One parent’s view of the system.


I want to cry.

I sit here and wonder how as an organised, eloquent woman I have descended into despair and slanging matches with unknown people at the end of the phone. I wonder how it is that despite starting the DSA process in April with Archie, so that he would go to study Economics and Politics at Manchester university equipped with the support he needs, he is now going with nothing.

As a reminder for those who haven’t read Part 1 of this series, Archie can’t read and write freely and has relied totally on memory, no notes, a reader and scribe, 50% extra time and breaks in exams to get his 2As and 1C at A level to secure a place at Manchester.  Mindful that he won’t have the same support he has had at school, the intention was that an early start in this process would see him equipped with a computer, appropriate software and, more importantly, having had the lessons to understand how to use it, before he entered the lecture hall.  Some dream!

Trying to make something positive out of this – take these as the next set of Top Tips.

  • Do not rely on Student Finance (SF). Archie had his assessment with a great assessor, who got her report out early but SF sent us nothing.  When we rang to chase after several weeks they told us there was nothing on the system and we’d have to wait a further 5 working days. They would not put us through to the department in SF dealing with DSAs – why not?
  • Use your assessment centre – they were brilliant, said they’d been notified 2 weeks earlier that everything had been approved. They contacted SF and a letter miraculously appeared.
  • Trust nothing you are told – The government identified a supplier for the equipment, Assistive Solutions (the name is a misnomer!) We contacted them straight away and initially they were helpful. Archie did a lot of research, found out that Dragon Dictation doesn’t work as well on a Mac, so chose a high spec Dell, agreeing to pay the difference. As it wasn’t on their list he double-checked there would be no delay. 10 days maximum but usually delivery in 3 days they said.  10 days came and went. He rang repeatedly but was fobbed off, always told he would be called back (he never was), delivery days came and went.
  • Don’t expect any sensible solutions to be taken notice of – like why can’t you speak to the person dealing with your DSA at Student Finance? Also, wouldn’t it be a good idea if you could at least enquire about the sessions to teach you to use the technology in good time? My guess is that these people get pretty busy at the beginning of term, so booking in a few sessions is a good idea. No! Assistive Solutions (did I mention their name isn’t assistive at all) – said no.
  • Enlist an angry person – in this case, me. It has taken me being very angry and admittedly not very nice to at least get ‘Dave’ (Assistive Solutions won’t give out surnames – mmm, accountability leaps to mind considering they have £1,200 of our money and government money too) to listen to our woes. No, they have no record of Archie’s calls. No, they don’t know when the computer will come but probably not before he gets to university. No, it isn’t their fault, it’s Dells. No, they can’t help really – all they are asked to do is provide the cheapest service. No, they don’t think it’s appalling that they took no notice of an 18 year old with a disability trying to navigate the system on his own.

So, here we are – helpless and unheard – the plight of pretty much everyone with a SEND. There have been some highlights of kindness and good sense.

  • The lovely woman at the assessment centre – North London Regional Access Centre – who rang SF for us.
  • Manchester Student Services – I’ll write another blog about how great they have been so far.
  • Emily at Randstad Student Support – who is now trying to help us and … yes,
  • David at Assistive Solutions who is at least trying to help source another computer.*

Note to self – be persistent and try not to descend into sarcastic, desperate conversations.

Note to people on the end of the phone – return calls as promised, say sorry, listen and most of all, be kind.

*David has emailed me (now I know his surname!) and is trying to get a computer in time – we shall see.