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The Assembly met at 13:29 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) in the Chair.
 
13:29
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order. The National Assembly is now in session.
 
1. Questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:29
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 1, questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services. Question 1, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
 
Mental Health Care
 
13:29
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the provision on mental health care? OAQ(4)0652(HSS)[W]
 
13:30
Mark DrakefordBiographyThe Minister for Health and Social Services
Thank you for the question. Of course, we continue to implement the progressive agenda for mental health services in Wales, as set out in the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010. Significant new investment has been made this year in dementia services, and in child and adolescent mental health services.
 
13:30
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Thank you. There is great concern in north Wales, particularly as a result of cases such as Tawel Fan, about mental health care under the Betsi Cadwaladr health board. My attention was recently drawn to an exceptionally sad case in my constituency, where a gentleman was in Hergest in Ysbyty Gwynedd for some weeks after he attempted suicide. He had to wait for a brain scan. He should have been given a scan within a week because he was an in-patient, but the board considered him to be an out-patient and so he had to wait a long time. He was sent home, despite the appeals of the family. Having got home, he did actually commit suicide.
 
This is another example of a family believing that they have been let down by the Betsi Cadwaladr health board, and feeling that the board has failed in its duty to provide adequate care in mental health. If I get in touch with the Minister with further details, can I have an assurance that the Minister will look at this issue? Also, what assurances can the Minister give to my constituents, as well as to patients and staff across north Wales, that the Government will tackle this failure in order to restore confidence in the service?
 
13:31
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, of course, this is the first time that I’ve heard about this case, and I am most happy to receive the details in order to look into the case that Rhun ap Iorwerth refers to. Generally, of course, we are aware of the challenges that exist in north Wales in the field of mental health, and that is why Peter Meredith-Smith has been up there as part of the actions we are taking to assist the health board. The Deputy Minister for Health has today issued a written statement referring to the further assistance that will be given to the board, particularly in the field of mental health. I look forward to the residents of north Wales—the patients and their families—having confidence in what we are doing to improve things in the field of mental health in north Wales.
 
13:32
Nick RamsayBiography
Minister, the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010 has been an excellent piece of legislation since it was first introduced by Jonathan Morgan Assembly Member, and then taken on by the Welsh Government, but it can only do so much with the resource that it has. It’s important, I’m sure you would agree, to make sure that people are kept mentally health aware throughout their lives. You’ll be aware of mindfulness and similar low-level psychological programmes that could increase and improve access to mental health services; the Assembly has an excellent record internally of promoting it. How is the Welsh Government promoting mindfulness and similar programmes in schools and, indeed, other workplaces?
 
13:33
Mark DrakefordBiography
Can I agree very much with what Nick Ramsay has said, that the work that we do through the Measure, and in secondary mental health services, has to be based on a broad-based sense of how we help people to sustain mental wellbeing throughout their lives? Mindfulness is an important part of the armoury that we can put to work in that regard. We’re very fortunate in having such an excellent centre in Bangor, which has been world leading in the development of mindfulness approaches. Through counselling services in schools themselves, through the third sector partners we have in this field, and through some direct work that we are doing in the Welsh Government to increase the number of people who work within the health service who are able to use mindfulness techniques, we are attempting to take forward the agenda that Nick Ramsay outlined.
 
13:34
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, we recently saw some worrying statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics, which showed suicide rates increasing, particularly amongst the male population and, more particularly, for some middle-aged men, and there are also clear correlations with areas of greater deprivation. I’m sure you’ll be looking at these statistics, Minister, and I wonder whether you’ll be making any changes to mental health policy in Wales as a result.
 
13:35
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank John Griffiths for drawing attention to those very serious sets of statistics. We know that suicide does not fall at random in the population. It is concentrated by gender. Men are much more likely to commit suicide, while women are much more likely to self-harm. We know that it doesn’t fall at random over the life cycle, and men in middle age are particularly vulnerable to suicide, as are men aged over 75. And it doesn’t fall at random by geography either, because suicide is more likely to happen in deprived parts of Wales, as in other communities too. I believe that we are beginning to see the impact of sustained austerity in those people’s lives. There is a long, long, historical association between periods of austerity and rising suicide rates.
 
What we’re doing in Wales through our ‘Talk to Me 2’ suicide and self-harm strategy, which was completed earlier this year, is focusing on what are called ‘priority people’—that’s priority groups of people who need help; priority places—places where suicide is more likely to take place; and priority services as well—those care providers that are particularly likely to have an impact on it. I was in Merthyr only last week, where the Samaritans were launching their new service for suicide prevention in the south Wales Valleys, and I think it’s a good example of how we are trying to tackle the issue that John Griffiths has identified.
 
Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board
 
13:36
Darren MillarBiography
2. Will the Minister provide an update on special measures in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board? OAQ(4)0644(HSS)
 
13:36
Vaughan GethingBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Health
I refer the member to the written statement that was published earlier today.
 
13:36
Darren MillarBiography
I’m very grateful to you referring to the written statement, Minister. You will know that, for many people in north Wales, there’s a long way to go to restore the public confidence in the ability of the leadership of that health board to tackle the problems and challenges that it faces. Do you accept that it was a mistake to not put this particular board into special measures some two years ago, when the first identification of problems was made by the Wales Audit Office and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, and that had we done that, this problem would have been stabilised by now, and the board would not need to be in special measures for a further two years from today’s date, as a result of your announcement recently?
 
13:37
Vaughan GethingBiography
I think that’s a very unfortunate and unfair way to categorise matters, and, in particular, it avoids and ignores the fact that we have an independent process to advise Ministers on the appropriate time to place a health board into special measures or not, and, indeed, an independent advice process to advise Ministers on whether an organisation should come out of special measures. I have been very clear from the outset of special measures that the decision to place this health board into special measures should not, must not, and has not, been taken at the convenience of a politician. The health board will not come out of special measures at the convenience of a politician. We will continue to listen to the independent advice from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, from the Wales Audit Office and the chief executive of NHS Wales. We are, however, determined to support and challenge the health board to improve, as it must to restore public confidence for the people of north Wales, so that they do receive the quality of healthcare that they are entitled to expect and deserve.
 
13:38
Llyr GruffyddBiography
It’s now five months since the board found itself in special measures, and it’ll be another two years, clearly, until it comes out of special measures, or so it would seem. Therefore, it is still in a state of crisis. Do you feel that this is the time to make far-reaching decisions, such as the decision in the context of maternity services?
 
13:39
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. In terms of the position of Betsi Cadwaladr and maternity services, they’ve been very clear from the legal process and the engagement with the public that they need to engage with them about decisions over the service. There is a consultation that has just ended, and I don’t think that they can contract out of making a choice. All of us, I think, would want to see a high-quality service that continues there and that mothers and babies are safe. I’m not party to or making a decision about that particular service, but I don’t think special measures should allow you to contract out of your ongoing responsibility. In terms of the special measures process, it’s important to remember that two and a bit years is pretty normal. There are 13 trusts in England in special measures; there were nine trusts previously in special measures in England as well, so the length of time is about right. It’s exactly what you’d expect from looking at England, and the health board must continue to provide high-quality services to the people of north Wales and deal with the specific areas that were set out in the five particular areas for special measures and will continue to receive advice from the independent process to understand what is an appropriate choice to be made for the future progress of the board and when it should come out of special measures.
 
13:40
Aled RobertsBiography
Deputy Minister, the processes in England and Wales are quite different, and we acknowledge that this is the first time a health board in Wales has been placed in special measures. Obviously, you have by now received independent evidence that states that those measures must remain in force for about two years. May I therefore ask you as a Government to consider that, if you want to build the public’s confidence in the board anew, that there is a need for some kind of process between community leaders, be that on a local government level or with north Wales Assembly Members, to receive more information about what exactly is being done to improve performance, because at present, as regards waiting lists, things are not improving?
 
13:41
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for the question. You’ll note from the written statement that I’ve issued that there is going to be a formal, six-month review at each point, where that tripartite independent process will take place and will provide advice. That will be provided to stakeholders and the wider public as well. So, there is a review process to understand what progress has been made. It’s also important to remind ourselves that the health board has made progress from the start of going into special measures. That’s been recognised by those independent regulators. They also recognised that there’s much more to do.
 
I continue to talk to every single health board in Wales about standard performance issues around waiting times, accident and emergency performance, broader unscheduled care and a range of other measures, and I will continue to do that. Betsi Cadwaladr will not be left out of that particular process. They recognise, as we recognised when they went into special measures, 0that they need to improve their relationship with the local population and local stakeholders. So, in my regular visits to north Wales, I do talk to other stakeholders as well about the relationship, and I do think that there is a growing sense of confidence in the new leadership. The important point is that the interim chief executive is there to do a job and is doing a very good job. The permanent chief executive, when that person is appointed, needs to carry that forward with a team at a senior level, including, of course, the staff of the organisation—16,000 staff who work for Betsi Cadwaladr are key stakeholders and it’s really important that they are properly included and engaged in the progress of their organisation and the care that they provide for the people of north Wales.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:42
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I now call the party spokespeople to question the Minister, starting this week with Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Elin Jones.
 
13:42
Elin JonesBiography
Minister, there are two consistent criticisms in terms of patients accessing new drugs. One is inconsistency in terms of decisions between health boards and the other is the fact that the exceptionality criteria can be impossible for an individual to prove. The system is changing in Northern Ireland and in Scotland, and the health committee in this Assembly has recommended that changes should also be made in Wales. When are you going to introduce the significant changes that are required as the current system clearly isn’t working?
 
13:43
Mark DrakefordBiography
The Member will be well aware that we commissioned an independent review of the process and that we are implementing the recommendations of that review and those are also informed by the work of the Health and Social Care Committee. That is why I have provided £0.5 million in this financial year to the All Wales Therapeutics and Toxicology Centre, because at the core of the recommendations is the need to make sure that we have consistent decision making across the whole of Wales. The centre has been hard at work; it has produced new ways of decision making that it has now put out for discussion with the health boards. Those discussions will come to a conclusion on 19 November at a meeting of chief executives of health boards in Wales and then we will have in place, as a result of the independent review and the health committee’s recommendations, a new system in which cohort decisions will be made, where they can be made across Wales and where greater consistency can be guaranteed in those cases where health boards will continue to deal with individual matters.
 
13:44
Elin JonesBiography
Minister, in the past two years, the number of patients who contribute a top-up for their new drugs has more than doubled. Patients contributed £260,000 in the last financial year through the top-up costs for their NHS drugs. How can you assure the Assembly that not one budgetary decision for a drug has been taken by a health board on the basis of a patient having the ability to make a top-up payment?
 
13:45
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, I agree that the whole issue of top-ups is one that is ethically fraught. I well remember the discussions that went on over the introduction of possible top-up contributions in the Welsh NHS, and it’s not an easy decision to make, but in the end, the Minister at the time decided that to deny people the ability to make a top-up would not be the right decision to make. It’s absolutely clear in the rules, however, that the ability of someone to make a top-up is not part of the decision-making process. I will make a further inquiry to make myself completely confident that the suggestion that the Member makes, that financial considerations might be playing a part in the way that these decisions are arrived at, is not the case. I certainly would expect that not to be the case.
 
13:46
Elin JonesBiography
Therefore, the regime that you describe as ‘ethically fraught’ has doubled in the past two years in terms of the number of people who use and access drugs through this ethically-fraught system, as you describe it. I appreciate your honesty in describing it in those terms, but the reality of the situation at present is that, if a patient is turned down time and again, possibly, under the individual patient request regime, then it is possible, at the end of that process, for the patient and the doctor to consider a top-up approach. For me, that equates to a system where, if an individual has the ability to contribute a top-up, then they have an additional chance of accessing that drug. I would ask you, therefore, Minister, to give us an assurance as an Assembly that there are no situations arising where the ability to pay for a drug can ultimately decide whether an individual can access drugs here in Wales.
 
