Adult Dyslexia Organisation on Disabled Student Allowances (DSA) Statement

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
The guidelines drawn up in 2005 can be seen at http://www.sasc.org.uk/%28S%28hg0gnyvmi4bqwv55guxlyay1%29%29/SASCDocumen...
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.

For further information, contact:

Donald Schloss
Chief Executive
Adult Dyslexia Organisation (ADO)
Mobile: 07974 755 163
Email: ado.dns@dial.pipex.com

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