The special educational needs (SEN) reforms in Wales are now a little under a year away from their introduction. The Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and Educational Tribunal Act was passed in January of this year and will begin to be rolled out from the start of the new school year in September 2020.
What are the reforms?
There will be some significant changes. For instance, as the name of the act suggests, the term ‘special educational needs (SEN)’ will be replaced by ‘additional learning needs (ALN)’. This in turn means the SENCOs will be known as ALeNCOs. School/Early Years Action, School/Early Years Action Plus and statements will disappear and every child with recognised ALN will eventually be issued with a new statutory document called an Individual Development Plan (IDP). This is not to be confused with individual education plans (IEP) which will also be phased out. Unlike statements, which stop when a young person leaves school, IDPs will continue up to 25 years of age if the young person goes onto further education.
The Welsh Government has produced an overview of the new system and has compiled answers to some frequently asked questions: together they will give you a good idea of how the Welsh Government expect things to work.
What happens next?
As the transition to the new system will involve major changes for local authorities, schools and further education colleges it will be introduced gradually and the Welsh Government has produced guidance explaining the timescales involved.
The Welsh Government is also drafting a new code of practice which will be issued for consultation before the end of the year. This is likely to be a rather long document and apparently there won’t be an easy-read version. However, it is very important as it sets out in detail how the ALN system will work in practice and the Welsh Government would like feedback from parents and carers as well as professionals so we will let you know when it is issued.
In the meantime, SNAP Cymru are running some ALN reform awareness sessions for parents and carers in Mid and South-West Wales in November and December.
The Welsh Government has been working on reforming the special educational needs system in Wales since the summer of 2007 and is now in the process of bringing in new legislation.
A Draft Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal Bill was published last December followed by a draft Code of Practice on February 14. The Bill itself is currently under consultation until March 3 but the Code of Practice will have its own consultation exercise later in the year.
Changes that are being proposed include:
- Replacing the term ‘special educational needs’ with ‘additional learning needs’ (ALN) and ‘special educational provision’ with ‘additional learning provision’ (ALP) although the legal definitions behind the terms remains essentially unchanged;
- Extending the age range from 0 – 25 to include further education colleges and specialist independent colleges (although not higher education or apprenticeships);
- Replacing the three-tier school action/school action plus/statement system with a one tier system: any learner identified with ALN will receive a new statutory document called an Individual Development Plan (IDP) which also replaces Individual Education Plans (IEP);
- IDPs will usually be written by schools. Only those learners with the most complex ALN will have an IDP maintained by their local authority meaning that the majority of learners with ALN will have to be assessed by their schools. If either a school or parent believes that a learner has needs requiring local authority intervention they can ask for the local authority’s support in assessing the learner’s ALN;
- Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos) will be known as Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinators (ALeNCOs);
- As now, local authorities must have disagreement resolution services but will also have to “make arrangements for the provision” of independent advocacy services which will advise and assist with bringing an appeal to the Education Tribunal (which replaces the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal for Wales).
Issues that have been raised so far include the lack of a national template for IDPs meaning that each school and local authority could, in theory, produce different looking IDPs; the capacity of schools and further education colleges to actually produce and maintain IDPs for all of their learners with ALN, and the costs involved. The government in England has spent over £600 million so far on its SEN reform programme which is running into difficulties. Although England has a much bigger population than Wales the financial implications of implementing the new proposals as intended could be significant.
All the relevant documents about the proposed legislation, including the draft Bill, the draft Code of Practice and the issues raised in a recent stakeholders’ event, can be found on the National Assembly for Wales website.
The National Assembly for Wales’ Research Unit has produced a useful overview of the ALN proposals with links to other useful information and details of how to get involved in the consultation on the draft Bill can be found here.