13:47
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, I’m certainly willing, as I said, to take one further look at that matter and to provide the assurances that I can. The fact that something is ethically fraught does not necessarily mean that the result is the wrong one, and I know just how carefully this decision was made and weighed up. I would not wish to see the number of top-up cases continue to rise in Wales, but to deny someone the ability to make a top-up when that is the thing that they feel is in their best interests would be a very serious decision as well, and equally ethically fraught in its implications.
 
13:48
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I now call the Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Darren Millar.
 
13:48
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, according to the Welsh Government’s own statistics, the number of NHS beds in Wales that have been lost in the past two years stood at 434. That’s more than the total number of beds at Withybush hospital in Haverfordwest, Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli, Price Charles Hospital in Merthyr and Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny. Do you think that’s a good or a bad thing?
 
13:48
Mark DrakefordBiography
I don’t think that beds are the currency that we should use in trying to assess the success or otherwise of the Welsh NHS. Numbers of beds in Wales have gone down—of course, they’ve gone down a lot more slowly than they have in England, where his party is in charge, where the percentage of beds—[Interruption.] No, no, if he wants to make a point about whether beds themselves are our currency, then he has to face up to the fact that, where his party’s in charge, the percentage of beds has gone down much faster than in Wales. Now, this is because a number of important things that lie behind it. Let me just give you one example. For the first time, last year, in Wales, the percentage of elective surgery that was carried out on a day case basis went past 50 per cent in Wales, and that is a good thing. That’s what patients would prefer. If you’ve got more than half of your elective surgery being carried out on a day case basis, you will need fewer beds in hospital to accommodate that.
 
13:49
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. You’ll know also, of course, that in England they actually develop community services before they axe hospital beds, unlike the situation here in Wales. You can shake your head all you like, the fact remains that one in five hospital beds have been lost in Wales over the past decade. More beds have been lost in the past two years than is the total capacity at a number of hospitals here in Wales, and the bottleneck in our emergency departments, as a result, is getting worse and worse and worse. If bed numbers is not the answer as far as you’re concerned, Minister, what is the answer to sorting out the bottleneck in our emergency departments, which have not met their targets—the targets that you set them—for many years?
 
13:50
Mark DrakefordBiography
There are a number of solutions that need to be applied in the emergency departments. To begin with, we have to do more to persuade people only to come to an emergency department when they are genuinely in an emergency. Where bed capacity is needed—and there is a sensible point somewhere in what the Member said—which is when emergency departments are under pressure, you sometimes need to be able to flex the number of beds you have in order to accommodate that. The Welsh NHS, in common with other NHSs in the United Kingdom, has a series of measures that are taken during winter months to increase the number of beds available. That’s the right way to do it: you use beds when they are needed and not portray the idea that a bed is always the answer. There are sometimes many things that can be done in the community to continue to look after people successfully. Beds as a currency is not a sensible way to think about the NHS.
 
13:51
Darren MillarBiography
Do you accept, Minister, that bed occupancy rates are a critical component of determining whether hospital services are safe and whether there is sufficient flexibility in the system to ensure that, where peak demand is there, that those beds are available for use? If you do, what action are you taking to ensure that bed occupancy rates across Wales, in our hospitals, our acute hospital settings, are not in excess, as they currently are, of royal college recommendations?
 
13:51
Mark DrakefordBiography
Bed occupancy rates are one of a series of ways in which you can assess the resilience of the system. There are parts of the Welsh NHS where bed occupancy rates are not a difficulty as far as royal college guidelines are concerned. We have an 88 per cent bed occupancy rate in mental health services, for example, which means that there is tolerance within the system. We have other parts of the system—critical care would be an example—where bed occupancy rates are above what we would like them to be. We use the figures in a sensible way to manage the system.
 
13:52
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Now, the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:52
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, despite last-minute press releases coming out of Whitehall this morning, there is still a great deal of anger and resentment amongst junior doctors in England over Department of Health proposals to change their contract. Do you, health Minister, see this as an opportunity to recruit and retain much-needed additional medical staff in Wales, where no such changes are on the cards?
 
I understand the point that the Member is making. Junior doctors will, undoubtedly, draw their own conclusions in contrasting the way we go about these things here in Wales and the way that they are being so badly mishandled in England. I must say that the announcement yesterday from Jeremy Hunt is absolutely an example of how not to go about these things. Here in Wales we believe in sustained dialogue and discussion with our staff, sometimes around some very difficult issues, but getting round the table together to try and find a way through is the way that we would want to do it. Yesterday’s last-minute dash to try and dangle some actually non-existent cash in front of junior doctors to influence them in their ballot for industrial action shows just how badly wrong things have gone at the Department of Health.
 
Minister, whilst you are absolutely right that junior doctors will draw their own conclusions about where they want to practice their medicine, could I urge you to be a little bit more proactive and tempt them our way? F1 applications are open now for this month. Why can’t the Welsh Government take proactive steps to let medical students across the border, and those who have trained in Wales, be aware of the fact that these changes are not taking place in Wales and that they should apply for F1 positions in our hospitals? They should start their medical careers here and they can go on to have a very productive career in medicine looking after Welsh patients. Will you be a little bit more proactive, Minister, and use your department to proactively market the opportunity to come and work in Wales?
 
13:54
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, let me thank Kirsty Williams for anticipating something which we are definitely going to do. The main application round actually opens next week and to coincide with that we will launch a new campaign, ‘Make your future a part of our future’. That’s what we will be calling it. It is an appeal to junior doctors to come here and work in Wales. It will explain to them the benefits of working in Wales, both in a professional sense and in a lifestyle way. It will highlight all the very, very many reasons why committing your future to the future of the NHS in Wales will be good for you as an individual, and will explain to junior doctors that if you come and work in the Welsh NHS, you’ll be working somewhere where you are valued, where the views of staff are valued and where your contribution will be at the heart of the way that we will continue to develop the health service here in Wales.
 
13:55
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
I’m grateful for that answer, and I look forward to seeing what I hope will be a very proactive campaign indeed to attract people to apply for F1 positions here in Wales. Minister, you’ll also be aware that the Secretary of State for Health in England was criticised recently for misquoting research into the so-called ‘weekend effect’. There is undoubtedly a weekend effect, but the cause of that is less than clear. There is evidence to suggest that the weekend effect is actually caused by sicker patients going to hospital at the weekend, and that may be as a result of inability to access primary care in a timely manner. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to ensure we have adequate access to GPs and primary care services, so that we can be sure that, when patients do get sick at the weekend or out of hours, they are not left at home longer than they need to be, thus then becoming sicker when they are eventually admitted?
 
13:56
Mark DrakefordBiography
I too read Dr Fiona Godlee’s demolition of the statistics that were misquoted by the Secretary of State when making his case about excess deaths in hospitals at weekends, and a very effective demolition it was too. I agree with Kirsty Williams that strengthening primary care services, so that people don’t end up unnecessarily going to hospital, is an important strand in addressing that issue. We won’t be doing it in the way that the Secretary of State in England has gone about it, where you will also have seen the collapse in many parts of England of the experiments which the Department of Health has been running over access to primary care at weekends—commissioning group after commissioning group withdrawing from the pilot because patients won’t use appointments on a Saturday afternoon or on a Sunday. What we are going to do in Wales is to work through our new 64 clusters to make sure that there are services available for patients at weekends closer to their home, and amongst a group of GPs who share a common interest in providing services for that group of people. That, I think, will be a way which is both sustainable in terms of staff, convenient in terms of patients and will do the job of strengthening timely care in primary settings without the very difficult and wasteful way in which these services have been attempted to be developed across our border.
 
Alcohol-related Brain Disease
 
13:58
Mick AntoniwBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement on treatment and rehabilitation services for alcohol-related brain disease? OAQ(4)0641(HSS)
 
13:58
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. The Welsh Government has a strong record of supporting substance misuse treatment and rehabilitation. We have recognised the importance of effectively treating alcohol-related brain damage, and our new substance misuse delivery plan for 2016-18 will set out the specific actions we will be taking to improve diagnosis and treatment in this area.
 
13:58
Mick AntoniwBiography
Deputy Minister, thank you very much for that answer. Of course, you had the opportunity recently to visit an excellent facility in Brynawel just on the edge of my constituency—a specialist unit which provides these services to a very valued degree. What work is the Welsh Government doing to actually promote the use of these services, and to make these available as widely as possible to those who need and can benefit from these services?
 
13:59
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the follow-up question. I did have the opportunity to visit the Brynawel rehab centre that you referred to, which is in the Ogmore constituency; I wouldn’t want to not say that—even though the Member is not here, she is always watching. It was a particularly interesting visit, to meet people who had already gone through the rehab process on a variety of the programmes they run. In particular, Brynawel have been at the forefront of helping us to develop an alcohol-related brain damage service. The research they’re undertaking is actually helping us to understand the current unmet need. So, we are working with them and with commissioners to understand that unmet need, and also in the guidance that we’ve provided to commissioners, to make sure they’re doing something about meeting that need that does exist. We’ve written to commissioners over the summer, we’ll continue to work with Brynawel and we look forward to seeing the proposals that they will bring forward to us about continuing to develop this service in Wales.
 
13:59
Altaf HussainBiography
Thank you, Deputy Minister. From personal experience, I’m aware of a similarity between the symptoms of a patient who may be mildly intoxicated but has sustained a traumatic head injury and someone who has had a mild fall but is suffering from alcohol-related brain damage. Does the Minister agree that establishing a robust and clear pathway for care, led at a national level by neurosurgical teams working in co-ordination with mental health teams, would ensure appropriate services are provided for patients quickly and efficiently in our district hospitals?
 
14:00
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. The Member makes a fair point about understanding what we could and should do to treat this particular problem. Now, that’s partly about understanding what the need is. In the response to Mick Antoniw, I indicated we do need to properly understand the current level of need. There’s work that’s already been ongoing with Public Health Wales and others to understand the scale of the challenge that we face, and then what is the appropriate way to deal with that and treat that? So, for example, I know that Brynawel and NHS partners have been looking at work that is already ongoing in the Liverpool area, where I think they’re at a more advanced stage in this particular area. We want to learn from that already established best practice to then understand how we properly provide a service here that meets the need that we do recognise exists within communities across Wales.
 
14:01
David ReesBiography
Minister, obviously alcohol-related brain injury is one of the consequences of alcohol consumption, and we’ve got to look at the causes as much as anything else. What are you or the Welsh Government doing to encourage front-line staff to undertake training and awareness campaigns to ensure that we avoid the situation where too much alcohol is consumed at all ages—not at any particular age, but across all age ranges?
 
14:01
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. This is an area that, of course, came up in the committee’s inquiry. In particular, we’re looking to roll out the brief intervention programme; it’s delivered by Public Health Wales, and we’ve already got some encouraging evidence about its impact on reducing alcohol misuse, both for front-facing services, but also for it being rolled out in a range of workplaces as well. For example, I presented awards to employers in Wales that are making a difference in creating a healthier workforce, and Wrexham council were a good example of where brief interventions are already being trialled in that particular workplace. We’ve already got 8,000 people trained to try and undertake the brief intervention programme, and so I’m looking forward to more evidence about that particular impact and how we have a useful, relatively easy to deliver service that can actually help to make a real difference for people in and outside of the workplace.
 
14:02
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Well, Minister, I’ve recently read an article on pregnant women drinking who are inflicting potential mental damage on their unborn babies by drinking during their pregnancy. What measures will you be taking to try to encourage women who are pregnant not to drink at all, please?
 
14:03
Vaughan GethingBiography
Well, we’ll continue to take proper account of the advice that we’re provided with about drinking levels during pregnancy or otherwise. I do know that, for example, a number of midwifery teams have decided they ought to encourage women not to drink at all during pregnancy as that is the safest way through. But I think the point is: we need to understand how people properly understand and manage risks. There is a point in time when a woman is pregnant where there’s an opportunity to have a wider conversation about health behaviours for her and her unborn child.
 
At the more extreme end of drinking, we know that there are significant injuries that have been caused to unborn children by very heavy drinking during pregnancy. We need to have a measured and properly responsible conversation—not one where we’re preaching to people—where people trust a health professional to give them the right advice about making the very best choices for them and their child, both before they’re born and afterwards. You’ll have heard recently the chief medical officer talk about the first 1,000 days in a child’s life and the opportunity to get something right there that can last throughout their whole life. Well, those first 1,000 days also have to take care of what happens before that child is born and I do recognise there is a need to continue to have a conversation about alcohol during pregnancy.
 
Designed to Smile
 
14:04
Mike HedgesBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on Designed to Smile? OAQ(4)0640(HSS)
 
14:04
Mark DrakefordBiography
Good progress is being made with the Designed to Smile child oral health programme aimed at tackling oral health inequalities in our most disadvantaged communities. Uptake rates are increasing year on year, and there are currently 92,948 children in 1,452 schools and nurseries across Wales participating in the programme.
 
14:04
Mike HedgesBiography
Can I thank the Minister for that response? Does the Minister agree with me that this is an excellent example of preventative spend where the benefits may take several years to come through, but they will be very distinct benefits? Will the Minister also agree with me that there is nothing nicer than to visit a class of 11-year-olds in a deprived community and, when you talk about a filling, they ask what it is?
 
14:05
Mark DrakefordBiography
Well, that would be a fantastic position to be in, certainly, and I entirely agree with Mike Hedges that this is a programme where the benefits will be seen for many years to come. There’s been a 40 per cent reduction in tooth decay in children in Wales over the last 25 years. It shows just how long these programmes take to work. We estimate that the cost of the Designed to Smile programme is £3.7 million a year, but it pays back at least two and a half times the investment in costs avoided from having to repair the damage that would otherwise have been done. Although the information is preliminary, Designed to Smile really does look like it’s turning out to be one of those programmes that reverses health inequality, and those are pretty rare.
 
14:05
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Although the Welsh Government accepted the recommendation of the inquiry into children’s oral health in Wales by the relevant committee in 2012 that it should publish the annual monitoring reports, those monitoring reports record activity rather than outcomes. How are you evaluating, if at all, the outcomes in terms of the dental health of children in Wales of the £3.7 million annual spend identified in the December 2014 report? Presumably, you’re having to look at similar demographics and placebo groups to establish whether this is actually justifying spend.
 
14:06
Mark DrakefordBiography
Thanks for that question. The Member is exactly right that we evaluate the success of this scheme by comparing groups of children in the schools that participate in the programme and schools that do not and also by comparing the outcomes for children in Wales against the outcomes of programmes elsewhere. In March of this year, the Welsh oral health information unit published its first survey of the dental health of three-year-olds in Wales. It showed that the average number of teeth affected by decay in Wales is now lower than the average in England and significantly lower than more directly compatible regions such as the north-west of England. So, we go about it in exactly the way that the Member has described.
 
NHS Prescriptions
 
14:07
Jenny RathboneBiography
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the rise in the number of NHS prescriptions? OAQ(4)0645(HSS)
 
14:07
Mark DrakefordBiography
Thank you for that question. The rise in prescriptions issued by the Welsh NHS is explained by a number of factors, including the growth in population numbers, the increasing proportion of the population aged over 60 and the development of new therapies to address chronic conditions in particular.
 
14:07
Jenny RathboneBiography
It remains the case, I think, that Wales still dispenses about a prescription a fortnight per person, and that is, from the last figures available in 2013, still substantially more than in the other nations of the UK. What can the Minister do, in line with prudent healthcare, to tackle the problem of prescriptions that are never used and prescriptions that should never have been issued in the first place? I’m thinking perhaps of very low level things like aspirin or cotton wool that people could be buying across the counter.
 
14:08
Mark DrakefordBiography
Can I just confirm what Jenny Rathbone has said about the scale of the issuing of prescriptions in Wales? There are 1.5 million prescriptions dispensed in Wales every week. Comparisons with other places are sometimes misleading and reflect not the number of prescriptions that a person actually gets but the length of time over which a prescription takes place. So, two prescriptions issued for 28 days are the same as one prescription issued for 56 days and so on. It can be confusing for people. Of course, we want a prudent approach to prescribing here in Wales. We know that there is medicines waste, that there is ineffective prescribing, that there is overprescribing, and that there can be work done to promote de-prescribing, where people no longer need medicines that continue to be prescribed to them because there’s been insufficient attention to reviewing the medicines that they receive. We have a prudent prescribing implementation group here in Wales. I want their work to be more prominent than it has been in the past. We want to make sure that patients in Wales get the prescriptions they need. That’s really important, but we also know that, if you get a prescription you don’t need, it will do you no good in the short run and it can do you harm in the long run, for example by building up antimicrobial resistance.
 
14:09
Angela BurnsBiography
Minister, let me be clear: your free prescription policy is one of the key reasons why we have a burgeoning prescription take. Jenny Rathbone mentioned aspirin. Aspirin and paracetamol alone cost £6.5 million to the Welsh NHS. In 2007, some £32 million used to be made from free prescriptions. Minister, you can still protect the poor and you can still protect the vulnerable, those with chronic conditions and the elderly, but make people like us, on £54,000 a year, pay for our prescriptions. This is all valuable money that could go to the front line. When will you look to review this Labour vanity project?
 
14:10
Mark DrakefordBiography
I think it’s unfortunate that the Member should’ve read out that question, which, from start to finish, was riddled with things that are both inaccurate and misleading. Let me begin with her original inaccurate—
 
14:10
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
[Inaudible.]
 
14:10
Mark DrakefordBiography
Misleading implications could have been drawn from what the Member said, Dirprwy Lywydd—
 
14:11
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
[Inaudible.]
 
14:11
Mark DrakefordBiography
No, no. Let me begin with her very first point. She claimed that the introduction of free prescriptions in Wales was part of the reason why the number of prescriptions issued in Wales has gone up. It is true to say that, in the 10 years since prescriptions became free in Wales, the number of items prescribed has increased by 46 per cent. In England, over an identical period, where you now have to pay £8.25 for every item that is prescribed, the increase in the volume of prescriptions has been 55 per cent. It has been nearly 10—[Interruption.] It is not a population issue; it’s a volume issue, for goodness’ sake. Dirprwy Lywydd, let’s have some sort of sensible discussion here. This is the percentage over the base, and in England, it has gone up by 55 per cent over the same period, and in Wales, where prescriptions have been free, it has gone up by 46 per cent. There’s not a scintilla of evidence for what the Member said.
 
As for the position here in Wales, we will not be returning to a position where people who had organ transplants were forced to pay for their own prescriptions, and where people with heart conditions were obliged to pay for their own prescriptions. Prescriptions in Wales are free; we have no tax on illness. If the Conservatives get their way, a tax on illness will be reintroduced in Wales. Under Labour, it certainly will not.
 
The Voluntary Sector and Cancer Services
 
14:12
Julie MorganBiography
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the role of the voluntary sector in the provision of cancer services? OAQ(4)0647(HSS)
 
14:12
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. The charitable and voluntary sector provides an important role in supporting people with cancer and their families. It is also a key partner in achieving the ambitions of the cancer delivery plan.
 
14:13
Julie MorganBiography
I thank the Deputy Minister for that response. In my own work in Cardiff North, I’m the vice-president of George Thomas Hospice Care and work very closely with Macmillan and other cancer charities. What encouragement can the Deputy Minister give to new charities that are emerging to provide complementary services alongside existing charities, such as the proposed new Maggie’s centre that is planned to be built in the grounds of Velindre Hospital?
 
14:13
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. Of course, I recognise the long and sustained interest and activity the Member has in this particular part of activity, as cross-party chair of the cancer group. I’m interested, especially, in the Maggie’s proposal; I had the opportunity, a very welcome opportunity, to visit the Maggie’s centre in Singleton Hospital with the Member for Swansea West, and it was a particularly interesting example of a voluntary sector service provided together with the NHS on the same site, and a very welcome service it was indeed. So, we are broadly supportive of a proposal for a Maggie’s centre in Cardiff in the grounds of Velindre—it’s tied into the business case that is being developed for a new Velindre. So, we’re positive about that adding real value to the service that can be provided. So, I think that we have a good record of involving and engaging with the charitable and voluntary sector here in Wales. The all-Wales cancer group is a particularly important and effective stakeholder and I look forward to a continuing conversation with them and members new, small or medium-sized, as we continue to deliver on our shared ambition to improve cancer care here in Wales.
 
14:14
Paul DaviesBiography
Deputy Minister, you may be aware of the important services offered by the Paul Sartori Foundation in my constituency, which provides invaluable home nursing care to patients in Pembrokeshire. Now, the latest activity report confirms a rise in the number of new referrals to the home nursing service of 5 per cent, with an 8 per cent rise in the general number of patients receiving the service. In light of the increased demand, what additional support can the Welsh Government offer charities like the Paul Sartori Foundation that do such a great job of delivering care to people in their own homes? How is the Government helping to promote the important services that charities like Paul Sartori offer?
 
14:15
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for the question. This is an active conversation that each health board should continue to have about meeting the appropriate need of its population. We’ve seen a significant expansion in the numbers of people that are being referred into the NHS for suspected cancer, and a significant and welcome achievement in continuing to treat very high, growing numbers of people with increasing measures of success. This is a positive, good-news story for the NHS. That does then mean there are extra amounts of need that also exist in different areas, and it’s part of our ambition to ensure that people receive care at home or as close to home as possible, and a home nursing service provision is part of that. There are a range of voluntary and charitable sector actors in this field that help to provide this sort of service. I expect that each health board, in understanding and meeting the needs of its population will properly understand what exists and what should exist to better improve patient experience and patient outcomes. Of course, that care closer to home is very much part of that picture.
 
14:16
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Deputy Minister, there are many voluntary organisations in Wales that provide welfare and benefits advice. This service can be particularly important for cancer sufferers who are often faced with a simultaneous loss of income and an increase in living costs. Macmillan estimate that, on average, a cancer diagnosis makes the individual £575 a month worse off. Changes included in the controversial Welfare Reform and Work Bill could result in thousands of cancer patients losing a further £30 a week. It is vital then that cancer sufferers have access to comprehensive welfare advice to ensure that they are receiving all the benefits to which they are entitled. Minister, what more can the Welsh Government do to promote collaboration between our health and social services and the voluntary organisations that are able to provide this specialist advice?
 
14:17
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. It is a pretty sobering question about the reality of the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis upon individuals and their families. I’ve met a number of people who have faced exactly the position that you describe. It’s a sobering thought that the welfare reform Bill could result in more cancer patients suffering a further financial loss—another example of the consequences for devolved services of actions that are taken in another place.
 
I can say, though, that here in Wales we’ve got a good track record of working with the voluntary and charitable sector and, again, I have three good examples: Citizens Advice—the advice they provide, in particular—and both Macmillan and Tenovus provide a really valuable service. The Macmillan advice centres in hospitals, in 2014, helped to identify over £13 million in benefits for Welsh patients, and in the cancer patient survey, over half of the participants recognised they’d had access to advice in a hospital setting. That’s a good start; we want to see more progress made. The Tenovus advice line, supported by a Welsh Government grant, has already handled more than 9,000 calls, providing support to more than 4,000 people. That has helped to secure more than £2 million in income gains to cancer patients. So, we recognise the need that exists; we’ll continue to work with partners to deliver this valuable service.
 
