Whilst one of the aims of developing inclusive practice is to ensure that the LSE meets its legal obligations under The Equality Act 2010 ,a comprehensive approach to inclusive practice moves beyond this focus. Adopting this more holistic conceptualisation of inclusive practice involves:
- not only recognising the diversity of the student population, but aiming to use this diversity as an asset in learning and teaching;
- acknowledging our responsibility to enable all students to actively engage with their learning; and,
- seeking to support students to challenge themselves, the School and the wider world through independent and critical thinking.
Each of these ideas is unpacked in more detail below, and guidance on how to operationalise each of them within curriculum design is given in ‘What are the individual elements of course and programme design?’ section of these webpages. What I would like to highlight at this point, however, is the foundational idea that underpins the notion of inclusive practice, and that is that diversity should not be viewed as something that must be ‘compensated’ for rather that difference is valuable and should be utilised.
Diversity as an asset
Weller (2016) argues that the texts, concepts, ideas and theorists that make up a curricula should be viewed as artefacts that are “historically, contextually and socially situated” (p.149), and when auditing the curricula for inclusivity we need to ask:
- Whose perspective and values does the curriculum put forward?
- Is the curriculum relevant and meaningful to a broader range of learners?
- Who does the curriculum include and who does it exclude?
In addition to asking questions like these, however, if we are going to view the students’ diverse backgrounds as an asset we need to also focus on how we engage with students in the classroom. As such, we need to include key questions that focus specifically on this aspect of curriculum design, such as:
- How does the course seek to incorporate the knowledge & understanding brought to it by students from diverse backgrounds?
- How are students given the opportunity to analyse and recognise their own tacit knowledge and the influence of their experiences and cultural identity?
- How does the course enable other knowledge/perspectives to be recognised and valued?
- In what ways are students helped to examine their own values, compare them with the values of others, and engage in respectful debate where differences occur?
Enabling active engagement
As mentioned above, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit (EDI) provides details of our responsibilities under the Equality Act of 2010. The Disability and Well-Being Service can advise on student inclusion plans and reasonable adjustments.
Although there will be circumstances where specific adjustments will have to be made, the need for adjustments can be minimised through appropriate curriculum design.
For example, one area of teaching and learning that can be problematic for students with specific learning differences (SpLD) or Asperger syndrome is working in groups, and particularly project-based group work.
Time management can be a particular issue for students with SpLD and if other group members decide to leave the work to the last minute the student with SpLD may be doubly penalized. Changes in routine can result in confusion and upset for students with Asperger syndrome and may give rise to behaviour others find challenging. Strategies that can mitigate against these issues are requiring groups to compile time tables for group work and to produce minutes of group meetings, which include assigned action points. In some cases producing these documents and reflecting on the processes have formed part of the assessed output.
Whilst these strategies may have been developed originally with the intention of facilitating the engagement of disabled students, it has been shown to have beneficial effects for all students (Weller, 2016).
Supporting independent and critical thinking
In addition to interpreting critical thinking skills in qualification characteristics statements and subject benchmarking statements, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), identifies a number of themes that cross disciplinary boundaries and which may be considered to have a broad relevance to the purposes of higher education and its wider context in society. One of these themes is education for sustainable development (ESD).
The QAA (2014) defines ESD as:
“…the process of equipping students with the knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes needed to work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing, both in the present and for future generations.” (p.7).
In its guidance on how ESD should be integrated into the curriculum to meet the requirements of The Quality Code for Higher Education, the QAA states that students should be supported to:
- consider what the concept of global citizenship means in the context of their own discipline and in their future professional and personal lives
- consider what the concept of environmental stewardship means in the context of their own discipline and in their future professional and personal lives
- think about issues of social justice, ethics and wellbeing, and how these relate to ecological and economic factors
- develop a future-facing outlook; learning to think about the consequences of actions, and how systems and societies can be adapted to ensure sustainable futures.
It is perhaps worth noting at this point the similarities between the aims of ESD and the School’s mission statement.
“Our mission is to advance knowledge in social science and a range of related fields so as to inform public policy, economic decision-making, and social welfare both nationally and globally. This means nurturing creative thought and intellectual exploration and educating students from all backgrounds and around the world to be critical thinkers and skilled professionals who work for the betterment of society.”
LSE Strategy 2020
For further guidance on how to use intended learning outcomes, teaching and learning activities and a valid assessment strategy to integrate inclusive practice into your curriculum, please see the ‘What are the individual elements of course and programme design?’ section of these webpages.