Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

08/05/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Gareth Davies
Hefin David
Heledd Fychan
Jack Sargeant
Tom Giffard

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Hannah Wharf Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr yr Is-adran Cymorth i Ddysgwyr, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Support for Learners Division, Welsh Government
Lynne Neagle Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg
Cabinet Secretary for Education
Lloyd Hopkin Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Cwricwlwm ac Asesu, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Curriculum, and Assessment, 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

Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Tom Lewis-White Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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

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

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:05.

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

The meeting began at 09:05.

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

I would like to welcome Members to today's meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee. Before we go on, I would like to place on record my thanks to those committee members who have recently left, in particular Jayne Bryant, who chaired the committee so well since 2021 and who we look forward to welcoming back to the committee at some point in the future in her new capacity as Minister for Mental Health and Early Years. I would also like to thank the other departing members, Ken Skates, James Evans and Laura Anne Jones. The committee has done lots of important work since 2021, and all Members have played an important role in this. I would also like to warmly welcome our new members, Hefin David, Gareth Davies, Tom Giffard and Jack Sargeant. I am looking forward to working with you all. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. There are no apologies. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I can see there are not.

2. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 6 ac eitem 8 ar agenda’r cyfarfod hwn, ac o’r cyfarfodydd cyfan ar 15 Mai a 23 Mai
2. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 6 and 8 of this meeting and for the whole of the meetings on 15 May and 23 May

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 6 ac 8 y cyfarfod, ac o'r cyfarfodydd cyfan ar 15 Mai a 23 Mai, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 6 and 8 of the meeting, and for the whole of the meetings on 15 May and 23 May, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Moving on to item 2, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix), that the committee resolves to meet in private for items 6 and 8 of this meeting, and for the whole of the meetings on 15 May and 23 May. Are Members content? I can see Members are content. We will now proceed in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:06.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:06.

09:30

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 09:30.

The committee reconvened in public at 09:30.

4. Gweithredu diwygiadau addysg: sesiwn dystiolaeth
4. Implementation of education reforms: evidence session

We move on now to agenda item 4. I would like to welcome the Cabinet Secretary and her officials. Before I introduce them, can I please congratulate the Cabinet Secretary for Education on her new post in the Welsh Government? On behalf of the committee, we very much look forward to working with you. I'm very pleased to welcome Lynne Neagle MS, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Owain Lloyd, director of education and Welsh language, Welsh Government, Hannah Wharf, deputy director, support for learners division, Welsh Government, and Lloyd Hopkin, deputy director, curriculum and assessment, Welsh Government. Before we start the session, can I please check that the translation is working? It's channel 1 for translation and 0 for amplification, if anybody needs to know. Is everybody ready? Yes. I will now ask Members to ask questions. Members have a series of questions, and I'd like to start off. 

Cabinet Secretary, how do you feel the implementation of the additional learning needs system and the Curriculum for Wales are going, and how fundamental are they to improving performance and standards in education in Wales?

Thank you very much, Chair, for that question. And can I say that I'm, despite the nerve-wracking nature of appearances like this, very pleased to be here, and I do really welcome the ongoing work that the committee is doing monitoring our reforms? I think it's really welcome scrutiny and challenge from all quarters. So, I'm very pleased to be here.

It is very early days for me. Obviously, I've been in post six, seven weeks, and my priority in that time has been to spend as much time as I can listening to people who are either in schools, listening to children and young people, listening to school leaders and learning as much as I can about how the reforms are going on the ground. I recognise that we've got major challenges in terms of attainment and school improvement, and that is a top priority for me, but I do see both the ALN reforms and curriculum reform as being absolutely critical to delivering that improvement in attainment and school improvement that we all want to see. 

In terms of my assessment of how things are going—and, as I say, it is early days and I really plan to use my whole time, really, as I go forward, it's not going to be a one-off thing at the beginning, listening to people; I want to listen as I continue to do this job—my initial assessment on the curriculum reform is that there is a lot of enthusiasm for curriculum reform out there still, but I am really mindful as well that we are asking an awful lot of our schools. I do want to just take this opportunity to thank everybody in schools who are working so hard to deliver on what is a complex and challenging reform agenda, especially on the back of coming out of the pandemic. What has been clear to me in these early weeks is, as well as the enthusiasm for the new curriculum, and the belief that this is the right approach to making sure that we develop rounded, engaged and well-educated children and young people, there are also school leaders and school staff saying to me that they need more support with these reforms. So, an immediate priority for me is to make sure that we put the scaffolding around schools to make sure that they can all deliver. I don't want any children missing out because of difficulties with implementation.

In terms of ALN, this has been a really strong focus for me immediately since coming into post. I care really passionately about making sure that we deliver for learners with ALN, and I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on how the reforms are going. Hannah’s probably seen far more of me than she would have liked to, but I felt it was really important to try and get under the skin of what is going on in ALN.

I want to say again that I am acutely aware that schools and school staff are working incredibly hard to deliver the ALN reforms. So are local authorities, and I was really pleased to see in the Estyn report that recognition of how hard everybody is working to deliver these reforms, and I include in that my officials. But I also recognise that there are lots of parents and others who are expressing concern. I’m conscious more than 15,000 people have signed the current petition that is front of the Petitions Committee, and it’s really important to make sure that we listen to the views of people when they are expressing those concerns. I also watched the evidence session that the committee held with the president of the tribunal, which was very informative, and had the opportunity to meet her last week to discuss in detail some of the concerns she raised with the committee.

And where I have ended up in terms of taking this forward is twofold, really. I recognise that there is inconsistent implementation of the legislation. I have to be mindful that a judge has told us that the legislation is intellectually challenging. That is a serious point that I have to really look at. So, I want to make sure that we look at how that legislation is being implemented and make sure that we have the correct legal framework to drive those reforms forward. However, I don’t think it’s just about the law. If I’ve learnt anything in my time in the Senedd it’s that you can have the best policies but there can be an implementation gap, so the other work that I plan to focus on in terms of ALN is really making sure that we have that granular implementation, that I have assurance as a Minister that this is a system that is being implemented consistently in the best interests of children and young people right across Wales, and that is something that I am going to personally drive as Minister, and I want to make sure that I draw on the widest range of expertise.

I’m conscious that was a long answer, and I’m very happy to take questions on any detail.

09:35

Thank you very much. Can I just ask—? I was just curious about the comments you made about scaffolding around schools. What does that mean in practice?

Well, I think it means different things, doesn’t it, really? For the curriculum we’ve got a very extensive range of curriculum framework legislation and guidance in place, but I know from talking to heads and others that some of them are feeling that the scale of the reform that they’re being asked to do is overwhelming. So, for instance, I visited Grangetown primary the other day, who took part in our curriculum design pilot, and they’re doing great work designing their primary curriculum in partnership with their cluster schools. But the head was also clear with me that she had found it challenging, and we are asking schools to do an awful lot. So, what I want to do is to work with the profession to make sure that they have the right level of support around them.

The curriculum was always designed to give much more freedom to practitioners. It really is next-level teaching and learning. But I think we have to recognise that some school staff and leaders will need a bit more support around that, and it’s my role to make sure that they have that. So, at the moment, we’re working through options for how we can make sure that that scaffolding is in place. I don’t want to inhibit those school leaders who are really running with this and doing great things. It’s important they have the freedom to do that. But we want to make sure that the ones that are finding it more difficult and more challenging have more support around them. And it's also about things like professional learning. I'm very conscious, when all these reforms began, years ago now, professional learning was a key part of those reforms. All these reforms depend on really excellent teaching, so the professional learning that we provide has to be top-notch, and I'm concerned that there's too much of it, a proliferation of it from too many different sources. So, I'm very much in the space of wanting to make sure that we really look at what's offered, make sure that it's top quality, easy to find, all in one place, and we need to do that in partnership with the profession. 

Obviously, it's only six weeks into post, Heledd, so I'm starting to work through these issues, but, just to assure the committee, I am absolutely committed and determined to get this right for children and young people.

09:40

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I'll bring Hefin David in quite quickly here. 

Just a very quick question. You mentioned you want to look at the ALN reforms on a granular level. Is there going to be a formal, structured process for that, and, if so, what will it look like? 

Well, I do want to look at it on a granular level and I've started doing that already. I met the president of the tribunal, I met the designated education clinical lead officers, I've asked officials to arrange a summit with additional learning needs co-ordinators. I want to meet the early years leads, the Welsh language lead, the post-16 lead. I want to be working with all those people to make sure that we get this right. We do need to do a piece of work quickly around how the legislation is working, and officials are currently working up options to do that. It's too early for me to set out what that will entail in detail, but it will involve a review of how consistently the legislation is being implemented, and will look at the issues that have been raised with me about the inconsistencies and the fact that the legislation is intellectually challenging. In doing that, I've got to be really mindful that schools that are doing this really well at the moment, that they continue doing that because that's really vital. And I don't want to inhibit the schools who are also trying to implement this consistently. So, I see it, really, as two areas of work that are complementary and parallel. I'm also acutely aware that six months, a year, is a long time in the life of a child, so I'm really keen to get this done as quickly as we possibly can, but to get it done right.

Thank you, Chair. Obviously, the ambition is fantastic, and I congratulate you on your post as Cabinet Secretary for Education. Obviously, a lot of the ambitions you have that you seem to be alluding to seem to be on a universal basis, given that, obviously, the curriculum is based on a universal system through the WJEC. But a lot of heads I speak to actually see good practice and good curricular ideas from other areas, whether that be under a different exam board or another curriculum from elsewhere. Obviously, a universal system does have its merits, but also a universal system does have its drawbacks at the same time as well, because schools, certain areas, regions, localities have their different needs based on those individuals. So, how do you believe that a universal system can encompass all of those different realities?

Thank you, Gareth. If you don't mind me saying, I'm not sure you're quite understanding the purpose of the curriculum. The curriculum is designed to make sure that there is that—

—flexibility around what learners need. It's based on taking local factors into account. So, I don't really see it as a sort of—. There is a universal framework that drives it.

Yes, and you've got to have a universal framework that drives it, and if you look at the national curriculum in England, that is very prescriptive. So, anything that you say in terms of flexibility could be leveled at that many times over. This is designed to be a purpose-led curriculum that is engaging, relevant for young people to give them the skills that they need for life, to enable those skills to be transferable, but it gives the freedom for those designing the curriculum to specifically look at the needs of their learners, to make sure that the curriculum matches the needs of their learners, to take into account the needs of the local community. So, the balance is making sure you have got that protection around a framework, but enabling schools to do what excellent teachers are able to do, which is respond to the needs of their learners.

09:45

But they'll always go back to neutral, though, won't they, because it allows some autonomy, but what the system does, if you imagine it as a picture, you've got your central platform there, as the universal place where people can have autonomy in there, but they're also on a leash, so it'll also pull them back to a universal system. So, what flexibility can you have within that core system to make sure that teachers and individuals can be themselves and adapt to certain regions and localities, where people's needs might be different?

Well, I think there is much, much more flexibility within our Curriculum for Wales for teachers to do that, much more than the national curriculum in England. There is a framework; you've got to have a framework there, otherwise we'd potentially have a free-for-all and children would slip through the net, and that wouldn't be acceptable. There is a framework there, but they have the freedom to design that curriculum, based on children's needs within that framework. And, actually, what schools are telling me, in these early weeks, is that they would like a bit more framework around it. The lens I'm looking at this through, and will look at everything through, in this job, is how we best deliver for children and young people.

Very quickly, going back to what was just said, how will exams work with that flexibility?

Well, you'll be aware that we've had the review of 14-16 provision, and Qualifications Wales have developed a set of proposals in that space, and there'll be new qualifications coming online. It is important that we have the new qualifications align with the learning that children and young people have done, through the new curriculum, and there's been a huge amount of work in taking that forward. It's been co-constructed with schools, practitioners, and I'm going to be wanting to look closely and make sure that that delivers for children and young people as well.

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Just to say, Cabinet Secretary, I visited my former primary school, Ysgol Bryn Deva, who, I should say, are really embracing the Curriculum for Wales and the new curriculum that we have, and they've just received a fantastic Estyn report. So, there are schools in Wales that are getting this right, because they're embracing the curriculum. If there's a case study to look at, then I would recommend looking at them, of where this does work well.

