Chris Quickfall, CEO Cognassist

It’s really no secret that the pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges faced by the education sector in recent history. Attainment across all age groups has sadly – although perhaps understandably - been impacted by the unprecedented disruption of lockdown on learning provision. It has also been exceptionally challenging for learners with additional needs to access the kind of assistance they require, with many of the established in-person support networks unavailable during this time.

While there has been some awareness of provision for learning needs in relation to children’s education and schools’ budgets, the challenges faced by those in adult education have been sadly underreported during the pandemic. Education does not start and end during childhood, of course, and the acquisition and development of lifetime skills is vital for many people who want to upskill and gain employability throughout their adult life. This is especially true during difficult economic circumstances – and especially challenging for adults with additional learning needs.

Thankfully, learning and training providers can make use of the AEB (Adult Education Budget) to offer specialised support to those with additional needs. For those who may not know, the AEB is a government-funded programme that can be accessed by employers and educational institutions to fund a wide range of training and upskilling programmes. The problem is, the AEB is often not leveraged enough, with some perhaps unaware that it exists specifically to increase accessibility for adult learners with additional needs.

Identifying additional needs

We know that adults seeking additional education and training will come from a range of backgrounds. Many will be unemployed – some will have been out of the workforce for quite a large period of time, while others may have lost an apprenticeship programme or been made redundant from their job quite recently due to the pandemic. Some may simply be switching careers and looking for additional assistance with the change. It’s likely that many will be re-entering education for the first time since leaving school.

As well as different backgrounds, everyone will have different requirements based on the way their brain thinks and learns. All brains are unique and providing support to help all learners reach their full potential is often a case of understanding and identifying the needs that apply to each individual as a result. Cognassist data shows that one in every four people have some form of hidden learning need that requires some form of support. learning difficulty . Making adult learning environments more inclusive and accessible to people with different backgrounds and abilities is critical, and it begins with identifying and understanding individual needs.

Encouraging adult learners requires education providers to take a more personalised approach that considers provision for individual needs. Providers can do this by mapping out their course journey and support structure in a clear and meaningful way. While the specific learner journey and outcomes will differ depending on the type of training an organisation provides, the need for a clear support framework to help break down barriers to work or further study remains the same. This framework must support the entire learning journey – think of it not simply a foundation, but as scaffolding to guide progress at each stage.

Providing more effective support

Once specific needs are identified and a framework is in place to support them, the next step is to provide high impact support for each learning journey. It’s vital this support is aligned toa learner’s needs and can be adapted to how those needs might change. High-impact support often goes beyond course content – it is not just about designing the curriculum in a certain way, but about helping learners to understand how to approach tasks that are being set. High-impact support is important because it develops educational behaviours, helping learners to gain soft skills alongside course knowledge.

This is where AEB allocation can empower the provider to support the learner. There are clear guidelines on how the AEB can be used to support learners with additional learning needs. There is also a clear precedent set by the Equality Act 2010: adult education providers have a responsibility to support those with learning difficulties and disabilities through reasonable adjustments and targeted support that help level the playing field. Providers should empower learners directly to participate in decisions about their learning. It is important to work collaboratively with learners to determine the appropriate reasonable adjustments they can provide, and for the learning provider to then meet the cost of putting in place those reasonable adjustments.

Thankfully, more and more educators are adapting the way they deliver training and breaking down the barriers to education, bringing noticeable benefits for their own business and, more importantly, for their learners. Inclusive education is not merely a way of integrating more learners into mainstream education, but rather an approach that can transform education systems in order to meet the needs and cognitive diversities of all learners. Education can provide huge opportunities for adults, and we can use funding schemes such as the AEB to create learning environments where no one feels excluded from achieving success. Collectively, we have a duty to guarantee that learners are not at a significant disadvantage to their peers simply because they think differently. Perhaps we, as a sector, must also think differently about how to build better learning experiences and ensure that no learner is ever left behind.

By Chris Quickfall, CEO Cognassist

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