Inclusive practice and anticipatory reasonable adjustments
10 According to the social model of disability, people with impairments are "disabled" by the barriers operating in society that exclude and discriminate against them; discrimination, exclusion and oppression are not the inevitable consequence of impairment. The social model of disability was developed by disabled people in direct opposition to the medical and charitable models of disability. The model “was developed as a direct challenge to the prevailing models of disability that viewed disability as an individual, medical problem that needed to be prevented, cured or contained; and/or as a charitable issue that viewed disabled people as unfortunates who needed to be pitied and catered for by segregated, charitable services.” The social model is a useful tool for understanding disability and identifying “barriers that disable people with impairment and how these barriers can be removed, minimised or countered by other forms of support.”
(The Social Model of Disability Factsheet – Inclusion London)
11 Providers have an anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students, and should work with disabled students and disabled people’s organisations when considering how best to remove barriers to learning. Student Finance England’s (SFE) 17/18 DSA Guidance (New Students) states:
“Disabled students should arrive at university confident that any barriers to their learning have been identified, understood and appropriate steps taken to reduce their impact. The learning environment should be as inclusive as possible, so that the need for individual interventions is the exception, not the rule. Institutions should engage in a continual improvement cycle that develops inclusive practice, with the aim of reducing the number of individual interventions required.”
A similar approach is taken by Student Finance Wales (SFW).
(Student Finance Wales Guidance on DSA)
12 The following are examples of some of the simple changes which are likely to assist in creating a more inclusive learning environment:
- Improving the accessibility of learning materials and procedures
- Making teaching materials accessible on the virtual learning environment
- Allowing or facilitating the recording of teaching
- Ensuring reading lists are focused, up to date, and available in advance of modules starting
- Use of plain English and clear presentation in lectures
- Using a range of assessment methods.
(Drawn from Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education as a route to Excellence report)
13 Reasonable adjustments may include having:
- Accessible buildings, rooms, and facilities
- Maps and signs for buildings located in prominent positions and in bold, clear print
- Pre-term orientation for students with visual impairments
- Procedures and course materials in an accessible format compatible with assistive technologies
- Mentoring and buddy programmes
- Hearing loops
- Accessible intranet
- Educational resources such as lecture presentations, notes and recordings available to all students within set timeframes, and in a modified format or a format which students can modify themselves
- Speech recognition software for lecturers so that students can read in real time and have a transcript ready made.
14 It is important to note that these are examples rather than an exhaustive list. Providers will need to explore with the individual student the arrangements which will enable them to access their studies.
CASE STUDY 2:
Inclusive teaching and learning
An academic member of staff designs a new module for an MBA programme to be approved for the upcoming academic year. The Programme Leader is asked to review the module to ensure that the teaching methods and assessment align with the module’s learning outcomes. The Programme Leader is aware of the provider’s responsibility to anticipate the needs of disabled students and therefore ensures the module has a range of alternative formative and summative methods for students to demonstrate they have achieved learning outcomes. The curriculum content itself remains the same. This type of anticipatory decision-making, where inclusivity is included in the design of the programmes, reduces the need for individual case-by-case adjustments.
Student support services
15 Providers should ensure that their student support services are adequately resourced and that students are advised of the support that is available. Support staff, teaching staff and supervisors should be given appropriate training, depending on the learning needs of staff and students, to help them understand the needs of students.
CASE STUDY 3:
Good practice – appropriate training for staff
A provider arranges for Department Heads to attend a training course aimed at helping those working in higher education to understand, support, and communicate effectively with students who have an autism spectrum disorder. The training course helps staff to develop effective working strategies, provide feedback clearly, and create an inclusive learning environment. Department Heads are then tasked with disseminating the knowledge gained within their department.
CASE STUDY 4:
Good practice – student support services
A provider contacts all applicants who have been offered a place and who have declared on their application that they are disabled. The provider offers a meeting or phone call to discuss their needs with a student support adviser before they enrol. The provider explains to the student in advance what will be discussed and sends them a link to the student support services’ website. The provider’s students’ union Facebook page also has a link to the service’s website.
