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Course Design Blueprint

What do we mean by Inclusive Education and a Liberated Curriculum? 

Inclusive practice is at the heart of Universities Values and aims to empower staff and students to work together in building an inclusive curriculum in its truest sense. Our Access and Participation Plan sets out a range of targets and commitments to reduce and eliminate gaps in access, success and progression. 

Being inclusive means that all students are given an equal opportunity to succeed, independent of their background or demographic characteristics, and we have an ethical, moral, and legal obligation to ensure that this happens in practice. Adopting an inclusive approach recognises that some students are systematically disadvantaged by exclusive practices, and proactively ensures that all students have equal opportunities to succeed, but being inclusive does not mean compromising on academic standards or quality processes. 

There is no ‘single solution’ to inclusivity. It requires students, academics, professional services staff and university leaders to work together to build the most inclusive environment possible.

A liberated curriculum reflects the design of a curriculum which is free from bias in relation to all protected characteristics. All students benefit from living in a diverse and inclusive society, and from receiving a diversified, decolonised and inclusive education. Inclusive approaches should be taken to every aspect of the curriculum and its delivery, including the practices of learning and teaching adopted, the selection of materials on reading and resource lists, the case studies and practice learning contexts, and the processes of assessment and feedback.

How do we design an inclusive learning experience? 

As part of our approach to institutional learning, the CELT sponsored Liberating the Curriculum Task force was established in 2022 with the strategic aims of developing an inclusive curriculum, building community, belonging and representation amongst minority groups, and reducing attainment gaps. The equity seeking practices for facilitating and sustaining change includes:

  • Co-creating an inclusive teaching framework. 
  • Development and refinement of toolkits and training for all staff.
  • Review and alignment with institutional initiatives and projects and sector frameworks 
  • Supporting inclusive curriculum design activity and contextualisation of practices to discipline. 

To ensure consistency of inclusive approaches at institutional level in fulfilling our values and parity with best practice approaches promoted across the sector, we align course design and professional learning activity with the QAA Inclusive Higher Education Framework. 

QAA Inclusive Higher Education Framework - including areas of practice and key principles of delivery

To implement these at institutional level requires all members of the university community to examine their own practices, and to take positive action where inequality is identified. Thus, the framework includes a series of self-evaluation questions to encourage reflection against the quality of practices in relation to the key principles at a personal, course team, and senior leadership level. The Course Team questions have been mapped into our Course Design Blueprint and Self-evaluation Tool. 

Curriculum Design and Delivery

The curriculum is at the heart of the student experience and is the most obvious place to start to practice an inclusive approach to working with students. Students who feel that their curriculum is relevant to them are more likely to be engaged and to succeed. The curriculum includes what we teach and how we teach it. It also includes the 'hidden curriculum' which is the untaught element of the academic experience. This includes implicit knowledge, and behaviours that are required for success at university (Margolis, 2002; Hubbard et al, 2020).

Element Tips
Be transparent Be transparent about the assumed knowledge and skills required for success. Inclusive programmes consider students with different entry qualifications and proactively ensure that all students start the programme with the skills and knowledge required. This could be achieved through an intensive start to the programme designed to 'level the playing field' before new content is introduced..
Diversify and decolonise Decolonisation requires that historic power imbalances are confronted within the curriculum, including the dominance of White European mindsets in the discipline. This is true for all disciplines, not just arts and humanities. E.g., a decolonised economics programme would examine the relationship between the historical slave trade and modern global economic disparities. Inclusive healthcare programmes would consider health inequalities and diagnosis in Black and Asian populations as well as ableist attitudes within health care.
Personalise Personalisation in inclusive programme design gives students flexibility and autonomy in how they demonstrate their learning. E.g., students could be given a choice of essay topic or choice of a range of assessment modes within a module so that they can focus on something they are particularly interested in.
Enable engagement Proactively manage and remove barriers to engagement. Many students build their studies around other aspects of their lives, including caring responsibilities, paid employment and the commute to campus, (Leese, 2010). Students with disabilities or long-term health conditions may find it more difficult to access particular learning activities or resources. Inclusive teaching activities are designed so that students can engage regardless of their personal circumstances.
Authenticity Give students authentic opportunities to practise their knowledge application and skills. Learning should be active where possible, giving students regular opportunities to discuss, use and test their knowledge and skills. Pedagogy should be authentic and active, using strategies such as problem based learning, collaborative project-based activities and reflection on learning. Active pedagogies have been shown to reduce educational inequalities such as awarding gaps. You can find out more about these approaches to learning in our Digipath 2: Delivery of Learning and Teaching
Inclusive activities Ensure activities are inclusive. All students should feel included and respected in the activities they undertake. E.g., an inclusive healthcare programme would actively consider language used when engaging with LGBTQIA+ patients, those from different ethnic groups, or those who are non-English speaking.

