enwedig y dysgwyr a'r athrawon yn yr ysgolion am yr holl gydweithio efo ni. So, diolch am hynna.

Wrth edrych yn ôl ar y flwyddyn yma—yr haf—dwi'n credu, ar y cyfan, aeth pethau'n dda, yn enwedig o dan yr amgylchiadau. Y flaenoriaeth i ni oedd lles y bobl ifanc yma a gwneud yn siŵr fod ganddyn nhw'r cyfle i symud ymlaen at y cam nesaf yn eu haddysg neu i gyflogaeth. Roedd y drefn wnaeth ddigwydd ar gyfer yr haf yma yn un a gafodd ei dylunio ar y cyd efo'r design and delivery advisory group wnaeth gael ei sefydlu gan y Gweinidog addysg. Hoffwn i ddiolch iddyn nhw hefyd am eu holl gydweithio. Dwi'n credu bod hwnna wedi gweithio'n dda iawn, ac efallai fod hwnna'n rhoi rhyw syniadau i ni am ffyrdd o weithio ar gyfer y dyfodol hefyd sydd yn gallu elwa pawb.

O dan yr amgylchiadau, dwi'n credu mai'r peth pwysig oedd bod yn hyblyg dros ben o safbwynt asesu, ac mi wnaethom ni wneud hynny. Yn anffodus, mae hwnna'n dod efo rhywfaint o anghysondeb ac yn gofyn cwestiynau ynglŷn â safonau ac ati, ond mae'n rhaid i ni gofio roedd hi'n sefyllfa anodd dros ben. Mae'n dal i fod yn sefyllfa anodd dros ben, a dwi'n hyderus ein bod ni wedi ymateb yn y ffordd orau o ran lles myfyrwyr a rhoi pob cyfle iddyn nhw.

Dwi'n credu roedd yna rywfaint o gonsỳrn wrth bobl ifanc fod efallai gormod o asesu, yn enwedig ym mis Mai y flwyddyn yma, a dwi'n gwybod bod yr holl beth wedi dod â lot o waith ychwanegol i'r colegau a'r ysgolion, a gobeithio y gwnawn ni ddysgu o hwnna—rydym ni yn dysgu o hwnna—ac y bydd pobl yn gweld lles yn dod o hwnna o safbwynt 2022. 

Ac wedyn, y pwynt olaf wrthyf i, efallai, ydy dweud roedd yna hefyd ryw gonsỳrn ynglŷn â'r system apelio, ond, yn y diwedd, dwi'n credu gwnaeth y system weithio'n iawn ac, o'n safbwynt ni, dwi'n credu aeth pethau'n eithaf da dros y cyfnod yna, o'i gymharu â blynyddoedd o'r blaen o leiaf. So, dyna fy ymateb i i'r cwestiwn cyntaf.

The first thing is good morning, all, and thank you for the opportunity to be here. It has been another difficult year and I'd like to thank everybody within the education sector—[Inaudible.]—the colleges, Qualifications Wales, the Government and everyone else, but in particular the learners and the teachers for all the collaboration with us. So, thank you for that.

Looking back on this year—the summer—on the whole, I think things went well, particularly given the circumstances. The priority for us was the well-being of these young people and ensuring that they had the opportunity to move forward to the next step in their education or employment. The process during the summer was one that was designed jointly with the design and delivery advisory group, which was established by the education Minister, and I'd like to thank them as well for all their co-operation. I think that worked very well, and perhaps that provides us with some ideas on how to work in the future that could benefit everyone.

In the circumstances, I think the important thing was to be very flexible in terms of assessment, and we did that. Unfortunately, that does come with some inconsistency and poses questions about standards, but we have to remember that it was a very difficult situation. It still is a very difficult situation, and I'm confident that we responded in the best way in looking at young people's well-being and providing them with every opportunity.

I think there was some concern from young people that perhaps there was too much assessment, particularly in May of this year, and I know that all of this brought additional work to the schools and colleges and hopefully we'll learn from that—we are learning from that—and that people will see the advantages of that in 2022.

The final point from me, perhaps, is that there were some concerns regarding the appeals system, but, in the end, I think the system worked well and, from our point of view, things went quite well over that period, at least compared to previous years. So, that's my response to the first question.

Diolch yn fawr. You mentioned one lesson perhaps that could be learnt. Are there any other lessons that you could learn and particularly in the way that it will form any contingency planning for anything that happens in 2022 perhaps if exams don't take place?

So, I can have a go at answering that one. There were lots of positives in last year's approach, and we've already announced that we're gong to build this year's—so, summer 2022—contingency arrangements based on some changes to that centre-determined grade approach. We're starting with some positives. Centre-determined grades in 2021 were different to CAG—centre-assessed grades—as they were in 2020, in that they were based on some assessment evidence. We think that's really important because it allows for more objective judgments about learners. It minimises bias, or perceptions of bias, in the assessments that are being made, and, importantly, it allows an effective appeals mechanism to be put in place.

So, we definitely want to see the use of assessment evidence continuing in any contingency arrangements for 2022. I mentioned there the appeals mechanism, and David mentioned it earlier—that’s another thing that we would want to take through to summer 2022 as contingency arrangements, because it did work very well. There were a lot of concerns about workload for schools in dealing with appeals, especially if you think about the normal model, which is that there is a results stage and then appeals happen after the results stage. And that’s the model that happened in England and Northern Ireland last summer. We made a big difference in that we went to centre-review phase, so we allowed for the early release of results to learners while schools were still open in the summer term, to allow that centre-review phase as a first phase of the appeals mechanism while it was still very manageable for schools—so, not in the school holidays, when it would be less manageable. That worked very well. That’s something that we’d look to take forward in the future as well. So, we think there was a good process there.

There was lots of guidance and training as well, and there was training in important things like minimising bias and how to make judgments. We worked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to provide guidance to schools on public sector equality duties. So, there was lots of good guidance, and a lot of that can roll over into contingency arrangements for summer 2022 as well.

Dave has already mentioned that the assessment load was high last year for learners. So, for many, it might have felt like an exam series in May when they were taking lots of assessments that were being used to underpin those judgments. We want to try and move away from that this year, and we want to move to a position where there's more natural collection of evidence through the process. We've already written out to schools and provided some guidance about collecting data or information about learners to underpin grade decisions, should they be needed as part of the contingency already. So, that's out there and schools have been alerted to that.

The area that probably causes us most concern from last year was around quality assurance. So, there are limited opportunities for quality assurance of grade outcomes. If we think about it, in 2020, there were attempts to use statistical methods to standardise and, in effect, moderate outcomes from schools, and there was very low public acceptance of that approach. In a place where schools and colleges had determined their own grades, it's very difficult for there to be external interventions on those grades, because the model is built on those teachers and lecturers knowing their learners best, and an external intervention being difficult. So, last year, there was an attempt through what was called 'the atypical results process' to try and put some norms around results, to try and make sure that schools were moderating their own results so that they looked more like results in exam years. Now, those processes didn’t work, and we can see from the results overall that results went up in summer 2021. So, that places us in a difficult position in terms of what interventions can be made and what quality assurance can be put in place for summer 2022. So, we're working with WJEC on that. At the moment, it looks like the model will involve some samples of work being submitted to WJEC for them to review the work against the provisional grade that the school is proposing for that learner. And then, if they don’t marry up, if there’s not a compatibility between the work and the grade that’s being awarded, WJEC are asking the school or college to go and revisit their grades. Now, again, that’s a relatively soft measure, so if we’re in a position of contingencies next year, it seems to be difficult to see how we can get back to that sense of a standard, which has got lost over the last couple of years.

So, there are lots of positives, in terms of things that can roll forward, lots of lessons we can learn to try and move away from the workload on teachers and lecturers, and the assessment load on learners, but we’ve still got concerns about how we can have any sense of standardisation and pulling back to a standard.

09:15

Bore da; da eich gweld chi'ch dau. Rydyn ni'n sôn am gynlluniau wrth gefn ar gyfer y trefniadau flwyddyn nesaf a defnyddio dull tebyg i'r haf diwethaf, felly, yn amlwg, mae gennych chi fodel amgen ar y gweill ac mae gennych chi'r model arferol hefyd. Pryd mae'n rhaid i'r cynlluniau wrth gefn gicio mewn er mwyn tegwch i ddysgwyr ac i athrawon? Beth ydy'ch amserlen gwneud penderfyniadau chi ynglŷn â pha bryd mae eisiau, os oes angen, switsio o un model i'r llall?

Good morning; it's good to see you both. When we're talking about contingency plans for next year's arrangements and using a method similar to last summer, clearly, you have an alternative model and you have the usual model as well. When do the contingency plans have to kick in in terms of fairness for learners and teachers? What is your timetable regarding decision making on when, if there is a need, to switch from one model to another?

We're trying to design a contingency model that could actually be implemented at any time. That's important because we still think that exams are the fairest way of assessing learners. I know that there are other thoughts about how learners might be assessed in the current situation, but we still think that's the fairest way of assessing learners; it provides that level playing field and everybody being treated the same way.

Now, there are two things that we've really got to think about on why a contingency might be triggered. One is fairness: is the model that is the primary model the fairest way of assessing learners? And the other one is safety: is it safe to conduct an exam series? And, of course, omicron is an example of one of the things we were thinking about. It's possible that there could be a variant of the virus that escapes vaccines that comes into play as late as April. And it might not be omicron, it might be the next one or a variant of omicron that creates that virus that escapes the vaccine. Now, if that's the case, it may well be that we're on an exam path right the way through to April, and then we need to go to the contingency model. The important thing is there's got to be enough time for centres to be able to make those judgments about grades, and there's got to be enough evidence available to underpin those judgments. That's why we're giving the early guidance about collecting the evidence now, so that evidence can be in place.

Probably the one big thing, which is an element in what the model would look like depending on when it's triggered, is the time that will be available for quality assurance. So, the quality assurance model, we haven't published anything on it yet because, one, we don't want schools to worry about it when the primary planning assumption is that we're going to go ahead with exams, and second, that quality assurance model may change depending on the timing. So, if contingency is triggered early, there may be more time for a more extensive quality assurance process, but if it's triggered late, that will constrain the amount of work that can be done. As an example, if it's triggered early, there may be a bigger sample of work that's sent to WJEC to be reviewed by their examiners; if it's late, it may be a smaller sample that is sent to WJEC for them to look at. So, we're trying to build something here that can be as flexible as possible.

Thank you; thank you for that. Just to clarify, how will you balance fairness to the cohorts of learners who've undertaken those qualifications pre pandemic, during the pandemic and post pandemic?

This is probably one of the biggest areas of concern for us. If you think about our role as a regulator, we're here to ensure that standards are as consistent as they possibly can be, exactly for that reason of being fair to learners past, present and future, so everybody is treated fairly to the same standard with outcomes meaning the same thing.

Now, clearly, there has been good public acceptance of where we got to in summer 2021. So, we haven't seen the issues that arose from attempts to standardise in summer 2020. I think that acceptance is in, clearly, the very exceptional circumstances that we're in at the moment with the pandemic. Society's trying to move out of that sense of pandemic, I think, and there's a willingness to move on, which is why we tried to get onto a journey of recovering standards now, so that we can get back to that position of being fair to everybody. And I think there's a sense of fairness to those learners in summer 2020 and summer 2021, because of the very exceptional circumstances that they found themselves in.

I know it's still very difficult for the schools at the moment, and there's a lot of disrupted teaching and learning, with learner absence, teacher absence, and we anticipated that there would be some issues through the autumn term when we worked with WJEC to look at adaptations to assessment requirements for summer 2020, and also, of course, we've come up with a position, looking at a midpoint between outcomes in summer 2019 and summer 2021, so that there's, in effect, a bridging year as we return back to an exam standard. So, that means trying to get outcomes higher than they would normally be from an exam session. But it may be the grade boundaries are lower next year in order to get those sorts of outcomes, but there are adaptations that are in place, and also, we don't know how learners are going to perform, so that awarding process in summer 2022 is going to be a difficult one for WJEC, as they've got many unknowns that they're going to be trying to deal with. So, they don't know how learners are going to perform as a whole, so the effect of the pandemic on their educational experience and their level of attainment, how those adaptations will perform, because the assessment requirements have been quite significantly reduced in order to try and make assessments as fair as possible for learners.

And the other thing is that the midpoint where we're trying to get to is the decision that's been made in England and Northern Ireland as well. So, if we're thinking about comparability for GCSEs and A-levels in particular, we're trying to ensure that learners in Wales are treated the same way as their peers in England and Northern Ireland, which is certainly very important for higher education, where those learners will be competing on a level playing field for places in higher education. So, it's a very difficult thing to do. What we're trying to do is stay in step with the rest of the UK so that those issues of fairness across years and consistency, we're trying to do the best that we can in very difficult circumstances.

09:20

Thank you. We've got James Evans now, who has some important questions around communication and public confidence. James.

Thank you very much, and welcome both. As the Chair has said, I want to talk about communication, and stakeholders' and public confidence. I know you did touch on this slightly earlier, but to what extent are you concerned that the changes made around the 2021 summer assessments will impact on maintaining public confidence in the standards of qualifications in the future?

I'll just come in briefly, and then hand over to Philip, I think. Good morning, James. I think Philip has responded quite a bit to that particular question. We've learnt a great deal over the last two years. There's been a level of engagement—communication is one part of it—that we've never had before, and we've continued from that. We're confident that there was a step forward in 2021, learning from 2020, where it was difficult for us in particular, as well as everybody else, and it's that continuous learning from 2021 and moving forward to 2022.

There are some concerns that for 2022, at the moment, we are asking schools and colleges to ride two horses, the one that is about examinations as usual and then there's the other one around the contingency. But we are being honest in that we believe the best approach is with exams at the moment, as Philip said, but without having the contingency in place, we would be doing them a disservice. So, I think what we have been good at doing over the last year is engaging more and communicating earlier, in a very consistent way, and really maintaining a strong dialogue, so, because of that, I think there is confidence in the system.

Longer term, we all probably share a concern that—. You know, 2020 and 2021 were unique years where we all had to make big changes just to put the learners first, who are really struggling under really difficult circumstances that were certainly not of their own making, so we've all adjusted to do that. But I think, in the longer term, we do have to think about those two cohorts of learners and previous ones and future ones, and think about that sort of reset back to something more like 2019 and before it, in the way that Philip has said.

But the last thing I would say, perhaps, before bringing in Philip, is that there has been some debate about this. I think, even though most of the things around COVID have been negative and disruptive and awful, I think that in terms of qualifications and education, there is some genuine learning there around the role of teachers, moving forward, in assessment; the extent to which non-examined assessment can perhaps be a greater part of qualifications in Wales; the role of digital; and, more generally—I know there was a debate around exam time this year—what is the future of examinations. I think examinations do have their place, but we are Qualifications Wales, we're not examinations Wales. And I'm keen, as chair, to make sure that we live up to our name and learn from that experience and move forward. But that's not the sort of change you can make overnight or in the middle of a pandemic. We need to have that right dialogue over the longer period and engage with people in order to make the right changes. And, of course, qualifications for the future, the new curriculum, which you may talk to us about later, provide a great opportunity to take the learning from the COVID period and really cement it into the new curriculum.

I hope that answers your question. Philip may want to add to that.

09:25

I just wanted to add one point, David, which is really following on from your point about the opportunities for the future. And I really wanted to make one point to the committee around one of the enabling things that might enable that change to different forms of assessment in the future, and that's the current accountability measures that are put in place in schools. So, we believe that some of those accountability measures can drive the wrong sorts of behaviours, and I've talked openly in the past about the behaviour of teaching to the test. And I think if we're looking at teachers being more involved in the judgments that are going to inform grades, we've got to move away from this real conflict of interest that they've got in terms of making the right judgments versus the judgments that will then, in effect, judge them as a school and judge them as a teacher. So, I know it's an area that Welsh Government are looking at in terms of changes for the future in relation to the new curriculum, but it's a really important thing that we get some clarity about it fairly soon. So, with accountability measures, as they currently are, it feels like we've got one hand tied behind our back. I think if accountability is changed and liberated to be less bluntly just looking at the outcomes in terms of qualification outcomes for schools, there's a real opportunity to change qualifications quite fundamentally and open up some of the assessment methods even more.

Thank you, both. I've always been very interested in the way we award exams. You judge somebody's prospects on one piece of paper at the end of a year, not on what they've done right the way through school, but that's probably something we'll pick up later.

You did talk about engagement with stakeholders around the approach to the grading in the summer of 2022. What feedback have you had back from schools—and I also class stakeholders as learners as well—to your approach to how you're going to do the grading in summer 2022?

I've mentioned already that we've published some guidance out to schools, which was a few weeks ago now, just after half-term, setting out the things that they really need to know at this point around collecting evidence. And there are a couple of really important things there. The reason we wanted to get that guidance out early was that it's important from a fairness perspective that learners have got advanced notice that an assessment they're taking may count towards a grade at a future point, because pupils' motivation is a significant factor in how they'll perform in an exam. If they feel like it doesn't count, they're unlikely to try as hard as if they feel like it might count. And, of course, that's why, quite often, a learner might step up their performance when it comes to an exam, because they realise that's the point when it's going to be important. And I'll make a big stereotype here: boys tend to do that. They tend to cram at the end to perform well in their exams.

Now, the guidance has been well received. We tested it quite extensively with stakeholders, so we talked a lot to stakeholders. We've also taken another lesson from last year. You'll remember that Welsh Government established its design and delivery advisory group, which was a group of headteachers and college leaders who came together to help design last year's arrangements. We had a headteacher reference group, which was a smaller group that we'd had for several years, but we made the decision at the end of last year that we would extend that group, and we've extended it into something more like the design and delivery advisory group. So, it's a bigger group that has got college leaders in it as well. So, we spent a bit of time and we sought feedback from them on the guidance, and we think the guidance has gone down very well. One of the measures of thinking the guidance has gone down well is that we've had very little feedback on it. Generally, if somebody doesn't like something, they'll come to you and tell you about it. So, little feedback is a good thing.

WJEC have also put out more detailed guidance called qualification assessment frameworks, which look at models for each of the subjects in each of the different qualification levels. So, that information is all out there as well. So, there's a lot of work going on.

We've had little by way of feedback. I think the only thing that we've picked up on is something that David has mentioned already, which is this sense that some schools feel like they might be riding two horses at once. So, they're thinking about the contingency arrangements and they're thinking about exams, and, for some, they're looking for constant reassurance, almost, about what the plan is at the moment. Indeed, I had an e-mail from a colleague today who was asking, 'What's the current position? Has it changed?' So, I think there's a need to keep on communicating about things and giving people certainty.

We know there's a big communications job as well. We've got to communicate well with school and college leaders, but we're also planning a communications campaign to start in the new year. It's very specifically targeted at learners and parents so that they have a greater understanding of what's coming. That's easier in an exam system, because we can describe it. When it's local arrangements, it's difficult for us to describe it centrally. So, we've got a big campaign to try to inform people, and we'll probably do that through materials that are made available to schools and colleges, that they can then use with parents in a parents' evening or use with learners in classes, so that they become a conduit for this information, because learners and parents have a more personal relationship with the school and with the teachers and lecturers within the schools and colleges, and therefore that's a good route to try and get information out. So, we're going to try and leverage that as much as we can over the next six months or so.

09:30

Yes, that's fine. I've just got one really quick question: do you think there'll be public concern over this, because you said some schools are riding two horses, for example, and we all talk about pressure on learners, pressure on teachers? And I do worry sometimes—I get feedback from young people who say the pressures of exams do a lot to exacerbate mental health within young people. Do you worry that that could be a concern that people have, that the pressure will be on students and teachers right the way through the year to make sure everything is done correctly?

Yes, there will inevitably be some anxieties there. But if we think about what we were just talking about, about maybe moving to a model of more continuous assessment, where teachers are more involved in non-exam assessment, that's one of the issues that comes with that. So, it's always about trying to provide some sort of balance. What we don't want is for people to feel always on, and that's where the pressure and the mental well-being comes into play. This is where it's really important, the work that WJEC's done in terms of these qualification assessment frameworks, because it's trying to provide some structure, and one of the things that we've put forward in our guidance is that learners shouldn't be assessed any more than they would have been had they taken the exams. So, what we're not trying to do is layer on more assessment; what we're trying to do is integrate it with good pedagogy. Good teaching and learning involves formative assessment, and one of the important parts of the new curriculum is about having more formative assessment. Because formative assessment not only informs the learner about where they are and what they need to do to improve, but it also provides feedback to the teacher about what their learners have learnt, and maybe what they need to teach slightly differently in order to fill any gaps. Has everybody missed a point rather than just some individual's missed a point? So, this is all part of good pedagogy, and what we're just trying to do is leverage that good pedagogy to provide the evidence to underpin a grade should it be needed further down the line. So, we're trying to be as proportionate as we possibly can in this.

09:35

Thank you, James. Moving on to some questions now from Siân Gwenllian.

Diolch. Jest un sylw ar sail yr hyn sydd wedi cael ei ddweud. Mae cyfathrebu’n bwysig, ond mae penderfyniadau buan ynglŷn â threfniadau'r haf nesaf yn bwysig hefyd. Dwi'n gwybod bod quality assurance yn fater o bwys i chi, ond yn bwysicach yn y pen draw ydy lles y dysgwyr, ac felly mi fyddwn i yn gofyn i chi, os oes angen symud i'r model amgen, fod hynny'n digwydd yn gynt yn hytrach nag yn hwyrach yn y dydd, ac yn rhoi ystyriaeth i hynny.

A throi at eich rôl chi fel rheoleiddiwr a'r cyrff dyfarnu, mae yna broblem, onid oes, efo'r cyrff dyfarnu? Rydyn ni wedi gweld dau ohonyn nhw'n ildio eu statws cydnabyddedig yn ystod y flwyddyn, dwi'n meddwl—Cyngor Diogelwch Prydain ac un arall wedi penderfynu gwneud hynny. Faint o bryder ydy'r sefyllfa ynglŷn â chyrff dyfarnu i Cymwysterau Cymru?

Thank you. Just one comment on the basis of what's been said. Communication is important, but decisions at an early stage regarding next summer's arrangements are also important. I know quality assurance is of importance to you, but more importantly, ultimately, is the well-being of the learner. So, I would ask you, if there is a need to move to the alternative model, for that to happen earlier rather than later in the day, and to give some consideration to that.

Turning now to your regulatory role and the awarding bodies, there is a problem, isn't there, with the awarding bodies? We have seen two of them surrendering their recognised status during the year—I think it was the British Safety Council and another one deciding to do so. How much of a concern is the situation regarding the awarding bodies for Qualifications Wales?

If I just pick up on the point of those two surrenders to begin with, we always, in every year, see some awarding bodies surrender their recognition for one reason or another, and some awarding bodies gain recognition. In fact, at the moment we've got 96 awarding bodies that are recognised, which is a relatively stable figure over the last couple of years. We've had a couple in and a couple out each year, so to speak. The most common reason why an awarding body will surrender its recognition is because it's got a low level of business in Wales—so, it hasn't got many learners and isn't awarding very many certificates. If you haven't got much or any business, then there's an overhead associated with remaining a regulated body, and, for them, there's an overhead without a return in terms of any learners that are taking their qualifications. The most common reason why an awarding body will surrender recognition is it doesn't have business in Wales, and we have a condition in our rulebook that says, in order to retain recognition, you have to be certificating learners over a two-year period. So, in effect, they just don't have the business. That's the most common reason.

So one of the awarding bodies last year surrendered on that basis—that it didn't have awards going through. It had a few learners that were still in place, and what we did was we, in effect, worked with the awarding body to see safe completion for those learners before recognition was surrendered. The other awarding body was part of a merger with another awarding body. So, in effect it's a bit of a phantom surrender, because it surrendered its recognition but all of its qualifications were transferred over to another body that had, in effect, bought it out.

So, we don't have concerns on the basis of those two surrenders last year. I think where we do have a concern about awarding body stability is the impact of the pandemic. It's been difficult for everybody in society and we know it's been particularly difficult in education. So, with things like furlough, we know that many awarding bodies have used furlough to furlough staff where certifications have gone down and where they've moved to things like centre-determined grades or, as they're known in VQs, TAGs, teacher-assessed grades. So, there's been an impact on them in that respect, but also there've been reduced fees. So, if we think about WJEC as an example, they reduced their fees last year so that—. They reduced their fees by 42 per cent, and then there was an additional 8 per cent supplement put in by Welsh Government. So, in effect, schools paid 50 per cent of their fees. Now, a lot of the overheads remain the same in terms of staffing, buildings and the like. So, those sorts of things can, over time, start to erode financial stability.

Now, I don't want to set any hares running on the basis of WJEC being the example, because we think they've got good, sound finances, but what we are doing is we're looking closely at the financial viability of awarding bodies as part of our statement of compliance process. We did a special element of that in the statement of compliance last year. We're doing it again this year, and if there are any awarding bodies that are generating any concerns in terms of financial viability, then we're going into a close monitoring process. Now, of those 96 awarding bodies, most of them—in fact, I think probably all of them—are also regulated by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, and Ofqual has an interest in this area. So, it's an area where we collaborate with Ofqual, to work with them on monitoring thee financial viability of awarding bodies. So, it's something that we're concerned about and we're keeping a very close eye on. 

09:40

A gaf i ofyn i'r cadeirydd: ydy hyn yn tanlinellu bod efallai gormod o gyrff dyfarnu, a gormod o gymwysterau newydd sydd efallai yn dyblygu cymwysterau sydd eisoes yn bodoli? Ydy hon yn broblem tymor hir, ydych chi'n meddwl? 

May I ask the chair: does this underline perhaps that there are too many awarding bodies, and too many new qualifications that perhaps duplicate qualifications that already exist? Is this a long-term problem, do you think? 

Dwi'n credu, dros y cyfnod ers i Cymwysterau Cymru gael ei greu—a doeddwn i ddim yn rhan o hwnna ar y dechrau, wrth gwrs—dwi'n credu bod y rhif wedi mynd lawr tipyn. So, dwi'n credu ei bod hi'n anodd i mi ddweud, 'O, mae gormod', achos bydd rhywun yn cydio yn hwnna ac yn dweud, 'Pa rai sydd eisiau mynd, felly?' Ond dwi'n cytuno bod rhaid edrych ar y peth a gwneud yn siŵr bod y rhai sydd yn bodoli yn cynnig y cymwysterau yna sydd yn gweithio i Gymru a, thrwy wneud hynna, y rhai sydd yn cydfynd efo'r cwricwlwm newydd a hefyd yn gweithio efo ni i ehangu faint o gymwysterau sydd ar gael trwy'r Gymraeg. Mae hwnna'n digwydd, ond dwi'n credu, efallai, trwy ganolbwyntio mwy ar sgìl a'r gallu i wneud hynna, bydd mwy o gyfle i ni gynnig y cyrsiau sydd yn cydfynd efo'r uchelgeisiau sydd gennym ni fel bwrdd. 

I think, over the period since Qualifications Wales was created—and I wasn't part of that at the outset, of course—I think the number has gone down a bit. It's difficult for me to say that there are too many, because you'd then say, 'Well, which ones need to go, then?' I would agree that there is a need to look at it and to ensure that those that do exist do offer the qualifications that work for Wales, and, in doing so, to look at the ones that are compatible with the new curriculum and work with us to expand the number of qualifications available through the medium of Welsh. That is happening but I think, perhaps, through concentrating more on the skill and the ability to do this, there'll be more opportunity for us to offer those courses that correspond with our ambitions as a body. 

Iawn, fe ddof i nôl at y cymwysterau cyfrwng Cymraeg mewn dau funud, ond jest cwestiwn arall i Philip, efallai. Mae'ch cyfrifon blynyddol chi yn dweud hyn: mae cyfleoedd a risgiau yn gysylltiedig â chael CBAC fel yr unig ddarparwr cymwysterau cyffredinol yng Nghymru.

'Mae datblygu dull o ddyfarnu yn 2020 a 2021 wedi bod yn haws nag y gallai fod fel arall. Fodd bynnag, pe bai CBAC yn methu, byddai'r effaith yn helaeth, felly rydym yn parhau i fonitro ei waith a'i sefyllfa ariannol yn fanwl.' 

Fedrwch chi ymhelaethu ar y pwynt yna, os gwelwch yn dda? 

Okay, I'll come back to the Welsh-medium qualification in two minutes, but just another question to Philip, perhaps. Your annual accounts note there are opportunities and risks associated with having WJEC as the sole provider of general qualifications in Wales. 

'Developing an approach for awarding in 2020 and 2021 has been easier than might otherwise be the case. However, if WJEC were to fail, the impact would be high, so we continue to carry out detailed monitoring of their work and their financial position.'

Could you expand on that point, please?  

It's probably worth just considering how you might find yourself in a position where you have a single supplier to begin with. So, single-supplier situations can arise through two primary routes. One is market forces and the other is by design, and we have powers that are unique to Qualifications Wales in the ability to be able to restrict and to commission qualifications. So, it's worth thinking about those two quite differently, because the market forces one is—. If we think about something like GCSEs and A-levels, we have a different policy position in Wales to the policy position in England, and there is a relatively small number of awarding bodies that are recognised to be able to deliver GCSEs and A-levels. 

So, if you're trying to do something different in Wales to England, then you have to look to the market to see whether the market will provide those qualifications for you. Now, in the case of GCSEs and A-levels, there has been no restriction and there has been no engineering on the part of Welsh Government when they were the regulator, or us as the independent regulator, to engineer a single-provider position for WJEC. The simple reality is that they're the only one of those small awarding bodies that is prepared to develop qualifications to Welsh policy and is prepared to meet our requirements in terms of approved qualifications being available bilingually. So, we're in a position—it's a default position—of market single supplier for WJEC in those areas.

In the other areas, if we think about the other route around restricting in commissioning, that might be where we're wanting to do something significantly different in Wales in terms of reforms, but we know, in order to elicit a market response, we have to do something different. This is why the provisions and the powers were put into the legislation back in 2015, the reason being there that, if you're looking for an awarding body to do something different, they need to have some market certainty, and Wales is a relatively small market relative to the rest of the UK. So, if you're looking to elicit something different, then having certainty over a small market and a seismic market is more likely to elicit response than multiple awarding bodies competing with an unknown share of a small market. So, it's about trying to make qualifications and qualifications reform viable.

Now, that does mean—. We've talked about some of the advantages there in terms of being able to elicit a market response when you might not otherwise be able to do so. There are also advantages in terms of consistency and comparability. So, in England, if you think about GCSEs and A-levels in England, where you have, principally, four awarding bodies delivering them, comparability isn't just about comparability year on year; it's about comparability between those awarding bodies. So, there are some advantages associated with a single supplier, because you're not having to worry about that, if you want to call it, sideways comparability, with other awarding bodies in the same way. But there are some—. If you think about classic market theory, there are three fundamental issues that can arise out of single-supplier status, and those are whether there's price exploitation, whether there's a failure of innovation and whether there's a failure in customer service. So, where we have a particularly close monitoring relationship with those awarding bodies that are in single-supplier positions, we're really looking at those three things: so, is there any price exploitation? Is customer service as we would want? And is innovation where we would want it to be? So, we can address those.

With the price point, if we're commissioning, we normally put pricing schedules into the contractual terms, so we understand what the pricing position will be over the term of the contract. For GCSEs and A-levels we do benchmarking—so, we look at the prices in England, where there is a competitive market, to make sure that there's no price exploitation taking place.

From an innovation perspective, there are two things we can do there. We can drive innovation into our requirements for approved qualifications in Wales, and we've done that with the things that we've done in vocational areas, with health and social care and with construction and the built environment. Construction and the built environment is a highly innovative model. And the other thing we can do is that we can send messages, the soft messages that come from a regulator to the people that regulate about exceptions for things, and we have a strong appetite for innovation as long as it's safe innovation. We're very keen to see innovative approaches being developed.

Customer service is a bit more difficult one, because for many the grass is always greener on the other side, and when we look at it in terms of what awarding bodies are offering, it's very similar. We've got a complaints process that can deal with any particular issues that arise, but we see no real evidence of there being an impact on customer service as a consequence of having a single-supplier position. So, that gives an example of some of the monitoring that we do to manage single suppliers.

The other element of this—because you mentioned it coming out of the accounts, and it isn't really a financial issue, but we do keep a close eye on the financial position of those awarding bodies that have got single-supplier status, because we want them to have good financial viability and be sustainable in the long run. So, it's one of the reasons why we're keeping a close eye on everybody, but in particular looking at those awarding bodies that have got single-supplier status in Wales.

09:50

Okay. Thank you for that. Wow—the privatisation of the whole of this area is quite frightening, actually, and maybe it's something that we as a committee could be looking at. Because the situation in Wales is completely different to the situation in England, and ideologically as well, I think. Anyway, that's for another day.

Gaf i droi at gymwysterau cyfrwng Cymraeg, Cadeirydd? O ran cymwysterau cyfrwng Cymraeg, beth ydy'r sefyllfa bresennol a sut ydych chi'n gobeithio bydd y strategaeth 'Dewis i Bawb' yn gwella hyn? A sut ydych chi'n mynd i fod yn monitro ac yn gwerthuso'r polisi?

May I turn to Welsh-medium qualifications, Chair? In terms of Welsh-medium qualifications, what is the current position and how do you hope that the 'Choice for All' strategy will improve this? And how are you going to be monitoring and evaluating this policy?

Iawn. Gwnaethoch chi sôn am 'Dewis i Bawb'; roedd hwnna'n ddatblygiad y llynedd, dwi'n credu—datblygiad pwysig i ni. Rydym ni'n gweithio'n galed iawn i gynyddu faint o gymwysterau sydd ar gael trwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Mae hwnna, wrth gwrs, wedi bod yn ofyniad craidd i bob un o'r cymwysterau a grëwyd yng Nghymru, fel mae llawer mwy'r diwrnodau yma. Hefyd, dŷn ni'n annog mwy o'r sefydliadau yma i gynnig drwy'r Gymraeg hefyd, sydd yn gallu bod yn anodd, wrth gwrs, am y rhesymau rydych chi newydd sôn amdanyn nhw o safbwynt y sector a faint o alw sydd am gymwysterau.

Ond rydym ni wedi gweld cynnydd yn faint sydd ar gael yn ystod y blynyddoedd diwethaf, ac mae ein gwaith ni hefyd i edrych ar y gwahanol feysydd galwedigaethol, er enghraifft, yn adeiladwaith— drwy wneud y gwaith yna, un o'r meysydd ffocws i ni ydy edrych ar gymwysterau drwy'r Gymraeg. So, dŷn ni wedi cynyddu faint sydd ar gael yn adeiladwaith, a hefyd yn y sector gofal. A dwi'n credu, a dwi'n gwybod hyn o brofiad—amser roeddwn i'n arfer gweithio yn y coleg, roeddwn i'n gweithio'n agos iawn efo'r Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, a rydym ni'n dal, fel sefydliad, fel Cymwysterau Cymru, yn gweithio efo nhw hefyd. Dwi'n credu, beth mae'n rhaid inni ei wneud, fel rhan o'r twf yma yn y cyrsiau sydd ar gael, ydy canolbwyntio ar y meysydd yna lle mae yna wir alw am gymwysterau drwy'r Gymraeg, lle mae cael pobl sy'n gallu siarad Cymraeg yn hollol angenrheidiol, a hefyd sydd yn gwella'r gwasanaeth sy'n cael ei gynnig drwy'r bobl ifanc hyn sydd wedi cael y cymwysterau.

Felly, mae'r gwaith yn mynd yn ei flaen. Mae o'n sialens, a rydym ni'n rhoi yn ei le, nawr, ffyrdd, fel y gwnaethoch chi ei ddweud, i edrych yn fanwl ar beth ydy impact y gwaith rydym ni'n ei wneud. Ond, mae o'n dal i fod yn bolisi datblygiad weddol newydd, ond mae'n rhywbeth y byddwn ni'n adrodd arno yn flynyddol o'r pwynt yma.

Dwi'n credu bod Philip eisiau ychwanegu pwynt.

Right. You mentioned 'Choice for All'; that was a development last year, I think—an important development for us. We're working very hard to increase the number of qualifications available through the medium of Welsh. That, of course, is something that's been a core requirement for each of the qualifications created in Wales, and there are many more these days. Also, we are encouraging more of these bodies to offer through the medium of Welsh, and that can be difficult, of course, for the reasons you have spoken about in terms of the sector and the demand for qualifications.

But we have seen an increase in the number available in the last few years, and our work also looks at the different vocational areas, for example, in construction—in doing that work, one of the areas of focus for us is to look at qualifications through the medium of Welsh. So, we've increased the number in construction, and also in the care sector. And I think, and I know this from experience—when I used to work at the college, we were working closely with the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, and we still, as a body, as Qualifications Wales, work with them as well. I think, what we have to do, as part of this growth in the courses available, is to focus on those areas where there's a real demand for qualifications through the medium of Welsh, where having people who speak Welsh is essential, and it also improves the service offer through these young people who gain these qualifications.

So, the work is ongoing. It is a challenge, and we're putting in place, now, means, as you said, of looking in detail at the impact of what we've been doing. So, it's still a relatively new development, but we will be reporting on it annually from this point.

I think Philip would like to add a point.

It was just to add a point about strengthening our requirements as well. You may remember from the first consultation we did on 'Qualified for the Future' that we want to see all qualifications available in schools—not only the GCSEs for 16-year-olds, but the wider offer of qualifications—available bilingually. So, we're strengthening our requirements there through the principle that we're going to implement with 'Qualified for the Future', but we're also, in the policy that we've put out alongside 'Choice for All', in our Welsh-medium bilingual policy, strengthening that requirement there, saying that we expect all qualifications to be available through the medium of Welsh for 16-year-olds by 2027.

Now, that's a huge piece of work that we're doing alongside the more high-profile work that we're doing on GCSEs to look at all of those qualifications that may be taken by 16-year-olds to try and make sure that there's a coherent offer that works for all—a coherent and equitable offer—but also looking to get virtually all of them available through the medium of Welsh. There may be some small exceptions that we may have to make under extreme circumstances, but only once we've explored every option. So, it's a real area of focus for us. And in our sector review work in post-16—so, we have a new, phase 2 of sector reviews—we're looking at two particular points in there. We're looking at the availability of qualifications through the medium of Welsh and we're looking at the sustainability of the qualification offer in light of policy changes in England—so, the introduction of T-levels and the like.

So, we're very consciously looking at those elements and the Welsh language to try and promote as many qualifications as possible being available bilingually. David mentioned about responding to demand; we'd actually like to go a step further. So, our ambition is to go further and to move towards the active offer, where the qualifications are there and available so that demand can build, so we're not dependent on demand, because sometimes that can be a chicken-and-egg situation. But awarding bodies need to make that investment and change towards bilingual qualifications. So, we need to move in step-changes to get there, but we're very keen to see that active offer introduced as soon as possible.

09:55

Thank you. We'll now move on to questions from Buffy Williams. Buffy.

Thanks, Chair. Morning, both. I have a few questions around review and reform. So, with that in mind, have you restricted any qualifications in the reporting period, and in what circumstances would you do this?

Yes, we have restricted one qualification during the period, which is the advanced skills baccalaureate Wales, which is the replacement for the advanced skills challenge certificate. So, that's a new qualification. Obviously, because it's the successor to the skills challenge certificate, it's very specific to Wales. So, it's a made-for-Wales qualification. Not only have we restricted it but we've undertaken the work that we need to do to commission an awarding body to develop that qualification. So, we do that through a concessions contract procurement approach, and that contract has been awarded to WJEC. So, they're in the process of developing that qualification at the moment.

I think the reasons why we might restrict I've probably covered largely, which is to try and elicit a market response where we wouldn't otherwise see an awarding body move forward to develop the qualification. The other reasons we might do it are around the controls that we would want to have in place over the development of that qualification. So, particularly if we're thinking about highly innovative qualifications—and the advanced skills baccalaureate Wales falls into that highly innovative qualification bracket—if you're going to do that, you want to be more involved in the development process than you might otherwise be. So, another reason for restricting, going down the commissioning approach and approving the qualification, is so that we can be more involved in monitoring that development process and make sure the qualification actually developed by the awarding body meets the policy aims that we'd intended for it.

Thank you. Were you surprised at any of the outcomes of 'The right choice for Wales' consultation?

Yes and no—there's a wonderful German word called jein, which I rather like and use from time to time. I think there's an element of we expected some of the responses that we saw. We never really expected there to be unanimous agreement with all of the proposals that were being made. It's worth remembering that we didn't just sort of think those proposals up in a darkened room and then throw them out to the world in a consultation. There was a lot of engagement with people to understand different perspectives before the proposals were developed.

If I think about one of the more contentious areas, which has had the highest media profile, that's around sciences. We engaged heavily with higher education, with the learned societies, and talked to lots of people about the different options that were available before making the proposals. I think it's interesting, isn't it, because there can be a sense that it's difficult to make changes in these environments. Education tends to be quite traditional and quite conservative with a small 'c'. If we're looking to make changes that are related to the new curriculum, which is attempting to be radical, it's difficult to find a balance between making decisions that are radical enough for some, and conservative enough for others.

We always knew that it was going to be a mixed response to those consultations. And, in fact, on the areas that have probably been most contentious with people, if I try and list those out just in my own mind—around English language and literature, around maths and maths numeracy, around Welsh language qualifications, and around the sciences—those are probably the areas that have seen the most contention. The board met twice on those. We met once and made all the decisions that were easier to make, or more clear cut. And the board asked us to go away and do some more work on those areas before coming back and making decisions. So, we knew they would always be contentions, but what we're trying to do is trying to think about things very much in the round. It's not just looking at things from a single subject perspective, but also looking at how all of the things come together, and how congruent they are with the aims of the curriculum.

As an example, language and literature—well, actually, those are combined; they're interrelated in the new curriculum. So, it makes sense for the qualifications to be interrelated as well. If we're looking at sciences, which again, has been the more contentious one, it's about integration of the sciences. So, we're innovating and trying to move forward, and being in step with an innovative curriculum, I think we always anticipated that there would be some differences of views. 

10:00

Can I just come in on that one?

I agree with all the points Philip has made there. Just to reiterate a few points—because I think it's an important area, this, isn't it? Collectively, we've all got to get this right for the longer term. There's a new curriculum with a new ethos. And if we just drop all of the same old qualifications on it, then it's not going to work in the way that it's intended. I think Philip also talked earlier on about this issue of teaching to the test. One of my concerns is, as somebody who used to work in a college where there were performance indicators that perhaps drove behaviour in leaders and others, that we've got to try and get away from that, and I think we need to have a curriculum-led experience of teaching and learning in Wales. I think that's the strength of all the work that's gone into the new curriculum.

One of my concerns is that the qualifications side, which is a really important thing, doesn't become the driver of teaching and learning; it's got to be the other way around. Now, it's easier said than done, but I think that's the ambition that people hold. And, I think, as part of that professional development for teachers in our schools, it's a vitally important area that needs further investment and attention. But in making our decisions as a board, as Philip said, we met in July, took our proposal, and we weren't happy to accept all the decisions. We put off a number of key ones until September and we made some more. But there's one decision we still haven't made; it's in relation to the Welsh language. And we recognise that they're contentious, but there has to be some give. Don't forget, within the new curriculum, there's different approaches, joining things up in the context of the environment, sustainability in the future, and the things that really are important to young people.

Also, there's an issue there that there are new qualifications. There are qualifications going to be in that are already in construction, the built environment; there's digital, there's engineering and manufacturing, there's design, and there are others. Those are all applied science qualifications for a modern era. And, I think, they all build on physics, chemistry and biology in different ways. I think, perhaps, we all get a little bit narrow in our thinking and thinking that we did—. I was in Aberaeron school in 1978 doing my O-levels as they were. The world's moved on since then, and I think we need to brave as leaders in this system to make the changes that are going to really help learners in the longer term, and listen to them. 

Thank you. David, I know you just touched on this now, but could you explain further the issues relating to the delay in the decision on the Welsh language qualification?

Yes, absolutely. This is an area where feedback was particularly polarised. There was feedback from some of the English-medium schools, where they had concerns in a particular angle, and then, clearly, the other organisations and bodies and schools who have a totally different view in terms of expanding the role of the Welsh language. Some organisations believe there should be just one qualification in the Welsh language at GCSE level that everyone should do.

There was also this issue, which I've got to know over the last 18 months, which is this idea of a single Welsh language continuum. It's something that's been used within the education system in Wales, and I think there is some confusion in the interpretation of what that actually means. We weren't happy to make the decision; we really thought about what the role of the new GCSEs is, not just within the new curriculum but in policy terms—what are they trying to do in terms of the bigger picture. What part do they play alongside the Welsh Language centre and other developments in contributing to 'Cymraeg 2050', for instance? And I think it's reasonable to do that—really going back to basics, and saying, 'What is the purpose of this particular qualification?' Very importantly, we firmly agree with those organisations who think there should be no sort of notion that Welsh is a second language in any way. We fully agree with those organisations that don't like and don't agree with that approach. So, that's why we've put it off; we're seeking clarification from the Welsh Government in relation to this concept of a continuum of learning.

Within the new administration, clearly, the ministerial responsibilities now for education and the Welsh language are together—we think that's a really good thing. So, we're hoping that there is a joined-up approach there. We are hoping to receive that clarification from the Welsh Government within the next month, and that then will inform our decisions. We're due to make those decisions in relation to the Welsh language—it's the only one we haven't made a decision on—at a scheduled board meeting, which I think is on something like 27 January. It's still quite tight to do that, but we are hoping to make that decision. If we don't have the information we need at that point to make a decision, we won't be frightened of making another short delay. We've got to try and get this right for the longer term, because we have been listening and we understand the concerns on the Welsh language. And as a Welsh speaker, I seriously believe that this is a real opportunity that we can't lose, to try and make sure that the GCSE Welsh language qualifications have a massive impact in terms of taking the language forward and giving it that equal footing in Wales.

10:05

Thank you, David, and thank you, Buffy. Moving on to some questions now finally from Ken Skates. Ken.

Good morning, Mr Blaker, Mr Jones; it's good that you've joined us. I'm just going to ask, as the Chair has said, about a few corporate issues. First of all, in relation to the learner advisory group, could you just outline how you selected the members of the group and how you ensured that there was good involvement of under-represented groups?

Sure. There was an open application process, but we worked quite closely with the Children's Commissioner for Wales on that process, drawing on their experience of pulling together panels of young people for different purposes. So, it was an open application process, which then went into a selection process. And in that selection process, we were trying to make sure that we had as much diversity on the group as possible. So, we were looking for gender balance, we were looking for language balance, we were looking for geographical balance, and we were also looking for learners that have got different sorts of learning experiences—so, for example, a home learner, rather than somebody who's in school and college. We were also looking at people who are at different stages in their education—so, people who are younger than GCSE age, and people who are doing A-levels and moving on. The idea was to get as broad a group of representatives as we possibly could. The group has met several times. In fact, the Minster has met with the group as well. They're a very impressive group of young people, who aren't frightened to put their views forward. So, it's proving to be a very good exercise for us, and we're very keen to listen to their views.

Excellent. Are there any lessons that you've been able to learn from the process that you can apply in the future?

I think the main one that we've found is around the nature of the people who come forward for those sorts of roles. So, the hole that we found—the gap—is around vocational learning. Most of the people coming through are going through academic routes rather than going through vocational routes. So, we've decided to set up a separate learner advisory group looking at FE and work-based learning, to try and fill some of that gap. The interests across the two groups will sometimes be different and sometimes they'll be the same issues that we're wanting to discuss. So, we'll probably operate some meetings for those two groups separately and then some meetings for those groups combined. That's a piece of work we're just doing at the moment to recruit in those additional learners to set up a vocational group. 

10:10

Excellent. Okay. Thank you. Just moving to your board, in what ways will you be seeking to increase diversity on the board?

I'll pick that one up—good morning. I think it's really important to recognise at the outset that we don't make the board appointments. They're ministerial appointments managed by the public appointments unit of the Welsh Government. That said, we are really keen to promote diversity on the board, so we work with the public appointments unit. And in this calendar year, there's been a big turnover of board members. In fact, we will have seven new board members out of 12—the 12 include Philip and myself—within that period.

When we went out to the recruitment agency, we gave them a particular remit to focus on diversity, and we did have—I think they said it was the highest number in recent years of applicants for particular roles. We had 106, I think, applicants of high quality and we were able to recruit strong individuals who've addressed diversity in broader ways across the board.

That said, from my point of view, there are many, many dimensions of diversity and you never get it 100 per cent right and I think we need to do more. And certainly, from the group that I attend with other public sector leaders in Wales, I think some aspects of diversity are a common issue that we're finding. I know that there is, with the Welsh Government, an approach that is trying to find ways to encourage some groups that are not represented well enough, perhaps across the board, to create ways that they can have more confidence by maybe watching boards in action, working as buddies alongside others and so on.

But we've got to try and find ways of bringing in that breadth across the board and we are keen to do that. And as an organisation, we always promote ourselves as an organisation that is keen to ensure that diversity is covered in any way possible. But it's always work in progress, I believe, and I think that's reflected in where we are today. I think the recent appointments have perhaps addressed and improved some aspects of diversity in the organisation, but some others have slipped back a little bit.

Okay. Thank you. And just finally from me regarding finances: do you think you're sufficiently and adequately resourced in order to meet the work expected of you in relation to qualification reform?

I'll let Philip answer that.

We're waiting at the moment to see what our budget allocation will be for next year, so it's a pertinent question. We've got reasonable confidence that we'll have the core budget that we're expecting. We also have a separate allocation of money related to our 'Qualified for the Future' work, which is a very significant programme for us. We're probably putting most of our reform capacity and effort into that particular area of work for the new curriculum. Indeed, we've moved some of our resources away from other areas of the organisation to focus our efforts there. That slight change of approach in terms of trying to do more work sooner on the new curriculum means that the phasing of some of our budget forecasts for Government have changed, so we're probably going to look to need to have more money over the next couple of years than was originally anticipated. We're hoping that will be forthcoming and we've got no reason to believe that it won't be forthcoming at the moment.

What are the areas that I'm worried about in terms of maybe having to fund from a reform perspective moving forward? I think there are two elements of unknowns there. One is the wider offer; we talked about it earlier. For 16-year-olds, there's this wider offer of qualifications outside of GCSEs. Now, at the moment, there are about 400 qualifications that are delivered by schools at 16 that fall into that space. If we’re going to try and meet the three principles that we set out about relating directly to the curriculum, adding to a coherent offer and being available bilingually, then we would probably see that number reduce significantly. What we’ll then need to do is to understand what’s the right offer from a schools perspective. And it’s not just ordinary schools—we’re looking at special schools, pupil referral units, so trying to get as broad a range as possible. Our feeling, at the moment, is that that may lead to a need to create more made-for-Wales qualifications in that space, and that’s something that we don’t have scope, sufficiently, yet to understand what the funding requirements are. So, it may be that we need some additional funding in that area.

The other area that I’m concerned about, and we touched on earlier, is around the impact of policy changes in England with things like T-levels, meaning that some qualifications in England will not be eligible for public funding anymore. We’re doing work with awarding bodies at the moment to try and understand what the impact is, and we think the impact will be minimal, but often you don’t know what the real impact is until things get closer to a reality. So, we’ve got a concern there that we may need to create more made-for-Wales qualifications.

We’re doing one thing at the moment, which is we’re looking at our operational planning process for next year. We’ve had, historically, some underspend in our budget because there are some elements of our work that are difficult to budget and forecast for. What I’ve asked the management team to do this year is to look at that budgeting process more closely, and to potentially change the gearing between our pay and non-pay. The underspend at the moment is in non-pay areas. If we can change that gearing and put more money into the pay area of the budget, it means that we could, potentially, expand by a few roles, which gives us more capacity to undertake some of these areas of work that we’re uncertain about.

There are two things that are a concern there. One is that it creates a recurring cost. You don’t want to employ people and then be in a position where you, potentially, don’t have enough money to continue employing them as you’re moving forward. So, having some certainty around budget allocations helps with some of that comfort. The other area is that we know that there are going to be some pay pressures next year anyway. There’s the increase in national insurance contributions, which we’ll have to fund, we think, and we’re also anticipating, with inflation as it’s running at the moment, that there may be a higher-than-anticipated pay rise that we would need to accommodate. So, thinking about those pay pressures just means you’ve got to be cautious in extending your pay budget, but we’re looking to do that to see how we can maximise the opportunity that the current budget allocation presents to us.

10:15

Thank you. And that's the end of our session. Thank you both very much for joining us today. It was a very interesting session. If there are any further questions we have as a committee, we will write to you. But there’s certainly much for the committee to keep a close interest in, I think, with the evidence that you’ve given us today. So, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Diolch yn fawr iawn ichi.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o’r cyfarfod ar gyfer yr eitem nesaf
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting for the next item

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o’r cyfarfod ar gyfer yr eitem nesaf yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the meeting for the next item in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

We'll now move on to the next item on the agenda, which is to move into private session. So, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the next item. Are Members content? I can see that all Members are content. So, we'll now proceed in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:19.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:19.

10:30

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 10:32.

The committee reconvened in public at 10:32.

5. Y Bil Addysg Drydyddol ac Ymchwil (Cymru)—sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
5. Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill—evidence session 3

Welcome back to the Children, Young People, and Education Committee. We're moving on to item 5, which is our work on an evidence session on the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill. This is our third evidence session. We have a large panel this morning. I'd like to welcome all the witnesses here, who are Professor Elizabeth Treasure, chair of Universities Wales and vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Maria Hinfelaar, vice-chair of Universities Wales and vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndŵr University, Amanda Wilkinson, director of Universities Wales, Dr Lynn Williams, secretary of Chairs of Universities Wales, Maxine Penlington, chair of the board of governors at Wrexham Glyndŵr University and representing Chairs of Universities Wales, Louise Casella, director of the Open University in Wales, and Cerith Rhys Jones, external affairs manager of the Open University in Wales. Welcome to you all.

Due to the number of witnesses, I'd like to remind Members and witnesses to be succinct in their contributions, and to indicate—. For those questions directed at all of the panel, just to say that I will take the contributions in the order of Universities Wales, Chairs of Universities Wales and the Open University in Wales. So, if you could answer, members, in that order, that would be very helpful. Just to remind everybody, you don't have to answer all the questions. If somebody has said what you'd like to say, please don't feel that you have to repeat it, because we will have heard that. Thank you, again, for joining us.

So, to open, I'd like to ask: to what extent do you believe that legislation is necessary to achieve the policy objectives this Bill is intended to work towards, and are the policy objectives clear to you? So, if Universities Wales could start. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Chair. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi. Thank you for allowing us to give evidence this morning. I'd like to say, first of all, that we broadly support the direction of travel in this Bill. We think that the aims and objectives and particularly the strategic framework are clear, and that this will improve pathways for learners across Wales, giving clear directions of travel, and will also enable us to recover from the pandemic and address questions such as climate change and the impact of technological change on the workplace. It will allow us to link research and innovation more closely with learning and teaching, and will allow those circular pathways of skills development in all parts of the economy and for all types of learners to be developed. We want this legislation to work and we are keen to be constructive in our engagement. Thank you.

10:35

Following on from that, there are some very clear strategic duties in the first part of the Bill, one of which is to promote collaboration. So, that is one of the nine strategic duties. It could just be a little bit more explicit. In comparison, the other eight strategic duties have phrases that the commission should have regard to x, y and z. That isn't stated as clearly or as explicitly in the cases of strategic duty around collaboration, so we really look forward to seeing the strategic priorities that Welsh Government will set and then, subsequently, the strategic plan that the commission will be tasked with developing. But a lot will depend on what that is actually going to say as to how collaboration will be incentivised, facilitated and driven by that strategic plan, so that's all to play for, so there's a lot of work to do. But, as a sector, we're really up for that, and we really would like to play a very full part in the development of how that strategy is formulated and then implementing it. Thank you.

Thank you. I've got two specific questions I'd like to ask the Open University, following on from the opening question. Do the Open University have any concerns relating to the Bill itself and to what extent are you concerned the Bill may have any unintended consequences for you or could cause any issues with your cross-UK remit? Louise.

Thank you, Jayne. In common with Universities Wales, we very much welcome the Bill. We think it provides the opportunity to plan across the whole of the post-16 sector, and I think this is something that all of us welcome in terms of our collaborative work with further education and schools, and this is something at the OU we very much welcome.

Do we have concerns? Well, at the moment, it's quite difficult to say, because, of course, the Bill as currently drafted doesn't apply to the OU in Wales, and it will require specific regulation on behalf of the Minister to do that. We have had reassurance that that regulation will be a co-creation with us, we'll work together on it, and we're pleased to hear that. However, undoubtedly, we have to have some concerns because we cannot yet see what that entails, and I think, for us, we really would like to work to ensure that those provisions under which there is already assurance that exists, through the Office for Students, through our relationship with the Scottish Funding Council and others, is recognised in what we do in Wales as well, so that we look for common assurances wherever possible. I think that is one of the areas that we will be pursuing through the regulatory route.

Thank you. This is to all the panel, as well: the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales has set out concerns regarding information-sharing provisions within the Bill; the Minister has argued that these powers already exist. What are your views on these provisions, and do you think they might inhibit information sharing with the commission?

I'll take that one on behalf of Universities Wales. So, we do share HEFCW's concerns, and it's at a couple of different levels. Firstly, the information-sharing provisions and the powers might lead to commercially sensitive information being requested, might actually make the sector less willing to share, because, of course, there are other provisions in other legislation that we're also bound by that would actually direct us not to share particularly commercially sensitive information at a particular time. So, it would put us in a difficult position.

And there is also a concern about is it going to be the case that Welsh Government can request that information via the commission at any point of time in the cycle. How is that going to be used? So, there is concern and some uncertainty as to what the intention is behind that particular provision. So, maybe we can look at an amendment to provide some assurance to institutions on how commercially sensitive data would be handled, and that that would be safeguarded. Thank you. 

10:40

Thank you. Maxine or Lynn, would you like to come in on this point? No. You're okay. Okay. Lovely. You answered that question for everybody there, Maria. 

My final point is around any effect that the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 may have on the implementation of the Bill. Welsh Government has told us that it doesn't affect the Bill at the moment, but do you have any particular views about that, or any concerns?

I think our view is that it is not yet clear how far this Bill's provisions will be compatible with the internal market Act, and it requires further exploration. We know that certain aspects of higher education, such as tuition fees, are excluded from the Act, but it's not clear yet how university services more generally would be considered. There are a number of areas that may need to be investigated further for potential conflict, including how the regulatory requirements of the Bill are not confined to regulating the exercise of functions of a public nature. For example, new information powers are not confined to public functions only. Ministers and, in certain instances, the commission can impose terms and conditions of funding that are not related to the use of public funds, and there may be a conflict there. We're also keen to avoid higher education ending up as the test case in this area. But, it's a complicated area, and we would be happy to provide the committee with a full briefing on this area, if that were considered helpful. 

Thank you. That would be very helpful. We'll look forward to receiving that. 

Does anybody else want to come in on that point? No. Great. Just moving on now to questions from Buffy Williams. Buffy. 

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, all. My first question is: the Bill contains 47 regulation-making powers for Welsh Ministers. To what extent do you believe this is an appropriate approach, and would it be helpful to have draft regulations for scrutiny?

Yes, please. We would not want the face of the Bill to be overly prescriptive, and we would welcome flexibility for the commission to determine requirements and to adapt to changing circumstances, rather than being bound by primary or secondary legislation. However, it would be extremely helpful to have draft regulations for scrutiny on particular aspects of the Bill at this stage. For example, we ought to know before the Bill is passed what the general conditions of registration and regulation will be. We also remain concerned about the ability to apply specific registration conditions to individual providers, rather than to a class of providers. So, one university as opposed to all universities; one further education college as opposed to all FE colleges. We are really keen to understand how the regulation and registration requirements will be further developed. So, yes, we'd like to see the regulations, please.

I just wanted to agree with Elizabeth, but also this is very specific for us, because as I said earlier on, none of what will apply to the OU is yet out for scrutiny. So, I think bringing that out into the open as early as possible and having a discussion around it would be helpful. 

Okay, thank you. Can you tell us about any concerns you have regarding the timings and process of physically establishing the commission and setting up all the regulatory machinery and everything that goes with it, basically?

Who is taking that question? Amanda. Wait there, you're on mute, Amanda.

Sorry about that. Thank you very much. I think we are concerned that, as we move forward with the commission, we allow all the space necessary to do a really good job, give it the best possible chance as early as possible. We know that we are doing this alongside a lot of other challenges, and that delivery is the most important thing: delivery out to people, delivery out to businesses. Those are the most important things that we absolutely have to not compromise as we bring in new commission arrangements. I think we are very keen that we don't do a big-bang rush job on this. And I think there are quite a lot of things that could help us: we've got some existing infrastructure that could be brought in to new commission arrangements—existing infrastructure around HEFCW, for example—that could help us get a little bit ahead in terms of how we approach the setting up of the new commission. So, I think we should absolutely be pragmatic about how we're using some of that and how that will get us a little bit further ahead. I think also in terms of how we look at the timescaling on the setting up of the commission, we shouldn't be approaching this as a low-cost exercise. It will need some investment both in the commission itself and in those providers that will form part of commission arrangements. So, I think it's important that we go in eyes wide open, both in terms of timescaling, but also in terms of cost. This isn't about a cost-reduction exercise; this is absolutely about better delivery. 

10:45

Would anybody else like to come in on that? No. To what extent are you content with the evidence base for these reforms? For example, HEFCW has expressed concern with the evidence base regarding outcome agreements being able to deliver benefits.

I'll kick off on that one. Generally, the 2016 report that prompted the development of the new Bill and all the various iterations and consultations that we've had over the five-year period—all of that is still very, very relevant, and in fact it's more relevant today than it was in 2016, even, because the challenges are so much greater, to us as a nation and to the wider community. We've had Brexit, we've had the pandemic, we've got climate change, which is becoming more acute. So, if anything, there is even more justification for these reforms and for collaborating more closely, for more coherence in the system. We're absolutely behind that, and the legislation really should support those efforts.

Specifically on outcome agreements, that is an interesting one, and the committee may know that as Universities Wales, we've expressed some concerns about outcome agreements and how onerous they might be on top of all the other ongoing registration conditions, and all the various statements and codes and whatever else that we need to develop and submit on an annual basis. So, what could outcome agreements add to that is really the question. There is mixed evidence on how effective they may be. They are in use in some other jurisdictions. They were implemented in Scotland, but in Scotland, outcome agreements focused on specific areas that are agreed between the sector and the regulator. So, there aren't outcome agreements across the whole sweep of what universities or other providers do in their normal course of business.

So, if they're focused and if they're underpinned by dialogue, they could work, as long as they don't just duplicate what we do already, as long as they don't cause unnecessary bureaucracy, and as long as there is flexibility—that we're not hamstrung by needing to deliver what's in an outcome agreement rather than deliver what is really important for our region, for our economy, and to do that on the basis of the institutional autonomy and the academic freedom that we have. So, they are the caveats, but there is experience in other jurisdictions and also in other countries. I have experience of it personally in the Netherlands and also in Ireland, where outcome agreements were introduced, and offline, I would be quite happy to share some of that experience, which might be of interest. Thank you.

Yes, please. That would be very helpful. Buffy, is that all of your questions?

Lovely. Moving on now to some questions from Sioned Williams. Sioned.

10:50

Diolch, Gadeirydd, a bore da i bawb. Mae fy nghwestiynau i yn ymwneud â phwerau Gweinidogion Cymru a'r comisiwn. Felly, hoffwn i ofyn i chi i ba raddau mae'r Bil yn diogelu ymreolaeth sefydliadau a rhyddid academaidd. Pa newidiadau sy'n angenrheidiol yn eich barn chi, os o gwbl? Pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf?

Thank you, Chair, and good morning, all. My questions relate to the powers of Welsh Ministers and the commission. Therefore, I would like to ask you to what extent the Bill protects institutional autonomy and academic freedom. What changes do you think are necessary, if any? Who wants to go first?

Thank you, Chair. Since the draft was published, the Bill has made notable progress in protecting academic freedom, and we're very grateful to the Welsh Government for taking on board our comments in this area. There are, though, some tweaks we would suggest. At the moment it states that academic freedom relates to higher education, and we think it needs to be expanded to include specifically research and innovation. I think there will be a theme coming through today that we feel the Bill is a bit light on its duties towards research and innovation, and that is a critical part of academic freedom.

We feel there are a number of gaps that should be addressed. For example, equivalent legislation elsewhere in the UK includes a general duty on the institutional autonomy of universities. Including a similar duty in this legislation would be a welcome statement of intent that would mitigate some of our wider concerns, and would, along with the other protections in the legislation, help ensure that our Welsh universities are able to operate in the globally competitive way that therefore brings benefits to all our communities in Wales. Thank you. 

