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1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Education

June 14, 2017

74 speeches by…

  • Elin Jones
  • Jeremy Miles
  • Kirsty Williams
  • David Melding
  • Rhun ap Iowerth
  • Hannah Blythyn
  • Llyr Huws Gruffydd
  • Darren Millar
  • Michelle Brown
  • Lynne Neagle
  • Suzy Davies
  • Mohammad Asghar
  • Adam Price
  • Dai Lloyd
  • Alun Davies
  • Huw Irranca-Davies
  • Janet Finch-Saunders
  • David Rees
  • Mark Isherwood
  • Jayne Bryant
…and 10 more speakers

Elin Jones

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Education. And the first question, Jeremy Miles.

Jeremy Miles

1. What steps are being taken by the Cabinet Secretary to implement the recommendations of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission relating to ‘Education for Co-operation’? OAQ(5)0132(EDU)

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Jeremy. Our national mission of education reform is building an inclusive and equitable education system that supports every learner. We are continuing to strengthen our approach to policy co-construction across the three-tier model, and will work closely with our partners to develop our new curriculum and our new professional teaching standards.

Jeremy Miles

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that reply. In its update to its report, the commission recognised there were ongoing discussions between the Welsh Government and the Co-operative College, in relation to co-operative education in schools, and described a model that was preserving the maintained status of schools also encouraged the spread of co-operative ethos and principles within the curriculum and in the life of the school. And I wonder whether the Government will be taking proactive steps to encourage that development, having regard to the Bevan Foundation report of a few years ago, which set out some very practical steps, encouraging schools to go along that journey.

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Jeremy. As part of their rapid policy review, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development identified our comprehensive schools system, which emphasises equity and inclusion as one of the strengths of Welsh education. We are making considerable gains towards a self-improving system in Wales. And we must build on these foundations and continue to develop those approaches, which are based on co-operation, across all schools, learning from each other good practice, as well as incorporating issues around co-operation within the curriculum itself.

David Melding

Cabinet Secretary, on a slightly different tack, but still in the mainstream of this question, encouraging enterprise in schools, amongst the pupils, in particular, I think is a marvellous thing to do. I’ve many times previously called for social enterprises to be encouraged—I think each secondary school ought to have at least one—and why not use the model of co-operatives? What better way of organising that sort of enterprise?

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, David. The revised Welsh baccalaureate highlights the importance of developing the essential skills and presents opportunities for the co-operative and mutual sector to engage, through the enterprise and employability challenges, and the community challenges. Organisations are therefore being encouraged to develop or become involved in the delivery of those challenges, within individual schools, and, obviously, entrepreneurship forms one of those challenges. I am continually looking at ways in which we can encourage those types of skills to be embedded within the curriculum, because they’re really important skills for our children to learn and utilise in the world of work.

Rhun ap Iowerth

2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on work experience opportunities for pupils? OAQ(5)0131(EDU)[W]

Kirsty Williams

Diolch yn fawr, Rhun. Well-planned, structured work experience placements can provide young people with a valuable insight into the world of work. Schools and local authorities are responsible for providing pupils with work-focused experiences as part of the delivery of the careers and the world of work curriculum framework.

Rhun ap Iowerth

Thank you. This is an issue I raised with the First Minister in a supplementary question yesterday. A number of councils, as you know, have taken the decision to cancel the work-experience placement for year 10 and 12 pupils, including Anglesey. And, again, I declare an interest as the parent of two children—one in year 10 and the other in year 12. Parents and pupils have expressed huge disappointment with this, particularly given the work that’s gone in to getting a placement with an employer and the keen competition for placements in some cases. Assessments of the appropriateness of employers used to be done by Careers Wales. You’ve confirmed in a letter to me that this has been removed from the remit of Careers Wales as a result of tightening financial positions. Do you accept, therefore, that there is a direct result between the decisions taken by the last Government, in terms of cutting budgets, and the fact that work experience is now being cancelled? But there is a confusion here too. In your letter to me, you state that there are no health and safety regulations that make it a requirement for schools or local authorities to carry out assessments of workplaces for work-experience placements. But the Isle of Anglesey County Council refers me to documentation from the Health and Safety Executive that notes that schools do need to be assured that employers have carried out the appropriate checks. So, who is telling the truth here—you or the Health and Safety Executive? And, if it is you, then, what support have you offered to local authorities to give them the assurance that they can continue with work experience arrangements, which are crucially important?