Assessment and Feedback

Assessment is a major driver of student learning but is also a source of considerable anxiety for many students. Poorly designed assessment strategies can act as a barrier to learning, and potentially reinforce educational inequalities. Inclusive assessment goes beyond the provision of reasonable adjustments for individual students with disabilities, towards a model where flexibility of assessment is available for all (Waterfield and West, 2006).. Inclusive pedagogy also requires effective use of feedback and feedforward. All students benefit from having a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their work and be able to identify how to improve their performance in future assignments. Inclusive assessment and feedback processes are also mindful of student anxieties and provide constructive support for students in demonstrating their learning (Winstone and Nash, 2016).

Element Tips
Programme level design Have coherent programme level designs. All students benefit from seeing connections between assessments in different modules. Earlier years of the programme will prepare students effectively for their final assessments, ideally with no novel assessment types introduced in the final year.
Assessment burden Be mindful of assessment burden. Inclusive programme teams will coordinate assessments so that students are not over-assessed. This prevents academic staff and students from facing unmanageable workloads. Consideration at programme level should prevent deadline clashes with other significant taught components, e.g. placements or field trips.
Anxieties around assessment Consider student anxieties around assessment. Most students will face some level of stress relating to assessments but this may be particularly acute for some. Programme teams should adopt a supportive culture around assessment, provide clear guidance, and offer opportunities for students to voice concerns. Effective use of formative assessment may also reduce student anxiety.
Individual reasonable adjustments Design out the need for individual reasonable adjustments wherever possible. There can often be flexibility in how students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. This is not necessarily incompatible with standards defined by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) or Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs). That flexibility can be used to design out individual reasonable adjustments. For example, students needing to demonstrate effective communication could have a choice of format (e.g. podcast, infographic, blog), enabling students to identify the most appropriate medium for their individual capabilities and needs.
Authentic opportunities Give students authentic opportunities to demonstrate their skills, knowledge and self-awareness. When assessments are embedded in ‘real world’ scenarios, students are more motivated by seeing the connections between their learning and the wider context and their future career
Diversity of assessment modes Give students a diversity of assessment modes. An inclusive assessment portfolio will include a balanced variety of formats relevant to the discipline, so all students have opportunities to play to their strengths.
Clear, fair and transparent marking Mark using clear, fair and transparent criteria. Inclusive marking criteria will not disproportionately penalise students for mistakes in written English or referencing, except where this is required by e.g., professional, statutory and regulatory bodies. Weighted rubrics that clearly specify requirements may be more objective and inclusive than holistic marking criteria.
Feedback to promote learning Use feedback constructively to promote student learning. Feedback that students receive can either build or undermine academic confidence and success. Students may find large amounts of feedback overwhelming and so benefit from targeted and focussed guidance. Feedback should be clearly communicated, constructive and timely. This may be offered in different formats, e.g. written, verbal or recorded. Opportunities to discuss feedback should be built into programme delivery.

Community and Belonging

For all students, feeling part of a community invokes feelings of security, positive emotions, and increased self-worth. A sense of belonging has also been demonstrated to be positively associated with student motivation, and academic success (Freeman et al, 2007;Bliuc et al, 2011,. Students are less likely to withdraw from programmes or leave university if they are engaged both on an academic and a social level (Tinto, 1993; Krause & Armitage, 2014). Inclusive universities will build cultures which positively foster a strong sense of community and belonging.

