SEN/ALN reforms in Wales: food for thought from England?

Just for a change I’d like to draw your attention to another report. But, for me at least, this isn’t just another report, it highlights issues that really need to be taken into consideration by everyone with an interest in the SEN reform process here in Wales.

The report was written by LKMco, an education and youth development ‘think and action tank’, and commissioned and published by the Driver Youth Trust (DYT). According to the DYT’s website the organisation “was founded by Sarah Driver after stumbling upon dyslexia when she married Mark and they had four children together. Sarah very rapidly moved from not really believing in dyslexia to becoming a committed campaigner for improving the chances of young people with special educational needs (SEN), and particularly dyslexia”.

As such there is a focus on literacy and dyslexia but that doesn’t prevent the report being of 100% relevance to SEN in general. It also looks exclusively at the system in England and considers recent policy changes including, but not only, the effect of the SEN reforms ushered in by the Children and Families Act 2014 last September. Despite being England-centric I would suggest that the report contains a lot of food for thought for Wales.

The authors describe the report as being complex reflecting the ‘multiple systems’ in which SEN provision in education is provided. I think that this notion of SEN provision being provided via multiple systems is key, just tweaking one of the systems will not in itself result in the improvements we are all looking for. Instead all of the upcoming reforms, including those recommended by Professors Donaldson (curriculum) and Furlong (teacher training) and the soon-to-be announced Next-10-years Foundation Stage Plan, must be looked at through the lens of SEN. To unashamedly borrow heavily from the report:

All of these reforms provide opportunities to promote good practice in SEN and those involved in the reforms should ask themselves: ‘how can this reform improve outcomes for SEN pupils?’…Reform cannot come at the price of equity, and diverging quality is putting the education and life chances of young people with SEN at risk. We cannot accept a system with only outposts of excellence. The next phase of reform must focus on ensuring all learners have the educational opportunities currently experienced by those lucky enough to be at the best schools and in the strongest parts of the system.

The report is called Joining the dots: have recent reforms worked for those with SEND? and I urge you to read it and give it a bit of thought.

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Assembly committee to carry out pre-legislative consultation on draft ALN Bill

Michael Dauncey from the Welsh Assembly’s Research Service has just posted news that the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee has decided to consider the Welsh Government’s draft Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Bill. He explains that:

The Assembly’s Children and Young People Committee is inviting views from anyone interested or concerned until 11 November 2015. The Committee will then consider what recommendations, conclusions or observations it wants to pass on to the Welsh Government, with a view to influencing and contributing to the most effective legislation possible that comes forward in the Fifth Assembly.

You can find Michael’s blog post here along with links to all the relevant documentation. And the Committee’s consultation web page can be found here together with the consultation form which you’ll need to submit your comments.

As highlighted above, the date to get your views back to the committee is 11 November and don’t forget that the consultation on the draft ALN Bill itself closes on 18 December.

Estyn consults on its inspections of education and training settings in Wales

Estyn is in the middle of a 6-week consultation on how it will carry out its inspections of educational and training settings from September 2017.

Meilyr Rowlands, Chief Inspector, said:

“Education makes a vital contribution to improving the lives of our children and young people. Inspections are a way of ensuring that our education system is the best that it can be.  We are keen to hear the views of individuals and organisations on all aspects of inspection, including what we report, the judgements we make and how we take account of parents’ and learners’ views. “This is an opportunity to influence changes to inspections in Wales. I encourage everyone with an interest in education to take part in the consultation on how Estyn will inspect in the future.”

So, Estyn is keen to hear from a wide range of stakeholders that will certainly includes you so why not visit the consultation page here and you’ve got until Wednesday 11 November to get your views in.

A draft ALN Code of Practice sees the light of day but it’s not for consultation

Huw Jones, Minister for Education and Skills, announced the publication of the draft Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Code of Practice in a written statement issued on 30 September 2015. Except it isn’t exactly THE draft Code most of us were probably waiting for: it is, in fact, and as described in the Minister’s own words, an “initial working draft of a proposed ALN Code” which is not for consultation in its own right:

The document is a working draft provided for illustrative purposes only, with the intention of supporting the consultation on the draft Bill. However, I hope that it will give local authorities and others responsible for delivering the proposed new system an early indication of our intentions in some key areas – particularly around the content and process for preparing an Individual Development Plan.

