Inclusive education – Welsh Government assessment
The proportion of disabled pupils attending special schools has been steadily increasing for several years. In response, the Welsh Government has introduced significant changes to improve support for children with additional learning needs (ALN), though it is too soon to review the impact of these changes due to delays in implementation. The pandemic has created specific challenges in relation to disabled children’s access to education, which could worsen educational disparities. However, the Welsh Government has not modified the legal obligations regarding special educational needs.
- In Wales, one in five pupils with ALN achieve five GCSEs at grade A*–C (including English or Welsh first language and mathematics), compared with two-thirds of pupils without ALN.
- Disabled children in Wales are more likely to be excluded from school and to experience bullying than non-disabled children.
- The number of children with ALN attending special schools in Wales has increased every year since at least 2003, even when the overall number of children with ALN decreased.
- Between 2013/14 and 2019/20 the proportion of children with ALN attending special schools has increased slightly every year from 4.1% of pupils in 2013/14 to 4.8% in 2018/2019. Despite this, in 2018 Wales had the second lowest proportion of special school attendance in the UK after Scotland.
- Despite guidance on accessibility, a 2018 report by the Children’s Commissioner found that local authorities and the Welsh Government were not doing enough to make schools accessible for disabled children and, in particular, it was noted that the Welsh Government was not doing enough to monitor the formation or implementation of accessibility plans and strategies.
- The Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act contains duties for relevant bodies to have due regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of Children (UN CRC) and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) – this will not apply to the UN CRPD articles 24(2a and b), which guarantee the right to inclusive education, due to the UK Government’s reservation.
- There are concerns about the delayed introduction of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act (ALN Act) because it will extend the current system, which has been described by the Welsh Government as ‘not fit for purpose’.
- There are concerns related to how the ALN Act will be funded, particularly in light of the cuts to local authority and school budgets over recent years.
- There is a risk that the pandemic could increase educational inequalities for disabled children – the Welsh Government has not modified the legal obligations regarding Special Educational Needs (SEN), but anecdotal feedback suggests that additional learning support is not being proactively offered .
- Statistics highlight that less than 5% of ‘vulnerable’ students, including those with ALN, attended school between 24 March 2020 and the summer holidays. Without appropriate support provision, remote learning can cause specific challenges for children with ALN.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on inclusive education.