Research into practice

Liz Maudslay looks at how a project involving Cambridge
University and Skill confronted the needs of people with severe
learning difficulties.

The Enhancing Quality of Life project, initiated jointly by
Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities and Cambridge
University, began with a national survey of the provision for
people with profound and complex learning difficulties.

These learners may also have additional disabilities, such as
mobility impairments. The survey revealed wide variations between
services in different parts of the country.

However, the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and the Care Standards
Act 2000 should allow funding bodies to make significant efforts to
ensure universal access to satisfactory service.

The project team researched examples of good practice at a
general further education college, a specialist further education
college, an adult education centre and a community project.
“Quality of life” indicators were used to assess

The work has indicated that the needs of people with profound
and complex learning difficulties are best addressed through
holistic approaches in which the distinctions between aspects of
provision, such as education, care, therapy, occupation or leisure,
are minimised or broken down. This needs inter-agency collaboration
which, the research has shown, often does not occur. The
establishment of inter-agency learning disability partnership
boards in every local education authority in England should offer
an opportunity to change this strategically.

At a less senior level, staff from organisations, including
social services, education providers and voluntary agencies, should
have the chance to meet and liaise with each other to share
information and ensure that progress is sustained.

The research showed that periods of transition were crucial for
this group of people and their families or carers. Clear strategies
need to be adopted so that people with profound and complex
learning difficulties have a structured programme of transition
when coming into an organisation and when they move on from it,
with clear roles and responsibilities. Continuity is vital in terms
of passing on information about the ways people communicate and
learn, about likes and dislikes, so that progress can be sustained
and built upon.

The research found that the quality of each learner’s life
will be improved by working on individual priorities for learning
or potential areas of growth rather than by following a set
curriculum. In light of this, organisations may need to review and
redesign their traditional provision to answer the individual needs
of people with profound and complex learning difficulties.

The project discovered a high demand for staff development in
this field. Even trained and experienced staff require additional
training in how to respond to the distinct needs of those with
profound and complex learning difficulties in line with the Care
Standards Act 2000 and the white paper Valuing People. Training
involving staff from different agencies learning together is likely
to be particularly beneficial.

– The Enhancing Quality of Life resource pack, based on
the research project, which includes a staff development guide and
video, a guide for support managers, a briefing paper for policy
makers, a literature review of existing research in this area and a
quality of life manual for monitoring review and evaluation, is
available from Skill, tel 020 7450 0620. Price £25.

Liz Maudslay is policy director (further education) at


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