Can I move on to talk around additional learning needs? I'm pleased to hear you mention the petition that we're debating this afternoon, with 15,000 signatures, but the subject of ALN, through many different lenses, has been the second highest petition topic in this Senedd term, so I think the listening exercise that you're going through is a welcome one. I know this committee has been through a similar exercise as well. I think it's important to make sure those petitioners and the parents' voices are heard as well, and I'm keen to debate the matter more with you later. But I certainly welcome your commitment around listening and getting things right, where they do need improving. Can I just start by asking what your assessment is around the reduction in the number of learners being recorded as having SEN or ALN? I think there's a decrease in 32 per cent during the first two-year term of the implementation. To what extent was that expected to happen? I know you're new to the post, but the Welsh Government must've had a view, when this was going through. So, to what extent was that meant to be the case, and is this a positive or a negative outcome of the implementation—[Inaudible.]?

Okay. Thank you very much, Jack, and thank you also for the work that you've done through the Petitions Committee to amplify the voices of parents who are concerned about this. I do intend to keep listening to parents, and I'm also keen, in whatever arrangements we put in place to drive implementation on this, to involve parents in that. Very much the way I worked in mental health was around co-production, so that is something that I am actively looking at.

In terms of the reduction in numbers, there are a few points I wanted to make in terms of this. Obviously, when the legislation was going through the Senedd, when I was the committee Chair, it was always said that the definition of ALN was the same, practically, as SEN, and we were expecting kids who were receiving provision under the SEN system to also receive provision under the new ALN system. And, obviously, the figures that I've seen suggest that something different is happening. An immediate question—I think it was the first question I asked officials—was, 'What's going on with these numbers of children?' I was really worried about it. I heard what the judge said. I heard her saying that some kids who had a statement in a special school didn't have an individual development plan, and that is clearly not where we should be.

I don't think we should say that it's all negative, because, for me, there is something here about the fact that all our reforms are designed to make universal provision better in schools, whether that's the whole-school approach to mental health or curriculum reform. It's a question, I think, of, hopefully, some children having their needs met better by the reforms that we are taking forward. The policy intent remains, and I'm really committed to this, that all children with ALN should get an IDP, but there is a question for me as to what extent some of the numbers of children that have been removed are in fact having their needs met by universal provision.

We also need to be aware that when the ALNCos come onstream, there was a systematic review of ALN numbers in all schools, so some children would have been removed at that point, maybe for very good reason—maybe they didn't need the support anymore. So, last week, I went to Ysgol Gymraeg Gwaun y Nant in Barry where they have very few children with an IDP and a really excellent ALNCo who's also deputy head, so part of the senior management team, and she was telling me that she was confident that they were meeting the needs of the children in that school through the IDPs that the children had, through universal provision, but also through working with those children in the middle as well to make sure that their needs were met. So, I don't think it is as straightforward as saying, 'Oh, we've lost all these children from the system—that's a bad thing.' It's a worry, and I need to get under the skin of it. I'm worried that we don't have sufficient data to enable me to do that—so, things like I don't know how many children or families have received a no-IDP notice. I've learned from health that you've got to have good data if you're going to monitor policy implementation.

So, I would say this area, for me, is something that I really need to do more work on. I'm looking really closely at it. I think there is some reassurance in Estyn’s initial work on this. Obviously, they did the thematic review, and they said the sensitive work between ALNCos and parents, particularly where pupils are considered not to have ALN where previously they would have had SEN, has generally resulted in parents being reassured that the provision made meets the needs of the pupil. So, I think it is about that child-centred approach to these things, and that person-centred planning, but I also want to be absolutely clear with the committee that it wouldn't be acceptable in any way to me for there to be children who should have and IDP who weren't getting them, and that is something that I'm working on.

09:50

Thank you. You've touched on my next question there. We've heard evidence as a committee where, perhaps, the administrative work and the planning work required to deal with some of the issues they have to deal with when working with a child with ALN, may be one of the reasons why some children are slipping through the gap. I take it from your commitment just now that that's something that you'll continue to look at and will try to address in the coming months of your tenure.

09:55

Workload is a huge concern across the school system. It's something we're really focused on. Tackling workload for school staff is a priority. We've got a range of work going on in this space. So, we've got our strategic workload co-ordination group, which is overseeing all work relating to workload. We're conscious as well that we're asking schools to do a lot, and that is having an impact on well-being. So, we're making sure that there is well-being support in place for schools. We recognised the workload issues that were involved in ALN by extending the implementation period, to give them more time. And we've actually, as you'll be aware, probably, had a task and finish group looking specifically at the role of ALNCOs. We've also tried to make sure that we put in extra funding. Extra funding has gone to schools, which we've been very clear with schools is to provide time and space for ALNCOs to do what is a demanding job. When you're working in a person-centred way with families, that takes time. So, we've made sure that that is available for schools.

But, I am very mindful that the workload issues with this new system are really significant, and it's not just significant in schools, it's significant in health as well. So, that's something that I need to have a continued focus on. This will only work if schools have got the space to do this. And there are clearly ALNCOs who are doing this brilliantly. I think it's important that ALNCOs are members of the senior management team, and we've reiterated that to schools, and I will be reiterating that again. And the independent Welsh pay review body currently has the task and finish report on ALNCOs, and they'll be reporting to us in May on the back of that. 

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. It's the consistency between the code and the Act across Wales, isn't it, as you recognise, and the importance of that being applied. Can I just ask about the term 'universal provision' or 'universal provision plus'? That's currently not defined in the ALN code. Does it need to be defined? Is that something you'll look at? And, if so, is that one way of tackling the consistency issues that we see?

Well, as you say, Jack, the term 'universal provision' isn't in the Act, it isn't in the code, and I know that it was something that the judge highlighted with the committee when she came before you. As I said, I don't think we should assume that universal provision is a bad thing. Inclusive education is what we're all aiming for. For me, the test is whether that universal provision genuinely meets the needs of the children it's seeking to support. I think we've got more work to do on the issue of universal provision, because there is no definition agreed on it across Wales. So, local authorities have got their own view of what universal provision is, and that is something that we need to make sure we address.

I'm aware as well of the concerns of the tribunal that they're wrongly interpreting this really, that some local authorities are not consistent with the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018, and the key point being that a child will have ALN if their needs are compared to all children across Wales, and their requirement of provision is additional to what is generally available across Wales. So, I think we have got work to do to understand what's happening in classrooms around universal provision and universal inclusion, et cetera. We've also asked Estyn to do some work as part of their second thematic review on what constitutes universal provision and additional learning provision. They're also going to consider the clarity of guidance shared by local authorities to support schools in relation to these matters. 

I think I would be wary about trying to define universal provision in primary legislation, because I think that would be quite risky because we've already seen, since this Act was passed, a whole raft of changes coming into force in Wales, and education is constantly evolving. But we do need to make sure that there is clarity, not just about what universal provision looks like when it's good across Wales, but also that schools are correctly implementing that.

10:00

Thank you. We've heard evidence in this committee that there are children who are being looked after under the universal provision approach, then there are those who have been caught in the ALN system with the individual development plans. But there's a gap in between: there is an intermediate category of learner that has emerged because of the separation there. Is that also something that you'll consider in terms of how we can support those learners and those children who just fall in between the two approaches?

Well, I want to make sure that all children and young people are supported and there are parallels here with mental health, aren't there really? Because one of the terms that the committee that I chaired termed in mental health was the 'missing middle'. They were kids that didn't meet the threshold for specialist CAMHS, but their needs were too high for universal provision. So, I think there is definitely some work to be done in this space. Estyn seem to be very much on top of it and if you look at the thematic review, they're talking about a graduated approach to children and young people, and we have to remember that those needs will change all the time as well. 

I have asked officials for me to have a deep-dive with Estyn specifically on ALN, because they're uniquely placed, I think, to give us some advice on the granularity of how things are going, and that is one of the areas that I really want to pick up with Estyn. 

Thank you. Just finally, Chair, on the point on listening, I think it would be welcome if there were a vehicle for those who gave evidence in different forums to this committee and also the Petitions Committee, if there were a formal vehicle where they could feed into your work as Cabinet Secretary. Perhaps that's something to think about. We'd welcome that, I think.

Okay, thank you. Can I just say, Jack, that I did meet with the ALN reform parents and, obviously, what they said was very concerning? But I was also struck by the fact that they said to me, 'We want to be part of the solution', and it is vital that families are part of the solution, so I'm absolutely committed to making sure that that happens.

Thank you very much, Chair. Obviously, in your responses to Jack's questions, you were defending and promoting the fact of the universal approach to ALN, but then in response to my questions, you were alluding to more autonomy within the system. So, it seems a bit of a wild contradiction in the answers that you gave me and the answers that you gave Jack. So, just for a level of clarity, what is the position on this universal approach? Is it the fact that this is the universal approach whether schools across Wales like it or not, or do they have a bit of autonomy to work within that system? What is it? Because I'm just feeling a mix of messages in your responses.

Well, I don't think what I've said is contradictory at all. If I can use the whole-school approach to mental health as an example, I brought, obviously, a lot of my learning from that into this job. So, the whole-school approach to mental health is a universal intervention. It's designed to foster a sense of belonging, agency. It is based on strong relationships throughout the whole school and we've underpinned that with statutory guidance. That is something that is available to all children and young people in the schools where it's working well. And I have met lots of children and young people who have really benefited from that approach. For lots of children and young people, that kind of approach is enough.

But then you've got the children and young people who need more than that, and that's why we've taken a whole-system approach in mental health to make sure that we've got other support coming in—things like CAMHS in-reach, links with the regional partnership boards and the work that's happening with NEST, right up to the specialist services. And I think it’s about that kind of approach in ALN, really. Some kids will be absolutely fine with good inclusive teaching that is geared towards their needs, and just because something is universal doesn’t mean it’s uniform. It is about responding to the needs of children and the curriculum is all about that. But where children need extra support, that’s where we have to make sure that that happens, really, and it might just be a little bit of extra support, or it might be that they get an IDP. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all on this, but universal provision has a role to play, and surely we all want inclusive education environments for our children. As we’ve seen, and Estyn has supported, lots of parents can be happy with that when they understand what their child is getting and that it’s appropriate for the needs of the child. I mean, that’s the lens I am looking at everything through, is what is right for the needs of the child, and a skilled ALNCo will be doing that every single day.

10:05

Thank you. I’m really conscious of time, so if everybody could be as brief as possible from now on with their questioning, and I’d like to bring in Heledd Fychan, please.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd. Mae’n dda eich clywed chi yn cydnabod rhai o’r heriau sydd yn bodoli yn y system a’ch bod chi'n gwrando. Gaf i jest ofyn o ran anghenion dysgu ychwanegol? Byddwch chi'n ymwybodol o gyfarfod efo'r rhieni, dwi'n siŵr, fod yna nifer sy'n teimlo bod y system addysg, eu bod nhw'n methu gyrru eu plant i’r ysgol ar y funud. Mae nifer wedi dweud bod yn rhaid iddyn nhw roi'r gorau i'r gwaith er mwyn gallu diwallu anghenion eu plant nhw. Sut ydych chi’n mynd i fod yn edrych ar hyn i sicrhau bod pob plentyn yn gallu cael mynediad at addysg a'n bod ni ddim yn gadael rhieni a gofalwyr mewn sefyllfa lle mae'n rhaid iddyn nhw addysgu o gartref oherwydd diffyg darpariaeth yn eu hardal nhw?

Thank you very much, Chair. It’s good to hear you recognise some of the challenges that exist in the system and that you’re listening to people. I just wanted to ask in terms of additional learning needs. You’ll be aware from meeting with parents, I’m sure, that a number of people feel that the education system makes them feel that they can’t send their children to school at the moment. A number of them have had to leave their jobs in order to meet the needs of their children. How are you going to look at this to ensure that every child is able to access education and that we don’t let parents and guardians find themselves in a situation where they need to home educate because there’s no provision in their area?

Thank you, Heledd, and clearly, that’s an incredibly important point, isn’t it, really? And I, as a constituency MS, have met families who no longer send their children to school because they don’t feel that the school is meeting their needs, and that shouldn’t be happening and that’s what our reforms are designed to address. I know that we’ve got more work to do in this space, and I know as well that we’re seeing more instances in schools of children and young people with really complex needs as well. It’s a challenge, addressing all of those, and we’re asking schools to do a lot, but if we can get these reforms working as they should be working, then I would hope that we would see much less of families feeling that they need to educate their children at home. Because, from my point of view, I think being in school is a mental health intervention in itself; I mean, it is important that kids are in school, so, yes.