16 Students should be encouraged to disclose that they are disabled at the earliest opportunity so that the provider can plan and give appropriate support. There is no legal obligation on students to disclose. An open, welcoming and supportive atmosphere and culture will help disabled students to feel safe disclosing information about the assistance they need. (See, for example, General Medical Council: Gateways guidance: 8. Confidentiality and disclosure.) Providers should also draw students’ attention to the support available for disabled students and the benefit of seeking it at an early stage.
17 Providers must make reasonable adjustments for a student or a prospective student (in relation to the admissions arrangements) when they know, or could reasonably be expected to have known, that the student is disabled. Providers should ensure that staff are aware of what to do if a student discloses to them that they are disabled. Once a student has told a member of staff that they are disabled the provider will not be able to claim that it did not know about it unless the student told the staff member in confidence, and asked the staff member not to share their disclosure with others. If the student asks for complete confidentiality, it is important for the staff member to explain that this may limit the amount of support that can be arranged, and advise the student to approach the provider’s disability support services for confidential help and advice. It would be good practice for the staff member to make a confidential record of that discussion with the student. All staff who have contact with students should be given sufficient training to enable them to recognise when a student is or might be disclosing they are disabled, and access to advice about what to do in those circumstances.
CASE STUDY 5:
Good practice –disclosure of a disability
A first year Fine Art student was diagnosed with a specific learning disability (SpLD) while completing sixth form. The student decides not to tell his provider about his SpLD during enrolment. After receiving poor feedback on written assignments the student realises he needs help. He talks to his personal tutor who suggests that the student contacts student support services. The student tells the tutor that he wants his SpLD to be kept confidential. The tutor explains that he will respect the student’s decision but this might impact on the level of support that can be arranged. The student agrees to see student support services and the tutor helps him to make an appointment. Student support services offer him support and advice, and agree that only specific staff members will be informed of his SpLD.
18 Providers should ensure that their complaints and academic appeals procedures meet the Expectation of chapter B9 of the QAA Quality Code for Higher Education: Academic appeals and student complaints and the principles of the Good Practice Framework: handling complaints and academic appeals.
19 In addition, it is good practice for providers to have in place:
19.1 Procedures which can be followed if a student is temporarily unable to engage with their studies and wishes to take time away. These procedures should include guidance specific to international students and students on professional programmes, and a process for the student’s planned return to study.
19.2 “Support for study” procedures which can be followed when there are concerns that a student’s mental or physical health is significantly affecting their ability to participate fully and effectively in relation to their academic studies, and life generally at the provider. The procedures may also be followed if there is a concern about the impact of a student’s behaviour on their own safety or the safety of others. They should include a process for the student’s planned return to study, including assessing their fitness to return.
19.3 Fitness to practise policies and procedures, where the student is studying a course with professional requirements.
19.4 Policies setting out students’ rights to be treated with dignity and respect; the provider’s expectations regarding standards of behaviour especially in relation to harassment, bullying and victimisation; and guidance for students about how to raise concerns about these matters.
20 Where a provider begins fitness to practise or support for study procedures, it should ensure that:
20.1 The student understands the process which is being followed, and that its purpose is supportive;
20.2 The student, and any other students involved, can access appropriate support through the process for example by a disability adviser and/or students’ union adviser;
(“It is good practice to provide students with access to support and advice and, where it is not practicable to do so internally, providers should consider making arrangements for students to access support services at neighbouring institutions, partner providers or other local community services.” The Good Practice Framework: handling complaints and academic appeals)
20.3 Appropriate and proportionate evidence is obtained regarding the student’s mental or physical health;
20.4 All the evidence obtained is treated with sensitivity and confidentiality, and is disclosed only to those who need to see it to reach a decision on the case;
20.5 The decisions reached are reasonable and proportionate, and are explained clearly to the student;
20.6 The student is given information about how to appeal.
21 It is good practice to consider and implement any subject- or course-specific guidance from professional bodies. Examples are: the Law Society’s guidance on the equality and diversity requirements in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Handbook, the National Union of Teachers’ guidance on supporting disabled teachers and the General Medical Council’s guidance on making medical education more accessible: Gateways to the Profession.
