Parents claim: "Special Educational Needs no better now than 30 years ago"

1 in 4 children in Wales now have Special Educational Needs. Photo: ITV CYMRU WALES

An ITV Cymru Wales investigation has revealed major inconsistencies across Wales in the provisions of Special Educational Needs. A Wales This Week Freedom of Information request asked all 22 local authorities for statistics surrounding Special Educational Needs assessments and exclusions. Only 13 replied but, the results clearly revealed that data collection, terminology and provision are all inconsistent across Wales.

Nearly one in four Welsh children have Special Educational Needs yet parents have told Wales This Week that meeting those needs is no easier now than it was in the 1980s.

Data collection, terminology and provision are all inconsistent across Wales. Credit: ITV CYMRU WALES

Special Educational Needs, can vary enormously - from extra time in exams for a pupil with dyslexia to the complex challenges facing an autistic child. Most of the time a child’s needs can be met from within the school resources but, if a school is unable to help or identify that child's needs, then a statutory assessment can be requested from the Local Authority. The Local Authority will then take 6 weeks to decide whether a full assessment is necessary.

It is widely agreed that the current statementing process is frustrating and takes far too long. Parents and experts feel that the responsibility for planning SEN provision in schools shouldn't necessarily rest with the Local Education Authorities, of which six in Wales are in special measures. They say the inconsistencies across Wales make the system unfair.

SNAP Cymru have been helping families get the help they need for over 20 years:

Each individual as unique as they are when you have got a class of 30 sometimes, you have to look at the 4-5 children in that class that need some additional help and plan accordingly. And I think schools are best placed really to look at that rather than local authorities.

– Denise Inger, Chief Executive Director SNAP Cymru

Getting a statement of Special Educational Needs or SEN, would normally determine whether a child’s disability or learning level outweighs the other. Whichever is the highest concern would then take priority in the decision as to where a child is placed.

15-year-old Matthew Jones has moderate autism, a lifelong development disability affecting the way he communicates and experiences the world around him.

15-year-old Matthew Jones should be in school, but his mother Mary says finding somewhere suitable has been a constant struggle. Credit: ITV CYMRU WALES

His mother, Mary, claims he falls within a grey area of the current statementing process where neither mainstream nor special schools cater for his needs. He is has been out of full time education for over two years and is currently being home schooled. Mary feels there is no place suitable for him and is calling for the system to be revised, as she claims, too many children are falling into this gap.

If a child is 50-50 kind of a child when their autism and learning balances at the same pace. You are then going to get a misplaced child or a child who doesn’t fit in anywhere and this is what happens to children like my son.

– Mary Jones, Mother
In the past, children with Special Educational Needs have been dismissed as "naughty kids" count for half of all exclusions in Wales Credit: ITV CYMRU WALES

The Welsh Government acknowledged a need for reform 7 years ago and agreed that the current system is “too bureaucratic” and “not sufficiently user friendly”. It told Wales This Week that a white paper consultation setting out their legislative proposals will be launched later this spring. It also says it has been necessarily time consuming in order to deliver REAL improvement on a multi-agency platform. They say they are working on proposals that will make the system “simpler and more person centred”, will “provide greater consistency between schools and local authorities” and will foster “more effective partnerships between agencies”.

Central to the proposals is the Individual Development Plan or IDP which is expected to replace the existing statements of SEN. But whilst changes are imminent, new proposals are currently unclear and parents are left wondering what this would change in practical terms.If plans go ahead Wales could see the biggest overhaul of the SEN system of the last thirty years.

For the full story watch Wales This Week "When Needs Must" tonight at 8pm on ITV Cymru Wales.

For more information and help on Special Educational Needs, please consult the SNAP Cymru website.