A new approach to Additional Learning Needs designed to make fairer and more transparent the support available to children and young people in Wales is working its way through the education system. But, as Nanna Ryder explores, the changes are not as equitable as they might seem…

Education in Wales is currently going through some major policy changes and Curriculum for Wales (CfW), with its emphasis on learning progression, has received much attention in the media and in academic circles both in Wales and internationally. However, the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act (ALNET) (2018) and the accompanying Code of Practice (Welsh, Government, 2021), that became mandatory for all maintained settings for children and young people between birth and twenty-five years of age in September 2021, has seen less scrutiny. One explicit duty outlined in the Code, which advocates a more child-centred approach to provision than the previous Special Educational Needs (SEN) system, is to support and protect learners who need Additional Learning Provision (ALP) through the medium of Welsh. This is a significant development in providing a distinct bilingual system for learners with Additional Learning Needs (ALN) in Wales. However, this is proving to be incredibly challenging for schools and local authorities now and it is questionable whether we will ever achieve a fully bilingual system for some of our most vulnerable learners.

From conversations with teachers and Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinators (ALNCo), initial roll-out of the new ALN system has highlighted a lack of high-quality Welsh medium provision in many settings. This is the case not only in mainstream schools but also in specialist settings due to limited specialist bilingual assessments and classroom resources as well as a shortage of staffing and expertise.  If ALP is required in Welsh, then practitioners need to record this on the learner’s Individual Development Plan (IDP), a plan which outlines their needs, the support needed, and targets for further development. While the IDP has streamlined processes for schools in terms of documenting provision, replacing the previous three tier system of ‘school action’, ‘school action plus’ and ‘statements of SEN, there remains a loophole for Welsh medium provision. The ‘get out clause’ is that the ALN Code stipulates that settings should take ‘all reasonable steps’ to ensure that provision outlined in the IDP is available in Welsh. For many schools in Wales, the assessment and teaching resources are simply not available to turn this vision into reality. However Welsh medium provision is a learner’s right and not merely a vision or an aspiration. If Wales are to realise their goal of a million Welsh speakers by 2050, then ensuring equitable quality provision for all learners through the medium of Welsh is essential.

A learner’s right!

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (1989) agenda is firmly embedded within both CfW documentation and in the ALNET.  Article 23 of the UNCRC explicitly outlines the rights of children and young people with disabilities and Article 30 emphasizes that ‘a child belonging to a linguistic minority group shall not be denied the right to use his or her own language’. For those over compulsory school age and up to the age of twenty-five in Further Education, Article 5 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities stresses the right to equality of experience and non-discrimination. The statutory obligations of the Equality Act 2010 in ensuring equity and equality for all is also mandatory when considering language provision. These rights are stated within the ALNET Act and the ALN Code but enacting them in some parts of Wales is proving extremely challenging. This is due to limited investment by Welsh Government in appropriate Welsh medium resources and assessments, lack of accessible ALN training for the education workforce in general, in addition to the recruitment crisis that the education system in Wales is currently experiencing.

Is this inclusion?

Some Welsh medium learners with ALN are therefore at a significant disadvantage compared to their English-speaking peers. The pivotal Salamanca Statement on inclusion in 1994 (UNESCO, 1994), ratified by the then UK Government and prior to education being devolved to Wales, stated that ‘changes in policies and priorities cannot be effective unless adequate resource requirements are met’. Thirty years later, this continues to be a truly relevant message for the Welsh Government in enacting the ALNET Act as inclusion and equity from a Welsh language perspective need to be prioritised urgently. 

A recent research paper (Davies, 2023) identified that this lack of Welsh medium provision not only impacts on learners and their families but also affects practitioners in schools and wider stakeholders such as health service and social workers. This affects not only their workload but also their well-being as they strive to meet the needs of Welsh speaking learners with ALN with limited human and other specialist resources.  Assessments for specific needs through the medium of Welsh are also extremely limited, leading to many learners being assessed in their second language. More worryingly, families of those individuals who find language acquisition challenging are also driven towards what Davies calls ‘forced monolingualism’, that is using a single language with their child, and in a Welsh context that language would be English.  In many cases the lack of resources and provision has led to changing the first and chosen language of the home. 

