Rushed reforms to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) have the potential to place disadvantaged students at significant risk if implemented, Randstad Student Support has warned.
New minimum requirements introduced through the Quality Assurance Framework (QAF), could leave vulnerable students without the necessary support as many support workers will be unable to register to work with new students after the 18th April 2016 deadline.
In some cases, two professional qualifications will be expected of workers – as opposed to one – which the majority of workers hold under the pre-existing requirements, in effect up until February 2016. This will leave 80% of current Specialist One-to-One Study Skills Support tutors outside of the new criteria, according to a recent survey conducted by the Association of Non-Medical Help Providers.
This will have a significant impact for vulnerable students due to a shortfall in workers which may result in students being unsupported. Existing support workers may find themselves pushed out of their current positions and without enough time to gain the additional required professional qualifications. The QAF completely disregards a worker’s past experience of supporting students. Instead some workers, that may have been supporting students in excess of 10 years, will now be required to obtain membership to a professional body – to enable them to support any new students. Obtaining professional body membership can be extremely difficult as they require professional qualifications which can take more than 2 years to complete. According to the Association of Non-Medical Help Providers survey, 93% of Specialist Mentors assisting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder fail to meet the professional criteria, as well as 55% of specialist mentors who work alongside students with mental health conditions.
Randstad is calling upon The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) to consider three courses of action. Firstly, to delay the introduction of the reforms, allowing workers sufficient time to adjust in order to ensure new students are not limited by staff and skill shortages. In addition, asking for more relevant minimum professional requirements for workers, which are tailored to support students’ needs. And finally, for new measures which recognise the valuable contribution of long-term sector specialist workers, ensuring their professional competencies are measured against support expectations.
These steps will help produce reasonable and measured reforms which can be adopted throughout the sector and collectively benefit both students and support providers.
Victoria Short, Managing Director of Randstad Student Support, comments: “Providing high quality support for disabled students should be the priority – and having the necessary staff numbers to do this is vital. Support workers are a valuable lifeline for many vulnerable students trying to achieve their academic potential – but students are being let down by a fundamental lack of understanding.
“Existing workers have amassed crucial experience and skills through their time within the sector – but the value of this has been completely overlooked. Prioritising additional professional qualifications prevents new students from working alongside some of the most talented and adept employees in the sector. For employees who have spent years dedicating their careers to helping young people achieve their goals, it will feel like a kick in the teeth. It’s a shake-up which the sector isn’t ready for – and the government need to realise that.
“Rushing through changes amounts to a reckless approach threatening the support system which students depend upon. These new requirements need to be postponed until the government can guarantee that students’ learning will not be adversely affected and that current support providers are given the professional respect their experience demands.”
Randstad Student Support – the UK’s leading provider of support to students with disabilities – operates across more than 160 universities and colleges, last year helping 28,000 students with disabilities and additional learning needs to achieve their academic aims.