Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

07/07/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dawn Bowden AS
Janet Finch-Saunders AS
Jayne Bryant AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Hefin David
Substitute for Mark Hefin David
Lynne Neagle AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sian Gwenllian AS
Suzy Davies AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Angel Ezeadum Aelod o Senedd Ieuenctid Cymru
Welsh Youth Parliament Member
Ali Abdi Race Council Cymru
Race Council Cymru
Huw Morris Cyfarwyddwr Grŵp, Sgiliau, Addysg Uwch a Dysgu Gydol Oes, Llywodraeth Cymru
Group Director, Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, Welsh Government
Kirsty Williams AS Y Gweinidog Addysg
Minister for Education
Steve Davies Cyfarwyddwr y Cyfarwyddiaeth Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Education Directorate, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Lisa Salkeld Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Sian Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Tanwen Summers Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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

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

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:00.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:00. 

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

Good afternoon, everyone. Can I welcome Members to this virtual meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee? In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I've determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting, published last Friday. This meeting is, however, being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual.

Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. If we become aware that there is an issue with the translation, I will ask you to pause for a moment while our meeting technicians reset the system. Apologies have been received from Hefin Davod MS, and I'd like to welcome Jayne Bryant MS, who is attending as a substitute. Can I ask Members if there are any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay, well, can I also, then, finally note for the record that if for any reason I drop out of the meeting, it's been agreed that Dawn Bowden MS will temporarily Chair while I try to rejoin.

2. COVID-19: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth gyda Llywodraeth Cymru
2. COVID-19: Evidence Session with the Welsh Government

Item 2, then, is an evidence session on the impact on children of of COVID-19—an evidence session with the Welsh Government. I'm very pleased to welcome Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education; Steve Davies, director of the education directorate at Welsh Government; and Huw Morris, group director, skills, higher education and lifelong learning at Welsh Government. Thank you all for your attendance this afternoon. Due to the time constraints, Minister, we'll go straight to questions, and the first questions are from Siân Gwenllian.

Prynhawn da. Hoffwn i gychwyn efo'r pwnc sydd ar feddyliau y rhan fwyaf o rieni, plant, pobl ifanc a phobl yn y byd addysg, sef beth fydd yn digwydd ym mis Medi. A fedrwch chi roi syniad i ni y prynhawn yma beth ydych chi'n disgwyl ei weld yn digwydd yn ein hysgolion ni o fis Medi ymlaen?

Good afternoon. I would like to begin with the topic that's foremost in the minds of the majority of parents, children, young people and those in the education sector, namely what will happen in September. Can you give us an idea this afternoon of what you expect to see happening in our schools from September onwards?

Thank you very much, Chair, for your welcome, and thank you too, Siân, for that question. With regard to September, what we expect is the opportunity to maximise face-to-face learning and to minimise the disruption to children's education as a result of COVID-19. As Members can imagine, the science and the understanding of the virus are constantly evolving and deepening, and one of the challenges we face is that making a decision this far in advance of September can be an added confusion, but I understand and am cognisant of the fact that both pupils and families and professionals want to have as much clarity as soon as possible with regard to operation in September.

This week, we are in a series of discussions with all the relevant stakeholders. We are awaiting the very latest scientific advice with regard to the impact of the virus on children in particular, and the transmissibility of the virus from children. I hope to be able to make a definitive statement on September before the end of this week.

Diolch yn fawr. Felly, cyn diwedd yr wythnos yma—fedrwch chi fanylu ar hynny? Fe fydd hi'n ddydd Gwener siŵr o fod, felly fe fydd yna wybodaeth ar gael i ysgolion fod yn cynllunio ar gyfer mis Medi.

Thank you very much. So, before the end of this week you'll be able to detail that—is that the expectation? It'll be Friday probably, so there will be information available then to schools to be planning for September. Is that the case?

Yes, I'm currently awaiting a final piece of scientific advice. As I said earlier, the science is changing all of the time, and sometimes we are not in charge of when that advice will become available. It was signalled to us that some crucial evidence would be made available this week, and I didn't want to make a decision on old evidence, I wanted to be able to utilise the very latest information before making a decision. As I said, my intention and hope is to be able to make a definitive announcement with regard to September, as I said, before the end of this week, recognising, as I said, both pupils, parents and staff want the opportunity to plan for the new academic year. But I am clear that my goal, as I said, is to maximise the face-to-face contact that children will have with their teachers in school settings and to minimise the disruption that the virus has already caused and has the potential to continue to cause.

13:05

Beth ydy'r gwahaniaeth rhwng y sefyllfa yr ydych chi ynddi hi yng Nghymru o gymharu hefo'r Alban, Gogledd Iwerddon a Lloegr o safbwynt gwneud cyhoeddiad? Mae'r gwledydd eraill wedi gwneud cyhoeddiad yn barod ac wedi gosod disgwyliadau allan. Pam ei bod hi'n cymryd mwy o amser i'r wybodaeth wyddonol neu beth bynnag arall sydd yn dal y penderfyniad yn ôl? Pam ei bod hi'n cymryd mwy o amser yng Nghymru nag yn y gwledydd eraill?

What is the difference between the situation we are in in Wales compared with Scotland, Northern Ireland and England from the point of view of making an announcement? The other nations have already made an announcement and have set out their expectations. Why is it taking more time for the scientific information or whatever else is holding this decision back? Why is it taking more time in Wales than in the other nations?

I think the first thing to point out, Siân, is that we are in a different situation in Wales because, rather uniquely, here in Wales we have been able to create an opportunity to allow children in all year groups to be able to attend school. That is a situation that has not been available in other nations. And having seen the tremendous efforts that have gone into making that happen in our schools, we wanted to be able to use that experience. One of the reasons why I was determined to get schools to provide that opportunity was to be able to establish some learning and some best practice, and to have a greater understanding of some of the logistical challenges that schools have faced. So, first of all, we want to take into consideration that learning, which isn't available, actually, in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Throughout this period, we have focused on the five principles that I set myself for the managing of education during this pandemic, with the health and safety of our pupils and our professionals at the forefront. As I said in my answer to your first question, the science is evolving all of the time, and our understanding of the science is evolving all of the time. I want to use the very latest scientific advice that I have to make our decisions. It's not for me to pass comment on the decisions that are made in other jurisdictions, but as I said, we are using the evidence that we have here in Wales and the experiences that we have here in Wales to be able to shape the decisions that we're making.

Dwi'n derbyn, wrth gwrs, fod y wyddoniaeth yn newid, ac yn esblygu drwy'r amser, felly oni fyddai'n well dweud, 'Os bydd y sefyllfa yn ddiogel, dyma hoffwn i weld yn digwydd ym mis Medi—'? Dwi ddim yn gallu deall pam nad oes modd dweud, 'Dyma'r opsiwn i chi weithio tuag ato fo. Os bydd y sefyllfa yn newid oherwydd y feirws, bydd yn rhaid inni ailedrych, ond dyma hoffwn i ichi fod yn gweithio tuag ato fo.' Dwi'n mawr obeithio y bydd hynny'n dod cyn dydd Gwener, oherwydd mae'r penaethiaid yn mynd yn fwy a mwy rhwystredig, mae pawb yn mynd yn fwy a mwy rhwystredig, ynglŷn â'r sefyllfa lle dydyn nhw ddim yn gwybod pa fodel i weithio tuag ato fo. Dydych chi ddim yn derbyn bod modd dweud, 'Dyma'r model os bydd y wyddoniaeth yn caniatáu'?

I accept, of course, that the science is changing and evolving all of the time, so would it not be better to say, 'If the situation is safe, then this is what I would like to see happening in September—'? I can't understand why it isn't possible to state, 'This is the option for you to work towards. If the situation should change because of the virus, then we would need to reconsider, but this is what I would like you to be working towards.' I very much hope that that will come to pass on Friday, or before Friday, because headteachers are becoming increasingly frustrated, everyone's becoming increasing frustrated, with regard to the situation where they don't know which model to work towards. Do you not accept that it's possible to say, 'This is the model if the science should allow it'?

