‘We must not be complacent’ says Wales’ Children’s Commissioner

Published 04/12/2019   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

Sally Holland’s Annual Report for the year 2018-19 sets out her views about the fourth of her seven years as Children’s Commissioner for Wales. In it she says:

We’ve been world leaders in promoting and protecting children’s rights; we must not stop now.

Assembly Members will debate the details of what the report says on Tuesday 10 December.

A year of change, but challenges remain

The Commissioner says it’s been ‘a year of significant changes for children and young people’s rights in Wales’ pointing to:

  • the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • the establishment of Wales first-ever Youth Parliament and
  • the Children (Abolition of the Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill

But Sally Holland also says there are ‘significant children’s rights challenges across Wales and her report includes ‘urgent calls on Welsh Government’. For example her view that transport for children with additional needs is not good enough.

On 6 November the Children, Young People and Education Committee found out more about what the Children’s Commissioner thinks about the wide range of issues covered in her report including: home education, children’s rights in the new curriculum, bullying, mental health, and looked after children. The Committee itself is looking into how well the Welsh Government is delivering its commitments on children's rights in Wales and will report in the new year.

Recent events

There have been some recent developments on the issues raised in the Children’s Commissioner’s report:

  • Mental Health: This is a high priority for both the Children’s Commissioner and the CYPE Committee. Late October, the Committee received a response to its request for an update from the Welsh Government since the Committee’s 'Mind over Matter' report. The Government's update on progress can be found here.
  • Bullying: The Welsh Government has recently published new anti-bullying guidance. The new guidance is statutory, which has been welcomed by the Children’s Commissioner who had previously criticised the proposed non-statutory, advisory status of the guidance.
  • Learner Travel: The Commissioner says that ‘some young people with additional learning needs across Wales are being denied access to their education due to the lack of suitable, accessible and safe transport’. Since the report was published the Welsh Government issued a Joint Ministerial statement on 13 November saying it would review arrangements for post-16 learners. The CYPE Committee had already asked the Welsh Government for information about learner travel and asked for some extra detail in light of the statement, saying ‘concerns raised with us are not limited to post-16 learners’.
  • Looked After Children: On 14 November the Government published its first Annual report on improving outcomes for children. There is more background in about the relevant policy issues in our blog.
  • Home Education: Both the Commissioner and Committee have maintained an active interest in this issue and the Commissioner has set ‘three tests’ for home education. Firstly that ‘all children in Wales can be accounted for’ and secondly that ‘every child receives a suitable education and their other human rights including health, care and safety’. Her third ‘test’ is that ‘this cannot be achieved without enabling every child the opportunity to be seen and their views, including their views about their education, and experiences listened to’. In her report she says that the ‘Welsh Government must implement statutory guidance giving effect to my three tests in full in 2020’. Following its discussion with the Children’s Commissioner, the CYPE Committee sent a letter to the Minister for Education on the 19 November.

Earlier this week Sally Holland published her own evaluation of the progress she has made so far as Children’s Commissioner for Wales.

What has been the Welsh Government’s response?

On 3 December the Welsh Government published its response to the Commissioner’s report. Whilst it fully accepted 10 of the 14 recommendations and accepted a further two ‘in principle’, it rejected two.

The Government rejected the following recommendation:

The Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 applies to young people up to the age of 25. Welsh Government must ensure that there is a statutory duty that requires all children and young people covered by the Act to be provided with safe transport to their place of education. Welsh Government should therefore reconsider their response to my 15|16 annual report recommendation to review the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 and associated statutory provision and guidance.

It also rejected the Commissioner’s call that.

To ensure an enduring commitment to the human rights of children the Welsh Government should introduce a duty upon all relevant bodies to pay due regard to the UNCRC in the delivery of the curriculum. This duty should be placed on the face of the Curriculum and Assessment Bill.

Further information:

To find out more information about children’s rights in Wales you can read our other recent blogs on the subject, including:

The Assembly is due to debate the Commissioner’s report on 10 December. You can watch it live shortly after 4:30 on Senedd TV.

Article by Sian Thomas, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales