Change looming for education law and additional learning needs in Wales

The Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill (the ‘Bill’) will introduce changes to the current provision system for special educational needs (‘SEN’). This system is widely deemed unfit.

The Bill, which will rename SEN to ALN (additional learning needs), aims to provide more access to education that meets the needs of all learners in Wales. The current model, which is no longer considered fit for purpose, will become redundant.

Critics have raised dissatisfaction with the current SEN provision. Concerns primarily surround the assessment approach, the allocation of resources to support children with SEN, and the procedures schools and local authorities use to ensure effectiveness.

The Code of Practice that the Government has set out defines a child or young person as having SEN if they have learning difficulties, or a disability, that means they need special education provisions.

The current system is complex and adversarial. A review has recognised that needs are sometimes identified late, and that interventions are not planned or implemented in a timely or effective manner. This means that some young people are not able to reach their full potential.

The Bill proposes the following key changes:

  • introduction of IDPs for all young people with additional learning needs, which will replace Statements of Special Educational Needs under Section 140 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000
  • extending the age to support learners to between 0 – 25 years (up from 0 – 16 years)
  • implementing a new Code of Practice in relation to additional learning needs
  • introducing a right to appeal to an additional learning needs tribunal.

While there is need for change, some elements of the regime will remain the same. Namely, schools will still be required to have a SENCO officer – though this position will be renamed to ALN Coordinators. Individual development plans (IDPs) will be reviewed on an annual basis, mirroring the review of current system statements.

Although elements of the Bill are welcomed, there are also some concerns.

The burden of implementing IDPs will shift to schools from Local Authorities. This has raised concern about whether the increased pressure will impact schools’ ability to deliver their commitments.

Certain elements of the new system could also be less favourable to both parents and children. In particular, there is no right to appeal when a request for a statutory assessment is refused.

However, while an appeal can’t be made for failure to conduct an assessment, the Bill does allow for appeals for:

  • a decision not to put in place an IDP
  • 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
  • failure to make available the provision identified to the IDP.

The Bill was introduced to the National Assembly for Wales earlier this week and could come into effect in autumn 2017.

In the interim, Local Authorities and others working with young people with SEN should continue to comply with their current duties in accordance with the Education Act 1996.

A copy of the draft Bill can be found here.