Well, I think there are two things there, aren't there, Siân? So, first of all, I absolutely understand why professionals want to have a definitive statement. I want to make that definitive statement on the very latest information that is available, and that's really important in building confidence—confidence for staff and confidence for parents to send their children back. Quite understandably, those that represent our professionals working in schools want as much assurance as we can possibly give them about the safety of their members, and parents want to be able to make decisions about sending their children in, as I said, on the basis of the latest information.

Clearly, having made an announcement, we will need to keep that announcement under review. We will have all seen, both at home and abroad, how the transmission rate within the community can improve, and luckily here in Wales, we have seen that improvement, but we also can see how quickly the situation can change, with transmission rates in communities growing. So, you're absolutely right, any decision that I make this far out from September will have to be caveated, in that there will be a series of review points throughout the summer to be able to review that situation, to make sure it's still the right situation, it's still the right plan in the light of transmission rates within the community.

So, as I said, I intend to make a statement before the end of the week, but you're absolutely right, I will need to caveat that that there will be regular review points throughout the summer period to ensure that any signalling or expectation that I have made is one that complies with and still holds true, given that we're so far out from September. 

13:10

Gadeirydd, gaf i ofyn ynglŷn â gwyliau'r haf? Ydy hi'n iawn i fi gario ymlaen i holi?

Chair, may I ask with regard to the summer holidays? Is it okay for me to continue?

Yes. Suzy, did you want to come in on the plans for September first?

If you don't mind. 

Os yw hynny'n iawn, Siân. 

If that's okay, Siân.

Minister, you mentioned that you were waiting for a significant piece of evidence before you made your guidance public, almost a week after everybody else. Can you tell us what you were waiting for and what it said?

That guidance has been received by officials today. It relates specifically to issues around the transmission of the disease, and we'll be reviewing that evidence with officials later on today. 

Thank you. Just before I bring Siân in, then, Minister, I'm assuming that that is something that you'd be willing to publish, as you published the other evidence on COVID and children before you made the announcement for the return to school at the end of June, yes?

Of course. It's really important, I think, for all stakeholders to be very clearly sighted on the evidence and the advice on which we're making decisions. That's an important part of confidence building for both staff and parents. 

And just before Siân comes in on a different area, then, one of the things that he committee has been very concerned about is to ensure that children's rights are absolutely front and centre in Welsh Government's decision making in this area, given that children have, we've been told, suffered collateral damage during this pandemic. Can you give the committee the assurance that children's rights will be the issue that is absolutely front and centre of your mind?

Absolutely, Chair. The feelings of children and the views of children feature very strongly in our decision-making process. It's one of the reasons why we made the decision to ensure that all year groups have the opportunity to check in, catch up and prepare, because all children, whatever their age group, were expressing concerns about being out of school. Those concerns differed, depending on the age group. Year six wanted to be able to say goodbye, those that are due to take public examinations were worried about the effects on their examinations, but other year groups also expressed concerns about missing their friends, missing their teachers and falling behind. That survey was very important in making the decision that all children should be able to go into school.

We work on integrated impact assessments, and you'll be aware from the conversations that you've had, for instance, with the Royal College of Paediatricians—and I, too, have met with representatives of the royal college—that there is a balance to be struck between risks directly associated with COVID, and our understanding of those risks about children, as I said, are evolving and deepening all of the time, versus non-COVID risks. So, there are integrated impact assessments done to guide decision making. 

Trof at wyliau'r haf, sydd wrth gwrs yn cychwyn mewn cyfnod byr iawn o amser. Mi fyddwch chi wedi gweld llythyr gan y comisiynydd plant i'r Prif Weinidog yn galw am nifer o bethau ar gyfer cyfnod gwyliau'r haf. Mae hi'n gofyn am ganiatâd i blant fedru chwarae a chymdeithasu tu allan, efo canllawiau ynglŷn ag, efallai, beth fyddai maint grwpiau o'r fath. Mae hi'n gofyn am i feysydd chwarae allan mewn parciau, ac yn y blaen, fod ar agor. Ac mae hi hefyd yn gofyn am ailgychwyn chwaraeon tu allan a sesiynau chwarae. Beth ydy'ch ymateb chi i hynny? A fyddwn ni'n cael datganiad ynglŷn â hyn hefyd cyn diwedd yr wythnos? 

Turning to the summer holidays, which will begin in a very short amount of time, you will have seen the letter from the children's commissioner to the First Minister calling for a number of things for the period of the summer holidays. She is calling for permission for children to be able to play and to socialise outdoors, with guidance with regard to what the size of those groups would be. She's calling for playing areas in parks, and so on, to be open. And she is also calling for re-commencing outdoor sports and play sessions. What's your response to that? Will we have a statement on this as well before the end of the week? 

13:15

Thank you for that. First of all, let me remind Members of provision that has been put in place for children over the summer. Wales was the first part of the United Kingdom to commit to supporting those entitled to free school meals throughout the summer holiday period, and we have invested £33 million in doing that. At the beginning of this week, myself and my colleague Julie Morgan announced additional investment to local authorities to provide structured children's activities, with an emphasis on supporting vulnerable children over the summer holidays. 

With regard to sports and parks, that is not a matter for me as the education Minister, but I am aware that those issues will form part of the Cabinet's discussions as to the three-week period we find ourselves in now, which is the current—. So, the review period ends this week and I would expect the First Minister to be making announcements on next phases of moving out of lockdown at the end of this week.

Gaf i ofyn ynglŷn â gofal plant bregus yn ystod y gwyliau? Dydy plant gweithwyr allweddol ddim yn cael eu cynnwys fel bod yn gymwys ar gyfer y gofal yma. Fedrwch chi esbonio pam? 

May I ask with regard to childcare for vulnerable children during the holidays? Children of key workers, aren't they included in terms of qualifying for this care offer? Can you explain why? 

Childcare, again, is not solely a matter for me; it is a matter for my colleague Julie Morgan. As I said, you will be aware that, together, we have been able to provide additional resources—£1 million from the education budget—to support children throughout the summer holidays. Unfortunately, because of the situation we find ourselves in, our traditional school holiday enrichment programme will not run. We have protected the needs of children to stop them going hungry over the summer by committing to free school meal provision, but we recognise that SHEP offers more than just food during the summer holiday. It does offer structured, meaningful activities for children, and it is vulnerable children that benefit from those usually in the SHEP programme, and they will continue to benefit through the summer. Questions about additional childcare will be probably best directed to my colleague Julie Morgan.

Dydych chi ddim wedi ateb y cwestiwn. Y cwestiwn oedd ynglŷn â gofal i blant sydd yn blant i weithwyr allweddol yn ystod gwyliau'r haf, sef ddim y plant bach, y plant oedran ysgol, ac mae'r rhain rŵan wedi bod yn cael gofal yn yr hybiau, ac yn y blaen, ond dydyn nhw ddim yn mynd i fod yn cael ymuno efo unrhyw weithgareddau ar gyfer plant sydd yn cael eu cynnal ar draws Cymru i blant bregus.

You haven't answered the question. The question was with regard to care for children who are children of key workers during the summer holidays, so it's not the younger children, they're school-age children, and they have been receiving care in the hubs, and so on, but they aren't going to be able to join in any activities for children that are held across Wales for vulnerable children.

Siân, a number of Members share your concerns about key worker childcare in the summer, but I don't think that is an issue for the Minister. I think it is largely—

I'm sorry, it is, because it's—. I'm not talking about childcare; I'm talking about the activities over the summer for children of school age. 

