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

Jeremy Miles Gweinidog y Gymraeg ac Addysg
Minister for Education and the Welsh Language
Jo-Anne Daniels Cyfarwyddwr Addysg Drydyddol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Tertiary Education, Welsh Government
Owain Lloyd Cyfarwyddwr y Gymraeg ac Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Education and Welsh Language, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Naomi Stocks Clerc
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
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 y cyfarfod am 09:30.

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

The meeting began at 09:30.

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

Bore da a chroeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg heddiw.

Good morning and welcome to this meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee.

I'd like to welcome all Members to this meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee this morning. 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. I know that James Evans is due to leave the meeting a bit earlier than expected today. But are there any declarations of interest? I see no declarations of interest.

2. Craffu cyffredinol ar waith Gweinidog y Gymraeg ac Addysg
2. General scrutiny of the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language

So, I'll move on to the first item on our agenda this morning. This is our general scrutiny of the Minister for Education and Welsh Language. I'd like to welcome you this morning, Minister, and your officials. We have Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language; Owain Lloyd, director of education and the Welsh language in Welsh Government; and Jo-Anne Daniels, director of tertiary education in the Welsh Government. You're very welcome and thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Members have a number of questions to put to you this morning on various topics, but I'll make a start on standards, and perhaps with the Programme for International Student Assessment. How disappointed were you with the Wales PISA results in the 2022 cycle, and how much weight would you put on those and what they show about the standards and performance in the education system here in Wales?

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Firstly, just to say that I want to recognise, as I'm sure the whole committee would, the hard work and dedication of our teachers right across Wales, in particular in the context of very challenging years over the last number of years. In terms of the PISA results, I was disappointed with them, as we will all have been. In a sense, though, they weren't a surprise; they were consistent with the richer information, really, that we have through our online assessments, which I published last year—the national picture from those. So, PISA was consistent with that.

There are some challenges in the PISA data themselves. Many schools, many learners, opted not to take part in the 2022 tests and none of the countries in the UK participating in PISA reached the participation threshold that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development sets. So, I think there are those caveats on the data themselves. The practical consequence of that is that it leads to what the OECD described as a bias in the figures in terms of comparison within the UK. But the picture, as I say, is consistent with what we have from other data sources.

The relevance of the data for us in Wales is what it can do to support us in improving school standards in Wales. That's the main relevance and usefulness of the data. I mean, it's obviously irresistible for people to compare with other countries and I understand why that is and there is some value in doing that, obviously. But the main value of the data is telling us what we can do to support our education system in Wales, and that lies behind the programme of reform that we've had in Wales for a long time, which is informed by the work of the OECD more broadly.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, Minister. Thank you for joining us this morning. Do you believe that the pandemic has had a greater impact on Wales's educational performance than on other countries, or are there other reasons for the decline in Wales's scores since the previous cycle in 2018? I'm thinking about the PISA results.

Well, if you take into account the point I just made about the participation rates and the bias in the figures, I think that's part of the general picture. If you take that into account, our relative position in reading and maths has remained broadly stable over the period of 2018 to 2022, though our position in science has, of course, dropped. I think we know that the pandemic has had a significant effect in Wales, and some of that will be the pattern of attendance during COVID itself, which will have had an effect, I think, on the overall outcomes.

What we have embarked on over the last number of years is a set of reforms that really go to the heart of those challenges. So, the curriculum reforms are one aspect, but I think it's really important, Chair, that we don't put all our eggs in that one basket, because curriculum is critical in terms of how we can raise standards, but it also needs to be coupled with two other areas. One is professional learning, support for the profession to develop and constantly refresh their skills, and, secondly, the work on school improvement. We have a significant programme of work under way in relation to both of those. The OECD itself will tell you that those reforms take time to bed in, but we are on the right path, and we have evidence from other countries with high-performing, from a PISA perspective, school systems that those principles are the ones that will stand us in good stead.


Minister, however you dress this up, it's not a good outlook, is it? These are the lowest PISA results that Wales has ever had. It's below the OECD average. We're on a downhill trajectory, however you want to look at the figures. It's not a good picture after 25 years of Labour, is it? So, what hasn't this Welsh Labour Government done to make these results so bad compared with the rest of UK, who have also suffered from the pandemic? What have they done right that we're doing wrong, because their schools are going upwards?

Chair, I was hoping not to dress things up, I was hoping to engage with the data in a way that I hope the committee and those watching would find useful. On the picture in relation to performance in Wales, it's worth painting that broader picture that the committee's inviting me to do, and I've made the caveats I've already made. So, if you look at our performance in maths, that is consistent with the picture, for example, in the United States. If you look at the performance in science, that's consistent, for example, with countries like Italy, and if you look at reading, our performance is consistent, actually better, than countries like the Netherlands. So, if we're looking at the international picture, I think that is relevant.

I've already made the points I've made about how reliable comparisons within the UK are, given the level of engagement and participation rates, and what the OECD tells us itself are the important caveats, which I'm sure the committee will want to take into account, about how you can compare in that direct way.

Thank you, Chair. You've just touched on this question, Minister, but I'm going to ask it anyway, just to delve a little bit deeper. Whilst Wales's PISA attainment gap may be smaller than that of other UK nations, do you accept that this is primarily due to the highest performing learners not doing as well as elsewhere, rather than because our lowest achievers do particularly well? What is the Welsh Government doing to support the highest achieving learners to realise their full potential?

Since 2016, Chair, we've had the Seren programme. It's a fully funded programme that provides super-curricular support, if I can describe it in that way, for our highest performing learners. There are just over 23,000 learners between years 8 and 13 currently involved in that programme, and of the last cohort from 2023, over half of those are now studying at a Russell Group university, so we know that it is effective, and it's appreciated both by learners, schools, but also by universities, who support us in delivering that, both from a summer schools point of view, but also in terms of the universities that are the destination for learners who are part of that programme.

The particular benefits that I think it brings are around widening horizons, intensifying the passion of those high-achieving learners in relation to their particular chosen fields of study, but also a set of practical skills that I think are important around preparing for university admission and the tests and interviews that go as part and parcel of the admissions approaches of some of our most high-performing universities. I think that breadth of support is really important.

As part of the curriculum changes, it is important that we continue to make sure that our learners—all learners, actually—are stretched in their academic performance and in their experience of the curriculum. Committee will be aware of the reforms that we've made recently to education grants for schools, and one of the terms and conditions for the new grant regime is to improve educational outcomes through stretching our learners particularly and reducing the equity gap. Part of this is around the how of teaching, pedagogy, and that's a critical part of our curriculum design guidance, but also the national network that we have for curriculum reform. One of the objectives of that is to make sure that we raise standards generally, but specifically as part of that, stretch our highest achieving learners.


Diolch, Cadeirydd. Minister, you know, we all can point blame at whoever, but I'm interested in how we improve standards for children here in Wales, and my key ask to you is the what and the how. What have Welsh Government learned about PISA, and how are we going to put it right? Because I'm sure everybody around this table and wider wants to know how Welsh Government—. You've mentioned some ways in which Welsh Government are doing it, but have you got any specific work streams within your department, within Welsh Government, simply around PISA and on this element of standards in maths, English and science, of how you're going to drive up standards? Because I think that comes to the core root of everything, really, regardless of who's in power; it's how we're going to do it to best help our learners in Wales, because that's what we're all here for.

Yes. I mean, I specifically haven't pointed the finger of blame at anybody. I've outlined the programme of reforms, Chair, that we have under way. One is around curriculum, one is around school improvement and one is a significant investment that we're making into professional learning, and those three together are the way that we drive up standards across our system, as well as the important work—which I've just responded to Buffy Williams's question about—stretching our highest achieving learners.

There are particular things, though, in relation to literacy and numeracy that we've had under way. I launched the literacy work in the year I became education Minister and we are starting to see the benefit of that in schools already—I mean, obviously not in time for these results, but we wouldn't have anticipated impact within that year—and the numeracy plan, which I've also launched. And what we know, in relation to science, is that one of the key determinants of whether you perform well at science is your literacy and numeracy skills, so both of those reforms will support our science reforms as well.

So, there are macro things in terms of how the system itself can be reformed, based on those principles that the OECD have told us about and the kinds of principles that, for example, Canada has successfully used, New Zealand has successfully used, and we've had those building through our system for a number of years. Obviously, the cohort of young people who've sat the tests in PISA this time won't have had the benefit of those reforms yet, just the way they're sequenced. So, that hasn't yet been felt in the PISA results, but I would encourage the committee to look at the broader data. It is consistent with PISA, so I'm not undermining the broader point, but actually, we have much more granular detail about the performance of our school system in Wales, which I've now decided to publish on an annual basis, and I think that gives us probably richer data for us to engage with.

Okay, thank you. Right, we'll move on to questions from Laura Jones. Laura.

Thank you. Minister, how concerned are you that the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers was already widening before the pandemic, and has continued to widen since? Why has this continued to happen over such a long period?

The attainment gap prior to the pandemic is a slightly more nuanced picture, I think, than the question assumes. So, at various points in the school journey, the attainment gap has been closing; at other points, it's been stubborn, if I can use that term. I think it's really important—and I made this point when I became Minister and I've outlined plans since then—that we focus all our efforts on making sure the attainment gap is closed and that every young person gets the best possible start in life through the best education that we can provide them.

The pandemic has had a differential impact on learners, based on their circumstances. That's happened across the world and it's unfortunately the kind of pattern that we were anticipating would occur at the time. That's why we put so much funding into the review and reform programme in 2021-22 and 2022-23. That was designed to support those who were most impacted by COVID, and we've had the discussion in this committee previously as to how we've spent that money and the effect that it's had.

The road map that I published, I think, last year, which updates that work, demonstrates there are two key areas that we need to focus on and that we are focusing already: firstly, improving the quality of learning and teaching that those young people are receiving; and, secondly, and this is very important, improving the engagement with parents and families and with communities. We know that is effective; that's the work we've got under way. There are very good examples and evidence of that right across Wales.

Just to say finally on that: I think one of the challenges that we're facing at the moment, which we've discussed in other contexts, is around attendance, and that is a key determinant of performance, for obvious reasons. You will know the work that we’re doing in relation to that, specifically with the national attendance taskforce, which I think will help us to tackle some of the persistent problems in that context as well.


Thank you, Minister. The widening of the deprivation attainment gap has occurred at various measures despite over a decade of a stated focus by the Welsh Government on closing the gap and investment, such as the pupil development grant. For example, there is now a 30 percentage point difference between the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals achieving GCSEs at grades A* to C and their peers—up from 25 percentage points in 2015-16 and 28 percentage points in 2018-19. What does this say about the effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s policies, and what lessons can you take for the future?

So, that data that you’re comparing aren’t comparing apples with apples because there was a change in entry patterns and in the take-up of certain GCSEs in some of those years. I’d be happy, Chair, if you’d find it helpful for us to write to you with information about that—

—so that you can make sure that there's a consistent comparison.

The point I made in the earlier question, I suppose, has a bearing on this as well, Laura, which is around making sure that we have a suite of policies that are designed to close the attainment gap from early years through to lifelong learning, and we have a range of interventions under way in order to do that. I mentioned the community focus schools initiative, which we've been investing significantly in, but also a new focus, if you like, in initial teacher education about how teachers can learn particular strategies to support learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, and a programme of professional learning that continues to support teachers in their early years in particular around that.

We ran a very interesting and, I think, effective pilot of attainment champions in schools in Wales last year. That was pairing up heads in schools that have had particular success in raising standards across the board, but also narrowing that attainment gap, on the one hand with schools that have been finding it more challenging to do that. And what that programme enabled those paired schools to do was to have a supportive environment for heads to be able to share effective strategies and for those schools therefore to pick up those different approaches. Now, what I would like to do is to be able to find the funding in the budget to be able to continue and extend that pilot, and I’m hopeful to be able to do that.

I think the lesson that we need to learn, in the range of possible strategies and interventions in this area, is that there are many schools that are doing very well in exactly this area and the task for us is to make sure that we identify that and universalise it through our school system. So, that’s why I think the work that we’re doing with the PDG regional representatives is important so that we understand the effective use of the PDG, which will support some of these interventions: how that’s working well in particular schools, how that then can be shared more widely across the system. And that’s also consistent, as I’m sure the committee will have identified, with what we were told by Luke Sibieta, for example, in the review of school funding—these messages are consistent.

I think, as well, I talked about the plans that I announced since becoming Minister—I did a speech, as I’m sure you’ll remember, to the Bevan Foundation, which also talked about looking at new approaches to how we attract teachers to work in schools that have the most challenges and also look at mixed ability teaching with a fresh pair of eyes. And we’ve just had some research presented to us, which I commissioned, which we’re now analysing, about how we might respond to that as well.

Okay. Thank you, Minister. That project sounds encouraging. It's always hard to share best practice across Wales, especially with 22 different local authorities, and then you've got everything that cascades down from that, really—

—schools do feel in competition—. My question is: schools do generally feel in competition with each other, so are reluctant sometimes to share best practice, which is a shame, because we all want the same, the best for our learners. How do you think we combat that? Is this pilot working? What are the results like?

I don’t think I would recognise that picture, if I’m honest. I don’t think that is my experience. I think what we are discovering, partly because of the curriculum reforms, is that cluster working is essential for curriculum reform to succeed, let's be clear about that, but also I'm encouraged by increasing cluster working. It isn't entirely consistent at the moment, but it is absolutely much stronger than it has ever been, and I think that's really important. One of the things I've found most interesting about the attainment champion pilot was that we were pairing schools in different parts of Wales. So, coming to it from a different consortium background, obviously, from different local authority areas. And I think that there is more that we can do in that space in the future. That national network of connections, I think, is as important as a local connection as well. 


Yes, that makes more sense, actually. My observation then, saying that they are in competition, is something that actually came from a union yesterday, an education union, not myself. Anyway, moving on—sorry, Minister. To what extent are factors such as the high rate of absence, which you've already touched on today, and engagement with their education among pupils eligible for free school meals behind the apparent lack of progress in narrowing that attainment gap? And how would you respond to the comment from His Majesty's chief inspector to us last week that the Government's response to Estyn's thematic review of attendance in secondary schools was slightly disappointing? And why have you only partially accepted some of the recommendations, for example Estyn's call for a national campaign to promote the importance of good attendance, when we have a situation in Wales at the moment where, in secondary schools, absence has doubled from 6.2 per cent pre pandemic to 12.5 per cent, and is as high as 20 per cent amongst free school meal learners? Thank you.  

Well, attendance is a critical priority for us, as it is, I think, for most systems as a consequence of COVID in particular, but obviously that's not the entire picture; we all know that. And we need to make sure we are seeing increases in attendance in all school years. There has been, actually, a slight improvement year on year. I don't put huge amounts of weight on that, it isn't what it needs to be, but just to say that the trend is positive and welcome, but isn't sufficient, clearly. So, that is why the national attendance taskforce is so important, and the last meeting of that engaged specifically with the Estyn report. 

I think the Estyn report has some good stuff in it. It's got some useful insight into it, which is basically consistent with other evidence that we have. On the point about their being—did you say 'slightly disappointed' by my response?

Yes. Well, I think their quote related—to be fair to the chief inspector, I think that quote related to particular responses of the Government to particular recommendations, rather than an overall level of disappointment, I hope. There were two, I think, in particular. One related to—I think the chief inspector was talking about a national conversation about the relationship between schools and families, and I do think that is an important thing for us to engage with, for this reason: it is evident already that one of the causes—I think one of the more challenging causes—of non-attendance is a change in attitudes towards the importance of attendance and perhaps, even, the importance of education more broadly. And I think that is very subtle and nuanced, and clearly must be engaged with. So, I do think that is absolutely correct. I don't think there's any difference at all between what the chief inspector was saying and what I think in relation to that.

I think the point that we did not accept fully was the need for that national campaign, a comms campaign. I think what we are learning is that it's quite a nuanced picture, and what we need to do—and we're talking to Parentkind and others about how we can develop a more subtle approach to that than just a straightforward national campaign. We also know, and Estyn has said this to us as well—. The stats you gave in your answer are the national aggregated stats for attendance, but that's very variable between schools. And I think actually identifying those schools where it's a particular challenge and having messages that work for that school and their community is, I think, a big part of the answer. 

I think the other one we didn't accept, the other main one—or at least partly accepted only—was in relation to data. And that is partly a factor of how data is collected. And what I think we have learnt is that the variability week on week of attendance data is less than the variability after the autumn term. So, the pattern is established in the early part of the academic year, if I can put it sort of broadly, and that weekly pattern isn't, then, so variable after that. So, those were the reservations I had in simply accepting those recommendations in full.


Thank you, Laura. And as you know, Minister, the committee has a particular interest in pupil absence—

—and the work that we've done on that in terms of our inquiry. So, it is something that all Members here feel very strongly about, so it's something to follow on from that.

Just going back to the point that you made in answer to the second question that Laura asked about the comparability of the data in terms of the deprivation attainment gap between the years, are you saying that the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers has, in fact, widened?

The point I think you're asking about is in relation to GCSE outcomes over the period that spans before and after the pandemic. I think that's the point I was seeking to clarify. There is a changed pattern of early entry and a significant increase in the number of students who studied science at GCSE because of policy changes that we introduced as a Government, and that has effectively skewed the comparison pre and post pandemic. I mean, the pandemic isn't the reason for it—

—the policy change is the reason for it. But we can provide more detail for you on that, and—

Yes. That would be very helpful. Thank you very much, Minister. So, we'll move on now to questions from Heledd Fychan. Heledd.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os caf i bigo i fyny efo rhywbeth wnaethoch chi gyfeirio ato yn gynharach efo'r rhaglen academi Seren? Yn amlwg, mae yna enghreifftiau gwych o ran yr academi Seren, ond hefyd, ar y pegwn arall, yn amlwg, dydi pawb ddim yn serennu ymhob pwnc. Mi fyddech chi'n gallu cael rhywun sydd yn wych am ysgrifennu, ond dŷn nhw ddim yn mynd i fod yn cael y chwech A* ac ati. Pa raglenni eraill, felly, sydd i sicrhau bod pawb yn cyrraedd ei botensial ymhob pwnc a'n bod ni'n gwerthfawrogi pob pwnc, oherwydd dŷn ni angen pobl sydd yn artistiaid gwych, yn ogystal â mathemategwyr ac all-rounders ac ati? Oherwydd un o'r pryderon sydd wedi ei godi efo fi ydy ei fod e'n wych i'r rheini sydd ar y rhaglen, ond i rai o'r dysgwyr sydd efallai yn cael eu gollwng o'r rhaglen oherwydd eu bod nhw ddim yn cyrraedd y safon—dwi wedi clywed bod plant neu bobl ifanc ym mlwyddyn 9 yn meddwl eu bod nhw'n thick gan eu bod nhw'n cael eu gollwng o'r rhwydwaith, a bod hynny efallai wedyn yn arwain atyn nhw ddim yn perfformio cystal gan eu bod nhw wedi cael camsyniad. Felly, faint ydych chi'n edrych ar y rhaglen ac yn asesu a gwerthuso i sicrhau ei bod yn cyflawni i bawb a'n bod ni'n sicrhau, felly, ei bod hi ddim yn cael effaith negyddol ar y rhai sydd efallai ddim cweit yn cyrraedd ar y rhaglen ac yn cael eu gollwng yn ystod cyfnod ysgol?

Thank you very much. If I could pick up on something you referred to earlier in terms of the Seren academy programme? Clearly, there are excellent examples from the Seren programme, but also, at the other end of things, obviously, not everyone can be a star in every subject. You'll have somebody who might be excellent in writing, but won't get that six A*s and so on. So, what other programmes are in place to ensure that everyone delivers their potential in all subjects and that we appreciate all subjects, because we need excellent artists, as well as mathematicians and all-rounders and so on? Because one of the concerns that has been raised with me is that it's wonderful for those participating in the programme, but for learners who are dropped from the programme because perhaps they don't reach those standards—I have heard that children and young people in year 9 think they are thick because they're being dropped from that network, and that that then leads to a drop in their performance because of a misapprehension. So, how much do you look at that programme and assess it to ensure that it delivers for all and that we do ensure that it doesn't have a negative impact on those who don't quite make the programme or are dropped, as pupils?

Wel, i fod yn gwbl blaen, dyw e ddim yno i gyflawni i bob un disgybl, mae e yno i gyflawni i'r disgyblion sydd a'r gallu i berfformio'n uchel iawn mewn pynciau ac sydd angen y gefnogaeth i sicrhau eu bod nhw'n gallu cael y cyfle i wneud hynny. Felly, dyna'r—. Mae'r diwygiadau eraill rŷn ni'n eu gwneud ar draws y system—eu bwriad nhw yw sicrhau bod pob un disgybl yn cael y cyfle posib oll, ond pwrpas Seren yw, pan mae'r cyfleoedd penodol ar gael i'r disgyblion sydd â'r gallu i gyrraedd y safon uchaf posib yn academaidd, ein bod ni'n eu cefnogi nhw i wneud hynny. A beth rŷn ni'n gwybod am systemau addysg yng Nghymru ac ar draws y byd yw ei bod hi'n bwysig i wneud y ddau beth—cynyddu'r safon yn gyffredinol i bob un disgybl, ond hefyd sicrhau bod y stretch mwyaf yn y system i'r disgyblion mwyaf galluog allu perfformio hefyd. Mae'r ddau beth wir yn bwysig.

Mae'r pwynt rŷch chi'n wneud o ran beth sy'n digwydd i ddisgyblion sydd ar y ffin, os hoffech chi, yn bwynt diddorol, a byddwn ni'n hapus i edrych yn bellach i mewn i hynny i weld beth mae'r data yn dweud wrthym ni ynglŷn â faint mae hynny'n digwydd a beth sydd yn digwydd wedyn i'r disgyblion sydd yn y sefyllfa hynny.

Well, to be entirely clear, it's not there to deliver for all pupils, it's there to deliver for the pupils who have the ability to perform at a high level in subjects and need the support to ensure that they're able to do that. So, the other reforms across the system are aimed at ensuring that every learner has the best possible opportunity, but the purpose of Seren is that, when there are specific opportunities available to those pupils who can reach the highest academic standards, we support them in doing that. And what we know about education systems in Wales and across the world is that it's important to do both things. We need to increase standards generally for all pupils, but also ensure that there's that bigger stretch for the most talented pupils to perform to. Both those things are hugely important.

The point that you make in terms of those pupils who are on the cusp, if you like, is an interesting one, and I'd be happy to look into that further to see what the data tells us on how much that happens and what happens to those pupils who are in that position.

Diolch. Dwi'n meddwl y byddai hwnna'n ddefnyddiol iawn, oherwydd, yn amlwg, mae'n rhaid inni gael ein gyrru gan y data, a dwi'n meddwl nad ydy pethau anecdotaidd felly ddim yn mynd i fod yn sail polisi—

Thank you. That would be very useful because we do need to be driven by the data and I think that anecdotal experience wouldn't be the basis for policy—

—wedyn mae gen i ddiddordeb mawr yn hynny.

—so I'd be very interested in that.

Gallaf i jest ddweud, ar y pwynt arall roeddech chi'n ei wneud, a gwnes i ddim ymateb iddo fe: rŷn ni wedi bod yn gwneud adjustments i Seren bron bob blwyddyn, a dweud y gwir, achos rŷn ni'n dysgu pethau o berfformiad pob un flwyddyn, ac mae'r ffocws dros y flwyddyn ddiwethaf wedi bod ar sicrhau bod cyrhaeddiad Seren mewn ysgolion yn cael ei wneud yn fwy strategol, os hoffwch chi. Yn y blynyddoedd cynnar, roedd e'n ddibynnol, i raddau, ar frwdfrydedd athrawon yn gweld y cyfle i'w disgyblion nhw mewn rhai ysgolion. Byddech chi efallai yn disgwyl hynny ar y cychwyn, ond, gan ein bod ni'n buddsoddi yn sylweddol iddo fe, rŷn ni eisiau sicrhau ein bod ni'n edrych yn strategol ar sut mae e'n cyrraedd a darparu cyfleoedd, yn benodol i'r rheini, fel roeddwn i'n trafod jest eiliad yn ôl, sydd efallai yn llai tebygol o weld y cyfle iddyn nhw oherwydd eu cyd-destun nhw ac efallai cyd-destun eu teuluoedd nhw. Felly, mae lens newydd nawr ar waith Seren i ymestyn yn benodol i ysgolion sydd yn darparu ar gyfer disgyblion fel hynny.

Can I just refer to another point that you made that I didn't respond to? We have been making adjustments to Seren almost every year, because we are learning from the performance of every year, and the focus over the previous year, or the last year, rather, has been on ensuring that Seren's reach into schools can be done more strategically, if you like. In the early years, it was, to an extent, reliant on the enthusiasm of teachers seeing opportunities for their pupils in some schools. You would expect that at the outset, but, as we are investing significantly in this now, we need to ensure that we are looking strategically at how it provides opportunities, specifically for those that we were discussing just a moment ago, who perhaps are less likely to identify that opportunity because of the context of their families or their background perhaps. So, there is a new lens in Seren now to extend specifically to schools that provide for such pupils.


Gwych, diolch. Gaf i ofyn hefyd o ran tracio dysgwyr o ran eu taith? Oherwydd un o'r pethau eraill efo Seren ydy bod yna nifer fawr yn pwysleisio mynd i brifysgol tu hwnt i Gymru, ac yn amlwg rydyn ni eisiau i bawb fod yn mynd i'r brifysgol gorau iddyn nhw, ond rydym ni hefyd yn gwybod ein bod ni angen pobl efo sgiliau yma yng Nghymru ar gyfer swyddi pwysig iawn. Oes yna waith yn cael ei wneud hefyd er mwyn sicrhau bod unrhyw ddysgwyr sydd wedi bod drwy'r rhaglen yna, sy'n mynd y tu hwnt i Gymru, ein bod ni wedyn yn parhau i fod mewn cysylltiad, a'r anogaeth i ddod nôl i Gymru felly, yn enwedig efo rhai o'r newidiadau sydd wedi bod efo ôl-radd, efallai, a rhai o'r grantiau sydd ar gael, jest er mwyn sicrhau dydyn ni ddim yn mynd i'w colli nhw am byth o Gymru?

Excellent, thank you. Can I also ask in terms of tracking pupils on their educational journey? Because another thing with Seren is that there is a greater emphasis on going to universities outwith Wales, and obviously we want everyone to go to the best university for them, but we also know that we need people with skills here in Wales to fill very important roles. So, is work being done in order to ensure that if any learners who've been through that programme do then leave Wales, that we do keep in touch with them and encourage them to return to Wales, particularly given some of the changes that have happened in terms of the grants for postgraduate education, just to ensure that we don't lose them forever from Wales?

Wel, jest i ddweud, dyw'r newidiadau yna ddim wedi cymryd effaith eto, jest i fod yn glir. Un o'r pethau sydd yn galonogol iawn am Seren, rwy'n credu, yw'r synnwyr yma fod rhwydwaith o gysylltiadau a pherthnasau yn cael eu datblygu hefyd. Felly, mae hynny yn gyfle i gynnal y cohort a chynnal cysylltiad gyda'r cohort, sydd wir yn bwysig.

Un o'r pethau rŷn ni wedi bod yn ei wneud mewn cyd-destun arall yw edrych ar—mae'r Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol yn ein helpu ni gyda hyn—sut gallwn ni ddatblygu rhwydwaith o gysylltiadau gyda myfyrwyr sy'n penderfynu mynd i astudio yn Lloegr neu yn yr Alban, er enghraifft, a wedyn yn benodol i'w hannog nhw i gysidro dod nôl i Gymru i ddysgu. Felly, mae hynny yn rhywbeth sydd eisoes ar y gweill. Rwy'n moyn cadw llygaid ar hwnnw i weld sut gallwn ni ddefnyddio'r llwyddiannau rŷn ni'n gobeithio eu gweld yn hwnnw i greu rhwydwaith ehangach ar gyfer y pwrpas hwnnw.

Well, just to say those changes haven't taken effect as of yet, just to be clear. One of the things that's very encouraging about Seren, I think, is that there is this concept of a network of relationships that's developed. That is a means of keeping touch with that cohort, which is so important.

One of the things that we've been doing in another context is to look at—the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol is helping us with this—how we can develop a network of links with students who decide to go and study in England or Scotland, for example, and then specifically encourage them to consider returning to Wales to teach. So, that's something that's already in train. I want to keep an eye on that to see how we can use the successes that we hope to see there to develop that wider network for that purpose.

Diolch. Gwnaf i symud ymlaen i'r cwestiynau dwi i fod i'w gofyn. [Chwerthin.] Os caf i ganolbwyntio—

Thank you. I'll move on to the questions I'm supposed to ask now. [Laughter.] If I could focus—

Hapus ateb unrhyw beth, ie.

I'm happy to answer any questions, of course.

—ar safonau o ran yr iaith Gymraeg, mi oedd Estyn efo ni wythnos diwethaf o ran craffu ar eu hadroddiad blynyddol nhw, ac fe fyddwch chi'n llwyr ymwybodol mai un o'r pethau yn yr adroddiad blynyddol roedden nhw'n cyfeirio ato fe oedd y darlun anghyson o ran y cynnydd mae dysgwyr yn ei wneud yn y Gymraeg mewn ysgolion cyfrwng Saesneg, yn aml. Dwi'n gwybod bod hyn yn rhywbeth rydyn ni wedi ei drafod ac ati, ond, o ystyried ein bod ni efo targed o gael 30 y cant sy'n hyfforddi i addysgu wneud hynny drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg ond dim ond yn cyrraedd 20 y cant, pa mor hyderus ydych chi bod y system addysg ar y trywydd iawn i wneud y cyfraniad at yr agenda 'Cymraeg 2050'?

—on standards in relation to the Welsh language, Estyn were with us last week and we were scrutinising their annual report, and you will be fully aware that one of the issues raised in that report was an inconsistent picture in terms of the progress that learners make in the Welsh language in English-medium schools. Now, I know that this is something that we have discussed in the past, but, given that we do have a target of having 30 per cent of those training to teach doing so through the medium of Welsh, but are only reaching 20 per cent, how confident are you that we're on the right trajectory to make the contribution to the 'Cymraeg 2050' agenda?

Wel, rwy yn hyderus ei fod e ar y trywydd iawn, ond y 'trywydd iawn' yw'r geiriau iawn i'w defnyddio, achos mae e'n heriol. Does dim dwywaith am hynny. Mae'n heriol i recriwtio athrawon i ddysgu'r Gymraeg neu drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Mae hwn wedi bod yn her ers amser. Ar un llaw, mae e'n subset, onid yw e, o'r her ehangach sydd yn fyd eang o ran recriwtio athrawon yn gyffredinol. Ond mae ffordd arall o edrych arno fe, rwy'n credu, sydd ddim jest yn ei weld e fel subset o her ehangach ond bod cyfle penodol i annog pobl yn benodol i ddod i ddysgu drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg, felly dyna'r peth rydyn i'n ceisio ei wneud.

Mae'r cynllun gweithlu 10 mlynedd—. Holl bwrpas hwnnw yw mynd i'r afael â hyn. Rŷn ni wedi ymrwymo i adrodd bob yn ail flwyddyn, rwy'n credu, i'r Senedd ar y cynnydd yn erbyn y nod hwnnw. Rwy wedi dweud, ac rŷn ni wedi trafod hyn yn y Siambr sawl gwaith, dwi ddim yn precious am y cynllun. Os oes pethau mae'r pwyllgor neu eraill yn meddwl dylwn ni fod yn cysidro a dŷn ni ddim, mae gwahoddiad ichi ysgrifennu atom ni, ac, os rydych chi'n clywed tystiolaeth sy'n awgrymu bod rhywbeth dylen ni fod yn meddwl amdano fe, plis ysgrifennwch atom ni. Mae hwn yn gwbl ymarferol. Felly, dyna beth byddwn i'n ei ddweud.

O ran pethau eraill rŷn ni'n gallu eu gwneud, ynghyd â recriwtio yn fwy cyffredinol, mae'r gwaith rŷn ni'n ei wneud gyda'r ganolfan ddysgu i greu cynllun o hyfforddiant proffesiynol yn y Gymraeg i athrawon i gynyddu eu hyfedredd nhw yn y Gymraeg yn bwysig, a'r gwersi am ddim yn rhan o hwnnw—dim ond rhan. Ond rwy'n credu beth sydd tu cefn i'r cwestiwn yw: mae gyda ni amcanion uchelgeisiol o ran y polisi miliwn o siaradwyr. Rŷn ni ar fin cyflwyno Bil, fel rŷn ni i gyd yn gwybod, a bwriad y Bil hwnnw yw cynyddu'r ddarpariaeth a chysoni safon y ddarpariaeth, i fod yn gwbl onest, ar draws ysgolion o bob cyfrwng, ond y fantais fwyaf, efallai, a gaiff ei deimlo mewn ysgolion cyfrwng Saesneg presennol. Ac rwy'n credu bod hynny wir yn bwysig, ein bod ni'n gosod yr uchelgais hwnnw, fel bod yr holl system yn gweithio yn yr un cyfeiriad tuag at hwnnw. 

Well, I am confident that we are on the right trajectory, but that's the correct terminology to use, because it is challenging. There's no doubt about that. It is challenging to recruit teachers to teach Welsh or through the medium of Welsh. This has been a challenge for quite some time. On the one hand, it's a subset of the broader, global challenge in terms of recruitment of teachers more generally. But there is another way of looking at it, which I think doesn't see it as a subset of a broader challenge, but that there is a particular opportunity to encourage people to teach through the medium of Welsh, and that's what we're seeking to do.

The 10-year workforce plan—. The whole purpose of that is to tackle this issue. We have committed to reporting biannually, I think, to the Senedd on progress against that target. I have said, and we've discussed this in the Chamber on a number of occasions, that I'm not precious about the plan. If there are things that the committee or others think we should be considering that we're not currently considering, then that's an invitation for you to write to us, and, if you hear evidence that suggests that there is something that we should be considering, then do please let us know. Because this works on an entirely practical basis. So, that would be my response.

