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Cairns: Special educational needs in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.

"No-one would disagree that pupils and students with special educational needs are among the most vulnerable in society.

Therefore, our obligation to people with learning difficulties is greater than it would otherwise be.

Many strategies and reports have been published by the Welsh Assembly Government on special educational needs and, to a large extent, the principles and policies have been welcomed by all.

There are concerns about the autism strategy, and it is useful that the Minister for Health and Social Services is in the Chamber to hear concerns that have been relayed to me, as well as to many other Members, on the way that the Government's version has been watered down from that which was originally proposed.

In this debate, however, I want to reflect on the practice, and highlight how so many people with learning disabilities are being let down by the state.

I want to test the principle that all children have equal opportunity, because that is what we must aim towards.

I have raised countless questions on special educational needs with the Minister over many years, because hardly a week passes without hearing of a terrible injustice where a special educational need for a child is not being met.

I should make it clear at this point that my wife is an education lawyer, which possibly means that I am in a position to hear of more cases than most—though, obviously, they are shared in general terms and on an anonymous basis.

My point is that, whatever laudable policy is in place, or whatever principles, no matter how positive, are set, far too many pupils and students do not get the extra support that they need and deserve. Therefore, it is the implementation of Assembly policies that is the cause for concern.

Sadly, it seems that the Minister's stock answer to many of my questions has been that it is a matter for the local authority, and not for her.

I accept that local education authorities hold the legal responsibility, and that they should be the first port of call in any concern.

However, the Minister must accept that she has a strategic responsibility towards the matters across Wales.

Society in general has become more litigious, but the number of parents who resort to the law to defend their child's interest and the number of challenges against local education authorities has increased dramatically over recent years.

My original supposition was anecdotal and, having tabled questions to the Minister about the number of cases pursued against local education authorities, I was disappointed with the response, which said that it was not a matter for her, and that the data were not collected centrally.

On the other hand, the Members' Research Service was far more helpful, and was able to present some data—not all, of course—which, as I suspected, showed a large increase in the number of legal cases over recent times.

That is worrying for two reasons. Vital resources, regularly tens of thousands of pounds, are being used by local authorities to defend themselves in the increased number of legal cases—funds that could be used to improve the provision for the very pupils that we have all agreed should be helped to a greater degree.

More importantly, however, this is evidence that children and young people do not have equal opportunities and are being let down by the state.

Although it is not an exact science, the data suggest that some local authorities are worse than others at meeting special educational needs agendas, and that the sort of support that a pupil or student receives depends on where they live. That is wrong.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister accepts the debate in the positive way in which it is intended. In fact, it could be considered as an effort to put education lawyers out of business. That is what we should aim to achieve.

The Education and Lifelong Learning Committee's three-stage policy review is important. It deals with early identification, the statementing process, and transition through the various levels of education.

Early identification is a key factor, and teachers need to be trained to recognise the signs. Support from special educational needs co-ordinators also plays an important part.

Feedback from parents suggests that, in practice, these elements of the process operate satisfactorily. The next stage is reference to the local education authority, which is where the difficulties begin.

Given the potential financial implications, some local authorities are more reluctant than others even to start the statementing assessment. This was highlighted by the Audit Commission in 2002, but the problems still exist so many years on.

However, one of the significant factors is the waiting time. The code of practice says that the statementing process should take 16 weeks, but some take up to two years to complete.

Much of the reason for the delay is the lack of language and speech therapists, a problem that needs to be addressed urgently. Speech, language and motor skills are integral parts of a child's learning and development.

If children cannot express themselves, it leads to frustration, which manifests itself in delinquency.

There was a case in my constituency where records showed clear recommendations from clinicians highlighting a child's need for occupational therapy.

The records state that, when the child was aged seven, occupational therapy was needed. The recommendation was repeated two years later, and, when the child was 10, the record stated explicitly that, unless the child received occupational therapy, there was a high risk of the child becoming a young offender.

Sadly, no occupational therapy was received, and, unfortunately, the child is now a young offender. The policies state that every child is equal, and that every child should have equal opportunities. The reality is that that is not the case under the current arrangements.

If that child had been born to a middle-class family, evidence suggests that the parents would have persisted with the authorities, complained to an Assembly Member or Member of Parliament, and even resorted to legal action if necessary to ensure that speech, language or occupational therapy—as required in this case—was received.

