Wales: Reform on planning support for learners

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas, Policy and Campaigns Officer, Wales, National Deaf Children’s Society

When I first started working for NDCS Cymru in 2008, there were mixed feelings as the Welsh Government vowed to change the way educational support is planned for learners with additional needs.

What we didn’t know then was that the Welsh Government was still a long way off making any change to the law… 8 years down the line and the reforms are still in progress, having been through numerous changes along the way.

Still, there’s the same sense of mixed emotion. There is excitement as we hope to overcome the flaws of the current system. But there’s also concern that the new system could come with a new set of flaws – in particular, a difficulty in accessing assessments by specialist professionals like Teachers of the Deaf.

A brief history…

Lobbying on the reforms has been a long rollercoaster ride with the Welsh Government’s proposed changes taking many twists and turns.

In 2009, I founded a lobbying group with a number of other charities, called TSANA (Third Sector Additional Needs Alliance). Through this group, we’ve given evidence to the Welsh Assembly on their proposals. We’ve also been part of two Welsh Government advisory groups, enabling us to make the needs of deaf learners known.

TSANA and NDCS campaigners lobbied hard against a proposal to restrict the right to appeal to the education tribunal. The proposal would’ve left many deaf learners in Wales unable to seek an independent challenge to important decisions about their educational support. As part of this lobby, more than 100 NDCS supporters wrote to the Welsh Government to call for the restriction to be rejected. It was dropped. Under current proposals, all families will ultimately have the right to appeal against decisions on a learner’s support needs.

While there are many promising aspects to the latest proposals, NDCS Cymru still has serious reservations about how the system will work in practice. The good news is that, after giving evidence with TSANA to the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee, the Committee has urged the Welsh Government to address many of our key concerns and suggestions. We’ve also been part of a Welsh Government advisory group, where we have been able to talk to key officials about these issues.

Where are we now? This is what you should know about the proposed new system:

  • The Welsh Government wants existing Statements and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to be replaced by an Individual Development Plan (IDP). IDPs will be a legal document setting out a learner’s support needs.
  • IDPs will be available to learners with additional needs aged 0-16, as well as those aged 16-25 in further education.
  • Currently, there are no changes to the law on planning for learner’s support needs. Some local authorities have been offering IDPs instead of Statements. However, IDPs do not currently have the same legal status as a Statement and families remain entitled to request a Statement.
  • Following the election on May 5, a new Welsh Government has been formed. First Minister Carwyn Jones has already identified that additional learning needs will be one of his Government’s first priorities. However, there is still much work for the Assembly to do before we see any changes in law.

What will be our Next Steps?

The Welsh Government will be writing a second draft of the new law and a new Code of Practice (this is the manual for how the new system will work). This is a crucial time for influencing the new system and, among other things,  NDCS Cymru will be calling for:

  • The new Code of Practice to make it clear that deaf learners are eligible for an IDP and the requirement to access specialist professionals, such as Teachers of the Deaf.
  • A standard format for the IDP, containing clear information on a learner’s support needs.
  • More detail on how the new system will work for deaf learners outside of the school setting (i.e. pre-schoolers and those in further education).

Watch this space for more details on how you can get involved in making sure these changes will work for deaf learners – we will need your help!

Read more (www.ndcs.org.uk/IDPWales)

Welsh Assembly elections – What happened?

Kate-Cubbage-cropped

Kate Cubbage, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

On Thursday 5 May 2016, 60 Assembly Members were elected to the National Assembly for Wales.

40 Assembly Members represent constituencies like Bridgend or Wrexham and 20 Assembly Members represent bigger areas called regions, like North Wales or South East Wales.

In the election no political party got more than half of the seats in the Assembly.

Labour 29
Plaid Cymru 12
Conservatives 11
Liberal Democrats 1
UKIP 7

This has made choosing a new First Minister, and therefore a new Welsh Government, very difficult. Although the election happened a week ago, we are still waiting for a Government to be formed.

Assembly Members have until the 2 June 2016 to decide on a First Minister and Government or a new election will be held.

Why is this important?

Whilst some decisions are still made in the UK Parliament or by the UK Government, many important decisions that will impact on deaf children and young people are made by the Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales including:

The Welsh Government is usually made up of Assembly Members from the party with the most seats in the Assembly. In this election that would be Labour. Sometimes, when A party doesn’t have more than half of the seats in the Assembly they will work with another party to form a coalition. This has happened before at the Welsh Assembly.

Once we have a Welsh Government their job will be to propose policy and laws and it is responsible for making sure that they are put in to practice. You can read more about the work they do on their website.

The National Assembly for Wales is what we call all 60 Members if the Assembly. They represent everyone in Wales. The Assembly’s role is to make the laws for Wales and to make sure that the Welsh Government is doing a good job by scrutinising their work.

What is going to happen?

We don’t know when the new Government will be chosen. However, once a Government is formed we will work hard to influence them to make sure that their policies, laws and any guidance they give to public bodies, like local councils, give the best deal for deaf children, young people and their families.

Regardless of who is in Government, there are 5 issues that our members have told us are most important to them:

  • Additional Learning Needs reform;
  • Emotional and social wellbeing;
  • Curriculum reform and educational attainment;
  • Supporting the development of early communication skills;
  • Getting the educational environment right.

Whilst we wait for our new Government we are continuing to work with civil servants to support changes to the way additional learning needs are identified and planned for. Deafness is an additional learning need.

We are also working with civil servants to influence changes to what is taught in school and how this is examined.

Where can I find out more?

You can find out more about the National Assembly for Wales on their website. Once a Government has been chosen you can find out about the Ministers on the Welsh Government’s website.

You can keep up-to-date with what NDCS Cymru Wales is doing to campaign at the Welsh Assembly on our website

If this campaign work is something you would like to get involved with we would love to have your support. Maybe you’d be interested in attending an event, have a story or some information to share or you’d like to write to your AM about the issues listed above. If you are interested in getting involved please email campaigns.wales@ndcs.org.uk