Look and learn!

I’ve blogged a couple of times now banging on about how Wales is in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the English experience as the SEN reforms continue to bed in on the otherside of Offa’s Dyke. And with that in mind I’d like to draw your attention to a recent blog by Tania, founder and CEO of SEN Jungle. Tania’s two youngsters are moving on to post-16 educations and their statements and being ‘converted’ into Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), the equivalent of the Individual Development Plans being proposed by the Welsh Government to replace statements in Wales. Two things sprang immediately to my eyes namely, (a) the amount of time, patience and effort she has evidently dedicated to process – how many parents have the knowledge and ability to do the same? And (b), Tania’s observations about the implementation of the reforms:

I won’t go on too much about all this as yet other than to say that I believe the issues we have faced are the result of the changes having virtually no lead-in time after the publication of the ‘final’ Code of Practice (although the CoP has already been updated since then). You can’t train staff in a new system that is to be immediately implemented to hundreds of young people when you don’t know exactly what the rules are. Especially if you’re expecting them to write legally compliant documents when they have never done this before. (Added emphasis)

It’s still early days but there seems to be growing anecdotal evidence that reforms of the scale introduced in England, which are directly comparable with those proposed for Wales, need careful planning and training to avoid putting the cart before the horse. Fortunately, thanks to Huw Lewis’s recent decision to postpone the potential introduction of an ALN Bill in Wales, we have time to constructively observe how the implementations are going in England and draw the appropriate lessons and build them into how change is implemented here.

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“A change in the law isn’t enough. It must go hand in hand with a change in culture to make a real difference.”

So said Edward Timpson in December 2013 when he addressed the English Local Government Association SEN Conference on the subject of the SEN reform process in England. Mr Timpson is currently  the Minister of State for Children and Families at Department for Education in England and let’s face it he was (and is) absolutely spot on.  So how’s it going in England? Are the reforms leading to genuine culture changes and making a real difference? Well, it’s early days but have a read of this guest blog on the always excellent SEN Jungle website and ask yourself what lessons can we draw from it to make sure that a change in the law here leads to the real change in culture in schools and local authorities that both the Welsh Government and parents want to see.

The draft ALN Bill is out for consultation!

So, the much anticipated draft ALN Bill was published yesterday 6 July 2015 in the consultation section of the Welsh Government (WG) website, not that there was a mention of it on either the Education and Skills News page or the RSS feed!! And you can find it here together with a number of ‘supporting’ documents including a draft Explanatory Memorandum including Explanatory Notes. The WG points out that it is seeking your views on whether the draft Bill delivers on its policy intent as set out in the the said draft Explanatory Memorandum and Notes and therefore it should be read in conjunction with the draft Bill which could be testing as it weighs in at a full 138 pages! Together with the draft Bill itself that makes a bit of reading and that doesn’t take into account the elephant that isn’t currently in the room, namely the crucial draft Code of Practice (the Code) which won’t be available until sometime in the Autumn. And whilst on the subject of the Code it won’t figure in a separate consultation, as a ‘supporting’ document to the Bill it is part of this consultation process and feedback on it is required in Question 6 of the Consultation Response Form. I’ll be blogging more on this in due course but in the meanwhile enjoy! And make a note that responses are required by 18 December

Donaldson and SEN/ALN

In March 2014, Huw Lewis, the Minister for Education and Skills, asked Professor Graham Donaldson to conduct a fundamental review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales from Foundation Phase to Key Stage 4 resulting in a report called Successful Futures which makes a total of 68 recommendations. You can read an ‘At a Glance Guide’ to the report here. Yesterday, 30 June 2015, the Minister addressed the Senydd and announced that the Welsh Government was going to accept all of the report’s recommendations. Last week the Minister cited the implementation of Professor Donaldson’s recommendation together with Professor Furlong’s recommendations on Initial Teacher Training and the ‘New Deal’ education workforce development initiative amongst the reasons why he wasn’t going to introduce a substantive ALN Bill during this Assembly. Instead, the Welsh Government is going to introduce a draft ALN Bill for ‘informal’ scrutiny which I blogged about at the time. Basically, the Minister’s reasoning seemed to be twofold: firstly, all of these initiatives, including the draft ALN Bill, were ‘intrinsically linked’ and the draft ALN Bill would need to be considered and developed in light of them and vice versa; and secondly, the introduction of the various recommendations would present a significant challenge which will need carefully planning and management so as avoid ‘reform fatigue’ and to ensure that the education workforce have the capacity to deliver all of the reforms effectively and coherently.  The latter  aspect will no doubt also draw on another report that the Welsh Government commissioned specifically regarding the skill base of the education workforce involved in supporting children with SEN/ALN which I blogged about here.  So, what does Professor Donaldson actually say about SEN/ALN? Find out here..

Welsh Government accepts all of Donaldson’s 68 recommendations for curriculum and assessment reforms

The Welsh Government is to move forward with all 68 of the recommendations made in Professor Donaldson review Successful Futures. The announcement was made on 30 June 2015 firstly in a press release and secondly later the same day by Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills, in an address to the Assembly.

The extract below will give you a flavour of the Minister’s statement:

Professor Donaldson’s report, ‘Successful Futures’, challenges us all to re-think our approach to the curriculum and to focus on the purposes of education. His recommendations are not about adjustments; they require us to rebuild our curriculum from the foundations up. These changes, by their very nature, are fundamental and profound, and the people across Wales who engaged in the great debate agree. It is clear that there is an enormous appetite for change. I am therefore delighted to announce today that we will accept the recommendations set out in ‘Successful Futures’ in full.

For those who are interested, I’ve blogged about some of the implications of Professor Donaldson’s recommendations for teaching children with SEN/ALN in this post.

ALN Bill: Minister explains the need for a delay in legislating

After addressing the National Assembly about the Welsh Government’s plans for Initial Teaching Training, Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills, returned to explain the decision to delay bringing the ALN Bill to the statute book during the current Assembly and you can read the entire transcript of his statement and the subsequent exchange with fellow members here.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t the most well received decision with Angela Burns, conservative AM for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, being particularly disappointed. She makes a very good point in welcoming the Minister’s comments when he said:

“I want to stress, though, that, for the time being, all the responsibilities and requirements connected with the existing legislative framework for special educational needs remain in place. I will be writing to local authorities to remind them of this.”

As she observes that some local authorities have adopted an attitude of:

 ‘We’re not doing anything because the Government’s bringing out an ALN Bill. We’re going to have independent learning plans. Everything’s going to change. So, we’re not going to statement anything.’ It is happening out there, Minister, out on the streets of Wales.

While Simon Thomas, Plaid Cymru AM for Mid and West Wales, spoke about:

” …authorities and councils telling constituents, parents and pupils, ‘We won’t proceed at present because there is a Bill in the pipeline and everything will change and we will review the situation when we have the Bill’.

Unfortunately, they are both correct and probably all parental supporters have heard examples of parents reporting exactly that. So. it is particularly gratifying to hear the Minister confirm  in a response to Aled Roberts, liberal democrat AM for North Wales, that:

…we all have the responsibility, myself most of all, of making sure that the current responsibilities of local authorities are delivered upon, and, as I say, I’ve undertaken to write to each of the 22 local authorities with that in mind, and if Members should alert me to any kind of bad practice going on out there, I will commit immediately to act upon that information.

He could be a busy boy!

However, Angela Burns (Con) is well off the mark when she says:

“… there’s already been extensive consultation on this, so I would like to understand more clearly why you feel that we need yet another very lengthy and extensive consultation process.”

So, here’s my take on why there is an absolute need for a “very lengthy and extensive consultation process” and help Angela Burns’ understanding. Many people criticised the first consultation document Forward in partnership for children and young people with additional needs: Proposals for reform of the legislative framework for special educational needs as being too aspirational and vague with the Minister himself acknowledging in a written statement that “Many of those who responded asked for further details on the proposals.

And the same was true of the White Paper itself with numerous occurrences expressing something along the lines of “full details will be set out in the new code of practice (CoP)”. Hence, the absolute need for a “very lengthy and extensive consultation process” because we haven’t actually been consulted on the vast majority of the nitty gritty of the proposed changes yet. And it would seem that the crucial document will indeed be the new CoP and let’s not forget the first draft of the new CoP in England ran to 174 pages which jumped to 292 pages for the second draft – clearly, we’re going to need plenty of time to analyse, discuss and consult with parents and other stakeholders in order to provide quality feedback to the Welsh Government. Continued…

The Welsh SEN/ALN reforms rumble on: the Minister for Education and Skills makes a written statement

Huw Lewis, the Minister for Education and Skills, made a written statement about the ongoing SEN/ALN reform last Thursday 18 June and it contains bit of a surprise. But before we get to that can I make a bit of a plea to those responsible for the Welsh Government website: when the Minster for Education and Skills makes a written statement, or for that matter any kind of statement, would it be possible to announce it and include a link to it on the Learning and Skills Webpage? There’s still no mention of it there as I write this 4 days later. Anyway, back to the statement itself; it confirmed what was generally known – a draft Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill will be issued before the Assembly’s summer recess next month and a draft of the new Code of Practice (CoP) will be published in the Autumn. The statement goes on to say that “…comment and feedback on these documents will be welcomed until December 2015…” It doesn’t specify the length of the consultation period but if it’s the standard 12 weeks hopefully the draft CoP will be available before mid-September so that it doesn’t eat into the end-of-the-year holiday period. So, what was the surprise? Well, in his concluding remarks the Minister states that he “will consider the drafts in light of feedback and work cross party to gain the necessary support to ensure that a Bill is bought forward for formal scrutiny early in the new Assembly Term. In other words, an ALN Bill will not pass into legislation before the end of the current assembly as was previewed and it would seem unlikely that any SEN/ALN reforms will be introduced in September 2016, which was the earliest possible date previously discussed: although the Minister adds the caveat that he “…will also be asking officials to consider how best to bring forward implementation of those aspects of our reform that do not require legislation…” So, what does this mean? The overriding good news for me personally is that this should mean that there is enough time to really get to grips with both the draft Bill and CoP and get create high quality feedback. This is particularly important for the CoP as the ALN White Paper indicated that the detailed nitty gritty information will found here. This was the case with the English SEN reform process which produced a largish draft CoP which was subsequently significantly redrafted with many people feeling there wasn’t enough time to scrutinise the second draft. The first draft had 174 pages which leapt to 292 in the second draft (the current Welsh CoP has 170). In fact, there is a feeling amongst many that the reforms in England were rushed through for legislative reasons and the introduction hasn’t gone as smoothly as many parents would have liked as can be seen on the SEN Jungle website here with, the then Minister for Education with responsibility for SEN reform, Ed Timpson’s response here. Huw Lewis’ reasoning for his decision seems to lay in a desire to get structural changes into place first before the introduction of a new system itself when he says: I am firmly committed to a fully inclusive education system in Wales; for our education system to be world leading it must deliver for all learners in all classrooms. Having a clear legislative framework is essential but, these learners, need more than just compliance. We need schools and professionals equipped, committed and skilled to deliver inclusive teaching and learning. I believe that by ensuring the fullest engagement in our reform programme and ensuring full integration of our plans for ALN with those for professional development and our curriculum and assessment we can deliver for all learners. If this can be achieved, and some of the apparent problems occurring in England avoided, that can only be a good thing.

The National Assembly for Wales’ Research Service’s In Brief blog gives a bit more information on the Minister’s position in a post called Minister to Explain Delay in ALN Bill to Members where it is explained that Mr Lewis will be making a statement tomorrow (23 June) in the Assembly Chamber explaining why legislation to reform the legal framework for assessing and meeting Additional Learning Needs (ALN) will not be introduced until after the Assembly election next May.