4 June 2014
Article written by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Welsh Government has recently (22 May 2014) published a White Paper setting out plans for new legislation on meeting additional learning needs in Wales.
Broadly speaking, the proposals will:
- replace the existing statutory definition of Special Educational Needs (SEN) with a more flexible and inclusive legal concept of Additional Learning Needs (ALN); and
- replace statements of SEN with Individual Development Plans (IDPs) as the basis for meeting a child or young person’s ALN.
Through these reforms, the Welsh Government also wants to bring together the legislation and statutory definitions for children under 16, who are classed as having ‘special educational needs’, and post-16 learners in further education, who are considered as having ‘learning difficulties and/or disabilities’. An ALN Bill would also seek to bring about greater co-operation between education, health and social services and improve families’ rights and experiences when applying for interventions.
Reform of the legal framework for learning needs has been on the agenda in Wales for a long time with a number of previous reviews and consultations being held on the subject. In the Second Assembly, the Education Lifelong Learning and Skills Committee undertook a three part inquiry into SEN between 2004 and 2007, which demonstrated the need for changes to be made.
The Programme for Government published at the start of the 2011-2016 Fourth Assembly included a commitment to reform the process for dealing with SEN / ALN in Wales and, in 2012, the Welsh Government held the consultation Forward in partnership for children and young people with additional needs: Proposals for reform of the legislative framework for special educational needs.
The current SEN framework is generally considered to be outdated, divisive and inflexible in terms of basing entitlement on statements. The Welsh Government itself states in the White Paper that it is no longer fit for purpose and ‘complex, bewildering and adversarial’. There is also considerable variation and inconsistency amongst local authorities across Wales in the way it is applied.
In evidence to the Children, Young People and Education Committee, Estyn has commented on the ‘considerable variation currently in local authority policies and practice’ and that local authorities have sought to reduce the number of statements and to provide support for pupils through other avenues such as School Action Plus. However, Estyn reported that ‘the rate at which this has happened varies considerably from one authority to another’.
The latest statistics on Pupils with Statements of Special Educational Needs, published by the Welsh Government in June 2013, show just how much practice in Wales varies. For example, as of January 2013, Bridgend and Torfaen had 15 and 16 young people with statements per 1,000 pupils respectively, compared to Swansea and Newport with 43 and 41.
The Welsh Government’s White Paper lists 22 specific proposals under the following three aims:
- A unified legislative framework to support children and young people aged 0 to 25 with additional learning needs;
- An integrated, collaborative process of assessment, planning and monitoring which facilitates early, timely and effective interventions; and
- A fair and transparent system for providing information and advice, and for resolving concerns and appeals.
The Welsh Government spends £358 million per year (2013-14) on SEN provision, with around 70 per cent of this money delegated to education settings themselves and the remainder allocated to local authorities.
Consultation on the proposals in the White Paper runs until 25 July 2014 and the Welsh Government has said the earliest a Bill is expected to be introduced to the Assembly is 2015, which would mean that reforms could come into force in academic year 2016/17.