The central role of personal tutors in closing the attainment gap between students with disabilities and their peers

Isabel Hallam (University Centre South Devon)
Katrina Perkins (University Centre South Devon)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021 10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

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Session Outline

During this presentation we will discuss how the University Centre South Devon (UCSD), a small college higher education provider, places personal tutors at heart of its strategy to close the attainment gap between students with disabilities and their peers. The presenters are the Student Development and Tutorial Manager and a personal tutor with consistently high numbers of disabled students. The audience will be encouraged to participate with interactive polls, reflect on and share their experiences in the chat, and contribute to the questions and answer session.

To close the gap in attainment between students with disabilities and their peers, UCSD deploys an evidence-informed strategy, as part of our Access and Participation Plan. This involves interventions from personal tutors, professional services teams, and the use of a tutorial curriculum throughout the student journey to develop study skills and independent learning, foster belonging and relationships, and raise the aspirations of our disabled students.

Gazeley and Aynsley (2012, p. 10) identify pre-entry activities as particularly important for underrepresented groups, especially vocational, mature and disabled students. Therefore, UCSD focuses on pre-entry to higher education as a key time to support the development of study skills and independent learning. We do this through our Step up to HE online and face-to-face programme of workshops and resources, and continued study skills support throughout the student journey. Recognising Taylor, Baskett and Wren’s (2010) observation about the importance of early referral to disability services for successful transition, we use this pre-entry period to promote our inclusive environment and encourage students to self-declare any difficulty which may be considered a disability and signpost students to support. Our presentation will discuss these pre-entry activities and other interventions throughout the student journey and how they contribute to closing the attainment gap between students with disabilities and their peers.

We will also demonstrate how our integrated tutorial model and personal tutors are central to this strategy, reflecting on the lessons we have learned. This strategy has given our tutors enhanced responsibility for liaising with everyone supporting the student to achieve, as well as developing an authentic relationship with the student that facilitates their learning, engagement and progression. The UCSD professional services team have enhanced their support and coordination with weekly updates for tutors and a tutorial curriculum and weekly tutorial lesson plans and resources. Some tutors have embraced the enhanced responsibility and felt empowered to support their students, yet others have been challenged by what they see as additional burdens. We will conclude with a discussion about the challenges of monitoring the impact of the strategy to close the attainment gap between disabled students and their peers.

This session addresses the following competencies of the UKAT Professional Framework for Advising and Tutoring
C4 - Expected outcomes of academic advising and tutoring
R7 - Collaborate effectively with campus services to provide support to students
P1 - Create and support environments that consider the needs and perspectives of students, and respect individual learners