Information about the Study Aids and Study Strategies Assessment ("Needs Assessment")

This document aims to answer questions you might have about the assessment process. If after reading this you have any further questions please don't hesitate to contact your local Assessment Centre.

About the assessment

The Study Aids and Study Strategies Assessment should identify strategies you can use to participate in all aspects of mainstream higher education (despite any adverse effects your disability or learning difficulty might have). These strategies often include assistive technology equipment and specialist support.

The assessment is the meeting between you and an assessor - a person qualified by their experience & knowledge of the equipment and support that students with disabilities (including dyslexia) need to study successfully at university. At this meeting your needs and the demands of your course will be discussed and the assessor will aim to agree with you all the equipment and support that you need for your studies.

After the assessment the assessor will produce a written report (called Study Aids and Study Strategies Assessment Report, or SASSA Report) and this will be sent to your LA for their agreement.

The SASSA is sometimes referred to as a 'needs assessment report' or NAR and is used by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and some other funding bodies to work out the support they are willing to pay for from the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA), or other funding sources.

The assessment report will also contain advice and guidance to help you and your university or college agree reasonable accommodations they can make to help you get the most out of your course. During the assessment session you will have the opportunity to:

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More information about the assessment

Assessment sessions usually last from one and a half to three hours. Sometimes the session needs to be spread over a few days, especially if quite a lot of equipment needs to be tried out or if you become tired very easily.

You won't be 'tested' to prove your disability in the session.

More than one assessor can be involved: you might meet with an occupational therapist, technician, vision specialist or other professional who can help work out exactly what you need to participate in the course.

The assessor has to make appropriate recommendations in the final report. All recommendations need to be clearly justified to enable your funding body to release funding from the Disabled Students Allowances (or other funding sources) based on your disability-related needs for the course.

Recommendations usually include the following:

  • details of costs and suppliers of specialist equipment;
  • maximum weekly hours and suggested rates of pay for any personal assistants (non-medical helpers) you need;
  • details of any reasonable claims for additional miscellaneous or travel costs you might have while studying.

The report will include recommendations about how your college or university can best support you, but it is only sent to your college / university with your permission. The college or university won't know how to help you if they don't know about you. You can choose not to inform your college or university about your disability or assessment, but we strongly recommend you at least inform the disability officer.

Remember: you don't get 'tested' in an assessment - we're assessing the aids and strategies you need, we're not assessing you!

For more information about the DSA, please refer to the Department of Education and Skills (DfES) website. Contact them by telephone on 0800 731 9133 (textphone 0800 210 280) and ask for a copy of the booklet "Bridging the Gap: A guide to the disabled students allowances". This booklet is available in standard print, audio-cassette and Braille.

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Why use an Assessment Centre?

Assessment Centre assessors only exist to provide specialist advice and guidance on the wide range of specialist assistive technology devices, personal assistance types and study strategies that people with disabilities can use to participate in education or employment.

Members of the National Network of Assessment Centres are required to provide specialist, professional and unbiased advice. Assessors do not have particular interests in suppliers, nor do they receive any financial reward from recommending particular items of equipment or software.

Assessment Centres have close links with further and higher education. Centres are based in colleges or universities. Assessors are education professionals and understand disabilities and the particular demands of further or higher education.

The NNAC is a national network and holds regular discussions via email or in meetings. This allows assessors to share information about new technologies or strategies.

An Assessment Centre assessment will provide details of appropriate assistive technology equipment, but you should also leave your assessment with a better idea of the kind of other strategies you can use to get the most from your studies.

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Finding out about your eligibility for specialist funding for support from the DSA

To find out if you may be eligible for support from the DSA, contact your local education authority student awards section. You could also contact the disability advisor in your college or university (or the college / university you are thinking of going to).

The LA and the disability adviser will keep information confidential and will not usually inform anyone about your disability unless you want them to.

Although it's called the 'Disabled Students Allowance', you do not have to be 'registered disabled' or in receipt of disability benefits to be eligible for support. For example, many people who are dyslexic receive additional support through the DSA.

More information about the different sources of funding for specialist equipment or support.

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How do I arrange for an assessment?

