Podcast: Jeff Greenidge and Dr Judith Poole MBE — Creating an inclusive language among learners and staff

In the latest episode from The Education and Training Foundation Podcast, Jeff Greenidge, the ETF’s Director of Diversity, speaks to Dr Judith Poole MBE, former Head of Student Support and Wellbeing at Blackpool and The Fylde College. Judith explains why fairness is so important to her and how this ethos inspired her to develop an inclusive language guide for staff.

Read the full transcript 

Jeff: Judith, it's so good to talk with you again and to get to your insights today. I just love that really incredible professional experience that you brought to the table. You’ve been supporting students and staff, enabling them to grow and succeed over a number of years. And I think it's good that we share some of your insights today. So, Judith, can you please give us a brief overview of your present role at Blackpool and The Fylde college and your role in leading on inclusion, inclusive practices and all things, EDI

Judith: My current role at Blackpool and The Fylde College is, as I said, Head of Student Support and Wellbeing, and that covers a whole multitude of leadership; a large team looking after students supporting disabilities and learning difficulties. Safeguarding students, and it subsumes the Head of Student and Support Wellbeing also, is Inclusion Lead for the college. And that's currently the position. And I shall be, as you said, actually Jeff, a lovely term for it, rewiring shortly, and leaving the college and I've been very, very successful in that the college has allowed a really long handover period. I'm happy to say that there's a fantastic… my successor is Andrea Neal, she's going to be fantastic. And she has a different title to mine… her title, I’m really pleased, will be Head of Student Support and Wellbeing and inclusion. And I think that's a really great acknowledgement of how important this is.

Jeff: Absolutely correct there, it’s a hugely improved important aspect, inclusion. Why is inclusion so important to you as a person?

Judith: It's important to me as a person, I know this to be a fact, it's not just something I'm saying. I've had several different jobs and roles in my life, one of the first ones was working in magistrates’ courts, and it gave me a very great insight into aspects of fairness. And fairness has been a major, major thing in my life to the annoyance of some people, because they say to me, “why do you always have to be so fair?£ You know, and I'm really I'm understanding of people. I think also, it's important to me, because like everybody, I've had lots of challenges in my life. And my particular challenges have meant taking responsibility for other people, and fighting for them and their rights and their needs. And I actually have three degrees, sounds like a group, but I have three degrees. And all of them were taken after I'd had children and after I was in the circumstances I'm describing, as a lone parent, and all kinds of things and people say to me, how did you do all that, despite all those challenges, and all those responsibilities? And my immediate response is always I've done all those things because of those challenges and those responsibilities, and the care I have for those people. And I hope I've carried the experience from that forward to my work life as well; my attitude to inclusion.

Jeff: Thank you that that fairness and equity and that being and fighting for others, that being an ally, is so important when it comes to creating an inclusive environment within organisations. And so is leadership and so is leadership buying. How do you think the employment of Andrea as your replacement change things within the college?

Judith: Well, Andrea obviously will bring along her own experience to help support that things were already in place, but they can always be embedded further and taken further. I think it's a really big acknowledgement by the senior management to introduce the title into the job role, but I also think it's a very big acknowledgement that they asked me for a very long leading period, a very long notice period, and I did do that, but they also have allowed a very long handover in training period. I've never, I've never come across such a lengthy dual appointment if you like, I'm in place, and the new person’s in place, and we've been able to share experiences and to assist with that handover. So that, yes, you always have to hit the ground running within a new role. But it's, it's made it a lot better. And I honestly think that the success of that the new person in that role will be much greater as a result. And that is directly because of the senior management buy-in to that process.

Jeff: So it's clear that senior leadership supporting you and supporting colleagues in this, how did the ETF helped you in this particular transition phase?

Judith: Well, the transition phase has been incredibly helped, because it's coincided with the AOC and the ETF project that we've been a part, I’m very proud to be a part of. And that project has helped with practical things like training, but it's also helped with creating our vision for the way forward, it's helped in terms of a new equality, diversity and inclusion strategy. It's helped with looking at training that we need, it's also helped – you very kindly shared the draft charter with us – and it's enabled us to use that as part of our commitment going forward. The biggest thing I think I've gained or one of the biggest things also is sharing good practice with the other project members, especially in the creation of an inclusive language guide that I've created based on previous versions that were presented to the group and added a lot of things to it. But it's very much the idea which came from one of those sharing good practice meetings. So very, very proud and very grateful to have been part of the project

Jeff: Can you tell us a bit more about that inclusive language and piece of work?

Judith: Yes, the inclusive language is work is a booklet that exists in a web form and in also hardcopy format, if anybody wanted to print it off. And I think that's very important that gives you, you know, in the, in the current environment to have, preferences available for people. The booklet actually presents and covers inclusive language for all the protective characteristics, and more the wider dimensions of inclusion, that as well as the protected characteristics, I've added inclusive language and preferred language around various sensitive areas, such as suicide prevention, and intervention and post and postvention, which is a very new word for me. But it's a higher education requirement from Universities UK, to look at the language of support for people undergoing needs of those type. And it's very important that colleagues, staff, are aware of the language to use to help people. It's very important to use the language, it's not going to offend people hurt people, abuse people inadvertently; it's so easy to disempower people just by choosing the wrong language. And none of us come to work every day in order to do any of those things. We come here to support and help people and help each other. And to be able to have a booklet, some guidance to help us think first and just ask if we don't know what language to use. It's been seen by the college as a really good way forward. And it's actually being launched this Friday at our mandatory staff development session.

