Skip to content

The new additional learning needs system: Progress of schools and local authorities in supporting pupils with additional learning needs


This thematic report was written in response to a request for advice from the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language in his remit letter to Estyn for 2022-2023. It is the first of at least two reports. The report provides an overview of how well the maintained primary and secondary schools that participated in the review are implementing key aspects of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 (ALNET) and the accompanying ALN Code. It also considers how well participating local authorities have supported schools.

The report draws on evidence from discussions with 29 providers including local authorities, primary schools, all-age schools and secondary schools. Of these, 12 were conducted through the medium of Welsh. Six of the schools, including two Welsh-medium schools, host local authority specialist class provision for pupils with ALN. Schools were selected based on their size, type, geographical location, and socio-economic context. We also drew on evidence from discussions between our local authority link inspectors and local authority officers. In addition, we met with the Third Sector Additional Learning Needs Alliance (TSANA). TSANA represents different groups of people with additional learning needs and their families.

Our recommendations:

Schools should:

  1. Improve the quality of information provided to, for example, parents, and clearly state what the school regards as additional learning provision
  2. Ensure that ALNCos have sufficient time and resource to carry out their duties
  3. Ensure that the professional learning of school staff has a sufficient focus on high quality teaching for pupils with ALN

Local authorities should:

  1. Ensure that all schools are aware of their duties under the ALNET Act
  2. Provide clear, accurate and up-to-date information to stakeholders, in particular in relation to:
    • what constitutes additional learning provision in its schools
    • those individual development plans (IDPs) that are to be maintained by the local authority and those to be maintained by schools
  3. Continue to quality assure and review practice and additional learning provision to ensure funding and professional learning supports roll out effectively for:
    • person centred practices
    • individual development plans
    • Welsh-medium services, resources and provision
  4. Develop and publish their strategy for post-16 learners with ALN

The Welsh Government should:

  1. Ensure that all settings have a clear understanding of the legal definitions contained in the ALNET Act and the ALN Code and provide practical examples to aid understanding
  2. Fully evaluate the impact of additional funding allocated to local authorities
  3. Ensure that future guidance and funding is provided in a timely fashion to allow both local authorities and schools to plan sufficiently

What our thematic review said:

Without doubt, implementing ALN reform and curriculum reform during a period of un‑precedented and significant challenge has been a tough and ambitious undertaking for all concerned. An additional challenge for local authorities and schools has been working to both special education needs (SEN) and ALN legislative frameworks.

Overall, the number of pupils identified as having ALN or SEN has reduced. However, there has been an increase in the number of pupils whose ALP/SEP has been identified in a statutory plan, either through an IDP or a statement of SEN. The sensitive work between school ALNCos and parents, particularly where pupils are considered not to have ALN where previously they would have had SEN, has generally resulted in parents being reassured that the provision made meets the needs of the pupil.

Participating schools had a generally secure understanding of the provision that they make for pupils and have normally adapted this well to meet the needs of pupils. However, the extent to which the provision is legally classed as additional learning provision (ALP) was unclear. It is likely therefore that schools are not applying the law consistently.

Additional learning needs co-ordinators (ALNCos) that are members of the school senior leadership team used their positions well to champion ALN across all aspects of the school’s work. The development of cluster working has supported school‑to‑school working. Cluster leads have assisted in the sharing of practices and specialist resources.

Both local authorities and schools were united in their enthusiasm for person‑centred practices and planning. As a result, relationships between schools and families have been enhanced. Person‑centred practices align well with the overall direction for Curriculum for Wales which aims to be inclusive. The success of both ALN reform and Curriculum for Wales lie in improving the quality of teaching so that mainstream classrooms can better support the appropriate progress of individual pupils, regardless of their ALN. Overall, there has not been enough joined up thinking at either policy or practice level to emphasise the connection between Curriculum for Wales and ALN reform.

There was a lack of clarity and transparency regarding which individual development plans (IDPs) (other than those stated by Welsh Government) will be maintained by local authorities.

Local authorities are gradually improving ALN provision for pupils through the medium of Welsh. However, there is a lack of resources, assessments, staffing and sufficiency of provision.

There has been a year-on-year increase in ALN funding for several years, with an additional £77m of Welsh Government funding post pandemic. Overall approaches to evaluate the impact of funding on pupils with ALN were weak. School leaders stated that they do not have a clear enough understanding of how funding decisions are made by their local authorities.

Full report