In terms of the other things that we can do, as well as addressing recruitment more generally, the work that we're doing with the National Centre for Learning Welsh in terms of creating a professional development plan for teachers through the Welsh language and to increase their skills in the Welsh language is important, and the free lessons are part of that—only a part. But I think what underpins your question is that we do have ambitious objectives in terms of the million Welsh speakers policy. We're about to introduce a Bill, as we all know, and the intention of that Bill is to increase provision and to standardise provision across schools of all mediums, but the biggest benefit may be felt in our current English-medium schools. And I think that's very important, that we set down that ambition, so that the whole system is working in that same direction. 


Yn sicr, er dwi'n meddwl mi oedd Estyn yn pwysleisio'r esiamplau gwych sydd mewn ysgolion cyfrwng Saesneg—

Certainly, although I think Estyn did emphasise the excellent examples in some English-medium schools—

A dwi'n meddwl y cysondeb ydy'r peth. 

And I think it's consistency that we need to achieve. 

Just really quickly, I think it would be beneficial for committee, if possible, Minister, if you could just outline some of the things within that workforce plan that you are doing to encourage more people to come forward to teach in the medium of Welsh, particularly in core subjects. We've got a wonderful school coming in Monmouthshire—a new Welsh-medium school—and I'm just concerned there's going to be no-one to fill it. 

Well, the plan is a matter of public record. So, the plan sets out a range of interventions, both in terms of recruitment, professional learning and others. So, I'm very happy to do anything I can to help the committee have any further information it would find helpful, but the plan is pretty comprehensive and is in the public domain. 

Os caf fi jest ofyn i chi: yn 2019, mi wnaeth eich rhagflaenydd chi osod targed o gael 1,000 o bobl yn astudio Safon Uwch yn y Gymraeg, gan feddwl bod hyn yn mynd i fod yn bwysig eithriadol o ran y targed miliwn o siaradwyr Cymraeg. Mi oedd yna nifer o bethau—amrywiadau—yn ran o hynny, ond, eto, ers hynny, wedi gweld gostyngiad ydyn ni yn y nifer sy'n cymryd lefel-A drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg, a'r gostyngiad mwyaf yng Nghymraeg ail iaith. Mae hyn yn destun pryder i nifer fawr. A gaf ofyn, felly, Weinidog: faint o bryder ydy o i chi'n bersonol, a hefyd beth dŷn ni'n mynd i'w wneud i sicrhau ein bod ni'n stopio'r gostyngiad yma, yn enwedig gan feddwl bod yna ffocws wedi bod gan y Llywodraeth yn 2019 o ran hyn?

If I could just ask you: in 2019, your predecessor set a target of 1,000 people studying Welsh at A-level, thinking that this would be very important in terms of the target of a million Welsh speakers. Now, there were a number of variations related to that, but, since then, we've seen a reduction in the numbers studying Welsh at A-level, and the biggest reduction is in Welsh as a second language. And this is a cause of concern for many people. So, can I ask you, Minister: how much of a concern is it for you personally, and also what can we do to ensure that we do reverse this decline, particularly as there has been a focus from 2019 in Government on this issue?

Wel, mae nod penodol yn y cynllun gweithlu sydd yn annog cynnydd ar gyfer astudio lefel-A, oherwydd, fel rŷch chi'n gwybod, rŷn ni'n gwybod bod hwnnw mor bwysig i'r ddarpariaeth addysgol tu hwnt i hynny drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Felly, mae e wir yn bryder; wrth gwrs ei fod e. Ac rwy'n cael trafodaethau gyda phenaethiaid o bryd i'w gilydd mewn ardaloedd efallai lle dyw'r dwysedd o'r Gymraeg ddim yn uchel iawn ond mae gyda chi ddisgyblion sydd yn dymuno astudio lefel-A yn y Gymraeg, ond efallai dim digon i allu cynnal dosbarth.

Felly, fel rŷch chi'n gwybod, rŷn ni wedi nawr ymestyn y rhaglen e-sgol er mwyn gallu darparu ar gyfer yr enghreifftiau hynny. Ond un o'r pethau rŷn ni'n ei wneud yw hynny. Ond mae hynny yn dal yn nod inni yn y cynllun. 

Well, there's a specific aim in the workforce plan that encourages an increase in the numbers studying A-level, because, as you know, we know that that is so very important in terms of the education provision beyond that through the medium of Welsh. So, it is a real concern; of course it is. And I do have discussions with heads from time to time in areas where Welsh isn't as prominent but you do have pupils who do wish to study A-level in Welsh, but perhaps not enough to sustain a class.

So, as you know, we have now extended the e-sgol programme to provide for those examples. But that's just one of the things we're doing. But that is still an aim of ours in the plan. 

Dwi'n deall ei fod o'n nod, ond, yn amlwg, mae'r gostyngiad yn dal i ddigwydd rŵan. Felly, ydych chi mewn trafodaethau o ran ailedrych neu annog y cyd-bwyllgor addysg i fod yn edrych ar sut mae'r lefel-A yn cael ei ddysgu, neu gynnwys y pwnc, oherwydd mae hynny'n un o'r pryderon sydd wedi'i godi hefyd, fod pobl jest ddim eisiau'i gymryd o oherwydd dydyn nhw ddim yn ei ffeindio fo mor ddifyr â rai o'r pynciau eraill?

I understand that it's an objective or an aim, but the reduction is still happening. So, are you having discussions on encouraging the WJEC to look at how the A-level is taught, or the content of the syllabus, because that's one of the concerns that's also been raised, that people just don't want to take the subject because they don't find it as interesting as other subjects?

Ocê. Byddem ni'n hapus ysgrifennu ymhellach i chi ar y pwnc hwnnw yn benodol.

Okay. Well, we'd be happy to write to you further on that particular topic. 

Ie, diolch. Os caf fi ofyn wedyn o ran y data ynghylch asesiadau wedi'u personoli a gyhoeddwyd ym mis Tachwedd yn dangos dirywiad mewn sgiliau darllen disgyblion rhwng 2020-21 a 2022-23, yn enwedig yn y Gymraeg, lle roedd disgyblion 11 mis y tu ôl i garfannau blaenorol, o'i gymharu â Saesneg, lle roedd y disgyblion bedwar mis ar ei hôl hi, dwi'n gwybod y gwnes i ofyn i chi yn syth ar ôl cyhoeddi'r data yma, ond ydych chi wedi gallu rhoi ystyriaeth bellach i ddeall y rhesymau dros y gwahaniaeth hwn mewn perfformiad yn y Gymraeg a'r Saesneg, a beth ydych chi'n ei wneud i wella pethau'n gyffredinol, ond yn enwedig mewn darllen yn y Gymraeg?

Okay, thank you. If I could then move on, in terms of the personalised data assessments published in November showing a decline in pupils' reading skills between 2020-21 and 2022-23, particularly in Welsh, in which pupils were 11 months behind previous cohorts, compared to English, where pupils were four months behind, I know I asked you immediately after the publication of that data, but have you given any further consideration to understand the reasons for that difference in performance between Welsh and English, and what are you doing to improve things more generally, but particularly in reading in Welsh?

Wel, jest i ddweud, mi wnes i benderfynu cyhoeddi'r data. Doedd neb yn gwthio arnom ni i wneud hynny, ond roeddwn i'n credu ei bod hi wir yn bwysig ein bod ni'n gwneud hynny—

Just to say that I decided to publish that data. Nobody was pushing for that publication, but I thought it was very important that we did that—

—fel bod y drafodaeth genedlaethol yn un sydd yn seiliedig ar ddata, os hoffech chi, fel y pwynt roeddech chi'n ei wneud funud yn ôl. Felly, y cam rŷn ni wedi'i wneud ydy comisiynu Estyn i wneud adolygiad i ni o hyn ar draws y system yn gyffredinol, ac rwy'n disgwyl cael adroddiad cyn toriad yr haf. Felly, bydd gwybodaeth bellach yn dod i ni yn sgil hynny. 

Ond ddylen ni ddim fod yn synnu, rwy'n credu, ar un lefel, at y canlyniad hyn, am y rheswm canlynol: os ŷch chi mewn ysgol cyfrwng Cymraeg, rŷch chi'n fwy tebygol o fod mewn ysgol lle nad honno yw iaith yr aelwyd oherwydd bod cymaint o rieni sydd ddim yn medru’r Gymraeg yn danfon eu plant i addysg Gymraeg. Dyw hynny, wrth gwrs, ddim yn gymwys yn yr un ffordd i ysgolion cyfrwng Saesneg. Felly mae'r darlun hwnnw yn sicr yn rhan o'r ateb. Rwy'n credu bod pobl wedi colli’r cyfle i gael eu trochi yn y Gymraeg neu i ddefnyddio’r Gymraeg bob dydd yng nghyd-destun COVID. Mae hynny wedi, yn sicr, cael effaith, dwi'n credu, a fyddwn i ddim yn synnu o gwbl pe bawn ni'n cael canlyniad oddi wrth Estyn yn dweud mai dyna sydd wrth wraidd y gwahaniaeth yma. Mae'r gwaith rŷn ni wedi bod yn ei wneud i ymateb i'r pandemig, wrth gwrs, y buddsoddiad wnaethon ni o ran renew and reform, mae hwnnw hefyd yn ceisio mynd i'r afael â hyn, ond ar ddiwedd y dydd mae'r impact yn mynd i fod yn un, rwy'n credu, yn anffodus, eithaf hirdymor.

—so that we could have that national conversation that was based on data, and that relates back to a point that you made just a moment ago. So, the step we've taken is to commission Estyn to conduct a review of this across the system, and I'm expecting that report before the summer recess. So, there will be further information provided to us through that review. 

But we shouldn't be surprised on one level in terms of this outcome, because of this reason: if you're in a Welsh-medium school, you're more likely to be in a school where that's not the language spoken at home because so many parents who don't speak Welsh at home send their children to Welsh-medium education. Of course, doesn't apply in the same way to English-medium schools. So that picture is certainly part of the reason. People have not had the opportunity to be immersed in the Welsh language or use the Welsh language every day in the context of COVID. That's certainly had an impact, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Estyn were to come to the conclusion that that's what's at the heart of this discrepancy. But the work that we have done to respond to the pandemic, of course, and the investment that we made in terms of renew and reform, that also seeks to address this issue, but, at the end of the day, the impact, unfortunately, will be quite long term.


Gaf i ofyn, felly, oherwydd, yn amlwg, rydych chi wedi gweld, yn ôl sefyllfa RAAC ac ati, ysgolion efallai yn gorfod newid yn ôl i fod yn gweithio yn hybrid—? Meddwl am yr ysgol yng Nghaergybi ydw i, ond byddai o’n gallu bod am amryw o resymau yn y dyfodol fod cynllun hybrid sydd ei angen, a'r gwersi rydych chi wedi eu dysgu o COVID o ran sut byddem ni hefyd yn sicrhau—. Os ydyn ni erioed mewn sefyllfa gyffelyb, sut byddem ni yn gallu sicrhau y gefnogaeth o ran y sgiliau efallai sydd yn ddibynnol ar ddysgwyr yn gwneud rhywbeth yn unigol, ac yn amlwg gallu cael cefnogaeth yn y dosbarth? Yn amlwg, mae nifer o athrawon yn darllen yn wythnosol efo plant, onid ydyn, ac yn cael pobl i ddarllen yn uchel. O ran sicrhau ein bod ni hefyd yn edrych ar, pan fo'r arlwy’n gorfod bod yn ddigidol, am ba bynnag reswm, ein bod ni felly hefyd yn gallu dysgu, ydy hynny'n rhywbeth bydd Estyn yn gallu edrych arno fo a rhoi argymhellion i chi?

