Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg - Y Bumed Senedd

Children, Young People and Education Committee - Fifth Senedd

22/03/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Darren Millar MS
Hefin David MS
John Griffiths MS
Julie Morgan MS
Lynne Neagle MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Llyr Gruffydd MS
Mark Reckless MS
Michelle Brown MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Kirsty Williams AM Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg
Cabinet Secretary for Education
Ruth Conway Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr yr Is-adran Cymorth i Ddysgwyr, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Support for Learners Division, Welsh Government
Steve Davies Cyfarwyddwr y Gyfarwyddiaeth Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Education Directorate, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

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

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

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this morning's Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've received no apologies for absence. Can I ask Members who are present if they wish to declare any interests? Okay, thank you.

2. Ymchwiliad i Gyllid wedi'i Dargedu i Wella Canlyniadau Addysgol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 9
2. Inquiry into Targeted Funding to Improve Educational Outcomes: Evidence Session 9

Item 2 this morning is our final evidence session for our inquiry into targeted funding to improve educational outcomes. I'm very pleased to welcome Kirsty Williams AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education; Steve Davies, director of the education directorate; and Ruth Conway, deputy director, support for learners division. Welcome to all of you, and thank you for your attendance and also for the paper that you've provided in advance. If you're happy, we'll go straight into questions, and the first questions are from Llyr Gruffydd.

Bore da. I just want to start by asking some questions around the targeting of the pupil development grant because, clearly, we've had a lot of evidence around this apparent blurring of eligibility to an extent. I'm just wondering how comfortable you are that the money is being targeted appropriately because, clearly, it's being targeted more widely than just those eligible for free school meals, from some of the evidence we've had, but also that it seems to be predominantly focused on low-attaining frees—pupils who are eligible for free school meals.

Thank you, Llyr. I think it's important to be absolutely clear that when it comes to individual interventions, those individual interventions should only be targeted at those children who are eligible for free school meals. But in some cases, schools may use their PDG funding to provide a universal intervention, but we would want to—in challenge advisers' discussions in schools—we'd want to have evidence that that universal intervention would have a disproportionate effect on the outcomes for children on free school meals.

So, for instance, if I give you an example in your own region, Llyr: at Brynteg County Primary School in Wrexham, if you look at that primary school in Wrexham, their results for free-school-meal children at the end of their primary school period in school are equivalent to their non-free-school-meal counterparts. So, there is no differentiation in those results. One of the things that they've used their PDG for is to really focus on the concept of growth mindset in school. So, that's a universal thing that they've trained all the teachers in, but what we know is that that has a disproportionate effect on those children who are on free school meals. So, if you're familiar with the concept of a growth mindset, it's about really challenging learners to think that, 'I can do things. If sometimes I fail, I pick myself up, I'm more resilient.' Now, that has been, as I said, trained to all the teachers in the school—it's an ethos for the whole school—but we have seen that the impact on the free-school-meal children has been even greater, and now they're at the same level. So, that's the important distinction.

Individual intervention per child has to be targeted at those children who are eligible for free school meals, but sometimes a school will employ a whole-school approach to train their staff, for instance, and that, then, has to demonstrate it has a disproportionate effect on free school meals. So, growth mindset; it may be attachment disorder training for staff, for instance, where we know it's of benefit to everybody, but will have particular benefits for that cohort of students.

With regard to more able and talented, you know, Llyr, that this is an area of concern for me, generally, within the Welsh education system; that we've not been particularly good at identifying, supporting and driving attainment for those children. I'm absolutely clear that PDG needs to be used for those children who are eligible to drive potential, whatever the potential of that child is, including more able and talented. And again, I'll give you an example that has been seen as good practice in Pembrokeshire: a window on the world bus, again paid for by schools. I don't know if you're aware of it.

Oh, you've heard about it; well, it's a really good example the window on the world. And, again, that's very much targeted at raising aspirations and giving children who are more able and talented, who are eligible for PDG, those experiences, and to really push them. So, yes, I'm absolutely clear that PDG shouldn't just be seen to be getting individuals to the average. For those children who are more able and talented, it should be used to support them—

09:35

And we all share those aspirations, I'm sure, and you pointed to examples of good practice, but of course, it's not universal, is it, so what I'm asking is: do you think that the guidance is sufficient as it is? Do you think that there's a great enough awareness of how the PDG should be used at the coalface? And also, are you confident that consortia and others have the measures in place to be able to demonstrate that it is being used properly?

I think, if we look at what Estyn has said about PDG, it does actually recognise that the PDG is being used to push more able and talented children, but as always with the system, Llyr, it's whether we can be sure that that is strategic and that it's happening across all of our schools. So, you're—

But not just in relation to more able and talented, I'm referring to the eligibility and the targeting.

Oh, the eligibility. You'll be aware that, on the advice of Sir Alasdair, we have employed and appointed new PDG regional advisers, and I think their role is going to be absolutely crucial in spreading that good practice across the region, whether that's use of PDG for more able and talented, or ensuring that PDG is used in the appropriate way. So, that's there to provide strategic overall advice. And obviously, we have been very clear with regional challenge advisers, in the relationship and the conversations they're having with individual schools, that they're really challenging their schools about the use of PDG, not just in terms of targeting, but the programmes, what the money is being spent on, whether there is an evidence base for that and whether we are clear on impact. So, I think the new regional advisers are going to be crucial in enabling us to ensure more consistent practice across the regions.

So, are you content that eligibility for free school meals is the best measure, really, of identifying which pupils to target?

Llyr, in the absence of anything better. I'll be the first person to say that maybe it's not as absolutely focused, but in the absence of anything different to identify a proxy for need, I think it's probably the best that we've got at present. And we will continue to have discussions with local government about whether there are different ways.

We have to be mindful. Some of the policy levers in this area are out of my hands, so if we look at the roll-out of universal credit, for instance, we've got officials working very hard at the moment to try and understand what universal credit is going to mean and where we are going to be able to identify relative need, going forward. We haven't had any additional resource as a result of this, but we're very mindful that, potentially, this has an impact, going forward. And, officials are working all of the time, I must say, in conjunction with the department in England, to understand their thinking in this area so that we are in a position to make some decisions about what a notional eligibility for free school meals will look like going forward, but before I make any decisions, I want to assure everybody that there will be a full public consultation on that.

Okay. Finally for now, on this issue of once a year, in January, if you're eligible for free school meals, then you're in that group for that year. We've had some quite strong evidence about how difficult that makes longer term planning for a number of schools and we've also been pointed in the direction of what's happened in England with the Ever 6, and I'm just wondering whether you're giving any thought to maybe changing that a little bit.

Well, we're certainly giving thought to flexibility. In conversations with Alasdair, who is our independent adviser on this agenda, and individual schools, we're actively giving thought to greater flexibility and maybe longer term projections, so that schools know, for a number of years ahead, what their allocation will be.

There are advantages to that system, because you could give that flexibility, you could give that long-term approach, but then, how do you make that responsive if a school suddenly has more children? We do know that, actually, the number of free-school-meal pupils is dropping. But there can be changes, you know, regional working in areas of north Wales in tourism, or maybe in other areas at Christmas time, parents are able to get a period of work. So, how can we create a more flexible system? We're actively looking at that at the moment.

I wouldn't use it as an Ever 6 concept, but as an 'Ever 2' concept. We have looked at Ever 6, and I'm going to be absolutely blunt with you: to introduce an Ever 6 concept for Wales would mean in the region of identifying an additional £40 million. I'm going to be absolutely straight and blunt with you: we're not in a position at the moment to be able to identify an additional £40 million to introduce an Ever 6. But issues around flexibility, certainly, are actively under consideration. In fact, we'll be having a discussion later on today about decisions, going forward, for the next two years.

09:40

It's just a very brief point in response to the £40 million price ticket that you just put on that. That's, of course, assuming that you maintain the current level of PDG, yes? So, if you reduced the level of PDG slightly, but made it available to more individuals, if you like, via allocating it in a different way, then that £40 million price ticket wouldn't be there, would it?

I was asked a question about had I ever considered an Ever 6. We have looked at that, we've priced that up. I have to make decisions in the envelope of resources that are available to me. We could, indeed, change the way in which we allocate PDG money, but we have to do it within the envelope that is available to me, over £90 million. That's a significant level of investment, but, of course, as always, Darren, we could cut the amount per pupil, but that might have quite challenging swings in allocations.

What we have done—because what I am clear on is that there was evidence to suggest that in the secondary sector, a great deal of PDG was being focused on years 10 and 11, especially year 11, in catch-up provision, and you'll be aware, because we've said this in evidence to the committee in the papers, we've set a challenge to secondary schools to say, 'Actually, the majority of your PDG allocation has to be used in key stage 3.' Now, we have to balance the needs, the moral hazard of turning round to children in years 10 and 11 and saying, 'We're not going to provide catch-up opportunities for you,' because, clearly, those children need that support. But the evidence and the advice that we're receiving is: actually, strong focus on early years, primary and key stage 3, if we get that right, should negate the need for spending money on catch-up at years 10 and 11. That's why we, in our advice to local authorities and schools, say that we want to see evidence that they're spending this money earlier on in a child's career, rather than just a scramble at year 11 to say, 'Right, we've got to get you through your exams.'

Okay, but have you actively considered, then, reducing the level you have?

Sorry—I was just going to say that one of the things is looking at the scope of the definition, and I think it's about being more flexible with the definition, rather than reducing the amount per head.

Thank you. If we can go on, then, to talk about some of the practical uses of the PDG, you write in your written paper that 

'the majority of schools are making well thought out and appropriate decisions'

on how to use it. But Estyn reported that only two thirds of primary and secondary schools make effective use of the PDG. Given that we've had it now for six years, would you not have expected there to be a higher level of schools actually making good use of that funding?

Well, to flip it on its head, the vast majority of schools, as identified by Estyn, are using this money to good effect. So, that's the way I like to see it—that the vast majority of schools are doing well. What Estyn has also indicated is the intrinsic link here to leadership within individual schools, and as you'll be aware, leadership, improving capacity in leadership and developing leadership talent in the Welsh education system is a key priority for me in our national mission. Of course, that's being developed in a different work stream.

I think what's fair to say is that the use of PDG is evolving over time. I think we are seeing, increasingly, more and more schools understanding how best to deploy that money for best effect for students. So, if we're honest, when PDG first started, I think, in some schools it was spent on investing in tracking of children, because they'd never thought about tracking these children, they didn't have systems in place to look at the performance of these children, and to have a system in place. So we've moved now from spending money on the infrastructure around support for FSM children into actual inputs in terms of teaching and learning.

We're also seeing from Estyn that, actually, in terms of money following the evidence of what we know works, Estyn says that PDG is probably the best example of schools following tried and tested and evidence-based interventions to deploy the money. But clearly we want all of this money to be deployed as well as it can be, and again we come back to the decision I've made to appoint regional PDG advisers so that we can get that better consistency of approach. We are, in the discussions that I have with the regional consortia about how they challenge individual schools on usage, looking for very clear evidence of schools using the Sutton Trust toolkit, and we could have a discussion about whether that's the right thing, because that's on my mind too. But we want to see schools demonstrating their evidence base, and if they're not, if a school isn't doing that, okay, so demonstrate to us why you've made those decisions and, crucially, what are you doing as the school to judge whether that decision is actually making a difference for your individual pupils. So, if you're moving away from tried and tested interventions, what we know works, if you're doing something different with your money, okay, you need to justify that and you need to explain how you're going to demonstrate impact.

But I think what we're seeing is increasing good practice in this area as the PDG develops and as our understanding of our school-to-school working in our self-improving school system also develops. I think we're seeing better usage of the money year on year.

09:45

You mentioned some schools will be moving from the tried-and-tested interventions, really, and I'm just wondering to what extent that evolution of use of PDG is being driven by cuts to core funding.

No, I don't think it's being driven by cuts to core funding. I think there has been—. One of the biggest impacts of PDG has not been—well, I suppose it is the money in itself, because the money has concentrated the minds, hasn't it? So, one of the most important things that PDG has done is highlight the importance of this agenda within schools, and really raise this up in the thinking of leadership and senior management teams in our schools, and has driven a focus on scrutiny and accountability in the systems that are working with our schools.

I think the changing use of PDG reflects the journeys that schools have been on, some of them from a very low base where this was not a priority for them, to better understanding, and as research and as intelligence grows over time in this area, both in Wales and outside of Wales, schools are increasingly learning to use that evidence to tailor approaches in their schools.

So you wouldn't accept at all that some of this money's being used to paper over some funding cracks from elsewhere. Because the unions and some others have told us that, whether we like it or not, there is some of that going on.

As I said, Llyr, we're very clear about the usage that this money can be spent on in terms of individuals or universal application within schools, and that forms an important part of the checks and balances that we have in our system. Can we continue to improve, and ensure that more and more of our schools are employing best practice? Yes, we can, and as I've said, we've taken steps to put in place the infrastructure to support that.

Cabinet Secretary, how would you assess the impact of PDG on attendance and hopefully subsequent engagement with education from children who have free school meals?

I think what's important to note is that, as Estyn have themselves said, over the period of the last inspection report, we have seen improvements in attendance, but I do think we need to, again, look at how PDG can support this particular agenda. And as always in the Welsh education system, there are some excellent examples of how schools use the money to address this. Ysgol y Preseli in Pembrokeshire is a very good example of how they've deployed their money. Forgive me; I can't off the top of my head remember the name of the primary school I visited, again in north Wales, where the school has proactively used this money, and they actually send teaching assistants out of school in the morning before the start of the school day, and they actually have a walking bus. They call at homes for children, and they walk the children to the breakfast club. So, they're proactively going out into the community and making sure that those children are in the classrooms, because the teacher said, 'We recognised we had a problem with attendance. We tried a variety of means of improving that, but in the end we have taken this quite bold step—we actually send the staff out and they create that walking bus, and they walk the children into school'. They say that they know that, for some of those children, because of the difficult circumstances they and their families are living in, they probably wouldn't be in school if it wasn't for that proactive approach.

So, we're looking again at what more we can do to support this particular agenda in terms of improving attendance, because although, again, there are examples of good practice, there is still a gap between the attendance of free-school-meal pupils and non-free-school-meal pupils. And, of course, we can have the best curriculum in the world with really high-quality teaching, but unless the children are in the classes then we're not going to make the difference for them. Whilst that differential exists, then it's going to be hard to close the attainment gap for those children. 