Jeff: Thank you. I love that to think first and just ask concept, being curious and stopping and pausing and listening. They are such underrated attributes when it comes to communication when it comes to creating that environment where people feel included. So thank you for sharing that, Judith. In terms of the EDI strategy for the whole college, what does that look like? How's it been developed over the years?

Judith: It's been developed over the years. It's a new brand new strategy that's now in draft form. And that's one of the things that we'll be taking forward as a partnership between myself and Andrea, part of that handover going forward. And it is aspirational. It includes all the things that we have in place so far – it’s top down and bottom up and as you've said in the past, Jeff has kind of sideways approach as well. So that things are triangulated things aren't just done because we have to do them. They're not done because they need doing from the bottom up. They're there because they're part of the embedded processes but also fully embedded within the systems, so that it's a bit like the 1970s learning model, I don't know, if you if you've ever come across it, Jeff, where you go from unconscious incompetence, ranging through to being unconsciously competent. So that it's that that learning trail if you like, through to fully embedding things; I think it's a very key part of the whole inclusive practice and using the appropriate inclusive language journey, and I've actually mapped out map that out again, so as part of the training I'm delivering, map that out against the unconscious bias, if you like, and how that's within language and how we need to become more aware of our unconscious bias so that we can take action and turn it actually into new culture and embedded into the organisation.

Judith: Thanks, Judith, that's really insightful that that clarity about that move from the unconscious to the to the conscious state. And it's really quite important when we're looking at change management processes around equality, diversity, inclusion, that we go from all our unconscious habits, which are formed through our past history, through our past biases, into that conscious state and create those new habits that make space for our learners, big space for our staff to grow, and to develop. So, thank you for that insight. Somebody else, which I remember you speak to me a lot about was diversity across the board, and not just looking at any one particular characteristic. And recently, I know that you've achieved the status in Lancashire, Lancashire LGBT status, how important has that been for the college and for you? And how does this link to some of the things that you've spoken about mental health and wellbeing and safeguarding?

Judith: Well, it's, it's incredibly important to me personally, and to us as a college. It's something we've been wanting to do for a long, long time. And it was by no means an easy thing to achieve. I must tell you that and we're very, very, very proud anyway. It links very closely to the work that we've been doing over the past few years, on students who disclose to us that they are thinking of gender re-assignation, or working towards that, or having completed that. And we do ask, we do ask, for disclosure, it's not mandatory, but year on year for the past four years, that's increased incredibly, the trend is rising and rising, of people disclosing and we're very, very proud. We also have a wraparound support available for students who disclose and who want that support. And it's things that, you know, you may or may not think of, like making sure that the language, we’re back to language again, but the language that the student wants us to use to them and about them is, as you know, appropriate. It's about having registers right, badges right, and exam names right, the whole thing… and helping them through the external bureaucracy and administration, helping them with everything they can. But the reason it came into being was because of those intersectionalities that are so important to me, and because of my safeguarding role lead, and because of the mental, we call it mental wealth, that's another one of our linguistic things. But because of my role with safeguarding and mental health, it became apparent to me that people who were looking to gender re-assignation were under incredible pressure, often couldn't tell anybody, they were having mental health concerns because it was in direct opposition to the path they were trying to take, and the doctor wouldn't help. I researched and I had first-hand experience, I did spend several evenings at the local A&E trying to help students get through some of the anxieties they were they were facing at the time. And that's why it's been very important to me to go along this journey. So, we have external links with the police, the NHS and local, ‘You are Potential’, they come in and give us sessions and we refer people externally. So that's it in a nutshell, really. But that's just one example really.

Jeff: Thanks. Thanks Judith. What strikes me is that you've moved a lot of unconscious things into that conscious space. And that's absolutely fine. But also, what you've also done, you've changed the narrative. There's lots of talk about the language that's used in the college, so you are changing the narrative around certain things. And you’ve also began to reimagine the systems within the organisation, again, those are structural shifts that take time, but which are the beginning of something quite exciting. When we met, I was really quite impressed by the way that things that you've done, but the way that you've almost kept those achievements under a bush. That's, that's great in modesty terms, but I think now in the further education sector, we need to be sharing some of these ideas, sharing some of these thoughts, sharing our successes and our failures. So, can you just give us some idea of the EDI and inclusive practices that that have been embedded in the college. And just a quick run through of some of the things that you've done and some of the things that you're leaving behind within the college.

Judith: We’ve always had a learning teaching and assessment strategy, that's always been there. When we looked at it again last year to review, we added inclusive learning teaching and assessment strategy. And it wasn't just a word, it was a whole ethos throughout the whole thing. And it had, and still has, absolutes in there that that needed to be complied with. They absolutely needed to be there in order for that learning, teaching and assessment to be inclusive. And from that I created a 10-point one page document – I think it's really important to have things on one page – one real page of 10 absolutes, and that's the basis for reviews when for quality reasons we do learner walks and observations and looking at what's actually going on, there's now a check sheet to see is it going on? And I think that's very important. It forms part of all the reporting systems we have an all that we do, and it will increase more and more going forward. And our data is really coming on now. And data is so important to these things because we need to act, not looking back at last year, how was it? We've always been able to do that, we need to look at how is it now? And what's it going to be like? It's the anticipatory duty if you like, what's it going to be like soon? What are we going to put in for people? You know, when they come, we'll be ready. So that's for me, it is about culture, and as we were saying before, you know, it is that journey from unconscious to conscious and then beyond to unconscious. Again, just doing it because it's natural to us. And it's part of the culture. That's the absolute thing. It's embedding into that culture.

Jeff: And you've struck a chord with me there again, Judith about normalising inclusion, normalising that thought about diversity; lots of lovely thoughts coming through here. Thank you. Thank you for sharing these things. We've spoken a lot about students, we've spoken a bit about staff, how has the college liaised with the community in creating your EDI approaches and actions?

Judith: We've always had very close links with the community. We're part of Blackpool, we're part of Lancashire, we're part of the whole region. We have lots of networks. And because of that intersectionality I was talking about in terms of my own role, you know, the safeguarding, the mental health, we have the NHS, we have the safeguarding boards. And also, I mean, the AOC is another part of that network that we work within and with, but lots of national networks and on the National Association Managers of Students Services, Northwest Additional Learning Support, you name it, we're part of those groups, as well as lots of qualities. And it does entail meetings. And there's lots of meetings. And it used to be conferences, a bit different now, everything's online. But we do take into account the local context. And I think that, yes, we look at the national context. But for all of the things I've mentioned, whether it's safeguarding or inclusion or wellbeing, you’ve got to bear in mind the local context and Blackpool... I was born in Blackpool, and I love Blackpool, and I want it to be top of the list for everything. But unfortunately, it's top of the list for disadvantage, and it breaks my heart. But I always try and bear in mind that when I'm looking at inclusion and looking at the local disadvantage in context.

Jeff: Yes, the college in the local environment is a huge institution really, and has so much to offer, not just the students, not just the staff, but also the community. And we can see the work that you're doing there in Blackpool and The Fylde to be the anchor within the local area. Looking ahead, what would you say, are the next steps in developing and further embedding inclusive practice within the college and across the community?

Judith: I think the next steps are, as we we've mentioned, the further embedding; I don't think there's anything totally new at all, I think we just now need to further embed and to make sure that things do become normalised and become part of the culture. So much so that people don't even know they're doing it. So, my background as well as all the other things I've done, my degrees were in linguistics, which is why there's a heck of an emphasis for me on language because that's the way my mind works. I've talked about things from the 1970s, research from the 1970s. There's other research that goes back as far as the 1920s in linguistics. For me, it's still very, very real. And it surrounds linguistic determinism, sometimes called linguistic relativity. And for me, that's where we're headed. Because if you believe, which I do, that you're the language you use constrains your view of the world, I think it's just important that we get that language, right. And, you know, I'm no, you know, I've not got the answer to everything, everybody's got their own ideas of what's right. But there are things that are very wrong. And, you know, it's great, it's the whole thing first, just ask, but it's also about ensuring that people feel safe to ask what people want to be associated with what words they want using to them and about them. And for me, when that becomes part of the culture without thinking about it, that's when it will be embedded. And for me, that's absolutely core, everything else will follow. Because if your language reflects the culture that is inclusive, then you culture is inclusive.

Jeff: Exactly right. You know, the language exemplifies is an example of the behaviour and your behaviours or attitudes are exemplified within your language. And it's a circular argument, and it's absolutely clear what you're saying there Judith. You've had a great career at Blackpool and The Fylde and no doubt, you'll be curious about how things happen, things go on, once you once you leave. What would be your greatest pleasure when you return to Blackpool, say, in three years’ time, what do you expect to see? What steps what would good look like for inclusion for staff, students and the community?

Judith: I think good would look like that the ideas have been developed, but you never actually get there do you with anything, you know… further ideas on board. And Andrea does have some fantastic ideas to take us forward, yes, on the same kind of trajectory. But you know, develop things further. I wouldn't want to come back in however many years and everyone is ooh we’ve missed you and we haven't done any more. I want to see it absolutely fly and I want to see that Blackpool And The Fylde College does as it intends and always has done and plays its part in regenerating the local community. I absolutely want to see that, including all the need that's there and including all those intersectionalities because, you know, it's really needed right now. Now is the time to make sure that we're on that right path. And we are it just needs embedding more and three years’ time, I'm hoping it will be absolutely spot on.

Judith: Thank you. And I'm sure it will be, so thank you, Judith, you know, it's been a pleasure working with an exemplary leader, someone who's enabling change in diversity and inclusion across the Northwest but actually sharing that practice right across United Kingdom. So, thank you for your thoughts and your insights, and I look forward to catching up with you sometime soon. Thank you.

Judith: Thank you, Jeff.