Embedding inclusive teaching and learning in your institution – a 7-step guide

David Hopkins provided a useful summary of educational change approaches in an old (-ish) paper for the Generic Learning and Teaching Subject Network. In an attempt to ‘institutionalise’ inclusive teaching learning and assessment I developed a change initiative in an HEI I worked in recently, which had features built into it that went beyond implementation.

After a small working group was set up to review approaches to government changes to DSA funded support I realised that something much more embedded was required than just another short term task and finish group made up of the already converted.

Having seen many an initiative come and go with little long term impact I tried to utilise as many aspects of Hopkins’ suggestions as possible as changes to beliefs and values require much more than a few champions dotted around the university. And so the ‘Inclusive, learning and teaching framework’  (ILTAF) was born.

Based on previous attempts at ‘auditing’ institutional efforts around disability and equality, I produced a tool which was short and simple enough to ensure completion but complex and broad enough to ensure that some depth of thought was required for departments to complete it. But here’s the rub: the process of filling out the framework (after feedback I stayed away from the dreaded ‘a’ word) had to be built into high level committee structures, sanctioned by high level managers and required an ongoing commitment to embed change.

How was this achieved?

  • Persistence – a number of years of change initiatives (HEA change programme; embedding inclusion into PGCert route; membership of an assessment working group in which inclusive practice was discussed).
  • Consultation – the framework went through every possible committee available which had some link to student experience and/or teaching and learning. And changes incorporated into the design of the tool.
  • Attention to change theory – I wrote an earlier post on Fullan’s work and Hopkins’ paper provides further guidance.
  • Innovative tool design. The framework covers many aspects of teaching, learning, assessment and quality assurance. It is also self-rating so academic staff take ownership and do not feel threatened by outside judgement. It would have been pointless getting central services to ‘audit’ current practice.

The framework also worked on all levels of policy implementation as recommended by Fullan for educational change initiatives:

  • Ratified by senior management:  TOP DOWN
  • Academic managers were given responsibility for completion and return of the framework by a deadline. They completed the tool in consultation with course teams but importantly the tool was sent out by the Registrar’s department (not the disability office): MIDDLE OUT
  • It is based on actual (not normative) practice: BOTTOM UP

Built into the tool is a scoring system – but a potential problem with the self-assessment is how honest would the departments were going to be (no one wants to create work for themselves or leave themselves open to negative criticism). However, these anxieties were countered by requiring departments to give examples and provide case studies of areas in which they scored themselves the highest grade i.e. a 4 or a 5. And departments were given the responsibility of feeding this practice back to other departments. In this way internal expertise was developed and disseminated from within academic departments. We also developed webpages to support initial thought processes and it was intended to populate these pages with case studies and examples of practice. A national conference was also organised.

If departments scored themselves 3 or under they were required to develop an action plan for the next 2 academic years for improvement.

The tool needed to be completed again after those two years so that upward growth and improvement could be achieved. Changes would be made to the ranking system so that the achievement of the highest scoring became more challenging. It was also intended that students would fill out the framework after the first round to provide the student voice and to compare student experience with academic practice.


How to re-define dyslexia in higher education – Rose report – part I

The Rose report (2009) drew together opinions from across the education debate to produce an informed direction for supporting dyslexia in the schools’ sector. Rarely discussed in HE circles, the report has many useful ideas to consider relating to the organisation of support.

It defines dyslexia:

  • as a difficulty in learning accurate and fluent word reading and spelling, underpinned by problems with phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speeds. Phonological awareness approaches to assist learners to improve reading are certainly a key focus of recent approaches in the UK such as those promoted by Maggie Snowling and others, but it’s very unlikely that this is something covered in 1-2-1 specialist tuition session in HE.
  • as a continuum, not a distinct category i.e. there are different levels of severity. By implication assessing someone ‘with’ dyslexia is a complex decision-making process. This an important point to consider for HE as the model is very much about a black and white distinction between someone being given the label of dyslexic vs non-dyslexic. In order to get DSA for example, the student needs to prove they are disabled i.e. dyslexic. This approach is problematic for a number of reasons –  many HEIs have taken this distinction as a means for deciding who can access exam arrangements and what arrangement should be put in place but Rose suggests that there is no sharp dividing line.
  • co-occurring – but these are not on their own markers of dyslexia, because there are a range of overlapping difficulties. For example, it is often suggested that organisational skills might be affected in students with dyslexia, but recent definitions such as in the Rose report suggest that phonological processing is the defining problem. It could be inferred that phonological processing difficulties and verbal memory might interfere with effective planning, but poor organisation is not of itself defining of dyslexia.

