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Changes to SEN / ALN in Wales
Welsh Assembly White Paper
The Welsh Assembly Government issued its White Paper on Legislative Proposals for Additional Learning Needs on 22nd May 2014, inviting responses from parents, companies and organisations in respect of these suggested changes. It is unclear as to the status of any further proposals which are going to be suggested by the Welsh Assembly Government at this stage, or when a formal document will be produced detailing the consideration that has been given to the representations made.
Introduction, Principles and Aims
One of the primary reasons, reflected in the proposals, is that the Welsh Assembly Government are seeking to shift away from the system of “Special Educational Needs”, seeking to adopt a more inclusive approach, in their view, through shifting towards the use of terms such as “Additional Learning Needs”. The general principles by which the Welsh Assembly Government have issued these proposals include:
- The primary consideration of the proposals are in the best interests of all learners;
- The opinions of the students should always be considered along with those of their parents;
- All learners should expect to have their needs identified and met;
- Obtaining assessments and thereafter provision for learners should be a far simpler process and less adversarial.
The aims of the proposals suggested by the Welsh Assembly Government thus far is for a unified legislative framework to be introduced in order to support children and young people aged 0-25 with additional learning needs which will involve integrated, collaborative process and assessment, planning and monitoring which facilitates early, timely and effective interventions. This framework should be a fair and transparent system for providing information and advice and for resolving all concerns and appeals in respect of any disputes between parents and Local Authorities.
Summary of Proposals
The Welsh Assembly Government White Paper suggests a number of proposals which have been considered in order to seek to improve the current system in relation to special educational needs in Wales. Whilst the list below does not cover every proposal suggested, the main issues the Welsh Ministers seek to introduce are:
- The introduction of the term “Additional Learning Needs” and “Additional Learning Provision” to replace the existing terms “Special Educational Needs/Provision”.
- Individual Development Plans (IDPs) will replace Statements of Special Educational Needs and post-16 Assessments under Section 140 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. These IDPs will be in place for all children and young people aged 0-25 who have been determined as having additional learning needs and who are receiving/wish to receive education/training.
- The Welsh Ministers will issue a new Code of Practice in relation to additional learning needs.
- There is a proposal that maintained Schools and Further Education Institutions only have to use their “best endeavours” to secure the additional learning provision set out in a child or young person’s IDP is provided (a distinct change to the mandatory statutory requirement imposed upon all Local Authorities under Section 324(5) Education Act 1996).
- There will be a requirement that Local Authorities must ensure that children, young people and their parents are involved, consulted with and have their views taken into account from the outset and throughout the IDP assessment and planning process.
- The IDPs will be reviewed on an annual basis and permit reviews to be conducted earlier or when appropriate; effectively mirroring the present system in relation to Statements of Special Educational Needs.
- There is a proposed requirement that Local Authorities, Local Health Boards and Further Education Institutions will need to co-operate and share information and assessing, planning and delivering provision to meet the additional learning needs of children and young people up to the age of 25.
- Mainstream Schools will have to designate an ALN Coordinator (ALNCO) which is basically a rephrasing of a SENCO Officer; a requirement within each School at present.
- There will be a requirement for Local Authorities to put in place disagreement resolution arrangements and require the use of local complaints processes prior to any appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales; thereby undoubtedly prolonging this process and causing significant delays.
- There will be a requirement for Local Authorities to appoint an independent person to facilitate the resolution of disagreements.
The rights of appeal that would now exist in order to proceed with an appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal include:
(a) A decision not to put in place an IDP;
(b) A refusal of a request to review an IDP;
(c) The content of an IDP, including the description of the child or young person’s needs or the educational provision to meet those needs;
(d) A failure to make available the provision identified to the IDP;
(e) A decision by the Local Authority to cease to continue an IDP.
Unfortunately, there is no right of appeal suggested in the proposals so as to challenge the Local Authority when they refuse to conduct an assessment. This will undoubtedly result in parents requesting an assessment being rejected yet having no right of appeal in respect of these decisions. This will effectively mean a vicious circle effect whereby parents will continually be rejected by Local Authorities but have no recourse for action.
The proposals suggest that a right of appeal will now exist for any child or young person of school age or below who has an IDP or believes that they should have one. The right of appeal will now be extended also to post-16 learners with ALN up to the age of 25.
Evaluation of the proposed SEN reform in Wales
Whilst a number of the proposals are welcomed (the need for a unified system from 0-25 which is currently the system adopted by England under the Children and Families Act 2014), there are a number of concerning proposals which dilutes the provision and current system, which in fact offers more statutory protection for children and parents. The system that is currently in force in England is not perfect by any means, although it does offer far greater protection and a more all-encompassing approach than the Welsh proposals. What must be borne in mind at this present stage is that these are only proposals and are not going to be reflected in totality within legislation, unless the Welsh Ministers seek to ignore views expressed by organisations across Wales regarding their validity and how a new system should be structured. It is also difficult to see how in effect giving all children with special needs statutory protection through an IDP would be workable on a practical basis in schools due to the increased number of pupils who would fall within the legal system.