Implications for Wales of leaving the EU: Assembly Committee published its first report

16 March 2017

Article by Nia Moss, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This article was originally published on 30 January 2017. It is being reposted ahead of the Plenary debate on 28 March 2017.

View this post in Welsh | Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

EU flagsThe Assembly’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee (@SeneddEAAL) has published its first report on the Implications for Wales of leaving the EU. The report is divided into two parts.

Part 1 of the report sets out the Committee’s conclusions on the key implications for Wales of leaving the EU. These conclusions are based on a range of seminars and evidence sessions the Committee held with leading experts on a range of key topics including trade, public services, EU funding, higher education and the environment.

Key conclusions include:

  • Given the importance of manufacturing to Wales, the imposition of any tariffs poses a significant risk for this sector, especially for manufacturers that exist within global value chains;
  • There are significant risk to the trade in agricultural products;
  • Without careful consideration, restricting the ability of EU citizens to work in the UK after Brexit will have adverse consequences for many public services, some businesses and future infrastructure projects in Wales.
  • The most urgent issue for the higher education sector in Wales is clarification on the status of EU Citizens working and studying in Wales;
  • The Welsh Government should take a lead in preparing public services for the challenges ahead.

Part 2 of the report focusses on the Welsh Government’s response to the referendum, Wales’ voice in the negotiations and the future of inter-governmental relations in the UK. On this subject the Committee makes six recommendations in addition to drawing a number of key conclusions.

Key recommendations include:

  • That the Welsh Government publishes all the evidence on which it has based its White Paper including details of the scenario modelling that has been done across all sectors.
  • That the Welsh Government provides the Committee with a register of risks across all areas where Brexit will impact upon its activity.
  • That the Welsh Government sets-out the steps it has taken since 24 June 2016 to ensure that the maximum amount of European funding is secured and utilised before Wales exits the EU.
  • That the Welsh Government presses the UK Government for full involvement in shaping its negotiating position and direct participation in those negotiations which involve devolved powers, or issues that affect devolved powers.
  • The Committee also concludes that ‘constitutional appropriateness’ requires the Assembly’s consent through Legislative Consent Motions for key potential Brexit-related Acts of the UK Parliament.
  • The Committee notes that if the Great Repeal Bill encroaches on the devolution settlement it would support the principle of protecting the devolution settlement through the introduction of a Welsh Continuation Bill.

A Continuation Bill would restate the existence in the law of Wales of:

  • all domestic law applicable to Wales made for the purposes of implementing any EU-law obligation/discretion, and
  • all directly applicable/directly effective rights and obligations deriving from EU law

that fall within the Assembly’s competence.

The Committee sets out its hope that the report will act as a point of reference to inform the broader debate in Wales, and beyond, about the UK’s exit from the EU and will be used by other organisations as they begin to consider the implications for Wales.

You can find out more about the work of the Committee and its up-coming work on the Committee website.

Assembly to debate Estyn Chief Inspector’s 2015/16 Annual Report

02 March 2017

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

This is a picture of a red pen.

Image from Flickr by theilr. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

In Plenary on Tuesday (07 March 2017), Assembly Members will debate HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, Meilyr Rowlands’ 2015/16 annual report. The annual report was published on 24 January 2017 and has already been scrutinised by the Children, Young People and Education Committee on 15 February 2017.

Two of the main messages are that standards of provision remain ‘variable’, with the gap between Wales’ best and worst performers ‘still too wide’, and that teaching is currently the ‘weakest aspect’ across most areas of education in Wales. This is all the more stark given the Chief Inspector concurs with most other educational discourse that the standard of teaching is the ‘biggest influence’ on how well children and young people learn.


The Chief Inspector reports that ‘variability’ within and between schools ‘remains a prominent feature’ of Wales’ education system. Mr Rowlands notes:

In all sectors there are good and excellent providers, including in relatively deprived areas, but the gap between providers that are doing well and those that are not is still too wide.

This is a similar message to last year when the Chief Inspector also highlighted a variability in standards, which he said was ‘one of the most noticeable features of the Welsh education system’. In his 2014/15 report, he also said the gap between the best and worst performers was ‘still too wide’ and ‘needs to be addressed’, implying it is a long-term problem stretching back before then. Indeed, the Chief Inspector reports that the ‘underlying picture’ from inspections in 2015/16 is ‘similar’ to the previous year.

The Chief Inspector told the Children, Education and Young People Committee that one of the main ways this variability can be seen is the level of consistency throughout a school.

People say, ‘Well, which is the greatest problem?’ The reality is that it’s the same problem, because when we say that a school is performing well, or that leadership is strong in a school, or that the education is good in that school, what we’re really saying is that the education, or the leadership, or the school, is consistently good. What makes for [only] adequate provision is that it is inconsistent. So, that inconsistency—. In schools and other providers where we note that they are adequate, there are pockets of good practice but it isn’t consistent throughout the system. That’s what leads to this variability that we see at the system level, that you have variability within those pockets from providers.

Standards of teaching

The quality of teaching is the biggest influence on how well learners learn, but it is the weakest aspect of provision across most areas of education in Wales.

This is how Estyn’s press release reported the publication of its Chief Inspector’s annual report for 2015/16.  It appears to reinforce the need for the reforms that the Welsh Government is making to teachers’ training and professional development.

Indeed, there is a particular focus in the Chief Inspector’s annual report this year on better professional learning and staff development, which the Chief Inspector describes as a ‘structural requirement for improved teaching’. His report includes ten sets of questions for schools, which are designed to aid their support for teachers’ professional learning.

The Chief Inspector reports that just over three quarters of primary schools inspected in 2015/16 had good or better standards of teaching. However, this is true in only a minority of secondary schools. Teaching is excellent in only ‘very few’ primary and secondary schools.

The Welsh Government is reforming the development opportunities on offer to teachers. It is working with ‘Pioneer schools’ towards the establishing of a new single professional learning offer by July 2018, in time for the availability of the new curriculum in September 2018. New professional standards are also being developed along with a revamp of initial teacher education (ITE) programmes (following the Furlong Review) with new ‘transformational’ versions to be introduced in September 2019. The Children, Young People and Education Committee is currently undertaking an Inquiry into Teachers’ Professional Learning and Education.

Other key observations

  • Performance is more polarised at secondary school level than primary school level. More secondary schools have either Excellent or Unsatisfactory performance and prospects for improvement, whereas primary schools tend to be clustered predominantly around the two middle judgements of Good and Adequate. This is a continuing pattern from previous years.
  • There is a growing trend of entering pupils early for exams. Estyn find that it can be beneficial in certain subjects, particularly Mathematics but if applied more broadly to larger cohorts of pupils it can be detrimental. It might help pupils gain C grades and help schools’ Level 2 threshold performance (5 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C) data but Estyn say it has ‘drawbacks’.
  • More able learners do not achieve as well as they should. This suggests the system is not doing enough to enable more able and talented pupils to fulfil their potential. The OECD has observed that Wales has a comparatively inclusive system but does not stretch more able and talented pupils as well as it could.
  • The proportion of pupils achieving 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C has increased from 51.1% in 2012 to 57.9% in 2015 and 60.3% in 2016, although the proportion achieving 5 GCSEs at grades A*-A has reduced from 17.1% in 2012 to 16.6% in 2015 and 15.9% in 2016. (Note that the Welsh Government began using a slightly different statistical method in 2016, measuring the cohort of pupils in Year 11 rather than those aged 15 at the start of the academic year.)
  • The gap between the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals achieving the Level 2 threshold inclusive (5 GCSEs at grades A*-C including Welsh/English and Maths) and other pupils was 31 percentage points in 2016. This is the narrowest the gap has been in ten years.
  • Estyn inspected each regional consortia in 2015/16. The Chief Inspector reports that the consortia do not sufficiently analyse the progress of groups of pupils, including the more able, in enough detail. They are also not doing enough to tackle variability in standards, particularly between secondary schools.
  • The long-term problem of poor performance and outcomes within Pupil Referral units continued in 2015/16. Annual reports over a number of years have highlighted this as an area of concern.

What does Estyn actually look at when it inspects schools and other settings?

Estyn uses a Common Inspection Framework, which was introduced at the start of the current cycle in September 2010. This framework consists of three key questions on ‘how good’ are outcomes, provision, and leadership and management. Estyn then forms two overall judgements about the current performance and prospects for improvement of each setting according to a four-point scale: Excellent; Good; Adequate; Unsatisfactory.

Estyn publishes data on its inspection outcomes. This provides details of all inspection judgements since the start of the current inspection framework cycle in September 2010. This can be filtered by specific sectors.

Tuesday’s Plenary debate (7 March 2017) will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.

Are the Welsh Government’s education reforms on track?