09:50

I was actually quite shocked just reading in advance of this meeting that the proportion attending 95 per cent or more, who have pretty full attendance, was only 35 per cent for free-school-meal children at level 4, compared to 60 per cent for non-free-school-meal pupils. It still is an extraordinary difference. My colleague here showed me, I think, last week, a graph showing the link between attendance and attainment, in particular. When people were absent, a lot of the—. As I'm sure you're aware, there's a huge connection. What more can PDG do to deal with it? In the example you give I can see how a school with an awful lot of free-school-meal children could do that, but a lot of the free-school-meal children are actually in schools that don't have that high a proportion of free school meals, where it would be much more challenging to bring in that type of initiative.

Yes, indeed, and I think it gets more challenging the older the children get. I think it's more difficult to find interventions that are successful higher up, so key stage 4. So, you can do a walking bus with little ones, can't you, but I don't suppose your average 15 or 16-year-old is going to take very kindly to that. So, you do need a different approach to that. But again, we see in Ysgol y Preseli the employment of staff to directly work with families of older children to reinforce the messages around, as you quite rightly say, the linkage between attendance and attainment, and really work with individual families to understand the barriers to attendance: what's going on in the family that is preventing that child from going to school, and what more can the school do to address those situations. But you're absolutely right; there is more that we need to do to address this particular agenda of attainment. I don't know if there's anything extra you wanted to add, Steve. 

There is also another very good example—and I take what you say about where there are small numbers—but in our secondary schools where there are significant numbers, they're investing PDG in resources like a school nurse and a school counsellor, not just to work with the children but link to other agencies on whom the children and the families are dependent to support them in terms of working with schools. So, it's something, particularly in our most challenging areas, where it cannot just be delivered within the school. So, good use of that resource is being made to employ people to support them in those wider areas. 

Thank you. To what extent is PDG also used to seek to reduce the higher rates of exclusion for children entitled to free school meals? 

So, if we looked at permanent exclusions, there isn't a differential, but if we look at temporary exclusions, there we see there is a disproportionate number of children on free school meals that are subject to those exclusions. Again, I think what schools employing best practice understand is that you need a multi-agency approach to supporting that particular child. Some of those exclusions can be as a result of the need to address other issues going on in a child's life. So, this is where we come back to the committee's work, for instance, on mental health and support for children, support for behaviour in school. So, again, it's a multi-agency approach that I think we need, and, in our good schools, our really, really good schools, there's a recognition of that need to have a whole team around a child to support that child in education.

With EOTAS, we made some changes last year regarding PDG for EOTAS. So, for those children who do find themselves in education other than at school, we are providing additional support that previously was not available. 

09:55

Okay. We're going to move on now to talk about the impact of PDG on attainment. Hefin David has got some questions.

It appears that the attainment gap at 2017 has actually widened, in spite of PDG levels. Is that correct?

Yes. So, if you look at it—with the usual caveats about whether you can make direct comparisons on level 2 plus between the exams the year before and the exams that we had last summer—on the face of it, the gap has increased. I think what's important to recognise, Hefin, is a direction of travel. I'm sure we all want to, because I want to, have a discussion about why children on free school meals were less resilient in the exam system last year. But, if we look at the period that we have been employing PDG, over that period, we have seen a narrowing of the gap. I think what's quite stark, if we think about it—. So, if we look at where we started from: in 2009, one in five children on free school meals got level 2 plus—one in five—by 2016, we had got that down to one in three. Obviously, there's still a way to go, but, Sir Alasdair, who knows about these things, says that that is a significant improvement. Last year, we got some challenges. We need to understand why that happened, but I do think it's—

Why, do I think? What I do think is there is no one answer. There is no one answer to this. I think we could look at and we can have discussions around the move from BTEC to science GCSEs. I think we have supplied figures to the committee about the significant change in the number of children on free school meals who weren't doing a single science GCSE and are now doing science GCSEs.

We can look at the unintended consequences of literature. Again, we've supplied figures. Where children have done language and literature, whether that be through the medium of English or through the medium of Welsh, there is more resilience. So, it's that exposure to literacy in all its forms that I think could potentially make a difference.

So, I think there's no one answer to why free-school-meal children were not so resilient last year. We continue to have discussions with Qualifications Wales to get a better understanding of this. At my next ministerial policy board, in May, we'll be doing a deep dive into this particular subject.

So, to what extent would exam boards be responsible for lack of grade stability?

It could be one of the contributory factors. What I think is important is that there is no one, single reason why there seems to be less resilience in this cohort of children.

Will you be speaking to the exam boards about this and raising concerns?

I have written to Qualifications Wales, we've had discussions about it, but I've asked them to formally submit evidence ahead of my policy board for May, where, as I said, we will be doing a formal, deep-dive discussion across the department about these issues.

But, again, Hefin, what we've got to be clear on is—while we look at overall factors, you know, our overall national statistic—we did see some schools last year whose FSM performance was better than it had been the year before. So, what was it in those schools that enabled those children to do really well, whereas, in other schools, the performance was different?

Even in individual cities, you can see a huge variety of performance. So, take Cardiff and Swansea, our two biggest cities. You've got schools in those cities with comparative levels of free school meals. So, you could have really high-performing schools with a very small number of the cohort on free school meals. The difference between those performances in a single city—so, that's the same local education authority and the same regional consortium—you can see a massive change. There's one school I can talk to: their free-school-meal performance is 88 per cent. A similar school in the same city with the same proportion of children on free school meals, their performance is down in the 20 per cents.

So, I think what's important is that we can't draw broad-brush conclusions. For me, the challenge is to go into individual schools and understand what was happening in that particular school that ensured that their children did really well. We've got one school in Swansea, their FSM performance at GCSE level 2 outperforms non-FSM pupils.

10:00

But we still need to rely on the trends from a distance. If we take your argument that 2017 was an unusual year and the trends up to 2016 were positive, in a few years' time, when we will be looking back in two years' time, how are we going to measure this progress, say, in 2019? What are we likely to see and what methods are you going to use to measure progress that way?

Well, you'll be aware that we are moving away from level 2 plus as a performance measure anyway because of the—

So, for the lack of sophistication around the level 2 plus, and for the unintended behaviours that that particular performance measure has driven within our schools. 

I'll be making a statement shortly to the Assembly around a new performance measure for schools. We were, at our most recent secondary heads conference, working with schools to develop that. What's important to me is that we have a more sophisticated model that looks at school performance for all children. What level 2 plus does is narrow, very much, the focus of schools on an individual part of the cohort, usually the C/D borderline, which is why then we have problems with the number of students getting a B grade or above.

We have marked success in our schools by saying to schools that a C is good enough. Well, if a child gets a C but came to you in year 7 and they were destined to get an E, yes, indeed, a C is a success, because you've moved that child on; but, if that child came to you destined to get an A* and gets a C, then we haven't done a good job by that particular child. So, we need a performance measure that is much more sophisticated, looks at each individual child, tracks that progress, and measures the value added by that school in performance.   

Last question: therefore, should we have confidence in the data up to 2016? Is there a lack of confidence in that data?

No, it's not a lack of confidence in the data. The data is the data. What I'm saying is, using that as a performance measure and an accountability measure within our school system may have been right for the time. I think it is now right to have a different way of measuring success in schools. I think that particular set of performance measures has driven certain behaviours—not because Ministers wanted that to happen, but as an unintended consequence.

