The Special Educational Needs System is Changing

The approach to supporting children who have difficulties with learning is changing. The Welsh Government has passed new legislation, called the Additional Learning Needs (Wales) Act 2018, and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Code 2021, which will replace all of the existing legislation and guidance about special educational needs.

The main changes include:

  • bringing together all existing systems into a new, single system for ALN
  • being more learner-centred
  • providing learners with the same rights and entitlements whatever their age or setting
  • improving transition between settings
  • provide Welsh language provision where needed
  • being a fair and transparent system for all

The Welsh Government hope that these changes will mean that children and their parents and young people will:

  • get the support they need earlier
  • be more involved in making decisions about their lives and the support they need
  • be able to find information more easily than before
  • be supported if they disagree with decisions
  • be able to appeal decisions to the education tribunal

The new law says that a ‘child’ means an individual under compulsory school age (16 years), while a ‘young person’ is someone aged between 16 and 25 over compulsory school age.

Children and young people who have special educational needs and disabilities will now get support for longer using one system.  Some young people may be able to get support until the age of 25.

The government wants children, their parents and young people to have more say about the support they need.

For young people 16 or over, they will be the main person making decisions, however they may still want to ask their parents to help them make decisions. They can also ask for information advice and advocacy from someone impartial.

This new system will protect the rights of all children, regardless of the extent of their additional learning needs.

What happens now?

Most children and young people have their learning needs met through universal support in the classroom which can include, ‘catch-up’ , ‘small group work’ and access to a teaching assistant.  However, children and young people with special educational needs have additional or different support to that usually provided, which is outlined in one of the following:

  • A Statement of Special Educational Needs
  • An Individual Education Plan
  • A Learning and Skills Plan 

What’s Changing?

From September 2021, over a three year period,  a new Additional Learning Needs (ALN) system will begin to replace the previous Special Educational Needs (SEN) system. As well as the name change, responsibilities towards children and young people with ALN is changing too.

All children with Additional Leaning Needs will have an Individual Development Plan which will replace the current SEN Statement, Individual Education Plan or Learning and Skills Plan.

Learners with any level of Additional Learning Need who require Additional Learning Provision’ (ALP) to be made for them, will be entitled to an IDP outlining their support needs.  This new system will protect the rights of all children, regardless of the extent of their additional learning needs.

When the changes are made, what will happen to existing statements?

Any existing statements will continue to be legal documents until replaced by an IDP or until the local authority tells you that it intends to end a statement. (see the information on what if I still have a statement)

The new ‘Decision Making Duty’ on Schools, Colleges and Local Authorities

When a school or college or LA  is ‘made aware’ that a child or young person may have additional learning needs [ALN], it MUST decide whether that child or young person does have additional learning needs unless:

  • an individual development plan (IDP) is already in place for the child or young person
  • a decision has already been made and the school is satisfied that the child’s needs have not changed since that decision and there is no new information;
  • the young person(16+) does not consent (agree) to the decision being made

What role do children, their parents, and young people have in the process?

Schools, colleges and local authorities  should work in partnership with parents, carers, children and young people to prepare an IDP for children and young people with ALN.

The new system puts the learner at the heart of everything that happens and the Welsh Government expect schools, FEIs and local authorities to take a person-centred approach to planning for, and supporting children and young people.

The ALN Act 2018  says that that the views, wishes and feelings of children, their parents and young people must be considered at all stages of the IDP process.

Parents can request that a school consider their child’s needs and request that a decision regarding ALN and IDP’s are made.

See our template letter requesting an IDP notification or contact us for advice 0808 801 0608

The proposed mandatory IDP template will include a one-page profile to ensure that IDPs reflect the child’s or young person’s needs and personality, including what is ‘important to’ and ‘important for them’.

You should be part of developing the IDP and also be given a draft of the IDP to review and feedback any concerns you may have.  You can ask the school to make changes to the IDP and hopefully resolve concerns without them escalating.

The only formal way to challenge a school IDP if you remain unhappy is to request ‘Reconsideration by the Local Authority’.  (See our template letter section)

For more information see:

If you have questions, or need more information, you can scroll down to read through our frequently asked questions, we’ve covered many different topics to make things clear for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is there a threshold for IDP eligibility?

