Getting support at University for those with special educational needs

By Zach Esdaile 3 years ago

It is often that very intelligent pupils fail at University because they do not ask for the right support. 

This is usually for two reasons.

The first is that there is a misconception about what is available. There is a belief within the special educational needs community that once a young person finishes his formal education that it is the equivalent of falling off the 'cliff face' in terms of obtaining specialist support. I hope to explain below briefly why this is not the case.

Once a pupil enters into a level 4 course, the support provided by the Children and Families Act 2014 cannot be accessed for example support through an education health and care plan.

However, there are a number of other ways to obtain support to include (but not limited to):

  1. A grant for support paid by way of a disabled student grant.
  2. Adjustments which must be provided by the University.
  3. Social Care support to enable independent living.

Secondly it is common for people with any special educational needs, to believe somehow that asking for help after the age of 18 is an admission of weakness or they believe that they have grown- out of their difficulties.

This approach can be hugely frustrating and often lead to disastrous outcomes for students. In the worst case scenarios, it can lead to students entire academic careers coming under jeopardy; with students having to engage academic appeals to save their places at university. 

One common concern is time management, dyspraxic/ dyslexic pupils can have severe difficulties in this area and as such missing deadlines can be a significant problem if not addressed at an early stage.

Disabled students allowance

Disabled Students Allowance (sometimes referred to as DSA) is a grant provided by student finance England ( The grant is available for both full and part-time students. The purpose is to pay for -if required - additional support, specialist learning tools such as computer software, transport and other costs associated with learning to include specialist teaching.

The student can apply for the support at any time during their studies, however, it is always better to be well prepared and I would recommend an application be made at least six months to a year before starting university.

To qualify for this support the student will need to have clear evidence of their disability; to include in some circumstances a full diagnostic assessment carried out after the student has turned 16 from a either an educational psychologist or from a specialist teacher.

It is very important that the student gives a clear statement as part of their application outlining to SFE exactly were all your difficulties lie. If they do not know what difficulties the student faces the student will not be provided with the right support.

Once SFE have received an application form they will usually book what is called a study needs assessment. The purpose of the study need assessment is that a trained assessor works with the student to ascertain what support the student requires help during their studies. The studies needs assessor will then produce a report and provide a copy to SFE . The report will be used to formulate a package of support.

Within the report produced by the study assessor, some support will be allocated to be provided by your new University rather than SFE. The student must contact the University and make them aware of the recommendations of the study needs assessor to ensure that the support is provided as soon as you start University.

One area of support that is often provided by the University rather than through a grant is the provision of a study support assistant to take notes in lectures.

If this package of support produced by the SFE service is not appropriate students have a right to make a complaint to student finance England. However, any complaint would have to be based on independent evidence.

A full-time student can obtain up to £20,725 a year by way of a support grant. A part-time student can obtain up to £15,543 a year, this is dependent on how intensive the part-time course is.

Adjustments provided by the University

The Equality Act 2010 is a very important piece of legislation protecting students with disabilities.

The act provides that universities cannot discriminate against those with disabilities either directly or indirectly and has to provide them with reasonable adjustments. The purposes of reasonable adjustments is to ensure that disabled pupils are placed on a level playing field with their peers.

University's are also under a duty known as the public sector equality duty to have regard to eliminating discrimination and advance equality of opportunity between disabled students and their peers.

The reasonable adjustments that the University's should provide can be far more significant than merely just 25% extra time within examinations. The additional support can include study skills support and support in managing deadlines.

The best way for students to protect themselves is to advise the University before they start their studies that they indeed have a disability which requires adjustments. Whilst the duty is anticipatory- meaning that University's must that Universities must seek out those with disabilities and provide adjustments- University's are unlikely to be able to put in place all the adjustments a student may require if they not properly advised as to the individuals circumstances.

Again, to enable the student to obtain the right support it requires the student to be proactive and not to wait till he /she is in crisis before contacting University for support.

The University should be advised at the earliest opportunity if the student has a disabled students package. I would always arrange a preliminary meeting before starting the course with the universities disabled students department.

Social care support

Going to University is often the first time a student lives away from home. This can be very daunting particularly for students with dyspraxia who by their very nature find sequencing of thoughts and organisation very difficult.

Disabled students can potentially obtain a package of support from social care. Local authority's have a duty to assess anyone who appears to have care and support needs; this is regardless of the student's individual financial circumstances. To obtain an assessment a written application needs to be made to the Authority.

The critical piece of legislation is the Care Act 2014. In assessing whether a person needs additional support the local authority would need to generally ascertain the following (non-exhaustive list):

  • whether a student can achieve certain outcomes to include keeping the home sufficiently clean and safe,
  • is the student is able to make use of necessary facilities or services in the local community and University;
  • if the student is able to develop and maintain family and other personal relationships, to avoid loneliness and isolation and
  • if the student can maintain their personal hygiene such as being able to wash themselves and their clothes. 

If it can be shown by way of evidence that a social care plan is required then there is a potential for a significant package of support to be put in place to include a personal assistant to come into the students home to assist him/ her with budgeting, managing and arranging meals, and managing a domestic timetable to include cleaning. The local authority are entitled to take into account the financial means of the student and can in some cases apportion the cost of support

Independent evidence may be required to challenge either the findings of the social care assessment or the contents of the social care plan.

One type of expert which can be used successfully is an independent social worker who will assess a young person's needs independently from the local authority and formulate a report.

If you believe that you may require social care sport support at University. It is strongly recommended you make your application for an assessment as early as possible as local authority's sometimes delay significantly in responding to applications and have to be chased.

Summary points for students starting University

  • it is untrue to say that students going to university can only be provided with very limited support.
  • Be proactive rather than reactive don't wait to fall into a crisis before asking for support
  • Try to get the support in place well in advance of starting university.

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