Diversity and sustainability at centre stage of ‘month of learning’

By Jenny Jarvis, Deputy CEO, Education and Training Foundation

In the lead up to November’s ‘month of learning’, I wrote about how the FE sector is ‘stronger together’. One critical way to achieving this is through an inclusive culture which enables a diverse range of voices to share their experiences and knowledge.

In fact, there are very few, if any, sectors more important to the diversity and inclusion agenda than education. This theme was very much at the forefront during the month of learning, which culminated in a series of pledges from sector leaders representing the ETF, the AoC and WorldSkills UK.

In his pledge, the ETF’s CEO David Russell described how “inequality still persists in our society” and that “education has the transformative power to bring sustainable change”. David highlighted the ETF’s determination to “promote a self-improving system to support leaders in creating inclusive organisations”, and our work to help realise this goal.

The theme of ‘stronger together’ was also in play at the AoC conference, where the ETF’s Director of Diversity, Jeff Greenidge,T chaired a panel discussing ‘EDI and safeguarding: what binds us together’. Attendees heard how promoting a culture of inclusion, equity, and inclusion helps with identifying the broad range of SEND and the different opportunities, challenges and risks they may raise in relation to safeguarding.

Similarly, at our own Society for Education and Training (SET) conference, a range of speakers spoke out on the importance of diversity and inclusion. Former rugby referee Nigel Owens, patron of the Bullies Out charity, set the tone by discussing his past challenges relating to his identity and mental health.

On a more practical level, Ellisha Soanes, consultant and EDI coordinator at West Suffolk College, and Kam Nandradirector at Nandra Consultancy, discussed how they used quality improvement frameworks and learner-led approaches to improve the experiences of BAME learners and their colleges’ curriculum.

Sustainability

The month of learning also coincided with many of the world’s leaders descending on Glasgow for COP 26, to agree on measures to help keep global warming in check.

The ETF’s Head of Education for Sustainable Development, Charlotte Bonner, spoke during AoC conference on how our sector can play its part.  Attendees heard from Brighton, Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College about a pilot taking place across Sussex, aimed at entrenching carbon literacy into existing qualifications.

While at WorldSkills UK, Charlotte and speakers from three different educational providers discussed approaches to embedding environmentalism into teaching, as well as how they can inspire and enable learners to become part of positive change.

With both ED&I and sustainability, it’s clear our sector has a critical role to play in ensuring these themes run across all streams of activity and factor into any decision-making process.

Leadership

Another topic I am very passionate about is leadership. Ultimately, those at the top of an organisation help set the tone for its culture and values, and likewise, the root cause of any failure is often leadership. Fortunately, in the FE sector, we have a large pool of dedicated and capable leaders, helping to drive positive change.

What the ETF seeks to do is to help empower leaders to build capacity, share best practice, and develop the leaders of tomorrow. David Russell highlighted some of these existing initiatives within his pledge, notably our transformational programmes aimed at governors, leaders, and middle managers.

Another exciting opportunity is the creation of an ETF ‘FE leadership institute’, which is being led by my colleague Anju Virdee. Anju spoke at the AoC Conference about our determination to create an institute ‘for the sector, by the sector’. Ultimately, its aim is to support a self-improving system through establishing a portal to access thought leadership, engage in collaborative projects and connect with peers in one place. The packed workshop enabled attendees to actively contribute to its development, and we look forward to continuing these discussions in the coming period.

Other takeouts

It was also very pleasing to see the positive feedback from delegates attending our own SET conference. There were almost 500 attendees, with 91 per cent indicating they were ‘very satisfied’ with the conference. Throughout the day, over 130 questions were asked in the live Q&A sessions, covering challenges, hot topics and activities affecting those working in the sector.

The 16 practical breakout sessions covered a broad range of topics, highlighting the depth of the ETF’s offer to the sector. These included English, maths, leadership, mentoring, offender learning, technical teaching, EdTech, assessment, research, mental health, and professional development.

“I was thrilled with how the day went and how engaged our delegates were with the sessions,” said Martin Reid, the ETF’s Director of Professionalism and Customer Experience. “We also had the highest engagement rates across social media for a SET conference, which really highlighted the insightful and inspiring quotes, topics and information that were shared and how much resonated with SET members.”

All in all, a very pleasing month of activities, which we hope provided value to attendees in the form of CPD and networking, and helped enable the sector to hold important discussions around how we can drive improvement.

We look forward to our continued collaboration with AoC and WorldSkills UK, and to taking next year’s month of learning to the next level.

Resources

Other resources on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion