History Practice

The AchieveAbility National Network developed from the Aimhigher HEFCE funded Project that ran from July 2004 to July to 2006.

The AchieveAbility Aimhigher Project was part of a national initiative funded by HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) to inform and encourage wider participation in Higher Education.

The Project, which received £478,000 funding, was led by the University of Westminster and based on a partnership of Aimhigher regions, voluntary and educational sector organisations.

In order to achieve the aim of breaking down barriers to Higher Education for students with SpLD, the AchieveAbility Aimhigher Project initiated activities under three different strands:

Strand 1.National disability awareness programme for SpLD students and Aimhigher staff.

Strand 2.National aspiration raising programme using role model ambassador students who themselves have specific learning differences.

Strand 3.Regional attainment programme focused on the mechanisms which support the attainment and progression of SpLD learners. Researching patterns of progression and supporting staff development.


AchieveAbility Project Partners:



West Midlands Aimhigher Region
South West Aimhigher Region

British Dyslexia Association
The British Dyslexia Association
Dyslexia Action
Dyslexia Action (formerly The Dyslexia Institute)
University of the Arts
University of the Arts
Richmond Upon Thames College
Richmond upon Thames College
Westminster Kingsway College
www.westking.ac.uk/
Pimlico Academy
Pimlico School
East of England Aimhigher Region
London Aimhigher Region
Yorkshire & Humber Aimhigher Region
MAJOR PROJECT IN ACHIEVEABILITY HISTORY

The AchieveAbility National Network and West London Lifelong Learning Network developed a 3-day blended learning programme to explore and challenge barriers to learning and progression for care leavers.

The programme was aimed at learners 16 – 19 years old and a bridging course linked to SEEC levels. The programme sat with the QCA Framework of Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills. Delivery was through 2 face to face sessions
and 1 online session. The programme was delivered by AchieveAbility tutors and student mentors. The mentors were current university students who have personal experience of residential or foster care homes.

Background
In 2009 AchieveAbility delivered a programme of three workshops in one prison and youth offending unit. The aims were to: a) share a personal experience of the consequences of leaving school without any formal qualifications and explore issues surrounding limited expectations and aspirations leading to unemployment, b) to promote education to hard to reach people through exciting and inclusive workshops that encourages the re-evaluation of the advantages of learning, c) to challenge the behaviour of those within the professions who are well placed to identify and respond appropriately to learning differences.
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Background to the Changing Futues Project with West London Life Long Learning Network

The workshops were well received and with very positive learner outcomes. However, because of institutional regulations, time and funding, delivery of regular face to face workshops was deemed to be impractical. Consequently, this proposal aims to support the development of these workshops in a more accessible, blended learning format. Furthermore, the pilot will be targeted at learners in residential care homes and foster homes rather than those in prisons and youth offending units.

Learners in residential care homes and foster homes have been recently identified by DCSF as a group in need of learning interventions which will allow them to improve upon their educational attainment. This issue has been highlighted by the Guardian which reported “Ministers admit that standards remain unacceptably low, with 53% of looked-after children leaving school with no qualifications, and disproportionately high numbers of care leavers ending up in prison, as teenage parents or homeless.” (April 2009).

At present, there are around 60,000 Children in Care (CiC) at any time (DCSF, 2009), although this is a rapidly changing group as children move into and out of care. Children enter care for many reasons, but many have experienced serious problems not of their own making. 63% enter care because they have suffered abuse or neglect, and many suffer mental health problems resulting from this. Others may enter care because their parents are suffering from a severe disability or their family is suffering acute stress. Some may not have received adequate support in a range of areas, such as receiving basic health care.

As a group, looked after children have poor experiences of education and very low educational attainment. Their educational outcomes in terms of the proportion who reach the average levels of attainment expected of seven, eleven, fourteen and sixteen year olds remain significantly lower than for all children. Only a small fraction of looked after children progress to higher education compared to their peers. In 2008, just 14% of children in care achieved 5 A* – C grade GCSEs – the level which is increasingly seen as the basic threshold for employability (Improving the Educational Attainment of Children in Care, DCSF 2009) - this compares unfavourably with 65% of all children. Reversing the widening of this gap and transforming opportunities for young people is now an urgent necessity and one recognised by the Government.

