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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges


Competence standards and reasonable adjustments

A competence standard is a particular level of competence or ability that a student must demonstrate to be accepted on to, progress within and successfully complete a course or programme of study.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) have responsibility for developing non-discriminatory competence standards, and designing a study programme to address these competence standards.

HEIs also have the responsibility to ensure that assessment methods address the competence standards. Adjustments to ways that competence standards are assessed may be required so that disabled students are not put at a disadvantage in demonstrating their achievement.

ECU has produced guidance to support HEIs meet these institutional and legal responsibilities, and promote disability equality. The guidance provides information and examples on:

  • understanding key concepts in disability legislation
  • the legal definition of competence standards and its relation to disability legislation
  • identifying and developing non-discriminatory competence standards
  • professional bodies and competence standards
  • considering reasonable adjustments in the assessment of competence standards
  • meeting competence standards on work placements and fieldwork
  • informing students of competence standards and their assessment

Case studies

Detailed subject-based case studies have been produced for the following:

Questions about competence standards and reasonable adjustments >

What is a competence standard?

A competence standard is used by an education provider to determine whether a person has a particular level of competence or ability.
The Equality Act 2010 defines a competence standard as:

‘ An academic, medical or other standard applied for the purposes of determining whether or not a person has a particular level of competence or ability.’ (Sch 13, para 4(3))

Are learning outcomes competence standards?

There are a range of standards and requirements associated with different courses which meet the legal definition of a competence standard within the Equality Act 2010. This can include learning outcomes.

If a standard or requirement meets the legal definition of a competence standard then it should be treated as such.

Do competence standards need to be objectively justifiable, and what does this mean?

Competence standards must be objectively justifiable. This means that they must be a proportionate means to a legitimate aim, and be genuinely relevant to the course in question.

If they are not, and could have an adverse impact on a disabled student, then they may be discriminatory. In these cases, an alternative competence standard should be developed which achieves the same purpose in a way that would not have an adverse impact on a disabled student.

Are HEIs required to make reasonable adjustments to competence standards?

HEIs are not required to make reasonable adjustments to competence standards themselves. However, they are required to make adjustments to the ways that competence standards are assessed so that disabled students are not disadvantaged in demonstrating their competence by the assessment method.

Who should be involved in drawing up or reviewing competence standards?

 There should be a partnership approach to drawing up and reviewing competence standards involving both academic staff but also representatives from the Disability Service. Many HEIs have a system in place where one member of each department has a role as a disability representative and provides a bridge between the academic department and the Disability Service.

What information can HEIs make available to students?

It is important that information on competence standards, assessment and reasonable adjustments is made available to students so they can make informed decisions when applying to courses. This could be included, for example, in individual course programme specifications and study guides.

Got a question that isn’t covered here? Get in touch

Other work

ECU ran a webinar for each subject cluster, aiming to support academics develop competence standards that are non-discriminatory and inclusive for disabled students.

The webinars covered:

  • how course arrangements can potentially disadvantage disabled students, and why learning outcomes and competence standards are so important
  • what steps can be taken to ensure learning outcomes and competence standards are genuine and meet related legal responsibilities
  • how to think about assessment so that learning outcomes and competence standards are thoroughly tested so students are not disadvantaged

Links containing a video of each session and the slides can be found below:

Arts and Humanities

Arts and Humanities slides

Social Sciences

Social Sciences slides

Health and Social care

Health and Social care slides

STEM

STEM slides