I think we can work together with our school system, learning the lessons of international best practice, to develop much more sophisticated accountability and performance measures for individual schools, and, I should say, for the Government. So, you will be aware of my intention to issue the first national report card on Government performance later on this year. So, this is not about trying to avoid scrutiny. It's about trying to develop a more sophisticated way, which is in line with our national mission, where every child's education is valued, and where the impact of the school can be tracked more effectively.

Okay, thank you. Can I just ask, Cabinet Secretary, are you still holding on to your target of 37 per cent of free-school-meal pupils achieving the level 2 threshold? 

Well, we're moving away from the level 2 threshold. So, that's the first thing to say. So, we will want to develop a new suite, in line with our new accountability measures, as we go forward. So, we will be absolutely continuing to track and evaluate the performance of free-school-meal pupils. When we announce our new accountability measures, I will be in a position to address how we'll measure the Government's performance, and national performance, going forward. But, given the fact that we're moving away from level 2 plus, then we will need a different set of performance indicators.

10:05

Okay, thank you. The next questions are on looked-after children and adopted children, and I've got questions from Michelle then Mark.

I was to come in first, I think. I was about to ask about ICF consulting.

I think my questions are first, but, Michelle, please do correct me if you were planning to come in before.

The PDG for looked-after children doesn't quite seem to have the degree of visibility as the PDG for the free-school-meals. I think we had the MORI/WISERD survey—only 15 per cent of primary schools and 23 per cent of secondary schools were aware that PDG was targeted at looked-after children. I just wonder—can you clarify on the record here what is the role of schools with PDG for looked-after children as compared to the regional consortia in this field?

Okay. I think it is absolutely fair to say that most awareness around PDG is around free school meals. There is less awareness around the availability of PDG to support looked-after children. I think that's probably in the nature of the cohort, so, there are more children subject to free school meals than are subject to being looked after. So, I think that's part of the explanation.

A decision was taken in 2015 to regionalise PDG for looked-after children. My understanding was that the thinking behind that at the time was around a greater strategic deployment of that resource and to try and drive a greater impact than how it was being used previously. So, looked-after PDG is held at a regional level. We have looked-after children PDG co-ordinators—they're in their second year this year—to look at a regional deployment of that resource. And that resource can be done in a variety of ways, through individual allocation to a school to support an individual child, through to capacity building for the whole system.

So, for instance, if I give you an example, in Carmarthenshire, there's been a big emphasis on attachment disorder and training teachers with regard to the impact of attachment disorder. Carmarthenshire happens to be one of those local authorities that does quite well in terms of attainment for looked-after children.

But, clearly, I have—not concerns. 'Concerns' isn't the right word. But I have asked officials to give greater scrutiny to how that resource has been used in the last year. Steve, on my behalf, wrote out to the system, setting out our expectations, but also advising them of the fact we will be asking very detailed questions of accountability for that money. So, what has that money been used on and how can you account for the effect? But, Steve, maybe you can give some greater detail.

I think the challenge that—. One of the rationales for shifting—not that all the money stays in the region, but having a regional strategic support—was that, historically, the money was going directly with that child to the school. Given the quite often rapid turnover of children in schools—the very nature of looked-after children is they do sometimes move through foster parents—historically, what happened, the money lands in the school, because, at that time in the year, when it's measured, the school gets the money and can spend it on some additional support for staff, but quite often that child moves on to another school and the money doesn't transfer. Some schools will go through quite a number of years without having a looked-after child and will not think strategically, 'How do I need to support them?' So, that was the rationale of the shift.

In terms of the implementation of the regional allocation, as of this financial year finishing, we are going into local authorities and regions to evaluate where they've located the resource, what the impact of that resource has been, so that is reinforced and shared more widely.

10:10

And then, to reassure, it's not just internally that we're looking at this. We have a contract with an external agency to do an evaluation—

Yes. Yes, so that was done in the autumn of last year, because, as I said, we had concerns about whether this was really having the effect that was intended. So, my expectation is that we will be in a position to receive that report later on this spring, and of course it would be my intention that that report would be made public for people to have a look at what—

So, I'm hoping to have that published before the summer recess. I'm very reluctant to say months; I've learnt not to say months, because they move.

Sure. I will come back in if I have anything further to ask here after Michelle.

—both of you asked for these questions, and that's what the pre-meeting is for.

Okay, thank you. Would you be open, Cabinet Secretary, to the idea of adjusting the eligibility of the PDG so that pupils who have been looked after or adopted at any point within a previous given period of time would attract the PDG, rather than only if they're looked-after on a one-off date?

As I said earlier, in questions from, I think it was, Llyr, who was talking about concepts of concepts of Ever 6, we are constantly looking at how we can get that balance between focus and flexibility for this resource. Llyr opened with the question of, 'How can you absolutely ensure that these children are getting the money?', but then there's also a tension about how can you create some flexibility around the school's usage of the grant. So, we will look at that. I think there is the issue of where a school would know of a child that was looked after. Issues around adoption are slightly more sensitive, because we couldn't force a family to tell a school that their child was an adopted child. So, a family may be very open and very keen to explain that to a school, but we can't necessarily track as closely children who have been adopted, especially if that adoption happens before the child goes to school. We can't be in a position of forcing families to disclose this information if they don't want to, but we certainly can, as I say, look to strengthen our monitoring arrangements around PDG support for looked-after children and the impact that that's having. I just think we need to be a bit mindful of people's privacy in some instances. If they don't want to divulge that, it wouldn't be my job to tell a family, 'You have to let us know if your child is adopted.'

Fair enough; thank you for that answer. The EAS consortium's approach to using the looked-after and adopted PDG is to use it as part of a broader approach targeted at vulnerable learners in general. What are your views on that approach?

I'm a great believer in if we can get it right for our most vulnerable learners, we'll be getting it right for all of our learners. I gave the example earlier, for instance, of attachment disorder, and, Chair, you will know that I have had conversations. One of the emerging themes for me, as I go around visiting schools, is the impact and the growing awareness and the growing numbers of children who have attachment disorder, and how schools are best able to respond to that in their children. So, for instance, as I said about Carmarthenshire, there's been a huge effort to address that in the school sector in Carmarthenshire. Now, that has a disproportionate benefit for those children, because you're more likely to see attachment disorder in children who are care experienced, because of the nature of the lives that those children have lived, but that doesn't necessarily mean that attachment disorder is exclusively found in those children that are looked after. It can be found in other families as well. So, that vulnerable learner, regardless of their background, will benefit from having teachers who are better trained, understanding and have intervention strategies in place to be able to address that need.

I think it's also important to add that this is not one region's approach; this is across four regions, so the others—. For example, ERW have run a significant programme looking at the impact of adverse childhood experiences on pupils, which has enabled teachers to detect some of the impact of some of those and then considers some of the work they need to do within the school but also with other agencies. So, it is something that's applied consistently across the four regions.

10:15

I was in Pil Primary School recently where they use their PDG, both FSM PDG, and no doubt an element of PDG for looked-after, for nurture groups. So, for those children who really, really find it very difficult to be in the main classroom, they can have that nurture group experience to address issues around emotional behaviour, feelings, and it gets them in a position where they are able then to join the main classroom because issues around behaviour have been addressed and they're in a better position to learn. So, again, this is an example of how vulnerable learners in the wider sense can benefit.

Yes. Can I follow up on tracking adopted children? I entirely understand that you can't force parents to disclose that their child is adopted. However, my understanding was that, in England, there was a dataset with social services that was shared with schools in a way that I'm not clear is happening in Wales and how, if at all, that links to the pupil level annual school census data. Perhaps sort of linked to that, isn't there an argument for making the parents of adopted children in the schools, potentially, with adopted children more aware that adopted children who were previously looked after have this potential grant, and would they not be more willing to disclose this, at least confidentially to the school and Government, if they knew there was this upside of doing so?

We're actively looking at whether we should try and find a way of collecting this data, with the caveats that I just gave earlier. We can't force parents to divulge information that is a matter for them, nor would I want to. But there is an active discussion going on at the moment about whether we could create a dataset where people divulge this information and we can then track the children through. You're absolutely right. One of the ways in which we can often encourage take-up, for instance, of free school meals, especially in those communities where there is a sense of reluctance to apply for support—even though people are entitled to it, there's a reluctance to do it; sometimes we see this in rural areas—. Actually, appealing to the parents by saying, 'Actually, this will mean more money for your child's school budget' is a much more compelling reason why people will apply for it then saying, 'Actually, it's going to help you', because they don't want to be seen being dependent, they don't want to be seen being helped. But, if you say to them, 'Actually, do you know that this means more money for your child's school?', they go, 'Oh, all right then, I'll fill in the forms now.' So, you're right, I think there is something that we could do to make parents understand, in the round, that this has an impact. But we are actively looking at and discussing whether we could create a dataset around adopted children and how we can do that in line with data protection and data sharing.

One of the things I am concerned about in the performance of looked-after children generally is how we can, across Government, work more closely together. We can't see the educational attainment of looked-after children just being a job of education. It's got to be a job of social services and the health service as well. There's got to be a joined-up approach to doing that. Now, officials were at the ministerial advisory group that's chaired by David Melding on prospects for looked-after children. They were there at the group last week. David tells me that the paper was very positively received by the group. I will be sitting down with David Melding to talk through what more we can do on the education side. I think there's really an appetite between me and the Minister for children to get a closer working relationship on this. We can't expect schools to do it on their own and alone. And there are things that we can do out there in local authorities to help improve outcomes. It's not just about the PDG; it is about, when social services are thinking about a placement, where does the discussion about where children are going to go to school—when does that take place? Do we talk about the placement, move a child and then think, 'Oh my goodness me, what are we going to do about the schooling?' If you can imagine, the school could have been working really, really hard with a pupil to get them in a good place, to get them being able to access the curriculum, and then social services decide that the placement is being changed. So, we potentially lose all of that.

So, a greater involvement in education and better linked-up working in local authorities will help us with this. It can't be just the job of the PDG. If we think we can crack this with just PDG, then we're being delusional. It has to be a cross-government approach at a national level, and at a local government level as well, to get this right. Sometimes, data protection—how can we break down some of these barriers between, you know, the school doesn't need to, schools shouldn't see, the entire social services report? Well, maybe the school does need to see some of that background information if they're going to have an impact for that child. So, there's more work to do, but it cannot be just the job of education on its own if we're going to make a difference, nor can it just be the job of the PDG to make a difference for those children.

10:20

Thank you. Julie's got some more questions on the impact on adopted and looked-after children.

Yes, before I go on to those, I just wanted to support, really, what Mark was saying about adopted children and how important it is, I think, that the adoptive parents feel able to speak to the school and to give information. Because certainly any evidence we've had from adoptive parents, and generally knowing about what adoptive parents do feel, is that they often feel that there's a degree of a lack of sensitivity in the school about the issues of adoption. I would certainly support some move towards ensuring that the atmosphere was open in a way that would encourage them to realise that it would be a help for the children if there was an awareness in the school. So, I just wanted to really reinforce that.

Yes, and that would chime with what I hear from many adoptive parents. I'm just trying to be sensitive by saying we can't force people to divulge this information if they don't want to.

Yes, you're right. We need to make sure that those parents feel that they can discuss this with school leaders and classroom teachers and explore how best those individual children can be supported, and how best we can support parents. Because, again—and I've said this a lot—after the quality of teaching, the second biggest impact on a child's educational outcome will be parental engagement. So, being able to create an environment where adoptive parents feel very confident and able to talk about their children's education is absolutely crucial if we're going to get that parental engagement that we need for all of our children.

Yes. Thank you. Going on to looked-after children, you say that the latest data on looked-after children's attainment is extremely disappointing. Can you expand on that and what effect the PDG has had in this result, or not had?

Well, there's no getting away from it: the way in which we currently measure outcomes for looked-after children, the results are not good enough. It's a source of huge concern to me that we need to do better for those children. That's why officials are engaging with the group that David Melding is chairing, to make sure that education is integral to that group and it's not lost sight of. There's a discussion to be had about the cohort, whether it's right and correct to compare looked-after children to the main cohort, or whether these statistics are useful in any way. Sometimes as well—this is not to make an excuse because, as I've said in my paper, it's extremely disappointing, but sometimes it can be really difficult. Because the cohort sometimes can be very, very small, it can swing the statistics to look perhaps more dramatic.

I think, generally, when you look at how looked-after children do—

—in a much wider evaluation, they're not doing well, are they?

They're not doing well. So, that's why we've got the review, the independent review, into the impact of the PDG in this area. This is why Steve is doing the work that he is doing with the regional consortia because, clearly, at the moment, we are not doing what we need to do for that particular cohort of children. I would not make any bones about that at all.

I think we will not move away from the fact that these children need good GCSEs to gain employment, so we'll continue to measure that. I think we need to look at more nuanced evaluations of the data at a lower level. So, for example, there were significant improvements in terms of PDG pupils who got three and four good GCSEs but didn't get past the threshold. That's not to cover anything that is not working in terms of improvement, but we will look at the full range and still hold on to the fact that we have to look at a measure that relates to the likelihood of these children going on to further education and training.

10:25

And then just one more question about the exclusion rates amongst looked-after children. They are, I understand, over six times more likely to be given a fixed-term exclusion. So, is there any way of trying to address this? Is the PDG used for anything to do with exclusions?

We can look at exclusions. We also have to read across about how the whole system works, not just the PDG element of the system. So, we know, for example, that 66 per cent of looked-after learners have some additional learning need, so we can't just look at it in terms of this particular source of funding; we have to look at it at a wider level of support. So, given that the majority of those children will have an ALN, how can we make sure that our new ALN legislation and our new ALN regime meets the needs of these children? So, I think what we're looking at, again, is to say that it can't be just the job of the PDG. That's there as an additional level of support, but actually, we've got to get our ALN right. Unless we get our ALN right, lots and lots of these children are not going to get the support that they need day in, day out via that system. 

We do know that sometimes, if we're not addressing ALN, then we're not addressing behaviour issues that then potentially lead to an expulsion or potentially lead to non-attendance. So, we've got to look at it in the round and recognise the connections between the sometimes quite complex needs that these children have within the school setting, that are not just as a result of the fact that they're looked after; they have other needs as well.

And investment in well-being—

Absolutely. Steve is reminding me that that's why well-being is part of the national mission—to address issues around supporting children with their well-being, which is a way of keeping them in school.

