From education to employment

Why 2018 should be the year of inclusivity for further education

Marina Gaze is a further education and skills inspector and leader

Marina Gaze (ex Ofsted deputy director for FE and skills) explains which areas of the Common Inspection Framework to focus on to achieve better Ofsted results, in her latest article for FE News.

As we head into 2018 with the best of intentions and whole-hearted resolutions to continue to improve the provision of learning in further education, the area we should really be focusing on is individuals with additional learning needs (ALN).

One of the key roles of education is to promote social mobility and ensure that every learner, regardless of background or disability has the opportunity to be the best they can be.

Central to the Common Inspection Framework is the theme that all learners make good progress from their starting points, achieve their qualifications, and are enabled to progress to the next steps of their training, education or employment.

To do this, providers need to be able to accurately identify each learner’s starting point and structure teaching and learning to build on those starting points. They need to use assessment throughout the learner’s programme to check, consolidate and plan further learning.

One of the most common problems providers face is an inability to identify and support ALN. This is due to a lack of reputable, standardised initial assessment tools, a lack of resources proven to support ALN, and lack of staff confidence identifying and supporting ALN.

I believe that improving provision for apprentices with ALN will improve provision for all apprentices, because the same principles apply and are transferable to all good provision.

At the end of last year we saw the latest Ofsted figures released for 2016/17. This showed the number of independent learning providers and colleges rated good or outstanding had fallen from the previous year’s results.

  • 57% of independent learning providers were judged good or outstanding – 15 percentage points lower than the previous year
  • 46% of general FE colleges were judged good or outstanding – 5 percentage points lower than the previous year

Independent learning providers that had declined to ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ ratings had issues including:

  • Not identifying underperformance accurately.
  • Progress and achievement of learners and apprentices was either too low, too slow or in decline.

General FE colleges that had declined to ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ ratings had issues including:

  • A general decline in the quality of provision.
  • Weak leadership and management of teaching, learning and assessment.

These inspection outcomes beg the question:

How do we identify each learner’s starting point, individualise learning strategies and monitor progress?

For me, it’s been about being able to work with providers, and being able to help them improve their offer to learners, and improve people’s life chances through learning.

Greater emphasis must be given to each individual learner’s requirements and each learner should be supported with high expectations set for each learner to achieve.

There are four particular areas of the Common Inspection Framework that can be focussed on to achieve better Ofsted results using this tailored approach:

  1. Teaching, learning and assessment – Ensure that teaching, learning, assessment and the curriculum are well-planned and skilfully delivered to enable each apprentice to enjoy their work, progress and achieve at the pace that is right for them.
  2. Effectiveness of leadership and management – Ensure you are truly inclusive of all and that no apprentices are discriminated against because of learning disability or learning support need.
  3. Personal development, behaviour and welfare – Ensure apprentices develop independent learning skills so they know what works for them and how to adapt learning to meet their needs.
  4. Outcomes for learners – The progress and achievement of different groups of learners e.g. apprentices with ALN is central to the Common Inspection Framework. Just because the overall apprentice achievement rate is good does not mean this aspect will be graded good if achievement gaps exist between different groups.

Identifying ALN can be costly both in terms of resourcing and finances, not to mention the accuracy of findings isn’t always the highest quality. The government asks for a ‘robust assessment’ of additional learning needs in order to access LSF1 funding, which equates to £150 per month, per person.

This source of funding can provide a new revenue stream for educational organisations and means apprentices can receive better quality learning experience. 

There are many ways providers can enhance learning experiences for individuals, but focusing on individualised starting points would have the most effective outcomes, and yet this is not the most widely used approach.

In my opinion, the process of profiling individuals’ learning needs and responding with tailored solutions is a highly effective system. This way, we can support learners with learning difficulties and disabilities to develop as independent learners, achieve their qualifications and progress their careers.

My long-term interest in this approach also led me to part of my current role, which is consulting on an innovative learning needs assessment tool, known as CognAssist. This digital assessment is a brain profiling tool that also provides bespoke coping strategies based on the individual’s results.

This is a pioneering approach, and it is something I genuinely believe in. I have seen first-hand how providers have been able to enhance learning experiences through its implementation. 

Through qualitative research carried out with apprenticeship providers and employers, we discovered that most providers were working at an identification rate of additional learning needs at around 4%. Using CognAssist’s assessment tool this increased to a 24% identification rate. This suggests there could be around 20% of hidden learning needs going undetected in apprenticeships.

My New Year’s resolution for 2018 is to help raise awareness of how further education and skills providers can improve Ofsted grades by addressing ALN.

We must place value on the identification of ALN in moving the further education and skills sector forward. After all, the potential socio-economical environmental impacts of supporting neurodiversity are huge. Not only will individuals be able to achieve their full potential with improved life chances, but the knock-on effect of increased national productivity and prosperity would also be significant.

Marina Gaze is a further education and skills inspector and leader. Marina is also a consultant for CognAssist, a pioneering learning needs assessment tool and coping strategies provider. CognAssist and Marina are running a free webinar series for further education leaders, with advice on how to enhance your Ofsted grade. 

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