In the 2023 to 2024 apprenticeship funding rules, the Department for Education (DfE) has outlined some changes to learning support funding regulations. 

One of the significant and proactive changes within the rules is that providers must conduct a screening exercise for learning support. 

So let’s dive into the rule changes and what they mean for apprentices with potential learning difficulties. 


Initial Assessment and screening for learning support 

An initial assessment should be conducted before an apprentice starts their course to investigate: 

  • The learner’s eligibility for the course 
  • If the course is the appropriate level of study 
  • The learner’s prior knowledge 
  • English and Maths assessments – including if exemptions or adjustments should be considered here 
  • Screening and Learning support assessment – including what reasonable adjustments are necessary to enable learners with learning difficulties and disabilities to succeed 

Within the apprenticeship funding rules, initial assessment is defined as, “The process of identifying an individual’s learning and support needs to enable the design of an individual training plan. It determines the learner’s starting point for their apprenticeship.” (DfE, 2023) 

This process is about getting to know your learners. 

Learning support is a core part of providing access to quality education for all learners. 

The rules clearly state, “As part of the initial assessment (which is an eligible cost), the provider must undertake a screening exercise for learning support.” (DfE, 2023) 

The shift in the rules towards mandatory screening assessment is a meaningful one, and one that represents the Government’s growing focus on broader special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and neurodiversity reforms. 


How to design and deliver learning support 

Learning support is crucial for providing equal opportunities and supporting high needs learners. 

The case for assessing all learners centred around the duty to prevent discrimination and reduce the pressure on staff, which has shown positive outcomes for providers. 

However, learning support has historically been viewed as additional or extra in education. Terminology like “additional learning needs (ALN)” is still widely used. 

However, there is nothing “additional” about the requirement to ensure your learners have the appropriate level of support and understanding from their education provider to enable their success.  

We all have different learning needs, and the level of support required is part of designing and delivering an inclusive learning journey. 

Lisa Smith, Risk Assurance Director at RSM UK, has a few tips to help providers: 

  1. Learning Support Funding is available for learners with learning difficulties or disabilities​, but it is not just for those who have been diagnosed with a disability
  2. It is available for learners with an existing or previous EHCP, SEN or LDA​, or where providers have conducted a thorough, evidence-based assessment
  3. It must be used for specific learning support needs and not everyday difficulties
  4. You must be able to demonstrate where you have increased support and why it is relevant 


The evidencing requirements listed in the learning support funding rules provide a useful guide for delivering robust support and ensuring your internal procedures match up to evidencing best practice.  

Identifying different learning needs and potential difficulties is part of the first stage of the Quality Assurance Framework 

This framework was developed in collaboration by Cognassist, Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), Association of Colleges, Federation of Awarding Bodies and sector experts. It was then digitised into a self-assurance module by Mesma, which is available for free on the Mesma platform. 

It helps education providers to map out the learning support journey for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities and helps to identify gaps in your provision. It provides a self-assessment and quality measure to understand the impact and effectiveness of your learning support, regardless of the education sector in which you work. 


The future of education and supporting neurodiverse learners 

Apprenticeships are key to improving social mobility and developing career pathways at any stage of life. 

The changes in this sector show a wider cultural shift in our approach to education and improving inclusivity within both education and employment. It is unlikely that the new mandatory screening exercise within apprenticeships will be the last change of its kind within education to create more support for learners.  

There is a great national focus on neurodiversity, the growing conversation around understanding our differences and how to support a diverse range of learning needs within education. 

Providers must think about how they can improve the quality of their provision and create more personalised learning journeys. 

The risks of not providing adaptations and adjustments are high, for providers and their learners. 

Learning support teams, SEND Coordinators, tutors and those responsible for managing information systems must be working together to create processes and procedures like mandatory screening to identify and support learners at risk of dropping out. 

For funding, the fear of clawback always looms large, but we can’t let this overpower the need for institutional change. 

Register below for our upcoming webinar with Lisa Smith, from RSM UK to discuss the funding rules in more detail and answer your burning questions.  


Join Dr Louise Karwowski, Director of Education at Cognassist, and Lisa Smith, Risk Assurance Director, RSM UK, for part 2, as they discuss:

  • A deep dive into the updated funding rules, and what a screening activity is for learning support
  • Importance of thorough assessment to identify LDD
  • Best practice for evidencing with the updated rules
  • Your questions