Thank you, Chair. I really don't wish to add anything to what Elizabeth has said, but just from the perspective of Chairs of Universities Wales, just to endorse it very, very strongly; it was a major feature of our submission to you, and we firmly believe the points that Elizabeth has made. 

Can I back that as well? I think there's a real concern for us that there is consistency across the UK on this, otherwise we'll have a very strange situation with being subject to different powers in the same university in different countries. 

Diolch. Allaf i jest ofyn i'r tair ohonoch chi, efallai yn benodol Elizabeth—? Rydych chi'n sôn am ymchwil fanna; ydych chi'n credu y dylai ymchwil fod yn un o'r dyletswyddau cyfreithiol, un o'r naw dyletswydd? Cyllido ymchwil, hynny yw. Achos dyw e ddim, rydych chi'n iawn. Mae ymchwil yn nheitl y Bil, ond dyw e ddim i'w weld fanna. Fel rydych chi'n dweud, mae hwn yn rhan hanfodol o ryddid ac awtonomi'r sefydliadau, onid yw e? Beth ydych chi'n teimlo am hwnna?

Thank you. Could I just ask the three of you, perhaps specifically Elizabeth—? You mentioned research there; do you think research should be one of the legal duties, one of the nine duties? Because it's not. Funding research, that is. Because it's not, you're right. Research is in the title of the Bill, but it is not seen there otherwise, and that's an essential part of the freedom and autonomy of the institutions, is it not? What do you feel about that?

Yes, and we would strongly encourage strengthening the strategic duty regarding research and innovation. This is going to be a really large commission, so the budget is going to increase dramatically, and research is a relatively small part of the whole post-16 framework. I think there's a real risk that it gets overlooked because of the importance of post-16 education, and we would strongly support the strengthening of that recommendation. I can see Amanda wants to expand on that.

Thank you. I think part of the reason why research needs to be perhaps better situated with a specific duty is the role we expect research and innovation to play in the future in terms of economy and society. We've seen it—which country in the world is not now looking to promote very strongly through funding research and innovation? It's seen as a key driver of future success. Why would we be different? So it has to be absolutely central to the commission.

I think the other key aspect of it is the way in which it's driving skills development. We're seeing that in Wales through the consistent, long-term work on semiconductors, where what we've got is research and innovation now really driving development of skills and skills policy, and I think we have to recognise that. That could be one of the real potential benefits that we get from the new commission. So, research isn't just something over here in a box—it's absolutely fundamental to the rest of the working of the commission. I think it's going to be very helpful to have a very specific duty—not just a function, but a duty—on that. Otherwise, we're going to find that we've got some unintended consequences around all of that. We've just seen today the announcement of Cardiff's work in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine. That is really long-term research work that is now paying some dividends. So, I do think that that has to be something that is core to the new commission. Thank you.  

10:55

Diolch. Rwyf eisiau dychwelyd nawr i'r thema yna o gorff hyd braich. Mae CCAUC wedi dweud wrthym ni bod yna thema o fewn y ddeddfwriaeth bod Llywodraeth Cymru, efallai, ddim mewn gwirionedd yn hyrwyddo yn ddigonol y cysyniad yma o gorff hyd braich. I ba raddau ŷch chi'n fodlon bod y comisiwn, fel mae wedi cael ei ddisgrifio yn y Bil yma, yn gorff hyd braich? 

Thank you. I want to return now to that theme of an arm's-length body. HEFCW have told us that there is an underlying theme in the legislation that the Welsh Government, perhaps, isn't promoting sufficiently this concept of an arm's-length body. To what extent are you satisfied that the commission, as it has been described in this Bill, is an arm's-length body?   

Thank you, Chair. As we outlined in our initial response to the committee, we consider that there are a number of areas within the Bill where the Welsh Government retains substantial levers over the commission, and considerably more than at present. These include the power to modify the commission's plan, to attach a wide range of terms and conditions to funding, and the ability to issue general directions and the power to fund directly. My understanding of an arm's-length body would be that Government would set the strategy, the arm's-length body would implement the strategy, and if Government was not content with that, they would hold the arm's-length body to account. 

There are safeguards within the legislation on these additional duties, such as the duty on academic freedom, but some of the areas we've highlighted elsewhere, such as strengthening protections on autonomy and including a balanced funding duty, would further help manage our concerns. Obviously, Government needs exceptional power in exceptional circumstances with handling an arm's-length body, but the number of levers we're seeing in this legislation suggests that this would be potentially more routine. If I could further add, that could lead to confusion, duplication and, potentially, increased costs. So, I think that distinction between the role of Government and the role of an arm's-length body needs looking at a little bit more.

Diolch yn fawr. Oes rhywun arall? Louise, ydych chi eisiau dod mewn ar hwnna?

Thank you. Anybody else? Louise, you'd like to come in on that, would you? 

Just to reinforce Elizabeth's points. I think as a higher education sector, we are very familiar with working with an arm's-length body and working in that way, and we do recognise that, in bringing the rest of the post-16 sector, this is a very different journey that they are going on into this. I think if you look at the history and the performance in higher education, you can see that there has been sufficient—. With an arm's-length body, there is still sufficient scope to direct policy and to create interventions and to bring people on board. That works through an arm's-length body. It has worked—we have a tradition of that—and I don't think there's anything to fear in that. 

Mae hwnna'n arwain, mewn ffordd, at y cwestiwn nesaf yn gofyn am eich barn chi ar ailddatgan y pŵer i Weinidogion Cymru ddiddymu corfforaeth addysg uwch, a'r rhesymeg dros ei ailddatgan. Oes gyda chi unrhyw farn ar hynny? Maxine. 

That leads on to the next question, to ask your view on restating the power for Welsh Ministers to dissolve a higher education corporation, and the rationale for restating it. Do you have any views on that? Maxine. 

Thank you. If the legislation goes through as drafted, Welsh Ministers will have the power to dissolve a higher education corporation, to amend or repeal those parts of the Education Reform Act 1988 governing the conduct and composition of governing bodies and the instruments of governance of higher education corporations, and, indeed, the content of the articles of higher education corporations. Some of those powers exist already in Wales, but do not elsewhere in the UK, and some are new and expanded powers. The rationale for those changes remains unclear to us. We've heard three different arguments: that it would place higher education on a more equal footing with chartered universities, although those powers do not exist in relation to chartered universities, and there are three higher education corporations in Wales, and five chartered universities, just excluding the OU for the time being; that it would be a backstop, should a higher education corporation wish to change its articles of Government or to dissolve itself; and it would provide protection for learners. No comparable powers exist in England, and no comparable powers exist in relation to chartered universities. And it seems to us that the unilateral power of Welsh Ministers in this respect conflicts with the principle of institutional autonomy and academic freedom, and the advice of the Law Commission in 2017, which led to the changes in England, that it placed an unnecessary regulatory burden on charities, and also, another factor that led to the changes in England, that it threatens, potentially, the reclassification of universities to central Government for budgetary purposes. And for all of those reasons, we believe that we would wish to move to a situation more comparable to that which exists in relation to English higher education corporations.

11:00

To add to that, the rationale of it being a backstop and a means by which learner protection could be safeguarded, if that was the rationale then how could that only apply to three universities out of the nine that operate in Wales? Is it not more important to ensure that there will be appropriate mechanisms and safeguards and instruments to ensure that there is learner protection across the entire system, rather than have a very heavy handed weapon, if you like, to utilise, in the case of three universities within the sector? So, the logic escapes me, as well as all the other arguments that Maxine has already put forward. Thank you.

Thank you, Maria. Amanda, I'll bring you in next. Just to say, you don't need to put your hand up. If you just give me a wave, I can see.

Okay, thank you. Thank you very much, Chair. So, I think—. We are struggling to understand why this provision is necessary. Why is it necessary? We already have, absolutely, coverage through charitable requirements and through consumer law in relation to student protection and institutional sustainability. Those are already existing, absolute backstops that will not be superseded by this power. So, the backstops are there, and they're there in legislation, and we have to comply with that legislation. So, I think there is a level of concern as to why, in the face of all the other advice and the backstops that already exist, this provision is in place. Quite understandably, it is making institutions feel quite nervous about why the provision is there, and I don't feel we have yet had an adequate answer as to why this is in this legislation. I think we would need to have a better understanding of why it's necessary than the reasons that we've heard to date, because it just simply doesn't wash. We've already got legislative requirements in the system that all institutions do have to comply with. Thank you.

Diolch. Cwestiwn olaf gen i, ac mae'n cyfeirio, mewn ffordd, i beth rŷch chi newydd sôn amdano fe, Amanda. Oes gyda chi unrhyw bryderon penodol ynghylch pwerau Gweinidogion Cymru a'r comisiwn a'u cydnawsedd â chyfraith elusennau?

Thank you. The final question from me, and it refers, in a way, to what you've just mentioned, Amanda. Do you have any specific concerns regarding Welsh Ministers and commission powers and their compatibility with charity law?

11:05

I think I'm going to ask Maxine to respond.

Thank you. We were pleased to see the limit on the powers of the commission in such a way that it can't act in a way that is incompatible with charity law. But we would also like to see a similar restriction on the face of the Bill on the powers of Ministers to ensure that they can't act in a way that is incompatible with charity law. In a way, this is all part of the package, isn't it—institutional autonomy, the powers of Ministers to dissolve higher education corporations and the general nervousness that Amanda referred to earlier. I think if there were to be such a provision on the face of the Bill, it would give some comfort to institutions in particular to feel that they have the ability to carry on in the way that they already have conducted themselves, to serve the interests of their communities and of the nation.

Thank you, Sioned. We now move on to some questions from James Evans. James. You're on—

Yes, it's one of those things when you start talking and realise you're not off mute. Good—I was going to say 'good afternoon'. Good morning, everybody. I've got two questions, but in the interests of time, I'm going to roll them into one, if that's okay, Chair.

Okay. So, the questions I've got: to what extent do you believe that the Bill contributes towards the lifelong learning agenda of the current Welsh Government? And what in the Bill will help drive more collaboration between providers to deliver those lifelong learning pathways and lifelong learning opportunities for people? Diolch, Chair. And don't rush at once to answer. [Laughter.]

Thank you. We absolutely welcome the fact that it's one of the strategic duties, actually, to have a focus on lifelong learning, so we welcome that. We feel that bringing tertiary education and research into a single commission will support that, because that is about lifelong learning, it's from age 16 right the way through someone's educational time as well as through their careers and if they want to come back into education. So, it's really good to see that that is a comprehensive duty that will encompass all of us.

So, it'll be collaborations and partnerships, they'll be made easier, operating under a single body and that is clear to us. So, we're absolutely in favour of that. What we'd like to point to is that we already have a number of successful collaborations operating as we speak, under the existing arrangements, be they fragmented in terms of the regulations. So, we have actually managed to put some collaborations in place. So, of course, there are the apprenticeship routes, the degree apprenticeships that quite often involve pathways from levels 2, 3 and 4 and all the way upwards. What would be good, though, is if those partnerships were incentivised, if they were on a regional basis, working with regional industry, collaboration between FE colleges and their regional university partners to bring a bit more cohesion on that front. That would be good. Other examples of that would be better cohesion between the part-time credits that we currently have within the university sector versus the very recently introduced personal learning accounts, and the activity there. So, it would be good to see some cohesion there, and I think under the new body, it's a given that that will then have to happen. So, there are good models. I think we can build on what we have already, and again, it's a question of dialogue with the sector as to how that would work best.

So, in terms of helping to drive that, it's about the right policy, it's about ensuring that good practice can be continued and that more good practice can be developed. So, in principle, collaborative partnerships should not solely be driven by commercially driven opportunities, but they really should be about bringing the economy and our society forward, rather than narrow commercial interests that sometimes exist in the partnership space. But again, balanced by academic freedom. So, I'll stop there, others might want to come in on this issue as well.

I'll just apologise, Chair, if my camera went off. My laptop just decided to have a hissy fit.

You're back now. So, thanks, James. Louise, I know, wants to come in to answer the question as well.

11:10

I absolutely do. I think we very much welcome the provisions of the Bill in relation to lifelong learning and how it will allow for future planning. I think that is one of the really key things about how we regard the Bill and how we also look at the regulations—that it allows for future flexible modes of delivery and doesn't fix us in models which were operating in the past. I think what we've seen in the last few years is learners seeking out more flexibility, learners wanting to move between sectors in different ways, and we need to make sure that the provisions allow for that and open that up.

There are a couple of things I'd want to point to, and I think Cerith might like to come in and say something as well, then. On the strategic duties, for example, the equality duty, it mentions learners finishing their courses as if courses are it. That seems to be freezing in a kind of three-year undergraduate model, and that isn't the way we're working—we're certainly not working. Maria mentioned degree apprenticeships, there are all sorts of other things going on in the sector in relation to development of micro-credentials, different flexible ways that will come on board in the future that will really work for learners and work for the economy and help society. So, we need to make sure that we don't freeze in things that may not be the future for further and higher education.

I also wanted to mention in terms of learner voice. There are some very welcome provisions around learner voice in here and the recognition of learner voice, but the committee may not be aware, for example, that NUS Wales doesn't represent the OU students. The size of the OU student body and the nature of it means we've never been able to agree a model by which we are members of NUS. There is working between us; it's a perfectly cordial relationship. So, there's a question there about how the voice of the non-traditional learner, the part-time learner, is included and listened to as well, both in higher education and in adult and community education as well. There are a number of voices there that we need to make sure we pay attention to. 

I'm going to pause there because I think Cerith will probably want to say something as well.

Thank you, Chair.

Fe wnaf i gyfrannu yn Gymraeg. Byddwch chi'n ymwybodol mai adran 91 ac adran 92 yw'r adrannau perthnasol, a bu'r Gweinidog yn trafod y rheini o'ch blaen chi cwpwl o wythnosau yn ôl. Rheini yw'r rhai sydd yn darparu'r fframwaith yma, y mecanwaith ar gyfer cyllido dysgu gydol oes. Dŷn ni'n credu bod y rheini'n addawol iawn. Mae yna rai cwestiynau, dwi'n meddwl, ond dŷn nhw ddim yn gwestiynau lle ni'n dod atyn nhw o ran rŷn ni'n gwrthwynebu, ond mae eisiau efallai meddwl am ai hwn yw'r ffordd orau. Mae'r gwahaniaeth yma rhwng adnoddau rhesymol ac adnoddau cywir sydd ar wyneb y Bil—mae yna gwestiwn efallai a yw hwnna, gan ddefnyddio'r geiriad roedd Louise yn defnyddio, yn rhewi mewn rhyw syniad bod mathau gwahanol o ddysgu gydol oes yn haeddu mwy o flaenoriaeth na mathau eraill. Mae yna gwestiwn ynglŷn â hwnna. 

Ond, wedyn mae yna gwestiwn ehangach, dwi'n meddwl, achos mae'r Bil fel y mae e ar hyn o bryd yn cyfeirio at ddysgu gydol oes sy'n arwain at gymwysterau lefel 1, 2 a 3, sydd yn gwneud synnwyr, dwi'n meddwl, ar wyneb y peth, ond dŷn ni hefyd yn cydnabod mai deddfwriaeth gynradd yw'r Bil hwn ac fel Deddf gynradd y bydd hi. Mae yna gwestiwn wedyn: a ydyn ni'n rhewi mewn y criteria hynny ar wyneb y Bil? Ydy e'n berthnasol felly i ddweud ar wyneb y Bil fod sut mae dysgu gydol oes yn cael ei gyflenwi yn griterion ddylai fod ar wyneb y Bil hefyd? Ond, mae'r hyn sydd ar wyneb y Bil a'r hyn mae'r Gweinidog wedi dweud hyd yn hyn yn addawol. Rydyn ni'n gwybod bod yr hyn mae'r Llywodraeth yn bwriadu ei wneud yn mynd i gael ei fwydo i mewn iddo fe gan waith y ganolfan polisi cyhoeddus. Fe wnaethom ni fwydo mewn i'r gwaith hwnnw, so ni'n edrych ymlaen at weld beth fydd allbwn hwnna. Ond, ar hyn o bryd, mae'n rhy anodd, dwi'n meddwl, i wybod mân fanylion sut mae dysgu gydol oes yn mynd i ddigwydd, gan fod y manylion ddim o'n blaen ni ar wyneb y Bil.