Element Tips
Personalised support Effective Personalised Academic & Pastoral Support. Enabling students to feel comfortable discussing their concerns or anxieties with appropriately trained staff will allow for effective signposting to additional support as indicated. Some students may require more structured and specialist support than others. Interventions such as bi-weekly drop-in sessions or scheduled one to one monthly meetings could be used to help to facilitate effective rapport and relationship building. Find out more about our Personal Academic Coaching model, the Student Experience and Engagement Team or access the Student Hub to learn about the support offered to our students
Induction activities Relevant and inclusive induction activities. Effective induction is embedded within programmes and includes both social and academic focussed activities. Structure, timing and format of events will be considered, being mindful of commuter students, those with caring responsibilities etc. For example, the provision of alcohol might exclude students who choose not to drink for cultural, health or religious reasons. Inclusive induction will also provide tailored support for international students and those transferring from other institutions part way through their programme.
Friendships and peer support Supporting students to build friendships and peer support throughout their programmes. Many students are more socially isolated than we might assume, so welcome opportunities to form connections with their peers within the programme. Examples might include working in smaller teaching groups, peer student support networks, and encouraging involvement with related academic societies
Partnerships with students Effective and ongoing partnership with students. Examples of this might include initiatives such as student and staff collaborative projects, or involving students in programme design and decision making. Encouraging students to regularly evaluate modules and programmes, and responding constructively and transparently to feedback given.
Empowering students Empower students to embrace inclusivity within their own learning environments.This could include open discourse around student personal experience, and sharing of ideas amongst peer groups in relation to supporting diversity. This also includes actively educating students about equality, diversity and inclusion, bringing that knowledge and values into their future lives.
Diverse communities Build diverse staff and student communities. Higher education institutions have historically not represented the diversity of the wider population. No one should face structural barriers to becoming part of the higher education community. This may require reviewing student admissions policies and staff recruitment practices. All staff and students should feel that they are supported and valued members of the institution regardless of demographic background or personal circumstances.

Pathways to success

Inclusive institutions offer all students, regardless of their background or entry level, the opportunity to succeed. Inclusive education is not just about academic grades. It involves gaining additional personal attributes such as social and practical skills, lifelong friendships, and a fulfilling sustainable future career (York et al, 2015; Cachia et al, 2018). Encouraging students to reach their potential by adopting a fair and inclusive approach will ensure that success is achievable to all.Importantly, success is dependent on a student’s understanding of the norms, cultures and behaviours of higher education. Students who are from historically disadvantaged backgrounds or are the first in their family to access higher education are less likely to have accumulated this understanding. To be inclusive the institution will make its norms and expectations as transparent as possible.

Element Tips
Programme expectations Making programme expectations clear. All students benefit from knowing what is expected from them throughout their programme. For example, providing a clear explanation detailing how UK degree classifications work will help students to understand academic expectation, and the link between academic grades and future career or study plans
Academic jargon Demystify and avoid the use of academic jargon. Using clear and understandable language in all programme materials will ensure that outcomes and opportunities are explicit.
Review progress Constructive ongoing reviews of academic progress. Regular reviews of academic achievement with appropriate staff will allow students to focus on academic issues, future targets, and address potential support needs. Early identification of future career aspirations also allows for action planning and bespoke support and signposting
Student engagement Proactive monitoring of student engagement. Routine monitoring of engagement can identify students at risk of withdrawal at an early stage. Monitoring systems should be designed to support staff and students rather than penalising non-attendance, and should acknowledge complex personal circumstances that may impact engagement. Read our policy on Student Attendance and Engagement, and find out more about digital attendance registers
Embed support services Embedding institutional support services into programme delivery. Inclusive programmes will embed introductions to services such as central academic skills teams, or student wellbeing teams. Doing this early in the programme encourages engagement with relevant services and reduces student anxieties about seeking support. Consider how you can work with Careers Employability and Enterprise, Library and Learning Services, Student Life. You might also like to explore using Learning Hubs as part of your curriculum design.
Learning resources and materials Use student facing materials that demonstrate inclusivity and success. This could involve student facing marketing materials making use of ‘real’ student narratives. For example, highlighting students who have achieved success despite needing to suspend their studies or due to ill health could make for powerful role models.
Mentoring and role models Effective use of mentoring & role models. This can support inclusivity by demonstrating to students available possibilities and potential career opportunities. Examples might include involving alumni in career events, collaboration with prospective employers and feeder colleges, and internship opportunities. Role models within the curriculum will represent the diversity of the student body.
Student belief and confidence Use additional supportive mechanisms to enhance student self-belief and confidence. Inclusive programmes will embed activities that build student autonomy, responsibility and self-confidence. This may involve partnering with external organisations or targeted programmes to support particular groups of students.
Placements and external opportunities Some students may potentially be disadvantaged if a placement opportunity is likely to incur additional travel or time commitments. Students with paid jobs may be unable to commit to a lengthy placement, and students with disabilities may face additional challenges in accessing placements. Placements, work experience, and extracurricular opportunities should be carefully managed to ensure inclusivity.