Funding for pupils with additional learning needs ‘wholly inadequate’ minister told
Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
Stretched school budgets are leading to wholly inadequate support for pupils with additional learning needs, the Senedd has heard.
MSs told the chamber their post bags are filled with constituents’ concerns about Wales’ new additional learning needs (ALN) system which is being phased in.
Jeremy Miles defended the reforms as he updated the Senedd on progress under the ALN and Education Tribunal Act 2018.
However, Wales’ education minister recognised concerns around the consistency of implementation across Wales.
He said: “There are clearly areas in the system that need to be improved upon, and we are working collaboratively with the education sector to take action.”
He also told MSs that the ALN training requirements would be strengthened in the accreditation criteria for all initial teacher education providers.
Mr Miles highlighted Estyn’s thematic report on the new ALN system in September, saying the inspectorate found examples of effective practice.
Laura Anne Jones warned that the ALN system is “far too complex”, with Wales’ 22 councils all interpreting it in different ways.
Calling for urgent action, the Conservatives’ shadow minister described ALN as the number one issue in every school she visits in Wales.
“Funding for pupils with ALN is wholly inadequate,” she said.
“Most schools simply do not receive the funding they need to provide ALN students with appropriate conditions or the staff needed to meet their complex needs.
“There are unbearable amounts of pressure on teachers and headteachers.”
She told MSs that school budgets are so stretched that they do not have funding for specialist teachers or training for staff.
She added: “It is clear that direct funding from the Welsh Government is needed to ensure that every pupil’s needs are met.
“I have seen the faces of these teachers who are heartbroken that pupils are just not getting what they need in terms of support in our classrooms.”
Mr Miles said the Welsh Government has invested more than £62 million in revenue and £20m in capital since 2020 to support implementation of the new system.
Pressed about long waiting lists, he stressed that it should not be a barrier because the new system is based on pupils’ needs rather than a diagnosis.
Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister, told the Senedd she has had hundreds of people contact her about ALN, often with heartbreaking stories.
She said: “It’s really stuck with me, meeting parents who are at the point of feeling suicidal because they feel they can’t support their children.”
Ms Fychan also raised concerns about inconsistency of provision in the Welsh language.
Mr Miles said it is a standing item on the agenda of his meetings with Efa Gruffudd Jones, the Welsh language commissioner.
Jayne Bryant, who chairs the Senedd’s education committee, welcomed elements of the reforms such as the person-centred approach.
However, the Labour backbencher raised concerns about inconsistencies and parents not understanding their rights to appeal under the Act.
Mr Miles pointed to work with Snap Cymru to ensure parents have clear and consistent guidance about education entitlements.
Mr Miles announced that Welsh Government officials are undertaking a review of the school funding landscape, including support for pupils with ALN.
Vikki Howells, a Labour backbencher, who represents Cyncon Valley, said ALN-related casework makes up a large proportion of her inbox.
She said teachers tell her it is difficult to provide individualised support to meet each pupil’s needs when schools are allocated a fixed budget for the year.
During plenary on Tuesday November 28, the former teacher called for greater flexibility to ensure no child goes without support.
While emphasising the pressure on the budget, Mr Miles said his department is hoping to provide more flexibility on how a plethora of different grants can be spent.
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