22 February 2017

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

this is a picture of a mathematical formula in chalk on a blackboard

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, will make a statement in Plenary on Tuesday (28 February 2017) on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) recommendations for the Welsh Government regarding its education reforms.

In October 2016, the Cabinet Secretary commissioned the OECD to consider the reforms the Welsh Government is undertaking to improve standards of education and whether they are ‘on track’.

The OECD’s influence on Welsh Government education policy

The OECD has been considerably influential on the Welsh Government’s education policies in recent years, not least through its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The previous Welsh Government initiated a raft of reforms in direct response to Wales’ disappointing PISA results in the 2009 and 2012 cycles. Reflecting on Wales’ PISA 2015 results, announced on 6 December 2016, the Cabinet Secretary said:

We will use these results and the rich data that they give us, allied to the forthcoming OECD report, to support and challenge my priorities and programme.

The OECD carried out an in depth review of the education system in Wales in 2014, which led to the Welsh Government’s new education improvement plan for the period to 2020, Qualified for Life (published October 2014). For more information on this, see our previous articles, Improving school standards (June 2016), Education policy leaning towards PISA? (December 2015) and PISA: What is it and why is it important? (November 2016).

The OECD’s Autumn 2016 review and the Welsh Government’s intention to refresh Qualified for Life

The most recent involvement of the OECD followed Kirsty Williams’ visit to the OECD in September 2016 just several months into her role as Cabinet Secretary for Education, when she said:

I believe in following international evidence. That is why I have asked the OECD to look at our reforms and to report back on whether we are on the right track and that we are making the right levels of progress.

It is not good enough to limit our ambitions to simply looking across the border, we must strive to be up there with the best in the world. So when I met the OECD, I asked that they advise me on whether we now have the right strategies in response to their 2014 Review.

The Cabinet Secretary told the Children, Young People and Education Committee during budget scrutiny in November 2016 (PDF 543KB) that the OECD’s findings would influence her final decisions about how to use the £20 million allocated in 2017-18 for raising school standards (part of a total £100 million pledged over this five-year Assembly.)

I’m not waiting for them to tell me how to spend the money. This is the approach I’m intending. But I do want to reflect, before I make absolute, final allocations [on] their report. It would seem churlish to me to have them over to test this and then have no reflection on what they might say. So, those are the areas and the figures that we’re looking at the moment—a taster of where we’re going—but I will use the feedback from the OECD report to refine what we’re doing. As I said, we’ve put this forward to them as part of our plans, but I do want a little bit of flexibility to be able to reflect on what they tell us.

In a letter to the Committee (PDF 784KB) regarding the development of the new curriculum, the Cabinet Secretary said that the OECD’s early findings following its visit to Wales in November indicated ‘many things now in place are putting Wales on a more promising track’. She added:

The OECD has confirmed to me that we are on the right track and need to continue on this path. In line with this I will be refreshing our strategic delivery plan, Qualified for Life, with a view to publishing a revised document in the spring. It is important that we do this in order to ensure that everything we are doing in education is suitably aligned with and supportive of our reform agenda.

The Welsh Government’s education priorities

The Welsh Government’s existing education improvement plan, Qualified for Life, has four strategic objectives:

  • An excellent professional workforce with strong pedagogy based on an understanding of what works.
  • A curriculum which is engaging and attractive to children and young people and which develops within them an independent ability to apply knowledge and skills.
  • The qualifications young people achieve are nationally and internationally respected and act as a credible passport to their future learning and employment.
  • Leaders of education at every level working together in a self-improving system, providing mutual support and challenge to raise standards in all schools.

Kirsty Williams’ priorities as Cabinet Secretary for Education can be found in letters she exchanged with the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, in June 2016. These letters set out details of their agreement underpinning her appointment to the Cabinet and acceptance of collective responsibility for Cabinet decisions.  The ten education priorities are:

  • Consider the recommendations of the Diamond Review [of student finance and HE funding], with a view to early implementation where appropriate, but without any negative effect on the higher education budget;
  • Reducing infant class sizes;
  • Ensuring every child gets the best start in life through an expanded Pupil Deprivation Grant
  • Incentivising, recognising and promoting teaching excellence to raise standards across the board.
  • Prioritising schools’ access to super-fast broadband within the national programme;
  • Promoting and enhancing academic and vocational routes into and through further and higher education;
  • Review of current policy of surplus places with an emphasis on rural schools and taking account of future growth trends;
  • Further consultation on the specific recommendations of the Hazelkorn Review of oversight and regulation of post-compulsory education and training;
  • Exploring a potential expansion of the remit of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol to include further education;
  • Prioritising support for enhanced links between education and industry.

When asked during budget scrutiny, whether there was any further prioritisation within these ten priorities, the Cabinet Secretary replied (PDF 565KB):

In terms of prioritisation, delivery across all of these commitments remains of equal importance. However, I expect all our policies to help raise standards and further narrow the attainment gap between pupils from our most deprived communities and those from more prosperous areas.

What to expect from the Cabinet Secretary’s statement

Assembly Members and stakeholders alike will be keen to hear about the OECD’s verdict on the Welsh Government’s education reforms and the Cabinet Secretary’s next steps. The OECD’s report and recommendations are likely to influence the next iteration of Qualified for Life and the Welsh Government’s updated education improvement priorities, as well as decisions on how to spend the additional investment to raise school standards.

The signals, which Kirsty Williams has given since the OECD’s visit, suggest more of the same rather than a significant change in direction:

When I invited the OECD last month to look at how we were doing in Wales, their advice to me was unambiguous: stay the course; be brave; you are doing the right things.

Estyn’s Chief Inspector, Meilyr Rowlands, recently told the Children, Young People and Education Committee (PDF 751KB):

I think I don’t expect to see great u-turns or changes. I think it’s a question of building on the current direction. The general sense of direction, I think, is the right one. I think what we need to do now is to implement those initiatives successfully. So, I’d be expecting to see some detail about how some of these things, such as the curriculum reform, are going to be implemented successfully.

The Cabinet Secretary’s statement and Assembly Members’ subsequent questions will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.

National Endowment for Music

08 February 2017

Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh


Image from Flickr by Jason Hollinger. Licensed under Creative Commons.

On 14 February 2017, Kirsty Williams, Cabinet Secretary for Education will make a statement in Plenary on the establishment of the National Endowment for Music.


There have long standing concerns about funding pressures for non-statutory, local authority music education services. In March 2015, the then Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis, established a Music Services Task and Finish Group. The Group, looked at  music service delivery; charging policies, musical instrument supply and partnership working.  The Group also considered issues around resourcing the future development of music education in Wales, and the potential for a National Endowment for Music.  The Group recommended that:

The Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Government should investigate the possibility and parameters for the establishment of a National Endowment for Music to develop the opportunities for young people to realise their possibilities through music skills and talents. The research should look at the model for such an endowment and its resourcing, including the potential for a voluntary ticket levy, and Ministers should receive a report on initial feasibility within six months.

The then Minister accepted the recommendations in October 2015. Trio Consulting was commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales to undertake a feasibility study on the establishment of the endowment. The report was presented to the previous Minister for Education and Skills and Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism in December 2015.

What can we expect?

In his written evidence to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee on 14 September 2016, [PDF 241KB] Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure said that in partnership with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and the Arts Council for Wales, the Welsh Government were considering the establishment of  a permanent endowment fund for music.

The aim is to build-up a fund of £20 million or more. In time, it could yield up to a £1 million per year to support young people to develop their skills and talents in music. Achieving this target is possible, albeit it will be very challenging, so the fund will need to attract funds from various public and private sector sources.

We are consulting a range of potential partners and beneficiaries, to ensure we have an effective plan for creating and sustaining this new body.

In March 2015, Huw Lewis and Ken Skates, then Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, jointly commissioned a task and finish group to look the future of the National Ensembles.  The group’s report, Securing a sustainable future for the national youth arts ensembles of Wales [PDF 825KB] (January 2016) made recommendations for the Welsh Government, Arts Council, local authorities, and National Youth Arts Wales (NYAW)  – the umbrella body for the ensembles.

One recommendation was that a remodelled National Youth Arts Wales and the Welsh Government should fully explore the potential for NYAW to become a key beneficiary of the National Endowment.

The announcement will clearly be of interest to all those involved in music in Wales and for the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee who are conducting an inquiry into funding and access to music education.

What type of youth service does Wales want? Assembly Members to debate Committee report

02 February 2017

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

Group of young people sitting at a cafe, with mobiles and tablets, top view

On Wednesday (8 February 2017), Assembly Members will debate the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report of its inquiry into the effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s strategy and policies in respect of youth work: What type of youth service does Wales want? (PDF 1.11MB).

