The Welsh ALN Act explained
In Wales, nearly a quarter of learners have some form of special educational need (SEN), and their educational outcomes are poor compared to other students – in part because the current SEN system in the country is over 30 years old and out of date.
The Welsh Government has now published its ALN Act 2018, which will replace the existing SEN system from September 2020.
What is the ALN Act?
The Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Act sets out the new statutory support system in Wales for children and young people with special needs.
The term ALN will replace ‘special educational needs’ (SEN) and ‘learning difficulties and/or disabilities’ (LDD), covering all children and young people with additional needs, regardless of how complex or severe they are.
This means ALN will cover a whole spectrum of needs, from so-called ‘high functioning’ autism, through dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD, to serious global learning delays/difficulties and major physical disabilities.
The ALN Act aims to help children and young people with ALN overcome barriers to learning and reach their full potential.
Under the new system, school SENCos (special educational needs coordinators) will be renamed or replaced by ALNCos.
The Independent Development Plan
A key element of the ALN Act is the provision of an Individual Development Plan (IDP) for every child who has ALN, regardless of the severity.
This will replace Statements, which are typically awarded to pupils with more severe or complex needs, and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for learners with less complicated needs who are currently on the School Action or School Action Plus programmes.
This will ensure consistency throughout the ALN system, and protect the provisions and rights of all children, regardless of the extent of their needs.
IDPs will apply to children and young people from birth up to the age of 25, as long as they are in education (including home education), further education (not higher education) or training.
They will set out not just the alternative learning provision (ALP) that pupils need at school, but also provisions by healthcare services, social services and any other agencies involved in their care and support.
The IDP will be a flexible document that will be reviewed and changed as a child’s needs develop and change over time.
Requesting and producing an IDP
A learner will be considered to have ALN if they have significantly greater difficulty in learning than other pupils their age, or if their disability prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities that others without disabilities can generally access.
These students are said to need additional learning provision and will need an IDP, which will be put together by a child’s school, further education institution and/or local authority.
It’s expected that schools and local authorities will be instrumental in identifying children with ALN, with involvement from parents and pupils themselves.
It’s also vital that the views of children and their parents are taken into account, and the proposed IDP template will include a whole page dedicated to reflecting the child’s needs and personality, including what is important to them.
Obtaining an IDP is expected to be a relatively speedy process: schools producing an IDP must do so within 35 school days, and where a local authority produces the document, it must be within 12 weeks – significantly less than the 26 weeks that statutory assessment for Statements can take.
Welsh language provision
The ALN Act aims to be a bilingual system of support and protects children who need additional learning provision in Welsh.
If some or all of your child’s provision needs to be in Welsh, this must be documented in the IDP, and ‘all reasonable steps’ taken to ensure that it’s provided.
What to do in case of a dispute
Because the IDP covers children with all kinds of ALN, it’s likely to be much easier to obtain than a Statement, with far fewer having their request declined.
That said, if you disagree with a decision about your child’s ALN or about the content of their IDP, you have the right to raise a dispute.
The first step is to ask the body that made the decision to reconsider: usually the child’s school.
If you’re still unhappy, you can ask the local authority to review it.
Ultimately, if you’re not satisfied with the local authority’s decision, you can appeal to the Educational Tribunal of Wales, which hears and decides on appeals and applications relating to children who have, or may have, ALN.
When’s it all happening?
The draft ALN Code is being reviewed by Welsh Government, and should be finalised by late 2019.
Implementation training will begin in 2020, and the roll-out across schools will take place from September 2020. It’s expected to take three years, until summer 2023, when all Statements and IEPs should be converted to IDPs.
The Welsh Government has produced a factsheet as a quick guide to the ALN Act.