THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has introduced a new law aimed at supporting learners with additional learning needs (ALN).
If passed, the Additional Learning Needs and Educational Tribunal (ALNET) Bill will completely overhaul the system for supporting pupils with ALN, affecting every classroom in Wales.
The Bill will place the learner at the heart of that process and will make the system far simpler and less adversarial for those involved, a common complaint of the current system.
It is part of a wider programme aimed at transforming the additional learning needs system to secure successful futures for all learners.
Nearly a quarter of learners in Wales will experience some form of additional learning need during their early years or education. The current legislative framework for supporting them is based on a model introduced more than 30 years ago, which is widely recognised to no longer be fit for purpose.
Alun Davies, Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, said: “I believe that everyone in Wales should be able to access education that meets their needs and enables them to participate in, benefit from and, hopefully, enjoy the learning experience.
“Last year, just 23% of learners with ALN achieved five good GCSEs including Maths and Welsh or English compared to 59% of all pupils. We must improve on this.
“The current system is simply no longer fit for purpose and this Bill will bring the entire legislative framework into the 21st century, enabling us to effectively support learners with ALN throughout their educational journey.
“This is a landmark moment for Welsh education and is the result of months and months of work with our partners, including teachers, parents, local government, the NHS, and third sector. I am grateful to them all for their help in getting us to this stage. Their valuable contribution has given us a far greater understanding of the challenges we face and the need to be flexible as we manage change.
“It is important to remember that this is far from a peripheral issue; it affects a quarter of learners in Wales and the improvements we are proposing here can lead to better educational outcomes for all of our learners. Getting things right for our ALN learners will mean getting it right for all learners, so it’s about whole system improvement and, therefore, is a cornerstone of our ambitious programme of education reform in Wales.”
The Minister also said that while wholesale reform is necessary, we have worked closely with others to ensure these important changes are operationally sound and can be delivered in partnership within a reasonable time frame. Significant support, including £2.1m recently announced to fund innovation and partnership working across Wales, will be put in place to assist delivery partners to transition from the current to new systems.
“The ALNET Bill is only one aspect, albeit a fundamental one, of the wider package of reforms necessary in Wales. Our ALN Transformation Programme also focuses on skills development for the education workforce, to deliver effective support to learners with ALN in the classroom, as well as more effective access to specialist support, information and advice. At the heart of all of our reforms is a focus on inclusion; putting children and young people at the centre, and ensuring they are supported to reach their full potential.”
Wales’ teaching union, UCAC welcomed the Bill.
“Nevertheless, we have some concerns regarding the new Bill,” said Ywain Myfyr, Policy Officer with the union. “We need certainty that the funding level for ALN will be sufficient and that local authorities will be prevented from cutting ALN budgets.
“UCAC has grave concerns that the new measures may add significantly to the workload of Additional Learning Needs Coordinators. The role of the Coordinator must be assessed and considered and we must ensure that the workload is effectively managed.
“UCAC believes that Welsh language ALN provision should be available to everyone. We believe that the Bill should include a statement that sets out the expectations regarding Welsh medium provision – not only in terms of educational provision but also the right to follow the whole process through the medium of Welsh,” said Ywain Myfyr.
“Accessing the provision or administration of the process in Welsh must not delay, or in any way be inferior to the user.”