You will probably have heard that there are proposed changes to the way children and young people’s special educational needs (SEN) will be identified, assessed and met in Wales.

On July 1st 2016 the Welsh Government published the responses to the 2015 Additional Learning Needs consultation (see the responses here).  The First Minister announced that one of the first areas the Fifth Assembly will be legislating on is an Additional Learning Needs Bill.

It is anticipated that the Bill will be introduced this December (2016) and that it will include some of the proposals contained in the draft Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal Bill 2015. Reforming the way the education and health sectors provide for children and young people with additional learning needs has been on the agenda since 2008, and there is cross-party consensus on the need for change and an acceptance amongst stakeholders that the current system doesnt always support children and young people with additional learning needs to achieve their full potential.

It is likely that a lot of the detail is kept back for secondary legislation or for the new ALN Code of Practice. It is likely that a new COP will be published during scrutiny of the Bill but this might not be till stage 2. ie Spring 2017 at the earliest.

The process of passing legislation in Wales is as follows:

Stage 1

The committee will consider “general principles” of the Bill, and will ask for written and oral evidence from interested parties, as well as holding meetings to take oral evidence from a range of interested stakeholders. The committee will then publish a Stage 1 Report, which may contain recommendations for amendments to the Bill. After at least 5 working days, there is a Stage 1 debate in the Assembly where Assembly Ministers could raise issues on behalf of constituents.

Stage 2

After the Stage 1 debate and vote, there will either be a small group committee (made up of selected Assembly Members) or “a Committee of the Whole Assembly”.

Stage 3

Provides a chance for ALL Assembly Members to table amendments and to vote on the details of the Bill (although not all amendments are necessarily selected for debate AND there may be a time limit)

At least 15 days must pass between the end of Stage 2 and the first Stage 3 debate. You can read transcripts of these debates.

Report Stage is optional. The Assembly may return to issues in the Bill during Report stage, for example if significant changes have been made during Stage 3. This is the LAST time anything can be changed.

Stage 4

At Stage 4 the Assembly will vote on a motion to pass the final text of the Bill, and then if there is no legal challenge, the Bill will receive Royal Assent and become an Act.

Once a Bill has been considered and passed by the Assembly, and given Royal Assent, it becomes an Act of the Assembly and will replace the existing legislation.

Throughout the process we have consulted with children and young people, parents and professionals and would like to thank the following for their valuable contribution.

The Challenging Behaviour Group, RCT; RCT Asperger’s Group; Ysgol y Moelwyn Secondary, Gwynedd; Ysgol Brynrefail Secondary, Gwynedd; Diversity Group, Swansea, Ceredigion Parents & Carers Forum; Stepping Stones, Swansea; Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services, Pembrokeshire; Ysgol Bod Alaw Primary, Conwy; Jigsaw, Swansea; Pentrebane Primary School, Cardiff; Home Educators, Swansea; Roath Park Primary School, Cardiff; Ysgol Glan Clwyd Secondary, Denbighshire; Cardiff and Vale National Autistic Society Parent Support Group; SNAP Cymru Family & Young Person Officers; SNAP Cymru beneficiaries

We would urge any individuals who are keen to share their views, concerns and positive responses to their local AM during the Bills passage through the above stages.

 

In the meantime several concerned families have contacted us recently having been told their LA is no longer ‘writing statements for children’ in their area. Prior to the Bill becoming law the Welsh Government has repeatedly said:

“I want to stress, though, that, for the time being, all the responsibilities and requirements connected with the existing legislative framework for special educational needs remain in place.  I will be writing to local authorities to remind them of this.”  (This includes statutory assessment and producing statements for children and young people who require them)  Minister for Education

Many Local Authorities have told parents

 ‘We’re not doing anything because the Government’s bringing out an ALN Bill. We’re going to have independent development plans. Everything’s going to change. So, we’re not going to statement anything.’ 

 Simon Thomas  Plaid Cymru AM for Mid and West Wales, has said

“ …authorities and councils are telling constituents, parents and pupils, ‘We won’t proceed at present because there is a Bill in the pipeline and everything will change and we will review the situation when we have the Bill’.

The Minister has written to each Local Authority to ensure they act within the law and ensure they continue to follow current requirements and guidance to Statutory Assess a child where the child has learning difficulties which require SEN provision to be made for them.  Please contact SNAP Cymru if you require independent advice.

