As many as one in every three apprentices have learning difficulties or disabilities, many of whom have not yet been diagnosed.

A new survey commissioned by Cognassist, an education solutions provider for neurodiverse learners, shows that around 35 per cent of apprentices have a hidden or neurodiverse learning difficulty and, therefore, need more support from employers.

These statistics are vastly different from official Government figures which state only 11.5 per cent of apprentices self-identify with a learning difficulty or disability (LDD).

This is costing apprenticeship schemes a large number of apprentices as up to 15 per cent have dropped out of their programmes due to a lack of support. When considering the sample size for this survey, this could account for up to 8,800 apprentices who have left their schemes due to failing to be provided with the correct support.

This also means that up to £22 million is not being claimed under the EFSA Learning Support Funding, cutting off critical help that apprentices with LDD may need.

London is most significantly impacted by apprentices who either do not know or do not disclose their LDD. Analysis that shows that up to 44 per cent are entitled to additional support but 33 per cent are not having it requested by their employers, training providers or end-point-assessors.

Conversely, apprentices with LDD in the North-East were most likely to access extra support but, still, over a fifth (21 per cent) could be missing out on extra funding which could help them to successfully complete their apprenticeships.

In terms of sector, apprentices that have LDD who work in the construction industry are least likely to consider themselves as needing extra support. Less than seven per cent believe they have an LDD but research shows that over two in five (42 per cent) might benefit from reasonable adjustments.

According to the report, this gap between disclosing an LDD and receiving help is a significant issue. It says:

Many individuals don’t disclose their disabilities, special educational needs (SEN), or additional learning needs in their job application forms because they feel embarrassed or scared about sharing this information.

Chris Quickfall, CEO at Cognassist, said:

Unidentified learning needs can expose learners to unnecessary stress and anxiety, increasing the potential of them dropping out or quitting their jobs. There are currently more than 12,000 learners who, despite having no formal diagnosis, still have a need that requires support.

Earlier this year [March 2020], the Department for Education revealed that the overall achievement rate for apprenticeships fell last year by 2 percentage points to 65 per cent.  The decline followed three years where just over two thirds of apprentices managed to pass their courses. I have no doubt that the lack of reasonable adjustments for LDD learners had a role to play in such consistently low achievement rates.

All decision-makers need to ensure they are doing their part to implement reasonable adjustments and create more inclusive learning environments that consider learners’ individual needs. The truth is that many people are unaware of the importance and impact of reasonable adjustments.

Employers need to improve their learners’ journey and make their education, especially end-point assessment, fairer for all. We can do more to break down barriers to learning and ensure all learners receive the help that they need to achieve success.

It’s vital that employers help to remove the stigma associated with learning difficulties and disabilities to provide equal opportunities and access to employment.


*This research was undertaken by Cognassist who analysed the cognitive abilities of over 33,283 apprentice learners, aged 19-60, during 2017-2020. A further deep dive was then made with a sample of 8,300 apprentices.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.