Early identification is also emphasised in the Rose report but it is still the case that a large number of students with dyslexia only get formally assessed when they enter HE. I’d estimate anecdotally the rate to be about 20-30%. This could be because they are able to survive at earlier levels of education, but as the level of literacy required gets more and more complex, problems become more acute. However, the story which many students relay, is that there was little support available.

A related problem about finding information on support available at university is also reported. A recent investigation undertaken by postgraduate psychology students at York University demonstrated further barriers which bureaucratic systems of policy implementation create within the sector. For example, whilst many HEPs insist on a post-16 educational psychologist’s report for exam adjustments a number of them don’t offer any support with paying for the report and some have even recently reduced the financial help available.


Implementing the Changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowances training

Glad to see colleagues from across the sector at yesterday’s training event run by Understanding ModernGov – HEinFE, HEIs, alternative providers etc. Broad range of topics discussed and debated. Interesting input from all presenters; legal, policy, models of support. Useful to re-visit some of the legal aspects the approach taken at De Montfort (which is flagged as an example of good practice) where several work streams are being taken forward – many of which are evident in a range of HEPs – so very positive to see. Some providers have opted out of DSA-QAG audit for NMH support. Notably Cambridge and Imperial but of interest today were a couple of ‘less well resourced’ HEPs opting out because of pragmatic reasons: not least the bureaucratic burden this places on already stretched resources.

The notion of complexity of support needs was mentioned again as it is in the recent Welsh Government commissioned report especially in reference to dyslexia. As I understand it the line which DfE/SLC (in HE that is) have taken is that dyslexia is a disability for DSA purposes and as they are following the Equality Act 2010 then the logical conclusion might be that it is a disability. However, it could be political expediency because of the DSA context and debates there have been recently within the sector. It doesn’t look like that’s the case in the schools sector: you could be dyslexic but not considered disabled because the support required is not ‘complex’ enough and/or your SpLD is ‘mild’. Not sure where the case law is on this but it would be interesting to see in terms of the debate around reasonable adjustments.

Also discussions about at what point the provider is legally obligated to provide reasonable adjustments for someone without the necessary paperwork to indicate an impairment. Anticipatory adjustments (such as inclusive teaching practice) should be in place. The potential for providers to pay for assessment/diagnosis (I use this term but apparently there doesn’t have to be a ‘diagnosis’ rather the emphasis is on the impact of a physical or mental impairment) as a reasonable adjustments was also suggested since legally providers are not allowed to charge for a reasonable adjustment.

Most HEPs are referring out to diagnosticians such as GPs and educational psychologists and providing financial help with paying for this, so whether this is seen as illegal is open to question. But then the idea of whether the provider could insist on paperwork was discussed. Taking a reasonable approach was mentioned. So with some learners it is very evident that there is an impairment but when 100+ students a year are walking in and saying they ‘think they might be dyslexic’ for instance; is it reasonable to put in place a DSA-equivalent support package until you find out for definite? If you can provide some level of support until you can get a clearer picture this may prove reasonable (perhaps!). Greg Boone from the Department for Education did say that re-assessment for SpLD students who are already diagnosed pre-16 was being reviewed. See this BBC story for more on this.

One of the policy instruments which complicates the picture in HE of course, is that reasonableness is partly based on other funding which is available, namely DSA for UK students. So in those cases it would likely be reasonable that you ask the students to make a claim for DSA at which stage they would need to provide confirmation of impairment to SFE/SLC. It is unlikely to be seen as reasonable that you provide a DSA-equivalent package for students who are eligible for, but refuse to apply for DSA.

Employment case law suggests that many cases are thrown out because a disability cannot be established so this is something which clearly is a contentious area and SLC now insist on paperwork which definitely establishes impairment as defined by the Equality Act before DSA will be disbursed – therefore not sure why that wouldn’t be the case for an HEP – i.e. not putting support in place until an EA2010 defined impairment is established. But it was suggested that SLC might be acting illegally*. As usual, in the area of disability and HE, there is very little case law to rely on to guide the sector and policy guidance is ambiguous (ECU guidance suggests that finances may not be an excuse for HEPs given the overall resources which are available but advice today seemed to suggest that it depends – on how big a provider you are and what else you have been doing in relation to support for disabled students).

*As a postscript to this, I read this morning in an archived NADP jiscmail posting, that SFE’s emphasis is now on demonstrating impact and for some students that have previous paperwork they might ask them to get more recent information that demonstrates impact. Which is in line with the Equality Act 2010.