Skip to main content

Reasonable adjustments: how to identify learner needs

3rd October 2023

Louise Karwowski, Director of Education at Cognassist

In the 2022-23 academic year, 4.3 percent of learners had an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and 13 percent had special educational need (SEN) support, according to the Department for Education.

However, recent data found that in post-16 education, almost a third of learners need support due to cognitive differences.

This is a significant proportion, and thankfully, for many, a diagnosis of a learning difficulty and/or disability (LDD) will mean that an EHCP is already in place when they reach college or their apprenticeship programme.

But there will be others whose needs have gone unrecognised and unmet, leaving them at risk of falling behind, or even dropping out of their course altogether.

There might be several reasons why a learner’s support needs aren’t picked up on straight away, if at all. Some of the support needs that can often be overlooked are those related to cognitive, psychological or neurological differences - even seemingly subtle variations in our cognition can mean some of us require additional support. Learners may not be aware of these ‘invisible’ differences or may not -feel able to disclose their needs to their tutor at enrolment.

And yet when needs are recognised, reasonable adjustments can be put in place to ensure that learners receive the support they need to thrive in post-16 education.

That’s why at Cognassist our aim, alongside the Association of Colleges (AoC), is to help get the right adjustments to the right learners, at the right time in their journey.

So, what exactly are reasonable adjustments?

The Equality Act 2010 defines reasonable adjustments as “the means taken to avoid a substantial disadvantage that a learner may face due to their disability.” They are a legal right for LDD learners and should cover the whole length of the learner’s programme, not just end-point assessment.

Reasonable adjustments are personal; a support strategy that works for one learner may not be suitable for another, even if they have the same diagnosis. However, the different types of adjustments are often split into three main categories:

  • Provisions, criteria and practices
  • For example, providing targeted learning interventions based on a learner’s specific needs throughout their programme, such as breaking tasks down into manageable chunks.
  • Physical features
    For example, choosing an end-point assessment location that a learner is familiar with, to minimise stress for autistic learners.
  • Provision of an auxiliary aid
    For example, using colour overlays for learners who experience visual disturbances when reading due to Irlen syndrome or dyslexia.

When implemented at the right time, in the right way, reasonable adjustments can have a huge impact on learners with cognitive differences related to diagnoses including dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD and autism.

However, a purposeful, structured approach to reasonable adjustments is vital – and this relies on early identification of learner needs and the capability to provide personalised learning paths. This is a complex process, and increasingly, cognitive assessments are being used to identify the most effective adjustments for each learner.

The Cognassist cognitive diversity assessment, for example, enables tutors to delve into the learner's cognitive strengths and diversities with them. Not only does this empower learners with greater self-awareness and empathy for themselves, but it sets the course for targeted interventions and adjustments. This level of detail is needed if tutors are to establish an accurate starting point for learners and determine the most suitable strategies to enhance learning outcomes.

What’s the impact of this? We’ve mapped the cognition of over 220,000 brains so far – that's nearly a quarter of a million learners with access to evidence-based support to reduce barriers to their education journey.!

At Cognassist, our mission is to make sure that no learner is left behind, and we strongly believe that improving the understanding around reasonable adjustments among providers, particularly for learners with hidden support needs, will help us to achieve that.

Looking to learn more about how to give your learners the best chance of success through reasonable adjustments? Register for our webinar, co-hosted by Cognassist and the AoC.

You’ll also find us at:

  • AoC Colleges Week – 9-20 October 2023
  • AoC Annual Conference – 14-15 November 2023
  • AoC SEND Conference – 5 December 2023

You can also get in touch with us by visiting or sending an email to: