Every child should have the legal right for help to unlock their full potential, says Rhondda headteacher
MAJOR BARRIERS to the academic performance of pupils that can have lasting effects into adulthood, such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and emotional problems, have not been included in proposals to overhaul special educational needs learning in Wales, it has emerged.
Their exclusion from new draft legislation, which also includes sensory impairment sight and hearing, were branded too narrow this week amid calls for the legislation to be extended to every child with a disability to "unlock all their potential".
Even children who are bullied or are gifted or talented should be included in new policy designed to transform delivery and provision for SEN pupils, according to acting children's commissioner for Wales Maria Battle, who gave evidence to the Assembly's enterprise and learning committee last week,
In July former education minister Carwyn Jones asked for additional powers from Westminster called a legislative competence order (LCO) so he could proceed with Wales-only plans to overhaul provision and delivery of additional learning needs.
This followed the findings of a four-year review that made a raft of recommendations to improve the teaching and life outcomes of SEN pupils in Wales.
It was a historic move, the first LCO to be brought forward under new powers granted to Wales through the 2006 Government of Wales Act.
Fears that the new powers may not be as strong as first thought have already surfaced, with First Minister Rhodri Morgan admitting passing new Wales-only legislation might prove a difficult process.
And disappointment with the newly drafted proposals has led to criticism this week that it is a "half-measure", leaving out children with major learning needs, such as those diagnosed with dyslexia and others struggling to read and write.
The complaint centres on the definition of disability in the draft proposal and its narrowness, a concern repeated at the chalk face and by teaching unions this week. Andy Henderson, head of special school Ysgol Hen Felin in Rhondda, agrees the draft measure should be widened.
"Additional needs has been the forgotten body under Westminster," said Mr Henderson, welcoming moves to overhaul current Welsh provision.
"However, it is important the legislation is as wide as possible, covering every special needs child and unlocking all their potential."
But how far the proposed legislation goes is still open for consultation. In evidence, Ms Battle told how the draft measure ignored motor neurone difficulties, deafness, sight problems, communication difficulties, attention deficit, hyperactivity, emotional problems or general poor health.
However, it is also claimed that the definition not only needs to be widened in a learning context but also to support other children with additional needs, something Scotland has already passed in law. Examples given were bullied children or those who were exceptionally gifted.
Dr Alison Stroud from the Royal College of Speech and Therapists, said communication difficulties needed to be included in the definition alongside the current description of "physical or mental impairment".
In the organisation's official response it says that six in 100 pupils in the UK two per classroom suffer from a communication impairment that often lasts into adult life. The paper said any proposals should also include "adequate resources" for delivery.
Welsh-medium teachers' union UCAC general secretary Gruff Hughes said: "There is no point in drafting a new law unless the broad spectrum of special needs has been looked at."
NUT Cymru spokesman Rhys Williams said an emerging picture where Wales could not include important parts of legislation in new measures because some areas might still be controlled by Westminster was "absurd".
A plethora of organisations gave evidence to a cross-party special educational needs committee representing a wide range of disabilities, including dyslexia and speech therapy, which is suffering from a severe staffing shortage.
The committee came out in favour of reducing statements legally binding documents of SEN for pupils.
It also recommended giving SEN children the right to appeal to a tribunal, something consultees say is also not catered for in the proposed legislation. More evidence will be given over the next few weeks to the enterprise and learning committee.
An Assembly government spokesperson said: "We are carrying out scrutiny of the proposed ADL LCO measure and will be looking at all the evidence before reporting back."