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Cabinet Secretary for Education believes “being in school is a mental health intervention in itself”

In her first Evidence Session before CYPEC, Lynne Neagle effectively stated her view that attending school was better for children’s mental health than being home educated

Wednesday 8 May saw the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Education, Lynne Neagle (Lab, Torfaen), attending her first meeting with the Children Young People and Education Committee [CYPEC] (Transcript, video). This took the form of an evidence session where Committee members could question her about the implementation of the education reforms.

Membership of CYPEC changed following the appointment of a new First Minister, with the Chair’s role now being taken by Buffy Williams (Lab, Rhondda). The previous Chair, Jane Bryant (Lab, Newport West), has moved on to a ministerial role, covering Mental Health and Early Years. Committee membership has changed too, as Williams noted when she opened the meeting. She and Heledd Fychan (Plaid Cymru, Regional Member South Wales Central), are the only two continuing members.

Departing members Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), James Evans (Con, Brecon & Radnorshire) and Laura Anne Jones (Con, Regional Member South Wales East) were thanked for their input, and new members Hefin David (Lab, Caerphilly), Gareth Davies (Con, Vale of Clwyd), Tom Giffard (Con, South Wales West) and Jack Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) were welcomed to the Committee.

The composition of the Committee remains the same as previously, with three Labour members, two Conservatives and one from Plaid Cymru. As with Westminster Select Committees, the composition of Senedd committees reflects the political balance of power in the main chamber.

Neagle’s Q&A session was the main item on the agenda. She was questioned on a variety of topics, and the whole exchange makes for interesting listening. Questions addressed a range of areas including school staff workload, recruitment & retention, Curriculum for Wales, how to adapt a universal system to local situations and, unsurprisingly, issues around ALN and neurodiversity.

Hefin David raised the matter of communication problems between two different systems, Health and Education (§85-106), speaking of a gap that “needs to be bridged” and bringing his own personal experience to bear on the matter:

“I’ve got a child who has ALN in the system at the moment, so I am living this. I have no criticisms about the healthcare she’s received, no criticisms about the education she’s received, but the dialogue between the two can be improved.”

Heledd Fychan approached ALN from a different angle, and this exchange probably has the most direct relevance to home education. She raised the matter of parents having to turn to HE due to lack of local provision for their children’s needs (§57) Transcript, video:

“…I just wanted to ask in terms of additional learning needs. You’ll be aware from meeting with parents, I’m sure, that a number of people feel that the education system makes them feel that they can’t send their children to school at the moment. A number of them have had to leave their jobs in order to meet the needs of their children. How are you going to look at this to ensure that every child is able to access education and that we don’t let parents and guardians find themselves in a situation where they need to home educate because there’s no provision in their area?”

Acknowledging that she had encountered this problem in her own constituency and that more work was required to meet the challenges of complex needs, Neagle was optimistic that the reforms would reduce the number of families feeling they needed to turn to home education.

Unfortunately her answer conveyed a rather negative impression of HE being little more than an undesirable solution to a problem, rather than a positive and proactive choice. It also clearly illustrated her personal preference that children are in school (§58):

“Thank you, Heledd, and clearly, that’s an incredibly important point, isn’t it, really? And I, as a constituency MS, have met families who no longer send their children to school because they don’t feel that the school is meeting their needs, and that shouldn’t be happening and that’s what our reforms are designed to address. I know that we’ve got more work to do in this space, and I know as well that we’re seeing more instances in schools of children and young people with really complex needs as well. It’s a challenge, addressing all of those, and we’re asking schools to do a lot, but if we can get these reforms working as they should be working, then I would hope that we would see much less of families feeling that they need to educate their children at home. Because, from my point of view, I think being in school is a mental health intervention in itself; I mean, it is important that kids are in school, so, yes.” [Emphasis added]

Exchanges like this are a good reminder of how important it is for constituents, wherever possible, to engage with those who represent them in the Senedd and try to establish a meaningful connection. As and when an issue arises, there is then some basis for further communication. Besides being individuals with their own lived experience, as cited by Hefin David, politicians’ views are affected by interactions with their constituents. If we are motivated to see home education being better understood and having a more positive image, there may be ways we ourselves could contribute to that change of narrative.

Details of the responsibilities of the Cabinet Secretary for Education are listed on the Welsh Government’s website, including information on how to write to her.

Given the stated purpose of CYPEC, it’s also worth engaging with their members either individually if a member happens to be your local MS, or via the Chair on matters raised in their meetings:

“The Children, Young People and Education Committee set up by the Senedd to look at policy and legislation, and to hold the Welsh Government to account in specific areas.”

The contact details for the Committee, including an email address, are available from this page.


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