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Rhun. First of all, I welcome the fact that we both recognise that work placements and work experience have a valuable role to play. I hope you will be pleased to note that I have identified some resource, some £2.4 million over the next four years, to support stronger work between schools and employers, and I will make an announcement shortly on how that is to be spent. I understand that schools have faced challenges following the removal of the work experience database and the health and safety checking of employers’ premises, which used to be undertaken by Careers Wales. But it is a source of regret to me that Ynys Môn and Gwynedd have decided to stop this altogether, and that is in stark contrast to some excellent practice that has gone on in other local authorities and in other schools to maintain this provision. And I declare an interest as a mother of a year 10 pupil myself, and my daughter and her cohort will be going on work placements later on in July, which have been carefully handled by the school. I would commend the approach taken by Carmarthenshire council for instance, who have stepped up to the plate and have done tremendous work in creating a database for work placements, which will enable children in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire and beyond to avail themselves of this opportunity. And what is frustrating to me is that, in a small nation such as ours, good work that is being carried out in some local authorities, such as Carmarthenshire, cannot be spread more easily to other parts of Wales. And I will be asking the regional consortia to redouble their efforts to ensure that where individual local authority schools have been able to overcome these challenges, and implement a system that allows children to take part in these schemes, that we’re able to spread that good practice to other areas of Wales so that all children can participate.

Hannah Blythyn

I think we all recognise that access to work experience is incredibly important for young people, and not just any work experience, but decent, valuable experience that is not reliant on perhaps what’s easiest or who you know. Thinking back to my own work experience, I actually went to the ‘Flintshire Chronicle’, where you can find an article by Hannah Blythyn, aged 15, headlined, ‘Don’t criticise what you don’t understand: Having a Go at Politicians’. [Laughter.] That article was actually looking at how young people are stereotyped and need to be listened to, and I am now in a position to do something about it. At a recent event with students at Coleg Cambria in Northop, we talked about access to work, and work experience and things were discussed. And one of the things that they came up with was, alongside your traditional work experience, to look for things that have more taster-type sessions, where people can go into workplaces and experience the different options out there, post 16, to help them influence their decisions for their further education, apprenticeships and training. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that that would be a good idea, with the young people’s idea, to do that, and what steps can be taken to make that happen?

Kirsty Williams

I think what’s absolutely crucial is that we take into consideration what young people themselves will find useful. And I’m sure all of us will be aware of situations where people have found themselves perhaps doing the photocopying for a week, and that isn’t necessarily the most useful or stimulating or inspiring kind of placement. So, we do have to focus on the quality of those placements, and we have to listen to young people about what they find will be most useful for them, and that might indeed be shorter, taster sessions, that avail them of a variety of opportunities to look at a variety of careers. And we do often need to do that earlier on in a pupil’s life, because, sometimes, the choices that they’re making at GCSE level could be potentially cutting short, or cutting off, future careers options. I would like to commend the work, for instance, of Powys County Council, who earlier this year organised a county-wide careers fair that brought together employment from across the county, both in the public and the private sector, to show young people the wide variety of careers that are available in the county of Powys, and to talk to them about how they can make educational choices that will allow them to take advantage of that. And it’s those kinds of innovative schemes that are being put on by some local authorities that should be applauded, and, again, we need to make sure that that is replicated as good practice across the nation.

Elin Jones

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd

Diolch, Llywydd. I’m sure, Cabinet Secretary, that you’ll have seen the figures from NUT Cymru published this week, showing that, in the four years since 2012, 0.25 million teaching days were lost to stress-related illness in Wales. You’ll also be aware, I’m sure, that college lecturers in Wales are striking tomorrow, with their union warning that a heavy workload is ruining their lives and pushing them to the brink. And, of course, we’ve well trailed in this Chamber the Education Workforce Council’s recent workforce survey, which showed that a third of schoolteachers and a quarter of FE lecturers tell us that they intend to leave their respected professions in the next three years. Now, when you agreed your 10 education priorities with the First Minister on entering Government, shouldn’t you at the very least have included an eleventh, which is the well-being of the workforce, because, without that, you’re not going to achieve any of the 10?

