Student pregnancy, maternity and paternity - Supporting guidance and procedure

This document provides the guidance and procedures to support the Student Pregnancy, Maternity and Paternity Policy. For a summary of this guidance, see Student Pregnancy, Maternity and Paternity FAQs for Staff and students.

1. Legal context

1.1. Section 17 of the Equality Act expands the protection from discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity, which already exists for women in the workplace and vocational training, to women outside the workplace. In doing so, the Act specifically mentions the higher education sector. Under the Act, discrimination can occur against a student because of her pregnancy or because she has given birth if;

  • the student is treated unfavourably because of her pregnancy
  • within 26 weeks of the day of giving birth the student is treated unfavourably because she has given birth; this also applies in cases of miscarriage, still birth and neonatal death provided more than 24 weeks of the pregnancy has elapsed
  • the student is treated unfavourably because she is breastfeeding and the child is less than 26 weeks old; if the child is more than 26 weeks old, unfavourable treatment because of breastfeeding is likely to constitute sex discrimination

1.2. The protection afforded due to pregnancy and maternity is narrower than other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Consequently, there is no protection afforded for discrimination that occurs by being associated with someone who is pregnant or in a period of maternity or being perceived to be pregnant or in a period of maternity. However, if a woman’s partner is treated unfavourably because of her pregnancy or because she has given birth, this may constitute sex discrimination.

2. Roles and responsibilities

2.1. Responsibility for taking decisions on adjustments will sit with the wellbeing practitioner from the the wellbeing service in collaboration with the programme team.

2.2. Responsibility for conducting a risk assessment will sit jointly with the wellbeing practitioners from the The Wellbeing Service and the programme team.

2.3. Their decisions will be communicated, through a Maternity Support Plan, to the faculty for implementation.

3. Finding out about a student's pregnancy

3.1. When a student informs the University that she is pregnant, it is important that she receives consistent, unbiased support and advice to enable her to make informed choices.

3.2. If a student does not inform the University of her pregnancy, the University will be unable to make reasonable adjustments or provide individualised support until the student does so. Existing law does NOT prevent Universities from directly approaching students who they believe to be pregnant. However, this should only occur when there is confidence that the student is pregnant and there are genuine concerns about her health and safety.

4. Who should a student inform about her pregnancy?

4.1. The wellbeing practitioner provides a specialist service, available to any student, who is pregnant, has experienced a miscarriage, termination of pregnancy, stillbirth or neonatal death, has become a parent within the last 6 months or is breastfeeding.

4.2. Students who meet the criteria outlined above are encouraged to inform the wellbeing practitioner at the earliest opportunity so that appropriate adjustments and support can be put in place.

4.3. Students informing a member of university staff should be referred to the wellbeing practitioner as soon as possible.

4.4. The student will be offered an appointment with the wellbeing practitioner to discuss their options and the support available.

5. Establishing a student's pregnancy

5.1. If a student discloses her pregnancy, the University does not need to ask for proof. GPs seldom conduct pregnancy tests if a woman has already used a home pregnancy-testing kit; she will simply be referred to a community midwife for a booking appointment at eight to ten weeks and will be offered a dating (of pregnancy) scan at 12 to 14 weeks. At 20 weeks a student may be given a maternity certificate (MATB1) but the purpose of the certificate is to enable her to claim statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance if she is employed or has recently been employed. If this is obtained the wellbeing practitioner will require a copy of this. If this is unobtainable a copy of the first page of the NHS pregnancy booklet. This is to confirm the expected delivery date.

5.2. However, if the University needs to take into consideration the impact of the student’s pregnancy or maternity on her course attendance or attainment, it is allowable to ask for evidence of appointments and letters from the student’s GP, midwife or health worker.

6. Student who is proceeding with a pregnancy

6.1.Students will be supported by the wellbeing practitioner/or their programme, to evaluate the potential impact of pregnancy and being a parent on them and their academic programme and to devise strategies to minimise any negative impact and accentuate any positive impact.

7. Maternity support plan

7.1. A Maternity Support Plan will be drawn up, with the student, detailing any special arrangements required during the student’s pregnancy, to support the continuation of their studies and minimise risk. A copy of the support plan will be available for members of staff on the student recording system. A copy can be provided to the student if required. Information will only be shared in this way with the student’s prior consent. Regular reviews between the student and the wellbeing practitioner will be arranged to assess the effectiveness of their support and whether further adjustments need to be made. The support plan will take account of the following issues.

7.2. Communication about the student’s pregnancy – Who will be responsible for informing members of staff and when? The student will be encouraged to take responsibility for informing appropriate members of staff of their support plan implementation.

7.3. Communication with the student during pregnancy – Details of the information and communication that the student should receive. Details of her preferred method of communication, and who should she contact if she has any concerns or her circumstances change.

7.4. Health and Safety

The wellbeing practitioner and the programme team will work with the student to conduct a University Health and Safety risk assessment which is reviewed throughout the duration of the student’s pregnancy. Special consideration should be given to assessing any risks surrounding field trips or placements.

Where the student has placements as part of her programme, the pregnancy should be risk assessed, by the placement, in conjunction with the programme, placement officer and the wellbeing practitioner, as appropriate. Appropriate plans should be made to ensure that health is safeguarded and academic progress appropriately managed. If the risk presented means that the student cannot undertake the placement, while pregnant, arrangements should be made to give the student the opportunity of completing at a later date.

7.5. Reasonable Adjustments to Academic Requirements

The Wellbeing Practitioner will work with the student to liaise with the programme team to identify reasonable adjustments that can be made to academic requirements or university processes. These adjustments may be agreed in 3-way meetings between the student, the Wellbeing Practitioner and the programme. The purpose of these adjustments will be to ensure the student has the same opportunity to progress academically and is not unfairly disadvantaged by the fact that she is pregnant or has recently given birth. Examples of adjustments may be - allowance to miss lectures to attend medical appointments; extension of submission deadlines; alternative methods or dates of assessment.

7.6. Assessments and examinations

If a student is due to give birth near to or during assessment deadlines or the examination period and wishes to complete her assessed work or sit her examinations, she should not be prevented from doing so.

In examinations, pregnant students may require rest breaks and may need to visit the toilet more frequently than those who are not pregnant. They may also require a more comfortable and supportive chair. Consequently, the student may need to sit the examination in a location separate from other students.

If a student is concerned about sitting examinations or meeting assessed work deadlines, or if she has a pregnancy-related health condition that is exacerbated by stress, she should be advised to seek advice from her midwife or doctor. If the student’s midwife or doctor advises against her sitting an examination or trying to meet the assessed work deadline, an alternative method of assessment should be explored.

If a student is unable to undertake an alternative method of assessment, or if she experiences significant pregnancy-related problems in the course of an examination or when undertaking assessed work, the University will make arrangements for her to resit the examination at the earliest possible opportunity or agree an extension for resubmitting coursework through the EEC procedure. In these circumstances resits of examinations should be considered as the student’s first attempt.

7.7. Maternity-related absence

Students’ entitlements to maternity leave and pay are outlined below. However, very few students are entitled to such leave and pay as these are entitlements that only exist under employment law. For this reason, this guidance refers primarily to maternity-related absence.

Arrangements for maternity-related absence apply equally to live births and still births after 24 weeks.

7.8. Notification of maternity-related absence

The student should inform The wellbeing practitioner and her programme leader of the date on which she intends to start maternity-related absence, the length of maternity-related absence that she intends to take and the date on which she intends to return. This information should be documented in the student’s assessment document.

It is recommended that the student provides this information at least 15 weeks before the baby is due. This will allow sufficient time to liaise with the student, review the student’s Maternity Support Plan, make any necessary arrangements and ensure information is communicated as required.

7.9. Length of maternity-related absence

All students should be allowed to take maternity-related absence following the birth of their child. How long a student will take will be determined by her personal circumstances and the structure and content of her course. The University will not automatically require students to interrupt for a year, but will work with the student to establish a suitable return-to-study date.

Where programme structure or content indicates the need for a student to return to study sooner than she would like to, the reason given will need to be justified to the student.

While the length of maternity-related absence students prefer to take will vary, it is recommended that, at a minimum, students are required to take two weeks’ compulsory maternity-related absence, or four weeks if they are on placement in a factory.

NHS Student Bursaries recommend a minimum of 12 weeks’ maternity absence, but allows students to return earlier if they have approval from their GP or health worker.

If the wellbeing practitioner is concerned about a student’s health, in relation to her proposed return date or her course requirements, the student will be asked for their GP’s or health worker’s confirmation of their fitness to return to study.

At a minimum, students should be allowed to take one year out of study. Where there is concern about her knowledge being affected by the length of absence, the student’s programme should take steps to ensure she is kept up to speed with developments in the subject, through the provision of lists of key reading and new research, access
to Blackboard and the library and meetings with her personal tutor.

In exceptional circumstances, students may need to extend the length of maternity leave that they take beyond the standard time allowed, for example in cases of postnatal depression, serious illness or loss of a baby, or where there is no available childcare.

Wherever possible the University will take steps to enable students to complete the requirements of their modules before they take maternity related absence. In some cases, the student may want to sit examinations or submit alternative forms of assessment during her maternity-related absence. Where a student is unable to complete modules before taking maternity-related absence, if possible she should be allowed to complete the modules on her return.

7.10. Starting maternity-related absence

Students should be allowed to decide when they start their maternityrelated absence in agreement with The wellbeing practitioner and their Programme Leader. If students wish to, they should not be prevented from studying up to their due date, or from starting their maternity-related absence a full term or semester before their due date, where practicable.

Where a student is close to her due date and unable to study as planned, the University may, in consultation with the student, start her maternity-related absence earlier than planned or, if appropriate, explore alternative methods through which she can meet the course requirements.

The maternity related absence will be recorded following the Authorised Break from Study Procedure.

7.11. Returning from maternity-related absence

The date when a student intends to return from maternity-related absence should be discussed and agreed with the student prior to commencing the period of absence (see above). However, this date may change during the course of the absence, and students should be encouraged to notify their Programme Leader or the wellbeing practitioner, as soon as possible, of any change in their expected return date.

The wellbeing practitioner will review the student’s Maternity Support Plan and agree a new return date with the student.The records and fees department will need be notified about this.

Before a student returns from a period of maternity-related absence, consideration should be given to her requirements on return. The wellbeing practitioner will work collaboratively with the programme team and the student to help them to prepare academically, practically, psychologically and emotionally to return to university.

The student’s study options and the continued support provided will be discussed with the student in developing her Maternity Support Plan and will be confirmed with the student prior to her return; examples include the following.

Varying the mode of study – students should be made aware of any options that exist to resume their course on a part-time or distance learning basis. If a student requests to study part-time rather than fulltime, the request should not be declined unless it can be justified and the justification should be provided in writing.

Formal return to study meetings should be organised with key staff, for example the personal tutor, programme leader, the wellbeing practitioner.

The student’s key contact if they encounter any difficulties should be made clear.

7.12. Practical planning

The Wellbeing Practitioner can provide the student with information and support regarding the decision making processes for childcare, finances and equipment.

The student will be supported to undertake practical planning for becoming a parent including making appropriate child care arrangements and identifying and purchasing necessary equipment if required.

7.13. Accommodation

The student will be supported to consider the appropriateness of her current accommodation and to review the accommodation options available, for the duration of her pregnancy and once her child is born. If the student is in halls of residence and wishes to move out, support will be provided to arrange a release from her halls contract. If the student is in private student accommodation and wishes to move to more appropriate accommodation, support will be provided to help her liaise with the Private Housing Office and her landlord.

The University should consider the provision of family accommodation when contracting accommodation providers or when developing new or redeveloping existing halls of residence.

7.14. Financial considerations

Students will be supported to identify the financial implications of the decisions they make relating to their pregnancy and academic study.

Assistance will also be provided to help them identify and apply for additional sources of financial support.

7.15. Maternity leave and maternity pay

If a student is employed or has recently left employment, she may be entitled to statutory maternity pay, additional maternity pay or a maternity allowance.

Students who receive a stipend, NHS bursary or research council funding may be entitled to maternity leave and maternity pay from their
sponsor.

7.16. NHS Bursary Scheme Maternity Award

Students enrolled on NHS pre-registration courses, who are in receipt of the maintenance grant element of the NHS Bursary, will need to liaise with NHS bursaries with regard to continuing payment.

8. International students

8.1. Most international students at the university are on a Tier 4 student visa, however, there are other types of visa that allow study e.g. dependent visa, and a student should check their own visa restrictions. They can get help and support in the International Student Centre who have a visa advisor or contact the UKVI directly for further guidance.

8.2. If a student on a Tier 4 visa becomes pregnant during their studies, she will probably require a longer stay in the UK. However, at present, students who require a visa to study in the UK cannot extend their visa for reasons relating to pregnancy or maternity. This visa allows for only a short period of stay in the UK in addition to the time spent on a programme.

8.3.Part of the Tier 4 responsibilities are that a student has regular attendance and engagement therefore, these students must ensure that they keep in contact with the university whist on maternity related absences. Any reasonable adjustments detailed in their support plan should ensure the student remains active on our university records and can complete within the visa length where possible. Any adjustment should be approved by their programme.

8.4. If a significant period of time has been missed which has resulted in a Tier 4 student being unable to actively study, advice should be sought from the International Student Centre. It may be necessary for the University to withdraw their sponsorship, which may result in the student having to return home to reapply for a visa for the UK.

9. Student wants or is considering a termination of pregnancy

9.1. If the student is considering a termination she will be supported to evaluate the options available to her. The student will be offered psychological support to help with this process.

9.2. If the student has decided to have a termination she will be supported to arrange this. Students may need time off from study for tests before and to recover after, a termination. While this time should be treated in line with the sickness absence policy, consideration should be given to the impact of a termination on a student’s ability to meet deadlines and sit examinations and extensions should be considered following the EEC procedure.

9.3. Where appropriate the student will also be offered advice and information about contraception and further psychological support.

10. Student experiences a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death

10.1. Students who experience a miscarriage, stillbirth or Neonatal Death will be offered psychological support and details of external support services available.

10.2. The wellbeing practitioner will work with the student to reach appropriate decisions as and when the student is ready to return to study and will liaise with the student’s programme to arrange authorised time off and apply for extensions to assessments following the EEC procedure where required.

10.3. The student will be supported to return to study if and when they are ready to do so.

11. Students who are adopting a child

11.1. Students about to become parents through adoption should inform their Programme Leader and/or the wellbeing practitioner of their circumstances as soon as possible. Students who are adopting a child will be offered the same level of support as those who have become parents by virtue of their or their partner’s pregnancy.

11.2. If a student is in receipt of an NHS bursary they will be allowed a period of paid adoption leave. If their course is sponsored or they receive a stipend they will need to liaise with the provider. Students should be advised to familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions of their award.

12. Paternity

Any students who are partners of new mothers are entitled to take paternity-related absence.

12.1. Time off for antenatal appointments, in cases of pregnancy-related illness and birth

A student has the right to attend their partner’s antenatal appointments, or may need to take time off if their partner has complications with her pregnancy or a serious pregnancy-related illness.

12.2. Notification of paternity-related absence

If a student wants to take paternity-related absence they should be advised to contact their programme leader or the wellbeing practitioner at least 15 weeks before the baby is due, but a degree of flexibility may be required. Early notification should be encouraged as partners may need to attend antenatal appointments.

A meeting will be arranged with the student to explore what support and reasonable adjustments are possible without jeopardising their academic progress.

12.3. Length of paternity-related absence

The University will allow students paternity-related absence of a maximum of two consecutive weeks within 56 days of the child being born. If a student requires a break from study longer than two weeks they should apply for an Authorised Break from Study.

12.4. Support during, and on return from, paternity-related absence

Programme teams will ensure that students on paternity-related absence are provided with materials from seminars and lectures missed.

12.5. Assessments and placements

If a student is unable to sit an examination or submit coursework on time because of their partner’s pregnancy or labour, they should be allowed to re-sit the examination at the earliest possible opportunity or should be given an extension following the EEC procedure. Such arrangements may also be appropriate if the student’s partner has a serious pregnancy-related illness.

In other compulsory elements of programmes, such as field trips or work placements, the programme team should consider the feasibility of students undertaking them at an alternative time. Where this is not possible, justification should be provided in writing.

12.6. Paternity pay

If a student is working and is considered by the UK government to be in employment, they may be entitled to paternity leave pay from their employer. If a student is in receipt of an NHS bursary they will be allowed a period of paid paternity leave. If their course is sponsored or they receive a stipend they will need to liaise with the provider. Students should be advised to familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions of their award.

13. Breastfeeding and resting facilities

13.1. The wellbeing practitioner will accommodate any request for a private room for breastfeeding or expressing milk and a fridge in which to store labelled, expressed milk.

13.2. Rest facilities will also be made available to pregnant students, who may experience fatigue during pregnancy.

14. Breastfeeding in public places

14.1. Some students may want to breastfeed in public places, particularly if these are areas within or close to buildings and services they use frequently. The Equality Act 2010 gives explicit protection to women who breastfeed in public places. It is also unlawful to ask students not to breastfeed in public places under the SDO (1976), though protection is not explicit. However, tensions could arise if other students feel uncomfortable, for example for religious reasons, when women breastfeed in public. Where this occurs, the needs of breastfeeding women should take precedence.