The following details our response to the white paper which outlined the proposals to introduce a new legislative framework for supporting children and young people with additional learning needs (ALN consultation).
Formal overview comments from the Chair on behalf of the All Wales Forum of Parents and Carers network.
In relation to the ALN Consultation; I have read the proposal pretty thoroughly and while I agree with much of it in principle, I think it is short on process: We have consistently heard over the years about the need for team collaboration, inter-agency working, the sharing of important information around a child/young person, but systems and culture impede and make life very trying for families who frequently find themselves having to join up the dots! I hope process will be given more focus and greater consideration within the Guidelines.
I am mindful that the ‘statementing’ process as it stands has not always worked well. It has worked – but only for those lucky enough to be given a statement, and even then families have had sometimes to go to inordinate lengths to take the LA to task to get services outlined in the Statement as a need that should be met and services delivered. It costs time, money and emotional energy that is often exhausting for families. (And LA’s have successfully fought actions because they simply don’t have the resources! And this has sometimes led to expensive and sometimes poor quality out of county/country placements – but that is another story!) I personally prefer the notion that EARLY identification, that does NOT rely on diagnosis (often a lengthy and inconclusive process) triggering off an IDP for children with special needs is preferable. My only concern is that families need to know where to go to get such an identification, where their concerns will be sympathetically and practically heeded. There are far fewer Health visitors these days, and they have large case loads. GPs are busy, and often pretty ignorant of many of the developmental concerns facing families with small children, and if the new school SENco- or ALNCo, is to be a significant help to families in identifying additional needs, then their training needs to consist of more than the ONE module that is being mooted for the new teaching Master’s Degree! Having said all of this, I am conscious of the wider carer networks concern over the change of systems, and I do support some process details that ensure families are well informed and properly supported to enable the children to get the formal support and recognition they need. This is something that will need to be fleshed out following the consultation, and should include families in the process.
I agree with other carer representatives that Special School provision for children and young people with more complex needs should be vigorously maintained – but I also think that these schools should have greater practical links with mainstream schools, so that there is opportunity for crossover – certainly socially, so that there is a level of integration for pupils, and also a sort of bi-lateral learning opportunity, with teachers in both Special units and mainstream schools occasionally working in both, sharing expertise, and encouraging aspiration. As Chair of governors of a Special School for over 16 years, I felt that there were times when the ‘cosy’ protective atmosphere occasionally blunted educational aspiration, while the creative communication expertise, for example, of many of those teachers would have been invaluable in some mainstream schools. The principles outlined in the proposals are good and based on person-centred values which should be enshrined in all policy and practice, and I applaud the determination to focus on an outcomes based approach to service planning and delivery. As with most proposals of this kind, the devil is in the detail: I believe that there should be a statutory obligation for interagency collaboration and that the forthcoming guidelines should outline the process for achieving that, with the emphasis on the family at the centre.
Finally, I have a query about ‘independent advocacy’ – especially in the case of disputes with families and the LA provider. The advocate needs to be truly independent – who would they engage to provide this service? For parents to be happy and secure in relinquishing the Statement process (which, of course did give them some power and a final recourse to legislation) they need to be confident that, in the case of dispute, there will be an absolutely independent advocate whose advice they could trust. This again needs to be fleshed out in the detail and should be discussed with families and other relevant stakeholders before being set in stone. Equally, this whole process should have some regard to other larger policies such as the Social Services and Well-being Act, which will have some impact on the children and families we are discussing.
Pauline Young MBE
Additional comments – Specific concerns from carers relating to individual questions asked.
Q1 a) Do you agree that a new term, ‘additional learning needs’,(ALN) should focus on children and young people who need additional and/or different support with learning to allow them to benefit as fully as possible from the education or training available to them?
Q1 b) Do you agree that the new system should apply to children and young people from birth up to the age of 25? If so, what implications should we consider for the professional involved in assessing and providing support?
I have nothing against the use of ‘special educational needs’ for children with a learning disability, though I can see that a term is needed for children with other kinds of problems, in need of a different type of support.
