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Written Statement - Consultation on the draft Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill

Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills

It was with pleasure that I published the draft Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill (“the draft Bill”) for consultation in July and I am grateful to the National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee for the pre legislative scrutiny they are undertaking on the draft Bill.

As I have previously made clear, the draft Bill proposes a radical and ambitious new system for ensuring that the provision necessary to meet the additional learning needs of children and young people is properly planned and secured. The principles upon which it is founded have already been widely welcomed by those that will be affected by and those that will be required to implement the changes.

We have set out in the clearest possible terms our intentions in terms of legislative reform – both through the draft Bill and the working draft of the ALN Code, which we published in September to support the consultation on the draft Bill.

However, there have been claims, which have subsequently been reported in the media, that misrepresent the content of the draft Bill; needlessly raising alarm and risking unnecessary distress to children and young people, their parents and to practitioners. I want those with an interest in the reforms we are proposing to engage with the consultation on the basis of an informed and accurate understanding of what the draft Bill sets out to do.  

I want to allay concerns that the provisions in the draft Bill would result in a transfer to schools of the current local authority responsibility for meeting the needs of those learners that are more severe and complex, and that this would in turn risk an increase in litigation and have an adverse effect on the relationship between children, parents, young people and schools.  I wish to make clear that this is neither our intention nor is it an accurate reflection of what the draft Bill proposes to do.
The draft Bill would introduce a division of responsibility between schools and local authorities that appropriately reflects the level of the learner’s needs. In the case of those learners whose needs are complex and severe, the draft Bill would empower schools to refer cases to local authorities as needed (see section 11 of the draft Bill). Children, their parents and young people may also request reconsideration by a local authority of decisions made by schools (see section 17 of the draft Bill). This is not radically different to the current special educational needs system, where children or young people with more severe and complex needs can either be referred to the local authority for statutory assessment or the parent can request that a statutory assessment is undertaken. Those with lower level needs have those needs determined and provided for by the school under the school action or school action plus model.

Decisions by local authorities about the child or young person’s additional learning needs or additional learning provision, will be appealable to the Tribunal. However, if a child, their parent or a young person wished to challenge a school’s decision, they would do so by referring the matter to the local authority (after discussing with the school in the first instance). We have been careful to ensure that the draft Bill includes a requirement that dispute avoidance and resolution arrangements are put in place, in order to minimise the number of potential Tribunal cases and facilitate the resolution of issues at the earliest possible stage.

The draft Bill and working draft of the Code are unambiguous on these points and I hope that those responding to the consultation will reflect that in their feedback.

It is crucial that we get these reforms right.  Whilst it will be a decision for the next Government, I want to ensure that a robust and comprehensive piece of legislation is ready for introduction into the National Assembly early in the new term.  Feedback based on an accurate understanding of what we are proposing is fundamental to this.  The stakeholder events on the draft Bill that we are holding later this month will, I hope, help in this respect.