7. How should a School/Faculty determine an appropriate degree of flexibility?

It is not possible to provide a definitive list of special arrangements that might be considered reasonable in every possible situation because the decisions about which arrangements are appropriate in each particular case will vary according to a wide range of factors. These factors include the student’s individual circumstances, the time of year, the structure and content of the particular programme of study, restrictions imposed by professional bodies and any related health and safety matters.

Staff members are advised to take into account the following when considering what might be appropriate in a given case:

  • A student’s own views on their options are very important and it is vital that staff consult the student openly on the way forward, rather than seeking to implement a predetermined set of adjustments.
  • At the same time, it is important to note that Schools/Faculties do not have to agree to any or all requests made by the student. There may be some situations in which it is impossible or unreasonable for a School/Faculty to agree to a particular request.
  • To ensure best practice, and avoid any inadvertent discrimination, a School/Faculty should not normally decline a request from a pregnant student for particular special arrangements solely on grounds that they are too costly to implement (although this may be one factor taken into account when deciding on the overall reasonableness of meeting the request).
  • If a School/Faculty decides to decline a flexibility request from a pregnant student, it is considered good practice for the School/Faculty to document its reasons for refusing the request and discuss with the student why this particular request is not considered “reasonable” in the particular circumstances.
  • In cases where deferring their studies would lead to a student taking longer to complete a degree programme than would normally be permissible, the School/Faculty may decline a request for further time out from studies (in order to ensure that the information gained in previous parts of the programme remains current enough to count towards the qualification in question). However, in these circumstances the School/Faculty should still strive to demonstrate a flexible approach, where practicable, in relation to this deadline for programme completion, whilst ensuring that the student does not exceed the overall time limit allowed for their programme of study by the University or a relevant professional body.
  • In some cases, it might be appropriate for a School/Faculty to show flexibility in relation to which modules count towards a particular qualification to accommodate a pregnant student, providing academic standards are upheld. In such circumstances normal procedures would need to be followed in terms of gaining approval for such changes e.g. via the School/Faculty or University Special Cases/Special Circumstances/Mitigating Circumstances Committee (local names vary). In some situations, however, such flexibility could lead to a student missing a piece of work or module which is required for professional or vocational accreditation. Care should, therefore, be taken to check that any missed work will not adversely affect the accreditation of the student or, at the very least, the student should be made aware of the potential impact in terms of her future employability.

Staff members are also welcome to seek bespoke advice on what might constitute appropriate flexibility in a particular case from the Equality & Inclusion Unit (see Section 9).

Occasionally, a situation may arise in which a School/Faculty is already making allowances for an individual student for reasons not related to pregnancy (for example, for reasons linked to disability or religion). This does not mean that it is unreasonable for the student to benefit from separate/additional flexibility relating to their pregnancy. It is important that, in these situations, the School/Faculty strives to separate out these different issues and clarify with the student what flexibility relates to which reasons[1] . This approach will help Schools/Faculties to ensure that the flexibility remains in place only for as long as it is required and also that they are complying with the Equality Act 2010.

[1] If, for example, a pregnant student is already receiving reasonable adjustments relating to disability, the School/Faculty should ask itself what flexibility it would permit for a non-disabled student who is pregnant and ensure that the same flexibility is permitted to the pregnant student. Otherwise, the School/Faculty would be in danger of treating the disabled student less favourably than a non-disabled student would be treated in the same situation. The same approach should also be taken by Examinations Boards or those dealing with academic appeals in cases like these.