HEA Research

The AchieveAbility Project commissioned a unique piece of research into what information about SpLD learners and their progression is collected and disseminated across the educational sectors. The research was conducted by the Higher Education Academy with the final report published in 2006: The resarch was titled "Information Collection and Dissemination Practices for Learners with Specific Learning Differences across the Education Sector: The Impact and Consequential Intellectual Loss to Education and Employment." [pdf]

A primary concern for AchieveAbility is to understand the current progression patterns of students with SpLD. The reasons for this are two-fold. First, it will enable initiatives to be targeted more effectively and tailored to meet the needs of these learners prior to entry into higher education. Second, it will identify areas where additional action is required to ensure that learners who progress into higher education are given the information and support that is required to enable them to be successful in higher education (HE). The need for this aspect of the project was identified in the AchieveAbility action plan submitted to HEFCE, and was developed in a working paper to provide a basis for discussion.

The work was undertaken by the Higher Education Academy, which is a national organisation whose aim is to improve the learning experience of students in higher education, and therefore the progression and success of learners with SpLD is central to the Academy’s mission. The Academy plays a leading role in dissemination across the HE sector, for which it is able to draw upon its established networks of 24 subject centres. The Academy also plays a central role in influencing institutional change. It therefore acts as a powerful partner to the AchieveAbility team and Aimhigher staff in the endeavour to improve the pre- and post-entry experiences of students with SpLD.


The report highlights the extent to which procedures for collecting, using and disseminating data are disparate within and across the education sectors. It shows that the information recorded about learners with SpLD is not focused on their progression through the education system. An evaluation of the progression of these learners into higher education is therefore problematic, particularly on a national scale.

Efforts to standardise data collection and dissemination practices are at a local and regional level. Individual partnerships exist between sectors, institutions and learners to support the collection and flow of information. In these cases there is the potential to generate a better understanding of the achievements and progression of learners with SpLD.

1) National organisations and policy-makers
• Consider developing protocols and processes at a national and/or regional level to support data collection and dissemination.

• Consider readdressing the balance of data collection to raise the prominence of success and progression information about learners with SpLD alongside their admissions and assessment data.

2) Institutions
• Be proactive in obtaining the consent, and access to information, from learners (preferably pre-entry to smooth the transition and ensure continuity of support).
• Reflect a supportive environment in publicity material for learners to encourage them to self-disclose their difficulties.
• Make the most of opportunities to share data collection practices with colleagues both within and across education sectors.
• Become familiar with the data collection practices in other education sectors and/or feeder institutions.
• Raise staff awareness through staff development about specific learning differences to help ensure that learners are identified and have access to support.
• Work in partnership with other sectors, institutions and learners to support data collection and dissemination practices.

3) Learners with SpLD
• Be proactive – try to become aware of how different systems work in different education sectors. Provide your new institution with information about your learning differences or give your consent for data to be accessed (preferably before you transfer) if you require procedures to be instigated to ensure support is in place when you arrive.
• If you are unsure about disclosing your learning differences, try to seek an explanation as to why you are being asked for this information. Self-disclosure may be beneficial for you during your studies - enabling you to gain access to the support and resources you are entitled to.

The report has been widely disseminated by AchieveAbility through hard copy and online publication. The full report can be downloaded here:

Final Report Reserach [pdf] - Information Collection and Dissemination Practices for Learners with Specific Learning Differences across the Education Sector: The Impact and Consequential Intellectual Loss to Education and Employment