Diolch. Faint o her ydy'r sefyllfa gyllidol ar y cyfan o ran addysg? Oherwydd yn amlwg, rydych chi'n sôn am y buddsoddiad, a byddai’n dda pe baech chi'n gallu egluro cyfanswm y cyllid sydd wedi’i wario ar weithredu’r system yma, ond yn amlwg mae angen edrych yng nghyd-destun ehangach y gyllideb addysg. Faint o her ydy gwireddu'r uchelgais efo'r adnoddau sydd ar gael?

Thank you. How much of a challenge is the funding situation overall in terms of education? You mentioned the investment, and it would be good if you could just explain the total amount of funding that’s been spent on implementing this system, but clearly we need to look more broadly at the education budget. How much of a challenge is meeting that ambition with the resources available?

Okay, well, if I can start with your last point, which is the broader education picture that we’ve got. Obviously, it is very challenging, Heledd, and you’re well aware of that. Our budget is worth £700 million less than it was at the time of the last spending review, and the budget round that we went through as a Government was really, really challenging, but notwithstanding that, we sought to protect funding for local government for education, so we uplifted the funding for education and that was on top of a consolidated increase last year of 7.9 per cent. But I do recognise that these are very hard times, so the whole funding piece is very challenging and difficult for schools. Most of the funding for ALN goes through the revenue support grant, the funding to support schools with that, but we’ve also provided a very significant amount of additional funding. Bear in mind, when this legislation was going through, we were told it was likely to be cost neutral. We’ve invested through the local authority education grant. In this year, the funding is—the figures have moved—£56 million—. Oh, it's more. 

10:10

Sorry—we were flying figures around to our Cabinet Secretary all day. I think you were asking around the total for implementation since 2020.

Since 2020, for implementation, our figures are £67 million that's gone directly to local authorities, schools, further education institutions, and then for this year we gave a figure of £56 million, which included the provision—. We looked at the total budget for this year and looked at what was also in further education institutions' budget lines as well, so that's why it's £56 million.

So, it's not all new money, then. You've taken it from some existing budget lines. That £56 million isn't all new money. 

Well, it's come from the education main expenditure group. I can give you a breakdown of it, Heledd, if it helps—

I'm conscious of time, so if you want to write to us so we have the breakdown.

Okay. We'll write to you. Just to say that's a mix of implementation money for ALN, but it also includes post-16 funding and capital. And today I've announced an additional £20 million for capital provision to make environments suitable and for equipment et cetera. 

Thank you. If I may just touch on staffing, though, because it does link to funding, one of the things that has been shared with us continuously as a committee has been the challenges of recruitment, retention of staff, especially specialised staff. I just wondered, in terms of that support for schools that are currently actually having to reduce some of the teaching assistant posts that are so crucial here, how can we support schools? You talked about the scaffolding, but it's not the reality. Funding is still a huge challenge, and the recruitment and how much we pay teaching assistants is something that's creating a barrier to be able to fully realise the ambitions.

As you say, Heledd, recruitment and retention is a challenge, and I'm very conscious that it's tough at the moment in schools. Schools are working really hard, they've come out of a global pandemic. We have put a variety of things in place to improve recruitment. We've got various incentives in place for people to go to teacher training, to continue then on their teaching journey, including for areas where we're worried about shortages, like with the Welsh language. Retention is equally important, and I think well-being is really important there. That's why, when I talk about the whole-school approach to mental health, that's not just for children and young people, it's for the staff as well. We've also invested in education support to provide direct well-being support to schools.

In terms of teaching assistants, obviously, they play an enormously important role in supporting children and young people with ALN, and we are doing work as a Government to look at what more we can do with teaching assistants around their professional learning, et cetera. You'll be aware that their pay and conditions is a matter for local government, but I am very aware of the need to do more on this and looking forward to working with those unions on it as well.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os caf i droi at y Gymraeg, rydyn ni wedi clywed lot o dystiolaeth o ran y loteri cod post o ran profiad dysgwyr a'u rhieni a gofalwyr, ac athrawon hefyd, o ran y gefnogaeth maen nhw'n ei chael, gan weld gwaith gwych, ond hefyd ysgolion sydd yn cael trafferth mawr fan hyn, a chlywed straeon ofnadwy gan deuluoedd. Os caf i bigo i fyny ar y pwynt o ran anghenion dysgu ychwanegol a'r Gymraeg yn benodol, rydyn ni wedi clywed lot fawr o dystiolaeth bod hwnnw yn loteri cod post ac yn aml fod rhieni un ai yn gorfod newid iaith y cartref neu iaith yr aelwyd i Saesneg neu symud i gael darpariaeth, a bod yna syniad mewn rhai awdurdodau lleol ei bod hi'n well i ddysgwyr gydag anghenion dysgu ychwanegol dim ond cael un iaith, sef Saesneg. Gaf i ofyn beth ydy'ch barn chi ar hynny? Yn amlwg, rydych chi wedi cyffwrdd ar yr heriau recriwtio athrawon, ond dwi'n meddwl bod yna fater o agwedd hefyd fan hyn. Gaf i ofyn faint o flaenoriaeth ydy o i chi yn eich rôl newydd o ran sicrhau bod yr elfen o'r Gymraeg hefyd yn gadarn o ran y diwygiadau hyn?

Thank you very much. If I may turn to Welsh, we have heard a lot of evidence in terms of the postcode lottery in terms of the experience of learners and their parents and carers, and teachers as well, in terms of the support they receive. We've seen great work being done, but also other schools that have great difficulty, and some terrible stories from families. If I can pick up on the point in terms of additional learning needs and the Welsh language in particular, we've heard a lot of evidence that that's a postcode lottery and often that parents either have to change the household language to English or move in order to get the provision, and that there is a feeling in some local authorities that it is better for learners with additional learning needs to only be taught through the medium of English. Can I ask what your opinion is of that? Clearly, you've touched on the challenges of recruiting teachers, but I think there's also a problem with attitude here. I wanted to ask you how much of a priority it is for you in your new role to ensure that the Welsh language element is also robust in terms of these reforms.

10:15

It is a priority for me. If people want to educate their children through the medium of Welsh, whether they've got additional learning needs or not, they should be able to do it. We don't want children and young people left behind. I do recognise what you're saying, actually, from my own constituency; I've got families who've had to revert to English-medium education and that's not where we want to be.

You'll be aware that we have appointed a Welsh language ALN national implementation lead. He just started a few weeks ago, hosted with Carmarthenshire County Council, and he is going to focus on mapping the availability of Welsh language ALN provision and resources across Wales, improving the quality and availability of resources, and supporting the workforce. One of the key challenges is that we know we need to do more in terms of Welsh language resources, so he's going to be working with Adnodd, which we've set up to make sure that we've got those bilingual resources available.

But we have also got to focus, through all local authorities, on tackling this through their Welsh in education strategic plans; they've all been asked to provide evidence that they've got plans in place for this. There'll be new plans coming in to me now in the summer, and I'll be able to review those. But just to assure you, this is absolutely a priority. I remember when the legislation was going through, we were very worried—I'm looking at Michael—about making sure that we had that capacity in the Welsh language, and we've got more work to do on that. But having this lead in place will be a really big help, I think.

Thank you. Is provision in the Welsh language available in special schools?

I think there is some provision available in special schools, but I don't think it would be consistent. Hannah.

There are some special schools that are Welsh language. Also, we went last week to a newly opened specialist resource base in a Welsh language school and there are a number of those opening and being funded through Welsh Government funding as well, to increase provision in Welsh language education.

That supply, I imagine, doesn't necessarily meet the demand, and I imagine that that supply is particularly geographic. Would that be a fair assessment?

There are geographic issues and local authorities should be addressing this through their WESPs, shouldn't they? As Hannah said, I went to the school where they've got this new resource unit opening that we've funded—it's opening after half term. I asked them if they were confident that they'd fill the unit and they said, 'Oh yes', so I think it's about monitoring ongoing capacity and making sure that we keep on top of that. And it's also about other things as well, like transport and things like that and making sure that families have got the support that they need to make sure that that school is going to be providing transport for the kids to come into the unit. It's about much more than what's going on in the school, isn't it? Because parenting is tough, and sometimes you might think it's easier not to do that, and we don't want families to be in that position.

Can I ask, though, proactively—? Because there's this whole thing about meeting demand, but also about creating demand. How do you think some local authorities—? How will you measure how local authorities are actively promoting that language choice so that parents are—? Because at the moment, if the provision is not there, parents don't know how to request it, because they may not have that choice in terms of Welsh medium. So, how will you monitor those WESPs? And if you're still receiving lots of complaints from a certain local authority area or if you're concerned about the WESP, how will you be able to monitor or intervene?

10:20

I think we have got the processes in place. The WESPs are a good process, from what I've seen initially; you may have a different view, and I'll be looking at the ones that come in in the summer. We have got a mechanism in place to look in that granular detail at what local authorities are doing. But you'll also be aware, Heledd, that as part of the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru there will be a Welsh language Bill being brought forward, which will put in place more targets. That's a work in progress, but we are very much committed to this. I don't want any family to think, 'I can't educate my child through the medium of Welsh because there isn't the provision there'. 

Sorry, Heledd, I'm going to have to move on to Hefin. Hefin David, please.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. One of the things that we were really keen on when we were taking the Bill through the committee was the role of the designated education clinical lead officers—the DECLOs. I think it was a defence of the debating point that health and education weren't connecting. But we've seen now that there are four DECLOs for seven health boards. What action would you take to try to sort that out? How would any action you take try to resolve this issue between education and health that still seems to be prevalent?

Thanks, Hefin. As you highlighted, this was a really thorny issue, wasn't it, when the legislation was going through. I do recognise that it is still a big challenge for us to address. As I said, I met the DECLOs last week. I was really struck by how committed and passionate they were about making improvements in this space. I am going to be discussing in the meeting that I have with Eluned and with Jayne the fact that not all health boards have a DECLO, because it was a clear commitment when the legislation was going through that everyone would have a DECLO, and they're clearly really, really stretched. 

I think this is a work in progress, and I've said to the DECLOs that I want to have regular meetings with them so that I can be fully involved in that work. I don't think we have sufficient data on what they are doing in order to really be able to manage performance, and there is a sub-group that they've set up, which is looking at key performance indicators. One of the things I was really struck by was that Cwm Taf, I think, said that they'd had 740 referrals from local authorities. That's a lot of hours of clinical time, and we need the clinical engagement with this process if it's going to work. So, I do think there is a lot of work to be done in this space. I don't think there are any easy answers. I'm meeting with Eluned and Jayne to talk about it, but I hope as well that my experience of being a health Minister, and understanding the pressures in the two, will help with that.

I have to say, when I visited a school outside of my constituency area, they were full of praise for the DECLO, Dr Luke Jones. They said, 'He's excellent, he's a really good point of contact'. The issue was not with him, because he didn't have the ability to sort out some of the problems that the school had. So, for example, if they wanted to get in touch with the health board, they had to go through the local authority. They said that what, effectively, is happening is that e-mails are spinning around the system and coming back only partially answered, and they've then got to go back through the system again. Schools that understand that system are struggling with it, but some schools might not even understand what they have to do. So, is there a chance to, perhaps, resolve those issues?

I think there is a chance to resolve those issues. Obviously, we've got the multi-agency group that's been set up, but what I'm keen to do is make sure that health are a key part of any arrangements I put in place now to drive delivery in this area, and I've already had initial discussions with the health Ministers about that. I also think that there are points of clarification around the legislation that need to be addressed, so that would also fit into the other piece of work that I referred to around looking at the consistency and applicability of the law.

So, you accept that there is still that difficulty between education and health—the gap that needs to be bridged.

10:25

Okay. The other issue, one of the things I've always said from my own experience—

—that I don't think we should get into the space, though, where we blame health for that?

Obviously, they're under huge pressures of their own. This is about bringing two really challenged systems together.

I absolutely agree with that. I've got a child who has ALN in the system at the moment, so I am living this. I have no criticisms about the healthcare she's received, no criticisms about the education she's received, but the dialogue between the two can be improved. So, one of things we've always said is we need to look at behaviours as well as—. Diagnosis is important, but it's not the gate towards support. So, behaviours are really important, and helping children with those behaviours. Those children who exhibit behaviours without a diagnosis, maybe moving towards a diagnosis, are the ones who are most often slipping through the system and not getting that level of support. If we're going to say to schools, 'You've got to look at behaviours and support them', are we in danger of telling teachers that they need to make an informal diagnosis themselves? What more support could be given to teachers to help them address those behaviours and recognise where behaviours might be pointing towards neurodiversity or ALN?

We think that's a really important question, because all behaviour with children is communication, isn't it? I do recognise that. One of the things I am looking to put in place is more consistent professional learning around children who are neurodiverse, mental health and child development as well, because that isn't there at the moment. I know that that's been an ask of some of the parents, to make sure that there is that training, and I think that is a valid ask, really. In mental health, we say, 'Every interaction is an intervention', and I think the same goes for education. If you've got schools where the staff understand the needs of neurodiverse learners and can interact in an appropriate way, then that becomes an intervention in itself as well. But we haven't got that consistent professional learning there now. Officials are working that up. It was as a direct result of the mental health task and finish group on the whole-school approach, and I really hope that that will help. I know that we keep saying to schools, 'You don't need a diagnosis to provide support', but that can be a difficult message to get over, and I recognise that schools are carrying a lot as well. But I hope that professional learning, as well as the support provided through things like educational psychologists, will help with that.

Okay, and I think that is also assisting with that gap that we've talked about, again without criticising any professionals. The other issue, of course, and my last point, is we were very focused on autistic spectrum condition previously as 'the' neurodiverse diagnosis. There was a Bill on it. But what we're seeing now, as clinical expertise is catching up, is there's a whole world of neurodiversity beyond ASD, including Tourette's, even dyslexia and dyspraxia. The clinical knowledge is developing. How can we make sure that that clinical knowledge is communicated well to school settings? How can we make sure that teachers are trained in the latest knowledge about these areas?

Well, as you say, we had a very strong focus on autism, but Government policy has shifted now, I think—

—to a much more broad interpretation of neurodiversity, which I think is really the right place to be, and is very much supported by practitioners. I think we have to be careful about what we're asking schools to do. They're not clinicians. There is a limit to what they can do. But I do think that the professional learning is really, really important. As I said, there are three strands to this work: there's mental health, there's neurodiversity and there's child development as well, because I'm really passionate about attachment and trauma principles. But, in mental health, when I've had pushback from schools and they've said, 'You're asking us to be therapists', I've said, 'No, it's not about that; it's about having that basic knowledge of what children respond to, really.' So, we don't want to overburden schools, but it is about upskilling them in the basics in a way that isn't too burdensome.

10:30

Thank you. In your paper, you mention concerns about the transparency of local authorities' decision making, and that information provided regarding advocacy, case friends and dispute resolution services is weak and families may not be aware of their right to appeal. So, you've identified that problem—what are you doing to fix it?

Okay. Well, I think it's important to say that, when the legislation was going through, one of the key selling points was that it was going to reduce disputes. I'm not convinced that that has happened, and I don't think that's for want of trying. I don't think anybody out there is trying to make life difficult for families; everybody is working really, really hard.

For our part, we have funded Snap Cymru, who provide advocacy to most local authorities in Wales, and all local authorities have to have an advocacy provision in place for families. But I am clear that it's not working well everywhere, and I don't have the data yet to be able to get into that in granular detail. I think data is incredibly important to drive policy improvement. I know some local authorities are using an electronic system to notify families of IDP decisions, and that's not telling them that they have these rights to challenge the decision. But I do think that there is a relatively easy, in terms of what's challenging in this space, piece of work that we can do to reinforce the rights of families on this, and that's going to be an early priority. All local authorities and schools do need to be communicating with the families about what their rights are, and that shouldn't be the most challenging aspect of this work to deliver.

You mention your inability to take it forward in the way that you would like without the data being provided to you. When do you anticipate you'll have access to the data you need?

Right. Well, data is a very challenging area—I know that from health. It's important—. We want to have a work stream as part of this work around data, and we want to make sure, then, that we look at exactly what data we need. All data has to have a purpose. I can't give you an exact timescale—

So, hang on, you don't know the data you need yet, not that you don't have access to the data. You're still identifying what data it is you need first.

We do have to identify what data we need. My initial observations are that I would like to have more data on children who are being declined for IDPs. I'd like to have more data on—. I'd like to see organisations confirming that they've given information to families on their rights to appeal. Data isn't a straightforward thing, Tom, I know that from health, and I don't want to rush into it and do it wrong. So, we're going to have a work stream where we look at data, and then look at putting that system in place. Hannah.

Just to say that local authorities have a lot of data on ALN, and have collected a lot of data and are working incredibly hard over a very short time period to embed processes and practices that are in line with ALN. Local authorities have that responsibility for that oversight and that data collection to ensure that this system works in their local area. We have given local authorities that space to develop their own systems and their own data to be able to make this work, and we're now at a point where we can start having more national oversight of what is happening in local authorities to be able to understand what data is already being collected and have some consistency around that data collection and oversight at a national level as well.

Thank you. My concern, I suppose, would be—. You acknowledged, Cabinet Secretary, earlier in your remarks today that six months, a year, is a long time in a child's life, and you also acknowledged that lots of this isn't going correctly—you said so in your paper. My concern would be that to have the data as the driver to be able to enforce change in the way that you'd like, but yet we're not even at a point where that data has been identified in terms of what is needed, let alone collated, suggests that this is going to take a little while, is it?

Well, I don't think that means, though, that we're not going to anything in the meantime, because officials are already working with local authorities on an individual basis to get under the skin of what is happening. So, there's no suggestion that we're going to wait while we put in place these more appropriate mechanisms to do that. I'm really conscious of making sure that we meet the needs of children who need that support now. So I do see it as a sort of parallel process, really. Local authorities, as I say, are having individual meetings with my officials. I have indicated to officials that I am willing to dedicate as much time as is necessary to make sure we deliver on this, because ministerial input can make a difference. It sends a strong signal to the system that this is something really important that we need to deliver on, and I’m really committed to that. 

10:35

Okay. Thank you. Your paper also mentions that local authorities are reporting more children with complex needs, particularly speech and language needs, when starting primary school, but Mudiad Meithrin says that relatively few children are getting an IDP before nursery or school. What's your assessment of how well the ALN system is working at preschool age at the moment, and what could be improved?

Okay, thank you. Well, obviously, meeting children’s needs at the earliest possible time is incredibly important. We do have ALN early years lead officers in place. They are working to improve services for younger children. Again, I think we could do with more data in this space, and I’m looking to have a meeting with all the early years officers as well, to really understand how that’s going on the ground. Progress of ALN implementation in early years is going to be a key part of the next Estyn ALN thematic review.

There are some encouraging signs. So, the Estyn annual report looked at non-maintained nurseries and said that they were accurately identifying children who may have ALN, with effective systems for supporting them and their families, and that many practitioners made effective use of support from the local authority. But I’m conscious as well that this is quite a complex piece, isn’t it? Because we’ve got some children in Flying Start settings, we got some children in childcare offer for Wales settings, so, for me, it’s going to be about bringing all that together, working with Jayne Bryant on that. So, being completely honest with the committee, I think we’ve put some building blocks in place, but we’ve got more work to do on this.

Thank you very much, Chair. The Institute for Fiscal Studies—I'll put my teeth back in—in March said there are major challenges for education in Wales, and the IFS report also argued that lower educational performance in Wales than in the rest of the UK is due to differences in policy rather than, for example, in resources and spending. What would be your response to that, as a relatively new education Cabinet Secretary?

Well, as I said in the debate that was tabled on this in the Chamber recently, I do take really seriously any reports like that. it is really important that we listen to what academics are saying, so I felt that the report raised serious issues. Attainment is going to be a top priority for me. As I said, I’m aware that we have got more work to do on the curriculum. I think the reforms are the right ones, they’re the right ones to engage and give meaningful, purposeful education to our children and young people, but we know that some schools need more support on that.

I think some of the things that the IFS said were incorrect. So, it talked about it not being a knowledge-based curriculum, and that isn’t true at all. Although it is a purpose-led curriculum, knowledge is an absolutely fundamental—

I'm saying that I don't agree with them that knowledge is not key to the new curriculum, and I think that's pretty clear, really. I have read the report carefully. I'm particularly worried about the attainment gap between our most disadvantaged children in Wales and in England, and we are working at that moment on a school improvement plan, which I will be setting out more detail on shortly, which will give those kinds of actions that we're going to do to raise attainment and tackle some of the these issues. I'm really keen that we have a comprehensive plan in place, but one that aligns with our reforms as well. Everything has to be joined up, doesn't it, on this? 

The other thing to say, which I hope will give some assurance to the committee, is that I am looking to bring together a group of experts, including academics, to act as an expert advisory group to me. I want those people, if they are willing to do it, to come together to provide advice, challenge and scrutiny to myself and officials, and hopefully that will provide some additional assurance. 

10:40

In terms of the policy differences, since you've entered the education department, is there any particular Welsh Government policy that you've been able to analyse and identify yourself in terms of those policy differences? Is there anything specific? I know we're talking in quite a roundabout way here, but is there a specific policy or policies, should I say, that are particularly different that you think the IFS are perhaps alluding to in their comments about the Welsh education system? 

Well, I'm really keen that we have a really strong focus on literacy and numeracy. We have a numeracy action plan. We've got work in train on literacy as well. I'm really keen that that's a high priority in everything that we're doing, and as I said, there were points made in the IFS report that were very concerning about attainment gaps, but that doesn't mean that everything that the IFS said was right. I know Luke Sibieta, the committee knows Luke Sibieta—I've got a lot of respect for Luke Sibieta, but he was not correct to say that our curriculum is not knowledge based, because it is also knowledge based as well as being purpose led and focused on developing transferable skills. 

And I just want to ask that question again, whether your assessment of the IFS's comments are based on opinion or whether they're based on a belief or knowledge that their comments have been incorrect—I said, 'Are the IFS lying?' I'm just trying to put it in basic terms. Is there any basis for that or is that just an opinion? 

Well, it's not helpful to talk about people lying, is it, let's be fair, Gareth—

—and it's certainly not helpful to try and suggest that I am saying anyone is lying. Luke Sibieta has done that work. I value his opinion. He's on my list to meet to talk about the IFS report, and I'm really keen to listen not just to all the stakeholders that I've talked about, but to those academics. I don't think anyone has got a monopoly on wisdom. The one point that I have picked up that I took particular issue with was the suggestion that our curriculum doesn't have a focus on knowledge, and that's absolutely not true because the knowledge that is required is set out in the legislation. 

Go and look at the legislation, Gareth, if you don't believe me. You will see that knowledge is in there. We are looking, as I said, as part of the additional scaffolding that we're looking to provide, to make sure that there is that consistent support for schools around the knowledge that's available. We've set up Adnodd, which is a really good resource. So, I think we have gone down a different path but we are learning as well from where they've made mistakes in other countries, like Scotland, and I'm really keen to listen to all those academics, to the point where I'm going to look to see if they'll help me with an expert advisory group. 

Thank you. Could I bring Hefin David in here very, very quickly because I'm conscious of time? 

Yes, very quickly. Just on the IFS report, I read it in detail. I think it has very deep fundamental flaws in that it looks at GCSEs and the wider curriculum. Well, the GCSEs haven't come in and they were describing that as the new curriculum. So, it just didn't make any sense in that regard; it was absolutely categorically wrong, actually. But the point it did make was about data and I think the issue with data is important, and I would expect that you would want to take that seriously.

Absolutely, and we've got a monitoring project that is looking at what data we need to develop. We've started publishing our personalised assessment reports. Obviously, we publish GCSE data. And you're absolutely right, the kids who went through the Programme for International Student Assessment haven't had any exposure to the new curriculum. But I am committed as well to participating in PISA. I think the more opportunities we have to challenge our system, the better, really.

10:45

Thank you, and thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I'm really conscious of time. We do have a number of other questions. Would it be okay if we wrote to you with our questions, for answers?

Can I take this opportunity to thank you and your team for joining us this morning? You'll be sent a transcript for checking, in due course. Thank you.

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

I will now move on to item 5, which is papers to note. Full details of the papers are set out on the agenda and in the paper back. Are Members content to note the papers together? Thank you.

As agreed earlier, we will now move on to private session for the rest of today's meeting.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:46.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:46.