Higher Education Providers are expected to provide their students with an inclusive learning environment, as illustrated by recent guidance from the Office for Students and the Department for Education. For example, the 2016/2017 Disabled Student’s Allowance guidance said that
‘The learning environment should be as inclusive as possible, so that the need for individual interventions is the exception, not the rule. Institutions should engage in a continual improvement cycle that develops inclusive practice, with the aim of reducing the number of individual interventions required.’ ‘We expect institutions to strive to provide the best possible support for all their students, including their body of disabled students, to continue to remove or reduce the need for individual support through DSAs.’ (DSA Guidance, 2016/17)
More recently, the Institute for Employment Studies published a report in 2017 that champions the development of inclusive teaching approaches to support disabled students. Specifically, it makes repeated mention of alternative assessments as one example of an inclusive approach and recommends that institutions promote greater use of them. (Institute for Employment Studies, 2017)
This guide has been produced to make the process for requesting and agreeing on a potential alternative assessment transparent to both the student and their School or Institute.
Background to alternative assessments
Most Queen Mary students can expect to face at least some closed book exams during their academic programme and it is rare that any student would be able to obtain a Queen Mary University of London degree without having to take any examinations. As such, it would be unusual for the university to agree to a student’s request to be exclusively assessed by methods other than timed examination.
Modules should have their assessment methods clearly set out in course handbooks and on QM Plus (the university’s virtual learning environment) so that students can make informed decisions about whether or not the assessment methods on a given module are likely to be difficult for them to complete successfully.
The university’s academic regulations reflect this:
- 2.12 Before registration, a student must ensure that their programme of study and modules are acceptable to them, and that they can meet the attendance, learning, and assessment requirements. Queen Mary cannot change programme or module regulations, requirements, or scheduling to meet the needs of an individual student.
Where a student’s disability or long-term medical condition makes meeting those assessment methods difficult or impossible they can make a request for an alternative assessment to either modify or replace the existing assessment methods. The provision of an alternative assessment, that is, a form of assessment substantially different to that specified for other students taking the module, is considered a reasonable adjustment under the terms of the Equality Act (2010) as it relates to disabled people (students, in this case).
Again, the university’s regulations reflect this:
- 3.4 Exceptionally, Queen Mary may use its discretion to use assessment methods other than those detailed in the module specification for an individual student. This may occur as an adjustment for a student with a registered disability (on the advice of the Disability and Dyslexia Service) or when setting a resit or first sit assessment, subject to the following conditions:
- i) the alternative assessment must involve some additional assessment activity that constitutes a justifiable and efficient assessment of the intended learning outcomes; and,
- ii) a full statement of the alternative assessment methods, and the justification for their use, is approved by the Subject Examination Board Chair and submitted to the Academic Registry and Council Secretariat (ARCS).
Learning outcomes and core competencies
In assessing the possibility of an alternative assessment, it is imperative that the specified learning outcomes of the module are not compromised. Any alternative assessment should assess the module’s learning outcomes to the same depth as the original assessment. It is not reasonable to request an alternative assessment that fundamentally risks the integrity a module’s academic standards.
In the case of core competencies, these have to be assessed in a way deemed appropriate by both the university and any external agency that oversees the content of an academic programme, e.g. the General Medical Council. There is no legal requirement to adjust or dilute a genuine competence standard.
Examples of alternative assessments
Examples of alternative assessments previously agreed by the university include:
- Students being permitted to take shorter exams than their peers, with supplementary essay questions to complement a closed book exam
- Adjustment to the weighting on the diet of examinations so that greater emphasis is placed on coursework
- Students being given permission to deliver oral presentations to smaller groups of people, e.g. staff in the School or Institute rather than staff and the student cohort
Procedure for agreeing an alternative assessment
For some formative assessments, as well as mid-term or in-class assessments, local discretion may be applied by the relevant School in granting requests for alternative assessments. In instances like these there is no need to involve the Disability and Dyslexia Service if both the student and their School are satisfied with the outcome.
In those instances where local agreements cannot be made, or for summative assessments, including end of semester exams, students are advised to request an alternative assessment by contacting the Disability and Dyslexia Service and the relevant student support contact in their School, e.g. Student Support Officer / Manager. Details on where students can find their student support contact can be found here.
The simplest way to do this is to email us and the relevant contact in the School with the term ‘alternative assessment’ in the subject title, along with the module name and code.
The Disability and Dyslexia Service will then arrange an appointment with the student to find out more about the desired assessment and the disability related justification for it; following this meeting the relevant adviser will contact the student’s School / Institute to discuss the possibility of agreeing the assessment. This discussion will include asking for clarification on:
- Existing assessment methods
- Module learning outcomes
- Any precedents for agreeing on alternative assessments
The School / Institute will then make a decision on whether or not it possible to agree an alternative assessment. If an agreement can be made, this will require a formal sign-off at the relevant Subject Exam Board.
The final decision on whether to agree an alternative assessment rests with the relevant School or Institute.
Timing of request
Applications for alternative assessments should be made as early as possible in the semester in which the module is taken, as academic staff need time to write new essay or exam questions and to gain the agreement of the School and colleagues in Academic Registry and Council Secretariat.
The university cannot guarantee that it will be possible to implement any requests for alternative assessments made after the Examination Access Arrangement deadline in each semester. See the Disability and Dyslexia Service’s exams webpage for more information.
What to do if a student is not satisfied with the outcome of their request for an alternative assessment
If a student is not satisfied with their request for an alternative assessment, they can request that the decision be reviewed. To do this, please complete the Alternative Assessment Review Form [DOC 54KB] and return it to the main DDS office (Room 3.06, Francis Bancroft Building). Alternatively, students can could print, sign and scan it and email it to the Disability and Dyslexia Service.
The review form will be reviewed by the Head of the Disability and Dyslexia Service and the relevant staff in the student’s school, e.g. the module convenor or programme lead.
If the student remains dissatisfied with this decision, they are advised to contact the Student Appeals, Complaints and Conduct Office. More information about the Student Appeals, Complaints and Conduct Office can be found here.