Kirsty Williams

Well, Llyr, as we rehearsed in the committee this morning, one of my priorities is to ensure that we have an excellent and outstanding workforce in all aspects of education, and workload concerns are very real. They vary greatly across the education workforce; they’re not just confined to teachers in schools, as you have recognised. Different issues and priorities arise depending on a variety of factors, including what phase of education somebody might find themselves teaching in; a rurality where, perhaps, teachers are teaching a class with a variety of age groups, requiring significant differentiation, which can be difficult to do; deprivation; subject area; and their role. What’s important is we try to do something about that. The first ever teacher survey that we’ve done has provided us with a wealth of opportunity to try and understand some of these very real concerns from the chalkface, and we continue to analyse those data. Detailed discussions are taking place with the education workforce unions on policy in early development, and we continue to work in partnership with those unions to try and address the concerns to a variety of work streams within the Government.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd

Thank you for your answer, but I think it’s clear to everyone that the statistics tell a clear story that we have a workforce that’s on its knees in terms of struggling to cope with the work that confronts them. Now, the loss of so many teaching days clearly has a number of impacts, least of all on the individual who’s off work. It disrupts the education of the children, schools’ finances, of course, when you have to bring in supply teachers—and I saw that Cardiff alone has spent £12 million on supply teachers in this academic year only—and, of course, on the remaining staff, there’s an impact there because they have to carry an additional burden invariably. Now, a year ago this month, you established the ministerial supply model taskforce. You published the report back in February, but we’ve heard nothing since, really. Now, given that our education system is so reliant on supply teaching, when will we see definitive action from your Government on this front?

Kirsty Williams

Well, Llyr, I don’t disagree with your analysis of the impact of days lost to teaching. The issue is what to do about it. As I said in my first answer to you, we have a variety of work streams looking to try and avoid that problem in the first place—i.e. not to be reliant on supply teachers, but, actually, to keep teachers well, resilient and in front of our children in the classroom. I, in conjunction with my Cabinet colleague for health, are looking at plans for what we can to do support resilience and support the mental health of teachers by giving them tools to address their own issues around stress management and workload management, as well as being able to teach those then on to the children. With regard to the task and finish group on the supply workforce, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed with the conclusions of that report. If we had hoped that the task and finish group would come up with a silver bullet to solve this problem, then I’m afraid the report has not been able to do that. We continue to discuss ways in which we can work not to diminish but to limit the reliance on supply teaching, and that is tied up with our work on policy development following the devolution of teachers’ pay and conditions.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd

But it’s four months since you told me that you were looking to move on this agenda, and given, again, the data and the statistics that we have, clearly, time is of the essence. So, I won’t press you further on that today, but, clearly, there’s a message there that needs to be listened to. Can I just change direction a little bit for my final question? It’ll become clear, Presiding Officer, why I’m directing my question to the Cabinet Secretary and not the Minister in a moment. It’s about the additional learning needs Bill. The Minister told us that £10 million of the £20 million budget he has for financing the additional learning needs transformation programme comes from the £100 million that you agreed with the First Minister for raising school standards. He told us that at Stage 1 scrutiny of the Bill. Now that it has become evident, of course, that the cost of the additional learning needs legislation is substantially higher—up to £13 million more expensive—than was originally anticipated over the projected period, could you tell us whether you expect a further sum to be vired from the £100 million for school standards, and, if that does happen, what impact do you think that’ll have on that particular budget?

Kirsty Williams

Let us be absolutely clear: in radically reforming the way in which we support children with additional learning needs, that is integral to our national mission of raising standards in Welsh schools and closing the attainment gap. The performance of those children is crucial if we are to see the changes in Welsh education that we need. Now, undoubtedly, there is a resource implication for ensuring that those children—and that legislation is implemented successfully, and we will continue to have discussions both within the education department on how that piece of legislation is funded, and discussions across Government. But I’m absolutely clear that we cannot divorce the education of our children with additional learning needs from our national mission to raise standards for all.

Darren Millar

Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, on Friday, the day after the general election, there was a piece of news that suggested that your Government is cutting £28 million-worth of funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which is obviously going to have a significant impact on Welsh universities. Why did you decide to bury bad news on that day, and how can you defend those cuts?

Kirsty Williams

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales made that announcement. As Darren Millar would well know as the spokesperson for his party, HEFCW is an arm’s-length body and the delivery of that particular announcement was nothing to do with me.

Darren Millar

You didn’t answer my question, which was: how can you defend—how can you defend—the cuts that HEFCW is now having to deliver, because of the lack of funding from the Welsh Government, to Welsh universities? We know already that Bangor University, Aberystwyth University, Trinity Saint David, and the University of South Wales have all warned that they’re going to have to make significant cuts to their workforce and restrict courses. How can you defend the cuts that you are now imposing upon our Welsh universities?