Next steps for SEN/ALN in Wales

Its understood the draft Bill has widespread cross-party support but that the Bill to be presented will have several changes to those proposed in the white paper.   The earliest any proposals will take effect would be for the academic year 2017/18. and delivered as a staged response.

If the reforms are to be a success, then schools in partnership with parents need to be at the heart of the implementation process. Transition from one system to another and replacing statements with IDPs, in particular has the potential to cause anxiety.  If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us through our helpline 0845 1203730 helpline @snapcymru.org or directly to amanda.daniels@snapcymru.org 01554778288.

The key changes proposed will include:

  1. The term ‘Additional Learning Needs’ and ‘Additional Learning Provision’ will replace Special Educational Needs and Special Educational Provision.

The new legislation will set out the precise definitions. The definition of ALN will include all of those currently regarded as having SEN (i.e. children and young people supported through School/Early Years Action, School/Early Years Action Plus and with statements of SEN).  In addition, the term will also be used for young people up to the age of 25 who are currently said to have Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (LDD)

ALN provision will not change significantly from the current definition of ‘special educational provision’ – it will apply to provision which ‘is additional to,or otherwise different from, the educational provision made generally for children or young persons of the same age other than in special schools’.

  1. Extending the age group 0-25

The current system covers children to age 16 or age 19 (depending on post-16 provision. i.e. whether they stay in school or attend FE). The new system will support children and young people from 0-25.

  1. Statements of SEN and Learning Difficulty Assessments (section 139a assessments for those in Year 11 currently) will be replaced with an Individual Development Plan.

This will provide statutory protection for children and young people with Additional Learning Needs across Wales.  The new COP will include a detailed structure and minimum standards for an IDP and this is welcomed since there have been concerns regarding the over-simplification and a lack of specificity in an IDP

            To be effective we feel an IDP should contain the following:

  • the child or young person’s identified needs;
  • the agreed outcomes for the child or YP
  • the additional provision required to meet those needs;
  • an Action Plan that sets out how, when and who will deliver the agreed interventions and how the outcomes of interventions will be measured;
  • information that is sufficiently robust to form a legally enforceable document.
  • success criteria and review dates

Independent schools will be required as part of their registration to demonstrate that it can provide the required type of additional learning provision.

  1. The statutory duty for preparing and implementing an IDP will rest with local authorities, to ensure that there is accountability for the delivery of ALN provision.

Schools, Colleges and PRU’s will be required to use their ‘best endeavours’ (to do all they possibly can) to ensure that the additional learning provision set out in a child or young person’s IDP is provided.  This means that Welsh Government will expect local authorities to have effective governance arrangements in place to deliver,monitor and review their ALN duties.  Evaluation and scrutiny will be particularly important when 85-100% of ALN funding is being delegated to schools

  1. A new ALN Code of Practice

 There will be a new ALN Code of Practice setting out the detail of the new legal framework. This will provide detailed guidance for professionals who work with children and young people with ALN. The Code must be accessible to families and accurately reflect what they expect of professionals who work with their children. It should be clear and contain mandatory requirements and be easily enforceable.

  1. Services will need to work together collaboratively and flexibly in order to ensure that children, young people and their families and carers receive coherent, well co-ordinated support which helps them achieve positive outcomes
  1. The proposals recommend arrangements for LA’s to provide access to information and advice for families ‘as they see appropriate’ and require the Welsh Government to set out guidance on disagreement resolution arrangements to provide effective solutions to disagreements about additional learning provision between children and young people, or their parents and school or local authorities.This would include advocacy and support for children and young people.  
  1. The right of appeal to the ALN Tribunal against:
  • a decision not to put an IDP in place;
  • a refusal of a request to review an IDP;
  • the content of an IDP,  including the description of the child or young person’s needs or the educational provision required to meet those needs;
  • a failure to make available the provision identified through the IDP;
  • the school named or the type of school named in the IDP
  • a refusal to review and IDP or to make changes following a review
  • a failure of the LA to take over responsibility for an IDP following a request to do so
  • a decision to cease to continue an IDP
  • all the above would be open to children and young people 0-25 and their families

Every child and young person deserves an education system that responds to their individual learning requirements and we are hopeful that the new proposals for ALN go some way to meeting these aspirations.