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DSA Summit takes the high ground

Sunley Conference Centre, Northampton UniversityChair Antony Ruck reminded the 3o delegates at BATA’s recent Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) Summit in Northampton that DSA had enabled the UK to be a forerunner in supporting students, and that modernisation was appropriate, but needed to be carried out sensitively.  The UK AT industry leads the world, and initiatives like the DSA and Access to Work have wider benefits than just the immediate effect, and has implications across the economy and social care, he said.

In the years since the modernisation was announced there has been a large degree of uncertainty, with changes in government, ministers, departments and civil servants. The number of assistive technology service providers has declined from 21 to 8, and SFE data suggests that since the introduction of the £200 contribution there has been a 20% drop in the number of students obtaining the equipment recommended in their Needs Assessment Report. We now welcome Greg Boone to his role at DfE and look forward to working with him to safeguard the benefits of the DSA.

DSA: the last five years

Ian Litterick gave a detailed outline of the events that had occurred over the past five years including the announcement of the modernisation programme by David Willetts, BATA’s lobbying, efforts to move away from a three quotes requirement, meetings with ministers and civil servants, the successful campaign against the introduction of a single tender and the transfer of responsibility for DSA from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to the Education Department.

General discussion

 There was a request for a copy of the guidance and letter relating to the legal challenge. Eighty percent of calls from students were to do with software, not hardware, said one delegate.

The question of alternatives to the three quote system was raised. There was little desire among delegates to press for change at this stage.

One company had asked the Students Loan Company to link DSA2 letters to when students applied for DSA. It reported a 6.9% drop in equipment orders since the £200 charge was introduced and argued for more student choice of both supplier and equipment.

One delegate asked what the point of an assessment is when the opinions of assessors are ignored.

It was suggested that the All-party Parliamentary Group for AT should be used to effect change. It was also pointed out the APPG-AT did not have the ability to intervene directly in Government policy, but would be a very useful conduit to educate Parliamentarians on the benefits of AT and the DSA.

BATA was urged to define the value for money that AT provided to counter any possible move to single sourcing or framework contracts.

It was argued that we needed to improve the take up of technology by improving the training process, the implementation of technology and support for what is often an emotional journey towards using AT successfully.

It was suggested a BATA campaign to improve awareness of DSA. Students’ needs changed at different stages of their course.

Students were doubly disadvantaged in that they had to learn their way around a new institution as well as how to use AT. Coventry University is running tasters for potential students that could include training in the use of assistive software.

There was agreement among attendees that better information about DSA was required. Much of what was captured was inconsistent. Was it true, one attendee asked, that 25% of students did not take up NMH? Since it was accepted under 50% of students have any training under NMH, it was suggested that mandatory training should be a condition of a DSA grant.

BATA should embrace mainstream IT firms with an interest in AT and accessibility, such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon, because they raised awareness of AT. The Association should identify the requirements that students have as a counter to a possible move to the functional specification of AT.

BATA policy and next steps

The chair identified a number of key areas for attendees to consider and noted them on a flip chart. A number of individuals volunteered to follow-up with specific actions. The areas outlined were as follows:

  • Challenge to £200 charge
  • Functional specification as opposed to recommending named products
  • Student choice policy (DSA vs HEP reasonable adjustments)
  • Accreditation of trainers and assessors
  • Quality (value for money and HEP requirements)
  • Attraction and adoption
  • Better data (from BIS, SLC, QAG with consistent recording)
  • Lobbying (using All-Party Parliamentary Group for AT and promotion of the arguments for DSA)
  • Partnerships and relationships

Challenge to £200 charge

It was confirmed there was a decrease in the number of students applying for DSA of 17.5% after the introduction of the charge. “They are opting not to go for equipment with the result we are penalising those from more deprived backgrounds,” said one delegate.  The question was raised of how many higher education providers currently refund the £200 charge to see whether more might be encouraged to do the same.  Actions agreed were:

  • To lobby for £200 charge to be included on student loans.
  • Facilitate awareness raising of those universities that refunded the charge via student money advice services.
  • Press DFE to provide up-to-date data and to admit there has been a drop in applications.

Actions:

  • Lobby for the £200 charge to be added to student loans.
  • An earlier briefing document sent to MPs was to be crculated to MPs.

Functional specification

 BATA policy is to oppose any move to functional specification of specialist software and specialist hardware. The specification group that used to meet under the auspices of QAG is moribund and would be better moderated by DfE.

Actions:

  • To propose to DfE that the functional specification group should be outside QAG.
  • To create a policy for BATA

Student choice

How do we assist students in choosing the right kit and supplier under DSA? A student charter “to stop students being railroaded into unsuitable choices” was proposed. Students needed to be involved in modernisation and, operationally, given access to information about technology. One delegate argued for a page of advice on BATA’s website to guide students. It was pointed out that students don’t know they have a choice. The guidance should major on rights. Past DSA students could also provide testimonials.

Actions:

  • STo appeal to members for suggestions for a student advice page.
  • To draw up a student charter.

Accreditation

There is no accreditation for trainers at present. It was agreed that BATA’s policy should be to push for trainers to receive proper training and be accredited as such. Every student has the right to quality and trainers should understand the products they are recommending and their associated study skills. DBS should be a legal requirement for those who work with disabled students. It was suggested that trainers who were accredited should be BATA members. And that an NMH special interest group should be set up with a recruitment drive among NMH practitioners.

Actions:

  • Approach DfE with a view to the department mandating accreditation for trainers
  • Look into funding streams for setting up an accreditation scheme.
  • Draw up a list of NMH providers to be approached to join BATA.

Quality

 The summit agreed it was important in pushing forward the quality agenda to establish relationships with other stakeholders. Lobbying on quality was important, as was ensuring better data on key aspects of DSA. It was agreed that BATA policy should be to lay down minimum amounts of time for student training.

Attraction and adoption

 All students should be aware of DSA and BATA should work with schools, colleges and UCAS to raise their awareness. Suggestions for awareness raising included a Facebook and Twitter campaign and posters (deemed less effective than social media) with the aim of BATA being the go to source for information about DSA. There was discussion about the educationalist special interest group which is open to non-members. Reaching out to groups such as NASEN and NATSPEC was suggested as one way to drive more members to the group.

Actions:

  • Start a social media campaign.

Partnerships and relationships

Potential partners include IAC, CILIT, ADSHE, NADP, NMHA, PATOSS, AMOSSHE, ASASA, and AHEAD. They should be encouraged to join BATA and its special interest groups.

Actions:

  • Establish relationships with stakeholders
  • Include all attendees on the DSA group

John Lamb August 2017