Kirsty Williams

Darren, let’s be clear: education as a whole in Wales faces a very difficult time given the constraints of the budget that the Welsh Government has available to it, and very difficult decisions have to be made. But I’m sure, having taken such a great interest in the press notice, you will have read the words of David Blaney, the chief executive, who has explained that these cuts are a result of the fact that an additional £20 million, which I was able to find in-year for HEFCW, will not be available next year. Part of that money is being used to try and put our universities in a better position going forward. And another part of the cut relates to the fact that we have removed the money for the Coleg Cenedlaethol out of HEFCW and we are funding that work directly as a Welsh Government, and that also appears in the fact that there is less money available in HEFCW. Let’s also be clear: the money available via HEFCW to Welsh universities is a very small proportion of the money available to Welsh HEIs; I understand it is less than 10 per cent of their overall budgets.

Darren Millar

Well, I’m not surprised it’s very small, and it’s going to get a darn sight smaller, isn’t it, while you keep underfunding our Welsh university sector and the Higher Education funding Council for Wales. The reality is that this is going to widen the funding gap between Welsh universities and universities over the border in England, which is going to make it more difficult for them to recruit students, which is going to widen the funding gap, therefore, even further and have a huge impact on research and training. And I have to say, I’m astonished by your volte-face, given the fact that you were championing extra resources going into HEFCW only last year when you were in opposition. Your tone has completely changed, you’ve clearly adopted the Labour line on our Welsh universities, and I would urge you again to look at the resources within your departmental budget to see what additional resources you can make available to help close this funding gap, which has widened under Welsh Labour-led administrations and looks set to widen even further as a result of you sitting around the Cabinet table.

Kirsty Williams

Darren, let’s be absolutely clear what I was able to do on coming into Government: it was to find the additional £20 million that had been taken out of the budget whilst I was in opposition, and we’ve been able to make that money available to higher education. But, seriously, I will take no lectures from a Conservative politician with regard to the funding of higher education. You have, in England, thrown that sector to the market, and it is the market that is driving HE provision in England. That will not happen in Wales, and we will use the opportunity of our radical reforms under the Diamond proposals to move our HE funding onto a more sustainable footing. That is a system that is being looked on with envy by other people, such as Scotland.

Michelle Brown

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Can the Cabinet Secretary tell us how many primary schools feed into high schools that are in the red or amber category and how many primaries in the red and amber categories feed into high schools that are in the yellow or green categories?

Kirsty Williams

Presiding Officer, I try to prepare for these sessions, but I have to admit that, for the first time since I’ve stood at this dispatch box, I will have to write to the Member with those specific details. But what I can tell the Member happily is that the number of schools that find themselves in a red category, whether that be secondary or primary, is going down—and that is to be celebrated.

Michelle Brown

Okay. Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. Schools in the amber category will receive up to 15 days’ support, with those in the red category receiving up to 25 days’ support. There’s no mention of additional resources in the guidance given to parents and schools—the additional resources being for the purposes of employing more teachers and to provide additional and upgraded facilities. Are you content that 25 days’ support is enough to take a school out of the red category, and what sort of work is going to be done with schools during those 25 days?

Kirsty Williams

The work that goes on to help schools on their improvement journey is tailor-made to the individual circumstances of each school. The Member asked the question, ‘Can we be confident that that level of support is sufficient to move a school forward?’ The answer to that is ‘yes’, and the reason I can say that is because I have visited schools that, just a short four years ago, were in the red category and, year on year, have moved up the categorisation system and now find themselves as green schools. Now, some schools’ school improvement journey will take longer and they will need more sustained levels of support. The whole point behind our categorisation system is that, by working collectively with the consortia and the individual schools, we can identify shortcomings, we can identify what needs to be done, and the support will be put in place to make those improvements.

Michelle Brown

Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. Schools will clearly benefit from the kind of advice and support you’re talking about, and I realise that improving schools is an ongoing process, which is why the lack of concrete support reflected in the guidance on the school classification system concerns me. However, there are young people who will have spent their education in either an amber or red classified school whilst you’re taking the softly softly approach to school improvement. What are you going to do to improve the life chances of young people who have been failed by the Welsh education system?

Kirsty Williams

I certainly am not taking a softly softly approach, but I can tell you what will not work is simply me stamping my foot here in this Chamber. School improvement is a collective endeavour that is the responsibility of individual school leaders, the staff within those schools, the governing bodies, local education authorities, the regional consortia, and, indeed, this Welsh Government. I have high expectations of our education system. I have high expectations of our school leaders. They are in no doubt of that. But I also know that I need to put in place measures to help those schools make those improvements, and that’s what I will continue to do.

Lynne Neagle

3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on her priorities for schools in Wales for the next six months? OAQ(5)0139(EDU)

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Lynne. I have set out our national mission to improve education attainment through a programme of education reforms. These include the development of a new curriculum and assessment reform, improved initial teacher education, teachers’ professional development and building leadership capacity, and, crucially, reducing the attainment gap for our poorer children.

