Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams
Heledd Fychan
James Evans
Jayne Bryant Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates
Laura Anne Jones

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Amelia John Cyfarwyddwr Dros Dro Cymunedau a Threchu Tlodi, Llywodraeth Cymru
Interim Director, Communities and Tackling Poverty, Welsh Government
Gill Huws-John Pennaeth Tasglu Hawliau Pobl Anabl, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of the Disability Rights Taskforce, Welsh Government
Jane Hutt Y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol a'r Prif Chwip
Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip
Jeremy Miles Gweinidog y Gymraeg ac Addysg
Minister for Education and the Welsh Language
Julie Morgan Y Dirprwy Weinidog Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Social Services
Louise Brown Pennaeth y Gangen Anghenion Dysgu Ychwanegol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Additional Learning Needs Branch, Welsh Government
Nicola Edwards Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr yr Is-adran Tegwch mewn Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Equity in Education Division, Welsh Government
Rachel Thomas Pennaeth Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Swyddfa Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Office of the Children's Commissioner for Wales
Rebecca Johnson Pennaeth Chwarae, Dysgu a Gofal Plentyndod Cynnar a Gofal Plant, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Early Childhood Education and Care & Childcare, Welsh Government
Rocio Cifuentes Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Children's Commissioner for Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine McKeag Swyddog
Lucy Morgan Ymchwilydd
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Siân Hughes Ymchwilydd
Sian Thomas Ymchwilydd

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 yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 09:45.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The public part of the meeting began at 09:45.

3. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
3. 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.

I'd like to welcome you all to this meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee today. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a record of proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. There are no apologies this morning, but Laura Jones has sent her apologies from 11 a.m. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I see there are no declarations—. James.

I do have a nephew who is waiting for an additional learning needs assessment.

4. A yw plant a phobl ifanc anabl yn cael mynediad cyfartal at addysg a gofal plant? - sesiwn dystiolaeth 13
4. Do disabled children and young people have equal access to education and childcare? - evidence session 13

So, we'll move on to the main item of our agenda, which is, 'Do disabled children and young people have equal access to education and childcare?' This is our thirteenth evidence session, and I'd like to welcome Ministers here this morning—you're very welcome—and your officials. Thank you very much for joining us. We have Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Social Services, and I think you might like to introduce your officials. I don't know who'd like to start.

Can I introduce Amelia John, who's the director of communities and tackling poverty?

Can I introduce Nicola Edwards, who's the deputy director of the equity in education division?

And I believe we have—. Have we got someone on the screen?

Brilliant. Okay, thank you very much. You're all very welcome. Thank you for joining us.

So, just to remind everybody, we've got a number of questions to get through today. I'd like to remind Members to be as succinct as possible and also Ministers to do likewise, because we do have a lot to get through. 

So, I'd also like to highlight that some of the questions that Members will be asking will come directly from an online advisory panel that has been formed, made up of parents, carers and young people with lived experience. And I'd just like to thank the online advisory panel for their work so far. And the committee's looking forward to their input as the committee starts to consider our key issues and our recommendations. So, diolch yn fawr to everybody who has been involved in that—it's really very much appreciated. 

So, we'll move straight on to questions. First of all, questions from Buffy Williams. Buffy.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you for joining us this morning. I'd like to direct my questions to the Deputy Minister for Social Services. To what extent do local authorities meet their duties to secure, as far as is reasonably practicable, provision of childcare that is sufficient to meet the requirements of parents in their area, particularly with regard to childcare for disabled children or those with additional needs?

Thank you very much, Buffy, for that question. Now, all local authorities completed a comprehensive childcare sufficiency assessment—CSAs, we tend to call them—in 2022 and have reported on progress made on their action plan in June 2023. And the Welsh Government has provided feedback to each local authority, saying how far they've managed to meet their statutory needs. And the feedback provided is based on an independent analysis and a Welsh Government overview, commenting on how the local authority has met the statutory duty under the Childcare Act 2006. So, we've highlighted areas where reporting may be strengthened in the future and have reviewed the annual progress report. 

So, the CSAs did highlight some gaps, certainly, in provision, and did show a higher incidence of children with additional needs post pandemic, and particularly with speech, language and communication needs. There's definitely been a rise in that need since the pandemic. So, that has created some additional pressure on the system, and we do know that local authorities do have some shortfalls to address. 

There was also variation in the confidence of providers to care for children with ALN—additional learning needs—reported from across Wales. So, the ability of childcare providers to provide suitable and affordable places was also identified as a gap, along with the training, resources and equipment needed. The other issue that was raised was suitable childcare during the school holidays. I think that is quite a big issue, particularly for children with additional learning needs. I've certainly experienced that in my constituency and I'm sure many others here will have experienced that as well. And that is particularly difficult for the under-twos and school-age children. It is less problematic for three and four-year-olds. 

So, local authorities did try to mitigate these factors, and there are multi-agency teams that target those children identified with ALN, and they do try and provide additional resources. But the other point I suppose I'd like to make is that the CSAs did show that there are gaps, but it was a particularly difficult time for local authorities, having just come through the pandemic, which is not an excuse, obviously, because we do need this provision, but it is a very difficult time and I think that may well have impacted upon aspects of the CSA programme. So, in summary, the local authorities, I think, are doing their best but there are gaps. 


Okay. Thank you. The Welsh Local Government Association told the committee that by the time childcare sufficiency assessments are published, they're out of date. How effective are the assessments at supporting local authorities to identify actions that can be taken to address gaps in childcare provision for disabled children?

Right. Well, part of the CSAs, the childcare sufficiency assessments, which are set out in statutory guidance, means that you have to do quite an extensive consultation, and it does require engagement and consultation with a range of individuals—obviously with parents—and organisations. And it's really important to ensure that all the points that people put forward are considered, but that does mean that the information may not be as up to date after you've done a period of consultation. So, that is why the local authorities also complete annual reports, and the annual reports set out the progress they've made in delivering the necessary actions. And this allows them to look at the up-to-date position. 

But I think it's important to remember as well that the CSAs are just one snapshot in what is actually happening at one moment, and local authorities have got a duty all the time to try to provide suitable provision. And local authorities do work with a range of partners to make sure they have an up-to-date understanding of childcare provision in their areas, and this is reflected in the information, then, that they provide to parents to put on the family information service and on Dewis so that you can actually see where it is. 

Last year, we approved funding to commission an independent review of the 2022 local authority childcare sufficiency assessments and the action plans. The objective of that is to see the benefits of the CSA exercise—whether it is actually showing what we want to learn. And it will have a number of benefits, I think, this review that we're doing, and the review will support the evolution of the CSA process and enable us to support local authorities to fulfil their statutory duties. The CSA feedback was based on independent analysis and how the local authorities have based their duties. The thematic reports will be published shortly—next week, in fact, on 6 December. So, that will give us some more information then. So, we are looking at the CSA report and seeing if that's the best way to get the information. 

Parents have told the committee about how very difficult it is for them to find childcare suitable for their disabled children. What more can the Welsh Government do to ensure that there is an equality of choice for parents?

Well, first of all, I absolutely acknowledge that there is difficulty in finding places, and I had, myself, in my own constituency during the summer period, families where there was a child who was neurodiverse or had many problems who were fairly desperate trying to find somewhere. So, I think this is the reality that we're dealing with. But I think it is important to remember that the childcare sector in Wales is relatively small. I think there are just over 3,000 childcare providers, and they produce around 74,000 places for children aged nought to 12; there'll be other unregistered providers who come in during holiday periods as well. But that's relatively small, which is not an excuse; it's just saying that we need to look at it in the context that it is a relatively small number of providers. And about half of those are child minders, and there has been a decline in child minders, which is a very important resource. And that's one of the things we're looking at, to see what we can do to encourage more child minders. 

But the childcare and play element of the children and communities grant does provide funding to local authorities to help them address the gaps that have appeared in the childcare sufficiency assessments, improving access for children with additional learning needs. And local authorities have used this in a range of ways—supporting assisted places, providing extra hands and 1:1 support, because some children obviously need 1:1 support—to improve access for children with ALN. 

And the childcare offer for Wales has also taken into account the barriers that parents may face, particularly those with additional support needs, including learning, physical and sensory impairments. And to ensure that the childcare element of the offer is inclusive, help has been made available by means of a separate funding stream called the childcare offer for Wales additional support grant, the ASG grant, and local authorities can draw on this funding to help ensure that children with eligible needs are able to access the childcare element of the offer. This was £2 million, but it doesn't have a ceiling. So, if it goes above £2 million, parents can access it. It is a demand-led grant, and we're committed to providing support to parents and childcare settings where it's needed, and that grant is there in order to do that. It can also support a range of other support needs and training for providers, additional staffing, equipment, physical adjustments to settings.

But we do want to do more. I'm saying all this in the context that we need more done. And we're currently undertaking an independent review of the ASG, and we're expecting those findings to be reported in March. So, we've got a number of independent reviews going on looking at how these different things are operating. And the additional support grant is advertised on the childcare offer for Wales information pages, through the national digital services.

We are seeing an increased demand for the money from the additional support grant, and so we've asked the independent researchers to look at where the demand is coming from and what is needed for the future. 


The committee has heard that it's very difficult for parents to find reliable information on accessible childcare. How can this be improved?

Well, obviously, it's crucial that parents know where the provision is and that there is accessible information for them. So, each local authority has its own family information service, which can support parents to find childcare suitable for their child's individual needs. And we are committed to helping parents to be able to access reliable and consistent information. The Welsh Government commissioned Cwlwm to develop a 'Choosing Childcare' booklet, which sits on the Dewis Cymru website, and the booklet aims to set out considerations for parents when choosing childcare, from the type of childcare that they want, and what is actually available in their area. 

So, the information should be available, but Families First continues to deliver a multi-agency universal programme that is available to families, parents and children when they require support, and disability is a prominent theme, so they are there to help with accessing childcare as well. And, in many areas, Families First teams work with partners to ensure that there are no gaps in provision. So, for example, Families First have commissioned services such as specialist autism support staff, care co-ordinators for disabled children and play services. So, there is a variety of support to help access childcare, but I acknowledge the difficulties.


Evidently, it's not working. What we've heard is that the information is inconsistent, that it's difficult to access, that there are so many pages that people need to click through on a website, and that they're supposed to know what help is required, rather than be guided and shown. So, can I ask what's being done to counter that disconnect between the experience of parents on the ground and what should be happening?

I don't accept that that's the experience of all parents, but I do accept that there are gaps, definitely, and that is why, as I said in response to Buffy, we do have the Families First programme, and we do provide support in order to access it. And, of course, we do have the Dewis website, which is very important to access. So, there are ways of accessing it, but I absolutely accept that we need to do more to make it more accessible. Some parents do access it easily, but there are people who do struggle, I know.

Thank you. Diolch. We're going to have to move on now, Buffy. We'll move on now to questions from Laura Jones. 

Thank you, Chair. My questions are to the Minister for education on the school estate, for the first couple of questions, if that's all right. The committee has heard that some older school buildings may not be accessible for disabled learners, and that adaptations may take time to be put into place, meaning that a learner misses out on education. To what extent do local authorities and schools anticipate the need to make reasonable adjustments? 

I recognise that there can be practical barriers that disabled children and young people face in accessing education. Sometimes that's physical access to the estate or moving around the estate, the absence of a lift, sometimes it's the absence of disabled toiled facilities or sensory rooms or equipment in classrooms. One of the key reasons why we have a school building and refurbishment programme of the scale that we do is to try and tackle exactly some of those challenges.

All the projects funded through our sustainable communities for learning rebuild or refurbishment programme are specified at the most current building regulations and accessibility standards. We're about to make that a more flexible programme, a rolling programme, rather than the bands that we currently have, which will provide more flexibility for local authorities to respond to those challenges, but also recognise that a programme of that scale is a continuous programme and it takes time to refurbish the entire estate.

With the older school buildings that aren't yet part of that new capital programme, we provide specific funding to local authorities. In the last year or two, it's been at around £40 million, and that's designed specifically to support adaptations, to support additional learning needs requirements or disability requirements. You'll have seen I made an announcement of £20 million in the last few weeks in relation to that. The sorts of projects that have been able to be funded by that are exactly around adaptations, refurbishments and specialist classrooms.

But in order to have that more strategic view of the state of our school estate, we've recently included, in the annual survey that we require from local authorities, an analysis of the accessibility requirements across the entire estate, and that will feed then into choices that authorities can make and we can make in relation to the capital programme, to make those kinds of changes on a rolling basis.

Thank you, Minister. We often focus, don't we, on the Victorian estate and the older buildings, but there are some concerns around the new buildings, the twenty-first century community schools. I recently visited Croesyceiliog School, a beautiful school with lots of room on the estate, and yet when I went there, the lift for the disabled children was at the opposite end of where the ALN rooms were. The hall was half the size, meaning that they have to go out of school for exams. Accessibility may be a problem then, and transport. And the loos were in the wrong place. All these things seem minor, but are actually quite major for disabled learners. It was a surprise to me then also to learn that there was no involvement by the head, practitioners or disability groups in the planning process for that school. So, in that regard, my question to you is how can we move forward with this, ensuring that, during the planning stages, disability groups and the heads and practitioners in that school are involved, to ensure that we can perhaps prevent some of these things happening. 


I can't comment on that specific school, for reasons that you'll understand—obviously, I'm not aware of the context or the decision making. But I think the situation that you're describing would be an exception, and it would be a disappointment that some of those choices didn't reflect the accessibility requirements that we've been talking about. Just to be clear: I'm not talking about that specific school; I'm just making a broader point. I know, from my own constituency, and more broadly, that, actually, good practice for school design, both at an architect level and a local authority level, is to include the school leadership and the lived experience of disabled pupils, and staff as well, incidentally, in order to shape some of those choices, and that's when it happens best.

That's good to hear, Minister. The committee has heard that local authority accessibility strategies are not up to date and that families may have difficulties in finding information on how accessible schools are. Has there been any evaluation of the effectiveness or the impact of accessibility strategies? Thank you.

Colleagues who were here in the last Senedd will remember that we looked at this then, and, very much with a view to the question of effectiveness and impact, as you say, refreshed and strengthened our guidance to schools around how they develop and deliver their accessibility plans. So, that's happened in the last few years. As I mentioned in passing just now, since 2022, our annual building survey has a requirement to report on accessibility, which then provides that more strategic school system-wide view of accessibility arrangements.

You may also be aware that earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission did a review of strategic equality plans for secondary schools, I think for special schools and for pupil referral units as well, and they are currently in the course of developing some further resources that can support schools to make sure that they are discharging their public sector equality duties in the way that they should be, and responding more broadly to those strategic equality plans.

Thank you, Minister. Moving on now to more questions on resources. The committee has heard that schools do not have the resources to meet all disabled children's needs and they end up providing what they're able to rather than what is necessary. How would you respond to this evidence, and what assessment has been undertaken of the effectiveness of additional funding that has been made available to support the ALN reforms?

We touched on some of this in the Chamber yesterday, didn't we, in response to questions on my statement in relation specifically to additional learning needs. So, just to repeat what I said yesterday, I'm very aware of the pressure that school budgets are under, but also the pressure that local authority budgets are under, as indeed the Welsh Government's budget is under. Over the last two years, we have been able as a Government to increase the funding to local government, who are themselves directly responsible, obviously, for funding schools, by very, very significant amounts. But the reality is that the impact of inflation and cost-of-living pressures has eroded the value of those very significant increases. So, there are very real tensions in the system.

In terms of the contribution that my budget can make to support schools in relation to making sure their premises are accessible and delivering the full curriculum to all learners, over the last three years, we've invested over £60 million in the ALN transformation programme. I've just talked specifically about some of the capital investment that we have made. Part of that goes directly to schools, so they can make their own choices, and this was a theme in the Chamber yesterday, wasn't it, about how schools themselves access the funding. So, part of that is directed in that very direct way.

But we have also heard, as I know the committee will have heard, that there is a lack of understanding, a lack of clarity, perhaps, in the system about how funding flows through the system, from decisions we make as a Government and that councils make to schools being able to spend that money. There is concern that there is too much variability in the system. So, what we are doing to address that is to look at school funding formulae generally across Wales, and, obviously, that will include additional learning needs, to see where we can bring more consistency. As I was saying yesterday, there will be a level of variation between local authorities, because the way in which services are structured does vary, and we would expect to see that. But there may be some variation that isn't explained by that, and we need to understand that.


Thank you, Minister. The committee has heard that there is an increasing practice of schools using reduced timetables for some learners, often for very long periods of time, denying a child's right to education. To what extent do you believe this can be viewed as discriminatory, what guidance is available for schools on the use of reduced timetables, should parents be able to appeal against the use of reduced timetables, and are there any mechanisms for monitoring its use?

If there were widespread use of reduced timetables, my concern there would be that that would become a form of hidden exclusion, if you like. That is the concern that I would have in that area. We already have very clear guidance to schools in relation to how reduced timetables should be used. As it happens, we are revisiting that to strengthen it, but the current guidance already says that the use of reduced timetables should be bespoke to learners, temporary for a maximum of six weeks, and used in the context, generally, of a return-to-school plan, where there's been prolonged absence on the part of that individual learner. It absolutely should not be used as a means of managing challenges in behaviour. And it also has to be done in a way that is documented and understood, by the school but also parents, learners, the local authority, and even beyond that. It should be documented in that way so that it can be, as you were suggesting, monitored and evaluated. So, there is existing guidance that says all of that. That's part of our exclusions guidance, but we're bringing forward more bespoke and distinct guidance, if you like, on some of the challenges in that area.

Thank you, Minister. The committee has heard that learners with ALN are more likely to be excluded, or informally excluded. To what extent do you believe that exclusions are caused by a failure of a school to make reasonable adjustments?

I think, in all honesty, it's hard to say that, and I don't think one could ever expect a data system of the sort that I've just described to you to capture the level of granularity that would enable that question to be answered directly. I think at its most general, we can say that all behaviour is a form of communication, isn't it? So, what we can do as a Government is provide clear guidance to schools about how to use exclusion in school. We are refreshing our guidance in this area, in two stages—one is about to be issued. This first stage draws on research, and is really about updating the guidance, improving the way in which some things are expressed, the tone, the language, making sure it reflects the significant legislative change that we've had in our schools system. On the second stage, I'm about to get the research back that we've commissioned for that, and then we'll be consulting on that in the new year. And that will be specific to—. It's a more fundamental revision, really, and it will be about how we can understand the use of exclusion in particular for learners with protected characteristics and, reflecting the point that you've just made, where some cohorts of learners can be disproportionately more likely to be excluded. It goes to the heart of that as well.

Thank you. Just a really quick question, Chair—I see that we're out of time nearly. It's a question from our online advisory group, Minister: why can't we adequately subsidise children's education, which is something that's going to make a difference to the country and to individual people, and how are you going to make sure that you can provide enough funding and resources for every education setting, so that they can provide the right support for disabled or neurodivergent individuals? Thank you.

Some of the answer to that is in the points that I have just made about the funding increases that we have provided to local authorities, recognising the incredible pressures they are under themselves. But that review of how funding is being deployed will help us understand that, and the very significant additional funds that I've been able to make available through my budget for some of the reforms—I've given you some of the figures just now. But our commitment as a Government is that we want to make sure these reforms work, and then we want to make sure that every single learner, whatever their circumstances, gets the best start in life, and that is the lens we bring to the budget decisions that we take as a Government, even in these incredibly challenging times.


Thank you, Chair. I'd like to direct my questions to the Minister for Social Justice. The committee has heard that families are the subject of both direct and indirect discrimination in all areas of education. This includes physical access, as well as being left out of activities or residential trips. Do you believe that schools are aware of their duties with regard to discrimination, and how will the work of the disability rights taskforce address some of these issues?

Thank you very much, Buffy. I think it's really important that the committee is looking at this from an equality perspective as well, and I think the points that the education Minister has made about addressing accessibility, not just in terms of physical accessibility, but also the guidance that is needed for schools, particularly for teachers, and, I would say, governors as well, in terms of how they deliver on the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010. I think it is helpful that the Equality and Human Rights Commission also are engaging with this. I think, Jeremy, you mentioned that as well, that they're producing new guidance, for example, to support schools and how they comply with the public sector equality duty. That's a part of delivering on the strategic equality plans. 

I think it is worth mentioning school governors—some of us may have been or are school governors—because there is also guidance in equality considerations and duties for school governors. So, I think this has to be a whole-school approach to embracing equality in all its dimensions, because this is intersectional as well in terms of the impacts on disabled children. Disabled children—we must break down the barriers and, obviously, we've already heard ways in which that's being done very proactively, and then make it consistent across Wales. So, just on the disability rights taskforce—and, obviously, I refer to this in the written evidence to the committee—I think this is a real opportunity. In fact, I was going to say your inquiry will help the disability rights taskforce, because they're working on a number of levels. They've got work streams, and two or three of them are really important. The most important thing, I would say, is that schools embrace and understand the social model of disability. That's about the responsibility to break down the barriers. These are not children's impairments or needs; it's about us breaking down the barriers and understanding them. So, understanding the model of social disability has been a key theme of all of the working groups, and also an access work stream as well—access to services. That includes communications and technology, which, perhaps, the committee will also be looking at, because this can be a barrier as well in terms of disabled children. 

So, I'd just finally say that there is a work stream on children and young people. There's also a work stream on travel, which has an impact on the lives of disabled children and adults. And the children and young people's working group has met three times. They've been looking at things like child and adolescent mental health strategies. They've talked to Learning Disability Wales. They've engaged with Ysgol y Deri, of course. You will know about that pioneering school. But I think one of the most important things is that they are involving—like the fact that you've got an online advisory group—parents, carers and disabled children and young people, so that we can understand the impact of direct and indirect discrimination.

Okay. I have a question from the online advisory group as well. How are you making sure children from a young age are having positive stereotypes of their disabled peers in school, and what are you doing to ensure that children are being taught about different disabilities and how they can be inclusive of us? 

I think that's really important as to the ways in which you as a committee and the online advisory group, and hopefully through our disability rights taskforce—. I co-chair it with Professor Debbie Foster. It's co-production with disabled people who are leading the working groups, and this is where we have to recognise that children and young people can help us. And, indeed, we have to reach out to them to make sure that there is a great acknowledgement of the importance of diversity, and learning about diversity, because it’s a cross-cutting theme in the curriculum. I’d have to say human rights is also another cross-cutting theme—understanding human rights, the source of those human rights, the United Nations. It’s wonderful when you go to schools and you see, blazoned up on the walls, commitments to the UNCRC, the United Nations convention on the rights of children.

But I am sure that the education Minister would also be saying this is about how we want ethical, informed citizens. I think what’s interesting with the social model of disability, there are—and this is something on which there are professional learning modules, which actually are helping teachers learn about how young people can be role models—. Now, this is particularly interesting in terms of resources for schools about British Sign Language awareness, which I think is developing from these learning materials and professional learning modules. There are deaf BSL users, and they’re role models for children and young people, and our disability rights taskforce on access to services has been looking at this. They would like a wider campaign on these issues.

Now, Disability Wales had a recent conference that I spoke at that was about stereotyping of disabled people, and the lack of understanding from broadcasters, media, about how they portray disabled people. The disabled people were saying there are negative stereotypes being used. And that conference was really important because we had media there, hopefully learning and listening, and there have been some good examples. It tends to be one-off, though. They’ll suddenly do something, and then it stops and you don’t hear about it again, the focus on the needs of disabled children and young people. So, it’s a really important point. It’s an opportunity. It may be a challenge, but, actually, if we can get children and young people and practitioners to share the diversity and the opportunities—and this obviously has to be in mainstream education as well as in special schools as well—. So, again, the feedback from this inquiry will be very helpful for our disability rights taskforce.


Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae fy nghwestiynau i i'r Gweinidog y Gymraeg ac Addysg. Mae lot o dystiolaeth wedi dod o ran dewis, a'r diffyg dewis yn fwy na dim—bod rhieni, efallai, yn ffeindio ar hap ba ysgolion fyddai'n addas, neu eu bod nhw'n teimlo nad oes ganddyn nhw yr un lefel o ddewis o ran addysg â'u cyfoedion. Efallai nad yw'r ysgol sydd agosaf, er enghraifft, yn addas, neu efallai, wrth iddyn nhw ymweld ag ysgol, fod yr ysgol yn awgrymu mai nid hynny ydy'r lleoliad gorau i gefnogi'r dysgwr yma, am ba bynnag rheswm. Yn aml, wrth gwrs, wrth i rywun ddewis ysgol, efallai fod y diagnosis i ddod, neu nad ydyn nhw ddim cweit yn siŵr pa gefnogaeth sydd angen ar y plentyn. Felly, gaf i ofyn ydych chi'n gweld hyn fel gwahaniaethu? Oes yna bethau y gallen ni eu gwneud i fod yn sicrhau bod rhieni yn gwybod beth ydy'r holl opsiynau yn hytrach na'i bod hi i fyny iddyn nhw drio ffeindio allan rywsut? Dwi'n derbyn bod hyn yn amrywio ledled Cymru, hefyd.

Thank you very much. My questions will be to the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language. We've received a lot of evidence in terms of choice, and the lack of choice more than anything, and how parents find by chance which schools would be appropriate, or that they feel that they don't have the same level of choice in terms of education as their peers. Perhaps the school nearest to them isn't appropriate, or perhaps, as they visit a school, the school suggests that it isn't the best place to support this learner, for whatever reason. Quite often, as someone chooses a school, they might not have their diagnosis yet, or they won't know what support the child will need. So, can I ask whether you see this as discrimination? Are there things that we can do to ensure that parents know what all the options are, rather than it being up to them to find out in some way? I recognise that things vary across Wales.

Mae yn amrywio, ond, jest i ddweud, dyma bwrpas yr holl ddiwygiadau sydd gyda ni—sicrhau nad yw hyn yn digwydd. Felly, mae'n gwbl anaddas bod rhiant neu ofalwr yn ceisio perswadio rhywun i beidio â dod i ysgol. Dyw hynny ddim yn addas. Mae angen i ni sicrhau, yn sgil y diwygiadau sydd gyda ni ar y gweill, fod pob ysgol yn hygyrch i'r rhan fwyaf o ddisgyblion, yn sicr, pa bynnag anghenion sydd gyda nhw. Felly, dyna'r egwyddor greiddiol sydd tu cefn i'r diwygiadau yma i gyd.

Ond y realiti yw ein bod ni hefyd yn gwybod bod rhai ysgolion yn datblygu enw da fel ysgolion sy'n arbennig o dda yn cefnogi disgyblion gydag anghenion dysgu ychwanegol, ac mae rhieni a gofalwyr yn gwneud dewisiadau yn sgil hynny hefyd. Felly, mae'r darlun yn amrywio. Ond beth rŷn ni eisiau ei weld yw system addysg sydd yn gynhwysol i bob disgybl ym mhob ysgol, y gorau y gallwn ni. Fydd hynny ddim yn bosibl i bob un disgybl, oherwydd bod anghenion penodol a chymhleth, efallai, gyda'r disgybl. Ond, ar y cyfan, ddylem ni ddim gweld y math o sefyllfa rŷch chi'n ei disgrifio.

It does vary, but, just to say, this is the purpose of all the reforms that we have—to ensure that this doesn't happen. So, it's completely inappropriate that a parent or carer would try to persuade somebody not to go to school. That's not suitable. We have to ensure, as a result of the reforms we have, that every school's accessible to the majority of pupils, certainly, whatever their needs might be. So, that is the basic principle behind all of these reforms. 

But the reality is that we also know that some schools develop a good reputation as schools that are very, very good for ALN pupils, and parents and carers make choices on that basis too. But the picture does vary. What we want to see is an education system that is inclusive of all children in every school. That's not going to be possible for every pupil because, perhaps, they have complex and specific needs as pupils, but, on the whole, we shouldn't be seeing the sort of situation that you describe.


Na, wrth i ni symud ymlaen. Fydd o ddim yn syndod i chi chwaith, achos rydyn ni wedi trafod hyn, a hyd yn oed ddoe yn y Siambr, mai un o'r pethau sydd yn anodd ar y funud ydy dewis iaith hefyd. Rydyn ni wedi clywed lot fawr o dystiolaeth lle dydy'r dewis ddim ar gael yn y Gymraeg yn benodol, felly. Fe wnaethoch chi amlinellu ddoe rai o'r pethau mae'r Llywodraeth yn eu gwneud, oherwydd, yn amlwg, roedd Estyn wedi dweud hyn hefyd. Ond, o ran sicrhau bod hyn yn digwydd mor gyflym â phosib, felly, beth ydych chi'n meddwl rydyn ni'n mynd i allu ei wneud i fynd i'r afael â'r mater hwn, fel nad yw o'n parhau i ddigwydd bod teuluoedd efallai yn gorfod newid iaith yr aelwyd oherwydd y diffyg hwn?

No, as we move forward. It won't be a surprise to you either, as we've already discussed this, and even yesterday in the Chamber, that one of the things that's difficult at the moment is the language choice also. We've heard a lot of evidence about how that choice isn't available for people who want to learn through the medium of Welsh, specifically. You outlined yesterday some of the things that the Government is doing, because, clearly, Estyn said this also. But, in terms of ensuring that this happens as quickly as possible, then what do you think we're going to be able to do to address this issue, so that it doesn't continue to happen that families perhaps have to change the language of the household due to this deficiency?

Wel, rwyf yn derbyn bod hyn yn her. Rwy'n derbyn ei fod e'n effeithio ar ddewis, ac rwy'n derbyn bod angen gwneud llawer mwy. Mae llawer o bethau ar waith eisoes ac fe wnaethon ni drafod yn y Siambr ddoe yr adroddiad ar y cyd rhwng Comisiynydd y Gymraeg a'r comisiynydd plant yn benodol ar hyn. Rwyf wedi cwrdd gyda'r ddwy i drafod hyn. Fe wnes i gwrdd ddoe, fel wnes i sôn, gyda Chomisiynydd y Gymraeg ac rŷn ni wedi cytuno i gadw hyn ar ein hagenda reolaidd fel bod cyfle i ni drafod mewn manylder y datblygiadau. 

Yr hyn sydd eisoes wedi digwydd, fel rhan o'r cynlluniau strategol ac fel rhan o gyfrifoldebau cynghorau lleol o dan adran 63 o'r Ddeddf, yw bod y ddau beth yna wedi dod at ei gilydd, ac rwy'n gweld cynnydd yn y gwaith sydd yn digwydd ar lawr gwlad er mwyn i gynghorau ddeall yr angen i sicrhau bod y ddarpariaeth ar gael yn y Gymraeg ac i gynllunio yn bwrpasol ar gyfer hynny. Ond i gydnabod hefyd bod rhwystredigaethau sydd y tu allan i'w dwylo nhw sydd yn cyfyngu i raddau ar hynny. Felly, un o'r pethau rŷn ni'n gwybod sydd yn wir yw bod diffyg adnoddau trwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg—adnoddau dysgu, hynny yw. Mae cwmni hyd braich Adnodd newydd ei sefydlu, ac mae'r prif weithredwr newydd yn ei le, felly mae gyda ni gyfle nawr i wneud cynnydd sylweddol yn y maes hwnnw.

Rŷn ni wedi, yn ddiweddar, sefydlu grŵp o randdeiliaid, rhieni, addysgwyr, arbenigwyr ac eraill a fydd yn mynd yn union at hyn i edrych ar ba gynnydd pellach sydd angen o ran darpariaeth yn y Gymraeg, yn gweithio gydag Adnodd, a hefyd yn gweithio gyda'r arweinydd cenedlaethol newydd fydd yn ei le yn y flwyddyn newydd, fydd yn gallu edrych ar beth yw'r pethau sydd yn llwyddo eisoes, oherwydd dyw e ddim yn ddarlun negyddol ym mhobman, wrth gwrs. Mae gwaith da iawn yn digwydd a gwaith llwyddiannus iawn yn digwydd, ond beth allwn ni ei wneud i sicrhau bod yr adnoddau, yr arferion a'r ddarpariaeth ar gael yn fwy cyson ym mhob rhan o Gymru? Dyna'r her i ni. 

Well, I do accept that this is a challenge. I do accept that it affects choice, and I accept that there's a need to do much more. There are many things ongoing at the moment and we discussed in the Chamber yesterday the joint report from the Welsh Language Commissioner and the children's commissioner, specifically, in this field. I've met with both to discuss this. I met yesterday with the Welsh Language Commissioner and we've agreed to keep this on our regular agenda so that we can discuss developments in detail. 

What has already happened is that, as part of the strategic plans and as part of local authorities' responsibilities under section 63 of the Act, both of those issues have come together, and I see progress being made in the work at a grass-roots level so that councils can understand the need to ensure that the provision is available in Welsh and that there is purposeful planning in that regard. But I'd also acknowledge that there are frustrations that they can't control and which can restrict that work. So, one of the things that we know is true is that there is a lack of resources through the medium of Welsh—learning resources, that is. The arm's-length body Adnodd has just been established, and the new chief executive is in place, so we have an opportunity now to make considerable progress in that area.

We have, recently, established a group of stakeholders, parents, practitioners, experts and others who will address exactly this to see what further progress needs to be done in terms of Welsh language provision, working with Adnodd, and also working with the new national lead who will be in place in the new year, who will be able to look at what is successful currently, because it's not a completely negative picture in all areas. There is some very good work and successful work already taking place, but what can we do to ensure that the resources, the practice and the provision are more consistent all over Wales? That's our challenge. 

Ydych chi'n gweld newid mewn agweddau wrth drafod hyn? Un o'r pethau rydyn ni wedi'i glywed hefyd ydy efallai nad yw'r galw yna. Ond mae'n anodd—os nad ydy'r ddarpariaeth yna, dydy'r rhieni ddim efo dewis o ran gallu dweud eu bod nhw eisiau i'w plentyn gael darpariaeth yn y Gymraeg. Felly, mae'n anodd wedyn, pan fyddwn ni'n clywed efallai nad yw'r galw yna, os nad ydy'r gwasanaeth yna, felly. 

Do you see a change in people's attitude to this? One of the things we've also heard is, perhaps, that the demand isn't there. But it's difficult—if the provision isn't there, then parents don't have a choice in terms of being able to say that they want to send their child to a Welsh school. So, it's difficult then, when we hear that the demand isn't there, when the service isn't there.

Wel, dwi ddim yn credu y gallai unrhyw un ddweud yn deg nad yw'r galw yno. Ond hefyd, gyda llaw, nid dyna'r prawf. Fel ym mhob math o gynllunio iaith, nid jest ymateb i'r galw ond darparu gwasanaeth sydd yn gwbl gynhwysol ac ar gael yn y ddwy iaith yw'r nod. Dwi ddim, er tegwch, yn clywed pobl yn dweud nad oes galw. Rwy'n credu ein bod ni'n clywed pobl yn pryderu nad ydyn ni wedi gallu gwneud digon. Rwy'n cymryd hwnnw fel cam calonogol—bod pobl yn ystyried, yn sgil y cyfrifoldebau newydd yn y Ddeddf hon a'r cynlluniau strategol, bod angen cynllunio pwrpasol ar gyfer hyn.

Un o'r elfennau, wrth gwrs, yw'r gweithlu a sicrhau bod gweithlu gyda ni sy'n gallu darparu ar gyfer anghenion dysgu ychwanegol drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Mae hwn, fel y byddwch chi efallai'n gwybod, yn elfen benodol o'r gwaith sydd yn y cynllun recriwtio 10 mlynedd sydd gyda ni hefyd. 

Well, I don't think anyone could say fairly that the demand isn't there. But, by the way, that's not the test. As with everything related to language planning, the aim is to not just respond to demand, but to provide a service that's completely inclusive and available in both languages. In fairness, I don't hear people saying there's no demand. I think we hear concern that we haven't been able to do enough. I take that as a heartening step—that, as a result of the new responsibilities in this Act, and the strategic plans, that there is a need for purposeful planning in this regard. 

One of the elements, of course, is the workforce and ensuring that we have a workforce that can provide for additional learning needs through the medium of Welsh. This, as you will know, perhaps, is a specific element of the work that forms part of the 10-year recruitment plan that we also have.

O ran y gweithlu, felly, sut ydych chi'n meddwl y gallen ni fynd i'r afael â'r hyn sydd, ar y funud, efallai, yn anghysondeb o ran yr hyfforddiant mae pobl wedi'i dderbyn? A oes yna unrhyw fwriad ei wneud o'n orfodol, felly, ar gyfer holl staff yr ysgol, fel bod yna well dealltwriaeth o'r ystod o anableddau hefyd a'r math o gefnogaeth fyddai'n addas?

In terms of the workforce, therefore, how do you think we can address what is, perhaps, at present, inconsistency as regards the training that people receive? Is there any intention to make it mandatory for all staff in schools so that there's a better understanding of the range of disabilities and the kind of support that would be appropriate?

