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A further update on the forthcoming new Additional Learning Needs (ALN) system within Wales

Update ALN Bill - A Written Statement by Kirsty Williams, Minister of Education regarding the  implementation of the new Additional Learning Needs (ALN) system in Wales.

Further to my earlier blog, Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education has recently presented a written statement to the members of the cabinet within the Welsh Government. This statement appears to have only been published on the Welsh Government website in September 2020, the purpose of which was to provide Members with an update on the forthcoming ALN (Additional Learning Needs) reforms. 

As mentioned in my previous blog, as a result of Covid-19 there was a major question mark over whether this would impact on the launch of the new ALN system within Wales, due to commence in September 2021. There had been no updates provided by the Welsh Government until this recent statement. 

Ms Williams provides confirmation ‘that the ALN code and associated regulations remain a key priority and they will be laid before the Senedd in February 2021 to enable the commencement and phased roll out of the (Additional Learning Needs Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018) Act to start in September 2021. Additionally, I can confirm that the statutory roles will commence in January 2021 as planned’.

Ms Williams further stated, despite the Covid-19 pandemic creating many challenges particularly for those with ALN and their families, support for these learners has remained a key priority. In fact she adds that Covid-19 has actually made it necessary to reprioritise, highlighting that even throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, work has continued in numerous areas, which as a result has seen significant progress being made, ‘in preparing for the launch of rolling out the new ALN system in September 2021’. 

The commitment, and optimism of Ms Williams to ensure the proposed overhaul to the ALN system will remain a key priority is commendable. Whilst, it does seem to imply that Covid-19 will not be used as an excuse to cause further delays to forthcoming change, which has already, been a long time in the making. Nonetheless, this task is by no means a small undertaking; it will involve a major overhaul of the current system. We have already seen the significant problems that arose in England, when they decided to change their ALN system such as authorities struggling to transfer statements, worrying delays, inadequate evidence gathering, diluted provision, and poor administration. A major issue since has been lack of consistency; the new (EHC) plans look different in every local authority, and the process of assessment varies. So, if in Wales every individual school, and in some case Local Authorities have the responsibility of preparing IDP’s then it most likely these same issues will occur.

In addition, on top of these concerns, we are at present living in a world, still struggling to get to grips with the constant changes to our lives on a daily basis as a result of Covid-19. It therefore seems impractical, and illogical on top of this to push on with reforming the ALN system, and expecting schools and parents to try to wrap their heads around this on top of the current pandemic. Although, it is supposed to create a simpler, less adversarial system, the onus of the new assessment process will mostly be on schools, and significant amount of training and information will need to be provided for all those involved including families. There has previously been major concerns expressed as to the added pressure this will place on already over stretched schools, and the strain it may cause to the relationship between parents and schools if there is a disagreement regarding whether a learner has ALN. 

Surely, it has to be considered whether this will increase ten-fold, when, there is so much more uncertainty, and inconsistency given the impact of Covid-19. Schools are not only having to go in and out of lockdown, or close, but there are also so many pupils now still not attending school full time or at all, and this is not just children but staff, schools are struggling with not having a full teaching/staff quota. As it has already taken the Welsh Government this long to bring about change, maybe it would be a sensible approach to further delay, rather than try to push it through at a time when Covid-19 is still causing disruption, and playing havoc on people’s daily lives. 

A copy of the Minister’s written statement can be found here. Further updated, supplementary guidance, published on the Welsh Government website can be found here.

To reiterate my previous blog, although the specifics of how the new system will work in practice has still not been made entirely clear we at HCB Solicitors are specialists in education law. We will continue to stay up to date, and informed, keeping track of the latest changes to the ALN system, and we can help guide you through these changes, assisting you with any concerns you have.

Furthermore, we understand that many parents are being told by either the Local Authority or other professionals something along the lines - there is no point requesting a statutory assessment, or seeking changes to a current statement, as everything is going to change, and you should wait until the new ALN Bill. It is important to emphasise, to date no changes have been made to the special educational needs system in Wales. The current and existing law remains in place, in which the Local Authority are still under the same legal duties in terms of requests for a statutory assessment, producing, and maintaining statements of special educational needs. 

If you are experiencing difficulties in relation to the securing additional support for your child from the Local Authority, then please do not hesitate to contact our specialist education law solicitors team on 02920 291704.