Lynne Neagle

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I very much welcome your assurances in committee this morning that the renamed pupil deprivation grant will continue to be targeted at pupils on free school meals and also thank you for your kind words about Woodlands school in my constituency. It is undoubtedly the case that there is really excellent practice in the use of the PDG in Wales, and I recently visited Garnteg Primary School, where they are making outstanding use of the PDG to promote emotional resilience and mental well-being amongst their pupils. What assurances can you offer that you will continue to prioritise funding for the PDG, and also that you will stringently monitor the use of the PDG to ensure that is does benefit the pupils that it is intended to?

Kirsty Williams

Thank you. I know that some people have concerns about changing the name of the pupil deprivation grant to ‘pupil development grant’, but let me be clear: the reason for doing so is because I do not want to focus on the barriers that children face to their learning. I want to focus on their ability and having high expectations and ambitions for those children. The PDG will continue to focus on the learning needs of those who are on free school meals, but we’re also extending that to children who are looked-after, and also extending it to children who find themselves in education other than at school, who are some of our most vulnerable learners. This year, the Welsh Government will spend £93 million via the PDG, and there is excellent practice going on out there that is truly transforming the life chances of our young people. I was delighted to visit Woodlands primary school with you to see at first hand the work they do, and equally delighted to recently visit Blaenymaes Primary School with Mike Hedges AM, a school that has high levels of free school meal pupils, and to note that, in their recent Estyn report, they received an ‘excellent’ categorisation for well-being. The pupil deprivation grant is something that I championed whilst I was in opposition and I am delighted to have the opportunity to expand now that I am in Government.

Suzy Davies

It’s just over four months, actually, since Members from all sides of the Senedd backed my legislative proposals to receive age-appropriate lifesaving skills as part of their education—as learners, not as Assembly Members. I was pleased, Cabinet Secretary, that actually you were one of the Assembly Members in the previous Assembly who supported my statement of opinion on broadly the same proposals. As the Government’s preferred route at this stage is to encourage voluntary uptake, I wonder if you would either write to me, if you can’t—. Oh, if you would write to me, actually, because I suspect you might not be able to update me today, firstly on how many schools and colleges in Wales have installed defibrillators since February, and how many more schools and colleges are now providing this kind of training to learners, and how frequently any given cohort of those children and young people receive refresher training. Thank you.

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Suzy. I do think lifesaving skills are crucially important to young people, and I have a particular interest in looking at the availability of defibrillators in both primary and secondary schools. And I have asked officials, actually, to do a mapping exercise for me, to find out how many of our schools currently have those facilities and where there are gaps and what opportunities there may be, working with the voluntary sector, to address that. As always, in Wales, these statistics are not centrally held, and so it is taking a little bit of time to find out who has got what, but I am very interested to find that out and to see what we can do to ensure that there is universal coverage. With regard to the place of lifesaving skills in the curriculum, you’ll be aware that one of the areas of learning and experience is health and well-being. The work on the areas of learning and experience is coming to a conclusion, before we do a deep dive into the granular nature of what will be taught, and these issues have been part of the discussions in the areas of learning and experience.

Mohammad Asghar

4. What plans does the Welsh Government have to reduce the pressure on teachers' workloads in Wales? OAQ(5)0134(EDU)

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Oscar. Our aim is to build capacity and reduce excessive workload, leading to improved standards through reducing bureaucracy, improved policy delivery and better ways of working. There is no single solution to this complex issue, and it requires a multiple-stream approach, incorporating a number of separate work streams, which Welsh Government is currently undertaking.

Mohammad Asghar

Thank you for the reply, Minister, but the facts are that official figures reveal that there were 275 fewer teachers employed in Wales in 2016, compared to the previous year. Also, there were 446 fewer teaching assistants. A survey by the Education Workforce Council found that more than 88 per cent of teachers said they did not think that they could handle the workload in agreed hours, and that more than a third planned to quit the profession within the next three years, and I think that’s a striking figure, Cabinet Secretary. Is it not the case that the policies you are pursuing have created a teaching profession that is overworked and disillusioned in Wales?

Kirsty Williams

As I said earlier in questions to Llyr, workload is a real issue for the teaching profession and is a real concern to me. We are using the data, as I said, from the workforce survey to try and refine our approaches in this area. We’re also, as I said earlier, having detailed discussions with the education workforce unions. Let me be clear on some of the things that I have done. We have established a headteachers’ advisory panel, comprising of 26 of the most highly performing heads in Wales, whom I and my officials consult on the development of new policies and implementation issues that may arise. We have established and commissioned work on specific issues, including looking at marking and assessment, which are often cited as areas that increase workload for teachers. We have commissioned specific research, such as a project being undertaken by Trinity Saint David university, which is observing and analysing school leaders’ time management, to look to see what school leaders are actually spending their time doing. Work with the consortia, local authorities and other stakeholders has been undertaken to identify and publicise best practice, for example Estyn’s myth-busting campaign. As I said, there is no single answer to this complex issue, but we are working across a number of work streams to address workload where we can.

Adam Price

In Finland, they have no school inspection, no league tables, no tests or exams up until the age of 16, homework per child is limited to half an hour as a maximum, and they have the most successful education system in the world. That was the model that we were meant to be adopting and yet we start testing at seven and we’ve imported wholesale the overregulated, overworked, overstressed system from the failing education system next door in England. Why?

Kirsty Williams

What needs to be absolutely clear—and I took the opportunity to visit Finland in January, myself, to look at education policy and practice in their schools—is that the Finnish Government are very concerned about Finland. Relative to them—it would be great if we had performance that way—but relative to them, the Finnish system is dropping down the PISA league table. It is not improving. It is not holding its own. Their performance is diminishing. Compared to ours, we would want to have those scores, but that is the reality of the Finnish system. We are looking to learn from international examples, whether that be Finland—. Officials were last week in Ontario in Canada, looking at their very successful model, and we will continue to look at best practice internationally to inform our education reforms. But let me be absolutely clear: removing all forms of accountability has landed us in the position of where we find ourselves in, and nobody—nobody—thinks that what we’re doing at the moment is good enough. We are committed to a national reform mission that is based on raising standards and raising attainment level, and we will learn from the best, wherever that may be.

Dai Lloyd

5. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the promotion of Welsh-medium education in South Wales West? OAQ(5)0133(EDU)

Alun Davies

With the advent of the Welsh Government’s strategy for a million Welsh speakers by 2050, I agree that the promotion of Welsh-medium education across Wales needs to be consistent, focused and strong. We will be launching a national campaign in September.

Dai Lloyd

Thank you for that response, Minister. Following the sweeping success of the Urdd Eisteddfod in Bridgend last month, many are asking why Bridgend council aren’t doing more to promote and develop Welsh-medium education in the county. There are only four Welsh-medium primaries in the county, which is very low as compared to other authorities. Do you agree that the current situation in Bridgend is unsatisfactory? What are you doing to change that situation, particularly through the promotion of Welsh-medium education and increasing the number of young children who receive Welsh-medium education in the county?

Alun Davies

I definitely agree that the Urdd Eisteddfod was a sweeping success and we should congratulate all the volunteers that promoted and contributed to the success of the Urdd Eisteddfod. I believe quite a few Members visited the field and enjoyed that visit. I have asked Aled Roberts to undertake a review of all the WESPs, including Bridgend’s, and he will be reporting to me over the ensuing weeks. I will be publishing his full report once I’m able to do so. But may I say this? You were asking about Bridgend. Bridgend does demonstrate that there is ambition and vision for the future. Bridgend demonstrates that, but we must collaborate with them and with each other to ensure that they are able to attain the vision that they have set for themselves.

Huw Irranca-Davies

I welcome the question, but also the answer as well, because we must recognise that Bridgend, like others, are starting from a relatively low base in terms of Welsh provision. Certainly, in the period that I’ve represented that seat in different institutions, it has provided now a secondary education facility in Llangynwyd. There are demands from parents that it should be more central, and I understand those demands. My own children—all three of them—were fortunate to go to one of the best primary schools in the whole constituency, literally walking down their road to Ysgol Cynwyd Sant, a first-class, pure Welsh language provision and embedded in the eisteddfodau and so on. But there is more to do, without a doubt. I was at the turf-laying ceremony the other day for the new Betws primary, which will serve not only the northern valleys but also some of the central areas as well. But I want to ask the Minister: what additional support can be given to local authorities that are starting from a lower base—in advice as well—to move forward? Will he also give encouragement to those authorities that are trying to do the right thing, but they know how far they’ve got to go as well?