Moving forward

While there are pockets of excellent practice in many local authorities and schools in Wales, there is a long way to go, and the Welsh Government are aware of the challenges involved and the need for improvement. The Welsh Language Education white paper consultation, which closed in June 2023, clearly identified a need to increase Welsh Medium education for those with ALN and noted this as one of its key aims. Estyn and others have also criticized this huge gap in appropriate provision for some of our most vulnerable learners in Wales.  During the 2023 Urdd Eisteddfod, Efa Gruffydd Jones, Wales’ Welsh Language Commissioner and Rocio Cifuentes, the current Children’s Commissioner published a report criticizing Welsh Language provision within the current ALN System (Welsh Language Commissioner and Children’s Commissioner for Wales, 2023). This report reiterates the urgency of developing provision for Welsh medium learners that is equitable to that which is available for their English medium counterparts. They have also called upon the Welsh Government to undertake a national review of provision to ensure consistency across Wales and to make specialist provision, a specialist Welsh medium workforce, and Welsh medium resources a national priority.   

Jeremy Miles, the current Education Minister for Wales has invested significantly in the roll-out of the ALN transformation programme, but to what extent has that money been invested in developing Welsh medium provision? Despite an announcement by the First Minister of significant cutbacks in all areas within Welsh Government (Deans, 2023), further investment is needed urgently to realise the Welsh Government’s commitment to the Welsh language within the ALN system and to subsequently improve provision across the whole of Wales.

What next?

More assessment and classroom resources are needed, written in Welsh, and providing the Welsh context, to support the diverse needs of learners. A highly skilled bilingual workforce is essential. Initial Teacher Education provides the basic knowledge, understanding and skills regarding inclusive classroom practice and the Newly Qualified Teacher induction builds on that but more focused professional learning is needed for everyone working within the education system. The ALN pathway within the National Masters programme for teaching staff in schools and Further Education goes some way in developing knowledge and skills but more practical hands-on training is also needed as well as opportunities and a platform for networking. Schools are struggling to employ Welsh speaking learning support assistants, those members of staff who work closest with our learners with ALN. Very often they are expected to support complex needs and deal with incredibly challenging situations with limited support and training, so a bilingual professional learning pathway would upskill and empower them, and possibly encourage more interest in the profession. Better collaboration is needed between experts in the field – at local, consortia and national level to ensure that our Welsh medium learners with ALN are given the best possible support, provision, and opportunities to achieve and make progress in the language of their choice. 

Finally, Wales is a small nation, but distinct in that it provides bilingual education for all learners – something we should be extremely proud of. The ALNET states clearly that ALN is everyone’s responsibility so learners and families need to raise their voices, and Welsh Government need to act sooner rather than later so that the aspiration of Welsh medium high-quality support and provision can be transformed into reality for our future generations.

  • Nanna Ryder is a senior lecturer in education within the Centre for Professional Learning and Leadership at UWTSD. 


Davies, E.N. (2023) ‘Are children and young people with ALN at a systematic disadvantage regarding Welsh Language opportunities? Educational Psychology in Practice, 39:2, pp. 217-234. DOI:

Deans, D. (2023) Welsh public services must make cuts, Mark Drakeford says. Available at: Welsh public services must make cuts, Mark Drakeford says – BBC News.

UNESCO. (1994) The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. Available at:

Welsh Government. (2021) The Additional Learning Needs Code for Wales 2021. Available at: 220622-the-additional-learning-needs-code-for-wales-2021.pdf (

Welsh Language Commissioner and Children’s Commissioner for Wales. (2023) The Welsh Language in the Additional Learning Needs System. Available at: The-Welsh-Language-and-the-Additional-Learning-Needs-System.pdf (

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