The new “rights-based” Additional Learning Needs system in Wales

with Rukhsana Koser, Senior Solicitor, Education Lawyers, part of Langley Wellington Solicitors LLP

While we usually talk on Special Needs Jungle about SEND education, this only applies to England. In Scotland and Wales, the system is different. Some time ago, we told you about the change coming up to the organisation of special educational needs in Wales. These changes were delayed by a year, but from this month, they are being implemented.

Pleasingly, the new Code of practice has regard to the requirements of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

We'll include some links at the end to factsheets from the Welsh Government. But first, we're very grateful to Rukhsana Koser of Education Lawyers*, part of Langley Wellington Solicitors LLP, for writing this explanatory article to help you understand the new Welsh system.

What do you need to know about Additional Learning Needs in Wales, by Rukhsana Koser

From 1 September 2021, the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 (“ALNWA 2018”) changed the way children and young people aged 0-25 with additional learning needs (“ALN”) are supported in education. The 2018 Act itself is supported by regulations and an ALN Code of Practice.

The new ALNWA 2018, aims to deliver a fully inclusive education system for children and young people in Wales, where needs are identified early and addressed quickly and support must be flexible and responsive. The new system aims to put the child and young person at the centre of everything. 

So what is the new ALN system in Wales?

  • Terminlogy: “Additional Learning Needs” and “Additional Learning Provision” replaces the existing, and more familiar terms of “Special Educational Needs/Provision” ‘learning difficulties and/or disabilities’.
  • Age range of 0 – 25: There is a new single legislative system relating to the support given children and young people aged between 0 to 25 years who have additional learning needs.
  • A single plan: A new "Individual Development Plan", a single statutory plan, replaces the existing variety of statutory and non-statutory plans.
  • Increased participation: The new system should include more participation of children and young people whose views should always be considered as part of the planning process, along with those of their parents / carers.
  • High aspirations and improved outcomes are to be emphasised in the Individual Development Plan. The provision must deliver tangible outcomes that contribute in a meaningful way to the child or young person’s achievement of their full potential.
  • Less adversarial system through a simpler process of producing and revising an Individual Development Plan.
  • Increased collaboration and information sharing between parties, in order to ensure that needs are identified early and the right support is put in place to enable children and young people to achieve positive outcomes.
  • Local resolution of conflict: There is a focus on ensuring that where disagreements occur about an Individual Development Plan or the provision it contains, the matter is considered and resolved at the most local level possible.
  • Right of appeal preserved: Where disagreements about the contents of an Individual Development Plan cannot be resolved at the local level, the Act ensures there is a right of appeal to the Tribunal.
  • New Code of Practice: The new ALN Code of Practice will provide clear guidance upon which local authorities in Wales, and those other organisations responsible for the delivery of services for children and young people with ALN, must act. Find the Code here
  • Welsh Language: Services must consider whether a child or young person needs additional learning provision in Welsh. If they do, this must be documented in the Individual Development Plan and ‘all reasonable steps’ must be taken to secure the provision in Welsh.

The above was taken from The Transformation Programme information

In some cases, ALP may need to be provided in Welsh for it to be effective, or as effective as possible. There are various duties in the Act at both the individual level and the planning level, with a view to ensuring provision of ALP in Welsh wherever possible.

ALN Code 3.20

Underlying Principles of the ALN system

The Code of Practice is based on five principles, which can be read in Chapter Three of the Code, which spells out the below in greater detail

  1.  A rights-based approach where the views, wishes and feelings of the child, child’s parent or young person are central to the planning and provision of support; and the child, child’s parent or young personis enabled to participate as fully as possible in the decision making processes and has effective rights to challenge decisions about ALN, ALP and related matters.
  2. Early identification, intervention and prevention where needs are identified and provision put in place at the earliest opportunity and where possible interventions are put in place to prevent the development or escalation of ALN.
  3. Collaboration and integration where services work together to ensure ALN are identified early and appropriate co-ordinated support is put in place to enable children and young people to achieve positive expectations, experiences and outcomes.
  4. Inclusive education where the majority of children and young people with ALN are supported to participate fully in mainstream education and a whole setting approach is taken to meeting the needs of learners with ALN.
  5. A bilingual system where all reasonable steps are taken to deliver ALP in Welsh for children and young people who require support through the medium of Welsh, with scope for increasing the delivery of ALP in Welsh over time.

A child or young person has ALN if they have a learning difficulty or disability that makes it harder for them to learn if they are not given extra support that is not normally given to other learners their age.

The definition of Additional Learning Needs or ALN

Individual Development Plans or IDPs:

Individual Development Plans (IDPs) describe a learner’s ALN and set out what support will be given to help them learn. IDPs are for children aged 0-16 with ALN, as well as young people aged 16-25 who attend sixth form or college and have ALN.

Because this is a single plan, IDPs should be available to learners with all levels of ALN, not just those with a high level of support need. Any support written into an IDP has to be provided by law. It is normally the maintained school's task to prepare and maintain the IDP for a child with Additional Learning Needs. This task falls to the local authority when:

  • The child/young people is not a pupil at a maintained school or enrolled as a student at an further education institute,
  • where they are a child looked after by a Welsh local authority,
  • where the child is under compulsory school age but not attending a maintained school setting
  • where the young person is attending an independent specialist post-16 institution
  • the child is dual registered,
  • where the child may require provision that would not be reasonable for the school to secure,
  • where the extent or nature of needs a school cannot adequately determine

An IDP maintained by a school and that maintained by a local authority will have exactly the same statutory standing. Whichever body prepares and maintains the IDP must ensure that the IDP describes the child or young person’s ALN and the ALP that is called for by their ALN, and must then secure that ALP.

IDPs are required to use a standard format although the form's style can be adapted to suit local preferences or those of the child or young person.

A dual system with gradual change

From September 2021, children and young people who are newly identified as having ALN and needing a support should get an IDP.

Eventually IDPs will take over from existing learning support plans such as Statements, Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Learning and Skills Plans (LSPs). The Welsh Government has said that the changes will come in over time and that it isn’t expecting learners who already have a support plan to start to move over to an IDP until after January 2022.

Who can refer my child for an IDP?

Every school or college has an Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator (ALNCO). Parents should talk to the ALNCO about getting a plan.

As well as schools, parents can also request an IDP. If a parents’ request for an IDP is turned down, they can challenge this decision.

If your child is too young to attend school, parents should contact their local council and ask to speak to the Early Years Additional Learning Needs Lead Officer (EYALNLO). The EYALNLO is a teacher with specialist knowledge and experience in ALN in Early Years, employed by the LA to provide advice and support to staff in settings on the inclusion of children with ALN. They help schools to plan the move into a Reception class.

Professionals working with the child, such as an therapist or a  teacher may also refer a child to the ALNCO or EYALNLO, but they should talk to the parent about this first.

Click to enlarge. Source

How is my child assessed for an IDP?

If the ALNCO or EYALNLO agrees that the child has Additional Learning Needs and requires extra support, they will invite the parents and the child, and potentially other professionals, such as a speech and language therapist, to a meeting to discuss the child’s support needs.

The parents and the child should be included in discussions around the child’s support and IDP at every stage.

During an assessment,

  • the views, wishes and feelings of the child and the child’s parent or the young person,
  • the importance of the child and the child’s parent or the young person participating as fully as possible in decisions relating to the exercise of the function concerned, and
  •  the importance of the child and the child’s parent or young person being provided with the information and support necessary to enable participation in those decisions.

Once a child has an IDP, it should be reviewed every year. An earlier review can be requested if there is a good reason for it.

Rukhsana Koser
Rukhsana Koser

What type of support might an IDP include?

The support in a child or young person’s IDP will be different for every child or young person as it is based on their individual needs. The type of support outlined in an IDP can also be very wide-ranging. However, some examples might include support from a Speech and Language Therapist, an occupational therapist etc.

What happens if parents are unhappy with a decision on the child’s IDP?

The Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales (‘SENTW’) has been renamed as the Education Tribunal for Wales (‘the Tribunal’). If parents/carers or the young person are unhappy with decisions around an IDP, they can appeal to the Education Tribunal within set timeframes. It will also hear disability discrimination claims in relation to schools. 

Issues that can be appealed include, a decision about whether or not a child/young person has ALN, whether they need an IDP, the contents of the plan, whether provision is in Welsh, and the setting, such as residential - this is not a full list (see Chapter 33 of the Code)


The new Act aims to moves from a school-focused ALN support system into a multi-agency collaboration – similar to the Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment process in England – where the child and or the young person and their family are at the centre of the assessment process. However, in Wales, the ALN system will extend rights to statutory plans to all learners with ALN, not limited to only those with the most severe or complex needs. 

*Education Lawyers are a client of SocialOro, Tania's social media consultancy

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