Raising awareness

Plus ça change…

I’m writing this on St David’s Day, so I must start by wishing everyone Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus! 

2018 so far has been crazily busy, and I have not had time to blog, but I feel I need to share some of what has been going through my mind.

January 24 is an important day in our family. It’s my mum’s birthday. This year, though, it was significant for a different reason. The long-awaited Additional Learning Needs and Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 was passed by the National Assembly for Wales. This might be seen as a formality, since the Bill had already been passed in December 2017, but the expectation of change has been hanging over Wales for years.

Expectation. In the beginning, there is hope. I remember the positive expectation and enthusiasm in a room full of like-minded practitioners when we attended training to prepare us for the changes in England. It was 2012, and we were eagerly waiting to learn how the new SEND Code of Practice would improve things for our learners and their families, how the framework would clarify things for us as educators, how funding would be simplified, and everything made more accessible and democratic. I had not been involved in any way in education when the previous SEN Code of Practice came into force in 2001, so I had no preconceived ideas – it did not occur to me that the new Code would not come into force until 2014, or that the much vaunted Education and Health Care Plans would not be expected replace all existing statements only by April 2018.

By 2015, we were moving back to Wales. I had been aware that terminology around inclusion in Wales was changing, that policymakers had been observing events unfold in England, seeking to learn. Wales’s first devolved and still current SEN Code of Practice had come into effect in 2004. It is very similar to England’s 2001 Code. How would Wales’s new Code of Practice build on a decade of devolved experience and the benefit of this view across the border? The expected new terminology was already in use in many schools, adverts for the role of Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator could be seen. Things appeared to be moving apace, with open consultations, much discussion and a great deal of optimism.

We have a word in Wales; hiraeth, it’s usually equated to a peculiar sort of homesickness, a rose-tinted longing for some better version of home (Wales) or the past… Everyone says it’s not translatable, but (always ready to find another angle, and with my Brazilian childhood), it makes me think of the Portuguese word saudade – a melancholic longing for a much-loved something or someone. We are so focused on this ideal provision, ideal access, ideal funding, this new, improved version of the Code, that I worry we have lost sight of what is really important here: the children and young people that the Bill, the Act, the Code are supposed to be about.

Over the past year or so, I have met numerous parents in Wales who have been told not to apply for a statement of SEN for their child, because the new system will supersede this. I have met parents who have been told by their schools that there is no point in pursuing local authority assessment because the system is in flux. So I’d like to make something clear…

Nothing has changed

Things are changing:

  • As in England, the new Code of Practice will include children and young people from birth to 25 years
  • New terminology
    • Additional Learning Needs replaces SEN (compulsory school age) and LDD (FE)
    • Individual Development Plan (IDP) replaces both statutory statements and IEPs
  • Learners’ views must be sought and taken into consideration
  • Multi-agency collaboration should become standard
  • Services at all levels must be available in Welsh

However, things have not changed yet. Some schools have already adopted elements of the draft Code of Practice. The 2004 SEN Code of Practice remains in effect and should still be followed. The new Code of Practice is subject to revisions and is not expected to come into force until 2019. IDPs will be officially introduced in 2020 following the implementation of the new Code of Practice. Existing statements are intended to be transferred to IDPs by 2022.

I know of schools that have begun creating Individual Development Plans and sending them home, without involving the parents or the students in their creation. Such erratic cherry-picking of elements from the draft Code, without regard to current laws and rights, adds insult to injury. Parents are left not knowing who to believe or where to seek correct information.

I have even spoken with a parent who has been told by a senior figure in the Welsh Assembly Government that they should wait for the new Code of Practice before beginning to seek assessment and support for their child. If they were to follow this advice, the earliest they could hope to obtain a statutory IDP would be 2020.

Despite the flaws in the current system, and despite the acknowledged need (I’d like to say right) for school staff to receive ongoing training, both to remain current and to deepen subject and pedagogical understanding, there is no intention to add even a single INSET day to provide training. Given the pervasive nature of the misinformation already circulating, I sincerely hope that this oversight is fixed.

There are huge positives in the new system as it is envisioned. The draft code refers directly to the 2010 Equalities Act. The provision of templates and use of IDPs should ensure consistency and continuity. If decisions really are made at the most local level possible, and if the system is “simpler and less adversarial” as planned, then this will be a great improvement. I look forward to 2022 fulfilling those hopes, the hiraeth I have experienced sine 2012. I’ll be thrilled if the implementation of the new Code includes something as accessible and meaningful to our children and young people as this wonderful initiative from Children’s Right Wales.

Back to Saint David…

Along with many claimed miracles, he is credited with making the leek our national symbol. This was perhaps one of his less saintly acts, as it was, allegedly, his idea that Welsh warriors should wear leeks into battle, in an early effort to avoid ‘friendly fire’. Nowadays many choose instead to wear a daffodil on Saint David’s Day. Some say this is a linguistic confusion between the Welsh words for leek, cenhinen, and for daffodil, cenhinen Bedr (literally, Peter’s leek). Others say it is due to Lloyd George’s habit of wearing a daffodil on 1st March. Still others say the leek gave way to the daffodil to avoid offending the English descendants of those ancient Saxon adversaries. Maybe it’s just a less pungent and more decorative way of celebrating.

Let’s hope neither the daffodil nor the ALN Act is just dressing something up to make it seem more palatable. There’s a saying in France, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… I’d prefer we took Saint David’s dying advice, “Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd” and do the little things that can make a big difference for our learners, every day,

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