Can I ask, therefore, because, clearly, you will have seen, in terms of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, where schools have had to turn back to hybrid learning—? I'm thinking of that school in Holyhead, but it could be for any number of reasons in the future that a hybrid approach is required, and what are the lessons you've learned from COVID in terms of how we would ensure—? If we're ever in a similar situation, how could we ensure that that support is available in terms of those skills that are reliant on pupils working individually and being supported in the classroom to do that? Clearly, a number of teachers read on a weekly basis with children and get them to read out loud. So, in terms of looking at, if we should have to turn to digital again for any reason, that we can still also learn, is that something that Estyn will be able to look at?

Wel, mae gyda ni ymchwil sydd yn ymateb i hynny yn barod, actually. Ydy e’n rhywbeth cyhoeddus y gallwn ni ei rannu gyda'r pwyllgor?

Well, we have research that looks at that already. Is that on the public record?

Dwi ddim yn siŵr ar hyn o bryd, ond gallwn ni ysgrifennu, yn sicr, atoch chi o ran yr ymchwil hwnnw, a hefyd dwi'n meddwl bod yna ganllawiau clir yn eu lle yn dilyn y pandemig o ran os yw rhywbeth, er enghraifft fel sefyllfa Caergybi, yn digwydd, sut dŷn ni, yr awdurdod lleol a'r ysgol yn mynd ati i sicrhau nad yw’r dysgwyr yn colli ac ati. So, mae'r canllawiau yna ar gael hefyd, a hapus iawn i rannu y rheini gyda chi.

I'm not sure at the moment, but we could certainly write to you in terms of that research, and I think there's also clear guidance in place following the pandemic in terms of, if a situation such as the one that happened in Holyhead does occur, how we, the local authority and the school ensure that the learners don't lose out. So, that guidance is available, and I'm more than happy to share that with you.

Thank you, Heledd. Diolch, Heledd. We have some questions now from Ken Skates. Ken.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister, good morning. I'm going to ask about regional consortia and school improvement. Your immediate two predecessors were the architects of regional working in terms of school improvement, and that came as a consequence of the Hill report about 10 years ago that found that arrangements for local authority school improvement functions were—I think the exact quote was 'profoundly unsatisfactory'. How would you therefore summarise the extent to which progress has been made in school improvement over the last decade under the regional working model, and do you believe that those functions and arrangements were better in 2023 than they were in 2013, when the Hill report was published?

I think the world—[Inaudible.] In the decade since the 2013 reforms were introduced, there have been substantial levels of reform across our school system, and the reason I established the review of the roles and responsibility of our education partners generally was, I guess, a recognition of the increasing complexity in our education system and, really, an absolute priority to making sure that our education system and, specifically, the school improvement support available, are fit for the future, and I just think it's very important that we keep that under periodic review.

So, the purpose of the review, as you will know, is to do with a few things: firstly, to identify what works well in the current system, and how we might improve that; secondly, to review and respond to the range of experiences that school leaders and others have of the existing arrangements, and then being very clear sighted about what's needed for the future. The context from 2013 has changed immeasurably, and that's not just about reform, it's about the kind of society that schools are serving and the budgets that they're working to as well. What I'm absolutely clear about, and I think this is implicit in your question, is that the answer isn't 22 school improvement services. But I think it's also important to recognise that the increasing complexity of the education landscape can itself be a barrier. What the review has picked up, in all candour, is a set of experiences that absolutely reflect and chime with what we've been told by the OECD, Estyn and the Sibieta report on funding. So, there's a consistent picture, I think, about the need for reform.


Thanks for your answer. You're probably aware that Estyn's chief inspector was indeed with us last week. He told us that self evaluation is still not strong enough, and that Estyn are observing schools doing this poorly in many areas. The OECD has never—as far as I'm aware—raised any concerns about the regional model. Are you able to tell us how you believe that school improvement at a national level and via 22 local authorities will be better than the current arrangements? Is it the case that local authorities, if they choose to maintain the regional consortia, would be able to?

As I've just said, it won't be 22 local authorities doing it; there will be an expectation that local authorities work together in partnership in order to do what we've just been talking about. I think the opportunity for us in the reforms is to strengthen school-to-school working, which, as I was talking about earlier in relation to the attainment champions, has been actually—. There is really effective practice of it. I think what we need to make sure is that school-to-school working, which was at the heart, as I recall, of the original reforms and hasn't perhaps been as prevalent as we would have hoped, is strengthened, and that there is, alongside that, a clear national set of expectations that then underpin that work at a school-to-school level.

But just to be absolutely clear, the outcome of this process is not 22 school improvement services, and there is an expectation that local authorities will work together. What we have done, though, is to recognise that the set of messages we were getting from partners right across the system was so consistent that I decided it wasn't a useful thing to continue the review until March. We just needed to get on with implementing what we were being told. So, we're in a period now of co-design between ourselves and the local authorities that will put in place the new arrangements for partnership working after that.

Thank you. Just on the point of co-design, is this being conducted in social partnership with the teaching profession and also the unions? And just looking further now to the next phase of Professor Jones's review of roles and responsibilities for education partners and the delivery of school improvement, you say there won't be 22, and that there will be an expectation of partnership. How many would be the ideal number, moving forward, and do you envisage any role for the regional consortia in future arrangements? I believe that there are something in the order of 350 to 400 improvement officers that could be facing significant change and, indeed, redundancy. Do you anticipate any job losses, or will there be opportunities in the new model, moving forward, for them?

The work of school improvement still needs to be done. The question is how you do that. The capacity in the system for delivery of school improvement is not going to change—it's going to be needed, isn't it? I don't have in mind a particular number; I'm not entirely sure that's the best way of looking at it. What we currently have is quite a mixed picture, isn't it? We have regional consortia that comprise six local authorities, and then we have, actually, one local authority that's outside any arrangement. So, I think it's a very variable picture at the moment, and I think there is scope, probably, for some more consistency.

But I think, just to reassure you, the role of the national coherence group that I'm establishing is to make sure that we have that rational Wales-wide picture, co-designed with our partners. Obviously, that includes trade unions and local education authorities. I guess, really, it's about making sure that we marry that school-to-school support at the one end of the spectrum, if you like, with the clear recognition that what we are delivering is a Curriculum for Wales at the other end, so there's a set of very clear national expectations that go with that, and then making sure the school improvement services operate at a level of scale that can deliver what they need to deliver, that schools find useful and helpful and that best supports that overall picture.


Thank you. Just picking up on the funding distribution that you mentioned, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I believe that there are 20 grants going through five partnerships or consortia. That will move to four pots and 10 grant lines going through 22 local authorities. Is that correct? Is there any risk of variance across Wales with the new model? And also, just in terms of the bureaucracy—we always hear from headteachers about the bureaucracy regarding their spending on school improvement—will bureaucracy be eased, do you believe, moving forward? And then, just finally, on rurality and Welsh-medium provision, do you believe that that's been appropriately factored in to the new streamlined funding system?

Yes. I think the broad answer to—. Well, let's take a step back. We had about, I think, from memory, 24 or 25 separate grants, each of which required separate reporting, separate accounting, separate administration. So, part of the thinking, but only part of the thinking, about creating four large grants is exactly your point, Ken, which is to make sure that we are streamlining the administrative burdens on schools and local authorities about how they report on those grants, but also, and I think probably more importantly, providing more flexibility and more scope for creativity, perhaps, in terms of how the objectives are met. The outcomes are still going to be the same outcomes, but they can be delivered in more flexible ways. And, as we will know, what much of this funding is used for is to recruit and retain people, so it provides that extra assurance, I hope.

The point you make in the context of the consortia is important, because the funding is now directed to local authorities, but the terms and conditions for the elements of the grant that support the current school improvement arrangements will specify that the current arrangements need to be supported until they're replaced, so that stability is there in the system.

On the Welsh language point, you're right to identify that as a priority. That's why one of the four grants is dedicated specifically to 'Cymraeg 2050' and the contribution of education to delivering that outcome. All those grants have been brought together into that one larger 'Cymraeg 2050' grant.

Thank you. So, there's no risk, in 2024-25, of Welsh-medium schools losing out as a result of the changes to the funding system. 

No. I would say, actually, that the reforms will strengthen that provision, and that sits alongside, of course, our very extensive capital programme as well, which will continue to be in place.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Minister, I want to talk about the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research to start. One thing I am interested in is why there's been a delay in transferring powers to the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research. Do you think the four-month delay is enough of a time period to sort out any issues that there currently are?

Yes, I do. I think there are two aspects, aren't there? April is the first of two stages, if I can put it like that. So, from April, we will see the commission beginning to prepare its strategic plan, we'll be beginning the work of designing the new regulatory registration system, they'll be moving into their new headquarters, they'll be taking over the operating systems, and so that's the physical manifestation, if you like, of the new commission. The associate members of the board will begin to be appointed from May onwards, so I think that's the first of the two stages. The delay has been solely a factor of the complexity of the existing legal and regulatory environment, and transferring that into the new commission. That has proven even more complex than we anticipated, I think, but I'm confident that the four-month delay will be sufficient for us to be able to address that. And to be clear, we're talking to partners about this, and it's been welcomed; everyone recognises the key thing is that we do this in a way that ensures a smooth transition. And so I think people have been, I hope, reassured by that. 


In January, you told us that the statement of priorities for CTER—I'm going to use the acronym, because it will save me getting tongue-tied—would be published by February. It’s yet to be published. I'm just interested in when you think that statement of priorities is going to be published by the Government. Do you think it gives enough time for the commission to set out its strategic plan?

The exclusive I can give the committee is that it's going to be published today. I was hoping it would have been published by today, but we haven't been able to do that. But it will be published today, and I think it does absolutely provide enough time for the commission to be able to respond to it. You'll see it shortly, but it's a five-year statement, and I look forward to seeing the commission's response in due course. 

Lovely. I wonder if you can give us another exclusive then, Minister, because I'm wondering when the funding letter is also going to be published—the commission's funding letter ahead of when it's developing that strategic plan. Do you have any idea when that's going to be published by the Government? 

Lovely. You said earlier you'd answer any question, so I'm going to take the opportunity to ask you a couple now. I was in a meeting with Crickhowell High School the other day with some learners who were talking about politics, and they had a question for me that should probably be directed to you. I told them that we were having this freestyle session where we could ask different questions. So, I thought I'd put it to you. They wanted to know about sport and physical activity in school and where that sits in the priority list for the Welsh Government on top of the academic stuff. Because we all know that sport and physical activity in school helps with academic performance. It also helps with mental health and well-being. I said I'd film this question and send it to the Minister, so if you could let me know where that sits in the priorities for the Welsh Government, I'd be very pleased to hear. 

It's really important, isn't it? I completely acknowledge the point that you're making that physical well-being is a key way of supporting mental well-being and performance, not just from an academic point of view but in the breadth of experiences that we want young people to have in the school. So, I can reassure pupils at Crickhowell High that it's an important priority, and I think, actually, that's why it's hardwired into the new curriculum as a key element. 

Can I just come in on that? It's a really good question that those pupils had asked. At the moment, there's 1.5 hours in the timetable of physical activity for children and young people a week. Do you think that's sufficient? School facilities in terms of sporting facilities vary greatly right across Wales, mainly between urban and rural areas. Is that something that you're concerned about and looking to address? And also, with the new community schools that are being built now, I love the move to community schools, but there are a lot of problems in opening those schools up after hours, and they're not being opened up as you'd like to see and I'd like to see. So, can you just talk about that as well, please? 