I'll contribute in Welsh. You'll be aware that section 91 and 92 are the relevant sections, and the Minister discussed those before you a few weeks ago. Those are the ones that provide the framework and the mechanism for funding lifelong learning. We believe those are very promising. There are some questions, I think, but they're not questions where we come to them from opposing them, but perhaps there's a need to think whether they are the best way forward. This difference between reasonable and proper facilities that is on the face of the Bill—there is a question perhaps as to whether that, using the wording that Louise used, freezes in some idea that there are different kinds of lifelong learning that deserve more priority than others. There is a question regarding that. 

But, then there's a broader question, I think, because the Bill as it is currently refers to lifelong learning that leads to level 1, 2 and 3 qualifications, which makes sense, I think, on the face of it, but we also recognise that the Bill is primary legislation and it'll be a primary Act. There is a question then: do we freeze in that criteria on the face of the Bill? Is it relevant therefore to say on the face of the Bill that how lifelong learning is provided is a criterion that should be on the face of the Bill as well? But, what is on the face of the Bill and what the Minister has said so far is promising. We know that what the Government intends to do is going to be fed into by work from the Wales Centre for Public Policy. We fed into that work, so we're looking forward to seeing what the output of that will be. But, currently, it's too difficult, I think, to know the finer details of how lifelong learning is going to be delivered, because we don't have the details in front of us on the face of the Bill.

11:15

Very briefly, Chair. Just to say that I think the important point here is that pathways are not linear. They go off in different directions. They're circular. And, as we move into a very different world, we're all going to need different skills in different parts of our lives. So, what we need is flexibility and a very flexible approach to lifelong learning.

I can see you want to come back in, Louise; I'm just conscious of time, so if you could be brief. 

Very, very brief. I think, just to re-emphasise that point that lifelong learning is about—. It says it on the tin; it's about life, and it isn't limited to lower levels of learning. And it should be really open, the Bill needs to be really open to reskilling people throughout their lives at all sorts of levels, and be able to move through. And we need to make sure the Bill doesn't act against that. 

Thank you, Louise. A question now from Sioned Williams. Sioned. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Un cwestiwn sydd gen i ynglŷn â'r ddarpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg. Mae gan y Bil rai eithriadau ar gyfer Gweinidogion Cymru mewn perthynas â darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg, gan gynnwys mwy o bwerau i ariannu a chyfarwyddo darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg. Hoffwn i wybod beth yw'ch barn chi am y pwerau hyn.

Thank you, Chair. I have one question regarding Welsh-medium provision. The Bill has some carve-outs for Welsh Ministers in relation to Welsh-medium provision, including more powers to fund and direct Welsh-medium provision. I'd like to know what your views are on these powers. 

We're very supportive of the direction of travel on Welsh-medium provision, and there is real need to ensure good and adequate funding for it. We'd like to follow up with the committee in due course on our more detailed thinking in this area, but just to reiterate our strong support for Welsh-medium education.

Okay. Thank you. We look forward to you following up on that as well. Okay, now moving on to some questions on—

Sori, Cadeirydd, mae Amanda yn moyn dod mewn yn fanna. 

Sorry, Chair, Amanda wants to come in.

Just to follow up on that, I think one of the key things in coming back to you we might want to look at is ensuring that we have the same academic safeguards around Welsh medium as we might have elsewhere, because setting it aside, we just need to make sure that we've got the same safeguards in place in relation to Welsh medium as we might have elsewhere. That will be perhaps one of the key things we need to consider, coming back to you.

Okay. Thanks, Amanda, diolch. Moving on to some questions now on funding powers, research and innovation from Ken Skates. Ken.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, everyone, good to see you all. Just two questions. First of all, HEFCW stated that

'there should be an obligation for the commission to maintain a reasonable balance of funding'

across provision and activities. Do you believe that HEFCW are correct? And, also, just on the powers of Welsh Ministers. Does the ability of Welsh Ministers to alter the commission's plans in respect of research and innovation investment pose a concern, and, if so, what is the nature of your concern?

Okay, if I could start with those. I think we've partly answered your question in earlier evidence, but to just reiterate that we support—. Sorry, I'm just—. We do strongly support the need, and I would stress 'need', for a balanced funding duty in terms of research and innovation. It's a large commission, and research is a relatively small part of that commission. So, it needs to be a balanced funding duty, linked with transparent decision making, so that we can make sure that the targeting of resources is clearly linked to that strategic duty. This will also support collaboration and enable the commission to fulfil its duties in relation to that strategic duty. 

I think the power of the Ministers to alter the commission's plan in respect of R&I prompt concern. There's a really key principle behind this Bill, which is collaboration, and the acceptance that not one part of this whole organisation, from Ministers to learners, has all the knowledge. I'm actually quite concerned that—. There's a lot of knowledge in the sector, and we've seen it with the AstraZeneca protein work at Cardiff. It would have been quite tricky for a Minister to have actually realised that that piece of work needed doing. So, what we'd like to see is an area where there is good collaboration, and we can share ideas and identify areas that we think need researching, as well as what Ministers or officials need researching. What I'm trying to say is, it would be really hard for one part of the sector to have all the ideas, and there needs to be good collaboration to identify what needs to be done.

So, the Bill enables Ministers to amend the strategic plan, but, in principle, Ministers can do that anyway, by setting out what priorities they want, and we don't quite understand why it needs to be in the Bill. So, it comes back to our principles around autonomy, but the need to strengthen research and innovation in the strategic duties would mitigate many of our concerns in this area. It comes back again to what we dealt with earlier in this session, about the commission being empowered to operate truly as an arm's-length body. Thank you.

11:20

Would anybody else like to come in on that—Amanda or Louise? Maxine.

Thank you, Chair. Really, just to emphasise what Elizabeth has said. Some research is closely linked to innovation and to development, and can be targeted and directed. But much research is about the invention of new knowledge, which comes from exploration and which can't be predicted, and leads to discoveries that may happen in 15 or 20 years' time that are of huge benefit to society and the economy, which cannot be predicted by Ministers or the population at large in advance. And there has to be an element of research that is unhypothecated that allows for the exploration of knowledge. I think that is fundamental to any university and to any university system anywhere in the world. Thank you.

I think, more generally, a balanced funding duty really aids transparency, and I think we were quite heartened by what the Minister said in evidence regarding the way HEFCW had approached transparency. And that is absolutely something that we wouldn't want to lose. So I think, more generally, a balanced funding duty is absolutely linked to responsibilities in relation to transparency. I think that's helpful for, not just higher education, but more generally across the piece of the new commission. One of the key challenges for the new commission is going to be around fairness and transparency and building the trust that will be absolutely necessary to get all of the benefits that we think we can get from new commission arrangements. So, we do think that this balanced funding duty is pretty fundamental in that regard, because otherwise you risk the sorts of challenge that could be quite unhelpful, because we'd need to be very delivery focused, I think—hit the ground running.

Louise, did you have anything else, or Ken? Is that your questions? Thank you very much. I've just got some final questions around quality assurance and learner experience. To what extent are the quality assurance arrangements in the Bill satisfactory? Maria.

I'll take that one. We're really pleased with what's in the Bill around quality assurance, and that the quality assurance arrangements would continue to reflect the importance of international recognition of quality assurance for higher education, analogous to the model that we currently have. And we do benefit from being part of the UK-wide infrastructure around QA, and indeed the international presence that the current arrangement, under the Quality Assurance Agency, has. It's very, very strongly tied in with the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, with the European quality recognised regimes, and a real respect, understanding from international partners as well that the QA provisions are sound—are globally respected in fact. So, we're delighted to see that that is recognised and we really want to continue on that basis. We were also pleased to see that, on 18 November, when the Minister, Jeremy Miles, actually presented to the commission and also to the committee, he confirmed that that was the direction of travel and that there would be regulation by provision rather than by provider, and that international dimension of QA. So, we were really pleased to see that.

11:25

My next question was following on from that really. HEFCW had concerns regarding validating transnational education provision. To what extent do you share those and should the higher levels of risk be addressed on the face of the Bill?

Yes, building on my answer to the last question, the current arrangements that we have for QA, under those current arrangements transnational education provision is actually covered. Because the remit for the QAA is to review higher education delivered by UK providers wherever that is being provided, whether it's in country or through partnerships within the UK and beyond. So, it is covered; it is part of the regular reviews that we all undergo, which we will continue to have in the new system. So, we're not worried about that. And we also participate and sign up to the country-level reviews that the QAA carries out on behalf of the sector, particularly in countries where there is a large presence of UK TNE provision. So, we think it's sound; it's covered; it's already part of the model and we don't see any need for it to be separately covered in the Bill. So, we don't share that concern is the short answer to that question.

So, just to build on that a little bit, I think it was interesting when the Minister spoke, I think, on 18 November, that he was clear that quality assurance was about provision and not the provider. And obviously that flows through what Maria is saying here. So, on the basis that quality assurance is based on provision and not provider, we do think that there is a continuum of coverage through the quality assurance arrangements as specified in the Bill.

Great, thank you. And just finally from me, with just a few minutes remaining: HEFCW have told us that learner protection plans are unlikely in practice to be effective. What are your views and how could the benefits be better realised? Maria.

I'll pick that one up as well. There's a bit of crystal ball gazing here, because how do we know in advance to what extent elements and aspects of the Bill will be effective once they're all developed fully. So, setting that aside, we are really subject to substantial consumer rights legislation and Competition and Markets Authority legislation, which is UK-wide. So, learner protection is always an area of great interest and we're all committed to that. So, we're not overly worried about that. It's important to make sure that learner protection plans are in place locally as well as the overarching legislation that we're all subject to.

The only bit of concern that we have is the ability of the commission to approve plans with or without modification and, as it stands, the way it's phrased, it would seem as if a learner protection plan could be altered by the commission without dialogue with the institution. Now, whether that's the intention—. Maybe that's not the case, but as it's worded, that is how it could be implemented, which would probably not be a good thing, because, as I said earlier, dialogue is so important in how all of this is rolled out. Thank you.

Just coming off the back of that, I think the core issue around the commission being able to change learner protection plans really gets to the heart of governance. A commission can say that your learner protection plan is not adequate and a governing body, as they do with fee and access plans, will be—their minds will be focused on whether or not they accept the commission proposal. But I think there’s something fundamental about the commission coming in and, effectively, undermining the decision of the governing body, and we need the governing body to be able to make that decision in order to be compliant across a range of other areas, including charitable requirements. So, I think the point there is a more fundamental one. We need learner protection plans to work well. We can probably give you some background information on the variety of things that we would already do—the charter arrangements we have and the arrangements that we have agreed with our funding council over the years. It is absolutely fundamental that learner protections are in place. It’s fundamental to our ability to be able to make a strong offer to prospective future students. So, that really matters. But how the legislation affects that also matters.

11:30

Okay. Thank you very much, Amanda.

We've come to the end of this evidence session. I really appreciate you all coming to give us that evidence today. It was very clear, and thank you for answering all of our questions. I know there are a few points that we can follow up on, and further information that you've offered to share with the committee, so that's really helpful. A transcript will be sent to you for you to look through and check through in due course. But thank you for attending today.

There'll now be a short technical break to bring in our next set of witnesses.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:32 a 11:36.

The meeting adjourned between 11:32 and 11:36.

11:35
6. Y Bil Addysg Drydyddol ac Ymchwil (Cymru)—sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
6. Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill—evidence session 4

So, welcome back to the committee of children, young people and education. We're looking at this next session on the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill—our fourth evidence session. We've got our witnesses here with us today, who are Guy Lacey, chair of ColegauCymru and chief executive officer at Coleg Gwent, Dafydd Evans, chief executive officer at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai and representing ColegauCymru, Rachel Bowen, director of policy and public affairs ColegauCymru, and Sharon Davies, head of education, Welsh Local Government Association. Welcome to you all here this morning.

We've got quite a lot to get through, so I'd very much appreciate it if Members can be as succinct as possible in their questioning, and if witnesses could be likewise as well. I'll make a start with the first question: to what extent do you believe legislation is necessary to achieve the policy objectives in this Bill, and are the policy objectives clear to you? Who'd like to make a start? Let's see. Dafydd.

Fe wnaf i siarad yn y Gymraeg, os caf i.

I'll speak in Welsh, if I may.

Dwi'n meddwl, o fewn ColegauCymru, mae yna amrediad o deimladau ynglŷn â'r ddeddfwriaeth yma a'r angen amdani. Yn bersonol, dwi'n credu ei bod hi'n ddeddfwriaeth bwysig, bod angen strwythur newydd i adolygu rhai o'r gwallau sydd yna yn y system addysg yng Nghymru ar hyn o bryd. Dwi'n credu bod yna fannau lle dydy cyfrifoldeb ddim yn glir, lle mae yna elfennau gormodol o gystadleuaeth, ac felly dwi yn credu bod y ddeddfwriaeth yn rhoi cyfle inni fod yn datrys rhai problemau sydd wedi bod efo ni ers degawdau bellach, ac nad ydy rhannu'r cyfrifoldebau rhwng Llywodraeth Cymru, rhwng llywodraeth leol ar adegau, efo chweched dosbarth, a'r prifysgolion wedyn drwy HEFCW, nad ydy hynny bellach yn gweithio a bod angen un corff i drio tynnu'r hyn i gyd at ei gilydd, ac yn enwedig i edrych ar y darnau yna lle mae yna'r overlaps rhwng y gwahanol sectorau.

I think, within ColegauCymru, there is a range of feelings regarding this legislation and the need for it. Personally, I believe that it is important legislation and that there is a need for a new structure to review some of the mistakes that are in the system currently. I think there are areas where responsibility is unclear, there are too many elements of competition, and therefore I do believe that the legislation provides an opportunity for us to solve some problems that we've had for decades now, and that sharing responsibilities between Welsh Government, between local government at times, with sixth forms, and universities, then, through HEFCW, that that now doesn't work and there is a need for one body to try and bring all of this together, and in particular, to look at those pieces where there are overlaps between the different sectors.

Thank you, Chair. I agree with Dafydd. I think it's important to understand that there are a range of views and opinions and that ColegauCymru members don't have a uniform opinion. But I think, to go to the heart of the question, if the aims of Government are about building an overarching, common structure, if the aims of Government are to promote collaboration and to promote lifelong learning, then I think the straight answer to the question is, yes, legislation probably is needed. But I think, as always, the devil is in the detail, and it's whether or not the Bill will actually deliver on those objectives.

11:40

Just to say that ColegauCymru has been generally supportive of the Hazelkorn review and the need to bring together the post-16 sector and make this more coherent. I think some of the policy intention could be made clearer. There's quite a bit about Welsh language, where that's going and specific ideas around that, and there's quite a lot of detail around some of the other areas, around the nine strategic duties, but the specifics about what we're trying to achieve and where we're trying to go—I think some of that could be sharpened up a little.

Thank you. I think we've been quite—. As you know, in the past, in other consultations, the WLGA and ADEW, we've been quite consistent in our previous responses in regard to, possibly, concerns around that increased bureaucracy, processes and complexity that could become apparent. However, having said that, we are very supportive of the Bill, and I suppose the main thing for us is ensuring its success in providing a high-quality offer for learners and communities, and it is about that collaboration, isn't it? It is about what is best for the learners and putting them at the heart of this. Thank you.

Thank you, Sharon. We'll move on to some questions now from Buffy Williams. Buffy.

Diolch, Chair. Morning, all. Could you tell us about any concerns you have regarding the timings and process of physically establishing a commission and setting up the regulatory machinery?

If I understand the timescale correctly, I think it's going to be compressed, and I think it's going to be a challenge. My understanding of the timescale is that we'll start to see—assuming, of course, the passage of the Bill—appointments being made in the early part of the next calendar year, with full implementation in 2023. So, yes, I think it would be fair to say that ColegauCymru do have concerns about the speed of implementation and whether or not that will fully allow for consideration of exactly how transition takes place from current systems to new.

I think, just to echo Guy's concerns on that, as a sector, the FE sector is very responsive. We're not about hanging about and delaying things for the sake of it, but, when you think that this legislation, the explanatory memorandum, the statement of policy intent, all of that only came out on 1 November—it's 2 December today, and we're looking at quite complex issues. There's a lot of regulations that are referred to that are yet to be made in the legislation. So, I think it's important that we take the time to get this right, and it does feel a little compressed in order for everyone to have the necessary time to look through all the detail and make sure that we do get this right.