The Committee concluded that a ‘radical approach’ is needed to address an ‘alarming decline’ in youth services across Wales. It made 10 recommendations to the Welsh Government on how it should deliver the youth service that people in Wales want.

The Committee’s inquiry focused primarily on:

  • Young people’s access to youth services;
  • The effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s strategy and policy on youth work; and
  • Funding for youth work from local authorities, the Welsh Government, the European Union and the third sector.

Over 1,500 young people submitted their views to the Committee and their clear message was: when youth work provision disappears from a young person’s life, the impact is considerable. The Committee also heard from stakeholders working with young people. Here is what they had to say: six minute video.

What does youth work look like today?

The Committee heard that financial pressures have had a serious impact on youth work over recent years. Welsh Government statistics show that the total amount of expenditure which local authorities budget for youth services has reduced by almost 25% over the last four years. There has also been a decrease in the proportion of young people registered as accessing youth work provision from 20% in 2013-14 to 17% in 2015-16. The Committee described this as an ‘alarming downward trend’.

The Committee heard the outlook for the voluntary sector is seen with no more optimism, with the Council for Wales Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS) reporting that 30% of its members were unsure about their financial future.

The Welsh Government’s launched its National Youth Work Strategy for Wales in February 2014, intending to set the direction for youth work organisations for the following years until 2018. The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, Alun Davies explained (PDF 662 KB) that the strategy seeks to maximise the role and contribution of youth work provision to young people’s engagement and success in their mainstream education.

The Committee considered the extent to which the capacity in the voluntary and statutory sector is maximised, concluding that:

There needs to be an urgent and radical intervention on the part of the Minister if he is to deliver his ambitious vision of a truly open access, bilingual provision. He must also address the lack of strategic and joint working between the statutory and voluntary sector, which the Committee believes is a significant barrier to delivering a universal youth work offer.

What role should the Welsh Government take?

The Committee recommended the Welsh Government reviews its National Youth Work Strategy and refreshes the existing Extending Entitlement statutory guidance, which was issued in 2002. The Minister told the Committee that the current strategy is being reviewed, the findings of which will be published in Spring 2017. He said this would form the basis of a new strategy from 2018 and work to refresh the statutory guidance.

Evidence submitted to the inquiry by stakeholders showed they believe there is a lack of leadership and strategic direction from the Welsh Government. The Minister’s views on the current state of youth work in Wales differed considerably to those of the local government Principal Youth Officers Group and CWVYS. The Committee called on the Minister to work with these organisations, ‘harnessing their expertise and understanding’ to make progress on improving youth work provision.

What type of youth service does Wales want?

Many of the contributors to the Committee’s inquiry called for a new national body to be established to drive forward youth work policy and implementation across both the statutory and voluntary sectors. These stakeholders believed a national model would, as the Committee’s report puts it, ‘enable better collaborative processes, reduce duplication across the sectors, raise the status and profile of youth work, enable workforce development’ and ‘maximise the available resources for the benefit of young people’.

Alun Davies AM told the Committee he does not intend to ‘nationalise’ youth services or seek to deliver them centrally from Cardiff Bay. He said he would decide on a future model for youth work provision in early 2017. However, he added:

Overwhelmingly, my view remains that this is a matter for local government to take these decisions and not a matter for a Minister to intervene in. (…)

The Committee has recommended that the Welsh Government introduce a national model for youth work, encompassing both statutory and voluntary provision.

In its report, the Committee expressed concern about a ‘lack of accountability’ for how local authorities use the funds which are nominally allocated for youth services within the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) but are not hypothecated for that purpose. In response to a question about the possibility of setting outcomes for local authorities as a condition of funding, the Minister said:

Setting outcomes by local authority area—I’m happy to consider that. (…)

I’m more attracted by the concept of outcomes than I am by hypothecation … If we are going to look at a national outcomes framework, then perhaps how we break that down into local areas could be something we could look at.

The Committee has recommended that the Welsh Government develop an accountability framework for local authorities’ use of funds for youth work via the RSG, including sanctions if these are not delivered.

The Welsh Government’s response

The Welsh Government’s response (PDF 293KB) has been published today (2 February 2017). The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, Alun Davies, has accepted 5 of the recommendations and accepted the other 5 in principle.

How to watch the debate

Assembly Members’ debate on the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report is scheduled for around 4.00pm in Plenary on Wednesday 8 February 2017. It can be watched on SeneddTV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.