Yes, of course. What was the first part of your question? The 1.5 hours. I don't have a view on timetabling; I think that's a matter for heads to determine based on how they can best deliver the entire curriculum. But clearly, we want to make sure that young people are getting the full range of opportunities to take part in sport in schools. I think the programme that we have in Wales—which is, frankly, unmatched in any other part of the UK—to invest in the fabric of our schools is something we should all be proud of, and the effect of that is that more and more schools, year on year, are having sports facilities that we can all be incredibly proud of. I was in a school a few weeks ago in a rural community that had, I think, probably the best sporting facilities of any school I'd seen anywhere in Wales; it was quite extraordinary. So, I don't recognise the point that you're making in that sense, but I'm sure we all want to make sure—

That's very general. There are big differences between schools, aren't there, in terms of sporting facilities? 

I'm giving you an example of a school in a rural community that had what I'm certain were the best sporting facilities I'd seen in any school. So, I don't think that picture is quite as straightforward as you paint it. I think you are right to say we need to make sure that schools are able to provide their facilities to the community. The capital element of the community-focused schools programme is very, very significant as a consequence of that—I think it's worth £20 million in the year ahead—and schools are taking advantage of that both to make modest changes but also more substantial changes. Some of it is around reconfiguring the existing estate to make it easier for the public to come in and out without being part of the larger school footprint, but other things are about extra facilities, so that is being well used, I think. The broader question is: how do we make sure that the best practice that we see in many schools is shared more widely? I think there’s guidance that we’ve provided to schools very recently, and we’re doing a piece of work to make sure that we understand where the resistance is to this happening more broadly. It will depend on, probably too much, the appetite of the head or the governing body to do it, and I would like that to be less of a factor and for it to be more integral.

As with all changes to education, there’s an understandable concern that people think, ‘Oh, this is yet another thing that we have to do’, and I think we’ve developed a bit of a culture around that, haven’t we? My argument is that this actually helps with a number of the other priorities that we have, as both your questions, I think, imply. So, having that holistic view of how this can contribute to other priorities is the better way of looking at it, I think.


I've got two more questions from the school, and then one from myself. So, the other one from the school was about the rural schools code, and about protection for rural schools in rural areas. We are seeing, still, rural schools closing, contrary to the code that my predecessor in my constituency, Kirsty Williams, put in place. A lot of pupils want to know what more and what strengths can the Welsh Government add to that code to protect our rural schools, because they are still closing across Wales, regardless of that code being in place. 

Well, they shouldn't be happening regardless of the code, because the code needs to be taken into account, but what the code doesn't do is provide an absolute prohibition on the closure of a school, and nor could it, nor should it do that. I think the code strikes a positive balance that requires an additional level of engagement and planning before decisions can be taken, but ultimately our school system in Wales is one where those choices are driven by the elected representatives serving their communities in local authorities. So, we’ve provided an extra layer of protection, but that wasn’t ever intended to be an absolute prohibition on those choices that sometimes have to be made.

Okay. And the second question they had was: what discussion have you had with local authorities about including an element in the curriculum about food education and educating young people about where their food comes from? Especially with what's going on here today, I think it's quite a poignant question to ask you.

That is already part of the curriculum. It's part of the statements of 'what matters'. It's—I was about to say 'baked in', which I think is—. It's baked into the curriculum as it is. I was in a school last week in Monmouthshire, talking to them about some of the ways in which they provide school food across the county, which I found very exciting, and it essentially means that ingredients are bought in at a school level and prepared and cooked in school, rather than being bought in as finished products. I think that is great, and it is a really positive way of connecting children with the origins of food.

I think there’s a really, really big opportunity for us here in Wales with the expansion, in particular, of universal primary free school meals, and also the increasing awareness of the importance of a connection between our understanding of how food gets from farm to fork, if you like. I think there’s an exciting opportunity for the agriculture sector in Wales as part of that. I think the focus we’ve had in the last two years, as part of the co-operation agreement, is to roll out universal primary free school meals, which we’re doing on track, which is fantastic—and thank you to all the authorities working with us on that—and the next chapter in that now, I think, is connecting up that approach to food across schools, public services and the Welsh economy more broadly, which is why I think it’s an exciting opportunity for the agriculture sector as well. 

And my final question, Cadeirydd, and this one's from me. We're halfway through the Senedd term now, education Minister. You've been education Minister consistently through that time. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on things that you're proud of in your time as education Minister, and also the things that you're not so proud of, and things that perhaps Welsh Government could have done differently. I'm just interested in your views on that. And I don't work for the BBC, before you say—[Laughter.]

Well, I think I'm proud of the—. It's a theme of the questioning today, Chair, if I may. I'm proud of the focus that we have brought to addressing, in particular in the context of COVID, but more broadly than that, the attainment gap in our schools, and the renewed and cross-portfolio approach that we've taken to that. So, I'm very proud of the rigour of that work. I suppose what I would like to see is that bearing fruit more quickly, but I think one of the challenges that I've discovered in being education Minister is that the reforms that you bring in take some time to bear fruit. That's, I think, inevitable and understood, but also a source of frustration. I don't think it's anything that any of us can do anything about; it's how education works, I think. I hope that answers your question.


Thank you. Thank you, Jeremy. I think we've got a question now from Ken Skates.

Thanks, Chair. Thanks, Minister. Two quick questions following on from the final budget that was published. Within that, there was £14.4 million allocated to the RSG. You'll be aware of particularly acute problems surrounding school budgets in certain parts of Wales—indeed, in large parts of Wales. How much flexibility is there going to be for that money to be spent? Would you encourage it to go to the front line, to schools' budgets? Thank you.

Do you mean the funding in the RSG fiscal budget? Is that the point you're making?

Well, as you know, that's unhypothecated, so that will be a choice for local authorities to make. But I'm absolutely clear that local authorities right across Wales recognise the pressures that schools are under—school budget pressures—and I think there will be a clear recognition of the need to respond to that. We've also been able to make sure, as you will be aware, that the funding that I provide through the grants, which we touched on earlier, actually has ended up being at a slightly higher level than the indicative budget that we gave. I think that's, I hope, a recognition by others of the priority that we attach to making sure schools have as much resource as we can provide.

Os caf i ddychwelyd at y pryderon rydym wedi'u trafod amryw o weithiau o ran presenoldeb, neu absenoldeb o'r ysgol, ar y funud, yn amlwg, mae yna heriau aruthrol o ran safonau os ydy dysgwyr ddim yn yr ysgol. Roeddech chi'n sôn o ran cydweithio ar draws y Cabinet, yn amlwg, un o'r pethau sydd wedi bod yn cael eu hadolygu ydy'r Mesur Teithio gan Ddysgwyr (Cymru) 2008. Byddwch chi'n ymwybodol bod nifer o gynghorau neu awdurdodau lleol oedd yn mynd tu hwnt i'r hyn oedd ei angen rŵan yn edrych i fod yn cyflwyno'n statudol oherwydd yr heriau ariannol arnyn nhw. Gaf i ofyn pa drafodaethau ydych chi wedi'u cael efo'r Dirprwy Weinidog efo'r cyfrifoldeb o ran y Mesur teithio? Lle ydyn ni arni o ran hynny? Ydych chi'n gweld cysylltiad rhwng hynny â rhai o'r heriau rydyn ni'n eu hwynebu o ran cael dysgwyr nôl i'r ysgol yn dilyn COVID, ond hefyd yng nghyd-destun yr argyfwng costau byw?

If I could return to those concerns that we've discussed a number of times in terms of school attendance and absence, clearly, there are currently huge challenges in terms of standards if learners aren't attending school. You mentioned collaboration across the Cabinet, clearly, one of the things that's been reviewed is the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008. You will be aware that many local authorities that did go beyond the requirements of the Measure are now looking at just delivering on a statutory basis because of the financial challenges that they face. So, can I ask you what discussions you have had with the Deputy Minister who has responsibility for the learner travel Measure? Where are we in terms of that? Do you see a link between that and some of the challenges that we have seen in terms of pupil attendance following COVID, but also in the context of the cost-of-living crisis?

O ran y cysylltiad rhwng absenoldeb a thrafnidiaeth, dyna un o'r pethau y gwnaethom ni eu trafod yn y tasglu diwethaf. Mae angen gwneud darn o waith i weld beth yw'r cysylltiad—mae'n teimlo'n synhwyrol bod cysylltiad, wrth gwrs, ond i weld yn union beth yw'r impact—a faint mae hynny'n cyfrannu i'r darlun ehangach yw'r cwestiwn sydd yn llai clir. Mae'n amlwg bod rhyw gysylltiad, wrth gwrs, ond beth yn union yw'r impact, dyw hynny ddim cweit mor glir. Felly, mae darn o waith rydym ni wedi penderfynu ei wneud ar hynny. 

O ran y cwestiwn ynglŷn â'r Mesur, dydyn ni ddim yn gweld cyfle i ddiwygio'r Mesur yn y tymor byr oherwydd pwysau ar yr amserlen ddeddfwriaethol, ond mae gwaith yn digwydd i gryfhau'r canllawiau sydd ar gael ac y mae gofyn i'r cynghorau ymateb iddyn nhw. Felly, mae'r gwaith hwnnw, rwy'n credu, yn digwydd ar hyn o bryd. Dwi ddim yn cofio cweit beth yw'r dyddiad rydym ni'n bwriadu anelu tuag ato fe, ond rwy'n hapus i gadarnhau hynny ar wahân.

In terms of the link between absence and transport, this is one of the things that we discussed at the last taskforce meeting. A piece of work needs to be done to see what the link is—it feels sensible that there is a link, of course, but to see exactly what that impact is—and how much that contributes to the bigger picture is what's less clear. Clearly, there is a connection, but what exactly is the impact of that, that isn't quite as clear. So, there's a piece of work that we've decided to do on that.

In terms of your question on the Measure, we don't see an opportunity to amend the Measure in the short term because of pressures on the legislative timetable, but there is work happening to strengthen the guidance that is available and that local authorities have to adhere to. That work is ongoing, I believe. I don't remember exactly which date we're aiming for, but I'd be happy to confirm that separately.

Diolch. Oes amserlen o ran y gwaith rydych chi wedi'i gomisiynu, i ni gael deall y data, felly, o ran—

Thank you. Is there a timetable in terms of the work that you've commissioned, so that we can understand the data, therefore, in terms—

Byddwn i'n meddwl cyn yr haf, yn sicr, o ran y gwaith penodol hwnnw, bydd modd rhannu rhywbeth gyda chi ymhellach.

I would anticipate before the summer, certainly, in terms of that specific work, that we will be able to share something with you.

Diolch. Oherwydd un o'r pethau yw y bydd rhai o'r newidiadau gan gynghorau yn dod i rym un ai ar 1 Ebrill neu yn y flwyddyn academaidd newydd, felly mae'n mynd i fod yn anodd gwybod mewn rhai siroedd lle mae'r effaith o ran newid. Ond efallai ei fod yn gyfle hefyd i fynd nôl at y data er mwyn i ni ddeall hynny.

Thank you. Because some of the changes made by councils may come into force either from 1 April or in the next academic year, so it's going to be difficult to know in some counties where the impact of the change has been. But perhaps it's an opportunity too for us to return to the data to understand that clearly.