‘Additional learning needs’ implies that the child can manage ordinary education, in a mainstream school, with additional support, but many children with learning disabilities need a different kind of education, some in special schools. My son, who has autism and severe developmental delay, is one of these. Additional help in a mainstream school would have been wholly inappropriate to his needs.
Consideration needs to be made for all children across the spectrum of needs.
In Ceredigion children come under the care of the county’s multi-agency team, Tim Plant Anabl once it is found that they have a disability. The team, comprising professionals in health, education and social work, guide the parents through complexities of diagnosis, identification of support needs and education. I believe that young people remain under the TPA umbrella until they are 25 as long as they are in full-time education. I would not want to change this in any way.
Unfortunately, there is no longer much in the way of educational provision once young people with a learning disability leave school in Ceredigion. We used to have good courses at the colleges of further education but support for students with LD is no longer provided, and as I understand it only courses leading to a qualification are on offer these days, and these do not meet the needs of young people with a learning disability. I believe that this deterioration in service was an unintended consequence of a WG attempt to improve further education for all. I naturally worry that the present proposals could also have unintended and detrimental consequences for our children.
Q2 IDP. a) Do you agree that all children and young people with ALN should be entitled to an IDP which sets out their agreed additional learning provision?
Q2 IDP. b) Do you agree that IDPs should replace statutory assessment and statements of SEN, assessments for learners over 16 (under section 140 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000) and non-statutory plans including individual education plans under School Action and School Action Plus?
Q2 IDP. c) Do you agree that local authorities should be ultimately responsible for preparing IDP for children and young people aged 0-25 with ALN and for ensuring that agreed provision set out in the IDP is delivered and reviewed?
It would have been good to see a template of this document. It needs to be very detailed while remaining very clear to ensure there are no misunderstandings.
It is good that they intend to meet the additional learning needs up to age 25. A quality transition service would go a long way to seeing proper continuity between schools and colleges. This will not only help the individual but help future proof services by identifying future need. The point Non makes about meaningful courses is extremely valued. Learning Disability Wales have already discovered evidence of further education courses being cut for students with a learning disability / students with complex needs. The development of ‘Programmes for Learning’, means that there is a requirement for all courses offered by further education colleges to provide full time programmes that lead to education progression and/or career progression routes and opportunities. This is not always possible for a person with a LD. There is nothing in this consultation that mentions personal care / travel / independence training, it is all academic. The further education needs of an individual with LD may very well be better met with this type of training. This would hopefully be identified if there is a quality transition service. The WG needs to acknowledge this and make provision for it. (This may best fit into Q5.)
The system of statementing works well for most children with a learning disability, and means that resources are earmarked for these children and young people. At a time of cutbacks I feel we must guard this safety net carefully.
The process of preparing an IDP would be much the same as the statementing process – the same assessments would be needed after all for LD children. All that would be different would be that there would not necessarily be a legally binding requirement to provide resources to meet the identified needs.
Children with learning difficulties and those from socially deprived backgrounds also need support, but this should not be at the expense of the LD group. I believe that we need additional provision for them, outside the statementing system.
The local authority should be responsible for preparing IDPs, and ensuring that provision is reviewed and delivered, but it is also essential that the provision is agreed with the parents.
I see no mention of how the process is initiated, and would like to see an arrangement whereby it can come from a health professional, social worker, school, multi-agency team or a parent. One of the few weaknesses in the statementing system has been the need for a parent to initiate the process, a system that leaves many of us at a disadvantage.
When it comes to responsibility for post-school provision, the local authority would need to regain control of further education in the county, and have the funding for this so that students are properly supported. We would also want them to offer meaningful courses and not have their hands tied by a ‘results based’ culture.
Q.3 a) Do you agree that a new code of practice on ALN should include mandatory requirements in accordance with which local authorities, schools, further education institutions, local health boards and the tribunal must act?
Q.3 b) Do you agree that the code of practice should set out guidance for any other bodies, such as third sector organisations or other providers of education and training?
If there is a new code of practice on ALN then of course I would want it to include mandatory requirements, but I would also want assurance that WG would provide additional resources to meet the needs of children not currently covered by the SEN set-up but who would come under the ALN umbrella.
This would include training teachers and additional support workers since we are talking about a very different type of support from that required by children with LD.
I really worry that WG is trying to find one simple solution to a large number of different and complex problems in these proposals and that the cost implications will be huge if it is to be done properly.
Q4 Securing Provision. Do you agree that further education institutions should be included alongside schools, maintained nurseries and pupil referral units, as institutions that must use their ‘best endeavours’ to secure the additional learning provision called for in IDP?
I am very concerned with the term ‘best endeavours’ to secure the ALN provision called for in an IDP. I believe some parents have failed to get this when there has been a ‘statutory duty’ on a LEA. WG need to be much stronger on this if they really do have a commitment to change things for the better. Also there is no indication of consequences if LEA’s are found wanting in this regard. (See Q9.)
I agree, but resources must be forthcoming.
Q5 Securing Specialist Provision. Do you agree that local authorities should be responsible for securing specialist education provision for post 16 learners outside of further education sector where IDP indicates that this is necessary to meet a young person’s ALN?
See Q2 above.
Will WG provide additional resources for this?
Q.6 Placement at independent schools. Do you agree that local authorities should be prohibited from placing a child or young person at an independent school which has not been registered to provide the type of additional learning provision identified in their IDP?
I agree, but rural counties will still need to may need to use registered placements if specialist provision cannot be provided locally. Provision for children with ASD has improved tremendously in Ceredigion in recent years, but there could still be the need to send a child with challenging behaviour to a residential school.
Q7 Multi-Agency Approach a) Do you agree that local authorities, local health boards and further education institutions should be required to cooperate and share information in assessing, planning and delivering support to meet ALN?
b) As well as using the code of practice to provide guidance, are there any other ways in which you think multi-agency partnership working could be strengthened?
This should help those with a LD. Joint training and I would suggest shared budgets could help strengthen this approach.
I agree strongly with this and would urge the WG to use our TPA as a model. My family received an excellent service from them as our son was growing up.
Q.8 Supporting looked after children – Do you agree that IDPs should be able to replace or function as personal education plans for children and young people who are looked after by a local authority?
I don’t know enough about children in care to comment except to say that the additional help they need should not come at the expense of the LD group.
Q9 Resolving disputes. a) Do you agree that local authorities should be required to put in place disagreement resolution arrangements?
b) Do you agree that there should be a requirement to use the local complaints processes prior to appeal to tribunal?
See Q4 above. The problem with the SEN system, I am told, was not the ‘code of practise’ but the ‘current practise’. The difference between theory and practise. Little in this suggests that will change.
LEA complaints processes must be clear and transparent. There must be clear time frames that have severe consequences if broken if parents are to have any faith in the new system. I am told that our LEA’s used the complaint process as a delaying tactic in the old system. There has been a massive time span between original complaint to tribunal / ombudsman’s ruling. This must be speeded up. LEA’s are cutting back on the cost of advocacy services, support for parents must be properly resourced.
Yes, but isn’t that what happens now? The tribunal is a last resort.
Q10 Extending the Right of Appeal. Do you agree with our proposals in relation to extending rights of appeal to tribunal?
I would like to see some clear time frames for this, as above.
It is my understanding that currently there is no appeal open to parents in Wales following an Annual Review when the LEA make no amendments or changes but parents feel there should be. (This fault was recognised and changed in England, I am told, about 3 years ago.) Now is the opportunity to put this right for parents in Wales. I am not clear if this has been covered in proposal 19 or not. It may have been – ‘the content of an IDP, including the description of the child or young person’s needs or the educational provision required to meet those needs’. It would appear to do so.
I really worry that a major change of this kind is proposed at a time of cuts in public spending. I cannot believe that LAs will find the resources to train additional staff to support all the young people you plan to bring into this system. The danger is that no child will receive the support it needs and deserves.