Children’s Advocacy Services: No more false starts

23 March 2017

Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

On 29 March 2017, the Assembly will debate the Children and Young People and Education Committee’s report of the inquiry into statutory advocacy provision (PDF 519KB], published on 2 February 2017.  The Welsh Government published their response [PDF 87KB] on 22 March 2017.

What is advocacy?

This is a picture of a child

Image from maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com. Licensed under the Creative Commons

The Welsh Government’s 2003 National Standards for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services [PDF 498KB] said:

Advocacy is about speaking up for children and young people. Advocacy is about empowering children and young people to make sure that their rights are respected and their views and wishes are heard at all times. Advocacy is about representing the views, wishes and needs of children and young people to decision-makers, and helping them to navigate the system.

There are statutory requirements for local authorities to provide independent advocacy services for looked after children and young people, care leavers and children in need, initially under the Children Act 1989 and more recently incorporated into the Social Services and Well-Being Act (2014).

Latest Welsh Government statistics provide an indication that 28,105 children were potentially eligible for statutory advocacy services in 2016. Of these 5,660 were looked after children; 3,060 were on the child protection register; and 19,385 were children in need.

Why it’s important

The importance of looked after children being able to access independent advocates was elevated when the Waterhouse Inquiry report (published in 2000) found that the victims of decades of widespread sexual and physical abuse of children in north Wales care homes had not been believed or listened to. It recommended that all looked after children should have access to an independent advocate.

In the Missing Voices, Right to be Heard report of July 2014, the then Children’s Commissioner for Wales said:

There is no starker reminder than the emergence of the fresh allegations of historic abuse in North Wales and the establishment of Operation Pallial and the Macur Review. The current prominence of historic child abuse scandals demonstrates the immediate need to get advocacy right for children and young people today. Advocacy enables us to create a climate where we listen to children and young people, a culture where we can better protect our children. In short, advocacy safeguards children and young people.

The National Youth Advocacy Service told the Children, Young People and Education Committee:

Statutory advocacy is fundamentally a provision to protect and safeguard the most vulnerable children and young people in Wales. We must not lose sight into the history of why advocacy is so critical in Wales which was a direct result of many children being abused whilst in the care of local authorities. The recommendations from Sir Ronald Waterhouse report; “Lost in Care” are still as relevant today as it was in 2000.

Reports since Waterhouse

Between 2003-2014 there have been seven reports setting out concerns about advocacy services and how best to deliver them in Wales.

Between 2008 and 2010, the Children and Young People Committee of the Third Assembly published three reports and made a range of recommendations and repeated calls about the provision of advocacy services for looked after children and other vulnerable groups of children.  These can be seen on the National Assembly website:

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales was established in 2001, the first in the UK. In 2003, the then Children’s Commissioner published his Telling Concerns report [PDF 720KB] which included a review of advocacy provision. During the period 2012-2014, the new Children’s Commissioner went on to publish three reports and made a series of recommendations in respect of statutory advocacy services.

The 2014 report said that the quality and quantity of commissioning of the provision of advocacy services differed markedly between local authorities and:

Without significant change this local model of commissioning is likely to perpetuate the well documented shortcomings of current provision. It is time to move towards a national model of commissioning that would hopefully provide the focus, impetus, and accountability structures that appear to me to be lacking at the moment.

The reports published by the Children’s Commissioner led to work being undertaken by the  Welsh Government and a Ministerial Expert Group on Advocacy being established in 2014 to develop a proposal for a National Approach to Statutory Advocacy Services.

What the Committee found

The Committee heard that there had been a frustrating and unacceptable delay in agreeing and implementing the National Approach to Statutory Advocacy Services. However, the Committee also heard that progress in agreeing the National Approach was being made during the course of the inquiry.   The WLGA said they were sure that local authorities would have an agreed all-Wales approach to commissioning advocacy (the ‘National Approach) in place by June 2017.  The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant said that this was his expectation and he had made it clear that there would be sanctions if there is a failure to deliver.

Implementation of the National Approach had been costed at between £1 and £1.1 million, including an ‘active offer’.  An active offer is where all children and young people are made aware of advocacy services and how they could access an advocate at the point at which they entered the statutory care system.  The Welsh Government had allocated £500-550,000 towards these costs.  While recognising the competition for available resources, the WLGA confirmed that there was a level of commitment to finding the remaining funding for the National Model.

The Committee makes eight recommendations in its report, including that the Welsh Government should:

  • Monitor and ensure that all local authorities have actively signed up to the National Approach by January 2017;
  • Monitor annually local authority expenditure on statutory advocacy services and that it is funded in line with the population needs assessment analysis; and
  • Commissions an independent review of progress at the end of the first year of implementation of the National Approach;
  • Provide a detailed update to the Committee on progress in implementing the ‘National Approach’ in June 2017.

Assembly to debate the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill

17 March 2017

Article by Helen Jones, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

Image from Flickr by Adam Levine. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill was laid before the Assembly on 28 November 2016, and introduced in plenary by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government on 29 November 2016. The Assembly will debate the general principles of the Bill on 21 March 2017.

The Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill (LDT) is concerned with establishing the legal, administrative and operational framework to replace Landfill Tax (LfT) in Wales in April 2018. Landfill Tax is currently a UK tax on the disposal of material as waste by way of landfill at landfill sites which are permitted under environmental legislation. The current tax was introduced in 1996 as a key environmental behaviour change driver in encouraging the diversion of waste from landfill, greater recycling, reuse and recovery of waste. Since the tax was introduced it has contributed to a significant reduction in the proportion of waste sent to landfill, and an increase in recycling.

This Bill is the third piece of legislation related to the devolution of tax powers in the Wales Act 2014. The Bill was preceded by the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Act 2016 which established the legal framework necessary for the future collection and management of devolved taxes in Wales and the Land Transaction Tax and Anti avoidance of Devolved Taxes (Wales) Bill, which will replace Stamp Duty Land Tax from April 2018.

Further information on the background to the Bill, an overview of its parts, a summary of financial implications, and a Welsh glossary are provided in the Research Service’s Bill Summary (PDF, 844KB).

The Finance Committee reported (PDF, 1MB) on its Stage One consideration of the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill on 10 March 2017.

The Finance Committee’s report sets out a number of recommendations aimed at strengthening the legislation. For example, the Committee would like to see the proposed rates of taxation, a list of qualifying materials and provisions for bad debt relief, included on the face of the Bill.

Whilst the Welsh Government intends to bring forward secondary legislation in relation to some of these provisions, the Committee remains concerned that secondary legislation is not subject to the same amount of scrutiny as a Bill.

The Committee also believes that businesses need certainty when it comes to the application of new tax legislation, and that including such detail in the law itself would help to address concerns.

The Committee heard considerable evidence in relation to the importance of the Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme. The Committee recommend that a Communities Scheme is included on the face of the Bill to show commitment to the scheme going forward, but accept that some of the detail could be specified in regulations.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee considered the appropriateness of the provisions in the Bill about powers to make subordinate legislation. Its report (PDF, 2MB) was also published on 10 March 2017.

Subject to the Assembly agreeing the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill, the Bill will proceed to Stage Two (detailed Committee consideration of the Bill and any proposed amendments). Stage Two proceedings are expected to be completed by 26 May 2017.

Welsh Government Second Supplementary Budget 2016-17

03 March 2017

Article by Gareth Thomas and David Millett, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government (Mark Drakeford AM) laid the Second Supplementary Budget 2016-17 on 7 February 2017.  This was accompanied by an explanatory note and tables showing departmental allocations.  This supplementary budget amends the First Supplementary Budget 2016-17 approved by the National Assembly in July 2016. The Finance Committee published its report on Scrutiny of the Welsh Government Second Supplementary Budget 2016-2017 on 2 March.

Over two thirds of the revenue allocations in this budget are additional funding to the NHS, including £75.9 million to address forecast overspends by Local Health Boards (£7.5 million of which is in addition to the £68.4 million announced in November 2016), £50 million to mitigate winter pressures, £27 million to fund a shortfall in income from the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme and £16 million to support the launch of the New Treatment Fund

Also, £20 million has been allocated to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales to address financial demands from the recommendations of the Diamond Review, £8.5 million to establish Transport Wales to design and let the rail and South Wales Metro franchises, and £4 million to Tata Steel for skills support.

The main capital allocations are £47 million to support trunk road projects (including £22 million for M4 Route Development), £33.4 million capital grants and loans to deliver economic development priorities and £30 million to support the Programme for Government commitment to build an additional 20,000 affordable homes.

These investments are funded by a mixture of allocations from reserves and funds carried over from the previous financial year, and also takes account of changes in funding from the UK Government.

Changes in overall budget allocations, and in allocation of fiscal revenue and capital expenditure between different Welsh Government departments between the previous Supplementary Budget and this one, are summarised in the accompanying chart.

The foundational economy

02 March 2017

Article by Jack Miller, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

Ceiling of the Senedd Chamber

As in the UK, Wales has lost much of its manufacturing base but retains its ‘foundational economy’, argue researchers from the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). Whilst this ‘mundane’ yet vital area of the economy provides the goods and services essential for citizens’ well-being, they suggest it is ‘pervasively mismanaged’.