IDPs are for learners with all levels of Additional Learning Needs – from milder through to complex needs.  IDP eligibility always depends upon whether the individual child or young person has a learning difficulty or disability which calls for additional learning provision (ALP).

Where a child appears to need extra support due to a learning difficulty or disability, the maintained school or local authority must decide whether the child has ALN.  Where it is decided that they have ALN, the child will be entitled to an IDP which records the ALP to be made for them to meet their additional learning needs.

My child has SEN and has support through school action/school action plus. Will the support my child receives change under the ALN system?

When children move to the ALN system, it is likely they will continue to receive the same support. This is because the law says local authority nurseries, local authority schools, PRUs and local authorities must think about the support a child is already getting when they make the IDP.

Sometimes a child’s needs will have changed and the child may need less support or more support. Children and parents should be involved in discussions about support needs.  If you are concerned please talk to your school or give us a ring on  0808 801 0608

What is the difference between a local authority maintained IDP and a school/ PRU/ FEI-maintained IDP?

An IDP maintained by a school, Pupil Referal Unit or a FEI (College) and that maintained by a local authority have exactly the same legal standing.  Whichever body prepares and maintains the IDP, they must ensure the IDP describes the child or young person’s additional learning needs (ALN) and the additional learning provision (ALP) that is called for by their ALN.  They MUST then secure and provide that ALP.

Local authorities, rather than schools, PRUs or FEIs, are responsible for maintaining IDPs for children and young people with ALN who:

  • do not attend a maintained school, PRU or FEI
  • are registered at more than one setting and one of those is a maintained school or PRU
  • have ALN that calls for ALP it would not be reasonable for the governing body to secure

    A local authority is not responsible if the young person has not consented.

    Chapter 12 of the ALN Code provides clarity on when a school or PRU should refer a pupil to a local authority for it to decide whether the pupil has ALN and to decide whether the local authority, school or PRU should have responsibility for maintaining an IDP.  It provides guidance to local authorities on how they should determine whether it is reasonable for a school, PRU or the local authority to secure the ALP required by a child or young person.

    Is support from specialist services additional learning provision (ALP)?

    The test for having ALN is set out in the ALNET Act (s.2) and is to be applied to each child or young person individually – the test must always be applied in light of the child’s particular circumstances.

    ALN depends upon the person having a learning difficulty or disability which calls for Additional Learning Provision (ALP), which is educational or training provision that is different from, or additional to, that generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream maintained schools, mainstream FEIs and places where nursery education is provided.

    It is the ALP called for by an individual child or young person’s learning difficulty or disability that must be set out in the IDP (see section 10(b) of the Act).

    What ALP a child or young person with ALN requires is specific to them and depends upon their individual needs and circumstances.

    Whether or not it is ALP in any particular instance will depend upon whether it is called for by the child or young person’s learning difficulty or disability and whether it is educational or training provision that is additional to or different from the general provision for all learners of the child or young person’s age in MS school in Wales. (including those that do not have the disability or condition concerned).

    In some cases, indirect forms of support, such as training the person who is to deliver the ALP, may be necessary for the identified support to be provided.  The Code envisages that these details will be set out in the ALP section of the IDP (paragraph 23.37):

    Any specialist training for teaching staff could, depending upon the circumstances, be part of the description of ALP in an individual child or young person’s IDP.  However, not all input from specialist services is necessarily ALP.

    “The information recorded in relation to ALP will be more useful the clearer it is. 

    It should be detailed, specific and quantifiable.

    This clarity might result from describing the specific tasks or actions that will be undertaken; it could also detail the training or qualifications any staff will require. 

    Simply stating that support will be provided will not meet the need for clarity; describing the tasks any staff will undertake or facilitate, what they will be responsible for, and, if necessary, what qualifications or training they will require is important.”

    Some support from specialist services, including some forms of staff training, may be provided for other purposes, such as to help staff identify needs or generally to raise awareness about particular conditions, his may not be included in an IDp , but me more general.