Mae sawl peth ar waith yn y maes hwn. Rwyf yn derbyn bod angen sicrhau bod gan y gweithlu addysg yn gyffredinol ddealltwriaeth o'r ystod o anableddau rŷch chi'n sôn amdanyn nhw. Ac rwyf hefyd yn credu, fel rŷn ni'n gweld yn barod, fod mwy a mwy o blant ifanc yn benodol yn dod i'r ysgol gydag anghenion mwy cymhleth, a'r darlun ar y cyfan, fyddwn i'n dweud, yw bod cynnydd yn y galw am ddarpariaeth anghenion dysgu ychwanegol. Felly, mae rhywbeth, efallai, o ran hyfforddi athrawon y byddech chi wedi meddwl yn y gorffennol oedd yn elfen ychwanegol o hyfforddi wedi mynd yn rhywbeth sydd yn elfen ganolog o hyfforddi yn sgil y datblygiad hwnnw. Felly, mae'n bwysig cydnabod hynny, dwi'n credu. Felly, i adlewyrchu hynny, rŷn ni'n cryfhau'r gofynion o bob un partneriaeth addysg gychwynnol i sicrhau dealltwriaeth o sut i ateb galw anghenion dysgu ychwanegol, ond hefyd i gynyddu'r ddarpariaeth dysgu proffesiynol yn y blynyddoedd cynnar a thrwy'r cyfnod dysgu'n gyfan gwbl.

Erbyn dechrau'r flwyddyn nesaf, byddwn ni wedi cyhoeddi adolygiad o'r safonau proffesiynol, a bwriad y rheini yw amlygu lle mae bylchau yn nealltwriaeth a sgiliau'r gweithlu, fel bod athrawon yn gallu, wedyn, mynd i'r afael â hynny a chael yr hyfforddiant sydd ei angen arnyn nhw. Mae llawer o hyfforddiant mas yna; mae lot fawr ar gael. I fod yn gwbl onest, rwy'n credu bod her wedi bod o ran sut rŷch chi'n darganfod beth sydd yno, chi'n gwybod, a sut rŷch chi'n sicr mai hwnnw sydd ei angen arnoch chi. Felly, mae darn o waith yn digwydd ar y cyd i olygu hynny i roi sicrwydd i bobl mai dyma'r hyn sydd yn addas ar gyfer y galw ac i'w wneud yn haws i ddarganfod lle mae e.

There are a number of things ongoing in this area. I do accept that we need to ensure that the education workforce in general has an understanding of the range of disabilities that you mentioned. And I also believe, as we're seeing already, that more and more young children are coming to school with more complex needs, and the picture as a whole, I would say, is that there is an increase in the demand for additional learning needs provision. So, something, perhaps, in terms of teacher training that you would have thought in the past was an additional element of training has become something that is a central element of training in terms of that development. So, it's important to acknowledge that, I think. So, to reflect that, we are strengthening the requirements from every initial education partnership to ensure an understanding of how to meet the demand of additional learning needs, but also to expand the provision of professional learning in the early years and throughout the whole learning period.

By the beginning of next year, we will have published a review of the professional standards, and the aim of those is to identify the gaps in the understanding and skills of the workforce, so that teachers can then address that and get the training that they require. There's a lot of training out there; there's a lot available out there. To be completely honest, I think there's been a challenge in how you find out what is there, you know, and how you're sure that that's what you need. So, there's a piece that is happening jointly to look at that to provide assurances to people that this is what is suitable for the demand and to make it easier to find out where it is.


Ac ydych chi'n meddwl, wedyn—? Mae yna lot o bwyslais wedi bod o ran pwysigrwydd ALNCO mewn ysgol. Wrth inni symud ymlaen, y gobaith fyddai fod pawb sydd mewn ysgol efo dealltwriaeth, felly, ac, wrth gwrs, mae'n dda cael ffocws, ond a fyddech chi'n gobeithio y byddai'r gweithlu, ar y cyfan, efo gwell dealltwriaeth?

And do you think, therefore—? There's been a lot of emphasis on the importance of ALNCOs in a school. As we move forward, the hope would be that everyone in every school would have an understanding, but, of course, it's good to have a focus, but would you hope that the workforce, overall, would have a better understanding.

Wel, jest i fod yn glir, nid cyfrifoldeb yr ALNCO yw darparu ar gyfer yr holl anghenion. Cyfrifoldeb yr ALNCO yw rhoi arweiniad strategol yn yr ysgol ar gyfer y ddarpariaeth ehangach. Felly, rŷn ni i gyd yn gwybod nad yr ateb yw sicrhau mai dyna le mae'r sgiliau i gyd; mae angen i'r sgiliau fod yn rhai sy'n gyffredin ar draws y gweithlu.

Well, just to be clear, the ALNCO's responsibility isn't to provide everything. Their responsibility is to provide strategic direction to the school in terms of the wider provision. So, we all know that the answer is not to ensure that that's where all the skills are; the skills need to be common across the workforce.

Mae gen i ddau gwestiwn gan y grŵp cynghori arlein, felly dwi'n mynd i'w darllen nhw. Y cyntaf ydy: sut ydych chi'n mynd i sicrhau bod yr hyfforddiant anabledd sy'n cael ei ddarparu i staff ac athrawon ym myd addysg yn gynhwysol i bob anabledd, ond hefyd bod lleisiau pobl sydd â phrofiad byw o'u hanabledd yn cael eu cynnwys yn yr hyfforddiant?

I have two questions from the online advisory group, so I'm going to read them. The first is: how are you going to ensure that the disability training that is provided to staff and teachers in education is inclusive to all disabilities, but also that the voices of people with lived experience of their disability are being included in the training?

Ocê. Wel, mae hwn yn bwysig. Fel yr oedd y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol yn ei ddweud jest nawr—dwi ddim yn gwybod y term Cymraeg, ond y social model yw'r peth pwysig, yntefe? Mae hyn yn rhan o'r meddylfryd y tu cefn i'r Ddeddf yn gyffredinol. Mae'r gwaith rŷn ni'n ei wneud gyda SNAP Cymru a gydag eraill i glywed yn uniongyrchol wrth rieni ac wrth ddisgyblion sydd â phrofiad o anabledd ac anghenion dysgu ychwanegol wir yn bwysig i hyn. Mae'n ffordd o gyfathrebu mewn dwy ffordd. Hynny yw, mae'n gyfle inni sicrhau bod rhieni, gofalwyr a phlant yn deall beth yw eu hawliau nhw, a'r pwynt yr oeddech chi'n ei wneud yn gynharach—yn deall ble mae'r ddarpariaeth a sut y gallwch chi fynd ati i ddarganfod hynny. Mae hynny'n un elfen, ond elfen bwysig iawn yw beth rŷn ni'n clywed nôl am brofiadau disgyblion a'u teuluoedd a sut y gallwn ni, wedyn, ddefnyddio hynny i lunio ac i alinio'r holl waith rŷn ni'n ei wneud ar hyfforddi.

Okay. Well, this is important. As the Minister for Social Justice was saying earlier—I don't know what the Welsh term is, but the social model is the important thing here, isn't it? It's part of the rationale behind the Act in general. The work that we're doing with SNAP Cymru and with others to hear directly from parents and pupils who have experience of a disability and ALN is really important in this. It's a two-way communication. That is, it's a way for us to ensure that children, carers and parents know their rights, and the point that you were making earlier about where the provision is and how you can find that. That's one element, but an important element is what we hear back in terms of the experiences of children and their families and how we can then use that to shape and align all the work that we're doing in terms of training.

Diolch. Yr ail gwestiwn, felly, gan y grŵp cynghori: beth dŷch chi'n ei wneud i sicrhau bod pobl sy'n gweithio ymhob lleoliad addysg gwahanol yn mynd ati i gynnwys dysgwyr anabl? A sut dŷch chi'n sicrhau bod ganddynt y wybodaeth a'r ddealltwriaeth i ddiwallu anghenion dysgwyr niwrowahanol ac anabl?

Thank you. The second question, therefore, from the online advisory group is: what are you doing to ensure that people working in all different education settings are being inclusive to disabled learners? And how are you making sure that they are equipped with the knowledge and understanding to meet neurodivergent and disabled learners' needs?

Drwy gryfhau'r gofynion yn yr addysg gychwynnol, cryfhau'r cynnig, os hoffwch chi, ac argaeledd y ddarpariaeth yn y blynyddoedd cynnar ar ôl cymhwyso a thrwy gydol oes. Ond hefyd, mae gyda ni gyfle i bobl arbenigo’n benodol yn y maes hwn. Mae darpariaeth benodol drwy'r MA mewn addysg, er enghraifft, sy'n galluogi pobl i arbenigo mewn anghenion dysgu ychwanegol ac anabledd. Felly, mae ystod o bethau'n digwydd yn y system eisoes. Ond, wrth gwrs, mae wastad mwy i'w wneud. Mae e wir yn bwysig ein bod ni'n cadw hyn o dan drosolwg, felly rŷn ni'n edrych ar hyn o bryd, gyda'r tîm niwrowahaniaeth cenedlaethol, ar a oes angen rhaglen ychwanegol ar gyfer staff ac ar gyfer y gweithlu'n gyffredinol i adeiladu ar yr hyn sydd eisoes ar gael.

By strengthening the requirements in the initial education, and also strengthening the offer and the availability of provision in the early years after qualifying and throughout their career. But also, we have got opportunities for people to specialise in this field. There is specific provision through the MA in education, for example, which means that people can specialise in this field of ALN and disability. So, there's a range of things happening in the system already. But, of course, there's always more that can be done. It's very important that we keep this under review, so we're looking, at the moment, with the national neurodiversity team, to see if we need an extra programme for staff and for the workforce in general to build on what is already available.

Thank you, Cadeirydd. My questions are to the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language. A broad question to start with, Minister: do you think that the Welsh Government has a good track record of addressing the bullying of disabled students in schools?

Well, it is an area of priority for us. Just to be clear, bullying of any type, prejudice-based bullying, is completely unacceptable and we would all feel passionately about that, let alone agree with it. Our guidance, 'Rights, respect, equality', sets this out very clearly. We are doing a refresh in relation to that at the moment. What is really important is the expectation that incidents are recorded and addressed, but, actually, also that that data is then used proactively by schools to address this as part of their bullying strategies locally and to update that as part of their ongoing school improvement process and journey.


Okay, because committee's heard through evidence that the bullying of disabled children in our schools is rife. It is everywhere across our school estate, so do you think that schools recognise when a disabled person is being bullied? Do you think there's a little bit of prejudice sometimes in them actually recognising when it's happening? Do you think our schools have the right policies and procedures in place to address that level of bullying when it occurs?

Well, the point of our guidance is to make sure that that is in place, isn't it, and I think some of the points that you're making and that you'll have heard in evidence are changes in approach and changes in culture, really, that need to be brought in. We as a Government—Jane mentioned the work of the disability rights taskforce, that very much shapes the approach we bring to the guidance we expect schools to follow in relation to bullying, because it's really important to listen to the experience of pupils who have experienced bullying and to reflect that in what we expect schools to do. So, I think that's part of the change that we always need to make sure is happening in our schools.

One question that comes from the online advisory group is: how are the Welsh Government supporting those individual students when they have experienced bullying? What can the Welsh Government do to support them as they develop, going further, to make sure that these adverse experiences don't affect them for the rest of their lives? I don't know if any other Minister wants to comment on this, as well, because it's quite a broad question.

As I say, it's partly about what we expect and support schools to do through our statutory guidance, but also, crucially, listening to the experience of those learners who have had the experience of bullying and reflecting that in our expectations from schools. Also, we've done a lot of work with the Anti-bullying Alliance and so on in relation to this area, and it's a constant process of trying to highlight the importance of this. I'm sure that the work of the committee will be a very valuable contribution to that, and I'm very interested to hear what recommendations the committee has in this space about what more we could do.

Perhaps I could come in and if I could just add, as well, because the refresh of the anti-bullying guidance—it's about rights, respect and equality, isn't it? So, this is about—. And the whole curriculum is actually requiring a huge cultural change for learners and for teachers, and also there's a role here for our schools councils, the young people to—. Young people want to learn about these things. I mentioned the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—they are learning how to respect each other through the curriculum, as well as directly when there's bullying. But it's also about just learning what works and sharing that good practice so that young people know that they can raise their concerns.

Yes, thanks very much. I've spoken a lot to children recently, particularly, actually, children who are leaving care, but that has included some children with disabilities, and I think the point about involving children, people with lived experience, is absolutely crucial, because there's no doubt, as you've said, that the harm on their lives lasts a very long time. So, I'd like to reinforce the Welsh Government's approach, really, which is to highlight the importance of tackling bullying and not letting it just lie there.