Before you arrange an assessment, you must have confirmation from your Local Authority (LA) or funding authority that they agree for you to have one. It is usually best to have this confirmation in writing. Your LA or funding body should refer you to a reasonably local Assessment centre.

You can ask your college or university disability officer to help you arrange for the assessment. Alternatively, get in touch with your nearest Assessment Centre and book an assessment yourself.

If you cannot get an appointment soon enough in your local Assessment Centre, you could try another one! If you do this, please remember to let the original centre know if you decide to cancel an appointment so someone else can have it.

List of Assessment centres.

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How do I prepare for the assessment?

1. Find out about the activities the course will expect you to participate in:

  • How is the course delivered (do you need to participate in lectures, seminars, group work and so on)?
  • How are you assessed (through coursework, presentations, exams)?
  • Do you need to use any specific equipment or software?
  • How many teaching hours are there every week?
  • Do tutors expect students to use email and online resources?
  • Do you need to go on placement or undertake field trips?

2. Think about how effective your previous study strategies were at school or college. Did you have help from family, friends or teachers - people who might not be able to help as much now? Maybe your classes were very small compared to university lectures.

3. Make sure you know how to get to the centre. If you plan to drive there make sure parking is available first.

4. Let the centre know if you need ramped or level access.

5. Arrange any personal assistance or communication support you might need during the day unless you are sure the centre is arranging this for you.

6. Make sure you have all the right documents you will need for the session. This includes a letter from your Local Education Authority to confirm they have agreed you can have the assessment. You will also need recent medical evidence or a report that confirms dyslexia etc.

You can help the assessor by doing the following:

  • Bring along a few recent examples of your written work, such as class / lecture notes or essays - especially if these have been marked and commented on by your teachers or tutors.
  • Speak to your tutors and disability support staff about your specific needs - they could have useful suggestions e.g. about compatible computer hardware. A letter from a tutor or disability adviser giving details of any specific concerns can be brought to the assessment or sent (or emailed) in advance.

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How long does this process all take?

The whole process can sometimes seem very long-winded. The length of time it takes from making an appointment to getting your equipment very much depends on how busy your local centre or funding authority is with processing assessments. The busiest time is the first few months of the academic year (September to December).

To help things run smoothly, you could do the following:

  • Apply to your education authority for information about the DSA as early as possible - maybe even before you start your 'A' levels.
  • Don't assume things are happening - If you don't hear anything within a couple of weeks of your application, give your authority or the centre a call.
  • f you have a serious physical or sensory disability you should ask your education authority if they will allow you to have your assessment early, maybe late spring or early summer.
  • If you cannot get an appointment soon enough in your most local centre try ringing around the other centres in your area to find out if they can see you sooner. Try to keep your appointment with the Assessment Centre as it could take some time to arrange another one.
  • Remember to bring any relevant information (such as medical or psychological reports as well as tutor comments) to the session. Your assessor might not be able to carry out the assessment without this information. Don't assume it's been sent to the centre in advance.

You should expect to have the report to be written up and sent out within two to three weeks of your appointment - although it can take longer if very specialist equipment needs to be identified. If you don't get your report within three weeks call the centre to find out what is happening.

Some universities can arrange to lend equipment to students who are waiting for DSA funding - contact your disability officer for more information.

When you receive the assessment report, your Local Authority (LA) or funding authority should also have received it at the same time. If you don't hear from your LAor funding authority within a reasonable time (say, two to three weeks) you should call the officer responsible (the name should be on the front of the report) and find out what is happening.

Check the report carefully - If you are not happy with the contents of your Assessment Centre report tell the centre right away!

Wait for your LA or funding authority to approve the report before ordering any equipment.

If your LA doesn't agree with the recommendations of the report let the Assessment Centre know as soon as you can.

The Assessment Centre usually can't help you order equipment. Clear directions should be provided in the report. Some (but not all) LAs will order it for you. If you are not sure how to go about ordering equipment or arranging the support described in your report go and see the disability adviser at your university/college. Your disability adviser will also help you to make any other arrangements recommended in the report and should be your first point of contact if you think you need to add new items later on in your studies.

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If you have any more questions about the assessment process why not give your local centre a call!