Alun Davies

I hope we can give encouragement to local authorities. The approach I’ve taken throughout the WESPs process has been to work with people rather than shout at people. I believe it’s incumbent upon all of us here, in this Chamber, to work with our own local authorities. I certainly want to work with my own local authority, in Blaenau Gwent, to ensure that they’re able to grow, and to realise their ambitions as well. I visited the only Welsh language school in Blaenau Gwent some weeks ago in order to discuss how they can improve and develop their provision. What I see, when I travel across the country, is exactly what has been described by the Member for Ogmore, which is great, deep goodwill towards the language and a wish to develop the provision of Welsh-medium education. I think that font of goodwill is something that we must all seek to encourage. The Welsh Government will certainly play its part, both in encouraging provision, encouraging parents to use that provision, and also then ensuring that the local authorities themselves have the support that they need in order to deliver on the vision that most local authorities have outlined in their own plans.

Suzy Davies

I think there has been a change of officials in the particular area you talk about in Bridgend recently, so hopefully we will see some improvement. But I wanted to ask you about something else. You’ve previously acknowledged the role that Wales’s businesses can play in promoting the Welsh language and, indeed, driving the call for skills, actually, and we often speak positively in this Chamber of collaboration between businesses and schools and colleges, both in influencing and, indeed, facilitating the way that the curriculum is delivered in an engaging way. Do you get any sense that, lately, businesses are perhaps keener to work with Welsh-medium schools because of the aim for 1 million Welsh speakers? Or are these collaborations still very much a local decision—good relationships between business leaders and school or college leaders—where maybe the language isn’t a consideration that’s on their agenda?

Alun Davies

What I see, as I’ve said in answer to Huw Irranca-Davies, is a great deal of goodwill from all parts of the community, including business, and what I hope we can do, through the publication of the strategy to achieve a million speakers by 2050, which will be published before we go on recess, is an attempt to ensure that collaboration is made real, is encouraged, is provided with support, and enables people to work together, because I think that is exactly what people want to do, in order to achieve the ambition and vision that we all share for the future of the language.

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Janet. The new curriculum for Wales will be based on the fundamental review of existing arrangements that was undertaken by Professor Graham Donaldson. The recommendations are radical, with wide-ranging implications for our education system. Work is now well under way to develop a new curriculum in response to ‘Successful Futures’.

Janet Finch-Saunders

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. There are, however, around 3,000 deaf children going through our education system here in Wales unable to access learning through a British Sign Language interpreter. For many deaf children, this is an important, and often the only, means of communication during this important development phase. Deaf Ex-mainstreamers research has shown how BSL should now be included within the Welsh curriculum model. We’ve received, as a Petitions Committee, a petition signed by over 1,000 people calling for improved access to learning through BSL. Will you give some consideration to including this within any curriculum change and ensure that these children can learn equally as well as anybody else?

Kirsty Williams

Well, Janet, I will give more than consideration, and you will know that because I answered a written question on 31 May, which confirmed to you that in developing the area of learning and experience relating to language, literacy and communications, British Sign Language was being considered alongside other languages in the development work of that particular group. It has been included. They have ben liaising with the third-sector organisations who represent children and families in this particular area, and I expect that work to be ongoing and continuing.

David Rees

Cabinet Secretary, last Thursday, we saw many young people taking part in the democratic process across the UK, being enthused—mainly by Jeremy Corbyn—to actually get involved and take part in their rights and have their voices heard. Will you agree with me that if this Assembly moves forward to a vote for 16 and 17-year-olds—[Interruption.] I’m disappointed that Members are not prepared to listen to an important aspect for young people. Do you agree with me that, as the Assembly moves forward and 16 and 17-year-olds have the possibility of also taking part in the democratic process here in Wales, it is incumbent on us to ensure that the new curriculum addresses political and citizenship education within it, so that they are prepared and they can be enthused and engaged—taking part and making sure that their voices are heard as well?

Kirsty Williams

Well, Presiding Officer, I don’t think that there is anything particularly engaging or enthusing about some of the yah-boo stuff that goes on in this Chamber. What I recognise that young people are interested in is finding solutions to the problems that they face in their lives and in their communities. Equipping those young people with the ability to hold politicians to account, to scrutinise their work, and to be able to make informed choices about how they should vote is absolutely crucial to our ongoing success as a society. Politics and civic engagement is already a part of our current curriculum, under PSE arrangements. I expect politics to play a part in the humanities area of learning and experience. But, it is absolutely crucial—indeed, it is demanded of us by young people themselves—that they have access to this kind of curriculum. They know it is important, they want it, and we will deliver it for them.

Mark Isherwood

7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the level of school funding in Wales? OAQ(5)0137(EDU)

Kirsty Williams

Thank you very much, Mark. Local authorities are responsible for school funding in Wales, and last year, gross schools expenditure was budgeted to be £2.5 billion overall. That is 0.9 per cent higher than in 2015-16. Local authorities delegated more than £2.1 billion of that funding to schools.

