All schools - RSPCAGD18School pupils from across Wales have swapped their classroom for the National Assembly for Wales’ Siambr Hywel – putting the topic of animal welfare under the spotlight.

Ysgol Plasmawr (Cardiff), Pembroke School (Pembrokeshire), Builth Wells High (Powys), Cardiff High (Cardiff), Ysgol Bryn Tawe (Swansea) and Ysgol Rhydywaun (Rhondda Cynon Taf) all took part in RSPCA Cymru’s annual ‘Great Debate’ event in Cardiff on Friday (22 June).

Schools had come through regional heats to reach the Siambr Hywel finale; the debate hosted amid the historic surroundings of the Assembly’s former debating chamber – an important venue for Wales’ political history.

Pupils debated which agency or group should have lead responsibility for animal welfare – weighing up  whether the general public, the Welsh Government, veterinarians, local authorities, the RSPCA or the Police are ultimately responsible for keeping animals safe and well.

The event aims to give school pupils a “hands-on experience of the National Assembly for Wales” and the chance to “research and explore animal welfare in a building where so many decisions for our fellow creatures are made”.

Rebecca Dunning, RSPCA education, training and development adviser, said: “We’re so proud that the RSPCA Cymru Great Debate has become such an established event.

“The debate gives schoolchildren hands-on experience of the National Assembly for Wales and allows them to research and explore animal welfare in a building where so many decisions for our fellow creatures are made in Wales.

“It truly is an amazing day – and the schools in attendance embraced all the opportunities on offer – from debating, to acting as journalists, experiencing Wales’ democracy, quizzing a senior RSPCA officer and meeting celebrity DJ Matt Lissack.”

An RSPCA-themed quiz was hosted by radio DJ Matt Lissack at the event, while pupils also enjoyed a tour of the Senedd. RSPCA chief inspector Elaine Spence also fielded questions from schools in attendance about the work of RSPCA officers on the frontline.

School pupils took part in a vote at the event, asking whether they felt animal welfare should feature on the school curriculum, and – if so – from what age. All 38 pupils taking part felt the topic should be taught to pupils in schools.

Each school team also had media officers to live-tweet proceedings utilising the hashtag #RSPCAGD18, learning more about how journalists keep the public informed about events such as this.

Four pupils were recognised with awards for their contributions at the event. Esme Morgan (Plasmawr) was recognised as ‘Future Campaigner’, Rosie Burgham (Pembroke) as ‘Future Politician’, Menna Peters (Rhydywaun) as ‘Future Journalist’ and Jacob Elsey (Bryn Tawe) as ‘Animal Welfare Champion’.

Meanwhile, Bryn Tawe school were chosen as the best performing school on the day – though Ms Dunning added that “a strong case could have been made for every school being crowned champion”.

She added: “The standard of contributions on the day – from the debaters, to the media officers, was absolutely outstanding. A strong case could have been made for every school being crowned champion.

“Nevertheless, Bryn Tawe’s performance was exemplary and they were delighted to take the 2018 RSPCA Great Debate trophy back to Swansea.

“Everyone did their school and local community proud – and it was fantastic to see all 38 schoolchildren feel that animal welfare should be featured on the school curriculum, too.

“All schools gave thought-provoking, well-researched arguments; and will no doubt all act as ambassadors for empathy and compassion towards animals for decades to come.”

DJ Matt Lissack, celebrity supporter of RSPCA Cymru, added: “It was a privilege to be involved in my third RSPCA Great Debate. It was inspiring to meet schoolchildren so passionate about animal welfare, and a real pleasure to present Esme, Rosie, Menna and Jacob with their awards.”

The event was sponsored by Joyce Watson AM; and the Mid & West Wales AM paid tribute to the event and the efforts and contributions of the participants.

She said: “I was delighted to meet the animal welfare ambassadors of the future.

“Animal welfare is close to my heart, and I use every opportunity I have to stand up for them. 47% of homes in Wales have at least one pet, yet too often we hear examples of cruelty to animals.

“In the Assembly we work hard to protect animals from ill-treatment, and one day we will have to entrust the future care of animals to these adults of tomorrow.

“The RSPCA Great Debate is an excellent way to harness the commitment and energy of these young animal lovers. I thought the standard of debate was very high, and I particularly enjoyed all the excellent questions they asked me on the Senedd tour after the debate.

“I thank all involved, including the RSPCA and schools, for bringing together such talented young speakers on this important issue.”

If you wish to help RSPCA Cymru, you can donate online. The RSPCA is a charity and relies on public donations.