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Jane Davidson, Minister for Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills
I thank the committee for undertaking this review of special educational needs and for delivering such a comprehensive report on the statutory assessment framework. I welcome this report and, as you will note, I broadly accept most of its recommendations. I am also pleased to inform you that many of the recommendations are already receiving attention.
This review has provided me with an evidence-based platform to take forward further work on changes to the current statutory assessment framework, to ensure that the needs of all children and young people with special educational needs are met. I recognise that while improvements have been made over the last 30 years in how we identify, assess and meet the needs of individual children and young people with SEN, the current statutory assessment framework requires further review.
Evidence received as part of this review would suggest that the current system has become costly, bureaucratic and cumbersome and that it is difficult for parents to secure appropriate levels of provision and support for their children. Conversely, and paradoxically, evidence from parents suggests that they continue to rely on a statement of special educational needs to secure this provision and, as such, would wish them to remain.
One of the fundamental issues raised in this review centres around the need for a partnership approach between all those involved—local education authorities, schools, parents, pupils, health and social services, and other agencies—in meeting the needs of children with SEN. Often, relationships falter if there is a lack of a co-ordinated approach by the statutory agencies. Conflicting policies and practices are often the main stumbling block to this co-ordinated approach, hence the reliance on statements to secure provision.
One example would be in the delivery of speech and language services. To address this, in 2005, I provided £3 million for the development of pilot projects to improve services for children and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties. The projects are required to develop jointly commissioned services, provided by integrated teams of health and education professionals. It is envisaged that, through projects such as this, and the establishment of local children and young people framework partnerships, issues relating to prime and ultimate responsibility will be steadily removed.
Last year, we also published the national service framework for children, young people and maternity services. This provides statutory agencies with a template for the improved delivery of services to all children and young people in Wales. To address anomalies in the statutory assessment framework, and as part of the development of an inclusion policy and performance framework for Wales, last year I asked my advisory group for special educational needs—WAGSEN—to undertake a review of the statutory assessment process.
A sub-group of WAGSEN was established, which gave evidence to the committee on the progress of the group, and outlined several options under consideration for the future delivery of services. Its report provides practical advice on the implications for reform to the current system, and the group’s early deliberations on proposed changes. The committee recommends further consultation with parents and key stakeholders on these options. In response, I have asked my officials to conduct a consultation exercise on the options for change with all interested parties over the coming months. I will then take a view as to what legislative changes, if any, need to be made to the current system.
In considering any future changes, it will be important to place the needs of children at the centre of the debate. Their needs must be safeguarded, and I will want to be assured that, whatever changes are recommended, first and foremost, their interests are protected.
The committee recommends that there is a need to change the terminology by moving away from using the term ‘special educational needs’ to using the term ‘additional educational needs’. Guidance to be published in the autumn term—’Inclusion and Pupil Support’—has adopted the term ‘additional learning needs’ to embrace a diverse range of learners’ needs. Following consultation with parents and other key stakeholders, I will consider seeking framework powers to amend the current terminology for special educational needs, and issue revised guidance. Until that time, the term ‘special educational needs’ will need to remain to ensure that children and parents maintain their statutory rights under current legislation.
I have already put in place various projects and funding streams, ahead of any changes in the statutory assessment arrangements, to improve provision and services to children and young people with SEN, to ensure equality of educational opportunity and to remove potential barriers to learning. In recognition of the need to provide a range of services and provision for children and young people with low incidence and complex needs, Wales-only provisions were taken in the Education Act 2002 for the delivery of regional SEN goods and services. To date, almost £6 million has been allocated to authorities across Wales to deliver a collaborative approach and to develop high-quality facilities and services on a regional basis. One example of this is the development of Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn in north Wales as a centre of excellence for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders.
I was also delighted to announce earlier this year a £5.1 million grant to local authorities to develop the role of special schools working with mainstream schools, and to enable them to share valuable expertise and knowledge in meeting pupils’ needs. This is addressed as one of the specific recommendations of this review. Having published the Assembly Government’s response to ‘Acknowledging Need’—the Welsh Language Board’s report on Welsh-medium SEN services—I have provided funding of £90,000 to the University of Wales, Bangor to develop Welsh-medium diagnostic assessment material, which is a further recommendation of this report. An external reference group has been established with the Welsh Language Board to take this work forward.
I assure Members that social inclusion remains at the heart of all our policies. Ensuring that we deliver the best possible services for children and young people with special educational needs will continue to be a key priority for this Assembly Government.