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Supporting disabled learners to realise their potential: improving disabled learners’ progression through learning in colleges

Recent Advance HE research highlights that disabled learners in colleges are not progressing as well through SCQF learning levels as non-disabled learners.

Advance HE commissioned Lead Scotland to:

  • find out why disabled learners are not progressing through learning levels as well as non-disabled learners
  • identify the learning barriers that disabled college learners experience
  • develop recommendations to support colleges in the development of relevant policy and practice to effectively support disabled learners.

Lead Scotland conducted a survey for learners, and a separate survey for parents/carers. 141 learners and 107 parents/carers responded to the surveys.

Follow-up interviews were conducted with 14 parents/carers and 15 learners to allow them to discuss their experiences in more details. Two parents also took part in a focus group discussion.

A telephone interview was also conducted with PAMIS (a voluntary sector organisation working with people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and their families). Written comments from the Head Teacher of a special school, and Share Scotland (a voluntary sector organisation operating the ‘Moving on Transition Service’) were also received.

The full report can be found here.

Key recommendations

Lead Scotland highlighted a range of key recommendations arising from the research.

Recommendations for colleges:

Offer a broad range of courses at all SCQF levels which meet the needs and aspirations of disabled learners

Although some learners were keen to progress to the next level, some colleges did not have any appropriate provision.
See recommendations

Put the learner at the centre of all processes and decision

This includes asking learners about the barriers they are experiencing, what works best for them as an individual, and listening to their concerns along the way.
See recommendations

Recognise that parents often have a key role to play

Some parents felt that it was difficult to liaise with college staff as they believed that “they knew best”, and suggested there needed to be more professional humility and an understanding that parents are usually the primary expert regarding their own child’s needs.
See recommendations

Ensure that all teaching and support staff undertake regular training

Many impairments affect learners in very different ways, and respondents therefore felt it was very important for staff to undertake training to help provide a fuller understanding of a wide range of impairments and the various support measures they can put in place to help learners overcome any barriers.
See recommendations

Ensure that all disabled learners have access to a names staff member

Some learners said they felt they would benefit from either a named staff person/key worker to talk to about any aspect of their support needs, or support from other students.
See recommendations

Aim to anticipate a wide range of adjustments while still responding to individual requests

Respondents felt that while many colleges were good at anticipating physical adjustments (such as building design, ramps, etc.), most adjustments relating to learning support were reactive.
See recommendations

Put in place a wide range of pre-entry support measures

Many learners received general advice and guidance to prepare or college from a range of organisations. This included: discussing learning options, the support infrastructure and help to complete applications and prepare for college interviews.
See recommendations

Aim to develop and improve partnership working with relevant agencies

While colleges are responsible for meeting the learning needs of their students, many also require support from local authority social work departments to meet other needs.
See recommendations

Recommendations for the Scottish Government / Scottish Funding Council

Clarify the roles and responsibilities of all agencies involved in support

See recommendations for colleges

Improve financial support for disabled learners

Some learners told us that that financial problems made it difficult for them to remain at college, including difficulties securing funding for learning or day-to-day needs, additional costs associated with their impairment or illness, and welfare benefits being reduced or removed.
See recommendations

Broaden the definition of 'positive outcomes'

Many respondents felt that colleges were too focused on learners’ progression to further learning or employment, and didn’t take sufficient account of learners’ achievements in other areas. This was a particular concern for learners with learning disabilities and those with complex needs.
See recommendations

Identify and highlight examples of good practice

The Scottish Government and SFC should look for opportunities to highlight examples of good practice.