Today’s Senedd Roundup: AMs assured that Welsh themes will be at the heart of the new curriculum

Pentre Ifan burial chamber. Photo Nation.Cymru

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

It seems not a week goes by without AMs demanding that some topic of learning is either made mandatory or included on the face of the new curriculum. This time it was Welsh history.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that the history of Wales is taught to every school pupil in Wales without exception.

No certainty Welsh history will be taught at all

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) said that while the curriculum often circulates around skills rather than content, the new curriculum – which place history under a “humanities” theme of learning – doesn’t acknowledge Welsh history at all.

While the goal in the new curriculum to give teachers more freedom on how to deliver lessons was laudable, there’s a danger of inconsistency. What was needed was proper teaching materials and resources:

Sian concluded that people are proud of their roots and want to find out more about who we are as a nation; there was a duty to respond to that.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) said the history of Wales and the ancient Britons were “intertwined and inseparable” and should be taught to every pupil. While Mark Isherwood stressed the importance of a common British history, Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) said it’s impossible doing so without reference to our industrial heritage. He hoped the concept of “cynefin” (“habitat/belonging”) within the curriculum will be properly part across all areas of learning.

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) stressed the importance of learning histories (both good and bad) and historical literary works that we don’t know much about – citing the 1919 Cardiff race riots and Y Gododdin as examples. History didn’t have to be taught chronologically or over-emphasise the “acts of kings and queens whilst neglecting the experiences of ordinary people”.

“I’ve been speaking to people younger than me today….two of them didn’t recall anything apart from learning about the Welsh knot in primary school….some remembered being taught about the Rebecca Riots, some about Chartists – it depended on where they were from in Wales – but, actually, the majority of them couldn’t remember anything they’d learnt in school about Welsh history. And that’s why we’re having this debate….you know, ‘cofiwch’, well, if we’re not taught anything, what on earth are we going to ‘cofio’?”
– Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West)

“I have never met a teacher who failed to make full use of Welsh history”

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) said the 2012 Cwricwlwm Cymreig put Welsh history front and centre, but echoing what Sian Gwenllian said, it was important the right teaching materials were available and history organisations ought to play a key role there.

One AM who focused on history from a scholastic perspective was former history teacher, Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley). The idea that all pupils should be taught Welsh history without exception was potentially ill-thought-through – namely in relation to pupils with complex learning needs.

“That is, of course, not to say that the teaching of Welsh history should only be the preserve of a certain cohort, and I would strongly argue this has never been the case. Welsh history has always been firmly embedded in the national curriculum….and in all my years of teaching, I have never met a teacher who failed to make full use of Welsh history topics and case studies in all of their lessons. These were very often the ones that were most popular amongst students, too.”
– Vikki Howells AM

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) stressed the need to teach history to break down stereotypes and challenge perceived wisdom. Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West) said Welsh events could be used to study world events; the Roman settlement at Caerleon, Welsh privateers (in the development of the British Empire) and the Chartist’s impact on democracy.

Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) believed history shouldn’t be about careful analysis, local knowledge and local facts. He cited the example of Dr William Price: “the bloke who cremated his son” – but the importance there was the break with church law on resurrection, which is hardly ever discussed.

The Education Minister supported the motion and offered assurances on how Welshness/Welsh history will be included within the curriculum:

“‘Cynefin’ is not just a place in a physical or a geographical sense. It is the historic, cultural and social place….we will expect learners to know and to understand their communities, their nation and the world. So, for example, learners will learn about Robert Recorde in the maths (area of learning), the linguistic and the literary history of Wales in both languages will be covered….and in science & technology learners will explore how Wales’s geography, its resources, its workforce….shape the scientific activity and industry of the country.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor)

The motion was unanimously approved.

The M4 motorway heading past Port Talbot. CW Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Actions more important than words as AMs debate climate emergency petition

P-05-869: “Declare a Climate Emergency and fit all policies with zero-carbon targets”
Submitted by Matthew Misiak
Signatures: 6,148

Petition Supporting Evidence

  • A UN panel has warned there are only 12 years to make necessary changes to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C. Failure to do so will see an acceleration in sea level rises, weather pattern changes and mass extinctions.

Government’s cannot ignore the urgency

Chair of the Petitions Committee, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy), said no government or parliament was in a position to ignore the threat posed by climate change. Since the petition was submitted, the Senedd declared a “climate emergency” – which the petitioners said was an important first step – but actions were now more important.

“….the petition specifically calls on the Welsh Government to enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero, not by 2050 but by 2025. It goes without saying that this is an extremely demanding call. Welsh legislation currently contains a target to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, with interim targets for the decades leading up to this.”
– Chair of the Petitions Committee, Janet Finch-Saunders AM

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) warned that the 10 warmest years on record have happened within the last 22 years and climate change was already estimated to claim 300,000 lives a year. A number of AMs were concerned that after the emergency was declared, the First Minister said it didn’t necessarily mean a change in policy.

