Teaching & Learning


Closing the awarding gap: why an inclusive curriculum makes a difference to all students

15 March 2019

Thirteen proven approaches to enhance the outcomes and experiences of our students, whatever their background, by Rosalind Duhs

personalising student support

UCL is working to close the awarding gap between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students and other students. 

The Inclusive Curriculum Health Check (ICHC) was created by the BAME Awarding Gap Project to help close this gap, by identifying the key elements of an inclusive curriculum in relation to specific teaching, learning and assessment practices.

Departments across UCL have used the tool in this year’s Annual Student Experience Review (ASER).

Recent research into teaching, learning and assessment has shown that delivering an inclusive curriculum has a positive effect on the experience and outcomes of all students.

The elements of an inclusive curriculum – as set out in UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check (ICHC) – correspond closely to the most effective practice identified by a recent review of quantitative empirical studies involving a total of 1,920,239 university students (Schneider and Preckel, 2017, p.592*).

The systematic review confirms that the effectiveness of courses is strongly related to what teachers do and that the choice of teaching methods has substantial effects on achievement. The research evidence derives from studies which disregard student ethnicity, demonstrating that an inclusive curriculum benefits all students, whatever their background.

I have put together a ‘top thirteen’ of initiatives with a strong positive effect (number one being the strongest), based on Schneider and Preckel’s research. The authors point out that even initiatives with a small effect size make a difference to student learning.

I have indicated where they link to the elements of the Inclusive Curriculum Health Check.

1. Offer peer assessment

Student peers grade a student’s achievement in addition to the teacher-given grade.

When students have the chance to assess the quality of peers’ work they gain insights into learning requirements for a successful outcome. Peer assessment of drafts has proved to have a strong positive impact on student outcomes at UCL.

Resources: Arena Centre regularly runs sessions on giving good quality feedback. See the outline on preparing for peer review and assessment.

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Offer individualised and peer feedback

2. Help students see how they can improve

If students are provided with feedback which increases their confidence in their ability to succeed, they will do better.

Resource: Developing good feedback practices:

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Offer opportunities for students to reflect on feedback and marks

3.  Use diverse examples to explain theory

Interpret abstract ideas and theories clearly, making good use of examples and illustrations to get across difficult points.

A diverse range of resources broadens scope for the use of examples and illustrations which resonate with all students.

Resources: Reading lists on Moodle. See the case studies on diverse reading lists.

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: have reading lists and resources that contain a diverse range of authors including those from different ethnicities, from outside the UK and from non-academic sources where relevant; use material that explores different data, models and theories related to ethnic diversity – even within an historical context

4. Encourage class attendance and engagement

Time spent supporting students who do not attend face to face sessions or engage in online activities is well spent in terms of enhancing student outcomes. Resource: Guidance on personal tutoring at UCL: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/teaching-resources/personal-tuto...

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Have an engagement strategy that follows up those not attending or engaging

5. Offer opportunities for students to self-assess

Students grade their own achievement in addition to teacher-given grades: by assessing the quality of their own work, students gain insight into learning requirements for a successful outcome. Self-assessment deepens insight into feedback and marks.

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Offer opportunities for student to reflect on feedback and marks

6. Stimulate intellectual curiosity by relating course content to the real world

Relating course content to the real world including diversity and the consideration of inclusive approaches to ethnicity stimulates intellectual curiosity.

Resource: Liberating the curriculum

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: enable students to gain an understanding of how different factors e.g. social, economic, ethnicity influence outcomes and perspectives; develop students’ critical thinking and awareness of different perspectives on issues relating to diversity in ethnicity, culture and nationality

7. Encourage questions and discussion

Learners’ personal experience and views enable the teacher to evaluate development and progress and identify students in difficulty.. Show yourself to be willing to help students in difficulty; make yourself accessible to students outside of class.

Resource: Active Learning Toolkit. Discussion is part of the facilitation of Active Learning.

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Encourage discussion from students with diverse backgrounds and include topics where personal experience and views are expressed

8. Clarify course objectives and requirements

If students have the opportunity to gain insight into module/programme purposes and policies – and understand their responsibilities in the course - they have a better chance of doing well.

Resource: Core programme information for student handbooks.

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check aim: ‘Improve the experience, skills and attainment of all students’ by clarifying expectations

9. Use open-ended questions in your teaching

Open ended questions require students to manipulate information to create and support a response. In contrast, closed questions  call for verbatim recall or recognition of factual information.

Open-ended questions framed to explore different perspectives are stimulating so have a positive impact on learning.

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Create opportunities to discuss different perspectives within and outside the UK related to ethnic diversity

10. Relate your content to your students

Students are better able to engage with new content if it relates to them; exploring different data will enable more students to enhance their learning through self-reference.

It is particularly important to be aware of all student groups when providing opportunities for learners to benefit from the self-reference effect.

See the Liberating the Curriculum web pages.

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Encourage discussion from students with diverse backgrounds and include topics where personal experience and views are expressed

11. Introduce small group learning

Groups of two to 10 students work together toward a common goal. Group work increases opportunities for discussion and exploration as well as learning from peers.

Diverse groups lead to enriched learning opportunities because a range of possible approaches to reaching common goals will emerge.

Resource: Managing effective group work – Arena event. Check the events calendar for the next available session.

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Ensure that allocation of students to small group work enables the creation of ethnically diverse groups from different educational backgrounds

12. Provide academic skills training

Help students to develop the skills and knowledge deemed necessary for students to successfully perform at university.

These interventions can be extracurricular or integrated into module/programme learning.

Variety in assessment tasks enables students to develop skills and knowledge, play to their strengths, and counteract any weaker areas. Adequate preparation for diverse assessment tasks both develops skills and improves performance.

Resource: See tips and case studies on ‘outward facing assessment’ on Dimension five of the Connected Curriculum.  

Inclusive Curriculum Health Check: Offer formative assessments before all summative assessments ensuring that all students have the chance to practise new forms of assessments

13. Show concern, respect and friendliness towards students

Friendliness towards all students and taking students seriously is effective.

An approachable teacher who is concerned that all students should do well creates a positive learning environment for all.

Resource: BAME Awarding Gap: new staff toolkit .

Respect for students is also conveyed by involving students in the formative and summative annual review of your Programme, looking at content and attainment from an ethnic diversity perspective. Resource: Evaluating Your Teaching Toolkit.


* Schneider, M., & Preckel, F. (2017). Variables associated with achievement in higher education: A systematic review of meta-analyses.  Psychological Bulletin 1, 143(6), 565-600