Assessing competence standards
22 The Equality Act 2010 does not require providers to make reasonable adjustments to a provision, criterion or practice that is defined as a competence standard. It is good practice for providers to identify what the competence standards are for each course and assessment, why they are competence standards, to record that information, and to share it with students. Information on competence standards, assessment and reasonable adjustments should be made available to students so they can make informed decisions when applying to courses. (Equality Challenge Unit: Guidance on competence standards and reasonable adjustments)
23 Section 7.34 of the Equality Act 2010 technical guidance states that:
“… a requirement or condition only amounts to a competence standard if its purpose is to demonstrate a particular level of a relevant competence or ability such as a requirement that a person has a particular level of relevant knowledge of a subject.”
Requiring students to demonstrate a certain level of knowledge in a particular subject is a competence standard. However,
“a condition that a person can, for example, do something within a certain period of time will not be a competence standard if it does not determine a particular level of competence or ability.”
(Equality Act 2010 technical guidance)
24 Where a provider decides that a particular format of assessment (for example, a timed examination; an examination with unseen material; an oral presentation; a practical demonstration of a particular skill) is required to test a competence standard, it should record its reasons.
Short term conditions
25 Providers should treat fairly students with short term conditions such as incapacitating injury or acute illness. Mitigating (extenuating) circumstances procedures should be well-signposted and clearly written. Providers should be alert to the fact that students who repeatedly submit mitigating (extenuating) circumstances claims in relation to the same illness may have an underlying long-term condition.
CHECKLIST: Is it a competence standard?
Has the provider:
- Identified the specific purpose of the standard and considered how the standard achieves that purpose?
- Considered the possible impact of the standard on disabled people and, if the standard might have an adverse impact, asked whether the standard is necessary?
- Reviewed the purpose and effect of each competence standard in the light of changing circumstances, for example, technological developments?
- Examined whether the purpose of the standard might be achievable in another way which does not have an adverse impact on disabled students, and
- Documented its discussions and conclusions on the above issues?
Where a requirement is a genuine competence standard – has the provider:
- Considered the difference between the competence standard and the method of assessment?
- Designed the assessment inclusively?
- Anticipated appropriate reasonable adjustments to the assessment?
- Ensured that information about these reasonable adjustments is known to staff and students so that they are incorporated into students’ normal working practices?
CASE STUDY 6:
Good practice – competence standard
1: A provider decides that a competence standard in relation to a course is the ability to reproduce and apply knowledge under timed conditions without access to reference materials. A student has a specific learning disability. The provider requires the student to sit a timed examination under controlled conditions, but puts in place adjustments to the examination arrangements including: additional time; a separate room; examination papers on coloured paper; and use of a computer (only to record his answers). This ensures that the assessment still tests the student’s ability to reproduce and apply knowledge appropriately, but minimises the disadvantage to the student.
2: A student who uses a wheelchair is studying on a radiography course. Some wards are difficult to access because they are upstairs. However, being able to get up and down stairs is not one of the standards of proficiency for radiographers: it is not a competency. Being unable to use stairs would not prevent her from meeting the professional standards for entry into radiography. The provider makes reasonable adjustments to the study and work environment so that she can access patients.
(Adapted from Health and Care Professions Council guide: Health, disability and becoming a health and care professional)
3: A student with a visual impairment studying a course that requires extensive background reading has difficulty in accessing necessary reference materials. Students who do not reference a broad range of materials in their assessments are marked down: the ability to read, assimilate and apply research is a competence standard. To assist the student in completing her assessments, the provider:
- Gives the student reading lists in advance to give her time to order material in accessible format through the library service;
- Identifies an accessible on-line ordering catalogue;
- Puts in place library support to assist the student in finding and accessing books and articles;
- Asks lecturers to direct the student where appropriate to specific chapters of relevance and journal articles.
With this support in place the student is able to access the necessary materials without compromising the competence standard.
(This case study draws on the “Transition to adulthood” study published by the University of Birmingham)