In order to provide support for learners identification of the needs of learners and how they could be met are essential from their first contact with a provider. Support does not just happen, it needs to be managed in order to meet needs in a cost-effective, planned way. A strategy to provide support needs to be developed so all those involved know their role and how an identified need would be met.

How does the way you manage support for learners compare with that of the most effective provision seen on inspection?

The following strengths and areas for improvement have been taken from recent inspection reports across the Ofsted Learning and Skills remit.

Common inspection strengths

  • Good learning support arrangements
  • Well-managed support for learners
  • Good resources to support additional learning needs
  • Good support for learners' individual needs
  • Good personal support for learners

Common inspection areas for improvement

  • Insufficient provision for learners with support needs
  • Poor management of additional learning support
  • Insufficient focus on the management of the individual needs of learners
  • Insufficient management of literacy and numeracy support
  • No learning support strategy

If you were given a similar area for improvement bullet at the end of your last inspection, self assessed this area as an area for improvement, or want to work to avoid such areas for improvement, then consider what inspectors judge to be key.

Particularly effective practice identified in inspections includes:

  • Knowing your learners. Many providers have changed their approach to recruitment and initial assessment in order to better understand the support needs of their new learners. They use information from interview and screen all learners for literacy and numeracy to see if further diagnostic testing is required. Once a full picture is built up, identified needs are met in a planned way through the individual learning plan.
  • Changing the ethos of a provider to be more focused on support. There are examples of providers becoming centres for the hearing impaired by training staff as signers and recruiting specialists once increased numbers made it viable financially. Others have trained staff in-house to better support learners for literacy and numeracy.
  • Using role models from staff and learners to promote the benefits of support. "If they can do it, so can I". Some use success story posters or profiles in recruitment literature with titles such as "I did it, so can you".
  • Realising that many potential learners are used to failing from their school days, whether they have recently left school or are adult returners and promoting support to reflect this.
  • Encouraging additional qualifications such as national literacy and numeracy tests. Success in these (often the first qualifications achieved for some learners) encourages success in main qualifications.
  • Including support for learners as a key part of self-assessment reporting and quality improvement procedures such as observation, surveys and programme review.
  • Identifying the types of support that could be necessary in order to produce a strategy that sets out how the provider would meet them. For support needs that are common support would need to be in place. Where something occurs rarely, the approach of referral to specialist agencies with whom partnerships could be developed might be most appropriate. Those involved in interview then know how a learner would be supported.
  • Having champions for particular support areas, such as dyslexia or numeracy. These staff act as sources of information to enable others to better support their learners as well as being able to inform strategy and development of resources.
  • Ensuring that support is a key part of tutorial or work-based reviews so that it is not someone else's responsibility. Such providers do not see support as a separate area outside the main programme.
  • Reacting to local circumstances, such as high rates of teenage pregnancy or drug abuse. Some providers have a focus on this in induction and have visiting health visitors on a weekly basis.
  • Providing learners with lists of specialist help at induction and through posters in prominent places. Some providers have counsellors, youth workers and social workers.
  • Using staff development to improve the way trainers might react to a problem presented by a learner, in order to support them appropriately. Understanding that difficulties may relate to other aspects of the learners' lives, such as personal finances, homelessness, or substance dependence.
  • Looking at how technology could support learners, for example, using laptops to take notes or to read out text from electronic versions of teaching materials.
  • Having adaptive technology available such as large ball mice, adjustable desks, digital sound recorders and hearing loops.
  • Exploring the use of typefaces, different coloured paper and coloured overlays for dyslexic learners.
  • Using online assessment where it will help learners.
  • Making arrangements to support learners with awarding bodies, such as extra time, readers or an amanuensis.
  • Knowing how learners who receive support achieve in order to demonstrate effectiveness.
  • Checking on the reasons for early leavers in order to see if support could have prevented it.
  • Knowing how to access additional funding to support learners from charities or funding bodies.

Healthcheck questions

Health check

How are staff who interview learners made aware of the strategies that would be used to support learners who present different support needs?

Is there a learner support strategy in place that is updated regularly?

If ‘no’ you need to develop one. If ‘yes’, are there any support needs that you still need to identify strategies of how you would support them?

Does initial assessment and interview inform the support needs of individual learning plans (check examples from each programme that you run)?

Are there ‘champions’ in place for particular aspects of support?

If ‘no’ do you need to identify any? If ‘yes’, are they being used by staff and learners?

How easily can staff get information that might be required to access external support for learners, such as housing or drug advisors?

What are the top five reasons why learners leave particular programmes early?

Are there any reasons that indicate the need for improved support?

What is the management structure for support?

Is support included as part of progress reviews (check examples from each programme that you run)?

Is support in place for assessment as well as learning (check examples from each programme that you run to ensure all staff are aware of what can be provided, extra time, etc.)?

Using management information, how well do supported learners achieve?

How are learner success stories used to promote support?

What could you do next to improve your provision?

  • Read inspection reports to identify what the best providers are doing in your particular type of provision or area of learning (also check other types of provision as good practice is usually transferable between inspection contexts - adult and community learning, college, DWP, work-based, etc). As well as looking at providers with ‘outstanding’ aspects or monitoring visit reports with judgements of ‘significant progress’, look at providers who are similar to yourself in terms of remit, size and what they offer – Ofsted inspection reports
  • Get a clearer and richer understanding of what you need to do to improve – Learner-centred self-assessment
  • Use downloadable quality-improvement resources to develop your staff team and to focus on actions that will help to improve your provision – Actions for quality improvement
  • Adopt or adapt the best bits of other providers’ work that inspection has identified as being particularly effective – Ofsted good practice database examples
  • Measure just how effective your initial-assessment system is and if your quality-improvement initiatives are working – Data projects
  • Develop a blueprint for initial assessment of your learners – Initial assessment and support
  • Check whether your self-assessment report is fit for purpose – Self-assessment surgery projects
  • Use the guidance developed by Ofsted to know what to expect in order to prepare for inspection, look at the Ofsted inspection handbook for your remit or the inspection toolkit – use the search box if necessary - inspection handbooks and toolkit
  • Use the Excellence Gateway as a first ‘port of call’ when researching areas that you would like to improve. As well as the Ofsted-related area, simple word searches will bring you a variety of information about what others in the learning and skills sector are doing to improve their provision. This is particularly useful for any newer areas that you may wish to research.