All I would say, Chair, is that the education department has made a contribution of an additional £1 million to support activities for children over the summer. Clearly, our priority as a Government is to focus on the needs of our most vulnerable children. That's what we do with our SHEP programme in normal years. I appreciate that families will have childcare issues over the summer, as they do every summer during the school holiday period, but it is only right, I think, that we focus on the needs of the most vulnerable. And my colleague has been quite clear to local authorities that perhaps more traditional play schemes and childcare opportunities can go ahead over the summer, and be available to other families that need childcare. But our contribution from the education department is £1 million. The alternative would be to ask our schools to continue to run throughout the summer period. Having stepped up to the mark in such tremendous form during the Easter holidays, and during the Whitsun half term, I think it is only now fair to allow our teachers and headteachers to take a break and to have their traditional summer holidays. The Member is quite free to have a different opinion if she feels that teachers should be working over this time, but we have made a contribution from the education department to support meaningful activity over the summer. And, most importantly, we've ensured that our children entitled to free school meals will continue to receive support. 

13:20

Okay. I'm going to remind Members now then that we've got a lot of very important areas to cover, and everybody wants an opportunity to ask their questions. So, I'd like sharp questions from Members please, and concise answers from the Minister.

Minister, you'll be aware that we've been putting questions that have been directly raised by young people with the committee in our sessions. So, I'd like to put one such question to you now from a young person.

There is a lot of talk and media coverage about returning to school and what this will look like in September. What is being done to ensure that education other than at school pupils understand what is happening now and how their needs will be met? How is this being communicated to the children and their parents?

You're right, Lynne; we will have to have an equitable return to schools in September, regardless of the setting in which education is delivered, including our mainstream schools, our special schools, and those students that receive education in education other than at school. And we will look to be able to provide specific guidance to those providers, and to communicate that with both parents and children. 

Okay. Thank you. We've got some questions now about continuity of learning at home from Suzy Davies. 

Thanks, Chair. I wonder if I could just ask you, Minister, what your views are on what are likely to be inconsistencies of provision for children since schools closed in March. We were anticipating some information from consortia on 19 June; I don't know if that was supposed to be made public, but it was mentioned a few times by you in Plenary. And I think we'd like to know what concerns you have about those inconsistencies that we suspect will have been revealed in those reports. Can you tell us what's in those reports, and what questions were asked?

Certainly. I think it's fair to say that there has been a mixed picture, both in terms of the ability of providers to support the continuity of learning, and indeed a mixed picture on the ability of individual families and learners to engage in continuity of learning plans that have been provided from schools.

If I start with the issue from the point of view of individual families and children, there has been a mixed take-up of online learning from families. Understandably, for some families it's been easier than others. We have taken steps to try and address that by ensuring that those families that may not be able to participate in continuity of learning, because of digital exclusion, have been helped and supported. We've done that by ensuring that we have made kit available. At the last count, Welsh Government had licensed 9,717 software licences to enable kit to be given out from schools and we had distributed 10,848 Mi-Fi devices to families for whom, otherwise, connectivity would not be possible.

We should always remember that we were starting from a strong standpoint with regard to the availability of our digital learning platform, Hwb. Hwb has continued to see growth throughout this period: 99 per cent of schools are now actively using Hwb and we have, on average, 92,000 log ins every day, 2.5 million log ins per month, which shows a high amount of activity going on. But, I think it's true to say that some families have found it more difficult than others.

With regard to schools, again, we have seen some schools that have been able to provide a fantastic array of support, and I've been overwhelmed to see the creativity that has gone on. Other schools have found that more challenging. Steve will be able to give you some more details on the consortia report that we received on the nineteenth, and I don't see that there's any problem in making that available to Members, should they be interested in seeing it. Steve.

13:25

Yes, we'll make available the details of that review. The important thing for us was not just to carry out the review, but actually take action after it. So, in the last week or so, we've been able to publish a joint paper, through Estyn and the regions, to give more detailed advice on blended learning. The Minister's right to point out that the great majority of teachers in our schools were not strongly experienced in terms of coping with delivering a blended learning approach. Many of them would not have done it since, or even in, their teacher training, let alone since, so we recognised that there was going to be a challenge. And therefore we not only required Estyn and the regions to look at what was happening in practice, but to come out with, or to put out more up-to-date evidence of the training and development opportunities for these teachers, and we'll gladly share that with you as well.

We're also looking, as we move into the autumn term—and we've started discussions with Estyn—to carry out a review of the work that's been done and provided by regions and by local authorities to support the schools, and the way in which that has been taken up. We're not looking to move into schools to carry out that inspection; we are going to look at local authorities and regions, for the advice and support that they have given, for the type of research they've been gathering. So, whatever we end up delivering from September, we look to strengthen the equity and the availability and access, as well as the quality of that provision, for our children and young people.

Thank you for that answer. My own view is that the information gathering probably started a little bit late to be useful for the period of lockdown itself. But by the nineteenth, we still had four, possibly five, weeks of schooling left. Were you able to turn around any findings from those reports of the nineteenth in order to help schools between, let's say the third week of June and the second week of July, so that they could use it instantly?

Yes, I believe the guidance that went out on blending learning gave more up-to-date information, and built on the guidance that was put out initially by local government. That was my intention: to share that, keep that work with you, so you could see the practical way in which we tried to extend opportunities to improve the quality of this work. So we look to provide you with the range of evidence that regions have been pulling together, and the response. The major source of gathering the data was the regions, because Estyn are not involved in directly inspecting schools. But we can share with you the advice and guidance on blended learning. It's been made available to schools to use as well, clearly, as soon as it was published.

Okay. Thank you for that. Because it also strikes me that, while a lot of resources have been made available during this period, they're only as good as the uptake and the effective use of them. So I'm hoping that this information will have some element of qualitative research as well, rather than just quantitative, partly because we want to know what the future of blended learning looks like. Now, Siân mentioned earlier that there's been some considerable interest in maximising face-to-face time, which the Minister's confirmed she supports in principle. But where do you see blended learning fitting in from September? Is it part of a mainstream philosophy now, or is it just suitable for—? Well, actually, somebody mentioned earlier children who are excluded, who are educated other than at school; it might be useful there, or for additional learning, rather than part of mainstream curriculum.

As we move forward, I think we accept that blended learning is actually in addition to traditional face-to-face learning. For some children, actually, it has been very, very helpful, and has been a useful way to engage in school in a way that, perhaps, they find more challenging in a face-to-face, traditional classroom. So, whilst, of course, our absolute goal is to, in September, maximise face-to-face contact, I don’t want to lose the learning opportunities and the feedback that we've had about blended learning approaches.

This, of course, is not entirely new. It builds upon our e-school project where we're delivering curricula digitally to those children who would be at a disadvantage because they're in a very small sixth form perhaps, or in a school that can't offer a particular qualification. So, it's not to replace traditional face-to-face learning, but it certainly can, I think, be an additional arm to our educational offer—not instead, but as well as—where it can be used appropriately to the benefit of learners. And we will be looking to ensure that our profession can excel in traditional face-to-face pedagogy, but also have the skills, where appropriate, to engage in blended learning approaches where that meets the needs of an individual student.

13:30

I think that's a very helpful clarification. I think the statement you put out on 3 June set a few hares running there. Can I just ask you very quickly about live streaming lessons? I don't want to spend too long on this, but, obviously, your guidance has gone out to schools. I just wonder what the response was to that and whether you've been supported to see more online live delivery should we hit a second phase or some localised lockdowns.

You're correct to say that guidance has been provided to schools on the appropriate use of live streaming. Again, it is one approach that can work very well and, certainly, in terms of feedback from children, many children appreciated the opportunity to have live conversations with their teachers and their classmates. So, clearly, there is a demand and an interest in children in receiving more opportunities to speak live. But we also have to recognise the challenges of delivering live lessons, and it has to be part of a mix, and it has to be used appropriately. But, clearly, there is a great desire on the behalf of children that, should we find ourselves—and I really hope we don't—needing to not have children in school, they would like to see more of that if we're in that situation again.

And am I right in saying that if a school decides to offer live onstream teaching, that that has to be squared off with the council as well? And what happens in those situations where local authorities and schools perhaps don’t agree on what should be taught in a particular school via live streaming?

Well, again, the local authorities are aware of Welsh Government guidance, and we would expect a local authority and a school to work in the spirit of the guidance available. As I said, it details very clearly how live lessons can be beneficial and how it can be done safely to safeguard the professional and an individual child. But it also sets out some of the considerations that teachers need to bear in mind when doing live lessons. So, for instance, the ability of a child to participate—that can be challenging in some families. So, it has to be part of a multitude of approaches. It can't be the single and only approach, and nor can it be ignored by schools and individual local authorities. It's had its part to play, and children appreciate and like that live interaction.

Okay. But I'm getting the sense that, provided headteachers are sticking to the guidance, the final say is theirs.

I’ll just finish on this one, then, which is about the summer. You've made it plain that any summer offering—and we were talking about this a little bit earlier—is less about formal education than perhaps looking after children and childcare. We've seen that the UK Government has introduced this catch-up fund, which may or may not be from existing money. But they've made it plain that they are expecting some formal education to take part as a result of that money being made available over the summer. You've taken a contrary view. Regardless of whether money is coming from the UK or not on this, can you tell us how you would expect children in Wales, then, to catch up with peers in England in particular if they've been getting some sort of formal education over the summer and children in Wales haven't?

13:35

Well, I'm very pleased to be able to confirm that we have indeed received a consequential as a result of that announcement in England, and I welcome that very much indeed. We will be looking to use that investment to develop a catch-up programme of our own here in Wales, but it will be very much one that is rooted in a child's individual school and with children's individual teachers.

One of the really important things that is going on in Welsh schools at the moment during the check-in, catch-up and prepare sessions is that individual teachers can begin to assess what that catch-up needs to look like to support children. going forward, to be able to address any deficits and learning loss that has occurred as a result of the pandemic disruption to education and to be able to think about how that can be addressed in the autumn term. I hope to be able to make details available of our approach to catch-up again later on this week. 

Absolutely. Rather than being separate to school, I think it's really important that it is those professionals who know those children the best who have an opportunity to shape that catch-up rather than it being removed from a child's individual school. I think that's the most effective way in which we can deploy these very welcome resources.

Sorry—you'd think we'd be used to this by now, wouldn't you? [Laughter.] Sorry. Thank you, Chair. Minister, we've heard of the 24,000 plus vulnerable children identified in Wales, and something like 1,500, around 6 per cent, have actually been in the school hubs during the lockdown period. How effective do you think the offer for vulnerable children has actually been during that period? Have you seen any kind of change in that provision during that period in terms of reaching out to that cohort and getting more of them to take part?

Thank you, Dawn. This has been a source of concern to me and colleagues across the Welsh Government. You'll be aware from the very outset that schools were repurposed not just to meet the needs of critical workers, but also to meet the needs of our vulnerable children. Steve Davies and his counterpart in the social services department here at Welsh Government wrote out to all local authorities setting out our expectations, as well as setting out an enhanced definition of which children would qualify for support. I understand from evidence that your committee has received that those organisations involved in child safeguarding welcomed that approach.

During this time, we have seen a steady increase in the number of vulnerable children attending our hub settings. So, when we started out at the very beginning of the outbreak, we had 1.2 per cent of vulnerable children who were eligible attending—that's some 300 children. By the end of the period to 26 June, we had 1,500 vulnerable children attending—some 6.1 per cent. So, there was an increase in the number of children attending.

However, that, again, is one of the reasons why we took the decision to move to the next phase of education, because concerns were expressed that vulnerable children would not attend a setting that was not their usual school, and therefore reopening all schools for vulnerable children was felt to be an effective way in which more vulnerable children would be more likely to attend. And also, by making that provision for check-in, catch-up sessions available to all children any perception of stigma was removed also. So, you were attending because everybody else had an opportunity also to check in and catch up and prepare, and so if families felt any pressure or stigma associated with attending, that was also taken away.

At this stage, for the new set of operations for the last week—and we're now into day 2 of this week—data is not currently available. We would expect to have data at the end of the three-week period, but, as I said, the hope is that by being able to attend your own local school, an environment where you feel comfortable and you know the staff, more vulnerable children will have been encouraged to attend.

13:40

Thank you, and I was just about to ask you that, actually—whether you'd seen any discernible difference since 29 June, but, obviously, we're waiting for that data. I think anecdotally I've picked up from the local authorities in my constituency that that return actually seems to have gone quite smoothly, and more of those children have attended, so that's good news. But what about your concerns, or whether you have any concerns, about the attainment gap now? We've got this cohort of young people that we know we've got concerns about—they've been disadvantaged, they don't seem to perform as well as their more advantaged peers. Do you think that, or have you got any assessment of how, this period has impacted on them? Is that an area of concern for you, and what has Welsh Government been able to do to mitigate that risk to that group, really?

Absolutely. Well, I would refer you to my answer earlier about digital exclusion, by making sure that, during this period of disruption, a lack of a device or connectivity was not a barrier to children's learning. And again, I would refer to the answer earlier about one of the reasons why it was really important to offer every child, rather than simply specific year groups, the opportunity to go into school for catch-up sessions, so we can begin to understand what the impact has been. Undoubtedly, everything that we know about inequalities in education would tell us that the impact will be greatest on our most economically challenged families and deprived families, and that's why, as I said, this period now before the summer holidays gives us an opportunity to assess what that impact has been and to begin to plan on how we can address that. And clearly, with our additional resources, which we hope to be able to deploy into schools in the autumn term—there'll be a need to support every child—we'd want to be able to be focusing on that attainment gap as a key part of our ongoing national mission of education reform.

Thank you. Of course, the provision of that digital equipment was hugely beneficial to those families; I've absolutely no doubt about that. But, of course, there are lots of other factors, including parental support, living conditions, and all of those other things. It's not just about giving somebody a laptop and access to broadband; there are all the other things that go with it. So, how is Welsh Government looking to monitor all of those factors taken together? So, there's the benefit of the digital stuff, but, obviously, all the other environmental factors as well.

You're absolutely right, Dawn, in that children during this period will face a number of challenges, and the fact of being out of school alone will have made more children more vulnerable than we previously thought, and although we would have had a group of children that could have continued to access our school hub provision, all children potentially have had the risk of becoming more vulnerable. And, as I said, that's why it's been so important that every child has had the opportunity to go back into school, so that work that you've just outlined can begin and so that we can have conversations to understand what has been happening at home for the child—has any learning been able to have been undertaken, what have been the barriers to that, and what do we now need to do to support that child ready for the next stage of their education. That's why it's been so important to have children back. But, Steve, I don't know if there's any further detail you'd like to give.

I will be very brief, yes. A key part of that work that the Minister described is, in the three, four-week period now, and when we go back in September, we're encouraging schools, and Estyn is supporting us, on developing an equity audit. So, the teachers are working with the children to look at and gauge that deficit, including the emotional behavioural aspects as well as the achievement aspects, and that approach will give us a firm foundation on which to address that gap.

Minister, I'd like to put another question to you now, from a young person: what does the Welsh Government expect of the role of the designated member of school staff for care-experienced children, in terms of ensuring this group of children and young people are fully supported to achieve their full potential on their return to school, including the provision of emotional and mental health support?

Thank you, Lynne. I would refer you to the equity audits that Steve just referred to, and a very personalised approach. Our expectation of those members of staff would be to have specific conversations to understand the exact challenges that those children have faced. It's interesting that many children with caring responsibilities have expressed, via the children's commissioner's survey, actually a lessening of the pressure as they try to juggle everything that is going on in their lives, and we want to be able to continue to address their emotional needs as well as their learning needs. So, as part of that equity audit and a person-centred approach, we would expect those children to continue to be supported by their school.

