Christine Werrell from Cardiff University is our longstanding NADP adviser for Welsh affairs and all things that affect Wales.
Lynn Wilson, our Executive Director, and Christine talk about her current work and her views and ideas for the adviser-role in Wales.
A great podcast for all our members who want to know about the role of our advisers but especially useful for our newer members who live in other areas of the UK and would like to see some ideas on how support in Wales differs.
Full transcript available here and from the NADP Office
NADPVIC2021: Joining the dots of inclusive practice – what is the picture now?
Lynn Wilson in conversation with Christine Werrell, NADP adviser for Wales.
Lynn: OK. So, for our second podcast, we're welcoming Christine Werrell who is the NADP country adviser for Wales. All of our NADP projects and plans rely on input from members and our special advisers, as well. Christine is our adviser for events and policy in Wales. We've known each other for quite a while now as we joined the NADP Board of Directors together quite a few years ago. So welcome Christine.
Christine: Hi Lynn.
Lynn: OK, to start with, can you just tell us something about yourself and the institution where you're working now.
Christine: Yes, so my role within Cardiff University is Head of Disability and Access Support Services, which means I am responsible for Disability Services, and our academic skills and peer mentoring service for our undergraduates and taught postgraduate students. Both services are really about making higher education more accessible, which is why it's an interesting remit to be responsible for.
As Lynn said, I've been an NADP director, and I couldn't remember the year, so I struggled to think how long it was, but it was quite some time ago. And I was vice chair of NADP for a year before I stepped down from the board as a full director in 2019, and I've been representing Wales since that time. So, that's a bit about me.
Lynn: So how big is your team or your two teams at the university.
Christine: So, if we focus on the disability service, Lynn, there are 31 of us. I've included myself. But we do have disability advisers, three of whom work specifically with students who have mental health difficulties, and we also have non-medical-help services, and an assessment centre, and of course we have our administrators. I would say that's 31 People but they are not all full-time staff. The institution, Cardiff is… it's quite a large institution. We've got, well, just over 33,000 students. Most of those students are undergraduates. It is, sort of, over 23,000 that are undergraduate students. So, we're quite a large institution. We have just over 4000 students who have told the university about their disability.
Lynn: Yes, that figure can hide quite a few behind that as well.
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. I was thinking about, you know, how many students do we support which always, I think, an interesting question, you know, because there are various ways in which students engage with services. But, thinking about the students… for me, I think we support all of the students, whether it's directly through those that have come to the service, have met with an adviser or are receiving some non-medical help support; or be it through the students who have asked an inquiry, because they had a one off need and that's got supported and resolved by our sort of first-line of contact team; or whether it's our work with academic staff, where we are working with our colleagues, to look at how things are done within programmes of study and that sort of developmental side where you're looking to make a difference for the disabled students who are studying on those programmes. So, you know, for me, I think it's about supporting all of those students, and of course, that way you support students who, for whatever reason, haven't told you that they have a disability, or they have an impairment. So, hopefully we try and reach as many students without relying on them having to tell us directly.
Lynn: Which, kind of, brings us quite neatly to a question which I was going to ask a bit further down the line but asking about inclusivity. We hear quite a lot about it. I think across the UK, but we're hearing that it's quite patchy in some universities and then some departments, what's your experience of inclusivity across Wales.
Christine: I would say it's the same Lynn, in as much as it's patchy across institutions, there's pockets of good practice or, you know, excellent practice within institutions as well as across institutions. So, I think I'm not surprised… I don't feel when I'm at NADP conferences, or other conferences, and we're all sort of talking about the challenges we face in our institutions. I think it's one of those areas where actually there doesn't feel to be much of a difference. I think the one thing that's been more noticeable in recent years is, if anything, England appear to be doing more to address it with the Disabled Students Commission and the work of the Office for Students, which of course don't extend into Wales. Their remits don't extend into Wales. So, I sort of pointed to that development in the Welsh Government's most recent consultation on DSA changes, because there was a question about inclusive practice and inclusive learning and teaching in relation to DSAs, so I did point to the developments in England, because those things aren't being coordinated and looked at and developed in the same way in Wales so whilst the patchiness is the same. I think there's more evidence that, for English institutions, there's some guidance, and at least in an attempt or approach or an aid to make a difference to that patchiness.