Thank you. I'll move on to a different area of questions. This will be specifically for you, Minister for education, and it's on the ALN implementation. I'm interested in your views of how you think the ALN implementation is going across Wales, because we took evidence from local authority leaders who think implementation is going well, there are not really many problems of implementation, but then we also took evidence from school leaders, unions and stakeholders who say it's very, very different on the actual ground and in the classroom in delivering this. So, I'd be interested to see what your view is on this, and is that what you're hearing, as well, as the Minister for education, about the implementation of the new reforms?

We are about halfway through the four-year period of implementation, so in the last few months we've commissioned a lot of research to have a data-driven understanding of what's happening on the ground. I think it is fair to say that there's variability in relation to how the Act is being implemented in different parts of Wales, which may explain some of the responses that you had from council leaders, because there will be variation between authorities, between schools, on different approaches.

Some of the clear themes that have emerged from the reviews that we've commissioned—including also, by the way, the work that Estyn has done in this space—is around, firstly, the need for greater consistency, and I've spoken myself to the president of the education tribunal in relation to this and other issues, what can we do to make sure that the understanding of local authorities, of schools, of parents and learners themselves, of both rights, responsibilities, processes, transparency, rights of appeal, is clearer and more consistent across Wales, so there is work we are going to be doing in that space. We brought authorities together in October to share some of this insight with them, and I think my take on that is that people were surprised at the level of variation and will want to understand why that's happening. So, we will provide specific additional training in relation to how the Act is meant to work so that there is less inconsistency.

I’ve touched and won't repeat the point I made earlier about funding. We’ll do a review of that to understand what is behind some of the variation we are seeing in that. We’ve also learnt that we need to look at how we are encouraging collaboration between different parts of the system. So, that could be between schools and local authorities. Sometimes that works very well, sometimes it's more challenging, and we also need to recognise that the balance of responsibility between authorities and schools will vary depending on the level of central provision and school-based provision in different authorities. But also, the work between local authorities and local health boards, so the work that designated education clinical lead officers are doing at the moment to identify some key performance indicators, which are there to both support and report on the collaboration between authorities and health boards, is really important.

Just to go back to the point we touched on earlier: the fundamental model here is a social model, not a medicalised model, but, clearly, the health boards, for some students, have a role in delivering parts of the individual development plan and making sure that set of relationships works consistently as well is really important.

So, there are some clear themes and we have—I set some of this out in my statement in the Chamber yesterday—some very specific steps that we are taking to reflect that.


You talk about variation and the social model versus the medical model, we've heard from stakeholders, from parents as well, about the need for a diagnosis, to get the support in schools. I know you've said previously, Minister, that's not the case, that that shouldn't be happening, but it is the case in schools, that they cannot put the support in place to support learners who've got ALN problems and conditions, because they just haven't got that diagnosis. So, I want to know your thoughts on that, because I know you've said it shouldn't be happening, but it obviously is. Is this something that you're looking at in the review as well of how this variation can be taken out of the system? Because if a child needs additional support, they should be able to get that without having to wait months and months to get an assessment.

Yes, so just to be clear: it's not what I'm saying, it's what the law says. So, this is not my view on how it should work. It is how it should work, it's set out in the law. So, a young person's entitlement to an IDP does not depend upon them having had a diagnosis—I'm absolutely categorical about that. And I think that is really important, because of that social model. The whole point of the legislation is that you're addressing the needs of the individual learner that's presenting, rather than a diagnosis of their medical condition, if they have one, which is to be diagnosed.

So, why is it happening, though, because it's still happening? The children aren't getting the support because the diagnosis isn't there. So, it's happening, and I want to know—

Well, it's going back to the point I just made, really, about the consistency of application in the Act. So, the designation of additional learning needs and the definition of additional learning provision is one of the things that we see is inconsistent. So, that, in a sense, is the direct answer to your question, making sure that is applied consistently is obviously really important. But I also know that there is work going on to reduce waiting times in relation to neurodivergent learners as well. So, we are working in all parts of the system to try and respond to that.

And a question that came from the advisory group again was about the length of time people have got to wait on waiting lists for a neurodiverse sort of diagnosis. So, I'd just be interested to go a bit further on that—what are the Government doing and what steps have the Government put in place to make sure these waiting lists are got down? Because if there is inconsistency of application, we need to address the waiting lists, because if that's not being addressed, people are just going to wait in limbo for years and years. We've heard evidence about parents taking their children out of school because they can't get the support they want and the support they need. So, I'd be very interested to know, from the Government's point of view, how you're getting these waiting lists down and when you actually see them getting under control. I don't know whether it's the Deputy Minister or—.


We are addressing the issue of waiting lists. With our neurodivergence programme, we have put £12 million in to try to address this issue. The waiting lists are far longer than we would wish, and, of course, they are growing because there is more and more awareness—of neurodivergence in particular; that's what I’m talking about. There's much greater awareness and many more children are coming forward. But I would emphasise what the Minister for education has said: that we don’t want to wait until a diagnosis before children are given help. In my responsibilities, I meet with parents and families where there is a neurodivergent child, and building everything on the diagnosis is something that we’ve just go to try and move away from. What they were telling me was that they want the support and help when they realise that there is an issue with a child and not just have nothing until they get a diagnosis. So, that’s absolutely what we’ve got to do. I do have a neurodivergence ministerial advisory group, led by neurodivergent people, who are coming forward to help with a programme of how we can address this issue. But it is an issue that is growing and we’ve got to make that shift away from just the diagnosis.

There are other questions from the online advisory group, but I think the Ministers have answered those in response to other questions. Diolch, Gadeirydd.

Thanks, Chair. I'm going to ask some questions of the Minister for education, if I may, beginning with the subject of information that's available for parents, and also parents' rights. Parents have told the committee that it's extremely difficult to find accurate, accessible information on their rights and choices in education and childcare, that there are few proactive offers of advice and that this can lead to misinformation. How can the Welsh Government ensure that there's more inclusive and readily available information for families? 

There are responsibilities at a local government level to make sure that there is a clear availability of information about rights, but also that when decisions are made and when local authorities reach conclusions in relation to individual learners, that that is done in a way that is transparent and communicated in a timely way and that information about rights of appeal and so on is communicated clearly. The research that we've done over the last few months suggests that that is applied inconsistently and that there is a lack of understanding about the need to do that in a way that is clear and accessible and timely. So, that is one of the things we'll be responding to in the work that we are planning over the next few months.

It's absolutely essential, I think, with any set of new reforms, that we are able to communicate clearly what the new entitlements are. I think, in some ways, perhaps you would expect that, when reforms are being brought in and are not yet fully embedded, that level of awareness isn't where you would expect and want it to be. And I think, in a way, that may explain some of the increase we've seen in the number of cases going to tribunal. I think that you would expect to see that levelling off and reducing over time, as awareness is increasing.

But I also think it's important, alongside the duties that local authorities have, that we try and find other creative ways of making sure that we can reach families themselves. I mentioned earlier, I think in response to Heledd Fychan, the work that we are doing with SNAP Cymru to provide that two-way channel of communication. And our experience, I understand, is that, where parents have engaged with that, they've found it very helpful. The task, as always, is to make sure that that is more widely available, isn't it?

That's really helpful. Actually, people on the advisory group have asked why the information isn't always being offered to parents and carers straight away once diagnosed. One parent explained that their child was diagnosed and they then felt that they were just sent off to figure it out for themselves and they found that really dispiriting. So, it's very helpful, what you say about that information being conveyed to families as soon as possible. 

On another point from the advisory group, there are concerns that parent carers aren't being informed of the benefits and additional financial support available to help families of disabled children. Is that something that Ministers recognise?


Both of the other Ministers will have, probably, a more detailed view of this than I do, but my understanding is that the neurodivergence improvement programme is working with families and services to identify what information it's helpful to provide, both pre and post diagnosis. I don't know if Julie and Jane want to say more on those aspects. 

We think that this advice could potentially be added to the end of a diagnostic report and would signpost information from the Department for Work and Pensions and local agencies that can support access to benefits and financial support. And we've had examples where this works for autistic adults who access advice and information from the integrated autism service. That does give advice there, but obviously with children we need perhaps to do this pre and post diagnosis. And we have got some examples where local charities provide the information for parents and carers of autistic children, such as Sparkle in Gwent. But I think the single advice fund is where the Minister for Social Justice will come in. 

I think this is really important, because it's our single advice fund that funds all of the advice services in Wales, Citizens Advice and partners as well, which includes specialist organisations. They have absolute responsibility to reach out to the needs of people with protected characteristics, but also to reach out to those who may just be identifying needs in terms of financial circumstances. Our 'Claim what's yours' campaign targeted particularly disabled parents and carers and their children, and the disability rights taskforce has got a work stream on employment and income and also access to justice, because this is actually about the justice issue, isn't it? It's getting entitlements and rights. So, again, I think this will be something that the disability rights taskforce will want to look at, particularly as a result of your questions in this inquiry.

Thank you. That's really helpful. Back to Minister Miles. The question of special educational needs and mainstream schools has come up repeatedly. What are your views on whether there should be a fully inclusive education system in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? Do you think it would be desirable or even possible for all children to attend a mainstream school?

We're obviously some way away from that. That's the first point to make. But equally, wanting to see our education system to be as fully inclusive as possible is the underlying principle behind both the Curriculum for Wales and, certainly, the additional learning needs reforms. I think it is really important to see those two things together, because it's by the new approaches in the Curriculum for Wales that we can make increasingly sure that mainstream provision is able to deliver that bespoke teaching that reflects the needs of the particular cohort of learners in front of a teacher. And seeing those two sets of reforms holistically and as two halves of the whole is really important in this, I think.

There are some challenges in the path to that very fully inclusive system that you're describing, Ken, but what we need to make sure is that the needs of each individual learner are met. Clearly, we want to do as much of that as possible in mainstream, and, where that isn't possible, to make sure that there is specialist provision available to support those young learners who need it.   

And are you convinced that, for the children who do attend mainstream education, the support that they're receiving is adequate?

Yes. The point of our reforms is to make sure that is happening, isn't it? Clearly, it's a significant set of reforms. You will be hearing from parents what I'm hearing as Minister and also in my role as constituency MS—that there are challenges in the system. We know that there are some young people with increasingly complex needs who, partly as a consequence of the experience of the last two years of COVID, are finding it particularly challenging to be in school. We are trying to address that. We've got specific funding streams that are there to tackle some of those challenges and support those young people who have additional learning needs, but also increasingly complex social and emotional reasons for not being in school—so, to support those young learners in particular. The whole point of the reforms is to address the objective that you set out, Ken, and the points I made yesterday in the Chamber were really to recognise that there's more that we need to do in some of those areas and set out a plan for getting to grips with some of them. But I just want to say that every day in our schools in Wales, there are teachers going into work and teaching assistants going into work doing incredible work to meet the needs of our young learners—often increasingly complex needs—against quite a challenging context in terms of budgets and broader social pressures, and I'm sure we would all want to thank them for the incredible work that they do.


Absolutely. I think that's something the committee very much shares as well, our thanks to those staff. Sorry, Ken, carry on.

Just finally, Chair, I have one question that's been posed by the advisory group regarding those children in the middle, if you like, who don't meet the criteria to access a place at a special school, but are struggling to cope at a mainstream school. Do you recognise that there is a gap in existence at the moment, and what's the Government doing about it?

As I say, I do think there is an increase in children and young people with complex needs being felt right across the education system, and, I'm sure Julie would recognise, in the health system as well, and social services. So, I think this is clearly happening. I think it's a particular concern in early years because the numbers appear to be increasing quite considerably, and, as I was saying earlier, that is intensified by the experience of the last few years through the pandemic. So, I suppose it's a recognition of that that lies behind the additional funding that we're providing to try and support those learners particularly, Ken.

Diolch. Thank you very much. We've come to the end of our evidence session today. I'd just like to thank the Ministers and the Deputy Minister for the evidence that you've given today. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in due course as well, and there may be some questions that we didn't get to today that we might want to write for further information to you, because we were very conscious of time. So, I'd like to thank all Members and Ministers and the Deputy Minister for the answers that you've given today that have helped us get here just before the end of time. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you for your evidence. 

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o’r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 6 a 9 o'r cyfarfod hwn ac ar gyfer eitem 1 o'r cyfarfod ar 6 Rhagfyr
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 6 and 9 of this meeting and item 1 of the meeting on 6 December


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd ar gyfer eitemau 6 a 9 o'r cyfarfod hwn, ac ar gyfer eitem 1 y cyfarfod ar 6 Rhagfyr, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 6 and 9 of this meeting, and item 1 of the meeting on 6 December, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 that the committee resolves to meet in private for items 6 and 9 of this meeting, and for item 1 of the meeting on 6 December. We will now proceed to meet in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:58.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:58.


Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 11:16.

The committee reconvened in public at 11:16.

7. Craffu ar Adroddiad Blynyddol Comisiynydd Plant Cymru 2022-23
7. Scrutiny of Children's Commissioner for Wales Annual Report 2022-23

Croeso nôl. It's good to see the Children’s Commissioner for Wales has come to give evidence for the scrutiny session of her annual report today, for the next item on our agenda. I'd like to welcome Rocio Cifuentes, the children's commissioner, and Rachel Thomas, who's head of policy and public affairs. It's good to see you both today. Thank you for attending; we very much appreciate it. I'm sure you can understand that Members have a number of questions they'd like to ask you this morning. And I'd also like to say a big 'thank you' for sharing a copy of your report on children's experiences of racism in secondary schools. As the report only came out yesterday, you'll appreciate that we're still digesting the findings. But is there anything in particular you would like to highlight about that report before we go into those questions?

Diolch yn fawr. Thank you, Chair. It is a very stark report with some really strong and clear messages from children and young people about the extent to which they are experiencing racism on a very regular basis, and more than that, the extent to which they don't feel confident or able to report those, because they don't think that they will be taken seriously. So, we also spoke to and heard many teachers and education stakeholders, who also told us that they would really value more support, to help them feel more confident in order to respond more effectively to racist incidents.

The recommendations that we make are targeted at multiple different bodies in the education field, including Welsh Government, but also to local authorities and to regulators, such as Estyn, and exam boards, such as WJEC. I think it's a whole-school culture change that's needed to ensure that the experiences of children and young people in schools across Wales is improved, and that schools can be somewhere that they can feel safer, and if they do experience racism, that they can report it and something will be done about it, and they will be taken seriously. So, we were very pleased with the level of media attention yesterday and the initial responses that we've had have all been really positive, so we're hoping that it can make a big difference. Diolch yn fawr.

Brilliant. Diolch. Right, thank you very much for that, and, obviously, we'll be taking a close look at that report and the findings. Right, we'll start off with questions from Buffy Williams.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for joining us this morning. This time last year you gave us the rationale behind moving your office from Swansea to Port Talbot. Twelve months on, can you tell us what impact this move has had? What have been the benefits and have there been any unintended consequences to your work?

Diolch. Thank you for that question. We are now three years away from the end of the current lease, so, next year, we will be undertaking another accommodation review to assess our next move and just make sure that we are still making best use of public money, and that the office is still meeting our needs. In terms of the impact from last year to this year, we have continued to operate a hybrid model for our staff, which has been very effective. We are monitoring that. We are about to undertake a biannual staff survey, to assess effectiveness and how people feel about different aspects of the organisation, including the office. It is well used. It is very accessible by train, and that was one of the primary motivating factors for the move, to be more accessible by public transport, and therefore to increase the environmental sustainability of the office, as well as it being significantly cheaper than the previous premises. We now pay £35,000 per year, compared to £54,000, £59,000 previously, so it's a significant reduction. But we'll continue to monitor that next year, with another review. So, it's something that we're keeping a very close eye on. We haven't identified any negative impacts of that move—they've all been positive.


Okay. Thank you. In this year's report, you say that you want to increase the accessibility of the office and your investigations and advice service, so it can be accessed by all children, young people and professionals who may need it. Yet we can see that only 21 children and young people contacted you directly in the year 2022-23. Can you give us an update on your work to raise awareness of the investigation and advice service?

Yes. Thank you. So, increasing the visibility and accessibility of the office is a priority that I've identified in my three-year strategy, and particularly the accessibility and visibility of the investigation and advice service. Following a vacancy review, I created a specific role to further develop and improve and increase the accessibility of the investigation and advice service, and that role was filled in September, and that person is in post. So, the investigation and advice service has increased its capacity by one person, so it's gone from three people to four people. And that person is leading, continuing to work on how to further increase the accessibility and visibility of the office.

The service has always historically not been targeted primarily at children and young people; it has not been intended to do so. It's been intended to be a last-resort service, where mainly adults would contact us on behalf of children because they had already exhausted other avenues, and it was intended to really deal with very complex and specialist issues. So, it still is working in that way. We are also aware of many other services that are targeted more directly at children and young people experiencing emergencies or crises—so, the Meic helpline, Childline, for example—and we're very keen not to duplicate. But this is something that we are continuing to look at more closely, through engaging further with children and young people, to hear their views, as well as adults, to really refine this service more in the coming months. So, yes, 20 out of the 655 last year were from children and young people. I would expect that to change slightly in coming years, but it depends on what the final decision is of the review that we're currently undertaking.

Okay. Thank you. We can see that there is still a significant geographical difference in the local authorities that your casework comes from, even when population size is taken into account. For example, you received five cases last year from Torfaen, compared with 45 from the Vale of Glamorgan. Twelve months ago, you told us you were keen to look at your geographical reach. What did you do, and what if anything have you changed to raise awareness of your casework service Wales wide?

So, we have undertaken detailed analysis of where our casework comes from, but also where our ambassador schools, greatest engagement is, and so on. And overall, we do have casework and contacts from every local authority across Wales, and, yes, Torfaen is the lowest. But to mitigate that, we have undertaken specific events in Torfaen very recently, inviting various schools, and really looking to increase awareness and engagement through those methods. So, in all of the low-engagement areas, we have either already undertaken specific visits to try and address that, or there are some already planned. So, it's something that we have a proactive approach to. We're monitoring it very closely, and we are seeing the impacts of that, so there are increasing rates even from those previously low-contact areas. It's something that we are addressing by physically going out there, as well as having meetings, and so on.


Thank you. Another area where there appears to be a big difference in the geographical reach of your work is the list of visits. So, we can see that in the past 12 months, your office has made 102 visits in south Wales, compared to six in mid Wales and 21 in north Wales. Are you satisfied with this position, and how do you decide where to travel to?

Those breakdowns do broadly reflect the population in those areas. So, on the whole, yes, I am satisfied. I think there are some very small discrepancies that we could try and look at. But in the 12 months that the report is reporting on, we were still working on mainly a reactive approach to visits, where we would respond to invitations from schools and youth groups, and so on. We are now working to move towards a reactive and a proactive approach, where we deliberately try and target and identify which of the more under-represented areas or issues that we want to deliberately address.

So, on the whole, it is—. The average represents around two to three visits per week. We've reached 17,000 children and young people through those visits, and it does broadly reflect the population. It does look like a small amount in mid Wales, but it's proportionate. 

Is it worth perhaps just adding as well that what you wouldn't see from the map graphic in the report is that there are 36 all-Wales engagement events, so that accounts for a fifth of all our visits. So, we wouldn't necessarily have a breakdown of exactly where all the young people come from, but we do try to prioritise all-Wales engagements so that we can ensure we're hearing a wide range of voices through those visits.

And just to add that I have personally visited every single local authority in Wales in the last year. 

In terms of the number of people who access your office, do you think it could be fewer numbers accessing your office because they don't think your office has enough teeth to actually make a difference to the problems that they have?

Do you mean in terms of the casework?

In terms of casework, that you actually don't have enough influence and power, really, to make a difference. I know it sounds a bit of a put-down, in a way, but I'm trying to be honest. I know somebody who came to me who had looked at you as a children's commissioner and said, 'There's no point because they won't do nothing; it hasn't got the power to do anything.' Do you think that's a reason?

Well, we would welcome a review of our powers. It's something that the office has been calling for for a long time, and was recently—. That recommendation was made by the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee in their work, but that recommendation was rejected by Welsh Government. 

In terms of influence, I'm sure we will come to that broader question, but the casework numbers have increased compared to last year, and in the current year are also on an upward trend. And the outcomes that those individuals get from contacting our office are very positive, and the cases are actually very complex, specialist and take many hours of phone calls, e-mails and meetings to resolve. I am confident that the people who do actually contact us do get a very good service and a positive outcome. I accept that awareness is something that I would like to increase so that more people could access us.

Just on the variety on the map that's provided, because obviously south Wales is a very broad area—the Valleys, cities and rurality as well—and the same with north Wales where it's not just one area, really; there's a variety of places in that. Is that something you'd look to break down in the future just to show how you've, perhaps, visited certain Valleys areas, certain cities or the rurality, just to reflect a little bit more how you've been able to make inroads in those areas?

The report does have a breakdown by local authority of visits. 

It might be—. We could perhaps present it more clearly, but it does have a breakdown. 

Okay. Brilliant. Thank you. I can see the statistics in the numbers, but I didn't see the visits. So, yes. Thank you. A question—. Oh, sorry, Buffy. Back to Buffy.


How would you describe the financial position of your office, and what are the main financial issues you're facing in the current financial year?

Thank you. So, in real terms, we've had a year-on-year decrease since 2016, and we are smaller in terms of staffing than we were pre 2015. We have tried to make a lot of savings where we can, as the office move exemplifies. The bulk of our costs are staff costs, which increase year on year, and a lot of that is out of our control, because we follow the Welsh Government pay, terms and conditions, such as the pay award and so on. Obviously, we on the whole have a very stable and experienced workforce, which means that those costs do increase year on year. So, we are very aware of the difficult financial context, and we are receiving messages about the unpredictability of our budget for next year. So, that is a concern for us, because we wouldn't be able to maintain our full staffing complement if we were to have a cut, or even if we were to have a flat-line budget—that might also call into question how able we are to keep things as they are.

So, we operate a very lean budget. We deliver a work programme on a very low amount of money. All of our work is carried out in-house by our staff team. We outsource very few of our services—it's only design and translation that we really outsource. So, we are as efficient and value for money as I think we can be, and I think the public accounts committee work also concluded the same. 

Would you be able to send us the list of—? Because I can't seem to find it in the report, a breakdown of local authority areas in terms of visits. That just might be us looking. I can see the caseload, but not the visits. But that would be really interesting. If you could point us in that direction, that would be great. 

Right, we've got some questions now from Heledd Fychan. Heledd.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Byddaf yn siarad Cymraeg.

Thank you very much. I'll speak in Welsh.

I'll speak in Welsh.

Sut fyddech chi'n—? Sori. Gwnaf i ailddechrau. Sut fyddech chi'n disgrifio eich perthynas waith gyda Llywodraeth Cymru a'r ystod o Weinidogion y mae angen i chi ddylanwadu arnyn nhw? Byddai fo'n fuddiol i wybod, efallai, beth sy'n gweithio yn dda, ac efallai rhai o'r rhwystrau rydych chi'n eu hwynebu.

How would you describe—? Sorry. I'll start again. How would you describe your working relationship with the Welsh Government and the range of Ministers you need to influence? It would be good to know, perhaps, what works well and what are some of the barriers that you face. 

Diolch, Heledd. I continue to have very frequent and, on the whole, mostly positive meetings with Government Ministers. I meet regularly with quite a range of them. We have very open discussions, and there has been a real theme in the last year about the financial context and how that impacts on the ability of Ministers to take forward new pieces of work and suggestions and recommendations that I'm making. I have had to challenge very often on that point, because my role is to bring the voice and the experience of children and young people and when they are telling me things—like the 'Ambitions for Wales' survey, for example, when over 8,000 children and young people are telling me that they're worrying about being able to afford food and the basics in their lives—I have to deliver that message to Ministers. So, there have been some robust conversations, but I feel that that is important. That is my job and my role. 

I have felt frustrations on some occasions that there isn't more flexibility and priority given to meeting the needs of children and young people, given that it is a stated Government priority. I guess I haven't held back on expressing that in those discussions. But, yes, on the whole there is openness in providing me with information that I request, and we also share useful—well, what's hopefully useful—information with them. So, it's—. And we also meet regularly with many of their officials. 


Thank you for that honest answer as well. Can I ask, then, how this links in with that refusal to review the powers that you have? Is it something that you feel is a barrier to be able to, perhaps, push things further, because, obviously, there's only so much that kind of making the case can achieve?

Yes, I would welcome this committee's support in that. We were disappointed by that rejection of that recommendation. It's, you know, understanding that it is, perhaps, an expensive and time-consuming piece of work, but it is something that does hold us back. Because, as you say, we can voice the issues affecting children and young people, we can present them, which we do, we can convene and collaborate with others who are saying very similar things, and we have done that—I have done that very much in relation to the poverty agenda in the previous months—but, ultimately, more powers would give us more teeth, as you've mentioned, James, and we would welcome that. 

Does it, perhaps, also link to the fact that, at the moment, we're appointed by Government, so there's, perhaps, not an incentive to review and extend our powers by the very people who appoint our office? So, the international principles about appointing human rights institutions and commissioners are that they should be appointed by the Senedd and not by the Government, and that's something that this committee previously has put forward also, and has, sadly, been rejected.

But, when we undertook a review of Government's exercise of their functions in 2021, the lack of teeth within that power—to use the terminology from today—really prevented us from accessing the documentation and the trail of decision making that we needed to see to be able to assess how Government had reached and communicated their decisions. And so one has to question whether it's time to also look at the accountability and appointment of the office so that there's that separation from Government, who are the main stakeholder that we would have the power to review. 

Thank you. That's very clear—something for us to take forward. But I think, given what you've outlined in terms of the serious challenges that we're facing, or letting down children and young people, it seems that this work seems to be crucial at this point in time as well.

Can I ask, given the limitations you mentioned in terms of some of the policy areas that you have sought to influence, and collaboration, for instance, that you did with the additional learning needs with the Welsh Language Commissioner, which was an excellent piece of work, what do you think are the main areas that you have been able to influence with Government over the past year?

So, we have, probably, had most traction in relation to education issues. We've been pleased with the response so far to the racism work and earlier conversations have indicated that Government are open to our recommendations and have in fact told us that they would wait to complete their anti-bullying guidance so that they could consider the recommendations of our report, for example. 

We've also had good influence, we feel, in relation to the new attendance guidance that's been published and many of our suggestions were taken on board there, including looking at the reduced timetables and making sure that the needs of kinship carers were responded to in that document. 

We also had influence positively in the home education space recently. When I came into the role I felt that it was a very polarised issue with a lot of tension on both sides, and perhaps the different groups not necessarily coming together effectively. So, I proposed to convene a forum for home-educating parents so that they could voice their concerns and have their questions answered about the new guidance that was about to come in—it came in in April 2023. And that was positively received by Government and, I think, was concluded to be a very beneficial exercise all round. 

So, education on the whole is one area where we do feel that there is openness to our input. We have tried a lot to influence the poverty agenda and the child poverty strategy, which we hope to see a final version of very soon. We feel that perhaps we haven't experienced as much openness so far in that dialogue. We have convened and collaboratively very significantly with other bodies on this issue. We hosted a child poverty summit recently and we've put forward recommendations and suggestions, on which there is a great deal of consensus from other groups, and have communicated that as best we can to Ministers very regularly; so, we are hoping that the final strategy will reflect our suggestions, but it's not, you know—. So far, we don't feel as confident about having positively influenced that yet, although, you know, we've done our best.


So, that's the area where you'd most like to have that influence, but feeling that there are barriers currently, just to be clear?

Okay. Thank you. I'll change to Welsh now.

Sut mae'ch swyddfa yn mesur ei dylanwad a'i heffaith? Er enghraifft, yn yr adroddiad, rydych chi'n nodi eich bod chi wedi sicrhau eich bod chi wedi cael eich nodi 235 o weithiau mewn print neu ddarllediadau ac ati—roeddech chi'n sôn yn gynharach o ran ddoe a gallu cael yr effaith yna. Ydych chi'n gallu dweud wrthym ni, efallai, sut mae hynny wedi trosi wedyn o ran y dylanwad rydych chi wedi'i gael o ran polisi? Oherwydd mae'n un peth i gael y cyhoeddusrwydd, sut ydych chi wedyn yn tracio pa mor effeithiol ydy hynny o ran cael y newidiadau rydych chi'n ceisio eu cael?

How does your office measure its influence and impact? For example, in your report, you state that you've secured 235 pieces of print and broadcast coverage for your work—and you were telling us earlier about having that impact. Can you tell us how that translates, then, in terms of the influence you've had in terms of policy? Because it's one thing to have that publicity, but how do you then track how effective that's been in terms of making those changes that you want to see happen?

Thank you. We—. I have proposed creating specific influencing plans for the four priority areas that I'm working on, and those influencing plans are being produced and will define specific outputs and deliverables for each of those areas of work. So, those deliverables may include reports or events or publications or a specific policy change that we're wishing to see. The difficulty is that, ultimately, those policy changes are not within our powers, but they are things that we—you know, we are looking to define exactly the change that we are hoping to achieve and monitoring and tracking that. We already monitor the progress of our annual report recommendations. So far, that has been an internal monitoring exercise, but we are looking to publish and make that a public one so that that is more publicly available and we can all measure and track how well those recommendations are progressing—if they've been accepted, if they're progressing, or, if not, what are we doing about it or what are others doing about it. We also evaluate key pieces of work; so, we evaluated, for example, in 2021, the impact of our 'The Right Way' approach, and that had a very positive response overall from over 30 organisations that we consulted with on that piece of work. So, it's something that's built into our systems.

Is it fair to say that there would be some frustrations about the pace of change in some areas? So, for example—we may come on to it—but I'm sure the committee would share our frustration on the pace of changing children's social care in particular. So, we've got recommendations going back to 2016 that have been accepted by Government, but we've yet to see the legislation brought forward to actually enact those changes, and, so, we're sort of building a growing collection of things that are taking a long time to deliver, and I'm sure you'd share our frustrations on those.

Fedraf i ddim siarad ar ran y pwyllgor, ond, yn sicr, yn bersonol, ie. Ydych chi, dros y flwyddyn ddiwethaf, wedi ystyried defnyddio'ch pwerau statudol i adolygu'r modd mae swyddogaethau Llywodraeth Cymru yn cael eu harfer mewn unrhyw faes polisi, a sut ydych chi'n mesur neu'n ystyried pryd y gallai hyn fod yn opsiwn i'w ystyried?

I can't speak on behalf of the committee, but, certainly, personally, yes. Over the last year, have you considered using your statutory powers to review the exercise of functions of the Welsh Government in any policy area, and how do you gauge or consider when this might be an option?

Diolch. Yes, we have. It's always an active consideration in the office, and we are actively considering a couple of situations at the moment where we might, depending on what happens, and we are seeking legal advice ourselves on the appropriateness of using our powers. Obviously, I can't say too much about them, because they are live cases and issues, but this is—


One is a policy area, isn't it? So, there's one that's a practice issue and one that's a policy area.

I don't want to put you in a difficult position, but I think it's good for us to know if these are things that you're actively considering and reviewing at all times.

Os caf i droi yn ôl i'r Gymraeg. Ar ôl mwy na 12 mis yn y swydd, beth, os o gwbl, fyddwch chi'n ei wneud yn wahanol yn y dyfodol o ran eich dull o ddylanwadu?

If I could turn back to the Welsh language. After more than 12 months in post, what, if anything, will you be doing differently in the future in terms of your approach to influencing?

Thank you. I think, for me, the difference in what I'm seeking to influence is perhaps a slight change of emphasis with previous commissioners, where previously there has been a very strong focus and a very successful focus on influencing legislation, in particular—for example the new curriculum, the ALN Act, and so on—which was a very successful approach in terms of what it wanted to achieve, but my focus is much more on wanting to influence the lived experience and the practical outcomes for children and young people, how they experience services on the ground, and to what extent they are able to experience their rights. So, it's a different emphasis, and for that reason, I am looking to continue to work with the Welsh Government, but also to work with other public bodies more, because they are obviously closer to the delivery of those services—local authorities, health boards and so on.

For me, the focus and what I'm seeking to influence more closely is the implementation of existing legislation and policy, to really measure how children and young people are experiencing that. It's also important for me to bring children and young people with me into those spaces and bring their voice and physically bring them with me where appropriate and where possible, to enable them to directly influence as well, and to do more to close the accountability loop, so to ensure that they hear back from Government or other public bodies when they are consulted. I'm actively talking to the Youth Parliament about how my office can strengthen and formalise relationships with them, so that they can have greater scrutiny over me and my role, but also so that we can speak together where we have agreement on policy issues. I would really like to see as many of my annual report recommendations as possible point towards, and I would like to see greater accountability from the Welsh Government towards, the Youth Parliament.

I have a really quick question. How seriously do you think the Welsh Government take the role of the Children's Commissioner for Wales? Because I get frustrated at every one of these sessions we have, I'll be honest. You've made recommendations on policy changes, how Government could improve with legislation, and they do nothing. So, it does bring into question the validity of the role, in a way, if the Government don't listen to what your office is saying. It's not just you; it's your predecessor Sally as well. Do you get frustrated at that? Do you sometimes think that they just see you as something they have to do rather than something to take seriously? Because where I'm sitting it just seems like Government just treat you as something they have to do, rather than something that actually they take very seriously and want to implement the changes that you recommend or the office recommends. 

I think that's a really good question, and I agree; there is a real danger of tokenism, not just for my role but other commissioners, perhaps, and perhaps even the Youth Parliament. I would like to see greater accountability and responsiveness to the recommendations that my office makes. Part of this comes back to the independence question and the fact that the Welsh Government funds the office, decides our budget, appoints me. That all does call that into question. This is why I do think that it would be better if it was a Senedd appointment and if I was accountable to the Senedd rather than Government. Yes, I would dearly like to see Government take more seriously the office and the role and the recommendations that we make, because as you say, they are very similar from year to year and commissioner to commissioner. They haven't changed that much. So, I do share your frustrations. 


That's fine. I know it's a frustration I have with all the commissioners' offices. 

Thanks, Chair. Thanks, commissioner. I'm going to ask about well-being and health. The latest figures are still really alarming, showing that 28 per cent of children in Wales are living in relative poverty. You've called it in the past the biggest issue affecting children in Wales, and you said last year that it's an emergency situation that warrants emergency action. You also said that the Welsh Government's draft child poverty strategy lacks ambition. Twelve months on, are we any further forward, do you think, in having a proper emergency response?

Unfortunately not. I continue to call for an emergency response. We're now into a second winter where the cost-of-living crisis is with us and has increased in its severity and its impacts on the children and young people that I spoke to last winter; I'm pretty sure they're in a worse situation now. I have continued to call for many things, including an emergency child payment over the coming months. It's not just me making these calls; there are many other organisations doing so. I was part of a cost-of-living expert group that was convened by Government to make recommendations. We did so just before the summer. We're yet to have a formal response, and it doesn't seem as if even the recommendations of that expert group, which were very measured, and included short-term, medium-term and longer term options, have been taken seriously or are being prioritised. So, it is a disappointment, and I would like to see more. 

I just wanted to clarify, just on that point, because I asked the First Minister—

Sorry. Just on the 29 recommendations, just so we're absolutely clear, you haven't received the response, but the First Minister confirmed yesterday that a document does exist. So, perhaps, Chair, that may be something that we could push for. 

I was trying to confirm that myself with officials a few days ago, and haven't received a response. It could be that an e-mail has gone astray, so that is a possibility, but it's something that we can confirm with you. 

Thanks, Chair. In terms of the impact that this is all having on children's mental health and well-being, we've got the new mental health strategy about to be published, the consultation by the end of this year. But what would you like to see contained within that strategy? 

It seems that that consultation—the publication of the strategy—will be delayed. But we have called, within that, for there to be a really clear focus on children and young people. The main gap that I'm seeing and hearing about is that middle-level support for children and young people experiencing mental health crises. We are aware of the progress of the whole-school approach, and we've seen the progress report published recently about how well that's been taken up or embedded within schools. There's obviously variation in that picture, and we're aware of discussions to look at that and see how it can be strengthened and taken forward.

But then, the next level, in terms of crisis emergency hubs, that is where I think I would like to see more progress. I have seen some positive examples, and visited myself two specific services, one in Cardiff—the Hangout—and one in Carmarthen, which were both excellent and had only just opened in recent months, and were both services that could be accessed on a very immediate basis by children and young people. I've also heard positive things about the new '111 press 2' service, and the extent to which children and young people are using it—which is very sad, obviously, but good that they are at least accessing that—and their ability to be signposted through that service to these crisis centres. 

So, I would particularly like to see more of that middle-level kind of support, and that's what we plan to focus on in terms of our own influence and work in that space. 


Thank you. Just moving on to children who are looked after, and the Government's pledge to remove profit from the system, are you confident that there are robust transition plans in place for children living in independent placements? Are you aware of stakeholder concerns about the progress and unintended consequences of the work to eliminate profit, and whether there are plans to mitigate those unintended consequences?

Yes, we are very aware and very involved in these conversations. We have been approached by children's home providers over the summer who continue to express their concerns about the impact on their own operating models. We have raised and shared concerns with Government about a smooth transition and have called for them to make available, as early as possible, the new regulations, or indicate at least what they might be, to enable existing providers to plan for that transition, to minimise the potential impact on children and young people and to minimise the potential for provision that is already quite stretched—to mitigate the risk of that shrinking further.

We have heard different things about the realities of the actual impact, in terms of whether there are fewer homes as a result or not, with Care Inspectorate Wales actually telling us that numbers of registering homes haven't decreased, although we are aware of these concerns being expressed by other bodies. So, we're not sure. People are saying different things about whether, currently, the policy is leading to fewer children's homes in Wales. We're also aware of the progress, albeit relatively slow progress, in terms of new provision being built and commissioned by local authorities and so on. But we're keeping a very close eye on all of those things. We requested Government to share with us a copy of their integrated impact assessment done on this topic, and they did share it with us, but it was for our information only, not for wider sharing. But we were able to see that.

Thank you. There are widespread concerns about children's social care workforce constraints and real pressures on the existing workforce. Recruitment is incredibly difficult at the moment and there's widespread use of agency staff. Is this a matter that you're involved in? Are you working with the Welsh Government, Social Care Wales and the Welsh Local Government Association regarding this matter?

Yes. I met with Social Care Wales last week, and they updated me on their work on this issue. I've also met and heard directly from children and young people in children's homes who have told me about really high numbers of social workers that they've had, so a really high turnover, which is clearly having a negative impact on them and their ability to build trusting relationships with these key professionals. I understand that there are plans under way to address the situation through the new national care and support service, and the consultation response was published only yesterday to the rebalancing care and support programme. So, it's something that I am hearing regular updates about and really hope to see that work progress and conclude. I've also met with the British Association of Social Workers, and heard from them, and I'm keen to meet their new director who's just recently come into the role. Also, I'm meeting next week with the all-Wales heads of children services, who have also clearly told me how this is impacting on their work. So, I'm very aware of the pressures and really hope to see those resolved.

Thank you. We were first made aware back in September by the Deputy Minister for Social Services that work was firmly under way to co-produce and develop five new national standards of practice for children in respect of child inclusive practice, manageable workloads, children who go missing and continuing care. How aware are you of this work, and at what point did you get involved in it?


I first met—. Yes, I've had many meetings with officials about this topic. I first met with the individual who's leading on the new national practice standards, Anthony Douglas, when I first came into the role, and we met with him again in August. So, we are kept very up to date on progress in this space and towards the 25 new standards. We have seen early drafts of the work, but we don't feel that what we've seen is detailed enough to really address what it's trying to address. We have concerns, really, about how transformative those standards and that work actually are, how radical. From what we've seen, they don't seem that different to existing values, principles and standards underpinning social care.

And just to clarify, we've seen an overarching high-level, quite short document that's a practice framework that references the names of the standards that they intend to develop, but we haven't seen any detail of the individual standards themselves, which we had expected to have seen this autumn. So, I understand that the initial ones were due to have been published by the end of the calendar year, but we don't know whether that's on course or not; we certainly haven't seen any detail of the individual standards, just the overarching framework.

Okay, thank you. Chair, I think I've actually asked questions that James might have been interested in raising. I don't know whether he'd like to—

No, that's fine. We'll move over to—. Thanks, Ken. So, now questions from James Evans.

One of the questions I do have—and you mentioned it earlier—is about additional learning needs. One of your aims for the office and priorities was about the effectiveness and the consistency of the application of the new ALN reforms. So, I'm just interested to know how do you think it's going.

This continues to be one of our highest areas of casework and we continue to see inconsistencies in the interpretation of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018. That same message was one of the conclusions of the Estyn piece of work on this. We are on the ALN implementation group convened by Government, and it is something that I raise with the education Minister regularly. I have been told that we are two years into a four-year transition programme, which is part of the explanation for some of the inconsistencies, and this is a bedding-in period. But I think the reality is that we're not where we need to be, and children and families are, in many cases, really unhappy with their experience of the Act.

We do welcome some of the new provision that's been made—the £20 million, for example, new capital funding, to create new facilities. But, at the same time, the financial context is raising new concerns about the sustainability of different support staff to meet the needs of children with additional learning needs, and that was also a concern flagged in the Estyn report. So, it's really crucial that the financial support to continue successfully with the transition programme, with the new ALN reforms, is maintained, and we are a little bit concerned about schools potentially looking to cut that support because of the challenges they face.

Yes. On your casework, we're getting evidence from families who say they need to have assessments—I mentioned it to the education Minister—so they can actually can get any support put in place at all from the school. Is that something you're seeing coming through in casework a lot, because the Minister told us that that shouldn't be the case because it's a breach of the law? So, I'm just interested if that's coming through in your casework, that people just cannot get anything done in schools, because they just don't have the assessment that goes with it, or the tag as such, which we're trying to get away from.


Yes. And we also heard the same from the Minister that this shouldn't be happening, but it is happening. And when my office gets involved, we can help to usually negotiate a successful outcome, but it shouldn't take my office getting involved, and, obviously, we physically wouldn't be able to get involved in all of the cases that might need our help. So, it's something that we hope is addressed. We write to the Minister with specific suggestions. For example, there is confusion around the status of private diagnoses for autism, and so on, so that's an issue that he has committed to clarifying as part of their wider work. But I think, on the whole, it's very variable and I think could really do with some clearer messaging and support for schools and local authorities.

Okay. Thank you. Moving on to another area now, which is pupil absence, pupil absence has been stable for the last five years—about 94 per cent-ish. It's gone down now, to 88 per cent. The Welsh Government announced measures to try and address absenteeism in schools. Do you think they're going to work?

It's a real challenge. It's not just an issue in Wales, it's a challenge across the UK, where the pandemic has had a significant impact. We have been invited to the new attendance taskforce, which is due to meet for the first time next week. We hear from schools and professionals about the difficulties in this space on a very regular basis. The mental health provision is part of this, the ALN conversation is another part, as is child poverty and the financial barriers to getting to school. So, it's a very complex—. There are really complex factors beneath non-attendance, but they are at very worrying levels now, and they are most worrying for children from certain backgrounds, so it's an equalities issue. And I hope that the new taskforce will present an opportunity to really bring heads together on this, as it should be a key priority for everyone.

So, do you think that mental health, ALN and poverty are the main causes, or do you think there are any other causes for absenteeism in our schools?

I would probably say they're the main ones. Exclusions is another—. In a way, it's perversely—. Those are kind of enforced absences, aren't they? But we are also worried about exclusion figures going up slightly in recent years, and the disproportionate patterns of exclusion for children from certain ethnic minority backgrounds, for children who receive free school meals, and children with additional learning needs, who all have much higher rates of both permanent and fixed-term exclusions than the average.

Okay. I want to move on to the Programme for International Student Assessment results, if that's okay. They're due to be announced now on 5 December. It's probably looking like Wales is going to be the lowest of the UK league tables, again. Is this something you're concerned about? Because one of the key drivers is our core subjects—our maths, our English and our sciences—and we need to get those right. And if we're the lowest of the league table, we're not giving our young people the opportunities to study in those top universities, to go on to do the best jobs. Is that something that really concerns you? Because I know it's something that I'm very concerned about, making sure our learners here in Wales have the best opportunities to go where they can in their lives.

Well, the last PISA results were in 2018, and unfortunately, since then, we've all, children and young people, been through a very difficult time. So, I do expect the next set of results to reflect that, but that's not to let schools off the hook, in a sense. We still need to make sure that we do have those high expectations and high standards, but really needing to look at the priority issues, which should be, I think, to get children back into the classrooms in the first place, before we can really look at how well they're achieving within those. Obviously, I'm not saying it's one or the other, you do need to look at both, but I think, in terms of which is the more urgent issue, I think it's getting children back into the classroom.

Getting children back into the classroom, it is an urgent issue, but making sure that when they're actually in the classroom they're getting a top-class education is as well, isn't it? So, what recommendations have you put to Government around how we can actually improve standards of education here in Wales, from a children's perspective?


We've made recommendations about improving training for teachers and governors on additional learning needs, also on racism, and all of those would have a real impact on the standards and learning that children and young people are able to make in schools. So, those would be the specific ones in our current set of annual report recommendations.

Also, the child poverty stuff as well—children being able to get to school, get the bus to school, have the right uniform so that they're not excluded as soon as they walk through the door, being fed so that they're able to actively listen and engage in lessons. So, that might not seem like an education recommendation, but I think it's a really core part of children being able to fully engage in that education when they are through the door.

Do you think the new curriculum could help in this? Do you think schools are making full use of the new curriculum to actually find new ways of engaging learners, and actually having a curriculum that is enjoyable for pupils as well, and fits the demographic of their learners as well? So, schools perhaps aren't embracing it as much as they could be to actually drive up standards. 

I think it's early days. I visited one secondary school in Bridgend that was a phenomenal example of having embraced the new curriculum using a completely new approach, which they told me had had a transformative impact on their attendance levels for their year 7 pupils who were working to the new curriculum. That was a really great example. Like with everything, I think there will be variation in how well and how much schools implement and embrace the new opportunities, and how it works out for them and their attendance levels. But I would like those good examples to be shared and, hopefully, replicated.

Okay. A final question, Cadeirydd, if that's okay, and it's on free school meals. It's something that you've advocated for in the past, and also the role that a free school meal perhaps for secondary-age children—. I just wonder, have you made any progress on that with Government, because you might know something we don't? But I'd just be interested if you've got any updates on that for us. 

So, we have raised this continually with Government, particularly given everything that I've heard in my survey and all of my engagement about food poverty. So, the importance of that meal in school can't be underestimated. I haven't been told anything in terms of secondary schools. I haven't had anything formal yet on that. And the quality of school meals is also something that has been raised with me a lot—the quality, the variety, but also the portion size. It's something that a particular school has raised with us. They've done a survey so we've shared that information with Government, and it does seem that that might not be confined to one school, from what we've heard. We've also heard from foodbanks. The Trussell Trust have told us about how many children and families are accessing their services. So, I think it's something that definitely—. Food poverty and free school meals within that will continue to be something that we will push on a lot, but how successful we will be in terms of the roll-out of free school meals, I'm not sure. 

—just one more, if that's okay, and it's actually on some of the questions that Ken was asking about health as well. Obesity is a major issue facing our young people across Wales, and we know obesity links to a number of life-changing diseases and different conditions. The Government launched their healthy food environment consultation, ban the meal deals, as it was at one time, even though it's a very small part of it, but I'm just interested what work you're continuing to do around that, because I think it's very important that we bring physical exercise into our curriculum, that we educate young people about food, about good choices around food as well. I moan we don't even get fruit here and we're only stuck with biscuits, but it's one of those things. I think I'd be interested to know from your point of view where you think we could do more to actually address obesity in our young people across Wales. And that is me definitely done now, Chair.

Looking at the quality of free school meals would be one way in which that could be done, but definitely one of my recommendations is about implementing the new daily active programme in schools. I think that is really important. Also, looking at the provision of facilities for young people to do sport and exercise, and the role of local authorities in that. So, I’m really calling for the children’s Measure to be extended to apply to local authorities, so that they also have a duty to consider the impact on children’s rights of all of their decision making.

Just sticking on free school meals for a moment, it was very disappointing to note the response from the Welsh Government to the impact assessment around the judicial review about the decision not to fund free school meals during the holidays. One of the comments in their response was questioning whether, if those families were to be given that money during the holidays, they would spend it on nutritious food. I was quite disappointed in that implication from them. So, the implication was that they would buy—well, I think it said they might buy—poor-quality food, which I think is—


It was disappointing. I think, to address obesity, we know that that is particularly a case for poorer children, and having an effective child poverty strategy that effectively delivers more money into the pockets of families who are really struggling would be the most direct and effective way of reducing child obesity.

Thank you. And thank you very much for joining us. That's the end of the evidence session today. Diolch yn fawr. We very much appreciate it. You will receive a copy of the transcript in due course to check for factual accuracy. But, again, thank you for joining us this morning. 

8. Papurau i'w nodi
8. Papers to note

We'll now go on to the next item on our agenda, which is papers to note. There are 15, I think, papers to note. Are Members content to note those papers together? Yes. They're set out on the agenda and in the paper pack. Great. Okay, so we will now move into private session.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:17.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:17.