Embedding Inclusive Assessment: lessons from large-scale assessment change

In this blog post, we introduce and discuss a recently completed QAA-funded Collaborative Enhancement Project that aimed to explore and understand the relationship(s) between assessment outcomes and inclusive assessment designs for different groups of students during the pandemic-affected academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21. There have been few large-scale empirical studies of this kind conducted and shared with the sector despite changes in assessment practices attracting significant scrutiny and evaluation throughout the pandemic. The project brought together eight institutions from across the University Alliance mission group and comprised a three-phase approach: 1) an analysis of assessment outcomes for specific cohorts across each partner institution capturing the range of design/policy changes alongside those course/programmes displaying the largest percentage reduction in attainment/awarding gaps (for 2019-20) and improved student continuation rates (for 2020-21). 2) interviews with academic staff and focus groups with students from those courses identified by each partner with the latter facilitated by a cadre of student researchers employed by each institution to garner student feedback on the inclusivity of assessment arrangements. 3) staff interview and student focus group data were subjected to a process of thematic analysis to capture key themes and sub-themes at a course/programme level.

This collaborative project work culminated in the production of a series of outputs developed as practical resources with the aim of supporting HE leaders, academics, and students in higher education to review, plan for, and evaluate enhancement-led inclusive assessment policies, initiatives, and interventions. Each resource is framed by an overarching position statement we developed for the project that offers the lens through which we now invite universities and practitioners to critically consider their own assessment policies and practices. We believe inclusive assessment:

‘… is realised through holistic and flexible approaches that recognise value and reflect student diversity, facilitating choice and enabling every individual to demonstrate their achievement with respect to academic/professional standards and empowering them to take ownership of their learning journey. To achieve this, assessment needs to be strategically designed as an embedded element of the curriculum to proactively consider students’ needs and to remove systemic barriers in institutional policies, processes, and practices.’

A set of inclusive assessment attributes was collectively developed to reflect the insights generated through the research work undertaken. These attributes formed the basis for an associated toolkit and suite of case studies as a way of illustrating the types of approaches that were deployed, alongside their impact on student learning and performance. Together these resources provide a framework to assist universities and practitioners in reflecting upon their current institutional policies and practices.

The project has produced a series of practical, evidence-based insights into the impact of alternative assessment arrangements on student outcomes, highlighting areas of good practice and creative implementation. Project findings and outputs are illustrative of how clear, positive outcomes can develop from adversity and how agile thinking and responses to change enabled institutions to put creative solutions and inclusive practices in place within a short period time with the culminative effect of positively impacting student outcomes.

Sam Elkington is Professor of Learning and Teaching at Teeside University, a National Teaching Fellow and Principal Fellow of the HEA
Twitter: @sd_elkington

Inclusive Academic Practice as Pedagogic Competence

We are all aware that institutions have a legal obligation to support members of our learning community with protected characteristics, and a moral duty to ensure we all have fair and equal opportunity to reach our full potential. However, inclusive academic practice can be a challenging to colleagues who may find the necessary re-assessment of academic knowledge and its production, and the re-thinking and re-shaping of academic practice on more democratic, less imperialist grounds deeply destabilising.  I suggest we, as academic developers, recognise inclusive academic practice involves engaging our personal, political and professional selves but must be complimented with clear guiding principles and advice on practical action and, as Hull’s recently launched Inclusive Education Framework advises, involves the whole institution. The University of Hull has adopted this approach since the launch of the Teaching Excellence Academy in 2019 to positive effect:  NSS returns have lifted year on year contributing to our 42 place uplift in the Guardian University Ranking over the last 2 years, we are now 53rd.

Framing inclusive academic practice as pedagogic competence facilitates this whilst mainstreaming inclusion. Good pedagogic practice in inherently inclusive after all. Based on a model for competence-based education used at the University of Hull (Lawrence 2020; Huxley-Binns, Lawrence and Scott, forthcoming) pedagogic competence is the synthesis of personal, professional and academic experience; disciplinary, pedagogic and institutional knowledge and self-awareness. I have presented competence-based pedagogic practice at two UK Universities: a teaching and a research focussed institution (Lawrence, 2021). Almost all that attended a series of workshops at the teaching focussed institution responding to evaluation found balancing practical steer with acknowledging the personal is pedagogical (if you can forgive this play on the feminist ‘personal is political’) extremely useful, for some revelatory, and almost all found the principles and activities outlined useful and will adopt them.

Figure 1: Competence-based Pedagogic Practice

Building competence-based pedagogic practice

Drawing on my experience using this model in academic development, and the evaluation of and feedback on the workshops, academic developers might wish to bare the following in mind when supporting colleagues in growing their pedagogic competence.


Draw on, recognise and create opportunity for staff to critically reflect on the following as integral to and valuable in academic practice:

  • Individual life experience
  • Past, present and future teaching, scholarship and/or research

For many this is realised through application for Fellowship HEA and peer-observation and the wiley academic developer will embed this reflection and connection within developmental activity.


Ensure colleagues have access to the following information

  • Students within their cohort
  • Disciplinary specific practice and research
  • Institutional process, curricula, assessment & VLE
  • How to create inclusive resources
  • Institutional study and pastoral support services and resources

At the University of Hull we have found staff appreciate and engage with carefully curated resources that offer guidance on interpreting, accessing and using this information as and when they need it, at a time that suites them. Our ‘Teaching Essentials’ VLE has over 650 active users (of approximately 800 academic staff).


Allow opportunity for staff to critically reflect on the following:

  • Positionality (personal & professional identity)
  • Personal strengths & limits (and where to go /how to develop specific practices).
  • The classroom/online ‘climate’
  • Personal/professional responsibilities (EDI policy and law)

In my experience staff appreciate the opportunity to ‘check their own privilege’ as much as acknowledge their own journey to where they are now and where they want to go. There is much to be said about mandatory EDI training, at the very least it reminds staff of their legal obligations while the meaningful and deeper, consciousness raising work goes on.

Principles for Inclusive Academic Practice

The following principle and examples of action are a starting point to building the ‘knowledge’ necessary for pedagogic competence:

Develop learning community & belonging (Thomas, 2012)
– Regular breaks & social chat in class time
– Team-based activity/assignments & ice breakers (Thomas, 2012)
– Inclusive language e.g. use of the pronoun ‘they’ 
– Decolonize curricula & diversify reading lists, visuals, examples, teaching team (Bhopal, 2018)

Build equitable learning relationships (Freire, 1997; hooks, 2010)
– Share our university experience (Lawrence et al, 2020), past present and future aspirations
– Module/session design in partnership (Cop, 2004; Healey et al, 2006)
– (Rolling) chair of respectful dialogue and discussion, call gaffes to account with good grace (Hooks, 2003)

Deploy active/flipped learning (and explain how it works)
– Explain the obvious: terms, protocols, process (Thomas, 2012)

Personalise learning activities (flexible, applied and relevant, Hocking, 2010)
– ‘Apply x to a situation of your choosing’ 

Nurture and inspire all students (Bhopal, 2018)
– Be flexible and accommodate different learning paces e.g. have ‘Reserve’ activities for groups that steam through a task
– Note that students are more receptive to feedback in positive learning relationship (Donovan et al, 2020)


Framing inclusive academic practice as integral to pedagogic competence helps us be vigilant and alive to our own unconscious bias, evolve our practices, remain alive to our own positionality and prioritise the educational needs of our diverse community. Further, it acknowledges we need practical steer to guide us through the destabilising process of re assessing and reshaping our practice. It is inherently political, but more than that, personal.

Dr Jenny Lawrence AFSEDA, PFHEA, NTF is Director of the Oxford Centre for Academic Enhancement and Development at Oxford Brookes University. Her research interests include programme and educational leadership and wellbeing in HE.
Twitter: @jennywahwah


Bhopal, K. (2018) White Privilege: The myth of the post racial society Bristol: Policy Press

Berry M. O’Donovan, Birgit den Outer, Margaret Price & Andy Lloyd (2021) What makes good feedback good?, Studies in Higher Education, 46:2, 318-329, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1630812

Educause (2012) 7 Things you should know about … Flipped Classrooms. Educause.

Healey, M., Bradley, A., Fuller, M. and Hall, T. (2006) Listening to students: the experiences of disabled students of learning at university. In: Adams, M. and Brown, S. (eds.) Towards Inclusive Learning in Higher Education: developing curricula for disabled students. Abingdon. Routledge

Hockings.C. (2010) Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: a synthesis of research. EvidenceNet . HEA York

Hooks[1], b (2003) Teaching Community: A pedagogy of hope. London: Routledge.

Hubbard, K and Gawthorpe, P (2021) University of Hull Inclusive Education Framework. University of Hull.

Huxley-Binns, R. Lawrence, J and Scott, G. (forthcoming) Competence-based HE: Future Proofing Curricula in Blessinger, P and Sengupta, E (forthcoming) Integrative Curricula – A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Pedagogy. UK: Emerald Group Publishing

Lawrence, J (2020) Assessing competencies could equip graduates for an uncertain post-Covid future  WonkHE 

Lawrence, J (2021) Advancing Inclusive Education: Competence-based pedagogic practice. Inclusive Education Symposia, Teaching Excellence Academy, University of Hull. January 16th 2021

Lawrence, J. Wales, H. Hunt, L. and Synmoie, D.  (2020) Teaching excellence: the students perspective. French, A. Thomas, K. (2020) Challenging the Teaching Excellence Framework: Diversity Deficits in Higher Education Evaluations. UK: Emerald Insights. pp. 129-150.

The FFYE program: Enhancing inclusion with a community of transition practice

The First and Further Year Experience (FFYE) program at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia represents a sustained institution-wide approach to building an engaged academic and professional community. Implemented in 2011, its commitment to the transition, retention and success of students from low socio-economic status (LSES) backgrounds has deepened inclusive educational practice and enhanced the student experience for all students.

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Getting decolonial praxis right!

There is a wide acknowledgment of the need to decolonise higher education (HE). There are many definitions of what it means to decolonise, but most analyses agree that to decolonise means to challenge how colonial systems and relationships create the logic of cultural, social, political and intellectual domination in an education system that maintain hierarchical relationships between different ways of knowing and how these ways are framed.

In response to the need to decolonise, scholarly work has applied decolonial and postcolonial theories to HE, focusing on unjust and unequal power relations with regard to knowledge production, cultural, institutional and policy relations, curriculum and pedagogy. Yet, little has been written in HE journals on how and to what extent the Western mono-version of universities is actually being challenged in curricula, pedagogic, cultural and linguistic practices on the ground in university classrooms. Hence, the need for the special issue in Teaching in Higher Education, titled: Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis that myself and my colleagues (Kathy Luckett and Greg Misiaczek) were very pleased to curate.

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Educational Development for Preparing Postgraduate Taught (PGT) at Pace

Registrations on Masters programmes are record breaking this year. Students from home and overseas are progressing their studies straight from graduation or returning from the workforce to redefine career prospects. Many academic staff will be picking up postgraduate taught (PGT) for the first time, perhaps at short notice and potentially teaching a more diverse student cohort than ever before. They are looking for additional steer, recognising these particular students in these specific times need more than disciplinary expertise and great teaching to get the most from their studies. This blog is for the educational developer tasked with supporting those picking up PGT or preparing their PGT teaching at pace.

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