A cautious welcome to additional learning needs reform

Dr Alison Stroud looks at some of the issues with potential to affect implementation of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill.






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As a profession working across health and education, we are well aware of the longstanding issues with regard to additional learning needs provision in Wales.  We welcome the introduction of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill.  This legislation has been a long time coming and we are hopeful that it will realise its ambition of improving outcomes for children and young people in Wales.

Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) are the most common type of additional learning need in 4-11 year olds.  7% of children aged 5 have specific speech and language impairment and a further 1.8% have speech, language and communication needs linked to other conditions such as learning disability, cerebral palsy or autism spectrum disorders.  

Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) have a key role within the additional learning needs agenda.  We work directly with children and young people with children, young people and their families to develop personalised strategies to support them to communicate to the best of their ability.  We also provide training and strategies to the wider workforce such as teachers and teaching assistants so that they can identify the signs of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), improve the communication environment of people with SLCN and provide effective support.

We believe there is much to commend the new legislation, in particular the bill’s focus upon person centered planning, outcomes, partnership working between local agencies and the greater participation of children and families in decision-making.  However, as a profession, we have a number of concerns about implementation and ensuring that the new bill will truly deliver for our children and young people.

Involvement of children and young people

There is a clear commitment within the bill to supporting the participation of children and young people with additional learning needs and their families in the development of individual development plans (IDPs).  We want training, packages and tools put in place to ensure that all learners, including those with speech, language and communication needs, are able to participate in these discussions.   

Capacity

We are fully supportive of the rationale for the development of single statutory plans and the extension of the age-range   However we have real concerns that the resource implications of such a development have not been fully taken into account.  Our colleagues in England tell us that reforms in SEN provision have led to gaps in SLT support for 0-2 age group and 16-25 and many NHS SLTs feeling unable to do the day job to the best of their ability because of the increase in meetings.  We want to ensure this does not happen here.

Under the new legislation, we understand that SLTs could be invited to attend a far higher number of meetings in person given that all children with ALN will now have multi-disciplinary Individual Development Plan (IDP) meetings.   For a small profession, this could be a major issue and affect the time available for therapeutic input and training of others to improve communication environments so we need to work through the practicalities of the delivery of the bill.

Duties on Health

There have been many calls to increase the duties on health boards.  We would not want to see this happen.  We worry such a development would undermine joint working arrangements, where local authorities and local health boards have successful joint services as equal partners. We wish to ensure a focus remains on intended outcomes for children and young people rather than entitlement to input throughout the legislation.  In our view, health must always be a matter for evidence based clinical judgement, using person centred, individualised plans with realistic prognosis for outcomes from any input.   

We will be continuing to monitor the passage of the bill and look forward to continuing to work with our partners in education and health to ensure that every child and young person is able to access the right support at the right time.

 

Dr Alison Stroud is Head of Wales Office for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists