Setting the Standards
The national occupational standards and qualification structure is identified by Skills for Care and Development – the Sector Skills Council for people working in early years, children and young people’s services. These set the level of competence required by workers in the field. These are the standards which students are required to meet.
Under the Equality Act 2010 the standard itself cannot be adjusted but reasonable adjustments can be made to the method a disabled student may use to demonstrate competence.
Understanding the Diversity of the Student Body
Staff in the colleges used ‘Dashboard’ as a means of data control which held easy to use information on the numbers of students who had disclosed a disability. Confidentiality of this data is assured by access only being possible inside the college perimeter. Colleges carried out three year audit procedure for courses on a rolling cycle. Analysis revealed an increase in students with dyslexia, students on the autistic spectrum and students with mental health difficulties. Ongoing research is carried out on the experiences of these students and new support structures are continually being developed to meet their requirements.
Promoting Students Services
Clear information about the support which disabled students can receive is included in all college literature. Learning support options are made clear to all students pre interview and at interview stage. In the selection process all course requirements are made clear to students so that they can match the reality of what the course entails against their own expectations.
It is accepted that, while every attempt is made to encourage students to disclose as disabled as early as possible, there are still some students who do not recognise that they are disabled or who feel their impairment will not affect their ability to study. To address this, ongoing opportunities for disclosure are offered.
Some students will disclose in college but are unwilling to disclose on placement. To help encourage disclosure prior to placement a ‘consent to share’ form has been drawn up and students are strongly encouraged to sign this.
Flexibility of Offer
The colleges had developed a range of ways of adapting their offer to meet the particular needs of individual students. Often this involved allowing students to mix and match different modules. Students are always encouraged to get as far as they can and are allowed to pass some units at a higher level without necessarily completing the whole qualification.
Example: a Deaf student who had progressed well from level 4 couldn’t complete at level 7 because of communication difficulties. She did well on her placements which were within the Deaf community and passed the exams but couldn’t pass the communication requirements. She left with an SVQ level 3 with some additional units, which is sufficient to enter work in the sector.
Some students progress more slowly than others and there is no funding barrier to extending the time a student can take to qualify as long as progression can be demonstrated. Some placements can be reduced, for example to one day rather than two a week, and the assessed period can be extended into the summer vacation. Students with mental health difficulties which have caused them to have problems with the pressure of a full time programme have been encouraged to shift to a part time course. Other students whose disability has meant that they have to take a break from study have been able to return at a later date to complete their qualification.
In addition the college offers non modular non SCQF courses in early years for students from special schools for students with more complex learning difficulties. These courses have placements in nurseries and can be a stepping stone into supported employment.
In rare instances when a student is not able to complete a course staff ensure that they offer possible alternative learning programmes.
Example: a visually impaired student encountered difficulties with seeing small children close to him. He completed an introductory level 5 course with a taster placement, which was not mandatory for the course, and during this he realised the difficulty. He was able to progress to level 6 on a different course.
Example: a student had insurmountable difficulties with the practical aspects of an Early Years course. She was encouraged to move to a Business Studies course which suited her abilities far better, was very successful and now has gained employment.
Links between students support services and teaching staff
A team approach has been developed whereby teaching staff in Early Years provision maintain very close links with Extended Learning Support staff. Teaching and Extended Learning Support staff knew each other well and together with the student worked out the most appropriate support strategies.
In Early Years provision there is the additional need to ensure close links between support services and staff who work with the student on placement. A team approach ensures there is a three pronged relationship between teaching staff, placement staff and learning support staff. These staff often meet together and when necessary carry out joint risk assessments for individual students.
Students on placement have a placement mentor and this person is key to ensuring that requisite support is provided on placement. While the Learning Support Service provides overall organisation it is the mentor who usually delivers the support.
Most students had three days a week in college and two days a week on placement. In addition many students are seconded from work to college. In these cases it was seen as essential to liaise with staff in the workplace to ensure that any adjustments made at work were carried over into college.
If a difficult decision had to be made and a student had to leave the course then teaching and Learning Support staff liaised closely with Guidance staff to suggest other more appropriate provision. When a difficult decision did need to be made about a particular student’s suitability to continue on a course it was always made holistically through a team approach.
Providing Reasonable Adjustments
The colleges follow Scottish Qualifications Authority guidelines but also do have some leeway within these as to the kind of support which they can offer.
Examples of some general adjustments provided on placement include:
- Students can do placement reports on a laptop at the end of the day and load them onto the College Virtual Learning Environment. They can also type them up at home.
- Whilst on placement, students who need it can spend time in college to make up their placement portfolios.
- Some students have additional IT support on placement.
- More and more apps are available including subject based apps which allow students to access information quickly and easily e.g. the rules regarding infection control. These have proved particularly useful to some students with dyslexia.
In some cases students need more specific, individually tailored adjustments.
Example: a student had problems setting up an appropriate learning environment because his impairment meant he had difficulty lifting some equipment. Adjustments were put in place whereby he was able to work with another member of staff when setting up equipment.
Examples of support provided during assessments include:
- Scribes for SCQF qualifications. Some scribes use digipens so the text is downloadable and not handwritten.
- A student with a brain disorder which affected his ability to write was able to record his assignments through arrangements made by the Educational Learning Support team. There were no written assignments as they were all recorded and assessed from the recording. The student’s practical assessments were excellent and he was able to progress to a job.
Staff are careful to have procedures in place which ensure that reasonable adjustments during assessment do not lead to unfair advantage.
Example: when an interpreter is used in assessment, the college videos the assessment so they can check the interpreters input in order to ensure the student is meeting the required standard.
Staff Training and Knowledge Training
A lot of informal staff development occurs through regular ongoing discussions. One of the main benefits of good teamwork is that information gets shared informally in an everyday context as teaching staff, Education Learning Support staff and placement staff discuss the best approaches for specific students.
In addition to this informal learning the Virtual Learning Environment held considerable equalities information including teaching and evaluation materials which were readily available to all staff.
This case study is in the area of early years education, however, it has several practical messages for those working in further education in other vocational areas.
At a strategic level:
- Monitor and understand the changing student body and where there are indications of an increase of students with particular impairments ensure that all staff are aware of the specific needs of these students.
Pre admissions, admissions and disclosure:
- Make sure all college literature gives clear information of student support services and that learning support options are flagged up both pre interview and at interview.
- Ensure both before and during interview that the particular requirements of the course, including the requirements when a student is on placement, are clearly stated.
- Remember not all students will disclose at the beginning of their course and allow ongoing opportunities for disclosure.
- Consider drawing up a ‘consent to share’ form for disabled students who will be going on placement.
Creating a flexible offer:
- Examine your offer to see whether it could be made more flexible for certain students, for example by allowing students to gain modules at different levels even when they cannot complete every module, or by allowing flexibility in timing, for example by allowing a disabled student to carry out fewer days a week placement but over a longer period of time.
Developing a team approach:
- Ensure that you create a team approach to including and supporting disabled students which will involve close liaison between teaching staff, Learning Support staff, placement staff and Guidance staff.
- Work within the team to create imaginative reasonable adjustments while keeping within the guidelines laid down by SQA.
- Remember that new developments in technology are continually expanding the scope of reasonable adjustments.
- Ensure where necessary you have procedures in place to check that individual reasonable adjustments are not compromising competence standards.
Staff development and knowledge sharing:
- Ensure wherever possible a team approach to staff development. Do not forget that informal methods of staff development can often be as valuable as more formal ones.