So what does the ALN legislation mean for children and young people in Wales?
The announcement earlier this year from the Minister, confirmed that the Additional Learning Needs legislation will be introduced from September 2021. This means that schools and some early years’ settings will begin to work in a new way to meet the needs of their learners. Colleges will be included at a later stage. But this is not about the institutions. ALNET seeks to put the child/young person at the centre of the process, so that they, and their parents/carers, are fully involved in the decisions made.
The changes have the potential to significantly improve the lives of children and young people through a number of key features. Three of these are:
Seamless provision – ALNET covers children and young people from 0 to 25 years old as long as they attend a maintained early years setting, school or further education college. An individual development plan (IDP) will follow them throughout all these stages of education and will be reviewed annually to ensure their needs are met. It is important to remember that this does not mean young people will automatically be able to stay in college until they are 25. Most college programmes run for one or two years and the majority of learners move on after this time. Some may return to complete additional vocational courses but only where this is likely to support them with achieving their long term employment goals.
Increased participation and improved outcomes – By developing a person-centred approach to meeting needs, learners will be encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and shape the way that they are enabled to achieve. If, as is intended, learners and their parents feel that they are being listened to and fully involved, it will also help to resolve disagreements and encourage a shared understanding. One aspect of a person-centred process is language. The ALN Code makes clear that learners should have the opportunity to engage and be supported through their preferred language; whether this be English or Welsh.
Clear rights of appeal but also a less adversarial process – While access to the Tribunal service is an important aspect of the legislation, the inclusion of simpler processes and an outcomes-focussed IDP has the potential to ensure needs are met in a way that will reassure both learner and parents. Teachers, lecturers and other staff will aim to address any issues as early as is possible by discussing them with children, young people and their parents/cares.