Key dates for ALN implementation in schools and colleges

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For some time, the Welsh Government has said that the Act will introduce significant change to the special educational needs system in Wales, to “transform expectations, experience and outcomes for children and young people with additional learning needs (ALN)”.

Under the Act, the Government have introduced the ALN Code to provide a “set of clear, legally enforceable parameters within which local authorities and those other organisations responsible for the delivery of services must act”. But the new ALN system will not go live for schools and colleges at the same time.

What we know so far

From the outset, the Government have made it clear that there would be a phased approach to implement the new ALN regime. In November 2018, they published guidance on the timeframes for the system, confirming that full implementation would take 3 academic years and be expected to run from September 2020 to August 2023.

In September 2019, the then Minister for Education Kirsty Williams, announced that the implementation would be delayed until September 2021. This followed external responses and feedback on the proposed draft ALN Code and was meant to allow time for “dedicated training and development”.

Since this time, the education system has been, and continues to be, significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources have been stretched and student learning has been disrupted.

The current Minister for Education Jeremy Miles released a statement on 14 July 2021, where he confirmed that he believed it was necessary to revisit the implementation plans. He stated that “it is absolutely essential that we get this right”. The plans for this year was set out as follows:

  • Children who are newly identified as having additional learning needs, (that is, those without already identified special educational needs (SEN), or are not awaiting or undergoing an SEN assessment), were moved to the new ALN system from 1 September 2021.
  • Those children with SEN who attend a maintained school (including a Pupil Referral Unit) and who receive School Action[1] or School Action Plus[2] support will be moved to the new system on 1 January 2022.

The Minister for Education confirmed that it was his expectation that the education sector used the September 2021 to January 2022 period to reflect on the guidance, begin preparatory work and engage with students already receiving School Action and School Action Plus support with their transition to the new system.

This guidance was due to be published early in the Autumn term, but we are still waiting for it.

Concerns raised

The Government’s intention was clearly trying to make the implementation of this overhauled system as manageable as possible for all stakeholders. However, this phased approach (regardless of how scaled back it is), means that the ALN system will operate in parallel to the existing special educational needs (SEN) system.

It is no surprise that those affected by the changes are apprehensive. In February 2021, the Children and Young People and Education Committee (CYPE) wrote to the Minister for Education to raise concerns which stakeholders still have about the ALN system (letter). These concerns included:

  • That the ALN Code of Practice is not a “code of practice” when compared to the Code implemented by the UK Government’s Department of Education following the special education needs and disability reform in England or the existing SEN Code in Wales. They highlight the Code’s failure to offer guidance on implementation and believe it will result in “greater disparity and unequal access for children and young people”.
  • Transition between school and post-16 education or training, and arrangements for deciding between specialist and mainstream provision.
  • Training for the workforce to deliver the new system.
  • A perceived lack of quality assured, impartial information and advice about career and post-16 options.

The guidance promised by the Government may assist to alleviate some of these concerns, but it is now severely delayed. As the focus is on ALN in schools, it is unclear whether this guidance will address post-16 education or the practicalities of transitioning learners with ALN between school and college.

How we can help

This phased approach to implementation is a good approach in theory. It allows the Government to target specific groups at a time to avoid overwhelming education providers. This may not work in practice. In order for the old and new system to work in parallel, education providers need to be able to understand both. This applies to schools and colleges as, even if they are not directly targeted in the implementation this year, they must be prepared to transition students sooner rather than later.

We eagerly await publication of the guidance from the Government. In the meantime, schools, colleges and Local Authorities need to understand their roles, duties and responsibilities under the Act. Our dedicated Education team can help you to understand and adapt to the new ALN system. We regularly advise on the new system and can provide training to schools, further education institutes and local authorities wishing to understand their responsibilities under the new system in more detail.

If this sounds interesting, please contact Trish D’Souza (t.souza@capitallaw.co.uk).

 


[1] School Action: when a class/subject teacher provide interventions that are additional to or different from those provided as part of the school’s usual differentiated curriculum offer/strategies for children identified with SEN. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) will usually be devised.
[2] School Action Plus: in addition to School Action advice and/or support is provided from external specialists (for example Educational Psychologists or Speech and Language Therapists), so that alternative interventions can be put in place. A new IEP will usually be devised.