The Welsh Government has identified that there were 105,625 school pupils with ‘special educational needs’ in Wales in 2017/2018[1]. It has also researched how children and young people are being supported and has decided that the system that has been in place for 30 years isn’t working. So what will replace it?

A new system for making sure that children and young people in education in Wales get the help and support they need is being introduced. The Welsh Government has passed a new law – the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 to put the new system in place. It has also started to set out the details of the new system, and has recently published a draft ‘Additional Learning Needs Code’ and has asked people to send in their views by 22nd March 2019.

What was wrong with the old system?

If you or your parents felt let down by the system for assessing special educational needs, and felt that you had to battle to have your needs met, you wouldn’t be alone. Many children and young people and their parents and carers experienced huge frustrations dealing with the process of assessment and access to support under the old system. During its research, the Welsh Government identified lots problems with the old system which the new system hopes to avoid.

  • The old system was applied in different ways in different parts of Wales.
  • It wasn’t flexible and many children, young people and their parents/carers felt that they were left out of the decision making process.
  • The old system made it difficult for those with special educational needs to move smoothly from school into college or training.
  • It was hard to solve problems quickly – which sometimes resulted in additional problems occurring

What’s different about the new system?

The new system is designed to make the process of accessing support for children and young people up to the age of 25 much more straightforward.

  • The term ‘special educational needs’ has been replaced with ‘Additional Learning Needs’ (ALN) to remove some of the negative associations ‘special educational needs’ has, and to make a clear break with the old system.
  • There will be one Independent Development Plan (the IDP) regardless of the type of needs you have, and regardless of how old you are. There will be no distinction between the type of plan for those who are 16 and under in compulsory education and those over 16-25 in Further Education.
  • Children and young people will be provided with information and will be more fully involved in the planning process and in decisions about them than they are under the old system.
  • If you have additional needs, there should be a more ‘joined up’ approach to identifying and addressing them with other organisations so that if there is an overlap with other needs, such as health needs, these will be included in the IDP.
  • If you are ‘looked after’, the IDP should form part of the Personal Education Plan
  • It should be easier and quicker to create your IDP, and easier to update it if your situation changes
  • It should be easier to resolve disagreements under the new system
  • When disagreements can’t be resolved, there will be a right of appeal to the Education Tribunal for Wales (which used to be called the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales).

What is the Additional Learning Needs Code?

The Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 said that there would need to be an Additional Learning Needs Code. The Code will make sure that the new system applies the same way across Wales and means every child and young person is treated the same when their ALN are being assessed and met. It will be a ‘statutory’ code which means local authorities and other organisations involved in supporting children and young people with ALN will have to follow it.

Can I see what’s in the Code?

The Welsh Government has published a draft Additional Learning Needs Code for consultation. Anyone who is interested can read the draft Code and send their comments to the Welsh Government before the final version of the Code is created. You can find out more information about the Code and this consultation period here.. The Welsh Government has asked for people to send in their comments by 22nd March 2019.

Can I comment on the draft Code?

You don’t have to be a lawyer a teacher, a social worker or a politician to comment on the Additional Learning Needs Code. The Welsh Government has said that it would particularly welcome the comments of children and young people, and parents. The consultation includes questions about the draft Code and you don’t need to answer all the questions for your views to count. The Welsh Government has created a separate consultation document on the Additional Learning Needs Code for children and young people.

What does the Children’s Legal Centre for Wales think about the new system?

The commitment to including children and young people in the planning process and making sure that their views are heard in the decision making process demonstrates the Welsh Government’s commitment to the UNCRC and children’s rights but we will need to see what the final Code looks like, and how the new system works in practice before we can say for sure whether the new system really respects the rights of children and young people.

Have your say!

The Children’s Legal Centre for Wales are planning to respond to the consultation on the Additional Learning Needs Code. If you would like us to include your views in our response, please email us at