Dwi'n meddwl mai beth fyddai'n dipyn bach o drychineb fyddai pe bai'r tri seilo, mewn ffordd, sydd gennym ni o weision sifil addysg bellach, gweision sifil yr ysgolion a HEFCW yn cael eu trosglwyddo yn seilos yna drosodd i'r strwythur newydd. Mae angen creu strwythur sydd yn llawer mwy hyblyg ac yn torri'r seilos yna i lawr. Dyna ydy holl bwrpas y ddeddfwriaeth, cyn belled ag y gwelaf i, ac, os ydyn ni'n trio symud yn rhy sydyn, yn unig ffordd ymarferol a fedrwch chi symud yn sydyn ydy symud y seilos i mewn i'r comisiwn, a dwi'n meddwl bod hynny'r peth rong i'w wneud. Felly dwi'n meddwl y dylid cymryd amser i gael y strwythur gweinyddol, rheolaethol cywir i mewn i'r comisiwn, ac nid rhedeg i mewn iddo fo jest i gyrraedd rhyw amserlen benodol, felly.

I think what would be a bit of a disaster would be if the three silos that we have of civil servants for further education, civil servants for schools and HEFCW were to be transferred in those silos over to the new structure. There is a need to create a structure that is much more flexible and breaks those silos down. That is the whole purpose of the legislation, as far as I can see, and, if we try and move too quickly, the only practical way that you can move quickly is to move the silos into the commission, and I think that is the wrong thing to do. So, I think we should take time to get the administrative and regulatory structure right in the commission and not run into it just to keep to a certain timetable.

Thank you. HEFCW has set out concerns regarding the information-sharing provisions in the Bill. The Minister argues these powers already exist. What are your views on these provisions, and do you believe they might inhibit information sharing with the commission?

11:45

Ocê. Dwi'n cadeirio ar hyn o bryd grŵp sydd yn edrych ar drosglwyddo gwybodaeth a data rhwng y sector ysgolion i mewn i'r sector addysg bellach. Mae hwnnw'n enghraifft glasurol o'r ffaith nad ydy'n cyfundrefnau addysgol ni ddim yn siarad efo'i gilydd a ddim yn medru gweithio fel un system i Gymru ac i'r dysgwyr yng Nghymru. Felly, cyn belled ag ydw i yn y cwestiwn, y mwyaf o rannu data, y gorau, pe bawn i'n onest, achos dwi'n meddwl buasen ni wedyn yn fwy effeithiol fel gwlad a buasen ni'n rhoi gwell gwasanaeth i'r dysgwyr y mwyaf o ddata y buasen ni'n ei rannu. Felly, fy hun, does gen i ddim pryderon ynglŷn â rhannu data. Rydyn ni i gyd yn gweithio o fewn y gyfundrefn gyhoeddus efo pres cyhoeddus i drio gwneud y gorau i'r dysgwr, ac weithiau dwi'n reit rwystredig efo deddfwriaeth fel GDPR, sydd weithiau yn teimlo ei bod yn gweithio yn erbyn cynnig y gwasanaeth gorau i'r dysgwr.  

I chair currently a group that is looking at transferring information and data between the school sector into the further education sector. And that is a classic example of the fact that our educational systems aren't talking to each other and are not working as one system for Wales and for the learners in Wales. So, as far as I'm in the question, more data sharing, I think, would make us more effective as a nation and that we'd provide a better service to learners the more information we share. So, I don't have any concerns regarding the sharing of data. We are all working within a public system, with public money, to try to do our best for the learner, and sometimes I'm a bit frustrated with legislation such as GDPR, which sometimes I feel is working against providing the best service for the learner. 

I think, with some of this, there are issues here that need to be thought through, with all their implications. And it's thinking about what data we're talking about being shared and in what circumstances. I absolutely echo Dafydd about, when we're talking about learners transferring from one institution to another, the institutions that are welcoming those learners need to know what they're being prepared for. That's quite a different issue to, for instance, some of the things that might come up in terms of commercial sensitivities around apprenticeship providers and private training providers, for instance. So, we're talking about very different types of information sharing and information to be shared. You would expect all of that to be proportionate and that nobody would be requesting stuff just for the sake of it in case they might need it at some point, because that's neither a principle of good data collection nor sharing. But I think there are lots of unintended consequences that need to be thought through to make sure that, in making information sharing better and wider, we don't then contract what people are then willing to share. So, this is something that needs further attention. 

Thank you. The Minister told us that the learner's journey is fundamental to this, and the question of parity of esteem is one that we've all spoken about for many years. Does the Bill deliver on these areas, in your view?

I'm not sure that the Bill delivers on parity of esteem; I think it is in the implementation of the Bill and the evolution of the system that will follow the legislation that will deliver on parity of esteem. I think the ethos of the objectives behind the Bill are laying the foundations for parity of esteem. I think, as Dafydd made the point, if we have a system that is essentially based around certain silos in our post-compulsory education sector, then I don't believe we will ever have parity of esteem. And I think, if we can have a Bill that creates a structure that removes those silos and creates a uniform sector, then we've got a better opportunity of promoting parity of esteem. I don't think it's the solution, because I think parity of esteem is actually an issue that is embedded in some of our really deep social attitudes towards training and education. So, I don't think the Bill is the miracle cure, but I think if the Bill is effective, then yes, it will enable us to promote more parity of esteem. 

Dwi'n meddwl bydd penodiad cadeirydd a phrif weithredwr y comisiwn yn hollol allweddol i hyn. Hynny yw, mae'r ddeddfwriaeth yn medru mynd â ni hyn a hyn o'r ffordd, ond dwi'n meddwl y bydd y gwerthoedd a'r diwylliant fydd arweinyddiaeth y comisiwn yn ei chreu yn cael llawer iawn mwy o impact ar y gwasanaethau ac ar ffurf gweithredu y comisiwn na fydd y ddeddfwriaeth, ar ddiwedd y dydd. 

I think that the appointment of the chair and chief executive of the commission will be key in all of this. The legislation can take us so far, but I think that the values and the culture provided and created by the leadership of the commission will have much more of an impact on these services than on the operational means of the commission, at the end of the day. 

Thank you. Anybody else? No. Right, we'll move on to some questions now from James Evans. James.

Diolch, Chair. I'm going to talk and ask a couple of questions about lifelong learning and collaboration. And, as my colleague, Buffy Williams finished with a quote from the Minister, I'm going to start with one. So, on securing provision for those over 19, the Minister told us, and I quote:

'So, the question…is: why are there not proper facilities for everybody post 19? The starting point for that is that the cohort of people post 19 is, obviously, much larger, and so there needs to be a progressive expansion'.

So, what is your view on the graduated approach in the Bill? Don't all rush, as I said earlier, to answer. 

11:50

That's a difficult question. I think there is a pragmatic answer to the question, which is that the Minister is quite right to point out that the potential demand for training and education in people over the age of 19 is enormous. We know that Wales is a country that has got to improve its profile of skills and qualifications in the adult population. So, I guess a pragmatic response that says there is a longer term commitment to progressively improving lifelong learning opportunities is a good way forward, because yes, we have to make priorities and I guess our priorities for 16- to 19-year-olds are important. But we clearly do have such a vast range of learning and training opportunities for over 19s, it comes in all shapes and forms. The further education sector delivers just about every different type of training and education you can imagine that an over 19 would want to access, everything from basic literacy and numeracy and English for speakers of other languages programmes through to higher education programmes. So, I think that it is understandable that Government would say there needs to be an incremental approach to expanding that.

I think extending proper facilities to eligible over 19s is a step forward. I think what we need to be careful about there is what the shape of the regulations around what an eligible person over the age of 19 then looks like, so there is reference to qualifications at levels 1, 2 and 3, but we would want to be careful that we don't actually accidentally rule out potentially higher level qualifications, or if we moved to systems that are used elsewhere in parts of Europe and further afield where a qualification isn't at a single level. So, for instance with some of the master craftsperson qualifications, they might have elements of what we would consider our levels 1, 2 and potentially 4. We wouldn't want to put anything in that means we then can't do something in that category of eligible persons that actually becomes desirable to do later on. But again, much of this is in the detail as to what that will look like. Absolutely, we need to be pragmatic; it's good to see that there is a movement from what was in place before.

I won't say this comment just because Ken is with us on the screen, but I think that the personal learning accounts initiative has been a fantastic success, and the flexibility that that has given us to tailor a provision and a set of skills, and not necessarily always linked to traditional qualifications, has really enabled us to look very differently at what we're offering over 19s. So, I think it's that kind of flexibility that we need, not just to be offering the traditional qualifications that FE has always offered and thinking that they're going to fit for an individual, and I think a far more skills-based approach, like we've seen in the prior learning assessment, has been very, very welcome.

Just really quickly—Rachel raised this, and Dafydd—just quietly then on to my next question: the Bill does set out particular levels of study as examples in relation to securing further education, levels 1, 2 and 3. To what extent could the Bill as currently drafted help or hinder delivering higher levels of education provision?

I think I'm going to speak quite bluntly. I think that the level 4 and 5 arena is currently—. The leadership on it is very confused. It's a bit of a no-man's-land between HE and FE, and if Wales is going to succeed, having correct leadership on levels 4 and 5 is absolutely critical. And I think there's a real opportunity for the commission. The Bill offers the opportunity to provide a clearer structure on levels 4 and 5 for Wales. I think FE are fantastically well positioned to do that, given all the connections that we have with industry through our apprenticeship programmes, et cetera. And therefore, I think, possibly, this is, for me, one of the greatest advantages of the commission, the biggest opportunity for the commission, is to really focus in on levels 4 and 5, provide leadership on them, provide clarity on them, and open, I think, some of the constraints that we currently have, such as having to franchise from HE, for example, for levels 4 and 5, and take those shackles away and really allow these levels to really blossom, and that curriculum to blossom. 

11:55

Well, at the moment, there's nothing really in the Bill that addresses this particular issue. It doesn't really talk about developing qualifications at level 4 and level 5. It doesn't really talk about awarding bodies, those kinds of things. So, there's potential for the legislation to do something really positive here. As Dafydd said, there's potential for the commission to do something really positive, but it's not really addressed in the Bill as a big issue. 

Yes, I'd completely echo what Rachel and Dafydd have said. I think it's vital for the future growth of the Welsh economy and for, actually, just improving people's lives. We have to have a much more flexible and much more responsive system that allows for the delivery of technical and vocational training at levels 4 and 5, and I think further education colleges are—. That needs to become a key part of what we do to support businesses and people in our communities. 

Yes, thank you, Chair. This is my last question, and it's all about what we've been talking about, really, about delivery of FE around collaboration and funding. A key aim of this Bill is around collaboration. HEFCW told us that the consent provision related to getting consent to pass on funding would be burdensome. To what extent do you believe that the provision will be a barrier to collaboration, if at all? 

Yes, I think it's a potential barrier, isn't it? I guess we need more information about this. We need to understand—. Because I think it's legitimate and probably sound for the control of public funds that the commission is able to ensure that funding that it is passing on to providers isn't simply then passed on to other providers, without any form of accountability. So, I guess we need to understand at what sort of level that scrutiny would take place, because, actually, yes, if it's very, very small quantities of funding, further education colleges routinely work and collaborate with each other and with other providers in perfectly legitimate ways to support the delivery of training. So, I'd suggest that the threshold at which the commission is going to apply controls is probably the key thing here.

Just to, perhaps, provide an example of that, I think in terms of working with the private sector, for example, the latest crisis has been in terms of heavy goods vehicle drivers. We've used the extra personal learning accounts funding now and worked in collaboration as a college with local HGV trainers in order to provide them with funding to try and solve some of this problem. So, I think we need flexibility here if we're going to react quickly to certain problems. We need flexibility to be able to commission, and I think please let's not inhibit that because it can work very, very effectively. 

Yes, that is really helpful, Dafydd. Rachel, you wanted to come in briefly. 

Yes, just briefly to say that the processes around getting approval for that transfer of funding will be really important. From what Guy and Dafydd have just said, it's responsiveness and that ability to react quickly. So, you can't have a system that says, 'We'll get back to you in three months with a 'yay' or 'nay'; it's got to be much quicker, and it's got to be proportionate. 

Great, thank you. Moving on, then, to some questions from Sioned Williams. Sioned.

12:00

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Bore da. Mae gen i gwpwl o gwestiynau ynglŷn â phwerau Gweinidogion Cymru a'r comisiwn—dau gwestiwn yn fan hyn ynglŷn â chyfraith elusennau a pherthnasedd hynny i chi yn y sector yma. Oes gyda chi unrhyw bryderon ynghylch pwerau Gweinidogion Cymru a'r comisiwn a'u cydnawsedd â chyfraith elusennau? Ac wedyn, cwestiwn cysylltiedig, mewn ffordd. Bydd gan Weinidogion Cymru bŵer i ymyrryd yn uniongyrchol yng nghorff llywodraethu coleg addysg bellach. Felly, beth yw eich barn chi am y pŵer yma o ystyried bod colegau yn elusennau ymreolaethol? A beth yw eich dealltwriaeth chi o'r rhesymeg dros hyn?

Thank you, Chair. Good morning. I have a couple of questions regarding the powers of Welsh Ministers and the commission—two questions here regarding charity law and the relevance of that to you in this sector. Do you have any concerns regarding the powers of Welsh Ministers and the commission and their compatibility with charity law? And then, an associated question, in a way. Welsh Ministers will have the power to directly intervene in the governing body of a further education college. So, what are your views on this power, considering colleges are autonomous charities? And what is your understanding of the rationale for this?

Nid oes recordiad ar gael o’r cyfieithiad ar y pryd rhwng 12:01 a 12:02. Felly, darparwyd cyfieithiad.

No recording is available of the interpretation between 12:01 and 12:02. Therefore, a translation has been provided.

Gwnaf i fod yn ddigon dewr. Dyna'r cwestiwn anoddaf rydyn ni wedi ei gael heddiw hyd yma, Sioned, dwi'n meddwl. Yn nhermau corff llywodraethol—

I'll be brave enough. That's the most difficult question we've had so far today, Sioned, I think. In terms of a governing body—

Sorry, Dafydd. Sorry to interrupt you. I think we might have a problem with the interpretation. Or is it just me? I just want to—. Yes, that's it. We can hear that now. I can hear that.

Ydy o'n iawn rŵan? Ydy o'n iawn imi gario ymlaen?

Is it okay now? Can I carry on?

Dwi'n gobeithio y byddai pawb yn cydnabod, ers i golegau gael eu hymgorffori yn 1993, fod cyrff llywodraethol colegau wedi bod yn hynod o effeithiol ac wedi symud y sector yn ei blaen—wedi bod yn fodlon, fel Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, i fod yn diddymu eu hunain ac i fod yn creu mergers ac yn y blaen, ac wedi bihafio mewn ffordd aeddfed iawn, dwi'n gobeithio. Dwi'n meddwl y byddai fo'n golled fawr inni fod yn colli y strwythur yna. Dwi'n meddwl ei fod o'n strwythur sydd yn gweithio. Ond wedyn, mi ydw i'n derbyn hefyd ein bod ni fel cyrff llywodraethol yn ymdrin â miliynau ar filiynau o bunnoedd o bres cyhoeddus. Ac felly, pe bai yna sefyllfa lle bod unrhyw fwrdd llywodraethol yn gweithredu yn hollol amhriodol, dwi'n credu nad ydy o ddim yn afresymol bod gan y Gweinidog hawl i ymyrryd. Ond dwi'n gobeithio yn wirioneddol mai mewn sefyllfa eithriadol iawn y byddai hynny'n cael ei ddefnyddio, ac na fyddai fo ddim yn ymyrryd yng ngwaith dydd i ddydd y corff llywodraethol, ond dim ond yn ymyrryd pan fydd y corff ddim yn cydymffurfio ac, hwyrach, yn gweithredu'n anghyfreithlon.

I hope that everybody would acknowledge that, since colleges were incorporated in 1993, governing bodies of colleges have been extremely effective and moved the sector forward—they've been satisfied, as Grŵp Llandrillo Menai has done, to dissolve themselves and create mergers and so forth, and have behaved in a very mature way, I would hope. I think it would be a great loss to us to lose that structure. I think it's a structure that works. But then, I do also accept that we as governing bodies deal with millions and millions of pounds of public money. And therefore, if there was a situation where any governing body was operating completely inappropriately, I think it wouldn't be unreasonable that the Minister would have a right to intervene. But I would really hope that it's in an exceptional situation that that would happen, and that the Minister wouldn't intervene in the day-to-day work of the governing body but only intervene when the body wasn't complying and perhaps working illegally or unlawfully.

Diolch. Oes rhywun arall yn moyn dod i mewn ar y pwynt yna? Beth am y pwynt yna ynglŷn â rheoliadau a chyfraith elusennol a sut byddai yna efallai gwrthdaro rhwng yr hyn fyddai'n ofynnol o dan y gyfraith yna a'r gofynion yna ar rai colegau sy'n elusennau a'r hyn fyddai, efallai, Gweinidogion Cymru eisiau ei weld? Oes gan unrhyw un farn ar hynny?

Thank you. Does anyone else want to come in on that point? What about that point regarding regulations and charity law and how perhaps there could be a clash with what is required under that law and the requirements on some colleges that are charities and what, perhaps, Welsh Minister would want to see? Does anyone have a view on that?

Dwi ddim yn credu, Sioned, fod yna broblem yng nghyd-destun—. Rydyn ni wedi gweithredu o dan y rheoliadau yma ers 1993 ac wedi cydweithio efo Gweinidogion yn agos iawn, iawn yn ystod y cyfnod yna. Felly dwi'n bersonol ddim yn rhagweld—. Dwi ddim yn arbenigwr cyfreithiol yn y maes, ond dydyn ni ddim wedi gweld y statws elusennol yn broblem inni fel colegau yn nhermau diwallu dyheadau Gweinidogion a Llywodraeth, felly dwi ddim yn gweld y byddai fo'n wahanol o dan y comisiwn.

I don't think, Sioned, that there is a problem in the context—. We have been operating under these regulations since 1993 and we have collaborated with Ministers very, very closely during that time. Therefore, personally, I don't foresee—. I'm not a legal expert in this field, but we haven't seen the charity status being a problem for us as colleges in terms of meeting the aspirations of Government and Ministers, so I don't think it would be different under the commission.

Iawn. Diolch. Gwnaf i ofyn, te—ac mae hwn yn gysylltiedig, wrth gwrs—

Okay. Thank you. I'll ask—and this is associated, of course—

Sorry. Apologies. Just briefly, Sioned, I agree with Dafydd. I don't see that there is a particular contradiction here. The Further and Higher Education (Governance and Information) (Wales) Act 2014 gave colleges further additional powers. I believe that the Minister does have powers, effectively, as the chief regulator on behalf of the Charity Commission, but I don't think I see a particular tension or difficulty in that.

Diolch. Mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn disgrifio'r comisiwn fel corff hyd braich. I ba raddau ydych chi'n cytuno â hyn, a pha wahaniaeth mae hynny'n mynd i wneud i ddarparwyr?

Thank you. The Welsh Government described the commission as being at arm's length. To what extent do you agree with this, and what difference will that make to providers? 

12:05

I think the Bill as currently drafted leaves an awful lot in the gift of Welsh Ministers to amend and direct the commission. So, perhaps there's a little bit of tension about what Welsh Ministers are happy to really let go of and let an arm's-length body deal with and wanting to hang on to powers in case of worst-case scenario. I think in the previous evidence session, somebody used the phrase 'exceptional powers for exceptional circumstances' and perhaps there's a little bit too much fear about the exceptional circumstances and not enough about giving power to the commission to work with the post-16 sector and actually get on with making that function properly.

Dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi'n bwysig ofnadwy bod y comisiwn yn annibynnol. Dwi'n meddwl bod rhai o'r problemau y gwnes i gyfeirio atyn nhw ar gychwyn y dystiolaeth yn deillio o'r ffaith nad ydym ni wedi gweld newid yn nhermau moderneiddio addysg yng Nghymru, oherwydd y cymhlethdod gwleidyddol sydd yna ynghlwm â, hwyrach, weithiau, newid neu uno colegau neu gau chweched dosbarth—mae o i gyd yn cael ei glymu i fyny mewn gwleidyddiaeth a ddim yn symud yn ei flaen. Felly, dwi yn credu bod angen i'r corff yma fod yn annibynnol. Dwi'n ddigon hen i fod wedi gweithio dan yr FE Funding Council yn ôl ym 1993, a roeddwn i'n meddwl bod y corff hwnnw'n gorff a oedd yn effeithiol iawn, a oedd yn annibynnol o Lywodraeth. Roedd rhan o hynny oherwydd yr arweinyddiaeth. Roedd Proffesor Andrews ar y pryd yn arweinydd cryf iawn o fewn y comisiwn hwnnw, a dwi'n meddwl yng nghyd-destun cadw'r annibyniaeth yna, eto, bydd pwy ydy'r arweinyddiaeth o fewn y comisiwn, ac a fydd yna arweinwyr digon hyderus i fod yn gweithio'n annibynnol o Lywodraeth, yn ddiddorol iawn i ni weld dros y blynyddoedd nesaf.

I think it's very important that the commission is independent. I think that some of the problems that I referred to at the beginning of my evidence are because we haven't seen any change in terms of modernising education in Wales, because of the political complexity that exists with, perhaps, changing or merging colleges or closing sixth forms—it's all tied up in politics and doesn't move forward. So, I do think that there is a need for this body to be independent. I am old enough to have worked under the Further Education Funding Council back in 1993, and I thought that that body was a very effective body and it was independent of Government. Part of that was because of the leadership. Professor Andrews at the time was a very strong leader within that commission, and I think in the context of keeping that independence, again, who the leader is within the commission, and whether there will be confident enough leaders to work independently of Government, will be a very interesting aspect that we will look at over the years to come.

Diolch yn fawr. Mae cwestiwn gen i nawr ar gyfer Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru yn benodol. Rŷch chi'n dweud yn eich tystiolaeth y byddech chi'n croesawu cyfrannu at ddatblygu cynllun strategol y comisiwn a blaenoriaethau strategol Gweinidogion Cymru. Yn eich tyb chi, sut fyddai hyn yn edrych yn y Bil?

Thank you very much. A question, now, for the Welsh Local Government Association specifically. You say that you would welcome contributing towards the development of the commission's strategic plan and the Welsh Ministers' strategic priorities. In your view, what do you envisage this would look like in the Bill?

Again, as colleagues have mentioned, we're still waiting to see the detail of a lot of this coming out, but from our perspective, it's key that we feel that councils have a voice in this and that we are part of the collaboration in going forward. As I mentioned earlier, what's key in this is the learner progression; it's the seamless progression from one setting to another, to another, and that it's the learner that benefits. It's all for the learner. And whatever we're doing, we need to talk to each other, we need to collaborate and that includes councils, as well as settings, as well as different organisations, so that we're all on the same page and we all want the same thing for our learners. At the end of the day, it's the learner that is key here. We're happy as the WLGA, ADEW and councils; this is what we've been saying all along. We are supportive and we want to be part of that collaboration so that when there is more detail, we're part of those conversations. 

Sorry, did Guy want to come in on the previous question? I realise—

Yes. Thank you, Chair. Just very briefly, just to pick up on that last point about the arm's length and tensions. I think there are some tensions there. The Bill talks about powers for the Ministers over things like local curriculum entitlement at 16 to 19, it talks about holding back powers over decisions around things like sixth form reorganisation. So, there are tensions there. Because I think, just to pick up Dafydd's point, the key thing is that the commission has got to have credibility as an independent body, and I think, therefore, each time you reserve a power back to Ministers, it does undermine that independence.

12:10

Thank you, Guy. Thank you, Sioned. Moving on to some questions now from Buffy Williams. Buffy.

Diolch, Chair. The commission will regulate and fund a very wide-ranging sector. Does the Bill make adequate provision for sixth forms, considering their different nature to colleges and universities?

I think Guy should answer this because he laughed first. [Laughter.]

Okay. Sorry, it feels a bit like going into the lion's den. If I understood the question correctly, it is: are sixth forms effectively going to be protected safely within the arrangements? Well, I guess the answer to that is that the Bill needs to treat all 16-to-19 provision on the basis of what's in the best interests of learners. I would strongly argue that sixth forms should not be protected per se just because of their status as a sixth form. I would quote many examples in Wales of where we have very, very successfully reorganised post-16 structures and seen the removal of sixth forms, and that has in no way at all been to the detriment of learners. In fact, I would argue that there are many examples where clearly that has been absolutely in the best interests of learners. So, I think it comes back, ultimately, to the fundamental independence of the commission to oversee a system in which decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of learners, rather than trying to find ways in which to protect or insulate specific types of provider.

In some respects, I would agree with Guy. We do want what's best for the learner. It's about their progression journey and it's about their destination journey and it's the outcome for them that's key in this. However, recognising that sixth forms are in our schools, I wouldn't be advocating one way or the other to say—. It's not that they don't need to be protected. However, we shouldn't be pushing just for one way. We've got to ensure that it's the correct pathway for the learner. Having said that, then, we need to also take into consideration the whole funding element. Within the WLGA, we've consulted all along to say that, wherever there's funding, funding for sixth form or whatever, or if it's not—. Depending on the travelling—. Sorry. Depending on how this pans out, whether it's sixth form or not, the funding should still be there, irrelevant, and it shouldn't be less whether they're going down a sixth form route or whether they're going down the college route, the further education route. The funding should maintain when the funding allocation is divvied out. I would agree with Guy in that respect; it is about the learner progression, it's about their learning and whichever fits them best, whether it is sixth form at a school or whether it's further education.

I think you've basically answered my next question, but are there any other key concerns or recommendations you would make for including sixth forms in this Bill? Is there anything else that you would add?

I think it's about parity, and so making sure that anything that we expect to be put in place for a 16-to-19 learner, for argument's sake, in an FE college is also in place in a sixth form. If this is about learner engagement codes, learner protection plans, then it's the learner that should be treated equitably. We need to make sure that whatever we're asking a sixth-form setting or FE college or HE to do, it is proportionate and it is reasonable. We shouldn't be exempting entire categories of institutions on the basis of, 'You are this type of institution'. We should be designing a system that is flexible and proportionate and can take learner needs into account across the entirety of the post-16 system.

I'd echo what Rachel said there, absolutely. And, as I said earlier, the funding has to match as well, so it's appropriate across the board—it doesn't matter what setting it's in—so that there is parity and there's equity across the board, then.

12:15

Yes, just to note, really, that partnership/collaboration, naturally, is critical, and I think we do it quite well in Wales, to be honest. When I talk to colleagues in England, there's far less collaboration over in England. However, sometimes collaboration can be an Elastoplast for the need to rationalise and to change things more radically, and therefore I would have, at times within the Bill, liked to have seen a bit more emphasis on modernisation and rationalisation and making a modern system in Wales, and perhaps slightly less on the partnership/collaboration side, which, at times, in certain areas, has been an Elastoplast to maintain the status quo. 

Ie. Diolch, Cadeirydd. Rili, yn gyflym, jest ar y pwynt yma, rôn i'n gweld o'r dystiolaeth ysgrifenedig dŷn ni wedi ei derbyn gan y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol sôn ynglŷn â rôl arbennig y chweched dosbarth o fewn darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg mewn rhai ysgolion. Jest eisiau gwybod rôn i, yng nghyd-destun y cwestiwn yma, ble rŷch chi'n gweld y ddarpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg yn rhan o'r darlun yma, o ran sicrhau bod yna'r parity of provision a'r parity of esteem a chyllid.

Yes. Thank you, Chair. Just quickly on this point, I saw that the written evidence that we've received from the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol mentions the special role of the sixth form within Welsh-medium provision in some schools. I just wanted to know, in the context of this question, where you see the Welsh-medium provision being part of this picture in terms of ensuring that there is parity of provision and parity of esteem and funding. 

Wel, rydym ni'n brif ddarparwr addysg ddwyieithog o fewn addysg bellach yng Nghymru, Sioned, ac mae o'n ran allweddol o'n cwricwlwm ni a'n arlwy ni, felly. Ac yng nghyd-destun Coleg Meirion Dwyfor, sydd o fewn y grŵp, mae o'n goleg chweched dosbarth cwbl dwyieithog, ac yn creu rhai o'r bobl ifanc sy'n ennill cadeiriau ac yn bwydo diwylliant Cymru. Felly, dwi'n meddwl ei fod o'n gorfod bod yn greiddiol ym mhob dim rydym ni'n ei wneud, ym mha bynnag sector. Dwi ddim yn meddwl ei fod o'n ymwneud yn benodol â'r chweched dosbarth. Hynny yw, mae rhaid cael dwyieithrwydd yn y chweched dosbarth; mae'n rhaid cael dwyieithrwydd yn addysg bellach; mae'n rhaid cael dwyieithrwydd yn addysg uwch.

Felly, dwi'n ei weld o'n rhywbeth sydd yn treiddio reit drwy'r comisiwn, fe fyddwn i'n gobeithio, ac y byddai yna gyfle gwirioneddol i'r Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol weithio'n agos iawn, iawn. Lle mae'r Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol yn eistedd o fewn y gyfundrefn newydd yn fater, hwyrach, reit ddiddorol, ond dwi'n meddwl bod ganddyn nhw rôl allweddol i ddatblygu reit ar draws gwaith y comisiwn, a'r comisiwn ei hun byddwn i'n dweud, hefyd. Hynny yw, mae'n bwysig bod aelodaeth a staff y comisiwn ei hun yn ddwyieithog er mwyn gosod y diwylliant yna o fewn y gyfundrefn addysg. 

Well, we are a main provider of bilingual education within FE in Wales, Sioned, and it is a key part of our curriculum and what we offer. And in the context of Coleg Meirion Dwyfor, in the group, it is a sixth-form college, completely bilingual, creating young people who win chairs and feed the culture of Wales. And I think it has to be key in everything we do, in whatever sector we relate with. You have to have bilingualism in the sixth form and in FE, and you have to have bilingualism in higher education.

So, I see it as something that permeates right through the commission, I would hope, and that there would be a real opportunity for the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol to work very, very closely. Where the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol sits within the new regime perhaps is something that's quite interesting, but I think they have a key role to develop right across the work of the commission, and the commission itself, I would say. That is, it's important that the membership and staff of the commission itself should be bilingual in order to establish that culture within the education system.

Thank you, Chair. Thanks for attending today, everybody. I'm going to ask a few questions about funding powers and the regulatory system. And first of all, what's your view on the Bill providing the different powers, duties, conditions and different funding mechanisms for different types of provision, and to what extent does this create one system?

Yes, I have worked, Ken, on funding systems. I was seconded into Welsh Government for a period of time to develop the FE funding system. So, I'm very much aware that it is really very difficult to create one system that fits all for such a diverse suite of educational curricula that we've got here. So, I'm not totally wedded to one system per se, but what there does need to be is there needs to be enough transparency that everybody feels that they're being treated equitably within the commission.

So, I would talk more about transparency of any funding system rather than it being one funding system, personally. And I think, again going back to funding council days, there was fantastic transparency from the funding council as regards how funding was calculated, what every organisation got; it was very, very public, and I thought that was a very healthy culture. 

12:20

Yes, I think I agree with Dafydd that the key point is transparency. I would add, though, that I think at the moment there is so much variation in the fundamental approach towards funding. So, currently—in the system currently—we have everything from competitive bidding, grant allocation, and of course we have procurement. So, we've got a complete mixed economy at the moment. Personally, I would sincerely hope that one of the things the commission is able to do is to bring a bit more commonality to that approach to funding. Because I think, at the moment, it is too fractured. And I think that one of the things the commission could usefully do would be to look at the way in which, working with providers, establishing priorities—. We've started on that journey with the current system of the Government, establishing priority areas and establishing priorities for particular sectors, and I would hope that we could continue to make—if you like, bring greater convergence to the way in which funding mechanisms work. And my personal opinion is that that core grant allocation to institutions to allow some consistency of funding over time provides the most stability of provision, which I think learners and employers want. And I think, at the opposite end of the spectrum, things like procurement provide the least level of stability over time.

Thank you. And to what extent do you believe that the outcome agreements will bring about improvements and benefits?

I think the honest answer to that is I'm not sure. I think they have potential, but I think an awful lot depends upon the detail of how they're constructed. So, I'm agnostic, I guess.

I'm perhaps slightly less agnostic than Guy, in that I do fear sometimes at the moment that we are spending too much effort on measuring inputs, auditing the number of hours that we're putting in et cetera, and yet we have no interest in where the learner is three years down the line, and whether they've progressed or not. Therefore, if we can reduce the focus on inputs and move the focus to outputs in a sensible way, I think that's got to be the right thing, really. But it is unchartered territory, so therefore we're always perhaps all a bit sceptical of moving there, because we haven't been there before.