Equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) lie at the heart of the work of successful further education (FE) organisations. The actions taken to ensure that learners are welcomed, included and enabled to thrive are key to helping them to achieve their potential. Black History Month, taking place in October, is a positive time to focus on efforts to support EDI and explore the effective practices already happening throughout the sector.
Jeff Greenidge is the Director for Diversity at the Education and Training Foundation and Association of Colleges. He feels that “the challenge is how we make the most of diversity, and what actions we are taking to increase the diversity of thought around the table”.
Acknowledging and celebrating the diversity that already exists in your setting can lead to some pertinent questions. Greenidge suggests that these might include: What actions are we taking to include everyone? How do we help everyone to achieve their full potential? How can we create an environment in which our communities, learners and staff all flourish? How do we do what we have not done before?
“We have to start with the end in mind,” Greenidge explains. “There needs to be a mindset shift across organisations, with people taking the opportunity to have difficult conversations, and in some cases being comfortable with learner-led approaches. We can achieve this in several different ways. We are seeing changes taking place through coaching and bottom-up approaches from practitioners.”
The starting point of such a change must be an understanding of the story the data is telling us. While we might start this process by exploring data, we need to maintain that and interrogate it to ensure that we are progressing. “How do we know if we are making progress if we don’t set baseline data?” Greenidge asks.
Greenidge believes progress is being made. “Awarding organisations are raising their heads above the parapet, and running sessions on inclusion,” he points out. “The City and Guilds and NCFE have run a series of podcasts, highlighting issues and sharing examples of practice. At a sector level, principals and CEOs are exploring how individually and collectively they can take a lead on inclusion and diversity. That mindset shift can be slow, but it is then based on depth of knowledge, understanding intellectual and emotional commitment.” The ETF has updated its Advanced EDI course too, featuring updated material around race and other protected characteristics.
Sara Khan is vice-president for liberation and equality at the National Union of Students, and urges organisations to look beyond EDI. “We need to recognise that the purpose of decolonisation is to do what the sector’s framing around equality, diversity and inclusion cannot do, and to understand why ‘EDI’ continues to fail us,” she says. “Decolonisation is to grasp at the root of a racist system – a system that is built into the very design of our institutions, our society and our culture. Only structural change will address structural problems.
“The whole education sector must work collectively towards a vision of a truly liberated education system; one where decolonisation is embedded in the framework of further education, creating a space in which all students, regardless of their background, can access and thrive,” she adds. “This approach can take many forms, starting with contributing funds, allocating resources and support for organisations and creating spaces built for and by black students.”
There’s no doubt that this is a topic that is generating more attention in the FE sector. The following case studies, as varied in approach as the settings themselves, offer insights and expertise on how equality, diversity and inclusion can sit front and centre of all we do in FE.
Elizabeth Holmes is a freelance journalist specialising in the education sector
My work feeds into executive and non-executive aspects of the group. I develop both strategy and people. Another aspect of this work is curriculum and learner-focused. Part of my role is to ensure that people are upskilled and trained where needed. We need people who are literate in this field. Our English department were already doing a lot of work on decolonising the curriculum when I arrived here. This work needs to be a golden thread running through everything – an embedded approach. To tell people they must do something extra will never happen, but to do it differently will happen. Inspiring a culture shift and a radically different approach means the message must be non-diluted at the top, because it will become diluted as it filters through an organisation. Everybody is at a different point on this journey and they need support. Some are more literate in this than others. I have a variety of approaches to achieve the same aim. Our approach here is to work with the workforce to better equip them to work with our diverse learners. We want to have an evidential, data-driven approach to improve fairness. We want to know who comes through our doors, and what they achieve with us. How do we treat them? How long do they stay, and do we develop their potential while they are with us? We believe in being accountable. We publish data and have recently signed up to the Race at Work Charter. We will act on our data so that we are always moving in the right direction.
At Fircroft, we have made race equity one of our strategic objectives, and as governors we acknowledge some of the systemic issues across the sector. We are focusing on CPD, leadership pathways, recruitment practices and making college an inclusive place for learners and colleagues.
We must create the right culture and ethos and we must model the values as leaders. We are a diverse governing body and we like to be proactive and forward-thinking; for example, social justice and environmental sustainability are also key objectives. We ensure that we are inclusive in a wider sense. Recently we became a ‘college of sanctuary’, which is one that has been recognised for its work to welcome and integrate refugees and asylum seekers.
Fircroft is a residential college, so we can provide an immersive experience. We offer second-chance learning opportunities to adults. We also do outreach work in the community around ex-offenders, refugees, women returners, and homeless people in partnership with the HE (higher education) institutions that accept our learners onto access courses.
Our ethos is very much on learning for personal enrichment and improving our learners’ life chances. But we also focus on employability and pathways to higher education. As governors, we monitor key performance indicators, and hold the leadership accountable for strategic intent. We look at participations, attainment, progression and destinations.
We are aligned to the West Midlands strategy of achieving inclusive growth, which ensures access to the labour market for all. The best way to lift people out of poverty is through good work.
Our dynamic principal, Mel Lenehan, is invited to speak at national conferences, and race equity is embedded across the curriculum. This means we are leading the way in our social justice and sustainability work.
I have worked in the Chinese system of education and in the UK. I was a secondary teacher in Shanghai in charge of foreign exchanges in our school. We worked well with partner schools in the UK.
After I spent a year teaching in Essex, I was employed by the local authority as an advisor/manager to promote links with China and facilitate school development. We linked 300 schools between the two countries and helped them to build mutually beneficial relationships. We built these links to create CPD opportunities for teachers, and joint curriculum projects for learners. These exchanges encouraged teachers to learn and take that back into the classroom to support their teaching.
For us leaders in colleges and around the world, it is important to think about your vision. Can you see, hear and feel that excitement and joy when a group of diverse people work together? You must tell good stories – talk about the positive things people have done about equality, diversity and inclusion.
This is what helps to create positive experiences.
Excellence First helps to challenge and change mindsets. We foster a passion for learning from each other. We help UK teachers to see the system and structure in Chinese schools so that they get a complete picture of what happens. We explore the strengths and areas for improvement in both systems. Teachers gain confidence and pride. This is what can be done when learning with others.
I work with a spectrum of amazing people from different backgrounds. The most powerful EDI strategy I have adopted in my work is to take a learner-led approach. I ask my learners what it is that they want to learn. They then become the centre of what I do.
It is so important for young people to work with diverse communities, and we do that at a global and local level at West Suffolk College. Thanks to the support of the college’s PLACE21 scheme, my students and I have been able to add black history to the curriculum all year round. The funding has enabled me to appoint EDI digital inclusion ambassadors at the college.
Additionally, we recently celebrated the Windrush veterans, and hosted a series of talks from community individuals who had amazing stories to share. We invited learners and members of the public from other settings to the college to listen to them. Through these events, many people were given an understanding of a history they had never heard before. If you do not see EDI from other people’s perceptions, you will not understand what other people are experiencing.
My advice is to work with community groups and bring the valuable lessons they have to offer into your setting. They can then help shape EDI activities all year round.
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