All change: The Welsh ALN reforms

What are the ALN reforms?

Pupils in Wales with special educational needs (SEN) are supported through early intervention/intervention plus; school action/action plus; and Statements of SEN. These are now being phased out in favour of a single statutory document, the Individual Development Plan (IDP), which will offer all pupils with SEN (now known as additional learning needs, or ALN) guaranteed support for their needs. The reforms are underpinned by the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 and the Additional Learning Needs Code for Wales 2021.

The new system is being rolled out gradually starting with newly identified ALN learners (including children/young people (CYP) who are electively home educated) from September 2021, and the Welsh Government expects that all children/young people will be transferred by August 2024.

Pupils who are already supported through early intervention/intervention plus; school action/action plus or a Statement will be continue to be covered by the ‘old’ legislation and statutory guidance until they transfer.

How will IDPs compare with school action / Statements?

All pupils (from pre-school to age 25) who are identified as having ALN will be entitled to an IDP. ALN is defined as ‘a learning difficulty or disability which calls for additional learning provision’.

An IDP maintained by a school will be comparable to support through early intervention/early intervention plus, or school action/school action plus. However, the IDP will be legally binding and if the agreed support is not provided, parents could potentially seek judicial review against the school.

An IDP maintained by a local authority (LA) will be comparable to a Statement of SEN, and enforceable through judicial review against the LA.

Who will assess and write the IDP? How often will it be reviewed?

The majority of pupils with ALN will have an IDP from their school. The school will be responsible for assessing the CYP’s needs and drafting the IDP, and for reviewing it with parents at least once every 12 months.

The school must refer pupils who are ‘looked after’ children, or who are dual registered (i.e. those present at another school or at a Pupil Referral Unit) and may have ALN, to the LA for assessment. CYP who may need support beyond what the school can reasonably provide, or whose needs/support the school is unable to adequately determine, should also be referred. The LA will consider the referral and can either direct the school to assess and maintain the IDP; assess the CYP but direct the school to maintain the IDP; or assess and maintain the IDP at LA level.

Pupils who already have a Statement should be assessed by the LA. If the LA issues an IDP, it will be responsible for making the provision and reviewing the IDP at least once every 12 months.

How will the IDP be funded?

A school IDP will be funded from the school’s budget in the first instance. However, if the support the CYP requires is beyond the school’s resources, the school can ask the LA to consider maintaining the IDP.

An IDP issued by the LA will be funded by the LA.

If my child has an IDP and moves to a different school, will the IDP transfer with them?

Not necessarily - if the IDP is from their school, they may have to start the assessment process again. If the IDP is maintained by the LA, it should transfer and apply in the same way at the new school.

Can parents choose their preferred school with an IDP as they can with a Statement?

No. There is no mention of parental preference.

The new legislation expects all CYP to be placed in maintained mainstream, unless that is incompatible with the provision of efficient education for others (and there are no reasonable steps the LA could take to resolve the incompatibility); or if educating the CYP otherwise than in a mainstream maintained school is appropriate in the best interests of the CYP and compatible with the provision of efficient education for others. Parents can request somewhere other than a maintained mainstream school, but the LA is under no obligation to comply.

Are there any concerns about the new system?

The new system aims to increase cooperation between education and health providers, and ensure all ALN learners have their needs met.

However, there is a lack of detail on how IDP assessments will be conducted. Assessing, preparing, maintaining and reviewing IDPs could also significantly increase schools’ workloads.

LAs will decide what support schools in their area can ‘reasonably’ provide in an IDP, which may lead to disagreement if schools feel too much is being expected of their available resources. Schools could be exposed to legal proceedings for not providing support agreed in a school-based IDP.

Under the new legislation, the LA’s duty to consider parental preference of school has vanished.

Where can I find out more?

The Welsh government has published guidance for parents/carers at: https://gov.wales/additional-learning-needs-aln-system-parents-guide

and for practitioners at: https://gov.wales/implementing-additional-learning-needs-and-education-tribunal-wales-act-2018-practitioner-guide

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