Similarly, the need for facilities in schools to meet children's requirements is a matter of concern. Some schools have first-class facilities and support structures, and, equally importantly, have developed the culture necessary for special needs pupils to develop their full potential.

Dylan Thomas Community School in Swansea is an excellent example of where that has been achieved. It is therefore alarming that, as part of its reorganisation plans, Swansea City and County Council is consulting on whether the school should be closed.

Although I recognise that the council has difficult decisions to make, the risk of closing a school with all the important, and even cultural, elements is extremely worrying.

I do not believe that students' special needs will be met under these proposals. They will not have the same opportunities to move around the school, like every other pupil, and the quality of education provided for their development will be harmed.

In answering the question of whether all children have equal opportunities, I wonder whether the recommendation to close the Dylan Thomas Community School would be made if it were located in a more prosperous part of Swansea.

Finally, I want to pick up on the third theme of the Education and Lifelong Learning Committee's review, which is the transition through the various levels of education.

The ultimate goal must be for every child or student to have the opportunity to become independent. Even when a learning difficulty is identified at a sufficiently early stage, and when the various statutory obligations have been met, development towards independence is not as straightforward as it should be.

Previously, I have raised with the Minister the case of Daniel Martin, a student with Down's syndrome from Llantwit Major, who, with the right support, has the capacity and opportunity to become a chef.

He has already completed a course at Bridgend College and the next stage to give him the chance of becoming independent is a course at Foxes Academy in Minehead.

The cost is in the region of £70,000 or £80,000 over three years. ELWa says that this would be disproportionate expenditure. The alternative is that he becomes wholly dependent on social services, where he will end up doing things such as gardening and other tasks in day care—areas that are rewarding to many people, but in which Daniel has no interest.

He needs to be motivated and exploited in a positive way and Foxes Academy can deliver this. The cost of social care over his expected lifetime would be well in excess of £1 million.

The funding structure prevents Daniel from meeting his full potential and having that equality of opportunity that we are all so committed to achieving.

In the crudest terms, we are not prepared to spend £80,000 to save £1 million. Surely, a multi-agency approach is not only logical in meeting laudable policies and principles, but also will save money in the longer term.

In closing, let me bring together the themes that I have sought to highlight. There is clearly an issue with statementing.

In general, disadvantaged pupils are not receiving the same opportunities as everyone else. The Minister needs to take a strategic approach to analysing the activities of local authorities.

The special needs postcode lottery is unacceptable and the shortage of speech and language therapists is directly hindering the development of these pupils, whom we all agree should be supported.

Facilities are vital and any rationalisation of schools needs to take into account the implications on cultural issues, which cannot be replicated easily.

Multi-agency funding can not only save money in the longer term but can also give that equality of opportunity for special needs pupils to achieve their full potential.

I would not pretend for a minute that all these deficiencies have arisen because of the Minister, or even during her time as Minister, but there is no doubt that she has a responsibility to resolve them.

The legal authority may lie with local education authorities and other bodies, but the moral, strategic and funding responsibility lies with the Minister."

"Ni fyddai neb yn anghytuno bod disgyblion a myfyrwyr ag anghenion addysgol arbennig ymhlith y rhai mwyaf diamddiffyn mewn cymdeithas.

Felly, mae ein dyletswydd i bobl ag anawsterau dysgu yn fwy nag y byddent wedi bod fel arall. Mae Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru wedi cyhoeddi llawer o strategaethau ac adroddiadau ar anghenion addysgol arbennig ac, i raddau helaeth, mae pawb wedi croesawu'r egwyddorion a'r polisïau.

Cyfyd pryderon ynglyn â'r strategaeth ar gyfer awtistiaeth, ac mae'n ddefnyddiol bod y Gweinidog dros Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol yn y Siambr i glywed y pryderon a godwyd gyda mi, ac chyda llawer o Aelodau eraill hefyd, ynglyn â'r ffordd y mae fersiwn y Llywodraeth wedi cael ei lastwreiddio o'i gymharu â'r hyn a gynigiwyd yn wreiddiol.

Yn y ddadl hon, fodd bynnag, yr wyf am ystyried yr arfer, a thynnu sylw at y ffaith bod cymaint o bobl ag anableddau dysgu yn cael eu siomi gan y wladwriaeth.

Yr wyf am roi prawf ar yr egwyddor bod pob plentyn yn cael cyfle cyfartal, oherwydd dyna beth y mae'n rhaid inni anelu ato.