13:45

Okay. Thank you, Minister. I'll move on now, then, to talk about the awarding of qualifications with some questions from Janet Finch-Saunders. And can I remind Members again? Brief questions, concise answers, please. 

Hi, Kirsty. Do the arrangements Qualifications Wales has put in place strike an appropriate balance between fairness to the 2020 cohort, so that they are not disadvantaged in any way by circumstances outside of their control, and the need to maintain confidence in, and the integrity of, qualifications awarded this summer?

Thank you, Janet. I do not believe that there's been any trade-offs between the principles of fairness for the cohort and what is absolutely crucial to them, which is the integrity of the qualifications system. They can be confident that the grade they will receive is a fair reflection of their abilities, and know that that grade will be regarded as a—in a system that has maintained its integrity. And there can be no question that what they've got is not portable and usable and as good as a grade that they would have received in the normal circumstances of sitting exams.

So you don't consider there's a tension between the two priorities this year in the absence of exams?

Well, clearly, the decision to cancel this year's examination series was devastating, but I believe, as we've seen the pandemic unfold, it was the right decision to make. I believe that the system that has been put in place does marry the interests of individual students and the integrity of the system overall. 

Thank you. How comfortable are you that the grades awarded to learners following the standardisation model operated by the WJEC will 'often differ' to those submitted by their schools and colleges, as Qualifications Wales has acknowledged?

Well, I think the standardisation model will play an important part in ensuring the equity and the robustness of the exceptional circumstances that we do find ourselves in this summer. It's really important that there is consistency across Wales, and a great deal of work, I know, has been undertaken by the WJEC and Qualifications Wales to come up with a statistical model that will do the job to ensure that standardisation process is consistent and fair.

Do many students face having their grades adjusted downwards in order to ensure grade stability and confidence in the qualifications awarded in 2020?

I'm aware, Janet, of a great deal of speculation arising out of newspaper reports in England about potentially downgrading. It's important to recognise that those are stories emulating out of the English system. As I said, what WJEC and Qualifications Wales have done here is to ensure that there is a system that allows for consistency in the judgements that have been made by centres, recognising that even within centres some grades may have been overpredicted and other learners might have had their grades underpredicted. It allows for that fairness, and that the performance is broadly consistent with what we've seen in previous years. 

Okay. Janet, I think we are going to need to move on, I'm afraid, because of the time, if that's okay.

You'll have to do it really quickly, Janet, because the Minister's got Cabinet at 14:00.

Okay. So what consideration has been given so far to how qualifications will be awarded in 2021, given year 10 and year 12 students, halfway through their curriculum, have missed a considerable amount of teaching time?

13:50

Okay. Well, I have recently written to Qualifications Wales setting out my priorities for arrangements for next year, namely that they need to think about the health and well-being of learners, ensuring that no learners are unfairly disadvantaged and that their progression opportunities are protected, and again to maintain confidence and credibility in the qualifications systems overall. But I believe at this current point in time it is in the best interests of all learners, if at all possible, for the exams in 2021 to proceed in the normal way, albeit with some modifications to take into consideration the loss of learning time and classroom time that will have been experienced. It is absolutely my hope and it is my belief that the examination series next summer needs to go ahead, but we need to recognise that some modifications will be necessary for that to be fair. I understand Qualifications and the WJEC are working at pace to be able to communicate those modifications to classroom teachers.

Thank you. And the remaining questions, then, are from Jayne Bryant.

Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon, Minister. I just want to ask a few questions around post-16 education and training. What has been the impact of the changes in the supplementary budget on the post-16 aspects of your portfolio?

Thank you, Jayne, for those questions. Just like we have seen an overwhelmingly positive response to the next phase of operations of our schools over the last seven days, quietly, without much fanfare and without much attention, our further education colleges are back to work and delivering support for, again, vulnerable learners, and crucially allowing those students who need to be able to complete assessments to finish their qualifications—that they're able to do that. It often goes unnoticed, so I'm glad of the opportunity to say congratulations to our colleagues in FE for getting on with that work.

Clearly, the budget situation is challenging as the Welsh Government overall looks to respond positively to issues arising out of COVID. I'm very pleased to say in the FE sector we've been able to maintain our indicative funding levels to our FE colleges. We have been looking to support them where we can, and we'll continue to look to support where we can in terms of additional resources. One such example of what we've been able to do is to provide support for free school meals for those in FE. That's an example of something where we've been able to go above and beyond.

With regard to higher education and our universities, the challenges facing the university sector are well known and we continue to work, on a Wales basis, with Universities Wales, to develop support for that sector as well as working on a four-nation basis to support the sector going forward. We have provided a provisional budget to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales of almost £172 million, and that's £20 million above its initial allocation from the last financial year.

Thank you, Minister. Are you satisfied that the sector itself is doing enough to mitigate all the financial risks and is accessing all the financial assistance that they're entitled to?

Yes, both FE colleges, where they are able to, and where their staff are not directly responsible for delivering provision that the Welsh Government pays for—. So, some of their commercial staff, for instance, have been furloughed. I know FE colleges and universities have been taking advantage, where appropriate, of a range of support that has been made available for them.

Thank you, Minister. Are you confident that no Welsh HE institution will face insolvency as a result of the current pandemic, and how are you monitoring that?

Well, we're working very closely with our higher education funding council of course, and at this stage I do not believe that any of our institutions are facing the situation that you describe. I know that there has been speculation in the press about the financial health of some institutions across the border. But it would be wrong of me to say that the sector isn't facing some challenges, and that's why we will continue to work with Universities Wales and the vice-chancellors to find appropriate ways for Welsh Government to support them. It's difficult to know the size of some of the impacts. So, of course we're worried about international students and we will have to wait and see how international student recruitment develops for the new year. And of course, I know that universities are worried about domestic recruitment as well.

But, from the latest figures from UCAS that were published on 25 June, in terms of those numbers of students who are holding conditional or unconditional offers, it remains broadly stable from last year. And, if we look at data from the Student Loans Company, where students are applying for financial support for the new academic year, student support applications for first years, i.e. those students who will be starting their courses in the new academic year, that's in line with the same point as it was last year. So, it's early days yet, and that doesn't necessarily mean that all those individuals will go on to take up their places, but certainly, there seems to be some stability in the system. 

13:55

Thank you. Can you clarify whether the HE sector is eligible to access the £500 million economic resilience fund? And do you know if there'll be conditions attached to any allocations?

So, we're working with colleagues in the economic development department to look at the next phase of the economic resilience fund and how we can use that support to support our universities, not in terms of a bailout, but actually, how we can get the sector into a position to support the Welsh economy, going forward. So, potentially—you know, we're all concerned, aren't we, about the economic fallout of COVID-19, and indications of potential job losses that some people will suffer. So, we want to make sure that both our FE sector and our HE sector are in a position to play their part in how the Welsh economy builds back better. So, we're looking to be able to support the HE sector to do just that—for instance, looking to develop short courses in the HE sector and different types of accreditation system that perhaps the sector hasn't been used to doing in Wales, but are very keen to be able to play their part in supporting the economy and individuals going forward. So, we're looking at using our resources to help our universities do what they want to do to support us, as I said, in rebuilding the economy and reskilling people as we go forward.

Thank you. Higher education sector representatives told this committee that amending the 2m rule would be the biggest change that could help the sector going forward. What's your position on that, Minister?

I guess that takes us full circle back to where we started at the beginning, Jayne, of this conversation, in the sense that the science and the advice is evolving constantly as transmission rates in our community drop. We have issued guidance to the HE sector and continue to work with them as they make their plans for the new academic year, and clearly, I know that they will want to be guided by that evolving advice.

Thank you, Minister. I'm very much aware of the time, Chair, so I will keep this brief. But, what are your views on calls for increased financial support for students, particularly during this summer when most will be unable to claim universal credit or other benefits? Have you had any discussions with the UK Government with regard to that?

