Wales politics

Learning needs bill could reduce support, NUT warns

Classroom

A new law to help children with additional learning needs could result in less support for those needing it, a leading teaching union has warned.

The NUT said it expected a "lack of clarity" around some responsibilities to increase the number of parents appealing to tribunals for the support.

The union said a big increase could raise the stress, conflict and workload for schools, harming provision.

Ministers said the changes would mean a "simpler and less adversarial" system.

The NUT expressed its concerns in evidence to the Children, Young People and Education Committee on the Additional Learning Needs and Educational Tribunal (ALNET) Bill, last Wednesday.

The bill, due to come into force in 2019, will introduce a single system called an individual development plan to replace "statements", which currently address the needs of an individual up to the age of 25.

In its evidence, the NUT said it would be "better for resources to be focused on support for ALN pupils rather than spent facilitating costly and prolonged tribunal proceedings".

The union said: "Should these changes increase dramatically the number of tribunal cases schools and governing bodies are dealing with there is the prospect of increased stress, conflict and additional work for schools and governing bodies which will harm the provision they can offer.

"In addition there are concerns about the prolonged nature of these tribunals delaying the support a pupil should receive.

"With the lack of clarity around some of the responsibilities, in particular between school governing bodies and local authorities, it is reasonable to anticipate that the number of tribunals will increase creating a further backlog in delivery."

Another teaching union, the NASUWT, warned there would not be enough staff in schools to implement the bill's provisions.

It said "years of under-investment in schools" should be addressed to "enable the employment of sufficient staff to ensure that children and young people benefit from the new arrangements and to protect the wellbeing of the workforce".

Nearly a quarter of learners in Wales experience a form of additional learning need during their early years or education, ministers say.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said the bill would "completely overhaul the system supporting learners with additional learning needs, placing the learner at the heart of the process".

"These reforms will make the system far simpler and less adversarial for those involved by ensuring disagreements are dealt with quickly and at the most local level possible," she said.

The spokeswoman said evidence from authorities already working in the way the bill suggested said there had been a "significant reduction in the number of disagreements, and applications to the tribunal, which is releasing resources to better support learners".

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