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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges


Competence standards and reasonable adjustments: teaching

Teaching is a competence led profession. Students may achieve the Qualified Teaching Status (QTS) standard either through an undergraduate course or a one year post-graduate course.

Competence standards for QTS are drawn up by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (England), and the General Teaching Councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each agency publishes a code of practice and is responsible for registration.

HEIs are responsible for designing the study programme to address the competences and for ensuring that the curriculum and assessment meets the required standards. The competence standards in the course programme may be expressed as intended learning outcomes, and should provide for multiple forms of assessment.

In setting competence standards, staff from a range of academic departments will need to consider the competence standard requirements under the Equality Act 2010, and anticipatory and individual reasonable adjustments. Primary and secondary schools are likely to have an enhanced role in assessing students, so staff will need to fully understand the requirements.

Many schools of education have a disability liaison representative who is in regular touch with disability services and involved in disability equality issues during course development or re-validation.

‘The disability liaison co-ordinator, who is also a senior lecturer, was involved in the re-validation of the ITT programmes. Revalidation included developing inclusive teaching learning and accessible materials. The role has taken time to embed and develop understanding by staff as to how to use her. She has specified hours for the liaison activities in her work programme.’

Placements >

Schools of nursing and teaching have a variety of ways of managing placements,  and sometimes what is custom and practice becomes a ‘rule,’ for example the geographical location of a placement. However, such rules should not be confused with competence standards, and staff should feel confident that flexibility related to a student’s impairment on placements is a justified reasonable adjustment.

Completing teaching placements successfully is a competence standard. Once a university has accepted a student on to an ITT/E course the university is responsible for identifying a placement and making necessary reasonable adjustments. Admissions staff should be briefed on potential reasonable adjustments, and disability services should be present at interviews to discuss the student’s requirements. Once accepted, a student can’t be left without a placement. If the most appropriate placement is further away than expected (90 minutes generally applies) flexibility in timetabling or identifying suitable accommodation may be necessary.

Continuous professional development for placement staff is recommended, for example workshops with tutors, placement mentors and disability services to discuss the issues of competence and reasonableness.

Students may need direct support from disability services whilst on placements. This may be something as simple as re-assurance that their needs are accepted. To provide this ongoing support during placements, many schools of nursing and teaching offer drop in times at the university for students on placement. Some disability services can extend their hours for students who can’t get there in the daytime, others use Smart phones and Skype.

Assessment >

Students are assessed against the learning outcomes in the course programme, which will include the national professional competence standards set by the responsible body in each nation. Assessment also takes account of the needs of the end user of the service, for example, children and parents.

A range of assessment methods should be identified in the course programme and in the student course handbook to enable all students to demonstrative competence. These can include for example, exams, portfolios, poster presentations in groups, assessments which built on two or three short pieces of work then evolved into a longer written submission, collaborative learning assignments, lesson plans

Support for students within the academic environments can be more straightforward to put in place. It is important to have procedures in place to ensure the disabled student’s individual learning plan provides support in both theory and practice learning.

Risk assessments >

Where a risk assessment might be needed, joint risk assessments should include the student, tutors, placement staff and disability services. It may take the time to bring everyone to an understanding.

Example: A student teacher with minor balance and sight impairment had done well in her studies and in getting around the campus environment. The school where she was due to undertake her placement felt she presented a high risk and therefore wouldn't assess. The university was confident that she would cope very well, and continued to work with the school, persuading them to undertake a joint risk assessment which included elements of staff training.  The student went on the placement, which was a great success.

Evaluation >

The progression of disabled students and success of reasonable adjustments should be evaluated. Individual students should be encouraged to provide feedback on their experiences.  This should be documented and made available, for example, as an annual review. This can provide vital information for the School of Education team and the placement tutors on whether reasonable adjustments are effective. It can also contribute to a course review of how inclusive assessments can be developed, reducing the need for individual adjustments.  This information should be made available to relevant committees, for example, the school teaching committee.

Pre course and enrolment information for disabled students >

The national competence requirements for practice need to be clearly advertised and accessible to prospective disabled students. The course competence standards, which may be expressed as learning outcomes, need to be set out clearly in course handbooks, including placement handbooks and made easily available to students before starting course modules. Flexibility, module choice and reasonable adjustments should be discussed in the materials in relation to the competence standards.

Opportunities should be provided on open days and during interviews to encourage disclosure and discuss how disabled students can be supported. Case studies of successful disabled teachers could be prepared.

Failure to register >

There will be instances where despite the application of reasonable adjustments and flexible working, a student may not succeed.

Disability services, the school disability liaison representative and placement tutors should be included in a discussion about the student, but the responsibility for the final decision and communicating this to the student will be with the school of education. Guidelines should be in place on who will do this. The guidelines should ensure that there is a responsibility for students to be guided through their options if they don’t reach QTS. There are a wide range of occupations where a degree in education would be extremely useful.