14:18
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister. It’s six months until the election, and things are going to get sparky occasionally, but I’ve repeatedly warned Members against using words like ‘misleading’, and I do expect Members, no matter how high and mighty they are, to listen to me and not answer back in the Chamber.
 
2. Questions to the Minister for Education and Skills
R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:18
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 2 is questions to the Minister for Education and Skills. Members will be aware that the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology will be answering today’s questions. Question 1, Darren Millar.
 
Religious Education
 
14:19
Darren MillarBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the future of religious education in Wales? OAQ(4)0633(ESK)
 
14:19
Julie JamesBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology
Religious education has a vital role to play in preparing learners for life. That is why, in line with Professor Donaldson’s recommendations, it will remain statutory. Pioneer schools will consider how the teaching and learning of RE, philosophy and ethics can be strengthened within the new curriculum.
 
14:19
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you for that answer, Deputy Minister. You will know that many in our faith communities were concerned at the initial announcement from the Minister for Education and Skills when he referred to what many people regarded as a dilution of religious education here in Wales. Can I ask what discussions, prior to that announcement, had the Minister had with members of faith communities in order to help develop his ideas?
 
14:19
Julie JamesBiography
I think the Minister has made it very clear that this report strengthens the teaching of RE in schools. It very much forms part of the humanities area of learning and experience and remains, as I’ve said, a statutory curriculum requirement from reception onwards. I hope the Member will be reassured by that. As the Member will know, Professor Donaldson’s report identifies four purposes for the curriculum, and one of those is that children should be ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world in its context. A number of pieces of work have been done by the Minister with the faith communities, including meeting with the Member himself, and there are a range of other measures in place. More importantly, the Minister will shortly be announcing the names of the pioneer schools that will take forward the work on these aspects of the curriculum. The network will consist of some of our very best schools and practitioners, and this will include faith schools. We absolutely accept that RE, alongside ethics and philosophy, is an absolute essential to teaching our young people to be experienced people who work very effectively within the free society and the free faith that we all expect our citizens to have.
 
Initial Teacher Training
 
14:21
Angela BurnsBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on initial teacher training in Wales? OAQ(4)0639(ESK)
 
14:21
Julie JamesBiography
On 15 October, the Minister announced plans to call time on the current system of initial teacher education and training in Wales. Some improvements have been made by certain providers, but more rapid intervention is required within the sector if we are to produce newly qualified practitioners able to deliver a revised curriculum in Wales.
 
14:21
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you very much. I do appreciate that answer because I agree with you that without having effective and well-trained teachers, we have no hope of improving our standards in Wales. But, I would like to have a better understanding—and I appreciate that you may not be able to answer this, Minister—of what the plan is for initial teacher education in Wales. Are you closer to making a decision based on Professor Furlong’s recommendations, or is there actually a bit of a reluctance to act on this and more a case of kicking it into the long grass until after the Assembly election?
 
14:21
Julie JamesBiography
No, not at all. The Minister is meeting the vice-chancellors involved in ITET on 12 November, which is very shortly, to make it clear that he expects future ITET delivery to be very different indeed in Wales. I think he’s made it more than plain that the institutions need to step up to the plate in delivering the new range of teacher training that we all expect to underpin our radical new curriculum. He will be seeking agreement and commitment to a new ITET system that supports the changes planned for education in Wales. There are also listening and learning summits planned for the sector in both December and January. Those summits are to share and learn from the very best practice being delivered in ITET from elsewhere within the UK, and to build consensus and a commitment to improving the provision. But he has been, I think, more than plain in saying that he expects HEIs to step up to the plate in delivering absolutely excellent ITET provision in the future. It’s a pivotal part of our radical plans for education in Wales, and it most certainly is not being kicked into any kind of long grass.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:22
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call the party spokespeople to question the Deputy Minister, starting this week with the Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Angela Burns.
 
14:23
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, I’m concerned that the results for the school leaders survey on the national literacy and numeracy programmes have yet to be published, even though Welsh Government has had these results since July. You must have a stake in these results, Minister, given how important it is that a learner has a high level of literacy and numeracy to help them progress through their educational careers, such as by choosing an apprenticeship, for example. Minister, how much input did you have into this survey?
 
14:23
Julie JamesBiography
Well, I think it’s fair to say that we’re completely committed to raising attainment in Wales. In fact, we’ve just experienced some of the very best results in Wales that we’ve ever seen. I think the Schools Challenge Cymru has been exceptional in increasing this, and our commitment to areas of pivotal skills across the curriculum, really, I think, does not need any further demonstration. Of course, we’re completely committed to getting the statistics right. It’s important that we learn from them and that we understand exactly what the challenges are in the future. I draw the Member’s attention to the very successful results of Schools Challenge Cymru, for example, which we are told is more successful even than the London or Manchester challenges have been. I think that we should all be very proud of that.
 
14:24
Angela BurnsBiography
Nice digression, Minister, but let’s get back to the actual question that I asked you. It’s very, very simple: do you know why these results have not yet been published, and can you tell me when we will receive these results?
 
14:24
Julie JamesBiography
I don’t know when the results will be received by the Assembly, and I’d have to ask the Minister to write to you on that.
 
14:24
Angela BurnsBiography
May I inform you, Minister, and perhaps remind the Chamber about the response that the Welsh Government gave to a freedom of information request from the ‘Western Mail’? It said:
 
‘The Welsh Government holds information of this description.’
 
So, you know what the results of the survey are. And the Welsh Government, or the Minister, is:
 
‘currently considering whether I can send this information to you and I expect to write to you again’.
 
I have to say, what does this all say about the Welsh Government’s already fairly unimpressive track record about sustainability and transparency? It is our role here to scrutinise you, Minister, and I would like to ask you again to press the Minister to release these very important results, because these are a core element of how we can improve education in Wales, and yet we are completely unable to scrutinise or put any of that into the public domain.
 
14:25
Julie JamesBiography
I completely refute the idea that we’re neither clear nor transparent in the publication of all of our evaluation and statistical information. As I’ve said, I’ll get the Minister to write to you with the exact timescale for when you’ll get the results of the specific statistics you’re looking for, and it sounded to me from your question that he’d already made that commitment to you. So, I will take it back to him and ask him once again to write to you as soon as I know, but I’m afraid I just don’t have the information about the timescale.
 
14:25
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
And now the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesman, Aled Roberts.
 
14:25
Aled RobertsBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Deputy Minister, you’ve referred to the meeting that will take place on 12 November on teacher training. That follows an unsatisfactory inspection in terms of Bangor and Aberystwyth centres in terms of training. What steps will you be taking in the meantime to ensure that standards are improved because, of course, if we are to move to a new regime then, in the meantime, there will be teachers being trained where standards in Estyn’s view are not satisfactory?
 
14:26
Julie JamesBiography
Yes, I think the Member makes a good point there, and I think the Minister has signalled very clearly that the sector has to change very rapidly indeed. We’re very pleased with the results of the post-Estyn inspection in south-east Wales, and we expect the same sorts of results post Estyn inspection in north Wales as well. The Minister has made it more than plain to the vice-chancellors and all the ITET providers that they need to think again and step up to the plate. The meeting is to discuss those matters and take the work forward of the completely new way that we’re going to take initial teacher training forward in the future. The Member is quite right, though, that we need to ensure that, in the meantime, institutions deliver the very best in teacher training, and, as a result of that, we’re also, as I said, going to be announcing pioneer schools shortly that will have a great deal to say about how that should be taken forward. I can assure you that we’re not resting on our laurels in any way, but there is a limited amount that we want to do to tweak the old system while we introduce the new.
 
14:27
Aled RobertsBiography
Could you describe to us, therefore, what exactly the process will be, if this meeting takes place in November, if the universities’ proposals here in Wales are not acceptable from the point of view of the Minister, although he has accepted that they don’t go as far as he would wish? He has already, in the past, alluded to accepting proposals from institutions outside England. Will that process happen before the Assembly elections? Will any decision be taken by this Government rather than the Government that will be in place from May onwards?
 
14:28
Julie JamesBiography
Well, I think the meeting with the vice-chancellors in November is a genuine attempt by the Minister to understand the vice-chancellors’ position and to make them fully aware of his, if they aren’t already—it’s very difficult to see why they wouldn’t be—and to make it extremely clear to them that a genuine collaboration for improvement will be a requirement for any institution that wants to play a part in the initial teaching of trainers—the initial training of teachers; sorry, I got my words the wrong way round there—here in Wales in the future. I don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of that discussion. It’s a very important discussion, and we don’t want to pre-empt what the vice-chancellors have to say. Of course we all hope and believe that they will step up to that challenge, and they will collaborate, and they will deliver the best that we can possibly expect for our initial teacher training. But they need to understand that the landscape of ITET in Wales will be very different in the future. It’s essential that we learn about the best in practice from elsewhere, right across Europe and indeed in the UK, if it’s found in the UK, and that we can ensure that Wales compares with the very best globally. So, that message will be delivered loud and clear, and I’m afraid it depends on the response from the vice-chancellors and what they have to say as to what the timetable for the future is, and I don’t want to pre-empt that.
 
14:29
Aled RobertsBiography
A few weeks ago, a report was published by the Save the Children Fund, ‘Read On. Get on.’ It mentioned that the linguistic skills of children from deprived backgrounds in Wales was worse than expected. The Welsh Government response at the time was that they were eager to look at the early years workforce’s skills, and they were talking about using the ESF fund in order to fund the improvement of the training for that workforce. But, I am given to understand that that fund is only available in west Wales and the Valleys, so, what would the Government do from the point of view of that workforce that is located in east Wales, where the European fund is not available?
 
14:30
Julie JamesBiography
I’m afraid I just don’t have that information. I’ll have to ask the Minister to write to you on it.
 
14:30
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Now Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Simon Thomas.
 
14:30
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. It’s always a pleasure to see you, Deputy Minister, but I had hoped to tackle the Minister himself. I hope that he recovers soon and joins us again in this Chamber.
 
14:30
Julie JamesBiography
As do I.
 
14:30
Simon ThomasBiography
Indeed, I would think so. [Laughter.]
 
If I could point you to the innovative work of Professor James Heckman on early years education, following on from Aled Roberts’s question in a way, this is the conclusion of Professor Heckman:
 
‘If society intervenes early enough, it can improve cognitive and socioemotional abilities, and the health of disadvantaged children.’
 
Now, Plaid Cymru is clearly of the view that investing in early years education is something that is one of the most effective methods of closing the attainment gap that we have in Wales at present. Do you, and the Welsh Government, agree with that?
 
14:31
Julie JamesBiography
Yes, I think very broadly we can say that we agree with that. A lot of the provisions we’ve put in place in this Government that have been very successful stem from a belief in just that philosophy. So, if you look at a lot of the Flying Start initiatives, for example—there are several splendid ones in my own constituency—they’ve done a sterling job in getting people off to a flying start in life. And the foundation phase, of course, has been very successful.
 
I think the real issue here, though, is about cutting your cloth according to the bolt that you have. I would very much like to see both Flying Start and the foundation phase extended to the rest of Wales—or, indeed, the hours extended—but I’m afraid that, like with all things, since we are forced to live in an austerity world imposed on us by the Tories in Westminster, we are not able to always do all the things we’d like to. But I have no problem at all with what the Member said in terms of the philosophy of early years.
 
14:32
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, thank you for that, Deputy Minister, and although I can sympathise to a certain extent with your argument against cuts in Westminster, the fact is that we in Wales are responsible for the education budget here and we do have to prioritise as best we can, and, in prioritising and protecting statutory education from five to 16, you will be more than aware of the effect of that on the post-16 sector, given your role as a Deputy Minister, but I want to draw your attention to the fact that that is also detrimental to those aged below five, with significant cuts being made in nursery education in many authorities. Rhondda Cynon Taf is a classic example of that, because there has been a court case against the council. The council was successful, of course, because nursery education isn’t statutory in that context.
 
But, as we see these cuts starting to bite, isn’t it the appropriate time to start to review the Government’s own budget for the next financial year to ensure that there is at least consistency for provision across Wales, because you have just acknowledged in your response that there is inconsistency at present between geographical areas in Wales?
 
14:33
Julie JamesBiography
Well, I don’t think I said quite that. I think what we’ve done is concentrate our resources on those most vulnerable in society—in Communities First areas, for example, and in areas of high deprivation, or, indeed, rural scarcity. And I think there are issues around helping the most vulnerable in society. I would not be averse at all to seeing a fully rolled out early years offer—whether it’s childcare or actual education I think is a point we could argue about for some hours, but certainly a childcare provision. And I think, of course, the Government would like to look at that.
 
But there is an issue, I’m afraid, about cutting your cloth. We have protected—and we’re very proud of protecting—the schools budget here in Wales, at 1 per cent over base. We’re delivering a very high amount of money to each pupil in Wales as a result. We have had some consequences, as I’ve been very clear, for post-16 education, and—the leader of the opposition was kind enough to quote me—we’ve had to make some awful decisions. I’d like to make my own opportunity to say that what I mean by that is decisions that are awful to have to make in the light of Tory austerity, and not bad decisions made for a bad reason; I’ve been looking forward to having the chance to make that clear. Those decisions are difficult to make, they are hard choices to make, but I’m very proud of the choices we’ve made.
 
14:34
Simon ThomasBiography
Deputy Minister, though I can see the hard decisions you have, I think you have a false dichotomy in some of your response to me there. When you’re dealing with the early years in particular, you can’t care for them without giving them some form of educational foundation, otherwise they’re not school ready, and you can’t educate them without caring for them. So, I think we need a more consistent approach to early years care and education in all settings, not just our statutory school settings. But we are in danger—you talk about cutting cloth—of falling behind what’s been achieved in England with, proportionately, what is part of the same budget. England will have 15 hours of early years education from next year for all children. We only deliver that in particular areas—Flying Start being the obvious example—and we really need to close that gap, let alone catch up with other, more progressive nations that, in fact, offer full-time early years education from three, not as a statutory obligation but as an entitlement and a right.
 
We’ve estimated that catching up with what will be available in England will cost something like £20 million in the next budget. Plaid Cymru has committed to do that because we don’t want children in Wales to fall behind, and, what’s more, we are committed to roll out to a full early years education programme, which we estimate could cost as much as £100 million. It’s a significant investment, but something that can be achieved over five to 10 years and two Assembly terms. We think that’s an investment worth making. It is now the time for Welsh Government to agree with Plaid Cymru?
 
14:36
Julie JamesBiography
I admire the Member’s commitment to that. I’d very much like to discuss with him what he’s going to cut instead, because, I’m afraid, these are the difficult decisions that I always talk about. It’s very easy to announce a commitment to something with which I think we probably all agree; it’s much more difficult to say what you’re going to not do in order to deliver it. I think that we have made a series of good choices; they are not choices we would have wanted to make. We do not think our budget is adequate. If we had a more adequate budget, we would be rolling out, for example, our very successful Flying Start and foundation phase across Wales.
 
But, nevertheless, I am extremely proud of the decisions we’ve made. I think we have protected the most vulnerable in society, we’ve improved our educational outcomes and attainments, our school sector is going from strength to strength, and we have the most radical education proposals on the table that Wales has seen in a generation. So, I’m very proud of those things, and I’d be more than happy to discuss with the Member, at any time of his choosing, which cuts he’d like to make in order to roll out his priorities.
 
New School Buildings
 
14:37
Nick RamsayBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement on financial support for new school buildings in Wales? OAQ(4)0641(ESK)
 
14:37
Julie JamesBiography
The twenty-first century schools and education programme represents a £1.4 billion investment over the five-year period ending 2019 that will benefit all local authority areas. The Welsh Government will provide 50 per cent of this funding, which will see the rebuild and refurbishment of over 150 schools and colleges across Wales.
 
14:37
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Deputy Minister. I’m sure you’ll join with me in welcoming the official opening of Raglan Church in Wales Primary School in my constituency, the latest of several stunning new school buildings built by Monmouthshire Country Council, in conjunction, as you’ve said, with the Welsh Government’s twenty-first century school programme. I was going to invite the Minister to come and see the school for himself, but I’ll extend my invitation to you, if you’d like to take it up, Deputy Minister. It differs from previous schools in having a significant community use section—particularly important in schools in rural areas. I wonder if you can tell us how you’re promoting the use of twenty-first century school funding not just for the school building for education, but also for a wider community use in areas that are often quite isolated.
 
14:38
Julie JamesBiography
I’m sure the Minister would be more than happy to accept your invitation, as would I, in fact; I’d very much like to see it. I think there’s something really lovely about seeing a new school come out of the ground and the real effect it has on the communities that it serves in terms of, if you deliver something that makes people feel proud of themselves, then they can aspire to something really special in that area. As part of the twenty-first century schools programme, community use of the schools is considered as part of the structure—I’m sure the Member knows that—and the county council will have put forward plans around how that’s to be done, and it will be part of the affordability, if you like, of the project. The projects are immensely complicated; they’re each of them different. I’m afraid I don’t know the specifics of Raglan school—I’m sure the Member knows more about it than I do—but, yes, it’s very important to us that schools are the centre of their community and we hope to see that develop. As these lovely new buildings go up and enhance the environment for everybody in that community, they, of course, should be a pivotal part of it.
 
14:39
Mike HedgesBiography
This is an example of the Welsh Government making a difference. Three new schools have been completed in my constituency of Swansea East, at Morriston, Cefn Hengoed and Burlais, Burlais replacing two schools which were in a terrible condition, not suitable for teaching children. Is this one of the schemes that’s threatened by the proposed Conservative cuts to education?
 
14:39
Julie JamesBiography
Can I say to the Member that I agree with him that the three schools in his constituency are particularly lovely? I’ve had the opportunity to visit them, and, as I say, they very much enhance the local community, and it’s a real testament to this Government’s commitment to education that we’ve done it. I’d just like to remind the Chamber that the first thing the Tories did when they got into office was stop the successful schools building that the Labour Government put in place and I think that that’s a tragedy, both for the people in those communities and for education in general in England, which we all know is in a particularly parlous state at the moment.
 
However, this programme is now committed so that the schools that are committed, as long as they are contractually committed, will go forward, and the current envelope goes up to 21. So, that will continue, no matter what happens.
 
14:40
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
My question appertains to Wales. Receiving funding from Welsh Government to build new schools usually, or very often, is conditional on closing other schools in the catchment area. Are there any statistics to demonstrate an improvement in pupils’ attainment in the new schools, as compared to the previous structure?
 
14:40
Julie JamesBiography
It’s not always the case, actually. Of course, it is about improving the school buildings. So, actually, we have examples of schools that are replacement schools and we have examples of schools that are combined schools; both exist. So, the statistics aren’t readily available in the way that the Member imagines, but I’m more than happy to go back to the department and see what statistics there are available and write to the Member with what we do have. But I will say that the programmes aren’t quite as straightforward as the Member would suggest, so I’m not entirely certain that you can make the direct comparison that he suggests.
 
14:41
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Deputy Minister, I was very grateful, following a recent visit by the Minister to Hay on Wye County Primary School, when he saw for himself the terrible conditions that staff and pupils were working in, that the Welsh Government has now signed off on the business case for the five primary school catchment area of Gwenddwr, where we will see at least two new primary schools as well as refurbishment of other existing facilities. However, Brecon High School remains in a terrible, terrible condition, but we’re no further forward in securing a new school because the issue of the building has been caught up with controversial merger plans—merger plans that nobody in the community wants other than the board of Powys County Council. Surely, it is not the fault of the teachers and the pupils of Brecon High School that they’re caught up in this and that they can’t get a new school building. Would you or the Minister come to Brecon to see for yourself the terrible conditions pupils and teachers are working in?
 
14:42
Julie JamesBiography
I know that the Member knows this already, but obviously the right people to make that representation to are Powys County Council. I’m sure that she makes those representations, and I would encourage her to do so again. I will, of course, take her invitation to the Minister back to the Minister and I’m sure he’ll consider it.
 
Educational Provision
 
14:42
Gwenda ThomasBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on educational provision for children with care and support plans? OAQ(4)0643(ESK)
 
14:42
Julie JamesBiography
Delivering better outcomes for vulnerable learners, such as those who are looked after, is a central element of our additional learning needs and wider educational reform programme. We are aligning these reforms with the implementation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which the Member took forward herself.
 
14:43
Gwenda ThomasBiography
You anticipate my supplementary to an extent, and I know that you’ll agree with me that children in Wales should have the same opportunities to receive high-quality education, with appropriate support provided where needed, so that there is no limit set on their aspirations because of their background or circumstances. As you mentioned, the social services and wellbeing Act provides for holistic, unified planning across departments, including education. What interaction, therefore, does your department have with the Department of Health and Social Services to ensure that effective, unified plans are agreed and implemented for children who need them?
 
14:43
Julie JamesBiography
I do completely agree with the Member: every child in Wales, including those who are looked after, has the right to expect the highest standard of education regardless of their circumstances. I think that’s something we can all sign up to. I’m sure the Member is aware that the Children’s Commissioner for Wales has drawn attention to the support that young people in care need in her annual report today.
 
We are producing a joint strategy with the Department for Health and Social Services that will help provide greater support to looked-after children in education. There are excellent working relationships between the department and the Minister for Health and Social Services’ department. The recently established strategic steering group on looked-after children reflects the shared understanding that we can only support these learners through a holistic multi-agency response—no one department can possibly have the answer.
 
14:44
Nick RamsayBiography
Deputy Minister, I think the Member for Neath has raised an important point here. We do hope that children in this situation do get the highest—we would like them to get the highest—standard, but they don’t always get that standard at the moment. I’ve had a number of queries from parents over the last year or so, concerned that the educational provision for children with care and support plans has not always been as appropriate as it might be. This is a very difficult area to get right. Can you ask the Minister to look again at the guidelines to ensure that packages are tailored to the individual and aren’t simply off-the-shelf packages that aren’t going to suit everyone all the time?
 
14:45
Julie JamesBiography
Yes, of course, I will certainly take that back to him, but I would like to say as well that, before the end of the year, the Minister will be publishing a looked-after children strategy and supporting action plan, raising the ambitions and educational attainment for children who are looked after in Wales. That will seek to set a clear and holistic direction for delivering improved outcomes for this group of learners, who I think we all agree really need to be looked after when it comes to educational attainment and helped to become the best people that they can possibly be.
 
Supply Teachers
 
14:45
Jenny RathboneBiography
5. What influence does the Minister have on how much supply teachers get paid to cover absent colleagues? OAQ(4)0646(ESK)
 
14:45
Julie JamesBiography
Supply teachers are a valued part of the teacher workforce in Wales. However, teachers’ pay and conditions have not been devolved and remain the responsibility of the Department for Education. Supply teachers’ employment is governed by a combination of UK employment law and the school teachers’ pay and conditions document.
 
14:46
Jenny RathboneBiography
[Inaudible.] governed by European law around the agency working time directive. I’ve been made aware by several constituents that supply agencies are not paying supply teachers the rate for the job. In fact, I know of at least five agencies in Cardiff that use something called ‘the Swedish derogation’ to force people to sign away their rights under the European directive. I wondered if there’s anything that the education Minister can do to ensure that headteachers are insisting on paying supply teachers the rate for the job.
 