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) was proud that the UK has seen a 40% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 – the fastest reduction anywhere in the world. Nonetheless, some of the challenges were significant – mentioning the prospect of shifting from gas to more expensive electric domestic heating or ground source heat pumps.

A clear signal

Chair of the Environment Committee, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East), said the declaration sent a clear signal that the Welsh Government understood the gravity of the situation. He outlined the effects of climate change in detail, warning that a 4C increase in global average temperatures would lead to a near-apocalyptic and intolerable climate.

Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) said the planning system wasn’t properly taking the environmental impact of new developments into account, while Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) argued for future development in and around Cardiff to be focused on metro stations.

Mandy Jones AM (BXP, North Wales) made the point that everything we do costs something somewhere – whether that’s cheap clothing or air travel. Wales was doing well in some areas, like recycling, but there were other “quick wins” that need to happen, such as rolling-out electric vehicle charging points on a bigger scale.

Galvanising people, organisations and businesses into action

Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) told AMs the climate emergency declaration should act as a rallying call. The level of support from the public for the climate emergency campaign reflected their desire for governments to tell the truth about the situation and the possible impacts.

“Our Environment Act 2016, for example, places legal duties on Welsh Ministers and public bodies to maintain and enhance biodiversity. There is a requirement to produce their first report on how they are fulfilling their duty by the end of this year, and our environment Act also includes legally binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions across the Welsh economy.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

Any targets had to be set based on the best evidence and advice and, in doing so, the Welsh Government has now set a target for emissions to be 95% lower (compared to 1990) by 2050 with the possibility that more ambitious targets will be set in the future.

Photo by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

“Warning shot” fired at government over Welsh language regulations 

In May, the Welsh Government tabled regulations which would expand the obligations primary care providers (GPs, dentists, pharmacists etc.) have towards Welsh-speaking patients.

These were tabled under the “negative procedure”, meaning they came into effect automatically – in this case on 30th May 2019 – unless there was a vote to revoke them.

The Culture Committee complained they didn’t have adequate time – 21 days, including the half-term recess – to properly scrutinise the regulations and “called them in”. Following a short inquiry, they published a report last week (pdf). Whilst not specifically recommending the regulations be revoked, they concluded they should be revised with proper consultation.

“No rights, no expectations, no change”

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said it was crucial that some vulnerable people – particularly those with dementia – are able to access services in their first language. The regulations were nothing more than window dressing which would see a few additional Welsh language signs, but not much else.

“….we are here today looking at regulations that don’t provide any statutory rights, or even half a statutory expectation, of receiving face-to-face services through Welsh for patients. At best, over time, we will see a few new Welsh signs….There is nothing here: no rights, no expectations, and no change.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM

He added that the Health Minister refused to provide additional evidence or enter into discussions on a way forward. The explanatory memorandum wasn’t translated into Welsh despite it being only five pages long.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) said the Conservatives would support revoking the regulations, mainly due to the scrutiny role of the Senedd being ignored. The regulations themselves are easy to adhere to and it was “embarrassing” they were needed at all.

Chair of the Culture Committee, Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West), told AMs the Committee were reassured several times they would have more than 21 days to scrutinise the regulations, but they were tabled without warning and with the minimum available time to scrutinise them.

While also criticising the length of time available for scrutiny, Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) said it was important to get a balance between meeting needs of patients and not reinforcing perceptions that working in the Welsh NHS required Welsh-speaking skills.

“But the real problem is that you’re setting a level of standards without scrutiny here….Primary healthcare services are the most direct ones that we receive, and where we would really want to see effective Welsh language rights being championed.”
– David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)

Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd), said there were very real issues raised by the government’s handling of these regulations and a “warning shot” was needed:

“There are those of us who fell short of supporting annulment, but primarily because of the damage we felt it might do, or the implications of not proceeding with regulations that seek to advance the….Welsh language. But that should not mean that there isn’t a warning shot across the bows of Government, that if procedures are not properly followed, if there is not a proper opportunity for scrutiny, then the issue of annulment is one that is taken seriously….by our committee structure.”
– Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw AM

Genuine and sincere regret

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), took all the points on board and expressed a “genuine and sincere regret” that a Welsh version of the explanatory memorandum wasn’t tabled. As the regulations have already come into effect, revoking them would mean starting the process all over again.

“I do believe that these duties are a significant step forward in promoting and supporting Welsh language services in primary care. And I am pleased that representative bodies of independent primary care providers, despite raising some challenges, have agreed on the approach that we’re taking.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

Mike Hedges. Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Bottom-up business development key to solving in-work poverty

It was Mike Hedges AM’s (Lab, Swansea East) turn for a short debate this week and he chose the topic of poverty – causes and solutions.

Exploitative contracts

Mike Hedges said a successful Welsh economy had to drive up wages, but the task was made more difficult by “exploitative” zero-hours and daily guaranteed hour contracts, which mean employees can’t plan their day and have no idea precisely how much they’ll be earning in any given shift.

Also, the increasing use of recruitment agency staff has eroded certain rights. Agency staff have no right to occupational sick pay, redundancy pay or a right to claim for unfair dismissal or receive a minimum notice period for redundancy.

As well as increase wages – through the widespread introduction of things like the living wage – we also need to do more to attract and retain high-paid jobs.

“What do we need to do in Wales? I believe that we need to work more closely with the universities: Aarhus, for example, and the business park model and Manheim has a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship….It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, Cambridge is very successful; it’s got a science park.’ Swansea, Cardiff and Cambridge? No. But could we be the same as Manheim and Aarhus? There’s no reason why we couldn’t. Manheim is the second city within its Länder and Aarhus is the second city in Denmark – not dissimilar to Swansea.”
– Mike Hedges AM

Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) repeated calls for the Welsh Government to prioritise anti-poverty measures to prevent a downward spiral in light of insecure work and welfare reform.

Nine years of austerity

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) was under no illusions that the key driver of in-work poverty was the decade of austerity measures introduced by the Conservatives and Lib Dems at UK level. The Welsh budget would be £4billion had it grown in line with economic growth.

While he admitted there was very little within the Welsh Government’s control or devolution to properly address poverty, such as measures to increase household incomes by improving skills; the proportion of working-age people with no qualifications has halved in Wales since 1999.

He didn’t accept the assertion there were few high-skilled jobs in Wales though:

“….we only need to look at some of those sectors that provide the highest levels of productivity and wages – financial and professional services, for example, with growth here in Cardiff and across Wales at an astonishing level compared to the rest of the UK. Aerospace is the most productive sector in the British economy, and here in Wales we have a disproportionately high number of people now in employment in that sector—more than 20,000 people in incredibly valued jobs.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

The Welsh Government’s new economic contract will seek to drive fairer and more responsible business and employment practices to address the rise in insecure work.

 

Photo by rawpixel from Pixabay

Minimum alcohol pricing delayed

Plans to introduce a 50p-per-unit minimum price for alcohol in Wales have been delayed after Portugal challenged the policy at EU level. It was unclear why Portugal decided to challenge the law, but other EU member states had previously raised concerns that minimum pricing in Scotland would negatively impact imported alcohol.

The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), said he expects to be able to table regulations in the autumn and the new pricing mechanism could come into effect “in early 2020”.

Under-fire health board boss “on extended sick leave”

The Chief Executive of Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board, Allison Williams, has been placed on extended sick leave. Maternity services at two hospitals in the health board have been placed into special measures following damning reports into failures which may have resulted in the death of babies.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council recently passed a motion of no confidence in the Chief Executive, while there were a number of calls for her resignation. BBC Wales also reports that members of the Senedd’s Health Committee weren’t satisfied with evidence the Chair gave to them.

The deputy chief executive of Cardiff & Vale Health Board, Dr Sharon Hopkins, has been appointed as interim chief executive.

Probe into anonymous e-mails to AMs

Swansea University has launched an investigation into anonymous e-mails, signed “Your Friend”, which were sent to AMs making a number of accusations about the university’s handling of investigations in the circumstances surrounding a controversial Wellness Village development in Llanelli.

Several members of staff were suspended for misconduct after it was revealed there were a number of undeclared interests in the development, which forms part of the Swansea City Region Deal. A joint investigation by the UK and Welsh governments has already resulted in Carmarthenshire Council being stripped of the lead role.

Dwr Cymru to invest £47million “customer dividend”

Dwr Cymru announced it will invest a £47million “customer dividend” in improvements to the water network. The dividend is a result of the company’s not-for-profit model.

£12million has been earmarked to assist water costs in low-income households, £18.5million has been earmarked for various infrastructure improvements, while the rest will be spent on business efficiency and leisure facilities at reservoirs.

Wales Office chopping and changing “scuppering north Wales growth deal”

Constant changes to junior ministers at the Wales Office have been blamed on lack of progress in developing a regional growth deal for north Wales, according to the North Wales Economic Ambition Board.

While the Wales Office rejects suggestions of a lack of commitment, the Board told MPs that every time there was a change in staff, new obstacles would arise. There were also complaints that £120million offered by the UK Government falls short of the desired £170million figure.

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