We recognise that this is a challenging time for students. For our FE students, we have maintained payment of our education maintenance allowance, and for our HE students, we have maintained their usual schedule of payments, even though many students have returned to their home addresses, rather than staying at their university, and that would usually result in a lower amount of financial support for students. But we continue to discuss with the Westminster Government and colleagues in both Northern Ireland and Scotland about what more we can do on a four-nation basis to support students at this time.

Thank you. Unfortunately, we have been beaten by the clock. Minister, we will have to write to you with what we didn't cover, including some questions from children and young people that we didn't get the opportunity to put, if that's okay.

Can I just thank you and your officials for your attendance this afternoon? We very much appreciate having the opportunity to have this discussion with you. As usual, we will send you a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting. Thank you all very much.

14:00
3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd ar gyfer Eitemau 4 a 5
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to Resolve to Exclude the Public for Items 4 and 5

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4 a 5 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4 and 5 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Can I propose, then, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for items 4, 5 and 6 of today's meeting? Are Members content? Okay. We will now proceed in private. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:00.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 14:00.

16:00

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 16:01.

The committee reconvened in public at 16:01.

7. COVID-19: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ar Effaith COVID-19 ar Blant a Phobl Ifanc gyda Chynrychiolwyr Race Council Cymru
7. COVID-19: Evidence Session on the Impact of COVID-19 on Children and Young People with Race Council Cymru Representatives

Can I welcome Members back to the Children, Young People and Education Committee? Item 7 today is an evidence session on the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people with Race Council Cymru representatives. I'm very pleased to welcome Angel Ezeadum—is that right, how I've said that—and Ali Abdi. Angel is a Welsh Youth Parliament Member; Ali Abdi is the lead co-ordinator for the National BAME Youth Forum. Thank you both for making the time to come and talk to us today. I understand we're going to hear a presentation from you and then we'll have the opportunity to discuss with Members. So, it's over to you.

Thank you very much, Lynne. Thank you, Members, as well, for the opportunity to be able to present to you this afternoon. Like Lynne mentioned, my name is Ali Abdi. I'm the national lead for the BAME youth forum. It's a national youth forum; we have over 250 members. It's run by Race Council Cymru. I do this in a voluntary capacity, in addition to roles I do in the community as a youth and community worker and community organiser.

So, today I'm going to be presenting some of the issues and concerns from young people, following some exercises we've done to hear from them across our national network, trying to understand what are the worries they're facing and they're having difficulties with, and I know that has been also shared with you.

So, mental health particularly has been a concern amongst young people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, particularly around COVID-19 and how to manoeuvre around some of the services that either exist or don't exist. And I think the biggest part, or biggest issue, in relation to that, is the lack of cultural-appropriate services that are aimed at particularly young people to help them manoeuvre and understand how they can contact these services, how they can engage with them. There is a real lack of promotional material.

I do a lot of work myself in the communities of Grangetown, Butetown and Riverside, and, myself, being active in those communities, I don't see much literature about in our community centres, in our places of worship, and out and about just in places where young people congregate and hang around—in leisure centres, even—for them to be able to look up, if they are feeling some type of way, there's a number for them to ring or someone to engage with.

I know in terms of education, for sure, young people are really concerned that they're going to fall behind, particularly around GCSEs and A-levels, and not having that support at home has heightened their anxiety. So, when schools do reopen and things do get back to normal, hopefully, in September, October, even—you know, there could be things that are happening now in the summer, whether they're summer camps or support, where they're socially distanced, in their communities to really help them. I know, in England, the education authorities there have put together some resources to support young people to catch up and not fall behind in their education. And it is a real worry, particularly for parents, that their children will fall behind and a gap will widen between them and other children.

We all know about the predicted grades, and there is also some bias around that. Young people are really concerned that, with the results coming out soon, again, they won't get the places in college or university that they hoped to have got had they sat their exams. There's some real evidence out there to show that young people from BAME backgrounds will be disadvantaged the most. So, there are ways we can definitely look to address that, I hope.

I think you even raised awareness further about apprenticeship opportunities and the fact that there are definitely some fantastic opportunities, and I know Welsh Government and the Assembly have had some real great opportunities, and also wider organisations do so. How do we make sure make sure that young people from BAME backgrounds are well represented across apprenticeships and they're also available to them, particularly during this pandemic and as we recover from this?

The last thing from me: in terms of youth work and mentoring and the value that plays, it's hugely important. When I was growing up myself, there were always youth workers or mentors around in our communities, and I know that, with cuts and austerity, in many of those communities now, particularly, again, where I work and where many of our members are from, those provisions have either closed or disseminated. But the value that youth work plays is hugely important to help young people manoeuvre across opportunities and help them grow up through childhood, through adolescence, to help them with physical activities, dance, music and other things to help with their confidence, and having role models who are from the same communities, from the same background, who have the same lived experience, it's hugely important to them, so they can see that, actually, there are role models from the same background, from the same communities. I think we shouldn't really underestimate that at all. I'd just like to thank you very much, again, for your time, and ask Angel to now speak about what some of her concerns are. Thank you.

16:05

Thank you, once again. I just want to say thank you personally for inviting us and giving us the opportunity to speak. As a young person, it is very liberating to be having such an opportunity and to be speaking to all of you. So, I've highlighted five things, personally, that I want to address and that I've gathered from speaking to other BAME people and other people in my constituency and partner organisation.

To start with, just to talk about—last month, there was a survey published by University College London that found only 1.9 per cent of Welsh pupils had formal day lessons, and this is compared with a UK average of only 7 per cent. I'm sure that we can all understand how disappointing a statistic this is. I personally myself am lucky enough to have daily online lessons for most of my subjects, yet I know that I'm in the minority in terms of such a privilege. So, this data is even more worrying when you consider all of the pupils who do not have access to the necessary resources required for online learning, referred to as digitally excluded learners. To be in such a situation is more likely in poorer families and more disadvantaged communities. So, I ask you how those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, such as asylum-seeking young people, are identified and then given the right support and help to catch up in their studies.

My next point is moving on to more cultural factors. So, myself and many other schoolchildren from across Wales went back to school last week, and, for most of us, it was actually a very enjoyable experience. I was very happy to see my friends and even some of my teachers again. But, for several others, mainly from the BAME community, there were factors restricting them from coming back. For example, with the Bengali and the Bangladeshi communities, families from those types of backgrounds have more households with older generations in them. So, therefore, there's a lot of fear among them, in sending their children back to school, will they then transmit the virus to older relatives, or specifically grandparents. So, how will you make children and their parents feel safe enough to actually let their children back out into the school environment, whilst also feeling safe enough that it won't transmit the virus and still respecting their cultures and their beliefs?

I'd like to move on to health and safety checks, and, as has been widely published in the media, it is known that BAME and specifically black people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, compared with other groups. I was wondering if there are any specific actions being taken for these pupils to ensure that they are safe but also, in a more mental kind of way, are they reassured that they are as safe as their non-people of colour counterparts in school, so they can feel as safe as their other mates?

I'd like to talk about the COVID-19 survey for young people. As a Youth Parliament Member, it was very nice, and a very enjoyable experience, working in partnership with the Children's Commissioner for Wales and also the Welsh Parliament on the survey. I was glad to hear that they were going to further analyse the data and split it up into different groups to get a real close examination of it. Personally, I'd really love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the results of the survey, and how it will influence you in your work in future, and what you personally are going to take from it.

Lastly, I want to talk about engaging with youth services. So, as someone myself who has been fortunate enough to be part of many youth services, such as being a Welsh Youth Parliament Member for Race Council Cymru, such as being part of Cardiff Youth Council, such as being a Member of the UK Youth Parliament for Cardiff, I've had such valuable experiences at only the age of 15. However, something that's always been disheartening to me is that I'm usually the only black person there. So, to see such a lack of representation, despite Wales's diverse background, is confusing, but it definitely calls for change.

In addition, I also highlighted how I would like to work more towards bridging that gap between youth services, but also adults in organisations and establishments and important high-up positions, such as yourselves. So, I'd pose to you: how do you see yourselves actively engaging with youth and involving them in your committee work, like today, but also what do you think is the best way forward to increasing diversity and representation from the foundation of these youth services, but also in your own sectors? Thank you.

16:10

Okay, well, can I thank both of you for your presentation? I think there was a tremendous amount of really valuable information there, and certainly lots for us to think about as a committee. I'm going to open it up for discussion now to Members. If I could just ask the committee's indulgence at the start, really, and ask you about what Angel said about what we know is the case, which is that minority ethnic communities and particularly black people have been found to be more at risk from the virus, and obviously there's been lots and lots of media coverage of that since the start of the pandemic. Angel, you said in your presentation about the fears that caused and the need for support with the mental health aspects of that, so I'm assuming from the fact that you've raised that that you don't feel that that support has really been there, then. So, I'd just like to ask you about that, really—whether there has been any additional support, you feel, for young people to reassure you on those points.

I think there has been support, but I don't think there's been additional support in terms of specifically talking about that issue. I think it's more been something that has kind of been maybe to talk about with black pupils, but I think, because of how prominent it has been in discussion of COVID-19, it is something that needs a one-to-one talk or something more personal in terms of how we address it to pupils and their families.

It kind of follows on from—. Hello, good afternoon to you both, by the way. It follows on from, really, what Lynne was saying, because you've set out for us a number of areas where you feel that there's an awful lot more work that needs to be done, and there needs to be support in place and so on, and you've asked us to say what we as a committee would be doing to help support. I suppose I need to turn that question back on you and say to you: what is it, in all of those areas that you've brought forward for our consideration, what is it specifically that you feel, as a community, that you need that you're not currently getting either through the education system, through the youth system, through society generally, that would feed into the work that we do that would enable us to consider what your needs might be and make recommendations that would help? Because I think it's difficult for us to put ourselves in your position and say what we think needs to happen. I think what we need from you is for you to say to us, 'This is what we feel as a community we need', and then we have to think about how we can consider that and how we can make that happen.

16:15

I think, if you like—I'll answer that right now. I think, from a young person's point of view, we need information directly to us rather than us being cast aside or perhaps it being filtered down from teachers, to then parents, to then us as a last kind of resort. I think we need to be having more young people-friendly resources and information being directly given to us and for us to be able to make our own opinions about it, and for us to then, kind of, develop our mental health and our emotional well-being towards those from what we receive.

I think, in the community as a whole, we do feel as though it's just being generalised, talk about COVID-19, when because it has so many different layers and so many different factors, you have to almost peel it back and therefore directly address those that it directly concerns. So, I think, once again, as I was talking about previously, making it more personalised and making it more of a direct discussion and involving those people that it directly affects more in the discussion about COVID-19—I think that already creates a more positive attitude and mindset towards it and towards how we are then going to work in unison together to actually benefit the community, then.

So, you're talking about, really, being at the table, involved in the conversations about how things need to change. 

Thank you, and thank you both for starting off so well. You've given us all a lot to think about. I just wanted to pick up, Angel, on what you said around how much you'd enjoyed going back to school last week, which is really great to hear, and that you were keen to see some of your teachers—[Laughter.]—really nice. I just wonder what you think could be done, perhaps, over the summer to perhaps work with parents, maybe young people, to ensure that when it comes to September and what we face in September—to sort of help reassure people about how positive your experience has been now. I'm just thinking that perhaps it's a good opportunity to use that time to speak with people to make them feel confident and safe that going back to school would be a really positive experience. What do you think we could do?

I definitely agree. I think, even talking to my peers, at first, we all had our woes and worries about going back to school, but as soon as we entered the school building or even before that, they were taking our temperatures. When we got onto the school site, you could see how much thought and care there was into our safety and it was literally visible to us with the hand sanitizer and the cleaning stations.

So, I think, drawing upon young people's experiences of going back to school and sharing that with other young people, particularly those that, perhaps, weren't able to come into school when it reopened this time, would be a positive experience. Having young people relate to other young people's experiences I think is a bit more easy compared to a teacher saying it to a young person. But I think just sharing those stories and experiences of going back to school—you know, it wasn't as painstaking, perhaps, as maybe we thought it would be, but to know that young people did have a positive experience going back, I think, is something that we need to share more. 

Thanks, Lynne, and thanks, both, for coming today. Sorry, I've scribbled loads of notes here but I just want to finish on that final point you were discussing with Jayne there, both of you. It is about speaking to other young people about the experience of going back to school in particular. I wondered what you both thought about actually hearing from young people who've been in family situations where individuals have had COVID and survived it, because we're in a situation where some people will never have met somebody who's had COVID and only knows about the horror stories, and I'm certainly not trying to minimise the situation of those families where they've had tragedies, but not everybody has died of it. So, I wondered if you thought that was a valuable contribution, particularly what you were saying earlier, Angel, about families where an older person lives at home and then there's nervousness about children even leaving the house, actually, in case they bring something in. Is that an useful part of the message?

One of the main routes for getting information from anybody who's affected by a piece of policy, particularly children, is usually done through an impact assessment whenever Welsh Government—this is not party political, I promise you—. Governments do these impact assessments before they make regulations or bring policy forward. Because of the speed and everything in COVID, these impact assessments haven't been done. So, there's been a route cut off you to there for information being fed through from Government about what the impact of the decisions could look like.

A different committee that I'm on is actually going to be making quite a bit of fuss about this, because it means that your voices, for example, on refugees and asylum seekers have probably completely been missed about how children from disadvantaged backgrounds are affected. I can bet you now that refugees and asylum seekers wouldn't have been top of that list of considerations. And then I wonder—I think it was you, Ali, that mentioned this, about the bias regarding predicted grades. I wonder, if you've got time, if you can talk us through what you mean by that. I've got three questions, basically, there. 

16:20

Yes, absolutely. If I start with that last one, maybe. In terms of unconscious bias, so the predicted grades, GCSE and A-level students will be given grades that are predicted, so there's room for, basically, human error, but also if you've had a bad relationship with your teacher or your teacher doesn't think highly of you, there's a likelihood that they might not grade you the grade that you could have had if you sat your exam. And there are lots of reports out there that suggest, actually, that predicted grades do harm people from BAME communities over other groups. I know we're yet to see that because the results haven't come out, but there is a heightened anxiety amongst some of the young people we've spoken to that they might not get on to the A-level course that they want to, they might not get on to the university degree programme that they want to pursue because of the fact that they may well be predicted grades that are not accessible to the programmes that they want to achieve. So, just having the—

Sorry, I was just going to say, so what's clear from this is that the message about the whole range of moderating, evaluation and assessment of teachers' grades will be done before they get anywhere near the pupil, but that's obviously not come out as a message of reassurance by the sound of it.  

I think the key thing for the young people themselves is just that reassurance that it is all above board. I know it is and I think it's just getting that message to the young people, particularly, and I think it's also showing young people, if they are unhappy with the process, how they can also appeal, and making that as transparent and as easy as possible so they don't miss out on anything. So, if they, for instance, find out that they're not able to get on to an A-level programme because their grades weren't good enough, how they can appeal so they can definitely, if they do win the appeal, still be able to pursue their programme without having to maybe take a gap year, or miss out on a year completely. So, I think it's just making that whole process as accessible and as user-friendly as possible as early as possible, because I don't think there's any information out there as of yet. I know Qualifications Wales are definitely looking into this, for sure, in terms of that process.

Diolch yn fawr, a diolch am ddod aton ni yn y pwyllgor. Jest sylw i ddechrau ynglŷn â'r mater o ddiffyg cynrychiolaeth. Dwi'n cytuno'n llwyr efo chi, a dwi'n credu bod rhaid cael mecanwaith ar waith i wneud yn siŵr ein bod ni yn cael lleisiau'r gymuned BAME yn dod trwodd yn gryf, a dwi o blaid cael cwotâu drwy ein system ddemocrataidd ni. Mae yna gyfle, a dweud y gwir, ar hyn o bryd ar gyfer dod â system fel yna i mewn mewn llywodraeth leol, fel ein bod ni'n gallu cael mwy o gynghorwyr sydd yn cynrychioli'r gymuned BAME, achos mae yna ddarn o ddeddfwriaeth yn mynd trwy'r Senedd ar hyn o bryd—y Bil Llywodraeth Leol ac Etholiadau (Cymru)—ac felly gobeithio bydd yna ffordd inni fedru dechrau gweithio ychydig bach ar yr agwedd yna. Roeddwn i jest eisiau dweud hynny.

Roeddwn i'n sylwi bod y ddau ohonoch chi yn rhoi pwyslais ar weithwyr ieuenctid, a dwi'n gweld hynny yn ddiddorol iawn. Hynny yw, ydych chi'n credu eich bod chi'n cael efallai mwy o gefnogaeth drwy'r sector gwaith ieuenctid yn hytrach nag o'r byd addysg? Ydych chi'n teimlo, efallai, fod yna fwy o'r gymuned BAME yn gweithio yn y sector ieuenctid? Ydy hynny'n gwneud y gwahaniaeth? Pam eich bod chi'n rhoi cymaint o bwyslais ar y sector ieuenctid?

Thank you very much, and thank you for joining us in committee today. Just a comment to begin with with regard to the issue of a lack of representation. I agree entirely with you, and I believe that we do have to have a mechanism in place to ensure that we do hear the voices of the BAME community and that those voices are heard very clearly, and I am in favour of having quotas through our democratic process. There is an opportunity now, truth be told, to bring such a system into place in local government, so that we can have more councillors that represent the BAME community, because there is a piece of legislation currently going through the Senedd—the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill—so hopefully there will be a way for us to work on that aspect of this issue. I just wanted to make that comment.

I noticed that both of you place emphasis on youth workers, and I see that as being a very interesting issue. So, do you believe that you receive greater support through the youth work sector rather than from the world of education, perhaps? Do you feel there is more of the BAME community working in the youth sector, perhaps? Is that making the difference? Why are you placing such great emphasis on the youth work sector?

16:25

I can touch on that, and then maybe Angel will, and her experiences through youth council. Thank you, Siân. Definitely, absolutely. So, when I started attending youth club, I was 11. I really enjoyed running home from school, getting changed, having food, and then going to a local youth club. In Grangetown particularly, there were three youth clubs. There was a Grangetown Boys and Girls Club, there was the Buzz in Grangetown, on the corner of Penarth Road, adn there was also provision on a Friday night at the leisure centre at Channel View. So, every evening, there was somewhere where you could go and you had accessible people, from the community particularly, who could support you and manoeuvre. And it wasn't just about social activities. They would always ask you, 'How are you doing? How was school? What are you doing at the moment?' So, you always had an opportunity to say, 'I'm in year 9 now. I'm going to be doing my options.' And these are people who had experience themselves, who had degrees and lived experience. But they're also from the community, because you can see then in the daytime or on a weekend, in the barber shop or in Asda. So, they were more than just youth workers—they were very much in your face all the time. And I grew up wanting to be like them. So, when I turned 16 I started working at my local youth club, volunteering. By 17/18 I was employed whilst I was going through college and university, and I'm still heavily involved in youth and community work. So, the value that youth work has on young people is huge.

In the community now, all the provision have gone. There isn't the Buzz no more, there isn't the Friday night provision at Channel View, but there are still bits and pieces of activity still happening, but it's a very skeleton approach and it's not as active as it was before. And you can see the impact. Honestly, if you come to our community now, there are young boys congregating on street corners, lost, unaware of where to go because there's no provision on any more. And that's before COVID-19, and that's increased since COVID, because some of them live in large homes and so need some fresh air and will come out. Some of our community Facebook groups have been complaining about them, 'Why is there a group of lads hanging around by the shops?' So, these young people need guidance, they need support, they need people with lived experience to help them manoeuvre the opportunities available and in getting an education. Some of these young lads—particularly young boys I say—don't attend after-school provision. So, they go to school, they'll stay there 8.30 a.m. until 3 p.m, and they'll go home and that's the only interaction they might have with school. But outside of school, there's a whole opportunity there to engage with people who are from their community, who have lived experience, to help them still connect with college, get an apprenticeship, signpost them to the Prince's Trust and other providers. And at least then they won't feel they'll get left behind.

I'm really disappointed that, actually, we are losing some of those young people now. Substance abuse is increasing, and many of them who we would have saved through youth club are starting to abuse substances and maybe not even carry on through education—become not in education, employment or training. So, yes, the youth service and the value of the youth clubs are huge, and I feel if we can reconnect with some of those things now in the community, we can definitely save a generation of young people moving forward. Thank you.

Okay, thank you. Can I just ask one final question, then? Angel, you said that there was a lack of culturally appropriate mental health services. Now, this committee has taken a huge interest in mental health services. I was wondering—is that something that you're particularly concerned about during the pandemic, because we know that a lot of services have moved online, even mental health services? Or if that's a general concern, really? It would be helpful for us to know that, so that we can follow up.

Well, I think it's been a general concern, but I think with the pandemic, it's become further emphasised and more of something to stress on. I think not just the pandemic, but what's going on during the pandemic with the Black Lives Matter protest, for example, and the movement being reinvigorated—I think that has taken a toll on black people, and I think that's something that because of things that—. It's something that we haven't necessarily faced before in our  lifetime and our generation, so for it to be brought up and with the stress of the pandemic, with the stress of what's going on in schools, with the stress of all those types of things, I think there's like a building of fear and anxiety and all those negative emotions inside of us. I wouldn't say that it's just because we're black; I think it's just that there are different experiences between those different groups. So, with it being centred or focused on black people and BAME in general, it's because of the different experiences that they're having, because of the way that they have been talked about in the media in regard to the pandemic or in regard to the protests, I think it's just those different things that you kind of have to look at specifically in terms of them. 

16:30

Okay, thank you. Unfortunately, we have come to the end of our time, but I would just like to reassure you, as well, on youth services, that the committee has also done a lot of work on youth services, and we did a report at the beginning of the Assembly on the importance of youth work, and we picked up on some of the issues you've highlighted about the need for them to be more representative and to reach out further to young people, and also, of course, the impact that cuts to youth services are having on the ability to do that, which you've articulated really clearly in the meeting, and that is certainly something that the committee can follow up following this session. Indeed, all the points that you've made have been really important and valuable, and we will be looking to follow up those points with the Welsh Government.

So, on behalf of the whole committee, I'd just really like to thank you for your time in coming to talk to us today. It's been a really useful session that has given us lots to think about in terms of follow-up. We will send you a transcript following the meeting so that you can check for accuracy. Thank you, both, so much for your time today. It's been a really valuable opportunity for the whole committee. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.

8. Papurau i’w Nodi
8. Papers to Note

Okay, we'll move on, then, to papers to note. Item 8 is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a letter from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, responding to our request for further information on the impact of COVID on vulnerable children, and I'd like to return to that in the private session, if that's okay. Paper to note 2 is a letter from me to Healthcare Inspectorate Wales asking about the impact of COVID-19 on CAHMS in-patient units. Paper to note 3 is additional information from the Royal College of Nursing following the meeting on 9 June. Are Members happy to note those? Thank you very much.

9. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
9. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to Resolve to Exclude the Public from 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 9, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Thank you very much. So, we will now proceed in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:33.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 16:33.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru