Why should you apply for Learning Support Funding (LSF1)?

How easy is it to apply and what are the benefits for learners and for learning providers?

Learning Support Funding (LSF) can be an open question mark for many in the industry and the guidelines are complex, which puts off many providers from even exploring what support funding they could be claiming.

Here are 10 things to know about LSF, which hopefully will help you to access this much-needed funding stream for your learners.


How does Learning Support Funding help learners?

#1 It’s about levelling the playing field

LSF can be drawn down from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) as an effective way to help learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LDD).

It can be used to cover the costs of implementing reasonable adjustments throughout a learner’s programme, including their English and maths functional skills requirement and after Gateway at end-point assessment.

In the apprenticeship sector, it’s important to ensure a programme is ambitious in its aims but also acknowledges that all apprentices have different starting points.  There always need to be procedures in place to meet every learner’s support requirements.

The ESFA funding is there to support organisations and their LDD learners who experience barriers to learning.


#2 It’s not just for learners with diagnosed disabilities

As we said, the guidelines for LSF are complex and often providers underclaim because they misinterpret who does and doesn’t qualify for the monthly payments.

Learners can experience various learning difficulties and often they can be unaware that they even experience a hidden learning need.

The Department for Education (DfE) policy guidelines state:

“In relation to paragraphs 26 to 27, this can include an apprentice who has not previously had a learning difficulty or disability identified, but in relation to whom the provider has identified a learning difficulty or disability (as defined in Section 15ZA(6) of the Education Act 1996) that would directly affect the apprentice’s ability to complete their apprenticeship.”  (DfE, 2023)

The most important point is to make sure that you complete a learning needs assessment to understand the impact that any identified needs will have on an apprentice’s ability to complete their programme, whether they have been formally diagnosed or not.


#3 LSF gives more flexible ways to provide training to learners who require support

There are plenty of ways LSF can support apprentices and training providers.

It can mean more things like:

  • Investing in additional training staff/tutors to support learners with LDD.
  • Ensuring learners receive more time or more regular meetings with their support staff.
  • Providing assistive technology and equipment that your learners need to complete their training.
  • Implementing reasonable adjustments into the learner’s apprenticeship journey.

With more options, providers have more opportunities to break down the barriers to learning and bring in more apprentices who would otherwise have been prevented from learning.


How does Learning Support Funding help you?

#4 Supporting learners with LDD demonstrates to Ofsted an intent to provide quality of education to all learners

All providers on the register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP) should be constantly evaluating their support infrastructure to ensure they provide outstanding ways of meeting their learners’ needs.

With the new Education Inspection Framework and its focus on SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities), this is becoming more relevant than ever.

Is your organisation keeping up with the increase in our understanding of neurodiversity?

Providers are now required to “undertake a screening exercise for learning support.” (DfE, 2023)

Initial assessment of potential learning difficulties and the impact these may have on the learner’s chances of success is more and more becoming part of the expected process for providers.

Karen Bennett, Senior Policy Lead at the Education & Skills Funding Agency, highlighted initial assessment during an online panel session:

“It is best practice [to assess learners on enrolment]. It should be talked about, and make sure you have a look at the guidance for that.”

How is your organisation identifying learners who need access to learning support?


#5 LSF can be a tool to aid programme retention and engagement

Learners with hidden learning needs are often the ones who disengage from their programme and are at more risk of dropping out.

According to the National Achievement Rates Tables (NARTs), learners with identified learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD) are more likely to drop out of their apprenticeship.

The higher dropout rate for LDD apprentices is even more disheartening because the NARTs data also shows that when LDD learners are retained, they have the same pass rate as learners without LDD.

We should be focusing on helping all learners to stay on track with learning, all the way to completion.

LSF can help you to offer appropriate and more targeted support to make a real difference in the lives of many learners.


#6 LSF is there to give training providers additional means to support learners

You no doubt have support provisions already in place to help learners.

But claiming LSF gives you extra funding each month to support a learner with identified needs. Think of the impact this could have on their learning journey.

You can also use the Earnings Adjustment Statement (EAS) to claim funding that you cannot report in the Individual Learning Report (ILR) for larger, one-off support costs.

This ensures that providers are in a better position to provide meaningful support to learners and that they have the means to integrate support measures into their procedures and policy.


What can make the funding process easier?

#7 Robust initial assessment provides a good starting point to build from

It’s difficult to deliver appropriate support and success at end-point assessment if providers don’t have a good idea of their learners’ initial starting point.

And even more so if providers are unable to understand what hidden learning needs their apprentices may have and whether they require reasonable adjustments to complete their apprenticeship.

Initial assessment is crucial for the learner journey and curriculum planning, and it should cover a wide range of evidence, as the former FE and Skills Deputy Director of Ofsted, Marina Gaze, spoke of in an Ask the Inspector Q&A:

“With initial assessment, it’s also a real opportunity to identify learning needs so you can quickly put support in place, and not leave it until that person becomes disengaged. That’s what I mean, get to know your learners. Talk to them, look at a range of initial assessment evidence, get feedback from them about what’s worked for them in the past and what they know doesn’t work well.”

You cannot claim Learning Support Funding without undertaking an initial assessment to identify whether an apprentice has a learning difficulty or disability that directly impacts their ability to complete the apprenticeship. You must also ensure that reasonable adjustments are being delivered for that learner before you can qualify for monthly funding (see paragraphs 30 and 31 of the apprenticeship funding rules).

For support on implementing reasonable adjustments at end-point assessment, you can take a look at the guidance from the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education (IfATE), which offers a downloadable reasonable adjustments matrix.


#8 Always work with your learners

The learner is at the heart of everything you do.

It is no different when it comes to the processes you use for Learning Support Funding.

Initial conversations with the learner can reveal important information about previous support the learner may have received in school, and these conversations can be part of your initial evidencing.

Where you have identified a learning need, the learner must also give their agreement and sign off for your plan to deliver reasonable adjustments throughout their apprenticeship.

Crucially, learners can tell you if the reasonable adjustments they receive are still necessary and appropriate on a monthly basis. This feedback ensures the learner is getting the support they need when they need it and forms part of the evidence requirements listed on page 19 of the 2023 to 2024 funding rules.


#9 Focus on evidencing and data

Both initial and ongoing evidencing are required to draw down Learning Support Funding. The priority your organisation places on effective data and evidencing practices will have an impact at audit and, if we’re being honest, Ofsted inspections.

Learning support and reasonable adjustments have a huge part to play in ensuring a high quality provision for SEND learners.

The idea of clawback causes a lot of fear, but the more you evidence, the less you have to worry about.

And reasonable adjustments aren’t just a funding requirement, they are a requirement of the Equality Act 2010.

Whether you’re applying for Learning Support Funding or not, your organisation needs to have a robust and evidence-based process to ensuring equality and reasonable adjustments should be available to any learner that requires them.


#10 If something’s not working, change it now

After consulting with key stakeholders, the DfE changed the rules around Learning Support Funding in 2021 and the last few years have seen a refinement of the more substantial changes that were introduced. The conversation and processes used around identifying and supporting apprentices with learning difficulties and disabilities are constantly changing.

And this change is a good thing.

It ensures we are constantly meeting our Public Sector Equality Duty to think about discrimination and people who are at a disadvantage when we make decisions, provide services and implement policy.

And ensuring quality at every stage is key.

Mesma are a leader for quality assurance and improvement. Alongside Cognassist, they have created a Quality Assurance Framework Module, available free of charge.

This module will take you step by step through the 5 key stages of the learner journey and facilitate self-reflection and audit on your support for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities at each of these stages.


At the end of the day, Learning Support Funding is a tool to help your learners succeed. Use it wisely and effectively and your learners will thank you for it.