GUEST BLOG – Lead Scotland: Getting the right support

Getting the right support at college or university

September 2020

Young people who left school in the summer will be dealing with a college or university entry like no other. Lead Scotland’s REBECCA SCARLETT shares her tips for getting off to a good start

Students on college campus

Due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19, universities and colleges will be taking a blended approach to learning, with some classes being taught online with the potential for smaller group teaching in person. It may be possible for people who are shielding to access all teaching remotely – but you will need to discuss this with the individual institution. Needs assessments are likely to take place via video call for the foreseeable future. Check the individual college or university websites for further Covid-19 updates.

As the new academic year finally gets under way at colleges and universities across Scotland, now is the time to talk to your young person about what support they might need when they start their course.

Ideally, support plans will already be in place, but there are any number of reasons this might not have happened yet, so don’t panic!

First things first – speak to your young person about disclosure and the importance of doing this early. Encourage them to have a read of our ‘Tick the Box blog’ to help them understand how important it is to talk about their support needs early on.

Disabled students often tell us they didn’t want to tell anyone about what support they might need as they didn’t want to be singled out, but remind them that they have control over who knows – it can literally just be the support team and some specific tutors.

Another big fear we hear about from disabled students is the concern they won’t be judged on academic merit and instead will be seen as getting ‘special treatment’. I can’t stress enough how vital it is to help them understand, this is about equal treatment, not special treatment. And sometimes, equal treatment might mean standing on a higher step, to get an equal (not better) view.

As going to college or university is part of beginning life as an adult, institutions want students themselves to do their own advocating and be in control of asking for help. But that is easier said than done, and of course won’t always be possible for students with more complex needs.

Some students feel they want the support of their parents when discussing their needs or to get help if things are going wrong, but institutions often won’t engage with parents unless there are very clear written instructions from the student to do so – and even then it can still be a challenge. So, here are a few tips and steps you and your young person can take along the way:

  • If applying to university through UCAS, make sure they specify their impairment type in the disability section and write as much information as possible about potential support needs in the ‘special needs’ box – check out further advice from UCAS here
  • Suggest they nominate you as a named person on their UCAS form as someone who can discuss their application on their behalf in the ‘nominated access’ section
  • If applying to college, make sure they disclose an impairment in the application form
  • If they have already applied and been accepted onto a course but not yet disclosed, then look up the disability service on a university’s website or the student support service on a college website and either follow the instructions there for disclosing, or send the relevant team an email
  • Remember the start of term is an exceptionally busy time for support teams, so be patient, but don’t be afraid to get in touch again if you haven’t heard anything after a week or two
  • Ask the institution what their policy is for engaging with parents and request a form to allow students to give permission to keep you involved if they have one, as long as your young person is OK with this. If they don’t have a specific form, your young person can send an email giving you permission
  • Consider whether it would be appropriate to arrange a Guardianship or Power of Attorney order through the courts to allow you to make decisions or act on behalf of your young person. Read more about legal powers and the pros and cons of doing so here.
  • Tell your young person about Disabled Students UK – a new facebook group set up by disabled students for disabled students. It’s for students only (not parents) and provides a safe space for peer support and advice

For more information and advice about rights and support for disabled people at college and university, you can call our helpline on 0800 999 2568, or you can view our free online guides here.