DSA Summit July 2019

23 July 2019

Antony Ruck welcomed members to the event and outlined the three main workstreams agreed in 2018: a campaign against the £200 charge on DSA, a trainer accreditation programme and improved relations with stakeholders.

£200 campaign. Over the last six years since its introduction, BATA has argued that the £200 charge should be abolished or included in students’ loans. BATA carried out a survey in 2016 and published a report. The association took advice on a legal challenge, but found it difficult to find a student with the right credentials to lead the case. Initially, the Equality and Human Rights Commission confirmed they could fund a legal challenge, but later said they wouldn’t support a challenge but would support a student. BATA appealed for a student to help with the case.

Trainer accreditation programme. There has long been concern around uniformity of qualifications of trainers. BATA decided to look at trainer accreditation adopting a three-stage-plan. Software providers were approached and a group agreed to join an initial phase involving training in assistive software. DfE and accepted the proposal, but the plan has been set back by the tender. DfE have since reaffirmed their support. BATA is working to ensure that accreditation is retained under the new contract arrangements  

Strategic Partnerships

BATA’s input can sometime be seen as self-serving so BATA has reached out to establish more strategic relationships. Target organisations include NADP, NNAC, APPG for AT, ODI, Disability Rights UK, BDF, BESA, BEH in Germany, ATIA of the US, RESNA, WHO and new membership group set up by AAATE. BATA plans to create a group of associate members and to hold meetings with associate members.

Department for Education

Wendy Morgan-Gray has returned to DfE and Greg Boone departed at the end of last month. There has been no announcement of Boone’s replacement. The Disabled Students Support Group AT Sub Group has been disbanded so BATA is lobbying for a seat on DSSG.

The Computer Specification Group has been looking at new computer specs for eight months without success. BATA is aiming to steer the group, although It is not clear who will set the specs in future.

BATA has been working with an AT Expert Working Group set up by DfE. One of five key strands of the Government’s EdTech plan was that it should be inclusive and accessible. BATA has engaged with Robert Rodney who has been tasked with drawing up a plan. BATA has helped the EdTech Strategy Group to give a higher priority to inclusiveness.

Supply Tender

Student Finance England wants to stabilise the market and gain greater control over DSA. The organisation is aiming for reduced administration for students, consistency of service and an increase in rates of training. However, the original decision to separate training from equipment supply created a gap because students were required to organise their own training.

At an SFE engagement event in Darlington there was talk about splitting the tender, which is intended to be non-disability specific and non-regional. There might be a parallel tender for training. A request for responses came from DfE who gave a summary of arguments for and against the split tender. There are many unknowns: suppliers don’t how many successful bidders there will be, what the criteria are, whether there will be a framework or a three quotes system. There is no clarity on whether the system will be one or two stop supply or who is going to carry out quality assurance. There is no news on pricing reviews. Neither is it clear what will happen at the end of the four-year period. There are concerns over the rushed timeline. Bidders have no idea when the announcement will be made. Various dates have been mentioned: June and September among them.

There has been minimum consultation with the sector. BATA wrote to SFE two months ago putting its point of view. DfE says it does not have to do an impact assessment. There will be no trial and no opportunity to work through the bugs in the system. ATSPs have written in a positive way to a number of civil servants asking for a meeting.

How will assessors draw up their list of recommended products if there are no portals? There is no provision for auditing at present.

Rob McLaren APPG for AT

The cross-party group chaired by Lord Holmes and MP Seema Malhotra has produced a report entitled Disabled Students Allowances: Giving Students the Technology they Need.

The Government wants to close the gap in achievement between disabled and non-disabled students. The APPG for AT’s study was based on DfE’s own recent research. But the group found the DfE’s recent research did not evaluate the impact of the £200 charge. No questions were asked about the charge nor did they consult students who were affected by change.

Since the £200 charge was introduced in 2015 there has been a declining number of orders and a growing gap between the number of assessments and the number of orders. Overall the take-up of AT has dropped by 20%.

The key point is the issue of double payment which goes to heart of DSA. Most disabled students have a laptop, but many are not suitable for running AT and students have to pay a further £200 for a system they wouldn’t have needed if they had not been disabled.

The APPG for AT study recommends that the charge should be removed or added to the student loan. Some universities are funding the charge because they recognise it is a charge on disabled students. It is an out of pocket expense that causes delay and disruption to the student experience.

The charge is one of a number of barriers, such as doctor’s notes, that come on top of an already expensive role for students. Consultation is important in persuading government to change its policy in a way that doesn’t score a point.

Next steps:

·         Dissemination and briefings to MPs.

·         Campaign for a Westminster Hall debate.

·         A Chairs’ letter to the minister and direct engagement with DfE.

·         Awareness raising involving a social media campaign.

·         Coordination with disabled people’s organisations.

·         Gathering additional evidence and identifying case studies.

Update on QAG and SLC statistics

Although supplying DSA is still a growth industry, it is on a knife edge. In 2018-2019 the number of disabled students receiving DSAs increased by 3,300, according to figures from the SLC. Students with mental health impairments showed the greatest increase in numbers with over 1,800 passing through assessment centres. However, the number of students with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD fell by 422, although students in this category still accounted for over 41% of all applications for DSA.

Students are still reluctant to take up AT training they have been offered as they do not fully understand the benefits. In 2015 to 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, some 273,955 hours of training were agreed, but only 60,511 were taken up, representing 22%.

ATSPs reported that some systems are going out with the wrong software and QAG should investigate. There seems to be a gap opening up with SLC and David Atkinson proposed that BATA should bring its expertise to bear.

Assessors SIG

Jodie Parkes announced the formation of a Special Interest Group for everyone involved in assessment. The group will identify areas were DSA is not working well and seek more guidance on what and what is not acceptable. The Assessors SIG will produce a guidance document for students and their advisors. There will be regular meetings by video conference. The group will develop assessor specific threads and a searchable archive of threads comments and suggestions. The SIG will become a hub for collaboration between assessors. There would be an inaugural meeting on August 9 at 10am. It would be open to anyone not just BATA members.

Focus Areas for 2019/2020

·         £200 campaign remains a priority.

·         Better communication with SLC and DfE. 

·         Continue working with other organisations: they want to partner with us and it has raised our profile. Information is scarce and there is strength in             numbers.

·         Training and accreditation

·         Schools sector

·         Improve diagnostic assessments

·         Educationalists

·         Raise awareness among university leavers on how to access AT in the workplace.