Transparency, accountability and user engagement at the centre of new SEN reform.

Denise Inger says legislation alone isn’t enough to address the differences in additional learning needs.

SNAP Cymru believes that every Child and Young Person deserves an education system responsive to their individual needs. We are hopeful that the Welsh Government’s proposals for Additional Learning Needs, formerly known as Special Education Needs, go some way to meeting these aspirations.  We have held consultations with families and young people in the hope that their unique perspective and experience of the system will help shape the proposals.

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.

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

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

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

Thursday: 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.

This month, the Children and Families Act 2014 will be introduced in England.

However whilst we are all focussing on the detail of the proposed legislation, we believe that the legislation alone will never be enough to address the differences in experience and quality of SEN provision across schools in Wales. There is also much improvement needed from workforce development, school effectiveness and collaborative working between health, social care, education, schools, and third sector.

We welcome the Welsh Government’s proposed focus on successful outcomes for children and young people rather than inputs .The provision or intervention must be measured for effectiveness and quality. Clear definitions; thresholds and triggers must be explicit in the Bill and Code of Practice if the proposed changes are to be an improvement on the existing framework and interpretation.

In principle, the proposed Individual Development Plans can be more responsive to a CYP’s emerging or changing needs, and less bureaucratic to achieve. It also could be seen as removing the absolute need to obtain a statutory statement in order to access the additional support.  However, in our experience the ‘battle or quest’ is not to achieve the Statement, but to obtain the detailed assessment and provision that it offers.

In the current set-up where parents are involved in designing their child’s Individual Education Plan they generally feel their school is more collaborative and flexible in meeting their child’s needs.  However collaborative plans are not always the norm, and some schools only complete plans for groups of children and young people. Whilst we are supportive of the proposal for Individual Development Plans to replace statements, we are concerned about the nature of the new process as a successful planning tool given the numbers of children who will now be entitled to an individual development plan and the amount of training and support staff will need.

The proposal for Individual Development Plans to cover children and young people from  0-25 as potentially very effective for early intervention and transition planning. We agree that a single process and terminology will be more effective than the current system.

Good quality assessment of needs is intrinsic to the success of the Individual Development Plan. Whilst we are pleased about the shift in emphasis to a strengths based approach, identification and diagnosis are vital if we are to really understand and provide ‘what’s important for’ the child or young person. Where appropriate children and young people need to be fully involved in the process; celebrating their strengths and understanding their pathway and their support package in order to make progress.

Families who have trialled the Individual Development Plan in recent years as a way of assessing and meeting need found the new format to contain insufficient detail and emphasis. They also found that the insights that a diagnosis and in-depth assessment of needs would have offered have been side-lined by the shift in emphasis. Despite the current weaknesses in the existing statutory assessment process, such as the time, cost and flexibility required, it is still felt by many families and professionals to provide a rigorous assessment of need.  For those children and young people with more complex needs, rigorous assessment will still be required and will need to remain a focus of the new process.

There must be a duty on health and social care providers to comply with a requirement for assessing and reporting, and this must be specific in the Bill and the guidance.  For children and young people with more complex needs many families have told us they are concerned that schools may be reluctant to call in outside help and to request assessment from specialists if this would put increased pressures on the schools’ allocation of specialist time, or on the schools’ budgets and resources.

We do not agree that the current system as a whole is ‘not fit-for purpose’.  Parents and professionals understand and participate in the current framework of School Action, School Action Plus and Statements, and there is clarity on what to do if these stages are inappropriate or ineffective.   Individual Education Plans, as currently used, are supposed to be reviewed yearly review with parents and young people. This is not something that families say happens regularly.  It is the execution of these processes not the processes themselves that is not fit for purpose and the concern is that the Individual Development Plans may also be allowed to fall into a “not-fit” state.

For clarity, ease of transfer, accountability and consistency, families and professionals tell us they would like to see a prescribed template for the Individual Development Plan and process.  We believe this would help achieve quality and should be included in the Bill and accompanying regulations and Code of Practice.   There is also a need for a robust and accessible appeals process. Transparency, accountability and high levels of service user engagement are the vital ingredients required to deliver an effective system.

Denise Inger is the Chief Executive Officer of SNAP Cymru (

2 thoughts on “Transparency, accountability and user engagement at the centre of new SEN reform.

  1. Ms Inger is right that legislation is not sufficient to address learning shortfalls in Wales. What she does not say, perhaps for tactical political reasons, is that it is not necessary. If policies were resourced and implemented properly, with adequate leadership, legislation would serve no purpose. The purpose it does serve in Wales is as a displacement activity for politicians who do not know how to get policy delivery.

  2. I totally agree with Denise Inger’s comments.
    A wholistic approach has to be adpoted with equal partnerships of ownership of responsibility with the child at the centre.

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