Supporting neurodiverse apprentices

Chris Quickfall introduces new research that show how personalised support is vital for improving confidence and motivation in apprentices with special learning needs


According to the National Achievement Rates Tables (NARTs), learners with identified learning difficulties and disabilities are more likely to drop out of their apprenticeship. Furthermore, previous research has uncovered apprentices who identify with learning needs are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of deprivation. Both factors have contributed to the disadvantage gap widening among learners and, to begin to close this, it is vital that every learner has the adequate level of support to ensure they are equipped with the tools and resources to reach their full potential. 

The potential of tailoring apprentice support
New research has shown that following a programme of tailored support among apprentices with learning needs, there were increases in both confidence and motivation to learn over time. The study measured confidence and motivation in completing tasks each day that linked closely with their learning needs – identified following an initial digital cognitive assessment – through a meticulously designed self-report scale. These findings are extremely significant given the strong correlation between measures of confidence and achievement levels, as previous scientific research has revealed (Non-cognitive Physiological Processes and Academic Achievement, 2016).

Following the initial survey, it was found that apprentices who were identified as having hidden learning needs were less confident in their ability to perform everyday tasks, such as reading and absorbing written information. Following a three-month personalised support programme, the same survey was sent out to the same apprentices – with marked improvements. Apprentices who received the tailored support saw their level of confidence increase by 14% on average, with their motivation increasing by 16%. Importantly too, apprentices who received no support experienced no increase in either confidence or motivation over the same period. 

It is high time to normalise the idea that everybody works, thinks, and learns differently, ‘neurodiverse’ or not

These findings highlight the difference just a few months of support can make, a second, larger, cohort of the study was underway to further understand the effect this support can have. It is clear evidence  that a holistic approach needs to be taken to improve confidence in learners who are more likely to face greater barriers throughout their time in education. However, in the meantime, there are other beneficial steps that can be taken to assist apprentices with learning needs.

How to support neurodiverse apprentices
Many learners need assistance throughout education but are currently not receiving the right support at the right time. The delay in identifying hidden learning needs creates barriers and often results in people becoming withdrawn and disengaged from their programme, often leading to high levels of drop-out among apprentices. Given that up to 80% of individuals with dyslexia leave school without a diagnosis, it is paramount that this is picked up early – it can be truly transformative for the individual. 

Examples of steps that could be taken to help neurodiverse individuals include providing a glossary of terminology used in the programme to increase their immersion in the course, as well as supporting learners through providing clear goals for each task, provided some extra time where needed, and using consistent teaching structures. 

It would certainly also help to foster an open workplace culture in which individuals feel comfortable discussing their needs and how they feel they can work most effectively. The diversity of human thinking should be celebrated and embraced; there are a range of benefits to having a neurodiverse workforce with competing ideas, views, and solutions. It is high time to normalise the idea that everybody works, thinks, and learns differently, ‘neurodiverse’ or not. Apprentice providers must take this learner-centric approach to every individual journey.

All these measures are of little trouble to the provider, and all contribute to reducing barriers to success for the apprentice. Given the importance of apprentices – especially amid the UK’s ongoing skills shortage – it is vital to ensure every possible step is taken to maximise the chances of retention and success for the individual. This will not only benefit the individual, but also the provider.

This new research solidifies belief in the power of tailoring support to the individual to achieve the most out of the learner, and we’re optimistic that their confidence and motivation will continue to significantly increase over time. Building a genuinely personalised support programme will help to ensure every learner can thrive in their environment, and ultimately allow everybody to reach their full potential.
Chris Quickfall is the founder and CEO of Cognassist



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