Students who are pregnant, those who are new to parenthood and those with childcare responsibilities can face some particular challenges in their studies. Each year we see a small number of complaints arising from this.
Positively, we are seeing more providers with pregnancy, maternity and adoption policies in place, and students seem to be seeking support. We have seen examples of providers offering a range of support to students, including extensions to deadlines, flexibility around pregnancy-related absences exploring options around interrupting studies, and advice regarding funding, although the support hasn’t always worked as intended.
However, some students are not fully aware of the steps they may need to take if they feel their studies are being affected. Some clearly feel that being pregnant is in itself a reason for additional consideration, and so don’t realise that they may need to follow the provider’s formal process for making a request for additional consideration when they feel their performance in assessments might have been affected. By the time these students ask for additional consideration, it is often too late because providers generally have time limits for making this kind of request.
Similarly, partners or family members where there is a pregnancy, miscarriage, birth or adoption are not always clear on how they might need to report the impact on them. Even when a pregnancy and birth is planned and medically routine, it can be hard to anticipate all of the changes that will follow. Students may find it difficult to provide corroborative evidence, given that many new parents don’t seek formal help to address exhaustion and emotional changes.
It’s important that providers make it clear to students what they need to do if pregnancy or parenthood is affecting their studies.
Students with childcare responsibilities face different challenges. For these students, knowing what to expect and being able to plan in advance is often key.
Providers need to be clear what they mean by “full-time” or “part-time” study. It’s important to be clear about the teaching and learning opportunities that are delivered in person at specified times, and how much students can engage with more flexibly. This enables students to make an informed decision about what childcare they need and helps them to avoid unnecessary costs, an important consideration especially in the context of increasing cost of living pressures.
Changes made at short notice, in particular to timetabling, can be stressful and difficult to accommodate for students who need to make childcare arrangements.
Clear information and reasonable notice of changes are important for all students, but the impact on students with childcare responsibilities if this is not provided can be disproportionate. When changes unavoidably have to be made at short notice, it’s important that providers take a flexible approach to reduce the impact.
We have published some case summaries of complaints relating to pregnancy, parenthood and childcare.