Additional Learning Needs Welsh consultation

The Welsh Government is proposing to change the education system for children with additional learning needs in Wales. The full proposals are on the Welsh Government’s website here, which has its own consultation response form to fill in. The form asks several questions, but I don't think these really cover some of the important issues.  You can send in a separate note instead of filling in the form if you prefer.  Obviously the views below here are my own and you should read the proposal and make your own response!

link to consultation on Welsh Government site

The deadline for responding is 25 July 2014

To me, these are the three headline issues:

1.  All of the changes are dependent on the detail in the Code of Practice that is referred to, but unfortunately the Assembly Members will be asked to bring the new proposals into law BEFORE seeing a draft of this document.  At the moment it says the Code "may" include this and that... and that there will be further consultation on it - but we really need to see a draft now.  

2.  At the moment if your child has a Statement they have a legal entitlement to the provisions listed, but the Welsh Government is proposing to change this to "Best Endeavours".  On page 5 it says the proposals will "require maintained schools, FE institutions, and PRUs to use their best endeavours to secure that the additional learning provision set out in a child or young person’s IDP is provided."  Most of the time this will probably sufficient, but when money is tight and corners are cut we need some legal certainty to fall back on.  When this process started we were promised that children's rights would not be watered down - this does not seem to be the case.

3.  There was a pilot that looked at the COST of change.  It left a lot of questions unanswered but still concluded that all of this could be done without spending any additional money.  One issue is that the Welsh Government is planning to transfer post-16 provision to Local Authority control.  This makes sense in theory, but LAs are suffering massive budget cuts, and we saw in Cardiff last year that an outrageously large proportion of the budget cuts fell on services for children and adults with disabilities.  

These are my positives:

  • There’s no doubt the system needs to change, become less bureaucratic and kick in more quickly - and this does sound in theory like it could be more flexible, amend-able, and able to take account of the views of children and their parents (of course this depends on the detail in the as-yet-unpublished Code).
  • It is good that the expectation is that the needs of all children and young people with Additional Learning Needs will be met, and there will not be such high stress resting on whether your child gets a Statement.
  • It is good that the scope of what falls within ALN has been reduced since the previous consultation - there’s still a big question over affordability, but it certainly looks less impossible than in the previous consultation.
  • The importance of the ALNCO (SENCO) role, and the need for adequate training, is emphasised (it’s not in the document, but I gather there are plans to suggest that this role is held by someone on the senior management team in a school).
  • Extending provisions and smoothing the transition into adulthood is a very good thing.  I can’t comment from experience on the workability of these proposals, but an important factor is likely to be affordability, and ring-fencing the money, if handed to Local Authority control.

This (in my view!) is an expensive "red herring"!
  • A lot of space is taken up talking about changing "Special Educational Needs" to "Additional Learning Needs" so SENCOs and the Tribunal's name will have to change, along with all the documentation etc etc.  Name changes always cost money - twice  when everything is also translated in Welsh.  If there's any semantic change of meaning between the two it's minor, and it does create a worry for those people with children with health, physical or sensory needs but no additional "learning" needs..  will they be catered for?

These are my negatives

1.  Things are missing: 
  • The document makes little reference to the fact that a large proportion of the children that will be covered by its provisions have a recognised disability.  This gives them rights under equalities legislation - rights to non-discrimination.
  • Children with disabilities are covered by the Equality Act, as well as a special section in the UN Charter for the rights of the child.  And yet little mention is made, in the consultation, of the RIGHTS that children with disabilities have to not be discriminated against. For many years, INCLUSION has been the key fundamental principle behind the education system in Wales, and yet its application is patchy and there is evidence that we are closing units attached to mainstream schools and teaching more children in Special Schools. And now, the word ‘inclusion” only appears once in this context in the document on page 29.  Similarly, there’s no use of the word “equality”.  
  • These are worrying omissions, and say to me that whilst the authors believe that disabled adults should have equal rights and access to everyone else in society this does not apply to disabled children.  
  • There’s little in this document about parental choices on school placements, and, for example, the process that a parent goes through in deciding whether a child should attend a mainstream or special school (apart from oblique references to “the educational provision” in relation to the Tribunal)

2.  “Best endeavours” - is this weaker?

  • It is important to realise that there is often a reason for the anxiety parents face as to whether their child receives a statement or not - and it is the experience of many parents that a statutory REQUIREMENT to make specific provisions is necessary to ensure that support is put in place.  And often, even with a statement in place, it is still a fight to make sure that everything on it actually happens.  This is because resources are scarce and are often rationed through delay.  "Best endeavours" is a worrying change and it would be easy to wriggle out of a provision based on availability of resources. On page 16 it states that “in the overwhelming majority of cases we believe that the current levels of support do meet childrens’ needs”.  It would be very interesting to see the evidence for this assertion.  But even if it is true, there are too many examples of families being forced to fight

3.  What happens if the provisions listed on the statement are not made:

  • Obviously it’s a good thing to encourage people to exhaust dispute resolution processes before going to Tribunal.  The problem is that currently in cases of discrimination the Tribunal has NO TEETH.  There have been a number of cases where Tribunal orders have not been carried out by a school, and neither Estyn nor the Tribunal or anyone else can do anything about it.  You can change the name to the ALN Tribunal, but this will not solve the problem.  The fact that the Tribunal has no teeth and Estyn is not informed of Tribunal findings makes the whole process rather an expensive waste of time in these cases.   This needs to be resolved  - the obvious solution is that in these small number of cases Estyn checks on the implementation of Tribunal findings at the subsequent inspection (as it does on its own recommendations from previous inspections). 

4.  Where is the funding coming from?

  • Given that the lion’s share of ALN services is staff costs it’s hard to see how these proposals can be cost-neutral, unless we take as correct the assertion that the vast majority of needs are met (no evidence is presented, but if that were the case there’d be little need for reform).  Parents generally feel that provisions are put in place too late, and after too much of a delay and battle.  If this is to change that means MORE provision is needed to meet the same level of need.  I can’t see how this can be cost-neutral (and nor can any other parent I’ve spoken to) without either raising thresholds of intervention - so only children with more need are supported, or reducing the amount of support across the board.

5.  What about provisions by Health and Social Services etc?

  • It is still quite unclear how the requirements on other bodies (Health, Social Services etc etc) will be enforced with the new IDP.  This is because the Code has not been published.

To conclude, I feel that there's a lot that is missing from these proposals and if your child needs extra support in school now's the time to respond to the consultation!

1 comment:

  1. This was very helpful and sending to our Carers group.