On 8 March, Assembly members will discuss the foundational economy during a Debate by Individual Members. This comes within the wider context of the development, by the Welsh Government, of a new economic strategy for Wales later this year. The Committee on the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills will hear from CRESC researcher, Professor Karel Williams, on 15 March to discuss the foundational economy during a session on alternative perspectives on what the strategy might include.

Foundational economy: The basics

The foundational economy is built from the activities which provide the essential goods and services for everyday life, regardless of the social status of consumers. These include, for example, infrastructures; utilities; food processing; retailing and distribution; and health, education and welfare.

They are generally provided by a mixture of the state (directly or through funding outsourced activities); small and medium enterprise (SME) firms; and much larger companies such as privatised utilities or branches of mobile companies such as the major supermarkets, who often originate from outside of Wales.

The importance of the foundational economy to Wales

Unlike manufacturing sectors where production is concentrated in specific areas, the foundational economy is nationally distributed along with population. As expressed by CRESC’s ‘Manifesto for the Foundational Economy’ (PDF, 435KB), in many areas of former heavy industry throughout Europe the foundational is ‘all that is left’. It is thus vital for many people in Wales, not only to provide the goods and services they need but also as an employer.

The report estimated that in 2013, 37.8 per cent of the Welsh workforce were employed in activities that contribute to the foundational economy, compared to 10.3 per cent in manufacturing. In England, 33.2 per cent of the workforce were employed in the foundational economy in the same year. A more recent report by CRESC researchers for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), entitled ‘What Wales Could Be’, suggests that ‘on any count, grounded SMEs and large scale foundational employers account for at least 40 per cent of the Welsh workforce’ (p.32).

Many sectors of the foundational economy are ‘sheltered’; because they are inherently local, international competition is limited and offshoring is difficult. Foundational goods and services are also ‘inelastic’, i.e. demand for these essentials does not change significantly when their prices or consumers’ incomes change. Combined, these effects lead to a greater level of resilience to external economic shocks in the foundational economy than, for example, in manufacturing, whose output can decline markedly during recession.

Challenges for the Welsh foundational economy

CRESC researchers have argued that the provision of foundational goods and services has been overlooked by industrial and economic policy in the UK and Wales, whose focus tends to be on high-tech processes and sectors. These are often technology-intensive, and produce tradeable and exportable goods, yet form a very small part of the Welsh and UK economies. Only three of the Welsh Government’s nine priority sectors for growth – construction, energy and environment and food and farming – produce foundational goods and services.

Moreover, they highlight that the foundational economy is marked by low-tech and low-wage employment, and that this issue is becoming more prevalent. Since 2010, they highlight that sectors such as hospitality and retailing – marked by low pay and part time work – have accounted for more than half the jobs created in the UK private sector.

There is a further issue of ‘occupational segregation’ in these sectors, whereby women are over-represented and hence often stuck in low wage or part-time work. This is a known contributor to the gender pay gap in Wales.

The FSB report highlights some of the specific issues facing foundational sectors in Wales. They suggest that in food, competitive chain supermarkets have captured the profits of food processors and left Welsh dairy and sheep farmers exposed to volatile market prices. In adult care, they continue, well-resourced private enterprises are displacing smaller family-run homes with large, purpose-built accommodation which can satisfy shareholder demand for high rates of return. This, they argue, has contributed towards an increasingly underpaid social care workforce, high local authority spending and worsening quality of care.

Towards a specific focus on the foundational

CRESC researchers call for a radical reframing of the economy that better accounts for the provision of foundational goods and services, considering ‘the multiple identities of citizens as producer, tax payers and consumers’ (p.70). The focus of this message involves moving beyond a key sectors approach to better understanding dynamics within sectors (for example, between firms of different sizes), as well as the behaviour of organisations within these sectors.

Given their significance both as providers and employers, by focusing on the quality of work within foundational sectors they argue that the Welsh Government could gain significant leverage on economic and social outcomes. Specifically, they suggest that the Welsh Government should ‘break with the idea of creating a generic business-friendly environment’, using non-standard policies which are adapted to sectoral characteristics and specific business requirements.

In food, for example, this might involve negotiating with suppliers on formal commitments on sourcing, training and living wages (p.70). Above all, the researchers argue that the Welsh Government should ‘encourage responsible business by promoting continuity of ownership for SMEs and “raising the social ask” of big business organisations in the foundational economy’ (p.7).

The Research Service acknowledges the parliamentary fellowship provided to Jack Miller by the University of Sussex, which enabled this blog post to be completed.

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.

Variability

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.