Update on the impending Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Transformation within Wales.
It is not an understatement to say that this year our lives have been dramatically turned upside down due to the Coronavirus pandemic. For a moment of time, the whole country seemed to grind to halt, and we were all facing the anxieties of an unknown future. Whilst, we have gradually begun to adjust to what is being called the ’new normal’, there are still many uncertainties, which lie ahead. For many one of those uncertainties is; what is happening to the new ALN Bill for Wales due to commence in September 2021.
COVID-19 has without doubt this year monopolised our media coverage, and as such understandably the focus of education has been to deal with the impact the pandemic has had on the educational lives of our children and young people. There has been no press releases or statements issued by the Welsh Minister for Education, Ms Kirsty Williams or indeed the Welsh Government regarding the forthcoming changes to the ALN system in Wales. Yet, everything seems to have simply been left up in the air, and people left in the dark wondering will it be pushed back again as a result of COVID-19.
In our previous blogs, we informed readers that after an extensive period of numerous consultations and pilot projects in January 2018 the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 (‘the Act’) was passed, and attained Royal Assent. Therefore, confirming that a new statutory framework for supporting children and young people with additional learning needs (ALN) will be introduced into Wales. This new piece of legislation is set to replace and transform the current Welsh system of Statements of Special Educational Needs, which has been in existence for more than 30 years. The aim of the new Act is to make provision by way of a single statutory plan, with the intention of creating a unified and streamline system, supporting children and young people with additional learning needs (ALN) from 0 to 25.
Whilst, the Act has received much criticism it does allow parents, children and young people a continued right to invoke an appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales (or as it is known in the new Act, Education Tribunal for Wales) against decisions made by the Local Authority in respect of their or their child’s ALN. Although, this right of appeal has been extended given the single statutory plan will replace all non-statutory and statutory plans. It is not entirely clear if this right of appeal exists where the Governing Body of a maintained school has determined ‘the child does not have additional learning needs’.
Since the Act was passed further consultations have taken place, and it was on the 17th September 2019, Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education issued the last Written Statement: implementation of the Additional Learning Needs System. This announcement came about as a direct response following another consultation on the draft Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Code and the proposed related regulations, given the Welsh Government is required to issue an ALN Code under Section 4 of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018.
Ms Williams Statement in September 2019 was highly significant, as it announced a delay to the implementation of the new ALN system in Wales, it was to now commence a year later than planned. Ms Williams confirmed that ‘the statutory roles created by the ALN Act are to commence in January 2021’, and ‘the new ALN system will commence on a phased basis, from September 2021’. Ms Williams reasoning for the delay is ‘to provide time for further dedicated training and development’ and ‘to ensure that the ALN system is fair, clear and manageable’. She further adds ‘commencing the statutory roles earlier in January 2021 will also support a smoother and more successful implementation’.
As such, this press release by Ms Williams in September 2019 is the most recent update provided on the ALN Act to the public. At a recent user group meeting, the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales did inform those attending, that the Tribunal in autumn 2020 will be meeting with the Welsh Government. The purpose of which is to refine the Tribunal regulations as these will have to be amended so as to be in line with the new ALN legislation. We also understand there is continued ongoing work taking place with key stakeholders to refine the Code and Regulations, and the feedback from Transformation meetings is the new ALN system for Wales is still on track to be implemented as set out within Ms Williams’s statement in September 2020.
In light of the current situation in respect of the impact COVID19 has had on our educational system, it is deeply worrying and difficult to even contemplate the rolling out and complete overhaul of a new ALN System. Currently, there lies so much uncertainty as we struggle to get pupils back into education safely, and try to implement a consistent educational approach in wake of COVID19. Surely, if COVID19 continues to impact on the educational system as it currently does this will make implementing a new ALN system extremely difficult, and even more of a challenge? It would be illogical to allow families and professionals to alongside this, try to navigate a completely new ALN system. Therefore, making it questionable whether we will see yet another further delay to the implementation of the new ALN system within Wales, and whether this would be the most sensible approach. As there has been no official statement made since September 2019 to verify this, we therefore advise families to be vigilant, as imminent changes could be rolled out from 2021.
We understand the forthcoming changes, and more specifically how the legislation will work in practice is a great concern for families. Whilst, it is still very unclear at present, we at HCB Solicitors are specialists in education law, we will continue to keep you updated, and are here to assist throughout these uncertain times.
If you are experiencing difficulties in relation to the securing additional support for your child from the Local Authority, then please do not hesitate to contact our specialist education law solicitors team on 02920 291704.