Thank you. We're going to move on to Schools Challenge Cymru now. Llyr.

Thank you, Chair. I was just wondering what your assessment is as to why some schools made progress and others didn't.

I think we have to recognise that the 39 schools that were part of the programme were in very, very different places. So, I think one of the reasons why some schools did well was because their needs were not so complex, not so deep-seated and a certain level of intervention was enough to get them moving forward. Some schools had very, very different needs.

I think, talking to those involved in the programme, as always, we had some support advisers, challenge advisers working with those schools as part of the programme who were really, really excellent and really good, and were the right fit for the school and really drove the school onwards. We had other people employed in the programme who, perhaps, were less effective at driving change within those individual schools.

So, what we have is a mixed bag of performance, again reflecting the very different challenges that those schools were facing, which led them to be chosen for the programme in the first place.

Sorry. One of the other key additional factors was the extent to which there had been recent appointment of a new headteacher to that school just before the programme had started, because—

A positive, yes. I think one of the challenges is that sometimes the time it takes to make changes in leadership can be protracted and can be a barrier, sometimes, to the speed with which you can move. But, for a significant minority of the schools, there had been recent new appointments of headteachers, which was seen to be contributing, when you looked at the evaluation, to the speed with which they were able to engage.

The reason I was asking was I wanted to understand what lessons the Government is taking from that three-year investment, really, and how, maybe, you're applying some of those lessons to your wider school improvement programme. I know Professor Mel Ainscow identified six interconnected lessons, although I also note that the Cabinet Secretary didn't actually meet him for about six or seven months after coming into post. So, I'm just wondering, can you give us confidence that, actually, you are serious about taking lessons from Schools Challenge Cymru and applying them to the wider school improvement agenda?

Well, absolutely, Llyr. I don't think anything should be read into when I met the individual concerned, because officials were meeting the individual concerned. Individual challenge advisers were meeting with the regions, there was crossover work with the FSM agenda as well, and we are absolutely determined that best practice and those interventions that drove school improvement are embedded in the new support that we have via the regional consortia. It's no coincidence that some of the best people that were employed by Schools Challenge Cymru are now in the employment of our regional consortia. So, those people that were really good and really made a difference don't work for the Schools Challenge Cymru scheme any more, they work for our regional school improvement services. So, we're absolutely determined.

The things that we have learned, as always, are around leadership. It is absolutely key and crucial to have strong, capable school leadership as a driver for change within the system. We're looking at systems and processes, so, actually, has a school got in place comprehensive systems of tracking and processes within the school? We're looking at the teacher quality—how can we ensure that we have got consistent strategies in place to drive up pedagogy and teacher quality in the classroom? Collaborative activity—again, absolutely key. A school cannot see itself in isolation, and one of the key themes of the national mission is a self-improving system, so, collaborative working where schools are looking outside of each other, learning from best practice from other schools. So, there are lots of things that we've drawn from the evaluation that you will see as key themes running through the national mission, and, as I said, it's no coincidence that our really good people that were working in Schools Challenge Cymru are now working for the regional consortia, being able to use that expertise not just for a very small proportion of our schools—but that expertise is available to all our schools.

10:30

Although Estyn has told us, of course, that you can't expect the consortia to really carry on with that level of intervention and the same kind of intensity as was provided previously, so I'm just wondering—

Well, we were told by Estyn in evidence that they didn't necessarily think that we could expect the consortia to provide the same type of tailored support, and certainly the level of intensity with the improvement boards and everything—

Well, the improvement boards are carrying on, so the improvement boards still exist, and I would—not that I want to argue with Estyn—

What I would say is that those improvement boards are staying on, and our schools categorisation system is used to identify the level of support. Now, if you're a red school, that gives you the entitlement to 25 days of support. That is more than you would have got under the Schools Challenge Cymru programme, which would've been 20 days. So, actually, moving to this system allows us to really focus in on those schools that need that intensive level of support. And what's important for me, Llyr, in this, okay, is that those schools are not necessarily just the schools that were in the programme. Our system now of challenge, advice and support allows us to target resources across all of our schools and across all of our sectors, because you'll be aware that Schools Challenge was only available to secondary schools, not available to primary schools. What our system now allows us to do, via the schools categorisation, is to identify schools, wherever they are in Wales and whatever sector they're in, to have that intensive level of support that they need to make improvements.

So, you're confident that that level of momentum is continuing through the consortia that was previously enjoyed by those particular schools, and you're also confident that there is minimal risk that they'll slip back to where they were, potentially, or at least part of the way back.

Well, actually, there are some really good examples of some of the Schools Challenge Cymru schools making that sustained improvement now that the programme has come to an end. You only have to look at Tredegar, where we have seen continual improvement and moving up through the categorisation system. That school is now a green school, so they've been able to sustain their progress at the end of the programme. If we look at Armando in Eastern High School, again—gosh, my goodness me, we had lots of debates in a previous Chamber about the future of Eastern. There was one person that said that Eastern had to be closed and that the only way forward for that particular school was for it to be shut down, but what we have seen is investment via Schools Challenge Cymru, but ongoing, continual support from the regional consortium, and that school has come out of special measures. I pay absolute tribute to the staff of that school and that community that have done such a good job.

So, I'm absolutely convinced that where we've got good leadership and good support, some of those schools are making continued, sustained progress even after the end of the programme. The challenge for me is for those schools that Schools Challenge Cymru didn't work for, and we haven't seen that progress—how we can use our school improvement system now to continue to work with those schools to give them the level of support that they need to make a difference. So that's what my focus is on now: a whole-system approach, rather than choosing 39 schools to get that level of support, when we recognise that there are schools everywhere, potentially, that need intervention, support and challenge, and in the primary sector as well. 

10:35

Okay. So, you wouldn't agree with a number of—well, the near-unanimous evidence that we've had from academics, some of whom are Government advisers from consortia et cetera, that this kind of programme such as Schools Challenge Cymru would probably need about five years to really have the impact that it was intended to have.

What I would say is that, from my understanding, from the outset, it was a time-limited programme. The schools were aware of that. There were no surprises that it was supposed to be a time-limited programme. Evidence from across the UK showed that school challenge programmes have differed in time. So, for instance, Manchester's challenge was a three-year programme. So, there's no consensus about how many years you need to run a programme for. The previous Minister was quite clear about the time-limited nature of the programme. That's not to say it was the wrong decision, because what's important, and an ongoing legacy of the programme, was the investment in regional school improvement capacity, because at the time our school improvement services and the regions were young, in their infancy. The ability of individual local authorities to make a difference, with so many local authorities in an Estyn categorisation, was limited, so one of the ongoing legacies of the programme is that significant investment of over £10 million in the capacity of the regions to be able to continue this support and the school improvement work.

So, how disappointed were you that the money for Schools Challenge Cymru went back into reserves and didn't stay in your envelope, as you described it earlier? I presume you made a pitch for it. Did you make a case for that money to stay within your department?

Llyr, we are constantly having discussions with the Minister for Finance around support for the education budget. The Minister for Finance was quite clear that it was a time-limited programme. We were able to secure investment from the Finance Minister to be able to secure the programme and run it and phase it out to make sure there was transition support, so as we moved from the schools challenge programme into the regional consortia, there were resources to do that.

Did you feel there was a case to be made to add to the consortia's resources and be able to continue that level of support that schools had previously had?

Well, we did make resources available to the regional consortia to do that. As I say, from the outset, the previous Minister was very clear it was a time-limited programme. Certainly the schools that I talk to—. And I want to be absolutely clear: I have visited many, many Schools Challenge Cymru schools. I have used that opportunity to talk to them about—Heolddu being one of them, Hefin, which we went to visit, and Willows, for instance. I'm going to one this afternoon—I'm going to St Illtyd's this afternoon, and I always take—. I've been to Caergybi in Anglesey. I always take the opportunity to speak to those teachers about their experience of the programme and to understand and assure myself that they are getting ongoing support that they see as an appropriate level for them. I think I've done 19 of the schools.

With regard to it being a time-limited programme, the previous Minister was clear that it was a time-limited programme, but it wasn't quite as time-limited as you've decided to be. Is that fair to say?

No, it was supposed to be a three-year programme at the most. So, there's no differential between when I decided it was time-limited and the expectations—

So the time limit was the same that the previous Minister put on it.

But Mel Ainscow did tell us that there was a fade out in that third year—not that people were giving up, don't get me wrong, but clearly there wasn't that commitment coming from Government because the decision had been made, and people felt that it was just fizzling out a little bit, and that impacted on the momentum.

I wouldn't characterise it as that. I think there certainly was a transition phase when we knew that the programme was moving and schools were moving into a different level of support, but I certainly wouldn't describe it as a fading out—not at all. As I said, we were aware that the programme was transitioning and we were determined to get that right for those individual schools, and to learn the lessons and, crucially, to be able to apply those lessons right across the board.  

10:40

I can see where the perception would come if a programme director like Mel was managing the programme right to the end of the three years exactly the same, and it falls off—not a cliff, but it falls off, then the readiness for schools and the readiness in the system to hand over—so part of the shift of focus was that working as a Government with the programme in those schools to working with the programme, those schools and the region. So, I think, inevitably, one party might see it as a decrease in terms of emphasis on their work, but it was necessary for the transition.   

But does that cast a bit of a shadow over the transition, then—that one key player within that process felt as such, or are you confident that that was managed well and effectively? 

I think it was managed well, and we were very clear to recognise success where success has been achieved, but not to gloss over where the programme had not made an impact, because that wouldn't be good for anybody. There was a formal event to close the programme, which gave everybody an opportunity to get together, to be formally thanked, and for, as I said, congratulations to be given to those people who had really made a difference and, crucially, key staff transferred over into the regional consortia. So, for those individuals, they were able to continue their work, but just be able to apply that work on a regional basis rather than just in an individual school. So, I don't see that there was any fading out, but there was a transition into a new system, and many of those key personnel transitioned into the system with us.  

Have you got any figures for the numbers of staff who went from the programme into the consortia? 

And can I just say, I met with some of them? I met with a selection of those people who had been involved in the programme to get their feedback on what they felt had gone right, and what they didn't feel had gone right in the programme. So, I took the time not just to meet the figurehead of the programme, but actually to meet the people who were doing the work in the individual schools. Sorry.  

Yes, I just wanted to ask you, you mentioned the figurehead there, I assume by 'the figurehead' you mean Professor Ainscow. And you've mentioned as well that you said you wanted to learn lessons from Schools Challenge Cymru, but he told us that nobody had been in touch with him since March of last year in order to have any sort of follow-up engagement, or to have a dialogue about his perspective on what worked, what didn't work, why there were failures in some areas and why there were successes in others. Why haven't you sought that level of engagement with the person who was responsible for running the programme? 

I've had that conversation with Mr Ainscow. We had the evaluation of the programme. We've spoken to the people who were actually involved in running the programme on a daily basis in individual schools. We've spoken to the regional consortia. We've spoken to local education authorities. We've spoken to a wide variety of people to get their insight into the lessons learned, what was valuable and what was not valuable. So, a wide variety of people have been involved in those conversations. 

But you've hardly engaged with Mr Ainscow—with Professor Ainscow himself. 

I would actually say that I have had meetings—

Yes, since March of last year. I haven't got the exact dates for you. I've had discussions with Mel Ainscow, and my line manager at the time, Owen Evans, also had meetings and discussions. 

So, when he told us, 'Since last March, I literally have had no contact at all with anybody from Welsh Government', he was telling porky pies, was he? 

That's not my recollection. I'll go back and check for you. 

Yes, well, I just talked about the celebration event to formally mark the end of the programme. My understanding was that it was July of last year, so people were engaged in that. And this idea that somebody has been ignored or frozen out is not how I see or how I regard that situation. 

I have to say, with Professor Ainscow my impression was he took great, great pride in the work that he'd done with Schools Challenge Cymru, and I think he really enjoyed the engagement, the work and the positive relations with the Welsh Government. But I think there was just a degree of disappointment, perhaps, that at least he didn't feel that he'd been interrogated as much as he might have been about the lessons learned from the programme, and how perhaps to entrench those as well as possible with the regional consortia. I just wonder, Cabinet Secretary, if you could invite the professor in, perhaps to have a further debrief with you and take account of some of his thoughts and suggestions for what might help in this area.

10:45

Well, Mark, as I said, I just don't think it should be right to characterise this as a failure to engage with a single individual.

As I said, I met with him, Steve has met with him, Owen Evans has met with him, my special policy adviser has met with him and had discussions. So, there has been an ongoing dialogue. But, Mark, I hope that I have demonstrated since I took on this job that I am willing to work with a wide variety of people and to tap into their expertise if it can help me to deliver on the national mission. And if the advice to me is that we haven't sufficiently learnt the lessons, then I'll gladly have another conversation. What I'm saying to you—and I'm absolutely confident—is that we have learnt the lessons, we are taking that work and the good practice forward, and we have done that with conversations with a wide variety of people who had a view on this, from individual schools that were involved in the programme, individual people who were working in those schools, local education authorities, some of which have been very scathing about the programme, I should say, regional consortia—. So, the lessons, I am confident, have been learnt.

I'm glad to hear that, Cabinet Secretary, but I still say that, listening to Professor Ainscow's evidence, there was a perception, at least from him individually, that the programme should not be seen to be a failure, but a desire that the lessons should be learnt and a feeling or exception, at least on his part, that there was more that he still had to contribute to the process. And just to take one particular example, I think he referred to the Schools Challenge Cymru advisers being very successful in bringing in people who might not otherwise have contributed to this, and the regional consortia have had greater challenges in recruiting people, perhaps in some areas, of the same high standard of some particular individuals, but also from a wide range of different areas that the Schools Challenge Cymru do, and that there could be more to learn in that area as to how to support real excellence and a greater diversity of recruitment for those people. Is that something you could perhaps draw on his thoughts further about? Because I think he does feel that he has more to say to Welsh Government to help in this area.

Firstly, can I say that I have never described the programme as a failure? I would understand, as someone who has put so much personal investment into the brand of schools challenges, that he would not want anybody to characterise that particular approach to school improvement as a failure. And I want to be absolutely clear that I have never described the programme as a failure, and I want to reassure Mr Ainscow of that. 

As I've said, gosh, my goodness me, if you saw my e-mail inbox and you saw the letters that come in, people are never shy in coming forward to give me advice on what I need to do, what I need to do next, what I'm doing right, what I'm doing wrong, and, you know, our doors are always open to listen to people who have interesting things to say about how we can deliver our educational mission. So, people aren't slow in coming forward, I can assure you, with advice. 

Just very quickly. I'm sure the Minister is aware that Cardiff put extra funds of its own in to continue Schools Challenge Cymru advisers. So, obviously, they appreciated the value of the scheme, but it does query whether it should have gone on longer.

Julie, I think, to be fair, there are some people who think the scheme was absolutely fantastic. I've had feedback from people who didn't think the scheme was helpful at all—in fact, they felt it was a hindrance. I'm very much of the view that the scheme worked really well for some schools in some areas and had less impact in some areas. There is a mixed picture. What's important to me is that we understand what it was that led those schools to make those big changes, how we can—like Mark talked about, the expertise—how we can keep that expertise in the system, and how we can apply the lessons to all schools.

The next questions, and the final questions, are from John. So, we're going to need succinct questions and succinct answers.

Some questions on regional consortia, Cabinet Secretary, and, first of all, the role that you believe they should play and how schools use PDG.

Well, it's an absolute—. It's one of the things that I have been very clear to the regional consortia that I expect their challenge and support advisers to be asking schools about. So, one of the conversations that they need to have when they are in schools is exploring, with that school, how they are using their PDG, and how they're demonstrating an impact for those resources. So, it's a fundamental role for the challenge and support advisers in the regional consortia in their school improvement work. It's crucial. 

10:50

That sort of brings to mind some of the research that's been done on the role of the challenge advisers, Cabinet Secretary, which suggested that they're not actually challenging schools in that way, and that there's very little evidence of schools changing their decisions on the use of PDG as a result of any challenge from those challenge advisers. So, how would you respond to those findings?

Well, as I said, in my scrutiny of the role and success of our regional consortia, I specifically asked them about free-school-meal performance and the use of PDG within their particular region. I think there is increasing evidence to suggest that good use is being made of that resource, and I think that is being fed back into us. Estyn tell us that it's one of the areas of school expenditure that is closely linked to research and an evidence base. But, clearly, there is more to do, and that's why we have appointed the new regional advisers for PDG going forward, because we think there can be improvements in how this agenda can be supported at a regional level.

Yes. There's always more that we can do, and we are strengthening that role by the appointment of the new regional PDG advisers, so that individual school challenge advisers know what they should be looking for, know what they should be doing, and there is a regional approach to good practice.

Okay. Could you tell the committee, Cabinet Secretary, how effective you believe the relationship was between the Schools Challenge Cymru programme and the regional consortia's school improvement functions, and to what extent it varied by region?

I think it's fair to say that, on occasion, I have received feedback that there was a conflict between what was going on at an individual school under the school improvement programme and whether, then, they welcomed support from the regional consortia as part of that. So, in some cases, if we're being absolutely honest, there could sometimes be tensions between the two, but in most cases, the relationship was very, very positive and there was continuous feedback between the work going on in the schools under the programme and the regional consortia challenge advisers. But I'm going to be blunt and honest with people—in some cases, it has been reported to me—it's only anecdotal evidence; I haven't got hard and fast evidence—that there sometimes was a conflict: 'We're a school challenge school so we don't need to participate or listen to any advice that's coming from the regional consortia.' Or, a local education authority said to me, 'We felt that we couldn't get involved in that school anymore because it was part of a different programme.' Those were isolated incidents, and, as I said, it's only anecdotal feedback. In most cases, the relationship was a very positive one.

Just very quickly, I think that, across the board, it was more complex in the beginning, getting—[Inaudible.]. But when the programme itself recognised that they needed to work with the regions, and the regions needed to work with them—and I think Mel Ainscow in his evidence referred to this—it strengthened after some early challenges. I think Mel Ainscow was working in a number of regions—I can't remember which ones—so he's established relationships—[Interruption.] Sorry?

Central south. He has already been working in that, so I think it possibly had a stronger springboard in terms of the early working.

Because he already had relationships that he had already developed in that particular region. As always, with many of these things, it's about individuals and relationships.

Okay. Finally from me, Cabinet Secretary: in 2015-16, Estyn reported on regional consortia not sufficiently focusing on particular groups of pupils and tracking their outcomes—for example, vulnerable pupils. I just wonder what you are able to tell us in terms of to what extent there has been necessary progress since 2015-16.

10:55

Okay. Well, I think it's important to recognise that all four consortia underwent monitoring visits in the autumn of last year, of 2017, which weren't reflected in the Estyn annual report for 2015-16. Estyn, through these 2017 inspections, have said that three out of the four regional consortia are making strong progress in their particular work, and we are continuing, as Welsh Government, to work with the other regional consortia to address the findings of the Estyn report.

Yes, absolutely. The committee probably hasn't had an opportunity to see, but, only this morning, Estyn has released a report on more able and talented, and has positive things to say in the field of more able and talented, which was being asked about earlier by Members—you know, evidence of improved working and support in that particular arena. But, again, we need to ensure a consistency across all the regions, and that the findings of Estyn's most recent reports into regional performance are followed through.

Okay, thank you. As we've got a couple of minutes left, if I can just jump back to the issue of practical uses of the PDG—because it's the only thing we haven't really covered and it would be good to get on the record—can I ask to what extent you'd like to see the PDG used to track the progress of eligible pupils? And the committee's heard that there are several different tracking systems and tools used by schools. To what extent is that an issue to do with what the Welsh Government is promoting? Or is it down to consortia or individual schools? And do you think there needs to be a more centralised push on how the tracking is undertaken?

Firstly, can I say it's absolutely crucial that we track performance, absolutely crucial? That's the bedrock. We don't dictate to individual schools the nature of the system that they should employ in their school. There are a number of different programmes that allow schools to do this, but we are absolutely clear, and best practice and evidence shows us, that individual pupil tracking is key and crucial. And, as I said in the beginning, where we weren't tracking pupils at all, initial investment in PDG was used to establish these systems within schools. Again, one of the outcomes from the schools challenge review, and one of the lessons learnt, was, again, the importance of individual tracking of pupils throughout their school career. But we don't dictate a single system. 

Okay, and you don't think there's more scope to look at what the best system is that can be recommended to schools.

That's not something we're actively looking at. I am actively looking at developing a Welsh toolkit around good practice, evidence base and research. At the moment we use the Sutton Trust toolkit, which is fine and excellent, but we are having active discussions about whether we're in a position, now, to look at developing a suite of a Welsh toolkit to support this agenda, and that's under active consideration.

Okay. Well, we've reached the end of our session. Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary and the officials for attending and for answering such a wide range of questions? As usual, you'll be sent a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but thank you again for coming.

3. Papurau i’w Nodi
3. Papers to Note

Okay. Item 3, then, is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a letter from the Minister for Children and Social Care on Families First funding. Paper to note 2 is a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, updating us on the supply teacher issue. Paper to note 3—another letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, providing further information following our meeting on 15 February. Paper to note 4 is a letter from the WJEC on availability of textbooks. Paper to note 5—a letter from Qualifications Wales, also on availability of textbooks. And paper to note 6 is a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Education to the Children's Commissioner for Wales, following up on the dialogue that they've been having about our inquiry. Are Members happy to note those? Thank you.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd am Weddill y Cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to Resolve to Exclude the Public for the Remainder of the Meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 4, then, is for me to propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Thank you.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:59.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:59.