Providers are stuck in a vicious cycle of ignorance and avoidance that frustrates both learners and Ofsted, writes Chris Quickfall

If apprenticeship providers were offered a way to reduce dropout rates, improve the learner experience, satisfy Ofsted and were paid to do so, it would be reasonable to assume that most would jump at the chance. 

What, after all, is not to like? 

Yet when it comes to making and claiming for reasonable adjustments (RAs) to support apprentices with learning needs, there are those providers that still fail to do so. 

The question is, why?

For some providers it’s a case of “once bitten, twice shy”. 

There’s a wariness about making claims for learning support funding that require more evidence, partly because of the perceived admin burden. But it can also be because they’ve had trouble in the past justifying additional payments to auditors. So they are disinclined to put themselves through it again. 

That’s despite the fact that by not providing the support learners need, providers run the much greater risk of being criticised by Ofsted.

At first glance, too, the challenge can seem daunting. Each apprentice is in a different working environment and programmes are strictly controlled in terms of content, timescales and employer involvement. 

Creating individual plans and making the necessary learner adjustments isn’t straightforward without the right experts behind them, and the onus is on the training provider to explain to the employer how they would work. 

Most employers, in my experience, are positive and responsive – but the provider must still manage the process, and that can be off-putting for some.

Many providers are also under the impression that any learning difficulties will be spotted because they already conduct assessments for English and maths. 

Unfortunately, this is a pretty imprecise metric. 

There is a common assumption, for instance, that if an apprentice is bright they won’t have any learning difficulties. That’s simply not true. I’d argue the smarter a learner, the less chance an educator has of spotting any need without a cognitive assessment.

Finally, self-identification can itself obscure the problem rather than illuminate it. 

Yes, one in ten apprentices self-identify with a learning difficulty or disability. But research by Cognassist last month suggests that this is the tip of the iceberg – over one-third of apprentices have a learning difficulty that could require additional support. 

All of which suggests that the issue of unidentified learning difficulties and disabilities is much greater than generally thought.

It suggests the issue of unidentified learning difficulties and disabilities is much greater than generally thought

It then becomes a vicious cycle. Providers aren’t fully aware of how great the problem is, they lack a full understanding of what adjustments can be made, the learner experience suffers, Ofsted isn’t happy, dropout rates rise and employer satisfaction falls. 

And all this happens as providers are missing out on an estimated
£22 million in extra learning support funds.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our work with Bradford College demonstrates that achievement rates can improve by at least ten per cent with a more robust cognitive assessment process embedded in the learner journey. 

If providers develop a better understanding of the adjustments that can be made and make them, then programmes will be much more tailored to individuals’ needs, achievement rates will go up, dropout rates will fall and funding will increase. And that’s even before any additional learning support payments.

There’s one last, key area that many providers are missing out on when it comes to providing appropriate support, and that’s reasonable adjustments at the end-point assessment (EPA). 

The EPA is a vital part of the learner journey and therefore it’s crucial that any reasonable adjustment needed by the learner is implemented.

All of this requires providers to adopt more flexible and robust assessments and to raise the level of awareness of learning difficulties among trainers and management. 

Only then will they have the confidence to make the adjustments needed and deliver more flexible programmes. 

But as things stand, those providers lacking such a strategy are not only failing to address the needs of their learners, they are also short-changing themselves.

“The Reasonable Adjustments Series” is a season of digital conversations which will break down reasonable adjustments, explain why they matter and the impact they have on learners.  To register for a free seat please visit https://cognassist.me/RAP