Guidance for staff on student administration and support
The Common Framework Statement has been developed in light of wide consultation and builds on current good practice. The Statement sets out the guiding principles that underpin the procedures for supporting disabled students. View the statement from the link below
Procedures relating to disabled students should be informed by our guiding principles and the following high-level objectives:
These terms are underpinned by the Equality Act (2010). The Act requires universities not to discriminate against disabled students. This includes a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled students are not put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with students who are not disabled.
A disability is defined as a condition which has a long-term (has lasted for 12 months or is likely to do so), substantial (not minor or trivial) and adverse impact on an individual’s capacity to undertake normal day-to-day activities. Disability covers a wide variety of conditions, encompassing long-term illness (often from the point of diagnosis) as well as physical or psychological problems, eg:
Case law has indicated that undertaking examinations is considered to be a day-to-day rather than specialised activity.
Reasonable adjustments are central to the concept of disability equality. Where a disabled student suffers, or would suffer, a substantial disadvantage, the University is under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to overcome that disadvantage. The intention is that the adjustments should level the playing field for the disabled student. It is important that adjustments meet the needs of the individual disabled student rather than providing a generic response to a class or type of disability. Once implemented, adjustments do not provide automatic precedents for other students, but may be taken into account when considering what would be appropriate in a different case. The duty is anticipatory which means that the University should not wait until it is asked to consider what adjustments might be made, but should be ready where feasible with solutions to overcome disadvantages. The failure to make reasonable adjustments cannot be legally justified and if an adjustment is deemed to be reasonable then it must be made.
All parts of the University share the duty to take positive steps to ensure that disabled students can fully participate in education and enjoy the benefits, facilities and services that are provided for students. The Equality Act requires that, so far as is reasonably practicable, disabled students’ access to education is approximately the same as that enjoyed by the rest of the student body.
There is no obligation to make adjustments to competence standards. Competence standards are the ‘academic, medical or other standards applied for the purpose of determining whether or not a person has a particular level of competence or ability’ in their course. A competence standard must not itself be unlawfully discriminatory, therefore it must not be applied only to a disabled student and must be:
The proportionate means requires that:
Not all competences or assessment criteria which students might be expected to fulfil on a particular course can necessarily be considered competence standards. Competence standards cannot be used to justify direct discrimination against a disabled person. For example, a blanket refusal to allow a student to participate in any assessed experimental work merely because they are physically disabled would clearly be direct discrimination.
Competence standards include:
An example of reasonable adjustments to the assessment of a competence standard are adjustments to the conditions under which timed examinations are taken, including:
When a candidate’s disability-related needs cannot be met by such adjustments, it is necessary to consider more significant adjustments that may require dispensation from the regulations. Infrequently, these might include a course supervisory body devising an alternative assessment format which will test the same competence standards as the original assessment, eg a take-home paper. If an alternative assessment is not possible or practicable, adjustments to the timing and duration of a timed written examination can be made to take account of a candidate’s disability, eg splitting the examination over more than one session or allowing the candidate significantly longer to complete it. Students undertaking laboratory work or extended research projects may be given extra time and additional access to resources (eg over the vacation) to complete their work to the required level.
An inclusive approach to education values individual differences, and recognises the benefits that diverse students and staff bring to the University of Oxford. Inclusive education aims to improve the educational experience of all students, and so enables achievement at equal rates. An inclusive approach goes beyond supporting specific groups through a discrete set of policies and interventions. Instead, teaching, learning and assessment take into account students’ varied learning needs from the outset.
The term accessibility in this context describes whether all people are able to use, participate in or benefit from a particular resource, service or environment regardless of any disabilities. This would include, for example, buildings and premises, products and services and sources of information such as websites and printed material. The collegiate University aims to ensure that its services, buildings and information are made as accessible as reasonably possible. Direct access is preferable but if this is not reasonably possible indirect access should be facilitated through the use of auxiliary aids or services or alternative formats compatible with assistive technology.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments is anticipatory in the sense that it does not apply only to individual disabled students, but to disabled people and disabled students generally. It requires the consideration of, and action in relation to, barriers that may impede disabled people before any particular individual requires access to that benefit, facility or service. This means that no part of the University should wait until it is asked to consider what adjustments should be made, but should be ready where feasible with solutions to overcome disadvantages. This is a more strategic approach in the long-term because it will reduce the need to make individual adjustments which can be required at short notice or at significant cost. For instance, if a college which has steps up to its entrance admits a student with mobility difficulties, it will need to provide a step-free alternative route. Where this does not already exist, the college may need to invest additional human and financial resources into the issue – seeking planning permission, carrying out work at short notice – in order to ensure there is a step-free entrance in time for the new academic year. The additional resource implications of this work might have been avoided if the college had anticipated that disabled people might require a step-free entrance and incorporated the adjustment into a broader programme of work to improve accessibility.
More information in carrying out anticipatory adjustments can be found in the Equality Challenge Unit’s Guidance on managing reasonable adjustments in higher education, and Chapter 7 of the Equality Act 2010 Technical Guidance on Further and Higher Education.
The handbook will layout the requirements and processes for assessing and implementing individual reasonable adjustments; the roles and responsibilities of different constituent parts of the collegiate University as they relate to disabled students; the training and support available to those involved in supporting disabled students; and the approach taken to monitoring and evaluating provision. The handbook will promote and share good practice among those supporting disabled students in different parts of the collegiate University.
and adopted by colleges, departments, faculties and others within the University involved in provision for disabled students at the start of the 2014/15 academic year.
In 2006 Education Committee developed a Framework for Supporting Students with Disabilities that set out guidance for colleges and departments on best practice for the admission of, and support for, disabled students throughout their course. The key feature of the framework is to have a single senior point of contact who will take responsibility for planning the overall support required by the student and, subsequently, for ensuring that what has been agreed is provided. Although this document is still valid, concerns were raised that it was not being implemented uniformly or effectively across the University. Consequently, the new Common Framework seeks to build upon and supplement this earlier policy.
The University’s Equality Policy expresses the University’s commitment to fostering an inclusive culture which promotes equality, values diversity and maintains a working, learning and social environment in which the rights and dignity of its students and staff are respected. Responsibility for upholding these principles is extended to all members of the University community. The University embraces diversity and seeks to achieve equity in experience, progression and achievement through the implementation of transparent policies, practices and procedures and provision of effective support. In particular, the University commits to encouraging applications from the widest pool of candidates, especially where representation is disproportionately low. Decisions on the admission of students will be based solely on the individual merits of each candidate and the application of selection criteria appropriate to the course of study. In all its activities, the University will take steps to meet the needs of individuals with protected characteristics, including disability, where these are different from others.
The University Strategic Plan 2013-2018 sets out the aspirations and priorities of the collegiate University over this five year period, including the aim to lead the world in research and education, along with actions that the University intends to take in order to achieve these objectives. Several parts of the Strategic Plan include commitments intended to improving the experience of disabled students, from applicants to those who are already on-course:
Under the University’s current procedures, reasonable adjustments which require significant changes to University examinations are approved by or on behalf of Education Committee. The committee has delegated authority from Council to approve the necessary dispensations from the regulations required to put such changes into effect. Annex A of the Policy and Guidance sets out the procedure for requesting significant adjustments to course and assessment requirements which require approval on behalf of Education Committee. In this area institutions are not required to make adjustments which would compromise the academic competence standards of the courses in question. This annexe describes the types of adjustments involved and the normal procedures to be followed in considering applications for such adjustments.
Annex A includes information on:
Full guidance on the process for requesting adjustments to course or assessment requirements is given in the Annex, but can be briefly summarised as:
An appeal process exists in the event that a student is not happy with the decision that is reached. This is also set out in the Annex.
Oxford continues to exceed its HEFCE benchmark in relation to students with disabilities, with 5.9% of full-time undergraduate students being in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) in 2012/13. As part of the University’s 2015/16 agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), which sets out the measures it intends to put in place to promote fair access, the following measures to support and encourage disabled applicants are highlighted:
The UK Quality Code for Higher Education sets out for each chapter of the Code the Expectation that all providers of UK Higher Education are required to meet and which will be used by the QAA as the basis for Higher Education Reviews (formerly Institutional Reviews). The University will be reviewed in 2015 and will need to demonstrate that it is meeting the Expectations of the Quality Code and taking account of the relevant Indicators of good practice. Several Expectations and Indicators are relevant to provision for disabled students:
The Equality Act was introduced in 2010 to consolidate and replace a range of anti-discrimination laws, including the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA,1995), which made it unlawful to discriminate against people due to disability in relation to employment, the provision of goods and services, transport and education. It makes it unlawful for any part of a higher education institution (HEI) to discriminate against a person throughout the student lifecycle, including in the admissions decision and terms, the provision of education, in access to benefits, facilities and services and in the conferral of qualifications. The Equality Act provides additional protections to disabled students by making it unlawful to treat a student unfavourably for reasons that arise in consequence of that student’s disability, where the treatment is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. In order to prevent discrimination due to disability, the Act allows disabled students to be treated more favourably and includes a provision for making reasonable adjustments in order to bring a disabled student’s experience in line with the norm. The application of the Equality Act to HEIs is set out in the Technical Guidance, which explains in detail the Act’s requirements in relation to the provision of education and access to benefits, facilities or services.
The Data Protection Act (DPA) applies to any data about an identifiable living person, protecting their right to privacy with respect to their personal data. Particular protections are applied with respect to ‘sensitive personal data’, which includes information relating to an individual’s physical or mental health or condition. Sensitive personal data cannot be disclosed apart from in specific circumstances, such as if the individual gives their explicit consent or because it is necessary for medical purposes. Subject to some exceptions, the DPA also gives individuals the right to ask that their data is not processed, if doing so is likely to cause damage or distress. More information is listed out in University Policy on Data Protection
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