Fighting every child’s corner

Mary Van den Heuvel explores the foundations for the forthcoming legislation on additional learning needs.

On the 20th September ATL Cymru, NAHT Cymru, UCAC and UCU came together to hold a joint briefing for AMs on additional learning needs legislation, hosted by Hefin David AM and attended by the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh, Alun Davies AM. The event was well attended and we are grateful to everyone who took the time to come along.

This is (roughly) what I said at that meeting:

As unions we have all come together to talk to AMs because we felt it was important to share the experience of the professionals teaching and supporting children and young people with additional learning needs every day.

We know we don’t know the final shape of any Bill now, but we believe there are some key issues which AMs will need in their minds as they undertake scrutiny of the legislation.

I think it is worth saying too that for as much as we are sure to talk about job descriptions, governing bodies, workload, duties on health, assessment and other key issues today, we are fundamentally talking about how can children and young people receive support to reach their full potential.

Whilst legislation is a blunt tool, the Bill is the structure around which regulations and codes of practice are built. It is critical we get the Bill right. We have just the one chance.

Legislation is so important. It is difficult sometimes to show people that a “may” or a “must” can make a huge difference. But it can. Because laws can change lives.

My mother has said to me on many occasions that without the 1981 Education Act I would not have had the educational opportunities I have had. As a partially-sighted person I would not have had a statement of needs and access to local authority support. I may have gone away to a specialist school. My life could have been very different.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a parent, a teacher or someone else to fight for them, to articulate their needs, or to be able to do so for themselves. The law should be there to make sure there are no gaps for any child to fall between.

What I, and I think everyone, who has gathered here today from ATL, NAHT, UCAC and UCU would like is a law for additional learning needs which allows children and young people to access the right support for them, at the right time, without having to fight for it every step of the way.

That is what I said and what we will all be talking about over the next twelve months as the Bill is tabled and scrutinised and receives Royal Assent – or becomes law.

The issues we have identified about the ALN coordinator job description, duties on governing bodies, workload, duties on health, the assessment process as well as the issues about what a tribunal will look like (and many more) are common to many of those who responded to the draft Bill last year.

Resources too will be critical. Whilst the current model undoubtedly has some flaws, any model will provide additional barriers for a child or young person and their family rather than support if it is not adequately resourced.

We look forward to working with all those involved and to seeing the Bill when it is laid before the Assembly in December.

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