Reasonable adjustments: University of Leeds – ‘being inclusive in…’ guides
The University of Leeds developed written guides for staff, entitled ‘Being inclusive in..,’ which aligned with the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching in higher education.
The development of the guides was led by a group including a wide variety of staff expertise, as well as student representation. The 19 guides fall under five categories:
- design inclusively
- teach inclusively
- assess inclusively
- create inclusive environments
- develop inclusive practice.
The guides were part of a wider web resource, including videos of staff and students talking about their practices and experiences. A wide range of activities have sought to raise awareness of inclusivity in general and the resources in particular. The guides are visually attractive, short and easy to read and digest.
The inclusive teaching resources, including the guides, can be found here.
The success of the project was, in part, due to the fact that it wasn’t purely a Disability Services initiative. Aligning the project with the work of the central learning and teaching team enabled academic colleagues to see the relevance to their work. Additionally, involving a large number of staff in the review and feedback when developing the written guides helped create traction and institutional ownership. The staff involved in the creation of the resource have been important ambassadors for it, endorsing and promoting its use across the institution. Working with Leeds University Union has also been important.
As part of the institutional approach to embedding inclusivity, the group that developed the guides have created a draft set of baseline standards for inclusive learning and teaching, which represent an aspirational view of what students could expect from a University of Leeds education in coming years (expected summer 2018). These are based loosely around the simple actions listed in the Disabled Students Sector Leadership and Department for Education guidance published in January 2017.
The university has agreed to the principle of having baseline standards, and the working group will be carrying out a review of existing practices from 2018-19 onwards to find out what further work is required to gain institutional compliance with these standards. The existence of baseline standards will also help to embed measures of inclusivity into quality assurance processes, and discussions around this have already begun.
Learning points and reflections
Due to the competing demands and pressures on academic staff, many staff do not see it as integral to their role to ensure that teaching is as inclusive as possible beyond the implementation of reasonable adjustments, as recommended by the central disability services. As many academic staff do not hold formal teaching qualifications, the pedagogic approaches they have developed over time may not be based on inclusive principles, and the culture of teaching in higher education encourages this autonomy.
In addition to that, there is a widespread misunderstanding about the idea of inclusivity, and that it relates to the diversity of the whole student body, and not just disabled students. The first challenge is engaging staff in understanding what it means to be inclusive and the second is to encourage them to spend time reflecting on how they can adapt their approaches to teaching accordingly. There may also be differences in cultural norms and expectations around the role of academic staff, where staff come from non-UK backgrounds, so that brings additional challenges. These staff may have little experience of the legislative context, in terms of the Equality Act, so have further to come in terms of understanding the rationale of the anticipatory duty. This highlights the need for clear guidance and training around legislation and what it means in practice.
When seeking to effect an institutional cultural change towards inclusivity, there is a need to acknowledge that it is multifaceted and requires a flexible and responsive approach. This includes consideration of the multiple motivations of staff towards change and the multiple identities that each person has. There is a need to keep plugging away at it from different angles.
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