Taking into account special educational needs and disability

An important consideration for you during the assessment design and planning stage is to ensure that you've made adequate provision for students you may be teaching who have disabilities and/or special educational needs. The Equality Act 2010 demands that 'reasonable adjustments' be made, both to the way that students' education is provided and 'in the arrangements it makes for deciding upon whom to confer a qualification'. The legislation requires students' needs to be anticipated – so any necessary adjustments should be in place before they are actually required. There are implications for assessment, but the actions you might take to do this could well benefit all students. Some points to remember: 

Validity is key

One way to ensure that you are not inadvertently discriminating against students on the basis of their disability is to make your assessments as valid as possible. A valid assessment will measure only those skills and knowledge that you have set out to measure, i.e. those that are detailed in the learning outcomes and assessment criteria. As such, a student shouldn't be penalised for poor spelling and grammar if the criteria state that the assessment will measure understanding of the subject1.

The assessment methods should be aligned to the skills you are trying to assess

Another means of promoting validity and so reducing discrimination is to align the assessment method closely with the skills that you are aiming to measure.
Learn more by reading the section on deciding on an appropriate assessment method.

Varied assessment methods can improve accessibility

Students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, may be disadvantaged by extensive use of particular methods of assessment, such as extended essays. Considering alternative assessment methods that measure the same or similar learning outcomes (e.g. oral presentations, posters or website designs), will ensure that students that could be disadvantaged by one assessment method have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by other means. An example of this is a case study from the University of Nottingham where an alternative assessment method was designed for a dyslexic student. In this example the member of staff changed the method of assessment for this student from an extended essay to a radio broadcast and supporting materials. The full case study is available on the University of Nottingham website.

See the section on different ways to assess your students for more.

Don't be afraid to discriminate based on ability

The aim of assessment is to discriminate between students based on their ability as defined in the learning outcomes and assessment criteria. The important thing to avoid is discriminating against students based on their disability and as such any changes to an assessment should not give any student an unfair advantage. There may be instances where it is not possible and/or practical to make reasonable adjustments, such as in certain technical and vocational subjects or where the cost of doing so is prohibitive. In these instances you should seek the advice of your colleagues, your institution's disability advisory service and/or examinations office.


  1. Race, P. (2009). Designing Assessment To Improve Physical Sciences Learning: A Physical Sciences Practice Guide. Hull. Higher Education Physical Sciences Subject Centre.

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