The Minister also announced the publication of a second important document which he explains is:

…an outline of the possible timescales for implementation of the system outlined in the draft Bill. Whilst it is not possible to give precise dates at this stage, as these will be decisions for the next Welsh Government, I hope that the proposed key principles and workstreams, and broad timeframes outlined in the implementation plan can also form the basis of future discussions with stakeholders.

I’ll be blogging more about these two documents and the draft ALN and Educational Tribunal (Wales) Bill itself shortly but in the meantime you can find the draft Code here and the proposed timescales here. Enjoy!

The SEN reforms in England turn one-year old!

As regular readers will know I think that it is well worth following what’s going on in England with the implementation of the SEN reforms there and drawing as many lessons as we can possibly learn from how it’s panning out. September 1 saw the first anniversary of the reforms coming into force. The reforms are very ambitious and are intended to introduce long term change with the transfer from statements to Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) being phased in over three years so it is probably too early to draw any definite conclusions with regard to success and failure but I would like to draw your attention to three reports which have been produced recently. The first was commissioned by the Department for Education and is called The Special Educational Needs and Disability Pathfinder Programme Evaluation Final Impact Research Report: July 2015. The authors compared families from pilot ‘Pathfinder’ local authorities and who has received EHCPs with families who had received statements or the post-16 equivalent. It is worth noting that the families with EHCPs received them between August 2013 and April 2014 so before the reforms themselves came into force but it does provide a comparison of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ systems.

The authors’ initial key findings (p. 4) are pretty positive:

The data suggest that the process has improved for families, often in ways that are incremental but still statistically significant. The family survey found improvement across a wide range of variables relating to the process of getting an EHC plan. This was in line with the feedback from the qualitative research. Families who had received an EHC plan were statistically more likely to report that their views had been taken in to account and their views had been sought and listened to. This suggests a more family-centred approach, as was intended. There is also evidence to indicate that the process was more joined up and integrated, and that the plan was delivered in a more acceptable timescale. These types of improvement feed in to higher overall satisfaction with the process.

But they also noted some caveats:

  • Despite the improvement around the process, there was no statistical change in the extent to which families thought the decisions reached were fair
  •  Moreover, on some issues even where there has been improvement, there remain a significant percentage of families who are not satisfied.
  •  Similarly, while the study found some positive improvement in relation to choice and the sufficiency of provision there is further work to do. Forty three per cent said that there was not enough choice of provider and 39 per cent were receiving only some of [sic] support that they thought they were entitled to.

So, some positives and some negatives and there are more negatives to be found in two reports from the third sector: namely, the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and The National Autistic Society (NAS).

The NDCS’s key findings were:

The quality of Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessments and plans. Of the relatively few parents that had experience of being assessed for an EHC plan, there were mixed views on the extent to which their views were sought, disruption was minimised and the support was provided.  

  • The content of Local Offers. An NDCS audit found that Local Offers are variable in the information they provide. In several areas, local authorities are acting unlawfully in, for example, failing to provide information about specialist provision for deaf children within and/or outside their local authority. More generally, awareness among parents of the Local Offer is very low. Where parents of deaf children have seen their Local Offer, only a quarter say it was easy to find the information they were looking for. 
  • The full involvement of parents and children and young people in the changes. Few parents of deaf children have been involved in the development of the Local Offer. Even fewer deaf young people have been involved directly.

 

  • Access to the services that make a difference to the progress of deaf children and young people. Few parents of deaf children are yet to feel the promised benefits of SEN reform in terms of better services, more choice and control and joined up working between services, across health, education and social care.

 

  • Overall, there is widespread doubt among parents on the ground that local authorities are ready to implement these changes, that they have the funding to do so effectively or that they will be held to account for failing to do so.

While the NAS found:

  • just 23% of those who have been through the system (36% of those surveyed) are satisfied; almost half are dissatisfied (48%)

 

  • many feel let down by the new process of applying for statutory support, which they say is extremely stressful and in many cases takes longer than the 20 week legal limit

 

  • only 36% have looked at their local offer; fewer than 4 in 10 of those found it easy to access information in it about support for children on the autism spectrum and roughly half found it difficult

 However,

  • once parents get an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan, they are generally satisfied with it.

