Improving disabled learners’ progression through learning in colleges (Feb. 2015)


Recent research from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) found that disabled learners in colleges are not progressing as well through Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) levels as well as non-disabled learners. ECU therefore asked Lead Scotland to carry out research to find out why this might be happening.
We therefore conducted two surveys – one for disabled learners and one for parents/carers – and follow-up interviews to find out about learners’ experiences at college.

Research aims

The aims of the research were 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 (both within college and externally)
  • develop recommendations to support colleges in the development of relevant policy and practice to effectively support disabled learners.

Recognising colleges’ achievements

Lead Scotland has significant experience in working with disabled learners, families and colleges, and recognises the excellent work many colleges have undertaken in recent years to promote and develop inclusiveness.  However, due to the nature of this research and the inevitable focus on barriers to learning, we recognise that this report inevitably foregrounds learners’ negative experiences in order to move towards improvement.

Key findings

Key findings from our surveys highlighted that:
  • 43% of learners didn’t receive any support to help them prepare for the transition to college
  • 40% of learners didn’t move up to the next level when moving between learning levels
  • the majority of learners (43%) didn’t progress to the next level for reasons relating to their impairment
  • the majority of learners (65%) who left college early did so for reasons relating to their impairment.
     “Talk and listen to the students themselves. We want to learn and you can help us”.
     “If the children don’t learn the way the college teaches, the college should teach the way the children learn”.

Lead Scotland’s recommendations

Both learners and parents/carers suggested a number of measures for addressing many of the barriers which disabled learners experience. Lead Scotland recommends that there are a number of practical steps which colleges can take on board, whereas other issues will need to be addressed at a national level.
Our key recommendations for colleges:
  • offer a broad range of courses at all SCQF levels
  • put the learner at the centre of all processes and decisions affecting their learning journey
  • recongise that parents/carers often have a key role to play when identifying the learner’s support package
  • ensure that all disabled learners have access to a named staff member / keyworker
  • aim to anticipate a wide range of reasonable adjustments which disabled learners may require
  • put in place a wide range of pre-entry support measures
  • aim to develop and improve partnership working with relevant agencies
Our key recommendations for the Scottish Government / Scottish Funding Council:
  • clarify the roles and responsibilities of all agencies involved in supporting disabled learners
  • improved financial support for disabled learners
  • broaden the definition of ‘positive outcomes’ to include measures of learner success other than achieving qualifications or progressing to further learning or employment
  • identify and highlight examples of good practice in the college sector

Next steps

The outcomes of this research will be used to inform the way in which the Equality Challenge Unit works with colleges to support them to develop and improve relevant policies and practices to effectively meet the needs of disabled learners.
Lead Scotland will also work with the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council to discuss the most effective way of taking forward our recommendations at a national, strategic level.
You can read the full report here