Mum calls for compulsory training for all teachers in Wales to help support neurodiverse children

Clare-Anna Mitchell's daughter Dakota has been on the waiting list for a neurodiverse assessment for two years.

A mother is calling for all teachers and teaching assistants to have compulsory training in additional learning needs, after experiencing a lack of support for her daughter.

Clare-Anna Mitchell's daughter Dakota is suspected to have ADHD and autism and has been on the waiting list for an assessment for two years, having struggled with symptoms through school.

But she says there is a lack of support for children in schools across Wales, as there are currently no compulsory modules on additional learning needs for those training to become a teacher.  

This has led Clare-Anna to start a petition calling for a review into the Additional Learning Needs policies in schools, with the hope that all teachers and teaching assistants will have compulsory training, so that others like her daughter can get the additional support they need.

Claire-Anna's petition currently has more than one thousand signatures.

"There are training previsions around but it's not compulsory," Clare-Anna said.

"We want the Government to make it compulsory so that all teachers understand these needs, so that the children are given the same opportunities as all of the other children."

She said training will be a "win win for everyone".

"In no way am I disrespecting teachers, I think they're absolute heroes," she said.

"But they are struggling, if they've got a child that's being disruptive constantly, it's hard. Also, those other children aren't getting the education they deserve so it's a win win for everybody if that training is there."

Speaking about her daughters struggles, Clare-Anna said: "It's a daily thing really, Dakota will come home and her confidence will be on the floor, her self-esteem will be very low.

"She's always been a very positive, upbeat child, she's always been the life and soul of the party and as she's sort of unmasking - because girls tend to mask their feelings a lot more then boys - as that mask is slipping, you're seeing the struggles and when she comes home she's like a bottle of pop, ready to explode, because she's not been able to be herself in school.

She continued: "She has to sit and do her work and ADHD children can't do that, they have to have breaks, they have to be able to regulate themselves and then you know, ten minutes and mostly, they can go back and finish their work but if that's not allowed to happen or that's not understood by the teachers then it's not helpful to them at all."

Clare-Anna explained that Dakota was first flagged as possibly being neurodiverse by an Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator (ALNCo), but that not every school has that support in place.

"I wouldn't have noticed," she said.

"I wouldn't have known and that's another issue is that we do need to have a massive awareness campaign about the traits in these children so that parents can also recognise them and it's not just left up to the education system because we've got a great ALNCo in our school, however not everyone does."

She added: "My vision is that if children are taught from a young age to regulate themselves, are given the tool box to regulate themselves [...] which they can then take through life with them.

"I think that it's much harder for these children with these massive feelings, the lack of regulation and I think it can be ok, we just need to teach them and support them, but at the moment that provision isn't there."

Dakota said she finds "sitting still" the hardest at school.

Linzi Richards, Dakota's dance teacher, told ITV News that her class enables young people to have freedom and be creative.

"I think with children that suffer from ADHD, they're in school all day, and they're told to sit in their seats, and there's a lot of rules, it's discipline.

"When they leave school and get to express themselves in a dance class, it's amazing because they don't have to be a certain way or they don't have to sit for numerous hours in one spot."

Dakota said she finds "sitting still" the hardest at school, but dancing makes her feel like she "belongs".

"Sometimes it makes me feel like there's nothing wrong and nothing can stop me," she added.

Speaking about the struggles she faces at school, Dakota said: "When (teachers) say 'sit down' I feel a bit rejected, I'm trying to regulate but I can't," she said.

She added that it doesn't take long for her to regulate herself. "If I fidget or move around more often or shut my eyes that normally brings me back to normal in ten, five minutes."

The petition currently has more than one thousand signatures. It will be considered for a debate in the Senedd once it reaches 10,000.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our additional learning needs (ALN) reforms will improve outcomes for children and young people with ALN. They are designed and delivered to respond to each individual’s need.

“Extensive professional training has been undertaken as part of the ALN transformation programme. Supporting learners with ALN is part of student teachers’ core studies. An ALN professional learning pathway has been developed to help Additional Learning Needs Coordinators develop their skills to support learners with ALN.

“We recently announced £12m funding to increase the resources for schools to implement the new ALN system and lead whole-school strategies to embed inclusive education.”

The petition can be found here.