Inclusive learning and teaching

What do we mean by Inclusive Learning?

Inclusive Learning is the design and delivery of teaching, learning and assessment that celebrates diversity. It enables students to achieve their full potential by drawing on the strengths afforded by their individual backgrounds and experiences. Inclusive teaching and learning support all students to identify as valued members of the Oxford Brookes community.

Why is it important to our students?

Higher Education is more diverse than ever (Mathieson, 2015), and the success rates of different groups of students have come under scrutiny. We know that different groups of students have different rates of completion and attainment, with gender and ethnicity being cited as key factors predicting achievement of a ‘good degree’, e.g. 1st or 2:1 degree outcome (Cotton et al., 2016). Moreover, male and those identifying from Black, Asian, Roma, Gypsy and traveller and other global majority backgrounds tended to overestimate the chances of gaining a good degree outcome when compared to other student groups.

Nationally, there is a 13 percentage point gap in the attainment of ‘good’ degrees between those identifying from Black, Asian, Roma, Gypsy and traveller and other global majority backgrounds and White students that cannot be fully explained by factors such as prior attainment and age (UUK &; NUS, 2019). At Oxford Brookes, that gap was 20.4% in 2017/18 (Oxford Brookes, 2020). We must ensure that the learning, teaching and assessment at Oxford Brookes do not disadvantage any groups of students, allowing all students to reach their potential.

How does inclusive learning help?

The ultimate aim of embedding inclusivity into what and how we teach is to create a learning environment that generates a sense of belonging in all students. Sense of belonging has been described as the feeling of being valued as an individual within a wider community (Goodenow, 1993). Yorke (2016) has operationalised the sense of belonging in higher education using survey statements such as “I feel at home in this university” and “I am shown respect by members of staff in this department” in evaluations.

In the literature, there is a well-established link between a sense of belonging and student success in HE. For example, a sense of belonging has been linked with student satisfaction (Douglas et al., 2015; Stevenson, 2018), academic attainment (Reay et al., 2010; Smith, 2017), and retention (Bamber & Tett, 2000; Thomas, 2002, 2012). In their examination of students’ decisions to withdraw from HE, Wilcox et al. (2005) found that a lack of belonging (specifically, difficulties with making friends) was the most commonly cited factor that contributed to the decision to leave university.

Specifically, there is growing evidence that the lack of belonging that those identifying from Black, Asian, Roma, Gypsy and traveller and other global majority backgrounds students disproportionately experience is one of the hitherto unidentified factors of the awarding gap (Currant et al., 2013; Stevenson, 2018; Thomas, 2002; UUK &; NUS, 2019).

What do I need to do?

We all have a legal responsibility to ensure that the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector equality duty are met. Thus, we all have a critical role to play in ensuring that students can learn in an environment that is inclusive and accessible and fosters and encourages good relations between people from diverse groups. It is important that academics recognise and systematically create space for a diverse range of perspectives rather than privileging a select few (Thomas, 2002). Students, especially those from groups that tend to be overlooked in HE, would have the best chance of success if they could feel a sense of belonging.  Most universities make a commitment in policy or strategy documents such as an Access and Participation Plan, which can be met through a curriculum that is more attractive and relevant to a diverse range of students, ensuring progression and good outcomes for all and creating a positive social impact.

Begin by responding to and reflecting on the student voice question set, which has been designed to help you identify both strengths and areas for development for Inclusive Learning in your programme or module.

Everyone teaching on a programme should be able to provide a detailed response to these questions that clearly articulate to students how the curriculum will support them in becoming a valued member of the Oxford Brookes learning community.

Engagement with the questions should prompt you to consider areas for development within your programme or module. Follow the Design Thinking process outlined on the How to use the model page and refer to the case studies and resources for examples and activities to support you in developing your practice.