Yr wyf wedi codi cwestiynau dirifedi ar anghenion addysgol arbennig gyda'r Gweinidog dros flynyddoedd lawer, oherwydd prin bod wythnos yn mynd heibio heb inni glywed am ryw anghyfiawnder ofnadwy lle nad yw angen addysgol arbennig i blentyn yn cael ei ddiwallu.

Dylwn egluro yn awr fod fy ngwraig yn gyfreithwraig addysg, sy'n bosibl yn golygu fy mod mewn sefyllfa i glywed am fwy o achosion na'r rhan fwyaf o bobl—er, wrth reswm, dim ond manylion cyffredinol ar sail ddi-enw y caiff yr achosion eu rhannu.

Fy mhwynt i, pa bolisi clodwiw bynnag sydd ar waith, neu pa egwyddorion bynnag, waeth pa mor gadarnhaol ydynt, a gaiff eu gosod, mae llawer gormod o ddisgyblion a myfyrwyr yn methu â chael y cymorth ychwanegol sydd ei angen arnynt ac y maent yn ei haeddu.

Felly, y ffordd y caiff polisïau'r Cynulliad eu gweithredu yw'r achos pryder. Yn anffodus, i lawer o'm cwestiynau, ymddengys mai ateb y Gweinidog bob amser yw mai mater i'r awdurdod lleol, ac nid i hithau ydyw.

Derbyniaf mai awdurdodau addysg lleol sydd â'r cyfrifoldeb cyfreithiol, ac atynt hwy y dylid troi yn gyntaf os cyfyd unrhyw bryder.

Fodd bynnag, rhaid i'r Gweinidog dderbyn fod arni gyfrifoldeb strategol dros y materion ledled Cymru. Mae cymdeithas yn gyffredinol wedi mynd yn barotach i ddwyn achosion, ond mae nifer y rhieni sydd wedi troi at y gyfraith i amddiffyn buddiant eu plentyn a nifer yr heriau yn erbyn awdurdodau addysg lleol wedi cynyddu'n sylweddol dros y blynyddoedd diwethaf.

Yr oedd fy nhybiaeth wreiddiol yn anecdotaidd ac, ar ôl cyflwyno cwestiynau i'r Gweinidog ynglyn â nifer yr achosion a ddygwyd yn erbyn awdurdodau addysg lleol, yr oeddwn yn siomedig gyda'r ymateb, a nododd nad mater iddi hi ydoedd, ac nad oedd y data yn cael ei gasglu'n ganolog.

Ar y llaw arall, yr oedd Gwasanaeth Ymchwil yr Aelodau yn gallu rhoi llawer mwy o gymorth, ac yn gallu rhoi rhywfaint o wybodaeth—nid popeth, wrth gwrs—a oedd yn dangos, fel yr oeddwn yn amau, fod cynnydd mawr yn nifer yr achosion cyfreithiol yn ddiweddar.

Mae hynny yn achosi pryder am ddau reswm. Mae awdurdodau lleol yn defnyddio adnoddau hollbwysig, degau ar filoedd o bunnau yn gyson, i amddiffyn eu hunain yn y nifer cynyddol o achosion cyfreithiol—cyllid a allai gael ei ddefnyddio i wella'r ddarpariaeth ar gyfer yr union ddisgyblion yr ydym oll wedi cytuno y dylid rhoi mwy o gymorth iddynt.

Yn bwysicach na hynny, fodd bynnag, mae hon yn dystiolaeth nad yw plant a phobl ifanc yn cael cyfle cyfartal ac maent yn cael eu siomi gan y wladwriaeth.

Er nad yw'r data yn fanwl gywir, awgryma fod rhai awdurdodau lleol yn waeth nag eraill o ran diwallu anghenion addysgol arbennig, a bod y math o gymorth a gaiff disgybl neu fyfyriwr yn dibynnu ar ble y maent yn byw. Mae hynny yn annheg.

Felly, gobeithiaf fod y Gweinidog yn derbyn y ddadl yn y ffordd gadarnhaol a fwriedir. Yn wir, gellid ei hystyried yn ymdrech i roi cyfreithwyr addysg allan o fusnes. Dyna beth y dylem anelu at ei gyflawni.

Mae adolygiad polisi tri cham y Pwyllgor Addysg a Dysgu Gydol Oes yn bwysig. Mae'n ymdrin â nodi anghenion yn gynnar, y broses datganiadau, a phontio'r gwahanol lefelau o addysg.

Mae nodi anghenion yn gynnar yn ffactor allweddol, ac mae angen hyfforddi athrawon i adnabod yr arwyddion. Mae cymorth gan gydlynwyr anghenion addysgol arbennig hefyd yn chwarae rhan bwysig.

Mae adborth gan rieni yn awgrymu, yn ymarferol, bod elfennau o'r broses yn gweithredu'n foddhaol. Y cam nesaf yw atgyfeirio achos at yr awdurdod addysg lleol, lle y mae'r anawsterau yn dechrau.

O gofio'r goblygiadau ariannol posibl, mae rhai awdurdodau lleol yn fwy amharod nag eraill hyd yn oed i ddechrau asesiad y datganiad. Nodwyd hyn gan y Comisiwn Archwilio yn 2002, ond erys y problemau o hyd sawl blwyddyn wedyn.

Fodd bynnag, un o'r ffactorau arwyddocaol yw'r amser aros. Dywed y cod ymarfer y dylai'r broses datganiadau gymryd 16 wythnos, ond mae rhai yn cymryd hyd at ddwy flynedd i'w cwblhau.

Prinder therapyddion iaith a lleferydd sy'n gyfrifol i raddau helaeth am y rheswm dros yr oedi, problem y mae angen mynd i'r afael â hi ar fyrder. Mae sgiliau lleferydd, iaith a symud yn rhan annatod o addysg a datblygiad plentyn.

Os na all plant fynegi eu hunain, mae'n arwain at rwystredigaeth, sy'n amlygu ei hun mewn ymddygiad tramgwyddus.

Cafwyd achos yn fy etholaeth lle y dangosodd y cofnodion argymhellion clir gan glinigwyr yn nodi bod angen therapi galwedigaethol ar blentyn. Dywed y cofnod fod angen therapi galwedigaethol ar y plentyn pan oedd yn saith oed.

Ailadroddwyd yr argymhelliad ddwy flynedd yn ddiweddarach, a, phan oedd y plentyn yn 10 oed, nododd y cofnod yn blaen, oni fyddai'r plentyn yn cael therapi galwedigaethol, fod risg fawr y byddai'r plentyn yn troseddu'n ifanc.

Yn anffodus, ni roddwyd unrhyw therapi galwedigaethol, ac, yn anffodus, mae'r plentyn yn droseddwr ifanc erbyn hyn.

Noda'r polisïau fod pob plentyn yn gydradd, ac y dylai pob plentyn gael cyfle cyfartal. Y gwir yw nad yw hynny'n digwydd o dan y trefniadau presennol.

Pe bai'r plentyn hwnnw wedi cael ei eni mewn teulu dosbarth canol, awgryma'r dystiolaeth y byddai'r rhieni wedi cadw i godi'r mater gyda'r awdurdodau, wedi cwyno wrth Aelod Cynulliad neu Aelod Seneddol, a hyd yn oed wedi cymryd camau cyfreithiol os oedd eu hangen i sicrhau bod eu plentyn yn cael y therapi lleferydd, iaith neu alwedigaethol—fel yr oedd ei angen yn yr achos hwn.

Yn yr un modd, mae'r angen am gyfleusterau mewn ysgolion i ddiwallu gofynion plant yn achos pryder.

Mae gan rai ysgolion gyfleusterau a strwythurau cymorth o'r radd flaenaf, ac, yr un mor bwysig â hynny, maent wedi datblygu'r diwylliant sydd ei angen i ddisgyblion anghenion arbennig gyflawni eu llawn botensial.

Mae Ysgol Gymuned Dylan Thomas yn Abertawe yn enghraifft ardderchog o ysgol lle y cyflawnwyd hynny.

Felly mae'n frawychus bod Cyngor Dinas a Sir Abertawe, fel rhan o'i gynlluniau ad-drefnu, yn ymgynghori ynglyn â pha un a ddylid cau'r ysgol.

Er y cydnabyddaf fod gan y cyngor benderfyniadau anodd i'w gwneud, mae'r perygl y caiff yr ysgol, gyda'r holl elfennau pwysig, hyd yn oed diwylliannol, ei chau yn achos pryder mawr.

Ni chredaf y caiff anghenion arbennig myfyrwyr eu diwallu o dan y cynigion hyn. Ni chânt yr un cyfleoedd i symud o amgylch yr ysgol, fel pob disgybl arall, ac amherir ar ansawdd yr addysg a roddir ar gyfer eu datblygiad.

Wrth ateb y cwestiwn a yw pob plentyn yn cael cyfle cyfartal, tybed a fyddai'r argymhelliad i gau Ysgol Gymuned Dylan Thomas yn cael ei wneud pe bai wedi'i lleoli mewn rhan fwy lewyrchus o Abertawe.

Yn olaf, hoffwn gyfeirio at drydedd thema adolygiad y Pwyllgor Addysg a Dysgu Gydol Oes, sef pontio'r gwahanol lefelau o addysg.

Rhaid mai'r nod yn y pen draw yw bod pob plentyn neu fyfyriwr yn cael y cyfle i fod yn annibynnol. Hyd yn oed pan gaiff anhawster dysgu ei nodi'n ddigon cynnar, a phan fydd y gwahanol rwymedigaethau statudol wedi'u bodloni, nid yw datblygiad tuag at annibyniaeth mor syml ag y dylai fod.

O'r blaen, yr wyf wedi codi achos Daniel Martin gyda'r Gweinidog, sef myfyriwr â syndrom Down o Lanilltud Fawr, sydd, gyda'r cymorth cywir, yn meddu ar y gallu a'r cyfle i fod yn gogydd.

Mae eisoes wedi cwblhau cwrs yng Ngholeg Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr a'r cam nesaf i roi cyfle iddo fod yn annibynnol yw cwrs yn Academi Foxes yn Minehead.

Mae'n costio oddeutu £70,000 neu £80,000 dros dair blynedd. Dywed ELWa y byddai hyn yn wariant anghyfrannol. Y dewis arall yw iddo ddibynnu'n llwyr ar wasanaethau cymdeithasol, lle bydd yn gwneud pethau fel garddio a thasgau eraill mewn sefyllfa gofal dydd--meysydd sy'n rhoi boddhad i lawer, ond nad ydynt o unrhyw ddiddordeb i Daniel.

Rhaid iddo gael ei ysgogi a'i ddefnyddio mewn ffordd gadarnhaol a gall Academi Foxes gyflawni hyn. Byddai costau gofal cymdeithasol iddo am weddill ei fywyd dros £1 filiwn.

Mae'r strwythur ariannu yn rhwystro Daniel rhag cyflawni ei lawn botensial a chael y cyfle cyfartal yr ydym oll mor ymrwymedig i'w gyflawni.

Mewn gwirionedd, nid ydym yn fodlon gwario £80,000 i arbed £1 filiwn. Onid ydyw ymagwedd aml-asiantaethol nid yn unig yn rhesymegol o ran cyflawni polisïau ac egwyddorion canmoladwy, ond bydd hefyd yn arbed arian yn yr tymor hwy.

Wrth gloi, gadewch imi ddwyn ynghyd y themâu yr wyf wedi ceisio eu hamlinellu. Mae'n amlwg bod angen trafod y mater o ddatganiadau.

Yn gyffredinol, nid yw disgyblion difreintiedig yn cael yr un cyfleoedd â phawb arall. Rhaid i'r Gweinidog gymryd ymagwedd strategol tuag at ddadansoddi gweithgareddau awdurdodau lleol.

Mae loteri cod post anghenion arbennig yn annerbyniol ac mae prinder therapyddion lleferydd ac iaith yn rhwystr uniongyrchol i ddatblygiad y disgyblion hyn, y cytunwn oll y dylent gael eu cynorthwyo.

Mae cyfleusterau yn hanfodol a rhaid i unrhyw waith ad-drefnu ysgolion ystyried yr oblygiadau o ran materion diwylliannol, na ellir eu hatgynhyrchu yn hawdd.

Yn ogystal ag arbed arian yn y tymor hwy, gall arian aml-asiantaethol hefyd gynnig cyfle cyfartal i ddisgyblion ag anghenion arbennig gyflawni eu llawn botensial.

Ni fyddwn yn honni am funud bod yr holl ddiffygion hyn wedi codi oherwydd y Gweinidog, neu hyd yn oed yn ystod ei hamser fel Gweinidog, ond nid oes unrhyw amheuaeth bod ganddi gyfrifoldeb i'w datrys.

Efallai mai'r awdurdodau addysg lleol a chyrff eraill sydd â'r cyfrifoldeb cyfreithiol, ond y Gweinidog sydd â'r cyfrifoldeb moesol, strategol ac ariannol."

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