O ran y gwaith sydd wedi bod o ran tlodi plant, yn amlwg roedd nifer o argymhellion gan y tasglu yn yr haf hefyd oedd yn gysylltiedig efo addysg, a chostau yn gysylltiedig efo addysg yn benodol felly. Faint o waith pellach sydd yn mynd rhagddo er mwyn deall y cysylltiad hwnnw rhwng tlodi a phresenoldeb, er mwyn i ni fod yn sicrhau mai'r ymyriadau yw'r rhai mwyaf priodol? Oherwydd, yn amlwg, rydyn ni'n llwyr gefnogol o brydau ysgol am ddim, ond os nad ydy dysgwyr yn yr ysgol i fanteisio ar y prydau hynny, mae hwnna'n rhywbeth sydd yn bryder hefyd. Felly, dim ond er mwyn deall pa waith sydd yn dod er mwyn i ni gael darlun cliriach.

In terms of the work that's been done in the context of child poverty, clearly there were a number of recommendations made by the taskforce in the summer that were related to education, and the costs relating to education specifically. How much further work is happening in order to understand that link between poverty and school attendance, so that we can ensure that the most appropriate interventions are in place? Because, clearly, we're fully supportive of free school meals, but if pupils aren't at school to take advantage of those free school meals, then that is a concern too. So, I think we just need to understand what work is being done to give us a clearer picture of that. 


Rwy'n credu y byddai'n ddefnyddiol, efallai, inni wneud adroddiad o bryd i'w gilydd ar waith y tasglu, achos mae lot o'r pethau yma'n rhan o agenda barhaus y tasglu. Felly, efallai gwnawn ni ddatganiad yn y Senedd ar hynny, neu ysgrifennu atoch chi. Ond yr ateb dros dro, os caf i, yw—. Mae'n glir, rwy'n credu, o'r trafodaethau rŷn ni wedi eu cael yn barod, fod y darlun o ran y berthynas rhwng tlodi ar yr un llaw ac absenoldeb ar y llaw arall yn fwy cymhleth nag oedd e cyn cyfnod COVID.

Felly, dyma fy nadansoddiad i o hyn. Mae'r patrwm rŷn ni wedi'i weld ers cyfnod, y correlation rhwng bod yn gymwys ar gyfer prydau bwyd am ddim ar yr un llaw ac absenoldeb yn fwy—mae mwy o gysylltiad wedi bod yn hanesyddol yn hynny o beth. Ond mae hynny nawr wedi cael ei ymestyn a'i ategu, efallai, gan cohort o blant sydd ddim yn gymwys am brydau bwyd am ddim, sydd ddim yn dod o gefndiroedd difreintiedig, ond sydd hefyd yn absennol. Ac mae rhesymau cymhleth am hynny, yn rhannol, rŷn ni'n credu, yn sgil impact COVID—impact iechyd COVID—hynny yw, iechyd meddwl, gorbryder, ond hefyd efallai llai o fynediad at wasanaethau yn ystod cyfnod COVID ac effaith mwy hirdymor hynny. Roeddwn i'n sôn yn gynharach am safbwyntiau teuluol tuag at addysg a phresenoldeb. Mae hynny'n llawer mwy cymhleth rwy'n credu na sefyllfa sosioeconomaidd pobl. Dwi ddim yn credu bod tystiolaeth gennym ni sy'n disgrifio cysylltiad rhwng y ddau beth hynny. Felly, mae'n ddarlun eithaf nuanced yn hynny o beth.

I think it might be useful for us, perhaps, to report on the work of the taskforce from time to time, because much of this is part of the ongoing agenda of the taskforce. So, perhaps we can make a statement in the Senedd on that, or I can write to you. But the pro tem answer, if I may, is—. It's clear, I believe, from the discussions that we've already had, that the picture in terms of the relationship between poverty on the one hand and pupil absence on the other is more complex than it was pre-COVID.

So, this is my analysis of this. The pattern that we've seen for some time, the correlation between being eligible for free school meals on the one hand and greater absence—there has been a greater link historically in that regard. But that has now been extended and exacerbated, perhaps, by a cohort of children who don't qualify for free school meals, who don't come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but who are also absent. And there are complex reasons behind that, partly, we believe, related to the impact of COVID—the health impact of COVID—that is, mental health, anxiety, but also perhaps reduced access to services during COVID and the more long-term impact of that. I mentioned earlier families' attitudes towards education and attendance. That's far more complex, I think, than the socioeconomic situation people find themselves in. I don't think we have evidence that makes a link between those two things. So, it's quite a nuanced picture in that regard. 

Mi oeddech chi'n sôn yn gynharach nad ydy o'n fuddiol bob amser efo PISA i gymharu efo gwledydd eraill, ond mi oeddech chi'n sôn ynglŷn â phwysigrwydd edrych yn rhyngwladol hefyd. A gaf i ofyn am hyn, oherwydd yn amlwg mae COVID wedi effeithio ledled y byd? O ran y modelau gwahanol sydd yna o ran addysg ac ati, faint o waith sydd yn cael ei wneud i edrych ar gymariaethau rhyngwladol a hefyd i edrych ar ddata cymariaethol er mwyn inni weld nid jest drwy PISA, ond o ran pethau eraill fel presenoldeb ac ati sydd ddim yn cael eu mesur drwy PISA? 

You mentioned earlier that it's not always beneficial in terms of PISA to make comparisons with other nations, but you mentioned the importance of looking internationally too. Can I ask you about this, because clearly COVID has had an impact across the globe? In terms of the different models of education and so on, how much work is being done in order to look at international comparators and also looking at comparative data, so that we can see not just through PISA, but in terms of the bigger picture in terms of things like attendance and so on that aren't measured through PISA? 

Dwi'n hapus i ddelio gyda hwnna. So, mae yna wastad trafodaethau a gwaith sy'n mynd ymlaen. Yn sicr mae yna nifer o rwydweithiau rhyngwladol rydyn ni'n rhan ohonynt, so mae ARC yn un, mae'r gwaith gyda'r OECD, felly mae'r trafodaethau yna'n parhau i drio dysgu o ran beth sy'n gweithio a hefyd yr heriau sydd yn heriau cyffredinol ar draws y system, fel dywedodd y Gweinidog gynnau. Dyw e ddim jest yn broblem ac yn her o fewn y Deyrnas Unedig. Mae absenoldeb a phresenoldeb yn broblem ehangach. Felly, mae'r trafodaethau, mae'r dysgu yna yn digwydd yn barhaus er mwyn i ni drio gweld—. Mae wastad yn anodd i gymryd beth sydd efallai'n gweithio mewn un wlad ac un cyd-destun ac i sicrhau bod hwnna'n gweithio mewn cyd-destun gwahanol. Ond mae syniadau'n dod i'r amlwg drwy'r amser o ran hynny. 

I'm happy to deal with that. There are always discussions and work going on. Certainly there are a number of international networks that we're part of, so ARC is one, the work with the OECD, so those discussions are ongoing in order to learn from what works elsewhere, and also what the challenges are that are shared challenges across the system, as the Minister said earlier. It's not just a challenge and a problem with the United Kingdom. Attendance and absence are a broader problem internationally. So, those discussions, that learning happen on an ongoing basis so that we can try and identify—. It's always difficult to take what may work in one context and in one nation and to ensure that that can work in a different context. But there are always ideas coming forward in that regard. 

Diolch. Os caf fi ofyn un cwestiwn arall o ran ieithoedd modern neu ieithoedd amgen i Gymraeg a Saesneg. Yn amlwg rydyn i wedi gweld gostyngiad yn y niferoedd sy'n cymryd hynny hefyd. Mi oedd gen i grŵp trawsbleidiol yn edrych ar hyn ddoe. Ond mae pryder mawr gan y rheini sy'n gweithio yn y sector o weld y diffyg cyfle o fewn rhai ysgolion i ddysgwr fod yn cymryd y pynciau hyn, ond hefyd y diffyg yn y nifer sy'n cymryd y pynciau. A gaf i ofyn, felly, o ran sicrhau ein bod ni'n cadw'r safonau yna hefyd, pa waith sy'n cael ei wneud o ran gweithio efo ysgolion i sicrhau ein bod ni'n parhau i gael pobl amlieithog yn dod drwy'r system addysg? A faint o bryder ydy o i chi weld y gostyngiad ar y funud yn y niferoedd sy'n cymryd y pynciau hyn? 

Thank you. If I could ask one further question in terms of modern languages or languages other than English and Welsh. Clearly, we've seen a reduction in the numbers studying those subjects. I had a cross-party group looking at this just yesterday. But there's a great concern among those working in the sector in seeing the lack of opportunity within some schools for learners to be studying these subjects, but also the lack of uptake in terms of the subjects too. Can I ask you, therefore, in terms of ensuring that we maintain those standards, what work is being done in working with schools to ensure that we continue to bring multilingual pupils through our education system? And how much of a concern is it for you to see the reduction in the numbers studying these subjects?


Wel, mae dwy ran i'r cwestiwn hwn. Dydw i ddim yn credu, o'r tro diwethaf y gwnes i edrych ar y data—byddai'n rhaid imi edrych eto i gael y manylion diweddaraf—fod yna her o ran y safonau. Hynny yw, pan fydd pobl yn cymryd y pynciau yma, mae’r safonau yn gyson. Yr her yw nifer y bobl sy’n cymryd y pynciau. Un o’r pethau y tu cefn i hynny yw argaeledd athrawon i ddysgu'r ieithoedd hynny. Mae’r ffigurau yn dangos gostyngiad o ran Ffrangeg a Sbaeneg, er enghraifft, ond gostyngiad llawer mwy serth o ran Almaeneg, yn benodol. Felly, mae’r heriau ychydig yn wahanol. Rŷn ni'n dal yn cynnig cymhellion ariannol i bobl astudio i fod yn athrawon yn y meysydd yma. Rydw i’n gobeithio bod hynny’n cael rhyw elfen o effaith. Ond yn debyg ddigon yw’r her yr oeddwn yn sôn amdani yn gynharach o ran y Gymraeg. Un o’r pethau sydd yn bwysig ei wneud yw sicrhau bod pobl yn astudio’r pynciau hyn a wedyn eu bod nhw ar gael i fod yn athrawon i ddysgu’r pynciau yma. Felly, mae gyda ni raglenni mewn ysgolion cynradd a rhaglenni mentora mewn ysgolion uwchradd, gyda myfyrwyr yn gweithio gydag ysgolion—myfyrwyr sydd mewn prifysgolion yn astudio Ffrangeg, dyweder—ac yn mentora a chydweithio gydag ysgolion yn hyn o beth. Mae gwaith hefyd ar y gweill gyda’r Brifysgol Agored yn hyn o beth.

Felly, mae initiatives gyda ni yn y maes, ond mae’n heriol. Mae’n ddarlun heriol. Nid bod hyn yn esgus, ond dyw e ddim yn rhywbeth sy’n benodol i Gymru; mae’n rhywbeth sy’n llawer ehangach o fewn Prydain. Nid yw’n her yn yr un ffordd, efallai, mewn gwledydd eraill yn Ewrop oherwydd bod y diwylliant ieithyddol yn llawer mwy aeddfed, y byddwn i'n dweud.

