Statement on DSA changes

AchieveAbility recognises that the Disability Student Allowance (DSA) for specific learning different (SpLD) students has transformed the Higher Education (HE) landscape, making it accessible through providing funding for both learning support and assistive technology. This is evidenced by the increased access to HE as well as improved retention and attainment of these students. The DSA has been incredibly beneficial for all students with an SpLD, but particularly for those students engaged in distance learning, or who are non-traditional, such as mature and working class students.

Barriers to successful learning and attainment in HE remain intrinsic to the entrance, teaching and assessment practices, and to the academic standards policies of universities, and without access to the DSA, most students will fail to gain access or succeed once they do. Ways of managing these barriers are essential to the progression of dyslexic students as is the assistive technology to ensure that comprehension and meaning of the study subject is accessible

AchieveAbility believes that the reduction of the DSA will potentially leave vulnerable students exposed to disabling barriers to learning. The human cost, and social waste resulting from these proposed changes, will be extremely high. It is essential that any changes continue to meet the needs of these learners and maintain this standard of support that has enabled the successful retention and attainment of these students within Higher Education.

Dr Ross Cooper and Katherine Hewlett; AchieveAbility

Please click onto the web link to see the statement from the Dyslexia SpLD Trust

' In response to the recent publication 'The Dyslexia Debate' by Professors Elliot and Grigorenko, which challenges the need for the term dyslexia, Dr John Rack and Sir Jim Rose detail in a letter why they believe the term dyslexia needs to stay. This letter is supported by all members of The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust.

AchieveAbility is pleased to profile the ADO Press Release

Press release
16th April 2014
Adult Dyslexia Organisation on
Disabled Student Allowances (DSA) Statement

The Adult Dyslexia Organisation is extremely concerned about the Written Ministerial Statement by David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, on future changes to Disabled Students Allowances. The proposed changes will have a disproportionate impact on students with dyslexia and overlapping neurodiversity.

It appears that we have been singled out and targeted to enable cuts at our expense. The last 8 years have been a real success story, seeing the number of dyslexic students in HE almost double as a result of DSA funding. It seems we are to be made victims of this success. We can now expect our numbers in HE to shrink back rapidly in the face of unmediated barriers to entrance, learning and assessment.

The Written Statement claims that,

It has been almost 25 years since the DSA scheme was reviewed,

but this inexplicably ignores no less than four reviews of the DSA. The first was by the working party on dyslexia and HE (1994-1999) led by Dr Chris Singleton which led to the comprehensive report Dyslexia in Higher Education: policy, provision & practice (1999). Inconsistencies in assessment reports flagged up by Education Authorities led to the convening of a further group, with more representative participants in 2004, which reported in 2005: the Disabled Student Allowances SpLD Working Group.

The aims of this group were:

to provide an equitable DSA system that is simple to administer, enabling quicker and easier access for the student customer

to establish evidential requirements that LEAs could confidently regard as providing a reliable professional judgement that a student has SpLDs

to provide a DSA system that is giving value for money

The credibility of this group, which included most of the national experts on SpLDs (including representatives from DfES), resulted in the formation, with initial DfES funding, of the SpLD Assessment Standards Committee (SASC). SASC's aims include:

to implement the training recommendations of the SpLD Working Group 2005/DfES Guidelines

to promote continuing professional development in SpLD assessment

to advise on models of good practice in this continuing professional development

to monitor standards of this continuing professional development

to provide a forum for sharing good practice from a range of interested bodies

to draw on expertise across the sector provide guidance on training, implementation of standards

So it is difficult to understand why a minister should be unaware of all this recent development of good practice and standards relating directly to the DSA and SpLDs, or perhaps even worse, not understand the relevance.

In addition, when Student Finance England first began managing the DSA nationally, resulting in widespread backlogs and delays in providing support and assistive technology, two further reviews were undertaken looking specifically at the management process of the DSA and the real and potential negative impact of delays on vulnerable students.

The Ministerial Statement confirms that;

Students with Specific Learning Difficulties will continue to receive support through DSAs where their support needs are considered to be more complex.

However, the concept of complex is vague. Assessors currently identify dyslexia and support needs in the context of complex needs and varying university and course demands. When is this not complex? Recommendations are not made lightly. Isn't the whole point of requiring Master level qualifications and regularly reviewed Assessors Practicing Certificates because the issues are always complex? If the eligibility for support is not to be determined by those most qualified to establish them, who will?

Dyslexia and other overlapping neurodiversity meets the requirements of the Equality Act (2010), which argues that you're disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. Perhaps more importantly, it is clarified in the Codes of Practice and in statements made in the debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords, which recognised that the simple definition in the Equality Act 2010, does not do justice to the complexity of the dyslexia condition. We are concerned that there appears to be an agenda to give the appearance that dyslexia is of minimal consequence in an educational setting, when the evidence completely contradicts this view.

The Ministerial Statement also clarifies that the DSA will no longer pay for standard specification computers and that

We are changing our approach to the funding of a number of computer equipment, software and consumable items through DSAs that have become funded as standard to most students.

However, many students with SpLDs combine what might be considered standard software in non-standard ways in order to meet their needs. Will this change eliminate this important possibility? Similarly, it may be standard for all students to use computers, but dyslexic students do not use them in standard ways, and therefore require computers that will run unusual combinations of software.

We recognise that universities are more and less dyslexia friendly and that this needs to be addressed urgently, but not at the expense of vulnerable students. We would urge a Ministerial review into University practice in relation to accessibility, and would be delighted to be included in the process, since our members have direct experience of the barriers being maintained.

We are pleased to see that the proposals will be subject to an Equality Impact Assessment, although we hope that this is undertaken by those with credible expertise. We also note that the Minister expects to consult with specialists in the sector, but sadly, it appears only to ensure that students understand the type of support they can expect to receive and who will provide it. Surely expertise is required to establish what is and is not reasonable in the first place. We would also stress that any Equality Impact Assessment must include strong user representation, especially from the adult dyslexic community as we are by far the largest group currently being supported by DSA .

These unmitigated proposals will inevitably have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable. At a time when dyslexic entrepreneurs and creative artists are spear heading economic recovery, this is a kick in the teeth of common sense, equality and fair play, and unless ameliorated significantly, will come with great human and social costs.

Dr Ross Cooper.

For further information, contact:
Donald Schloss
Chief Executive
Adult Dyslexia Organisation (ADO)
Ground Floor
Secker House
Minet Road
Loughborough Estate
London, SW9 7TP
Mobile: 07974 755 163