The implementation period for the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 that is seeing a move from the former special educational needs (SEN) arrangements to the new additional learning needs (ALN) system has been extended for a third time. The new timeframe is welcome for as long it used to address matters of fundamental importance affecting roll out of the reforms. This includes ensuring that Additional Learning Need Co-ordinator (ALNCo) workload capacities are fit for purpose and that ambiguity in the ALN Code on entitlement to post-16 education and training is clarified.
Under SEN arrangements, Welsh Government have used what they describe as ‘discretionary powers’ to ensure that all 19-year-old special school leavers can access the further education (FE) they need whether that be at a mainstream further education institution (FEI), or a specialist college. Careers Wales Advisors have supported learners’ routes to FE and where necessary, have facilitated applications to the Welsh Government Support for Learners Division for learners requiring specialist college provision. This central government department has served learners across Wales and acted as lead commissioner when funding from different budgets is required.
ALN Transformation is devolving decision making on whether a learner requires a specialist college to local authorities (LAs) and increasing expectations on them to meet the needs of learners within their own counties. In turn, Further Education Institutions (FEIs) are required to become more inclusive by increasing the breadth of ALN they can meet and are thereby expected to be able to meet the education and training needs of the majority of young people. In the small number of circumstances where an FEI state they cannot meet a learner’s ALN, responsibility for learners Individual Development Plans (IDPs) that are akin to Education, Health and Care Plans, will transfer from a learner’s school to their LA. The LA is then required to assess ‘a reasonable need’ for education and training and arrange placements at specialist colleges where they are deemed learners’ additional learning provision (ALP).
The danger for learners with complex needs is that outside the expectation that FEIs should be able to meet most learners’ needs, the Code does not include any expectation that the discretionary powers used to date should maintain. Instead, it is notoriously unclear on what constitutes further education and whether a two-year entitlement to it should be understood as being post-school or post-16 years of age (Chapter 17, para:17.75). As 22 local authorities implement their own interpretations of the code, this will inevitably result in postcode lotteries of access to FE across Wales.
Natspec, along with the Third Sector Additional Needs Alliance (TSANA) continues to press Welsh Government to provide the clarity that is needed to ensure the ALN reforms do not result in a drop in the numbers of learners accessing FE. Alongside, we have been exploring how partnership working between FEIs, specialist colleges and LAs can meet the person-centred aspirations of the reforms and improve outcomes for learners with complex needs across Wales. In a project jointly funded by Natspec and Welsh Government, five partnerships have been established and we have published a report on their progress including recommendations for Welsh Government and wider stakeholders including specialist colleges.
The report concludes that to fully develop complementary provision, colleges need Welsh Government to provide guidance that ensures that assessments of a reasonable need are consistent nationally. IDPs must be informed by person-centred, ambitious, and adult orientated outcomes written by individuals who have a full understanding of what FE means for a learner with complex ALN and the kind of outcomes that can be expected from FEIs and specialist colleges.
Funding arrangements should be developed that allow learners who need them to benefit from the expertise of both FEIs and specialist colleges.
The more FEIs, specialist colleges and local authorities can work collaboratively, the greater the likelihood of effectively managing expectations and minimising the allocation of scarce resources for placement breakdowns and tribunals.
Across Wales, is a clear appetite and commitment from the partner colleges and the wider stakeholders involved in this project, to demonstrating how partnership working can more effectively meet the person-centred aspirations at the heart of ALN reform.
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