There are two parts to that question, I think. I don't think that, from the last time that I looked at the data—I'd need to look again to get the latest details—there's a challenge in terms of standards. When people study these subjects, the standards are consistent. The challenge is in the numbers taking up the subjects. One of the things underpinning that is the availability of teachers to teach those languages. The figures do demonstrate a reduction in terms of French and Spanish, for example, but a far steeper decline in terms of German, particularly. So, the challenges are slightly different for those different subjects. We still offer financial incentives for people to train to become teachers in these subjects, and hopefully that is having some impact. But it is similar to the challenge that I mentioned earlier in terms of the Welsh language. One of the things that it is important to do is to ensure that people do study these subjects and are available to become teachers in these subjects. So, we do have programmes in primary schools and mentoring schemes in secondary schools, with university students—let's say they are studying French—mentoring and working with schools. There is also work ongoing with the Open University in this area too. 

So, we do have initiatives in this area, but it is challenging. It's a challenging picture. This is not in any way an excuse, but the issue is not specific to Wales; it is far broader within the UK. It's not the same kind of challenge in other European nations because the linguistic culture is far more mature, I would say.

Hefyd, roedd peth o'r ymchwil oedd yn cael ei rannu ddoe yn dangos bod rhai o heriau'r blynyddoedd diwethaf—y gair 'Brexit' ac agweddau pobl tuag at ieithoedd eraill—efallai'n cael dylanwad. 

Also, some of the research shared yesterday did demonstrate that some of the challenges that have emerged in the past year—the word 'Brexit' was used, and people's attitudes towards other languages—were having an influence too. 

Mae'n gynnar eto, ond bydd yn ddiddorol gweld effaith, dros gyfnod o amser, y cynnydd yn niferoedd yr ysgolion sydd yn awr yn gallu cael mynediad drwy Taith at greu rhwydwaith o berthnasau gydag ysgolion eraill yn Ewrop a thu hwnt—nid jest yn Ewrop. Mae bron bob ysgol rwy’n mynd iddi naill ai wedi cael profiad o Taith neu’n cynnig. Felly, mae ymwybyddiaeth pobl o’r cyfle sydd ar gael, ac yn gynyddol yr ysgolion sydd wedi gallu manteisio ar hyn, rwy’n gobeithio yn rhyw elfen o’r ateb i’r impact diwylliannol y mae Brexit wedi cael, ac rwy’n sicr eich bod chi’n iawn yn hynny o beth.

It's early days, but it will be interesting to see the impact, over a period of time, of the increase in the number of schools that can now access the Taith programme and create a network with schools in Europe and beyond. Almost every school that I visit have either had an experience of Taith or have applied. So, people's awareness of the opportunities available, and increasingly the schools that have been able to benefit from this, I hope, will form part of the solution to the cultural impact that Brexit will have had. I am sure that you are right on that.

A gaf i ofyn pa ystyriaeth neu waith sy'n cael ei wneud o ran edrych ar y manteision sy'n bodoli drwy dechnoleg i fynd i'r afael efo rhai o'r pynciau lle rydym ni ddirfawr angen pobl i fod yn cymryd TGAU a lefel A, megis Ffrangeg, Almaeneg, Sbaeneg, ac ati, fel ein bod ni'n codi'r cyfleoedd? Efallai ein bod ni'n meddwl, yn draddodiadol, os nad yw ar gael mewn ysgol oherwydd cohort bach, efallai nad yw'n ymarferol, ond mae'r ysgol nesaf yn bell iawn i ffwrdd, yn enwedig mewn ardal wledig, ac ati. Faint ydych chi'n gweld y defnydd o dechnoleg yn cefnogi dysgwyr sydd eisiau cymryd y pynciau yma ond, yn anffodus, sydd weithiau'n cael yr ateb gan yr ysgol nad ydyn nhw ar gael?

Could I ask what consideration or work is being done in terms of looking at the benefits of technology in tackling some of those subjects where we really need people to be taking GCSE and A-level, such as French, German, Spanish and so on, so that we do increase the opportunities? Maybe we have thought, traditionally, that if it is not available in the school because of the size of the cohort, then it is not practical, but the next school might be a very long way away, especially in rural areas. So, how much use can be made of technology to support learners who want to take these subjects but, unfortunately, are sometimes told by the school that they are not available?

Wel mae gyda ni raglen dechnoleg benodol sy'n cefnogi dysgu’r pynciau—nid jest ieithoedd—lle dyw’r cohort ddim yn ddigon o faint i allu, os hoffwch chi, gyfiawnhau’r dosbarth, fel e-sgol. Nid yw’r stats diweddaraf gyda fi, ond gallwn ni rannu beth sydd gyda ni o ran take-up e-sgol os hoffwch chi.

Well, we have a particular technology programme that supports teaching subjects—not just languages—where the cohort isn't large enough to, if you like, justify a class, such as e-sgol. I don't have the latest stats on that, but I could share what we do have in terms of the uptake of e-sgol.

That would be really helpful. Diolch. Just some questions now from Laura Jones, finally.

Thank you, Chair. Just following on from what Heledd Fychan just said about the learner travel Measure, and I concur with all of her thoughts on that, do you see the need for a Bill on school transport specifically, Minister? There are a lot of concerns about it, obviously, but it seems like, every September, we are faced with the same old chaos at the beginning of the school year. I know that it's very frustrating for parents and a concerning time for pupils if they don't have any school transport to get on.

We have rehearsed all of the arguments, and you know why there are concerns, but I think that the Chair and I particularly were concerned to hear, in Newport, of a special school that didn't have enough taxis for complex needs and additional learning needs to get them to and from school. And it's not just a Newport council problem; it is a problem across Wales that we haven't got the amount of public transport that we need to help those learners, specifically, get to school. We can't just shove them on public transport, on buses; it's not an option, really, for a lot of them. So, I was just wondering about your thoughts on that. Thank you.


Well, the purpose of the new bus Bill will be to re-regulate the bus network in Wales and reverse the terribly negative effects of Conservative deregulation in the 1980s. So, I hope that that will provide a more coherent and rational basis for a public bus service that is driven, really, by the needs of people and public services rather than simply by what happened to be profitable routes, and to do it in that more systematic and organised way. I think there is a real opportunity as part of that, then, to look at the particular needs of school transport as part of that larger picture. I think there has been good working. I recognise the challenges that have occurred in the last two years in particular, because of the pressures on the bus network, simply through the vulnerability of routes due to lower usage, which, we understand, is a consequence, partly, of COVID. You'll know of the significant funding that we made available as a Government and the work that we've done with local authorities to ask them to prioritise those routes that serve our schools. But I've had in my own patch challenges in that. I think that's why the legislation will be so important, and that won't provide an immediate solution, of course, but I think it's really important that we take that next step.

Okay. Thank you. In terms of mental health support, as I travel around Wales, and as this committee has, and we've had evidence in this committee in this regard, it does differ significantly between schools as to how they're addressing mental health in their schools. It's all very well throwing lots of money at them, but lots of them are dealing with it in different ways, some good and some not very good, actually. I was just wondering how you'd share, again, that best practice, because there are really good examples of best practice—

But also, it's welcome, obviously, that you've put £5 million for health boards to deliver the national child and adolescent mental health services school in-reach service. But how are you monitoring that it's getting to schools, and is there any way that this Government could perhaps provide guidance attached to that on how best to use that within schools? Maybe that would be a way of sharing that best practice over the 22 local authorities.

Well, there's already work that we do in relation to this. So, Lynne Neagle, as the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being, and I co-chair an oversight board that does a number of the items of work that you're referring to there. I think you're absolutely right to say that there is very good practice in lots of schools. So, what we have discovered is that, with the roll-out of the whole-school approach to mental health and well-being, there is a level of variability. Obviously, we wouldn't expect there to be 100 per cent coverage at this point, to be clear, but there are patterns of variability in how that is rolled out. I think one of the key indicators of whether schools in a particular area have embraced and rolled out the approach is the level of priority attached to it by the education function in the local authority. I think, where you see that as being really prioritised, then schools respond to that. Public Health Wales is doing a piece of work for us to look at this across the board, and I'm sure, Chair, that we could share that when it's complete. I'm sure that the committee would find that helpful, and that touches all aspects. So, we've just had a very good discussion, in the last oversight board, on the roll-out of counselling services in schools, for example, and how we can make sure that the provision in secondary schools is what it needs to be, but also the different approach to provision in primary schools because counselling isn't always appropriate in that context. So, what interventions are schools making at an earlier stage in the journey and what works best there?

Yes. Thank you, Minister. You said about LAs prioritising, but, obviously, as we know, there are very tight budgets at the moment. And as you've probably seen, there's a letter from all the headteachers in Denbighshire saying that one of the things that they're going to have to cut, and they have no choice, is the well-being support for children and behaviour support. I mean, that's a real concern, because those schools across Denbighshire will suddenly not have that support that we all want to see. How would you go about dealing with something like that?

Well, the funding that we're providing through the new combined grants for the roll-out of the whole-school approach to well-being will have terms and conditions attached to it that will require that funding to be used for that purpose, because it's still an emerging reform in our system, so we're—. Consistent with the approach we're taking generally, where reforms are still bedding in, we are requiring more—. It's not a ring fence, but the terms and conditions are more bespoke, if you like. So, that approach has been taken in relation to the roll-out of the whole-school approach, as well, which I hope will mean that that funding will still be used.


My final question is on post-16 education for additional learning needs young people. I'm very aware, and maybe the Chair is too, I think, of Wellies farm in Newport, which is doing fantastic work, teaching skills to post-16 ALN learners, promoting independence and getting them into jobs. It really is exemplary stuff, but those farms and those outdoor education facilities are few and far between. There are a lot of cases across Wales where councils are paying for our young people to go across the border to England to have those same experiences and to gain those skills. Do you think there's something that the Welsh Government could do in that regard to expand that offer, those farms, in Wales, to ensure that we're not paying for young people to go across the border to England to get that experience? And perhaps you may like to visit the Wellies farm yourself, Minister.

I have visited a number of outdoor facilities that provide the kind of support that you're describing, and it is a really valuable part of the offer, isn't it, across the board. You will know that this is the first year where the new reforms are flowing through, if you like, into post-16 this year, and I think that colleges have worked really well, taking on a whole new range of responsibilities. Sometimes it's involved structuring new teams to be able to support learners, and putting in place new arrangements, obviously, and I think that has worked well. The national lead that we have working with colleges in order to make sure they're ready for the new obligations under the Act, I think, is working well.

The next stage, as you will know, is how we can work to transfer the funding to post-16 institutions, as well. Currently, that's still with us, but we're on a path to being able to hand that over. The current time frame for doing that, from memory, is not the next coming academic year but the one after that. At the end of the 2024-25 academic year, we hope to have a solution for that, as well.

Brilliant. Thank you. Thank you very much, Minister. Diolch yn fawr, and to your officials for joining us this morning, and also to all committee members for ensuring that we have finished on time, and slightly ahead of time, as well, even though we had a number of questions at the end to ask you. So, thank you for doing that, Minister. I'd also like to put on record our thanks for the paper that you provided beforehand to help us prepare for today's session ahead of it, as well. So, diolch yn fawr. You will receive a copy of the transcript to check for factual accuracy in due course, but that's the end of this evidence session.

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

We'll now move on to the next item on our agenda, which is papers to note. We have four papers to note this morning. All the items are set out on the agenda in the paper pack. Are Members content to note those papers together? I can see all Members are.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod hwn a'r cyfarfodydd cyfan ar 7 ac 14 Mawrth
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting and for the whole of the meetings on 7 and 14 March


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod a'r cyfarfodydd cyfan ar 7 ac 14 Mawrth yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and for the whole of the meetings on 7 and 14 March in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

We will now move on to the private part of the meeting. So, under Standing Order 17.42, the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of this meeting and for the whole of the meetings on 7 and 14 March. Are Members content? I see Members are, so 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.