Mark Isherwood

Thank you. In September 2010, the WLGA made a commitment to increase school delegation rates to 80 per cent in two years, working towards 85 per cent within a further two years—i.e. 2014. When I questioned your predecessor in March last year, he expressed his understanding that every local authority in Wales had surpassed the 85 per cent delegation rate and said that the Welsh Government had set an expectation for that to reach 90 per cent during this Assembly term. However, the 2016-17 figures published by the Welsh Government showed that 14 out of 22 Welsh local authorities were still below the 85 per cent figure, and that all of them were below the 90 per cent figure. Can you confirm what this Welsh Government’s goal is in this area, and how it proposes to close that gap?

Kirsty Williams

Well, Mark, it is important that local authorities get as much education money, which is given to them either through the RSG or through special grants from this Government, to the front line. That’s where I expect money to be utilised—in our classrooms. I would urge local authorities again to look at ensuring that as much delegated budget is available as possible. One of the other continuing concerns that I have is that in some cases, we have high levels of reserves being held at a school level. That is usually within the primary sector, and quite often, that is held for very good reasons—if a school is looking to build up a particular reserve of money for a specific project. But, let us be clear: reserves that are held for the sake of it are not doing what that money was intended for, and that is providing opportunities for our children. So, it is incumbent upon all of us, individual schools, local authorities, consortia and, indeed, Welsh Government to get as much money to the front line as possible.

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Jayne. We recognise the importance of fostering a love of reading from an early age. Our national literacy and numeracy programme and its key policies, including the national literacy and numeracy framework and our grant-funded literacy interventions, support us in achieving this aim.

Jayne Bryant

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The big challenge for teachers is not simply getting students to read, it's getting them to enjoy it, too. English literature can ignite lifelong passion for reading. With changes to the way literacy development is measured at key stage 4, it's vital that we ensure that pupils continue to take up English literature at GCSE level. As one of my constituents, Rajvi Glasbrook Griffiths, who is a teacher, recently wrote: ‘cultural literacy is one of the most powerful modes of social mobility and progress’. With this in mind, what steps is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that teaching English and Welsh literature continues to play an important role in inspiring and nurturing booklovers of the future, particularly for those who don't have access to books at home?

Kirsty Williams

Thank you for that. I am aware of concerns on the issue of literature in key stage 4 and that some schools have been lobbying for increased emphasis on literature in performance measures. I have already signalled that school accountability is being reviewed as part of our education reforms and our national mission to improve education standards. We introduced new programmes of study for both English and Welsh in 2015, which require all schools to teach both language and literature elements for all until the end of key stage 4. I am keeping under review entry into Welsh literature and English literature GCSEs, and I will also be asking Estyn to review school practice in the teaching of literature at both key stage 3 and key stage 4.

Lynne Neagle

9. What steps is the Cabinet Secretary taking to ensure schools in Wales promote emotional resilience in children and young people? OAQ(5)0140(EDU)

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Lynne. Promoting the emotional resilience of children and young people must be understood within the wider context of their well-being. Higher levels of well-being are linked to increased educational achievement and engagement. For that reason, we are adding ‘well-being’ as a fifth objective in the next version of ‘Qualified for Life’.

Lynne Neagle

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I was very grateful to you for meeting with Samaritans Cymru with me recently. As you know, they have been very, very keen on mainstreaming emotional resilience in the curriculum, and I'm sure they welcome, as I do, that you've gone further, really, in including well-being in ‘Qualified for Life’—that is very, very positive. However, as you know, I have raised previously the need for all Welsh Ministers to work together in partnership to deliver the aims of Together for Children and Young People. Are you able to provide any update on the work that you are doing to deliver your side of that partnership in terms of ensuring that we move as quickly as possible to ensuring that all schools are actively engaged in ensuring that emotional resilience is a priority?

Kirsty Williams

Thank you, Lynne. It is absolutely crucial. As we discussed in committee this morning, there is much that we can do to prevent difficult situations for our young people and children, but we will never, ever be able to prevent them from experiencing life's ups and downs—whether that's bereavement, whether that is the break-up, perhaps, of a significant relationship in their life, whether that is bullying, we will never be able to protect them from all the challenges that they will face, but we can help them to be more resilient and allow them to cope better when those changes happen for them. You're absolutely right; I cannot do this alone. That is why I am very keen to work alongside my Cabinet colleague here, for health, to identify what opportunities there are for joint working. Most recently, we both identified a sum of money, which we hope to be able to deploy to tackle some of these very real issues in our high schools.