More than a cynical name change

Mike O’Neill says that additional learning needs reform has the potential to make a positive difference in his work.

After almost ten years of teaching, holding literacy coordinator and Head of English roles in mainstream schools and now Head of English at a Pupil Referral Unit, the Additional Learning Needs White Paper has the potential to impact greatly on my work.

This week on Click on Wales

This week on Click on Wales we’ll be examining the upcoming reforms to the provision of additional learning needs in Wales. This year the Welsh Government published a white paper and opened a consultation on Welsh provision, suggesting a rebranding of special educational needs to additional learning needs and other reforms.

On Click on Wales this week, a series of experts, service users and charitable organisations respond.

Monday: Nathan Davies of Sinclairslaw says Wales is getting a raw deal

Tuesday: Denise Inger of SNAP Cymru argues that legislation is just the beginning of reform of additional learning needs provision

Yesterdayy: Cerys Owen, a campaigner from Powys, explains why additional learning needs units are vital for her family

Today: Mike O’Neill, an additional learning needs teacher, shows why reforms will impact positively on his work

Friday: Professor Ruth Northway asks whether these reforms amount to more than a name change.

The philosophy behind the legislative proposals for additional learning needs is one to be welcomed; overcoming barriers to opportunity that young people with additional needs often face. All teachers welcome this as they will all have young people in their charge who face barriers to realising their potential. The proposal to strengthen working links between the various agencies that work with young people will also be welcomed. In my experience, teachers often fear that the additional needs of young people are not always met when they are away from school and participating in learning across and from a range of providers. The Individual Development Plan does have the potential to address this concern as it can form a personal and bespoke route map to achieving the very best for young people. Used properly, there is a clear opportunity for the better transfer of knowledge between institutions and tangible targets of responsibility for professionals to adhere to when catering for young people with additional learning needs.

It is also an important step to move away from an out dated notion of ‘special educational need’ to one of an inclusive nature. This is more than a cynical name change. Additional learning need suggests a level of inclusion that will be welcomed by teachers, young people and parents/carers. Indeed, it is symbolic of the very ethos we want in our schools; pupils of all abilities accepting each other and working alongside one another. This is a positive step for all.

The scope of the proposals does appear wide-ranging. I particularly welcome the commitment to develop a Code of Practice that will also encompass work based learning providers. It has too often been the case that those with additional learning needs are given opportunities to access stimulating courses only for their needs to be missed as these courses are delivered away from school and the teachers that may know them best. If all stakeholders are involved in and actively catering for the IDP, then we greatly improve the prospects for young people with additional learning needs.

My colleagues in primary schools may be helped by the Code of Practice and its expectation that colleagues working with young people below compulsory school age help identify additional learning needs. This could mean that an IDP is established prior to starting school. But I would urge caution that we don’t ‘mis-statement’ young people or fail to recognise the differing rates of development that young people exhibit. We should be quick to support, but not rush to statement.

My role as Head of English at a PRU means that the impact of deprivation is acutely felt. My colleagues at school and within ATL welcome moves to close the attainment gap and provide equal opportunity for all. The proposals do seem to support the wider picture of school reform and the raising of standards. I am pleased to see that young people with additional learning needs are being considered alongside ‘mainstream’ pupils. My concern is that we do not make young people simply numbers on a spreadsheet – learning should be a personalised process and national scales of measurement are not always appropriate for all.

In summary, the changes do appear to strengthen procedures surrounding those with ALN, even if it’s too early to assess impact thoroughly. Streamlining paperwork for school staff, young people and their families, as well as the sharing of information is a key positive feature that will need time to embed. All teachers, particularly those like me, whose timetable is predominately catering for ALN pupils, welcome moves to ensure we can better support them. But we should not lose sight of the very real truth that money and time spent on improving provision is what changes lives, not simply making it easier to statement young people.

Mike O’Neill is the Head of English at the Ty Gwyn Education Centre. He is also a Casework Officer for ATL.

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