Supporting students with learning barriers: good practice from CAVA members

There are 1.3 million people in England with a learning disability, including over 950,000 adults aged 18 and above. In the past few years, more students are facing additional barriers to their learning due to factors such as the cost of living crisis and the impacts COVID 19.

We have identified three of our providers who each have a high focus on students with learning barriers, and have demonstrated good practice by supporting all of their students, especially those with additional needs. Access Creative College, Nottingham College and Truro and Penwith College are just three of our members who demonstrate excellent work with their Access to HE Diploma students. Below are a few of the different support measures they put in place with their students.

Access Creative College

Access Creative College is dedicated to supporting their students, especially those facing additional learning barriers. This support begins right from the open days, where Learning Support Managers (LSMs) and Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) are available to discuss individual student needs and potential strategies.

During the application process, any student identified as requiring additional support is invited for a support interview. This step ensures a thorough understanding of their needs and evaluates the college's ability to provide necessary assistance.

Post-admission, students undergo assessments in English and Maths. These assessments help staff identify any learning difficulties and gauge the students' current academic levels. This process is crucial for tailoring individualised support.

To track and address various academic or other barriers, the college creates personalised learning support profiles for each student. These profiles inform all staff members interacting with the student about their specific needs and the strategies in place to assist them.

Once students are enrolled in courses, weekly one-hour sessions with an LSM are held for each cohort. These sessions are invaluable, particularly for students with learning difficulties, offering targeted help with coursework and assignments like essay planning and structure. Additionally, weekly two-hour Technical Facilitation sessions, led by technology tutors, provide another layer of support. Here, students have the opportunity to shape the agenda, ensuring their specific needs are met. Both types of sessions offer one-on-one support, fostering a more personalised and effective learning experience.

These support sessions have seen high engagement over the past two years, demonstrating their effectiveness and the college's commitment to an inclusive and supportive educational environment.

Nottingham College

Nottingham College has developed a comprehensive support system for all students, especially those with additional needs such as a learning difficulty or a personal situation which may interfere with completing their Access to HE Diploma.

This support starts at enrollment. Students are encouraged to disclose any learning needs during enrolment, triggering immediate support from specialised departments. One-to-one meetings are arranged early in the course, ensuring a tailored approach to each student's needs. From allowing rest during intense lessons to facilitating home-based learning, the college adapts to every individual requirement. As around 70% of students do not disclose this information at enrollment, tutors are trained to identify needs throughout the year and support the students moving forward.

Once identified, students are put in contact with the pastoral care and well-being services at the college, which offer academic and well-being assistance. Students can be referred here for any reason, including academic and non-academic challenges including long-term illnesses to financial difficulties. Their aim is to ensure that each student's educational journey is not impacted by external factors. This support is constantly available and students can contact them via text or phone call, whichever they are most comfortable with.

Nottingham College also offers support by providing additional food from food banks for those students who need it. They find this also helps to get students into college by providing a safe space.

Nottingham College is also extremely flexible, offering adaptable schedules and catch-up weeks, accommodating those who balance education with work or family commitments. This flexibility extends to technological support as well, with resources like laptops and textbooks readily available. They also have a carefully planned timetable built to support all students by having two days in college, leaving three days for students to work or attend to other commitments.

Truro and Penwith College

Truro and Penwith College provides extensive support to their students, detailed in a comprehensive Learning Services Report. This report outlines various support which is tailored to three different levels of student need - Universal, Targeted and Specialist support.

Universal Support focuses on students with minimal learning barriers, who the college supports through high-quality inclusive teaching, weekly tutorials, and effective behaviour management strategies.The Targeted Support group is mostly students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) diagnoses or a higher level of learning barriers. Their support may include tailored exam arrangements, dyslexia screenings where necessary, and flexible curriculum delivery. Finally, the Specialist Support group is for students with higher needs, such as those with an education, health and care plan (EHCP), and the support may include personal meetings, bespoke technology, and external support.

The Learning Services Report clearly specifies the nature of potential student needs, contact points for support, and the college's commitment to student assistance. Its visual appeal and accessibility throughout the school enhance its effectiveness. It is a tool which can be adapted to individual students to help staff support them in the most efficient way.

Alongside the main report is a Time Frame Document, following an 'Assess, Plan, Do, Review' cycle. This ongoing process allows staff to continuously meet student needs effectively. This includes a focus on assessing students at the beginning of the year and following a plan to support the students with ongoing review points to make sure it’s relevant and useful.

The college also issues a monthly live SEND report, updating staff on students requiring additional support. This proactive approach ensures comprehensive student support throughout the academic year.

Support identification can occur at various stages, such as during interviews, induction days, classroom activities, or post-work submission. The college staff is trained to recognise signs of additional needs and can refer students for further assistance. While participation in these support programs is optional, many students choose to utilise these resources. Support extends even to students without specific needs, offering up to one-and-a-half-hour study tutor sessions.