14:46
Julie JamesBiography
That is a matter for the governing body, but I would just like to draw the Member’s attention to the publication from my colleague, the Minister for Public Services, ‘Is the Feeling Mutual? New Ways of Designing and Delivering Public Services in Wales’, which is out for consultation until 13 January 2016. One of the proposals is that there’s a possibility of jointly commissioning further work with local education departments on the potential of establishing secondary co-operatives for supply teachers. We are actively pursuing that kind of commitment in order to see if we can get a better system in place for supply teachers. But I would like to say to the Member that we are very disappointed indeed that, yet again, Wales has been failed in the devolution settlement proposed in the Wales Bill. If you really were going to go to a reserved model, of course, you would have devolved the whole of education to Wales, including education workforce matters and pay and conditions for teachers. But, once again, the Tories have failed us on that score.
 
14:47
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Deputy Minister, the use of supply teachers can be very helpful for a school in planning its workforce model, especially to release teachers to go on training courses, but an overreliance on supply teachers in the school environment can also be quite disruptive if it’s not managed correctly. I appreciate that the employment of teachers is a local education authority and school matter, but does the Welsh Government work with LEAs across Wales to see how the supply teacher model is working in each local authority, and to make them aware of excessive use and the disruptive nature that could have in the classroom in breaking up the continuity of education?
 
14:48
Julie JamesBiography
Yes indeed, and the Minister has recently, I’m sure you know, introduced regulations for school development plans, which require schools to set out details of the school’s provision for addressing the professional learning needs of all staff, including short and long-term supply teachers. We work with supply teachers, supply agencies, the teaching unions and the Education Workforce Council in order to improve supply teachers’ working lives, and part of that is ensuring that the school does not overly rely on them and that they are able to access the correct amount of professional development, and that is very much part of the pioneer schools programme that will be announced shortly, which will be looking at, for example, the new deal for teachers, and that will be on their agenda.
 
14:48
Aled RobertsBiography
There is, of course, an inquiry by the Children, Young People and Education Committee into supply teaching. I have to say that many of these issues may have been dealt with, or should have been dealt with, in the framework agreement that the Welsh Government is now committed to until August 2018. In the meantime, 40 per cent of our newly qualified teachers are actually on supply contracts rather than on permanent contracts, with little or no continuing professional development. Will the Minister actually take to task the agencies concerned at the moment with regard to their failure to deal with continuing professional development, given that we’ve now tied ourselves in—or you’ve tied us in—to something until August 2018?
 
14:49
Julie JamesBiography
We are currently considering options for alternative delivery models for the provision of supply teachers, including engaging with directors of education and human resource education leads, to investigate the practicalities and the financial and legal implications of establishing the co-operatives I mentioned, or finding some other way forward. The framework doesn’t prevent supply teachers from accessing the correct continuing professional development at all, but it’s in the hands of the governing bodies as to how they get their supply teachers, and that’s one of the issues. The Minister, I know, is working very hard on coming up with a strategy for dealing with this, and we are actually looking forward to the report of the committee to inform our deliberations in this matter.
 
14:50
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Question 6, William Powell.
 
The Twenty-first Century Schools Programme
 
14:50
William PowellBiography
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. Before proceeding to my question, consistent with the register of interests for Members of this Assembly, I’d like to state that I am a local education authority governor of one of the five schools referred to earlier by Kirsty Williams that will receive part of the £24 million investment in the Gwernyfed High School catchment area. I just wanted that to be clear for the record.
 
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools programme in Mid and West Wales? OAQ(4)0635(ESK)
 
14:50
Julie JamesBiography
Band A of the twenty-first century schools and education programme will see investment of over £350 million in mid and west Wales. The programme is delivered collaboratively between the Welsh Government, local authorities and others and will create a network of schools and colleges fit to deliver a twenty-first century curriculum.
 
14:50
William GrahamBiography
I am very grateful to the Deputy Minister for that response. Recently, members of my local allotments association have raised with me the potential benefits of a scheme to enable pupils to grow fruit and vegetables in a designated area within the school grounds. Not only would this serve to build children’s confidence and team building, but it would also foster a better understanding of the connection that exists with food production. Deputy Minister, given the multiple benefits that would be afforded by such a scheme, will you consider specifically providing space under the framework of the twenty-first century schools programme for such local-grown initiatives to be built in, given that the next generation of Welsh pupils would then have a greater understanding of the importance and, indeed, the value of food production?
 
14:51
Julie JamesBiography
Yes, I think it’s a matter for the local authority, of course, to negotiate the exact design of the school with the twenty-first century programme, and that’s very much an iterative process between the local authority and the twenty-first century schools officials here in the Assembly. The Member makes a very valid point. He will know that I am personally very much in favour of such an activity for schoolchildren. It’s a very important part of the foundation phase, for example— continuing access to outside work—and we’ve all read reports on the benefits of food production and working in the garden for everybody’s health and welfare as well as for educational purposes. If he wants to write to the Minister with specifics about how it could be improved, I’m sure that the Minister would be grateful but, actually in the end, it is a matter between the local authority that designs the schools and what approvals they get from the system.
 
14:52
Joyce WatsonBiography
Minister, isn’t it true that the twenty-first century schools programme is the biggest capital investment that our communities have seen for a significant time and that nearly £2 billion will have been spent by 2023? But, looking ahead and anticipating inadequate future financial settlements from the UK Government, are you confident that the innovative investment models that the Welsh Government is making use of, namely the local government borrowing initiative and the not-for-profit model that’s been earmarked for phase 2, will keep the programme on track?
 
14:53
Julie JamesBiography
Yes, I think we’re confident that the £1.4 billion invested over band A of the programme up to 2019 will go ahead. Eighty-one projects have been approved across Wales—20 are complete and the rest are in a phase of construction or design. So, we’re very confident on that. The finance Minister has worked extremely hard with innovative proposals to drive more capital into the system, including, as the Member pointed out, various innovative ways of using borrowing, but also with approaches to the European Investment Bank and a number of other innovative financial models that allow leverage for low borrowing rates for further education colleges, for example. So, this Government has worked extremely hard on infrastructure of this sort because we know that it drives both educational standards and it drives the economy in a major way. Unlike the Tories’ austerity programme, we can see the real benefits that investing in infrastructure brings to the economy of Wales and the people of Wales and its children.
 
14:54
Paul DaviesBiography
Deputy Minister, there are concerns in Pembrokeshire regarding the local authority’s school reorganisation proposals and it’s been suggested by the council that, if the proposals do not go ahead, funding from the twenty-first century school programme could be lost, and this is putting pressure on parents and the wider community to accept the proposals in their entirety. Deputy Minister, do you agree with me that this could be seen as bullying people into accepting proposals come what may, and could you confirm that money will not be lost under the twenty-first century schools programme should the current proposals be rejected?
 
14:54
Julie JamesBiography
My understanding is that the local authority has submitted a case for approval and that approval is under consideration at the moment. Obviously, the Minister isn’t able to comment on specifics, because it may be referred to him if there’s a dispute. But, on the detail of the proposal, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment because it is actually in the process at the moment, and the Member will understand that Ministers are sometimes part of that process.
 
Post-16 Education in Swansea
 
14:55
Mike HedgesBiography
7. Will the Minister make a statement on post-16 education in Swansea? OAQ(4)0634(ESK)
 
14:55
Julie JamesBiography
Post-16 education continues to be important in Swansea and the rest of Wales. Funding and demographic changes are challenging, but it is now more vital than ever to focus on the resources that are available to learners and ensure that they are used as efficiently as possible.
 
14:55
Mike HedgesBiography
I thank the Minister for that response. My daughter is currently studying A-levels in Swansea. Is the education maintenance allowance, which she is not getting and which the Conservatives stopped in England, helping to increase the number of students from less affluent backgrounds staying on in post-16 education and thus reduce the number of those not in education, employment or training?
 
14:55
Julie JamesBiography
It most certainly is. We continue to support young people from lower income households entering into and returning to further education via the EMA allowance scheme. About £25 million is paid out to EMA students annually. The EMA evaluation that’s recently been published found that the allowance supports and contributes towards a range of Welsh Government policies geared towards widening access to education, reducing the rate of young people who are not in education, employment or training, and addressing the current link between poverty and educational attainment. Around a third of EMA recipients also progress to higher education, and this remains a key programme for government indicator.
 
I think it’s fair to say that the EMA and the Welsh Government learning grant for further education have very similar aims and objectives in terms of incentivising those post-compulsory education age to continue in or return to further education, much to the enhancement of their life prospects.
 
14:56
Altaf HussainBiography
Deputy Minister, I’m sure you’ll join me in congratulating students from Swansea University, where 91 per cent of new graduates have found appropriate employment within the first six months. Can you tell us what measures you have put in place to ensure that apprentices and students completing vocational courses in Swansea enjoy equally bright prospects when they first enter the job market?
 
14:57
Julie JamesBiography
Yes, absolutely, I will join you in congratulating Swansea University on their excellent employability programme. They’ve recently taken part in a Higher Education Funding Council for Wales conference spreading good employability practice throughout the higher education sector in Wales, and I was privileged enough to attend and speak at that conference—I was very glad to do so. Employability is a major indicator for us in terms of our investment into both higher education and further education. I would remind the Member that we have one of the most successful apprenticeship schemes IN Europe at the moment, with about an 84 to 86 per cent completion rate, severely jeopardised by the very ill-thought-out apprenticeship levy that the Government has just announced, without any forethought whatsoever, to the absolute horror of absolutely everybody affected by it. [Interruption.] Why are our outcomes better? Because it’s a better programme.
 
14:58
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order.
 
14:58
Julie JamesBiography
Sorry, Deputy Presiding Officer.
 
14:58
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I control the questions.
 
14:58
Julie JamesBiography
I beg your pardon, Deputy Presiding Officer.
 
14:58
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Peter Black.
 
14:58
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, obviously we’re very pleased with the new campus that Swansea University has built in Swansea bay, but you’ll also know that at least two of the FE colleges in the Swansea bay region—Gower College Swansea and Neath Port Talbot College—are looking to consolidate and expand their own campuses. Can you tell us what work is being undertaken by the Welsh Government to work with those two colleges in terms of those expansion plans?
 
14:58
Julie JamesBiography
Certainly I can, and I briefly outlined it in response to Joyce Watson just now—we are looking at some innovative funding mechanisms so that we can get a funding stream together for the entire FE sector, with which we can lever in preferential borrowing rates through the European Investment Bank and another banking partner to allow the colleges to borrow at very significantly lowered rates over a longer period of time in order for them to bring innovative new projects to the table. We’re in active conversation with the whole of the FE sector in Wales about how we can best put that pipeline together.
 
STEM Subjects
 
14:59
Jeff CuthbertBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on provisions for the teaching of STEM subjects within the document, ‘A Curriculum for Wales, a Curriculum for Life’? OAQ(4)0638(ESK)
 
14:59
Julie JamesBiography
Certainly. ‘A curriculum for Wales—a curriculum for life’ is the Minister’s plan for taking forward the recommendations in ‘Successful Futures’, published on 22 October. Pioneer schools will have a key role in building our new curriculum, including how the teaching and learning of STEM subjects can be supported and strengthened.
 
14:59
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Thank you very much for that response, Minister. I wondered if I could just ask you some particular questions. Will you be putting plans in place to attract science teachers into schools who have relevant industrial experience as well as their standard teaching qualifications? Secondly, Minister, how do we ensure that there is better take-up and engagement with the STEM subjects in areas of social deprivation and/or geographical isolation? And finally, how will you be encouraging parents and guardians to engage in the learning of science-based subjects with their children?
 
15:00
Julie JamesBiography
The Minister’s emphasised on many occasions the importance of STEM-related subjects as part of a balanced curriculum. The wide range of activity already being progressed by the Welsh Government in this area is set out in the STEM in education delivery plan, a draft of which was considered by the Enterprise and Business Committee earlier this summer. The updated plan, due for publication later this month, will set out a coordinated and holistic approach to monitoring and reporting on the wide range of actions promoting the teaching of STEM subjects. In addition, our detailed plans on how we will continue to increase the flow of STEM skills are set out in our STEM in education and training plan.
 
The teaching of science is directly supported through a comprehensive package of support with funding of over £2.6 million for 2015-16. It includes support for teacher development, learning materials, the science advisory function based in the regional education consortia and the Focus on Science marketing campaign. This is in addition to STEM enrichment funding through the National Science Academy, which falls within the responsibility of the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport.
 
We also support the Techniquest and Techniquest Glyndŵr education programmes to enhance science and mathematics teaching with primary and secondary-aged pupils. Both organisations have specific objectives to support professional learning and development for teachers as well.
 
We also assist schools with the new science GCSEs. The funding support to the four regional education consortia for the science advisory function has been increased by nearly £200,000 and the regional education consortia have engaged with all secondary schools in their respective areas to offer support in relation to the new GCSEs and the PISA tests.
 
We’re also driving support for STEM practitioner skills and knowledge through professional learning opportunities, and we also have the enhanced employer engagement scheme. I recently launched the business skills scheme, which is a scheme supported by SMEs throughout Wales to take businesses straight into the classroom and educate both pupils and parents about the availability of really good careers in STEM-related subjects, in their local area, their region, Wales, UK and the world. So, I think we are doing quite a bit and I look forward to reaping the rewards of it very soon.
 
15:02
William GrahamBiography
‘Mapping the Future of Education Technology’ highlighted that 65 per cent of today’s students will work in jobs that have not yet been created, and that STEM subjects will be crucial to these future employment opportunities. How much do you think it is possible to change that likely reality so that the curriculum for Wales and the cwricwlwm Cymreig respond to that eventuality?
 
15:02
Julie JamesBiography
I think this is the fundamental point of the Donaldson review, actually. I think it’s important, always, to emphasise quite how revolutionary that plan is. What we’re looking at here is producing a whole new different set of people through our schools: our teachers, our learning experiences, our learners, our pupils. These will be people who are fit to think, and will have higher skills fit for the twenty-first century. I know that the Member has seen a number of graphs that show the decline in the need for essential skills in the workforce, and the very dramatic rise in the need for additional level 4 and above skills by 2021-22. With this in mind, as I’ve just outlined to Jeff Cuthbert, we have a whole range of interventions in place to enhance the ability of students to survive in this new digital age, and I feel absolutely convinced that, together, we can take Wales into the global economy of the future.
 
15:03
David ReesBiography
Deputy Minister, the curriculum actually has digital literacy running through it as a very seamless concept, but you and I both know that digital literacy and computer science are different things. The former Minister for education actually commissioned the review into digital and computer science—the ICT review—led by Dr Tom Crick. When are we going to get somewhere where we’re actually producing a computer science GCSE so that we can actually now compete? England are now two years ahead of us on this. We need to get that GCSE up and running so that we can actually deliver computer science our young people.
 
15:03
Julie JamesBiography
The short answer is we’re just working on it now and it will be ready shortly. We’re about to announce the pioneer schools to take forward the whole of the digital literacy curriculum, and the Minister will be announcing that very shortly.
 
15:04
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
It is crucial, of course, that there is an adequate number of STEM subject teachers and teachers of the highest quality in place to deliver the new curriculum. Jeff Cuthbert mentioned the possibility of attracting people who used to work in industry into teaching. But more generally, what steps is the Government intending to take to ensure that the shortage of STEM subject teachers is responded to before the new curriculum is introduced?
 
15:04
Julie JamesBiography
The Minister announced fairly recently a system of incentives to incentivise graduates in various science subjects and Welsh to enter the teaching profession. Those incentives are in place and I’m sure that they’re being very effective as we speak.
 
15:04
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
3. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Apprenticeships
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Aled Roberts.
 
15:05
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 3 is the Welsh Conservatives debate on apprenticeships I call on William Graham to move the motion.
 
Motion NDM5862 Paul Davies
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
 
1. Notes the value of diverse apprenticeship opportunities to Wales;
 
2. Believes that the Welsh Government should ensure that work placement scheme opportunities are available to people across society in Wales to aid retraining and to allow for sustainable, progressive employment; and
 
3. Acknowledges the importance of collaboration between all sectors of the education system and businesses in Wales to help prepare young people for the world of work.
 
Motion moved.
 
15:05
William GrahamBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and may I move the motion in the name of Paul Davies?
 
The essence of this debate is that Wales has a skills gap and this gap hinders economic growth and social integration. In their all-Wales quarterly economic survey for the second quarter of this year, the South Wales Chamber of Commerce highlighted that 72.5 per cent of Welsh businesses have experienced difficulties in recruiting the right staff. The Confederation of British Industry’s ‘Inspiring Growth’ education and skills survey of this year identified that 61 per cent of their business members have expressed concerns that they will not be able to recruit enough high-skilled workers to meet demand and fund growth.
 
Too often, we limit our comparisons of Wales to the other nations within the UK, forgetting to focus our attention upon the global horizon. Wales competes in a worldwide market, which is why indicators such as the programme for international student assessment are vital to our international reputation. Our policy document ‘Stronger Futures Cymru’ exemplifies the Welsh Conservatives’ ambitious vision for Wales, its people, businesses and economic future—a vision that will prepare future generations with the skills, qualifications and the confidence in their ability to establish themselves, and Wales, across the global market. This is an evidence-based policy, developed in consultation with industry stakeholders. That’s why I support initiatives such as the Circuit of Wales, a project that not only increases much needed employment opportunities to the Heads of the Valleys area, but incorporates at the heart of their proposals an academy for motorsport engineers and technicians.
 
The number of older people accessing training is decreasing generally. Only 17 per cent of all learners in further education, work-based learning or community learning were aged over 50 in 2013-14, compared to almost 25 per cent 10 years before. In the past year, only 7 per cent of those on work-based learning programmes were aged 50 or over.
 
The Welsh Government have tried to paper over the cracks with their flagship policy of Jobs Growth Wales. The stark reality is that one in five of those who completed a Jobs Growth Wales placement found themselves unemployed by the end of their placement. Another one in five fail to complete their work placements altogether.
 
Jobs Growth Wales is seen as a panacea by the Welsh Government, yet it is costly and unsustainable in its current state. On average, a Jobs Growth Wales placement costs £6,000 per head. Of the 9,704 created job opportunities claimed by the Welsh Government, 21 per cent left the scheme early and fewer than half had completed their six-month placement. We need figures that reflect the reality, rather than apparently and potentially double-counting. This flagship scheme is failing to stem the increasing number of young people not in employment or training.
 
Wales is not alone in the challenge of reducing the specialist skills gap. Roles that require science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills are becoming increasingly more prevalent, but, at present, there are serious concerns surrounding Wales’s ability to develop this knowledge base. As highlighted in a recent Enterprise and Business Committee report, there is
 
‘a fundamental imbalance towards academic study that is out of step with the employment opportunities available to young people and does little to prepare them for working life’.
 
Stronger Futures Cymru will aim to address this balance. We are scrapping Labour’s age restriction and extending job opportunities to all. Labour’s age cap on job creation offers nothing to the many thousands of older people who want to get on and build a successful career for themselves. Our policy will provide much needed encouragement to older people in particular who have found themselves out of work after perhaps being in a job for 20 or 30 years with little or no knowledge of current CV writing or interview technique. Our policy will provide them with 12 months of real work experience and build confidence and experience. Similarly, the paradox that exists for young people with qualifications but no relevant experience is addressed. With 12 months of work available, it encourages a greater chance of an employer-employee future and gives the flexibility for the employee to move on should he or she wish to further his or her career.
 
Stronger Futures Cymru would ensure that employers were well integrated with schools and a curriculum to ensure students leave education with the best skills and best chances. Stronger Futures Cymru will work to strengthen the teaching of work-ready skills in Welsh schools and ensure that students have an understanding of the labour market before they are left to their own devices to attempt to navigate it.
 
The Welsh Government is failing to promote the benefits apprenticeships can bring to the Welsh economy. By contrast, the United Kingdom Government has announced that it intends to create 3 million new apprenticeships. Research evidence shows that, if you do a higher level apprenticeship, it raises earning potential by at least £150,000. So, it’s a win for the people who undertake the apprenticeships and it’s a win for the people who are part of those companies that expand, because the Government is putting money into apprenticeships. In our policy, we will allow companies to access greater training and skills, which will clearly lead to a greater future for all.
 
Again, the Enterprise and Business Committee inquiry highlighted how the potential and capacity of apprenticeships for supporting the Welsh economy is not being fully utilised. Given the extent of Welsh Government failure there is a clear mandate to convince and enable more employers to take on apprenticeships, especially in SMEs, to develop closer links with employers and schools to support the development of skills and aid progression into work-based training, and to provide clearer guidance for employers.
 
Stronger Futures Cymru will work with labour market intelligence to ensure that skills are being developed to propel forward a modern Welsh economy. The present Government have failed to tackle the issue of gender inequality in work-based learning and apprenticeship schemes. Apprenticeships remain notably gendered in Wales, with women accounting for 3.2 per cent of engineering apprentices and 96.2 per cent of childcare apprentices. This gendering of apprenticeships also needs to be considered against a backdrop of a skills mismatch that sees approximately two jobs for each qualified construction worker and five qualified practitioners for each job in hair and beauty.
 
Through better promoting apprenticeships, we aim to tackle the gender stereotyping of industries and help more women into male-dominated industries. We will aim to create closer links between educators, career professionals and employers, which should continue to be cultivated and used to tackle gender stereotyping and encourage girls to pursue apprenticeships in non-traditional sectors. Data are crucial to understanding who is accessing apprenticeship opportunities. Indeed, the National Training Federation Wales recommends setting national targets for the number of apprenticeship places created for school leavers and incorporating apprenticeship targets in public procurement. Also, where these opportunities are, and the success of interventions to encourage diversity in the apprenticeships on offer, are among those who participate. Gender-disaggregated data is not readily available across apprenticeship schemes, preventing effective monitoring and evaluation.
 
Welsh Conservatives wish to strengthen the ties between education, employment and the local business community to ensure students are well prepared for the steps after education. We will deliver improved continuing careers advice to students and work with local employers to ensure students’ education is not just academic, but also vocational. We will end the age limit on learning delivery apprenticeships on a needs, rather than an age basis, using greater targeting to ensure sustainability of skills
 
Bridges to Work 2 is the latest Welsh Government scheme to tackle unemployment in the south Wales Valleys for older people who are long-term unemployed. The scheme aims to put 400 people into employment. The cost of this equates to about £17,000 per head. As part of our new package, we would also use this money to further enable those over 25 years old to access a Journeys to Work placement. Welsh Conservatives have long called for the Welsh Government to provide greater support to older people. Our leader recently asked the First Minister, ‘Your policy seems to be ageist, First Minister, in that the older you get in Wales, the less chance you have to educate yourself and retrain yourself’.
 
In place of the Welsh Government’s Jobs Growth Wales, we will deliver our own work experience scheme, Journeys to Work, which will help those without relevant work experience to gain the skills and confidence they need. This scheme does not require additional funding commitment, but works within the existing budget. It is purely about prioritising the money in a different way. I echo the contemporary author Dean Koontz who said, ‘I really believe that everyone has a talent, ability, or skill that he or she can mine to support themselves and to succeed in life.’
 
15:13
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I have selected the amendment to the motion. I call on Aled Roberts to move amendment 1, tabled in his name.
 
Amendment 1—Aled Roberts
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Calls on the Welsh Government to examine a qualifications framework for 14-18 year olds which would provide greater choice for academic and vocational pathways and movement between them, to support individuals in realising their full potential.
 
Amendments 1 moved.
 
15:13
Aled RobertsBiography
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I’m very pleased to take part in this afternoon’s debate and formally move amendment 1 in my name.
 
It’s worth reminding ourselves at the outset of the value of apprenticeships outlined in the recent report published by the National Training Federation Wales, entitled, ‘The Value of Apprenticeships to Wales’, which indicated that there’s a £74 return for each pound invested in apprenticeships compared to a £57 return for each pound invested in the average undergraduate degree.
 
But I do think, at this stage, that we need to move away from the Welsh Government’s self-congratulatory rhetoric to actually undertaking an objective assessment of where our current policies on apprenticeships are leading us. Our amendment today calls on the Welsh Government to examine a qualifications framework for 14 to 18-year-olds, which provides greater choice for academic and vocational pathways and movement between them, to support individuals in realising their full potential.
 
The evidence for change is already there. ‘The Times Educational Supplement’ last month reported that:
 
‘Three-quarters of parents believe children should have the option of a combined academic and technical education at the age of 14’
 
and
 
‘two-thirds of respondents said they were concerned their children would not find work after they left education.’
 
So, parents overwhelmingly want a more balanced approach to education, yet nearly all the messages that they get from schools and, at times, from ourselves suggest, still, that the parity of esteem that we’ve been talking about since the 2012 review of qualifications has failed to materialise.
 
In the spring of 2014, as the number of apprentices rose by 10,000 to 28,000, the then Deputy Minister said:
 
‘Apprenticeships offer a unique package of support, qualifications and experience and make no mistake—they are playing their part in bringing down long term youth unemployment. That’s why the Welsh Government’—
 
at that stage
 
‘invested additional funding in its Apprenticeship Programme and, as these figures suggest, we’re seeing a fantastic return on this investment’.
 
So, the Welsh Government stance at that time was that apprenticeships were playing their part in bringing down long-term youth unemployment. Yet, by September 2014, it was reported that the Welsh Government was considering cutting the number of apprenticeship opportunities in half. As the National Training Federation Wales put it:
 
‘The stark figures fly in the face of repeated statements by the Welsh Government about its “gold standard” apprenticeship programme’.
 
Their words, not mine.
 
Subsequent intervention in budget negotiations meant that we were able to secure £10 million to deliver around 5,000 extra new apprenticeships over the coming two years, but all we were doing was replacing, in part, what was being projected as a reduction in numbers.
 
It’s our view that, at this stage, we have to accept the current Welsh Government continues to blow hot and cold on the subject of apprenticeships. In fact, in July 2015, it was reported that the Welsh Government’s key target of getting 75 per cent of learners into apprenticeships had not been achieved. They reported that just 35 per cent of learners progressed on to their flagship Pathways to Apprenticeships scheme in 2012-13.
 
So, our amendment today outlines our plans for a flexible model, representing a climbing frame for learning where individuals should be able to move sideways and across between more vocational and academic courses, as well as climbing upwards. The distinction between academic and vocational qualifications should be removed, giving a much more rounded mix-and-match perspective to learning. Courses need to be designed to enable transfer between modules at a similar educational standard, from academic to vocational, and vice versa. We should encourage pupils to elect vocational courses alongside academic subjects, ensuring a well-balanced model.
 
This new model would also go a long way to addressing the differences between boys and girls in the subjects that they take post 14, an issue that was already referred to by William Graham with regard to figures outlined in the Chwarae Teg report. The national training federation confirm this stark reality: that, of 51,550 individuals taking apprenticeships in 2013-14, the majority were female and that the top apprenticeship programme was in health and social care.
 
The federation have also said that the biggest issue affecting parity of opportunity for young people is the lack of impartial information, advice and guidance for all young people, regardless of ability. It’s certainly the case that my own personal experience means that the recent changes in Careers Wales have not helped that situation.
 
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Minister for Education and Skills recently asked Estyn to undertake a review into the barriers to apprenticeships faced by learners from black minority ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities. The review found that there was a lack of awareness of apprenticeships among parents, employers and learners themselves, and that there was insufficient co-ordination, a situation that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
 
15:19
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
I’m really proud to contribute to our debate today and highlight, once again, our new Stronger Futures Cymru policy. This will certainly boost relevant apprenticeships, and I will support training for people without any age barrier across Wales. Here we have some of the biggest barriers to work for young and older people, and these are, fundamentally, lack of opportunity, lack of confidence, lack of qualifications and lack of experience. It is really concerning, though, to note that 72 per cent of our Welsh businesses themselves have experienced difficulty in recruiting the right staff for them, and that 61 per cent fear that they will be unable to recruit enough high or skilled workers to meet their own demands, which would enable them to grow further.
 
Over recess, last week, I met with three local, very strong businesses, having grown from very small microbusiness, all of whom told me that they are now struggling to find staff. Stronger Futures Cymru aims to address the growing skills gap, which we have seen opening up further under the Welsh Labour Government and which the Bevan Foundation has predicted to increase. Our micro, small and medium enterprises are vital to the Welsh economy, yet without the skilled workers they need, we run the risk of undermining our growth and their future potential. Our policy will use labour market intelligence to ensure that apprenticeship training is working towards fulfilling our future and current skill needs.
 
Jobs Growth Wales: we do regret that it has failed to address the skills gap here in Wales as it is, with one in five of those who complete a placement finding themselves unemployed and a further one in five failing to complete their placement at all. That cannot be regarded as successful. Furthermore, the scheme itself admits that a staggering 73 per cent of those who completed a placement would have found employment even without the scheme. Stronger Futures Cymru will address this by ensuring resources—[Interruption.] Okay.
 
15:22
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Joyce Watson.
 
15:22
Joyce WatsonBiography
I thank you for taking an intervention. Would you just accept that the whole idea of Jobs Growth Wales was getting people into work then, not some time in the distant future?
 
15:22
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
What I would agree on is that it discriminates against people who are actually of an age bracket that still have the skills, still have experience, and still have the ability and the desire to work, and that is failing them.
 
Furthermore, we would make it easier for smaller businesses to offer relevant and meaningful work experience and apprenticeship opportunities, with apprenticeship grants for employers. Stronger Futures Cymru will also address the fundamental imbalance towards academic study and the lack of work-ready skills held by school leavers, as identified by the Enterprise and Business Committee. By strengthening links between educators and employers earlier, and by developing flexible apprenticeships, we can and will encourage more school leavers to enter employed training and work to end the notable gender imbalance in Welsh industries.
 
Finally, Stronger Futures Cymru will end the strategic isolation of older people from accessing education as a result of exclusionary Welsh Labour Government policy. The proportion of those aged 50 to 64 unemployed and looking for work in my constituency of Aberconwy stands at 5.3 per cent, higher than the 3.9 per cent average across Wales. So, the inclusivity of our policy is something that I am particularly passionate about, and this is an issue I have raised previously. I’ve asked the First Minister, I’ve asked the Minister and the Deputy Minister to identify me one scheme where your Government supports over-50s, and you couldn’t even name one. And that’s on record.
 
The Commissioner for Older People in Wales has stated that Wales could pay a high price for cuts to lifelong learning—cuts implemented by this Welsh Labour Government. It’s no good blaming the UK Government. She has further stated that we need to see a much wider recognition across all Government portfolios of the necessity to keep our older people in the workforce and bring them back into work as well. We have long called for greater support for older people looking to enter or re-enter the workforce and there are numerous reasons why they may wish to do so. It’s essential we recognise the wealth of talent held by our more mature people here in Wales, and that is talent that is going to waste. We must support older people in gaining meaningful employment, and dispel any misconceptions that age has any effect on employability. Rather than the ageist approach of Jobs Growth Wales, the Welsh Conservative Journeys to Work will support people, young and old, to enter the workplace. Thank you.
 
15:25
Keith DaviesBiography
I welcome this afternoon’s debate on apprenticeships and support it, and also the Liberal Democrat amendment. But as William Graham and Aled Roberts said earlier this afternoon, it’s about time that we in Wales cut down on the difference in status between academic and vocational education—that is, desk-bound education and practical education. I think that we need to work on the parents too when children come to choose their options, because, in my own personal experience, parents are more than happy to look at academic courses but perhaps not at courses that will take pupils into apprenticeships.
 
As one who has spent most of his life in the field of education, I have seen the importance of apprenticeships as a key extension of education. Apprenticeships are crucially important, not only as a part of people’s education, but for the provision of key skills across the economy, as we’ve already heard this afternoon. I am pleased that the Welsh Government has shown a strong commitment to apprenticeships. Wales is delivering one of the most successful apprenticeship programmes in Europe. Over the past five years, the Labour Government here has created 110,000 high-quality apprenticeships, with a success rate of over 84 per cent, as compared with 69 per cent in England. I am pleased to see that the investment continues, with £144 million of European Union/Welsh Government funds being invested over the next four years so that we can fund more than 50,000 apprenticeships across west Wales and the Valleys.
 
In June, a report was published by the Enterprise and Business Committee on people over the age of 50 in Wales. The committee’s concern was the higher level of people over 50 who are unemployed. One of the recommendations made by the committee was to create more opportunities for those over 50 to learn new skills so that they could gain new employment. On Monday, I noted the Welsh Conservatives’ statement that they want to abolish the age cap on Jobs Growth Wales. I welcome their conversion, particularly having heard from their leader earlier this week. After all, who was calling for the plan to be scrapped recently? It was you, the Welsh Conservatives.
 
The aim of Jobs Growth Wales was to provide assistance to young people, and already the Government is providing to people of all ages through higher level apprenticeships, which are very beneficial for older people who have workplace experience. The Labour Government in Wales is also encouraging older people through a number of different programmes. However, we need to advertise these programmes to those older people and the employers.
 
I would like to see more emphasis on business skills as part of apprenticeship programmes. A number of apprenticeships, such as in construction and hairdressing, teach expertise in those particular areas only. So, people can build a wall or style hair in the Victoria Beckham style, but there is more to establishing a business than such expertise. By the time they’ve completed their training, perhaps they would want to establish their own business. We should be teaching them basic business skills to give them a practical opportunity to move ahead in establishing their own business.
 
One thing that I took pride in recently was the apprenticeship-sharing programme in Carmarthenshire, ‘Constructing Carmarthenshire Together’, which has been in place since 2008, and included Coleg Sir Gâr, the council and local small businesses. Small and regional companies that cannot offer full apprenticeships come together and work with local authorities and other partners to provide these apprenticeships for young people. I’ve spoken on this issue before, and I learnt that they were the first, and the only programme in Wales at the time, with apprentices having worked on projects such as the East Gate development in Llanelli, twenty-first century schools, and affordable homes in the area, including bricklayers, chippies, electricians, plumbers, and so on—a number of people gaining employment through people working together.
 
One other concern that I have, and William Graham and Aled have already mentioned this earlier, is the gap between men and women in terms of apprenticeships. In 2011-12, women accounted for just 3.2 per cent of engineering apprenticeships, and 96.2 per cent of childcare apprenticeships. There should be stronger links between educators, careers advisers and employers to tackle these gender stereotypes and to encourage more women to choose STEM apprenticeships as a result of open competition. I’m pleased to say that many of the aspects I’ve referred to already have started to change, according to the Estyn report published this week. This is mainly because of the attitude and work of the Welsh Labour Government. Of course, we need to do more, but we are on the right track.