The Frank Buttle Trust completed a five-year commissioned action research project (2005) exploring the experiences of the small number of care leavers who go to university. The main problems identified by participants at the point of application to university were lack of information and advice when choosing universities and courses; changes of placement during preparation for examinations; uncertainty about available financial support; and anxiety about accommodation during term time and vacations. It is hoped that once this group of level 3 learners have completed the proposed learning programme, they will develop the requisite higher level skill sets, acquire more confidence in applying for higher education courses and become aware of HE progression opportunities available to them. The learners will already be studying a level 3 qualification and, therefore, will be eligible to progress to HE.
Dave Maguire work with young offenders

Due to the pioneering work of Dave Maguire with young offenders- AchieveAbility worked with NorthAllerton ( Her Majesty's Young Offenders Institution or HMYOI) to set up workshops in the North East of England, where over 98% of young offenders in these prisons had very low literacy skills.

20 young male offenders took part in a series of linked workshops to explore attitudes about themselves, education and rehabilitation. One of the activities required the young people to think about their life histories and experiences of education and share their feelings with others in the group.

All of the workshop participants said they had never had the opportunity to explore and explain their own identities.

‘ This is fantastic; no one has ever taken the interest and I have never had the opportunity to talk about myself in this way’.

The workshops engaged the offenders in an original way to help them reframe their ideas about education and training and also to encourage them to think about education and training as part of their rehabilitation. Very few had regularly attended school beyond 13.

A small number of the participants had come into the criminal justice system through anti-social or illegal acts, often to do with either violence or drugs. Only a few had either sat or experienced the final year of GCSEs and many had negative feelings about school. During writing activities in the workshops, nearly all the participants showed distinct signs of SpLD but none of them had been previously identified with learning disabilities, either at school or in prison and none had been given specialist support.

Skills assessments showed all of the participants to have a range of strong intellectual abilities, intuitive thinking and a high level of critical appraisal of evidence. About two thirds of the young offenders became sufficiently motivated to start looking for courses to study in higher education through the workshops.

However, their biggest fear about returning to education once outside prison was rejection because of their prior educational attainment, rejection by their peers if their history of offending was to become known, and rejection by teachers who might want to exclude them from a class.

There is evidence that as much as 60% of the prison population have a Specific Learning Difference (SpLD) such as dyslexia, dyscalculia or dyspraxia. Research has shown that the incidence of dyslexia increased with the severity of an offence. Studies have also revealed that schools were not making the association between frustration in the classroom by a pupil leading to behavioural problems and these being linked to learning difficulties, thereby raising the likelihood that the pupils might not be in employment, education or training(NEET) after leaving school.
Specific Learning Difficulties and Prison Offenders

There is evidence that as much as 60% of the prison population have a Specific Learning Difference (SpLD) such as dyslexia, dyscalculia or dyspraxia. Research has shown that the incidence of dyslexia increased with the severity of an offence. Studies have also revealed that schools were not making the association between frustration in the classroom by a pupil leading to behavioural problems and these being linked to learning difficulties, thereby raising the likelihood that the pupils might not be in employment, education or training(NEET) after leaving school. AchieveAbility, at the University of Westminster, carried out a project with two of Her Majesty Prison Young Offenders Institutions in the North East of England, where over 98% of young offenders in these prisons had very low literacy skills. In 2008, 20 young male offenders took part in a series of linked workshops to explore attitudes about themselves, education and rehabilitation. One of the activities required the young people to think about their life histories and experiences of education and share their feelings with others in the group. All of the workshop participants said they had never had the opportunity to explore and explain their own identities.‘ This is fantastic; no one has ever taken the interest and I have never had the opportunity to talk about myself in this way’. The workshops engaged the offenders in an original way to help them reframe their ideas about education and training and also to encourage them to think about education and training as part of their rehabilitation. Very few had regularly attended school beyond 13. A small number of the participants had come into the criminal justice system through anti-social or illegal acts, often to do with either violence or drugs. Only a few had either sat or experienced the final year of GCSEs and many had negative feelings about school. During writing activities in the workshops, nearly all the participants showed distinct signs of SpLD but none of them had been previously identified with learning disabilities, either at school or in prison and none had been given specialist support. Skills assessments showed all of the participants to have a range of strong intellectual abilities, intuitive thinking and a high level of critical appraisal of evidence. About two thirds of the young offenders became sufficiently motivated to start looking for courses to study in higher education through the workshops. However, their biggest fear about returning to education once outside prison was rejection because of their prior educational attainment, rejection by their peers if their history of offending was to become known, and rejection by teachers who might want to exclude them from a class. The AchieveAbility Network has a set of resources that can be used by staff and students interested in SpLD.

They can be found on the web site www.achieveability.org.uk or by contacting the AchieveAbility office by email at Email: