top of page

(UK) Wales: 20% of students have "Additional Learning Needs"; govt's new system

Feb 18, 2022, Senedd Cymru Welsh Pariliament: The new Additional Learning Needs system: the tough task of implementation

“Policy represents just 10% of the task. The remaining 90% is about how to make it happen.” That’s according to Sir Michael Barber, head of the UK Government’s Delivery Unit in the early 2000s, who developed the concept of ‘Deliverology’, with a particularly focus on the education field. This description of the task of implementation relative to policy design will resonate with an education workforce faced with delivering the new Additional Learning Needs (ALN) system, which came into force in September 2021 and began in earnest last month (January 2022). Moving almost 100,000 pupils (around 20% of all pupils) to the new statutory arrangements, still in the fall out of a pandemic, will be no mean feat.

Replacing the current SEN framework with a new ALN system We have written previously (in May and March 2021) about the reforms under the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018. During the Senedd’s scrutiny of the legislation, the Welsh Government said the new ALN system would be a “complete overhaul” of a Special Educational Needs (SEN) system “no longer fit for purpose”. The Act essentially retains the same definition for ALN as currently for SEN, although a key change is that every learner with ALN will be given a statutory ‘Individual Development Plan’ (IDP). Currently, only those with the most severe/complex needs (around 15%) have a statutory plan known as a ‘statement’. How and when is the new ALN system being introduced? The new age 0-25 ALN system is being introduced between September 2021 and August 2024. The Minister for Education and Welsh Language announced in July 2021 that, whilst the new system would take effect in September 2021 for learners newly identified with ALN, learners currently in the SEN system would not begin transferring until January 2022. The Welsh Government has published three implementation guides for 2021/22: a technical guide and versions aimed at practitioners and parents…. The Welsh Government has not yet said when in the next three years the new ALN system will apply to learners in Year 11, sixth forms or further education colleges. It intends to publish in 2022 a timetable for transferring to the new system children and young people who are not moving across in 2021/22. Parents of children aged 0-5 who do not attend a nursery or school can ask the local authority now to assess if the child has ALN and, if required, provide an IDP. What should learners and families expect? If a learner is newly identified as having ALN, they now come under the new system and are entitled to an IDP. For learners who already have SEN, assuming they are deemed to have ALN under the new system, schools, PRUs and local authorities must transfer them according to the mandated year groups (see above infographic). They must provide them with an IDP. For year groups not yet transferring, the statutory duties to assess and support learners under the current SEN system remain. Concerns were expressed during scrutiny of the Draft ALN Code about a potential ‘raising of the bar’ when identifying ALN, despite the definition remaining the same as currently for SEN. This was due to the perceived extra work of providing a statutory IDP for all learners with ALN, compared to the current position of issuing statements to around 15% of the approximately 100,000 learners with SEN…. What resources has the Welsh Government allocated? In the previous Senedd, the Welsh Government allocated £20 million [$27M] for its ALN Transformation programme. When introducing the legislation, the Welsh Government concluded that, following this transformation work, the new ALN system would be cost-neutral. This was based on an assumption that any increase in costs of provision would be offset by savings from less disagreement between families, and schools or local authorities. However, the Welsh Government has provided additional funding in 2021-22 and 2022-23 to both meet existing pressures and implement the reforms (see paras 1.5 and 2.8 of this Ministerial paper for Committee budget scrutiny and this statement of 6 January 2022). The Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee has recently asked the Minister for Education and Welsh Language to clarify the amounts and purposes of funding being provided. What next? If Sir Michael Barber is right, the vast majority of the work to improve the education of around a fifth of learners still lies ahead. After many years focused on designing the right system, ALN reform will now affect learners and their families in practice and is likely to remain high on the education agenda throughout this Senedd.


bottom of page