As I said earlier, it may be early days but we can still look and learn.

National Assembly for Wales publishes SEN statistics

The National Assembly for Wales Research Service issued a new publication in August called SEN statistics: Number of pupils, budgeted expenditure, and academic achievement which:

…provides some statistics on learners in Wales with Special Educational Needs (SEN): how many there are and what tier of support is provided, how much money is budgeted to meet their needs, and how well they achieve compared to their peers.

Amongst the figures it gives is the number of pupils with SEN, so we can see that in January 2014 there were 12, 437 pupils with SEN with a statement and 92,520 with SEN but without a statement meaning that there are a total of 104,957 pupils ( not including children/young people from relevant early year settings and further education colleges) who would be potentially eligible for an Independent Development Plan (IDP) under the proposed SEN reforms, which could explain some stakeholders’ concerns about resources and capacity issues.

On the subject of SEN expenditure, the paper points out on page 7 that the Welsh Government commissioned Deloitte to undertake a study of the costs of the current system, details of which are included in the Draft Explanatory Memorandum Incorporating the Draft Regulatory Impact Assessment and Draft Explanatory Notes (Chapter 7, p. 62) which accompanied the draft ALN and Educational Tribunal (Wales) Bill. It is worth noting that the Welsh Government itself has pointed out the figures it has used in costing the proposed SEN reforms are “best estimates” due to the way schools record information about their spending on SEN:

We have used the findings in the Deloitte report to inform our cost benefit analysis. However as Deloitte note in their report: ‘It was apparent … that the information needed … is simply not recorded at the present time, including a lack of records on how much is spent meeting SEN/LDD needs as well as cost information at a process level. For example schools record how much they spend on salaries, equipment…but they do not analyse their spending into particular functions.’…Therefore, all costs within this RIA should be considered as best estimates based on the findings of the Deloitte report and the available evidence.

Page 5 of the paper details the budgeted expenditure local authorities in Wales have spent on SEN and I’ve copied three key figures below. Again, it is worth noticing that the amount of the local authorities’ SEN budgets delegated to the schools has risen steadily from 22% in 2010-11 to reach 72% in 2015-16.

  • Total budgeted expenditure on SEN in 2015-16 across Wales is £356.306 million. This is a 0.2% decrease from 2014-15 and 0.8% fall from 2013-14 when funding was at its highest. However, budgeted expenditure has risen by 4.3% since 2010-11.
  • £789 is budgeted for SEN in 2015-16 per pupil (all pupils not SEN cohort). This has reduced from £792 in 2014-15 and £796 in 2013-14 but has increased from £754 in 2010-11.
  • The delegation rate for SEN expenditure across Wales in 2015-16 is 72%. This means that £72 of every £100 budgeted for SEN is passed by local authorities to schools themselves. The delegation rate has risen in each of the last five years from 55% in 2010-11

New official website for Welsh law

“A keenly awaited website” appeared earlier this week which, it is claimed,

… will help practitioners and the public better understand how the law in Wales is gradually diverging from the rest of the UK.

The Cyfraith Cymru/Law Wales project has been spearheaded by Welsh counsel general Theodore Huckle QC (pictured) in association with legal publishers Westlaw UK.  

Under the devolution settlement, Welsh legislation is rapidly diverging from English law in areas such as planning and environmental law as well as in housing and health. The aim of the site is to raise awareness of the growing body of Welsh law being passed by the National Assembly for Wales and made by Welsh ministers.

Huckle said: ‘With more and more laws being passed affecting only Wales, it’s absolutely vital that people here and beyond understand the growing changes in areas like health, education and housing, to name but a few.

‘I’m delighted that through our partnership with Westlaw UK, the [Law Wales website] will be further developed to include rich, in-depth content and analysis aimed at those working in the legal system in Wales.

First minister of Wales Carwyn Jones said: ‘As a barrister and a legislator, I am acutely aware of how complex the law can be. I am delighted that the Welsh government is leading the way in the UK by developing this information service.

And usefully it has a section devoted to education and even more usefully, because it saves me having to compile and maintain it, it has links to all the major bits of legislation to do with education in Wales.