Lynn: One of the things we've been actually talking about with the Disabled Students Commission is intersectionality. It's something NADP is actually using as a nice little tool to increase understanding that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to disabled students or any particular impairment. Is that a term that's generally in use in Wales at the moment or is it still coming in, like is coming in in England.
Christine: I think it's, again, I think that's very similar. It's something that's been seen more and more over the last two to three years, and possibly four. I have to say like most people times become a bit weird with COVID! Yes, I think the last sort of, certainly the last three years, it's a term that you've seen sort of being used more and more, and yes that's the same across England and Wales.
I'm aware that the former Equality Challenge Unit - one of their last conferences, had intersectionality as a theme, which might have been about 2017. So, I think there's been that, sort of, increasing use of it and then seeing it in terminology. And I think it is important that we aren’t complacent when there are changes to legislation or guidance or support that's available. That we're not complacent and assume that we'll address the needs of every disabled student, and I think, you know, that's coming through with some of the information and the sort of feedback that's been given to things like the Higher Education Commission of experiences of disabled students when you can see there's a difference between how DSA works for students with different impairments. The work of the Thomas Pocklington Trust highlighting the difficulties that visually impaired students have with some of the DSA support.
You know, I think intersectionality is important to make sure that we don't assume something is done and dusted because there is something available. It is making sure that it actually does make a difference to everyone that it is supposed to make a difference to. And understanding why, perhaps, something isn't making a difference. What is it about the people that aren't seeing the positive outcome or the change that's supposed to happen? Why aren't they seeing that? Is it because of their specific impairment? Is it because of another protected characteristic? Or is it something completely… is it socio-economic? Or is it because they're first in the family, if you look at university provision? So, I think it's always important to be looking at those things, so that we don't just assume everything's going to be supported.
Lynn: Yes, it's one of my top things at the moment is using that, as I say, to try and look at the provision we provide, as a country, for the students because everyone has different backgrounds and different needs. Even, you know, you talk about dyslexic students and some people talk about mild dyslexia and severe dyslexia. But dyslexia is dyslexia. What does have a big impact on it, is that variation in other factors that have input into that. I don't think that's very well understood at the moment so it's something I think we can keep fighting on.
Lynn: OK. To go to a bit about Wales. Many of our members, in fact most of them, are familiar with the English system, where students can study higher education at both colleges and universities is that the same in Wales?
Christine: Yes, that's the same. We have higher education provision within further education colleges. Other things that are similar or the same is the UCAS application. You know students apply through UCAS so they will have Welsh and English institutions on their list of institutions they've applied to.
Lynn: OK. Do you think that many Welsh students take the opportunity to state their disability requirements on application or do you find that they're actually coming through quite a way and getting settled into university before they actually make themselves known to you?
Christine: Again, Lynn, I think very, very similar to my colleagues across the UK, you know, we have students who are, for whatever reason, seem to be reluctant to tell us about their disability before they arrive. So, they're not putting it on the UCAS form. You know we have a large number that do put it on the UCAS form. But I think all those sorts of awareness of the low number of students who do tell the universities, who are reluctant I think. Those sorts of concerns about whether or not it will affect their application. I think those are the same across the board. And obviously a big part of what we do is providing information and trying to get that advice and that information to applicants or even prospective applicants. So, they're aware of the benefits of sharing that information. And certainly, reassuring parents, as well as the students themselves, that the information, you know, it's for a positive rather than negative reasons. So, we still do a lot of work on that sort of assurance that it's for a benefit rather than as a detriment to tell us, as early as possible through the application process. But yes, we still have a large number, who tell us when they enrol, because that said, that's another distinct point, as well as after they've enrolled. And, of course, for some students, they are making a decision that they don't think they're going to need to tell anyone. They don't think there's going to be any issues or they don't think they're going to need any adjustments, and then of course, either something changes, or there's, you know, there is actually need for those adjustments to be made so then they get in touch with us.
Lynn: I had… I remember vividly one student who came into the office, very upset because they weren't coping on their new course, a month in, and said, but I'm over 18 now. I'm an adult. So therefore I shouldn't be dyslexic anymore should I? So, we had to put some support in fast.
OK. So, going back to, kind of, Disabled Students Allowances, does this operate differently in Wales are there any different aspects to it?
Christine: So, I'm just trying to fit… So, you know, education is devolved. So, we have a Department in Wales. So, thinking of, you know, there's the Department for Education, we have the Skill, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning Department and we have Student Finance Wales, and they deliver through the Student Loans Company.
So, we're dealing with the same sorts of structures in the same sort of organisations. There were some differences in the DSAs. But the DSAs are changing - the same as in England as in there's going to be one allowance in 21-22. So, they’re bringing all of the pots together for the one allowance. That's the same.
Couple of differences that will remain is that students don't have to contribute towards a laptop, if they're funded through Student Finance Wales, and Student Finance Wales still fund bands one and two support through the DSA without it needing to be an exceptional circumstance. So, similarities, you know, Student Finance Wales for example is Student Finance England on a much smaller scale, and both use the Student Loans Company to deliver their services. But there's some slight differences in the allowance, which of course is interesting when, for us at Cardiff, we have pretty much a 50:50 split... there's a few anomalies, but essentially students in receipt of DSA, it's pretty much 50:50 whether they're SFE or SFW funded. So, we might be slightly more aware of those differences than institutions that don't have very many SFW-funded students, or don't have many SFE-funded students.
Lynn: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about that. So, it's differential funding and Cardiff have to work out who's who and pick up the pieces of those that don't get as much funding then?
Christine: Yeah, so we changed, as most of the institutions in Wales will have just amended their sort of fund for non-DSA students to pick up the bands one and two costs for SFE funded students, because obviously we want to make sure our students have the same experience, regardless of who funds them.
Lynn: So just to kind of close a bit here, what do you think that you can bring to your role as the Welsh adviser to the NADP board? Is there anything, you know, we can do to help you and your colleagues in Wales more effectively?
Christine: I think I can bring the… sort of, my experience of the sector because I've worked in Disability Services, since 2000. A very long time ago! And I've always worked in Welsh institutions. So, I certainly have knowledge of the sector and experience of the sector. And I think I bring that to my role as the adviser.
There aren't that many institutions in Wales, so we have an active network, both in terms of institutions, but we also have two active DSA forums: one in the north and one in the south. Because, geographically, I'm based in the South, I attend the South Wales for meetings, but I do have links with the Chair of the North Wales meeting. So, I'm able to take things from meetings that are already going on for members of Wales and I can bring them to NADP. If the NADP Board want to make sure there is a fuller consultation on something from a Welsh perspective, there's networks there and I can take it through those networks. As well as, of course, the opportunity through the email lists that are open to all individual members.
So, it just allows that sort of networking and facilitates that networking, and the DSA forums are particularly helpful because they have Welsh Government and Student Finance Wales representation on them. And so, it's about being part of those networks and being able to then have that sort of consultation and have members involvement.
In terms of how NADP can support members in Wales, I mean I know from being a full director when I had responsibility for the training and CPD, professional development work, when we ran events we considered the geography really of the UK, because it's not just about events being held in Wales, it's about being in locations that occasionally, it's easy to travel to. So, that that did increase attendance. So just thinking about where events are held - absolutely important; when we're all allowed to actually go and attend events again. But also online, I think, you know, we've all learned how much we can achieve online and whilst I think we'd all appreciate the opportunity for a blended approach when we can. I don't think any of us want to do some of the benefits of online events because of the convenience. So, I think online events certainly help Welsh members because of the rural nature of Wales, that will help any of our members attend, where travel is an issue or is a barrier to attending.
I think it's also about… which is part of my role is encouraging and facilitating the full board to be curious about Wales. To be curious about what things will mean for Welsh institutions, students who study in Wales. And that's part of my role is to generate that active curiosity, so that the board isn't a recipient of information about Wales. There's an active interest in Wales, as there is in in England, and as, you know, for Scotland and Northern Ireland. So we can be truly representative.
Lynn: Yeah, that's absolutely great, and that is part of the reason we've worked so hard to make sure that we have country advisors in order to, to ensure that we're well informed. Your point about stimulating interest is a good one and one that I hadn't thought of. But it's just so true. We need it. We need to be thinking about the whole of the UK, when we're supporting students - just as where we have LINK contacts with Europe, and as we're gaining more contacts across the rest of the world as well. We must make sure that we're still supporting all our members in all parts of the UK.
So, thank you very much. That's really great, some great information there and I learned some new things I hadn't realised you could still get band one and two support from DSAs in Wales, so there's still stuff that we all need to learn. Much appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
Christine: No thank you, Lynn. You were very gentle. Thank you.