04 April 2018
The Research Council Policy Internships Scheme provides a unique opportunity for PhD students to undertake a three month placement in a policy organisation. Sponsored by the Medical Research Council (MRC), I was able to apply directly to this scheme. The internship allows students to experience, learn about and contribute to work at the policy organisations. There are a variety of host organisations including Parliamentary and Government Departments and Non-Governmental Bodies. I decided to apply for a parliamentary placement to be on the intersection of research, parliament and Government interaction. After application and an interview in London, I was offered a placement with the Children, Education and Lifelong Learning Team in the National Assembly for Wales’ Research Service.
In my first week at the Assembly Research Service, I had different induction sessions, training and meetings. I was given a folder full of comprehensive guides from introducing the research service to using valuable databases. Having lived in Wales for 3 years prior to this year, I was aware of the Assembly and devolution yet not the history of the Welsh Assembly. During the first week, I learnt about the history of devolution in Wales, the structure of the Assembly and previous Assemblies. Alongside this, the Children, Education and Lifelong Learning team welcomed me magnanimously and I felt part of the team immediately.
Variety of work
There was a variety of work to be involved in from the beginning. On a day-to-day basis, there are enquiries submitted by Assembly Members and their Support Staff to the Research Service. These are often questions from constituents to their Assembly Member. There are a range of topics and enquiries can either be dealt with relatively rapidly or may require more in-depth research and longer responses. Deadlines are often less than a week, and can sometimes be within the same day. During my time with the Research Service I completed 11 enquiries of which many were email responses, but a couple involved comprehensive briefs for AMs.
Additionally, the Research Service produce pro-active briefings. These often take shape as blogs which are published on the INBRIEF website. The blogs often reflect work which is going on in the Assembly. This could be discussions and debates held in Plenary or committee inquiries which are taking place. Blogs can also be produced on topical subjects that provide information to Assembly Members regarding upcoming work. I was fortunate enough to have three blogs published during my time at the Research Service: National Student Money Week 2018; What does the devolution of teachers’ pay and conditions mean for the Welsh education system? and Why are ‘raising aspirations’ on the education agenda?.
As I briefly mentioned, inquiries are what often take up most of the Research Service’s time. These are large pieces of work instigated by the Assembly’s committees on a particular topic. Take the most recent Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee inquiry into Targeted Funding to Improve Educational Outcomes. There were four different committee meetings which included eight evidence sessions and concluded with scrutiny of the Cabinet Secretary for Education. For each of these meetings a comprehensive research briefing is produced. I was fortunate enough to contribute in small part to the Targeted Funding inquiry producing a summary of evidence from the written consultation which was submitted to the first evidence session.
I also contributed a summary of a Stakeholder event which took place as part of The Emotional and Mental Health of Children and Young People inquiry. This is to be published in the future.
Learning and development
I was encouraged to attend training sessions and make the most of my time at the Assembly. I went to sessions on the Wales Act 2017, Devolution of Wales, Legislation at the Assembly, and separately at Westminster, and Subordinate Legislation. I spent a day with the clerking team of the CYPE committee, a day with the Outreach and Engagement team attending a session for the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee Inquiry into pregnancy, maternity and work in Wales.
I attended education conferences which were the Wellbeing of Children and Young People – Key themes emerging across Wales from the Association of Directors of Education in Wales; Little Pieces. Big Picture by Save the Children Cymru; Next steps for raising school standards in Wales from the Policy Forum for Wales and the Horizon 2020 Annual Event. Attending these conferences showed how educators are directly impacted by the work of the Assembly and their scrutiny of the Government and broadened my horizons of the different careers in education.
Moulding my career aspirations
When I applied to the RCUK scheme, I didn’t expect to leave the Assembly with a new passion for politics.
Undertaking this internship has allowed me to immerse myself in Welsh politics, and in a new field of research. I now have an in-depth understanding of the Research Service and have witnessed the pressures and demands for comprehensive, accurate and impartial reports to guide Assembly Members in their scrutiny of the Government. Maintaining dialogue with stakeholders is an important arm to the Research Service to ensure up-to-date briefings and challenges to be discussed.
Working with the Children, Education and Lifelong Learning team has been inspiring and motivating. Each of them has supported me to produce professional quality outputs and encouraged me to be proactive. Not only have I developed my writing style, critical reviewing abilities and political knowledge, I have been able to gain a refreshed perspective towards my PhD. Working in education rather than my background of health and medicine I thought it could be disadvantageous, but this was never the case. The National Assembly for Wales is an inspiring, supportive, accepting and nurturing environment situated in the beautiful Cardiff Bay so lunchtimes could be filled with beautiful coastal walks and Wagamamas.
I would undoubtedly encourage any PhD student who wants to understand how research translates into parliamentary debate and Government policy to undertake a RCUK policy Internship and most definitely, consider the Research Service of the National Assembly for Wales.
The Research Service acknowledges the parliamentary fellowship provided to Hayley Moulding by the Medical Research Council (MRC), which enabled this blog to be completed.