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Engage with disabled learners to help progression through learning levels

Published: 27/03/2015

Disabled learners are clustered at lower SCQF levels. Chris Brill talks about learners' ideas on how colleges can improve progression.

The Scottish government has identified transitions through learning levels as a potential issue for young disabled people. Indeed, our latest statistics on equality in Scottish colleges point to disabled learners not progressing as well through SCQF learning levels as non-disabled learners.

  • 40% of learners studying at SCQF level 3 have disclosed as disabled, but only 9% at SCQF level 7.

We commissioned Lead Scotland to ask disabled learners and parents and carers how colleges could improve progression. Many of the learners had experience of progressing through SCQF learning levels.

They told us that providing specialist equipment and impairment-specific support was vital. Making adjustments to assessment arrangements and course delivery is also key to supporting achievement and progression.

‘If the [learners] don’t learn the way the college teaches, the college should teach the way the [learners] learn.’  Parent

Having knowledgeable staff throughout the college is key. The dedication and support of individual staff members was frequently mentioned as facilitating successful transitions.

There were cases where staff didn’t understand how a learner’s impairment impacted upon their learning. Many learners suggested further training to prevent false assumptions of what they need.

‘Disabled student advisers are great, but teaching staff often don’t believe students’ needs are as complex as they say they are.’  Learner

‘Teaching staff should also actually look at the support plans and arrange support according to that rather than on their own opinions about what you need.’  Learner

Impairments effect individual learners in vastly different ways, and this requires strong engagement with disabled young people. 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. Parents too, can have a valuable contribution.

‘Talk and listen to the students themselves, we want to learn and you can help us.’  Learner

‘Professionals should be able to recognise that parents have a key part to play.’  Parent

For learners, having these discussions can aid their own understanding of the support available. This could be through disabled student support or discussion groups, student mentors and buddies. Drop-in centres specifically for disabled learners could allow them to ask questions on any aspect of college support, or find out where to go for information from other agencies in relation to other support needs.

‘It would be nice to have a student mentor, someone who has done the course and who you could ask questions of or get some support from’. Learner

We’ve put together a series of recommendations based on what disabled learners told us. There are recommendations for colleges, the Scottish government and the Scottish Funding Council.

I know that many colleges will already be supporting disabled learners in line with the key recommendations. Please get in touch with me and I will highlight your good work to the sector.

chris.brill@ecu.ac.uk