Considering additional support needs in the design and preparation of training is important to ensure all learners have the best chance of success.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) expect learning providers to adapt their delivery for individuals with additional support needs (ASN) and make reasonable adjustments where possible. South Ayrshire Council (SAC) is one provider commended by SDS in its Quality Assurance Review for the strategies and resources it has put in place to support individuals from specific equality groups to optimise their chances of success.

SAC delivers employability provision and a range of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks at different levels: Social Services Children and Young People (SCQF 5/6/7), Health and Social Care (SCQF 5/6/7), Horticulture (SCQF 5), Business and Administration (SCQF 5), Waste Management (SCQF 5), Hospitality and Tourism (SCQF 5), Construction Building (SCQF 6), and Sports and Active Leisure (SCQF 5/6/7).

The strategies SAC has put in place to support learners are described below, with thoughts from Cherlene O’Donnell, Employability and Skills Programme Officer at SAC. Modern Apprentices Graeme and Jack also speak about their experience of receiving support in their learning with SAC.

Identifying and supporting the needs of all apprentices and learners

SAC is committed to ensuring all individuals are successful in their apprenticeship or employability programme. Provision for additional support needs and adjustments to training include specialised equipment for partially sighted learners, literacy and translation support for learners where English is not their first language, and provision of a scribe and extra supervision to support those with dyslexia. These resources are available through SAC’s own Supported Employment team. However, providers can access these resources by other means, e.g. through government support such as ‘Access to Work’ or ‘Enhanced Funding’ from Skills Development Scotland.

As most apprentices and learners come through the employability pipeline within the Council, there is advanced knowledge of any barriers they face. For those learners not following this route, SAC collects equalities information on a one-to-one basis at assessment and prior to the start date. This provides learners with the opportunity to be open and honest about any barriers they face or any need for additional support. All apprentices starting with SAC who disclose additional support needs complete a ‘Vocational Profile’ which provides them with an opportunity to list among other things, their interests, skills, learning style, environmental preferences, and specific challenges. This is helpful for ensuring SAC and their employers understand the needs of different individuals and have a suitable support system in place.

SAC develop ‘In Work Support Plans’ and ‘Professional Biographies’ for individuals with ASN beginning apprenticeships and employability programmes. Learners are encouraged to document what support they feel they need by submitting information on their strengths and previous work experience, as well as how their disability affects them and how their employer can provide support. This information is held securely and confidentially but, with proper permissions in place, is shared with those who have a role in supporting these individuals. Feedback from both learners and employers has been positive. As Cherlene O’Donnell, Employability and Skills Programme Officer at SAC, notes,

"The feedback we have received about Professional Biographies from both employers and young people has been so positive as it is a very simple way to communicate support needs. When further conversation is required the bio can act as a tool to open up the conversation."

Cherlene O’Donnell, Employability and Skills Programme Officer

Modern Apprentice Graeme, who is completing an apprenticeship in Business and Administration, benefited from having a ‘Professional Biography’ drafted as it helped his employer support him in the workplace. Graeme explains, “they are indeed useful because it has allowed my team to get to know me”. Employers also have a good understanding generally of policies regarding additional support needs and are aware of the resources in place to support adjustments to training to meet the needs of individuals from specific equality groups.

Providing support and encouragement from assessors

Additional support needs will also be picked up by assessors during progress review meetings. These discussions are framed as a supportive way to help build relationships and encourage disclosure. As Cherlene explains:

"Our assessors have adapted their approaches and ways of working to ensure they are offering person centred support to any of our apprentices with an ASN."

Cherlene O’Donnell, Employability and Skills Programme Officer

Assessors carry out the standard 13-week reviews with apprentices but arrange additional interim reviews. This is done informally as ‘weekly catch ups’ or ‘check ins’ via whatever method of communication the apprentice is most comfortable with.

Apprentices know they can contact their assessor at any time. As Graeme states: “I do feel supported by my assessor, she calls regularly to make sure that everything is going OK in the job”.  Jack, who is undertaking an apprenticeship in Leisure, also feels well supported by his assessor and values the encouragement, feedback, and regular contact he receives. Instructions in the workplace are given both verbally and visually, and questions are adapted to fit Jack’s needs and learning skills. During the COVID-19 pandemic, support for Jack and other learners with additional support needs “has been excellent especially in these difficult times” and this has helped both learners and their parents stay motivated. This ongoing support offered by SAC helps build trusting relationships and again supports the progression of apprentices on their programmes.

SAC’s overarching strategy to assess additional support needs and provide appropriate support has helped many individuals successfully complete their apprenticeship and other employability programmes. Graeme says: “I am progressing very well in my SVQ. I couldn’t have done this without the support of my assessor and the Supported Employment team. I have been offered a tailored job which I will start once I finish my apprenticeship – I am very happy about this”. Due to the COVID-19 situation, Jack’s work experience has been limited but he has kept in touch with his assessor and is continuing his off-the-job learning. He is up to date with this work and looks forward to getting back to his usual ‘working experience’ as soon as possible.

For further information on how you can support all learners, you can find guides to supporting additional support needs on the SDS website.