3.5 Transforming learning in Wales – the Additional Learning Needs Code
The Welsh Government committed themselves to an ambitious overhaul of education policy in theiraction plan for the period 2017-21. This suite of reforms includes developments in: professional learning and education for teachers; the professional teaching standards; assessment; inspection; school leadership and management practices and crucially for us here, in the curriculum. A cornerstone of the new curriculum is that it ‘must be appropriate to every learner in every classroom’, with ‘equity and excellence at its core’ that helps to ‘develop our young people as confident, capable and caring citizens’ (Welsh Government, 2017, p. 17). An integral part of this curriculum reform is the Additional Learning Needs Code, developed to help deliver the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2017. The vision for the ALN Code is to:
Support the creation of a fully inclusive education system where all learners are given the opportunity to succeed and have access to an education that meets their needs and enables them to participate in, benefit from, and enjoy learning.
As indicated in the ‘Overview of the draft additional learning needs code consultation’, much of 2018 and 2019 was earmarked for the development of the new ALN Code through various rounds of consultations and reviews with key stakeholders. Most prominent amongst these stakeholders were the children themselves. Welsh Government were then planning on rolling out the new code from 2020, with implementation training starting in January and the system going live in September of that year. The existing special educational needs and learning difficulties and/or disabilities system would run concurrently with the new code, until finally being phased out in 2023.
The ALN Code is addressing some of the higher level aims of the National Mission in Wales. These include helping all learners to be ambitious, enterprising, informed and confident when faced with the opportunities that come their way in the future. Another feature of the code is that it has been developed through a multi-agency approach, including health care professionals alongside educationalists, so offering the learner a more holistic and supportive school experience. The wishes, needs and feelings of the child are also central to the planning of their education experiences. Individual development plans (IDPs) that will eventually replace the ‘statement’ system, will stay with the child through their schooling and beyond, to the age of 25, to allow for a more bespoke and thorough educational provision. ‘Inclusive education’ is one of the five fundamental principles of the Code, where all children are supported to participate in ‘mainstream education’, with a ‘whole setting approach’ taken towards learners with ALN. (Welsh Government, 2018, p. 25)
With so many reforms underway simultaneously in education in Wales, it will not be easy to assess the impact of one discrete policy change. But taken as part of this broader suite of initiatives, the ALN Code should herald some positive changes for those children in Wales with additional learning needs. It may even help Wales to be at the vanguard of inclusive education.