Podcast: The ETF’s David Russell and Jeff Greenidge on equality, diversity and inclusion in the FE sector

In the latest episode for the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) podcast, we speak to David Russell, CEO at the ETF, and Jeff Greenidge, Director for Diversity at the ETF and AoC, about what an inclusive FE sector looks like for learners, staff and stakeholders, and what their contribution is to making that happen.

Read the full edited version of the podcast below.

“Welcome to the Education and Training Foundation Podcast (ETF). I'm Julia Faulks (JF), Communications Editor at the ETF. In today's episode, I'll be speaking to the ETF’s CEO, David Russell (DR), and Director for Diversity at the ETF and AOC, Jeff Greenidge (JG), about what an inclusive equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) sector looks like for learners, staff and stakeholders, and what their contribution is to making that happen.”

JF: “Jeff, can you tell us a bit more about your career up until you started your role at the ETF?”

JG: “I started off as a teacher, teaching for 16 years in South Wales where I was the Head of Modern languages and a PE teacher. I then worked in the Civil Service where I developed the national curriculum for modern languages. From there, I spent three years working in Europe on the vocational educational curriculum and came back to the UK to set up the University for Industry, now called ‘Learn Direct’. I was there for 17 years, which was quite a formative period in my life. I retired in 2015, until I took up my current role with the ETF and AoC on diversity and inclusion.”

JF: “How your past experiences have influenced your values today is a big question, but is there one defining moment in your career that you could talk about?”

JG: “I think there are a number of defining moments which have influenced the way I think about education and training and the way I think about equity and inclusion. The first defining moment for me was when I passed my 11 plus – you are taken from one environment and put into another environment, purely because you have passed an exam. That stayed with me throughout my life in terms of understanding how important qualifications are; they are a step that individuals can take that allow them to improve, progress and develop themselves. The next major step for me was when I got my first job in teaching at Oakhill Comprehensive. Here we are talking about a very white mining area within South Wales, and there I was, a 22-year-old black man going into this community. Clearly, I was a bit nervous at first, but what I felt there at this time was a sense of inclusion in that the people in that community wanted you to work within their community and to be part of their community because I was helping their youngsters to develop and progress. For me, that was quite a defining moment – how someone can really feel that they belong to a community, school or college, because of how they are supported and developed within their first one or two years there, and I stayed in that area for the last 45 years.”

JF: “It’s really nice to hear that it was a positive influence on you, and not that it was a bad experience.”

JG: “Yes, clearly you have bad experiences throughout your life, and I have experienced racism, but again, you do experience the good things alongside that. One example I can share is once I was leaving a rugby club to go home and a policeman (I didn’t know he was one at the time) pushed me against the wall and asked me what I was doing there. What was interesting is that there was another policeman who stopped him from doing that and said: “That's Jeff Greenidge, he plays rugby for us.” What that teaches me is that it is ignorance which causes lots of the conflicts that we have within society. To mitigate the risk of ignorance, it’s about awareness and it’s about intelligence and about sharing the positive things that mitigates the risk of individuals remaining ignorant.”

DR: “My experience is very different from Jeff's. I was also educated at a comprehensive, but I grew up in a very monocultural environment – a small town in Crieff. It was completely white, and it was also aggressively heterosexual as well – there were “no gay people” where I grew up, oh no, definitely not. To be gay would be a term of abuse. Interestingly, that was always put together with being English, and that was another term of abuse. So, there was xenophobia as well. The only non-white people you ever saw were boarders at the private school up the road, which added to the sense of ‘otherness’, in that there were Chinese students who never mixed with anyone. So, I grew up in a very closed environment. My home upbringing seemed to me to be inclusive and open minded, but when I look back now, I see that the values that were instilled in me with were very naive. My parents’ attitude was that ‘everyone's the same’, ‘treat everyone the same’, ‘I don't understand what all this fuss is about skin colour, just treat everybody the same’.

“That was the kind of attitude that I took with me all the way through university, which was also a very monocultural environment. I then went to live abroad, but again, I lived in a monoculture. I worked in a place that was a different culture, but it was still a monoculture; there was no diversity there, until I moved to London. That really hit me like a wave, that suddenly I was in a very multicultural place. I had taken a lot of the ignorance with me – ignorance is a strong word, but I mean ignorance in the sense of literally a lack of knowledge, lack of understanding and a lack of experience. I was armed with this value, which I thought, put me in the right place… just treat everyone the same. But then I started to hear people saying ‘If you don't see my difference, you don't see me. You know, if you pretend that everyone's the same, you're pretending that there aren't problems, and there are’.”

JR: “But also, celebrating difference as well, especially in curriculum.”

DR: “Absolutely.”

JF: “It's not just about religious education (RE) classes, it should spread throughout all of the subjects.”

DR: “I found it very difficult when I first encountered the idea of dealing with diversity, and I had some very stupid, and in retrospect, pretty shameful attitudes towards diversity and difference, which I had shocked out of me. From then on, it's been a long journey of learning for me, and I would say it still is. I’ve learnt more in the last few couple of years than I have done before, really taking an interest and diving into issues of inclusion, inclusive practices, anti-racism. It's been whole worlds opening up for me and a sense of lost time as well because of the fact that I've been operating in a professional environment for as long as I have, without ever really engaging properly with these issues. That kind of lit a fire under me thinking, okay, I've got to make up for this lost time here. I see myself as a leader, I am in a leadership position, I need to be showing leadership on this issue, as well as other issues, so it has been a real acceleration for me.”

JF: “That leads me to the next question about why the Director for Diversity role was created?”

DR: “It was just a really practical response to the idea that we needed to raise our game. We've looked at ourselves as an organisation many times over the last seven years and seen the obvious fact that we weren't very diverse at our senior levels. At our boards it is a mixed picture, sometimes more, sometimes less. But in terms of my senior team, no visible diversity actually – lots of diversity of background diversity of thought, but not a lot of diversity of key characteristics either, and not seeming to be able to do anything about that; we, I, had failed to address that successfully. It got to the point where I thought we simply can't go on like this. On the other hand, I can't fire someone and replace them with someone else in order to meet this agenda, so what do I do?

“Lots of people gave me the same answer, which was that sometimes you just have to force the pace. You can't just wait naturally for your next vacancy and hope to use it to diversify your senior team. Sometimes you have to force the pace and you need to do something that will actually catalyse, so I thought, okay, I need to create a senior position reporting directly to me. Lots of companies that are doing this; it's new good practice to have a senior person with specific responsibility for diversity, to put a rocket up things, and the AoC were having the same thought, so we thought, great, a key partner, let's do this together. We used that as an opportunity to take a big step forward on the agenda, and we were lucky to find Jeff who's helping us take that step.”

JF: “Where has the starting point been for you for promoting ED&I practice in colleges and other parts of the sector?”

DR: The starting point for me, as David was saying, is around ignorance; it's that lack of knowledge and lack of awareness. My starting point was to raise the awareness that inclusion and diversity are things that we have got to do something about, but also that we are already doing things about it. The risk is that we focus in on the negatives, without highlighting the positive steps that have already been taken. My first thought was to highlight the things that I know are taking place out there. The ETF funded a programme of coaching, which I was part of two or three years ago. The output of that coaching, the immediate impact of that coaching was that people who were coached thoroughly enjoyed what they did, then we ask them to take action based on what they did. They went back into their colleges, and they began small projects to raise awareness within their organisations and then to do something more positive about that. Two years on those organisations are now running black history, curriculum programmes, they're looking at systemic change throughout their organisations, they're raising the awareness across the sector of what they're doing and challenging other organisations and colleges to do a similar thing. My starting point was awareness, but awareness which leads to a measure of impact, in other words, people doing something different to what they would done previously.”

JF: “Some people might presume that a lot of this work is already in place. What are your thoughts on the suggestion that ED&I is often treated as a tick-box exercise?”

JG: “Work is already taking place and I think the challenge with something like equity diversity and inclusion is that we think of it as being something that can be done, that is finished tomorrow. It's a very, very slow process; it's a long burn, and it takes a generation to really embed inclusion and inclusivity within people's culture. So, small things are taking place. We're at a position now where we can begin to go much more widely within the sector to share what's taking place and to challenge other organisations to take that step forward, as well. We’ll be doing that at the SET Conference and at the AoC Conference in November, but that's just the starting point. What we will need to see in the following 18 months is a physical commitment from organisations that they are willing to take action and that they are willing to share the outcomes of their actions across the sector. That's the challenge that David and I will be putting to college principals later this week."

JF: “You’ve spoken in the past about the differences between equality and equity. Could you explain a bit more about that please?”

“I think as David mentioned earlier on, when you when you think of people as being the same and you treat people the same, we have that sense that we're treating people equally. Equity for me is something slightly different. It's giving the person the leg up that they need to really contribute and to really make a difference within their own particular context. The example of equity I use is when someone gets a qualification – that gives them a leg up. Another example is when you're working with someone who has a particular disability and you put systems and structures and support in place to give that person the opportunity to perform as well as anyone else does. To treat people the same sometimes makes it an unequal opportunity.”

DR: “Yes, I very much agree with that. And, and the language does matter as well, because sometimes words can start to lose their meaning when they get used so often, so I think it really helps every now and again, to stop and think, ‘What do we really mean by equity? What do we really mean by equality?’ They can just be reduced to letters almost and as soon as you start talking about ED&I you're in a risky place because it becomes mashed up and you forget. Well, actually, as Jeff said, diversity is a fact; it's a feature of the world. It's not a thing you do, it's the thing that is there and you encounter. Inclusion is a practice, it is a mindset, it is something that you may do, or you may not do. Equity is an outcome or a set of outcomes that you're trying to achieve. These are very different things, but often it just gets mashed up as one topic, so I think language really matters.

"You also asked a very interesting question, Julia, about whether this already in place in the sector and shouldn’t it already have been happening? From an ETF perspective, ultimately, we're here for the benefit of learners, and the way we benefit learners is through the work we do with teachers and other staff. There are so many aspects to inclusion, with both staff and learners. I think the ETF has been good at some of them for a long time, and not others. For example, we've always been very strong on the idea that we need to support the sector in its work with learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). It's almost been a feature of our work; we're really proud of it and really proud of the work we do with the sector in that area, which is about inclusion and equity of outcomes, and so on. Other things of aspects of inclusion that we focused on comes down to how we've known that sometimes barriers to participation in our work in one area is cost, so we've always made sure that we have the ability to get free access. I mean, all of our work is subsidised, but to get completely free access. If, for example, you worked in a small voluntary sector organisation that just couldn't afford to do our training or development, or sometimes as a way of encouraging underrepresented groups to take part, we've made bursaries available to make sure that costs are not a barrier there. We've always done some of the right things, but what we've never done is have a really holistic strategy. We've always been aware of big issues, but some of them we just haven't followed through, and that's the journey that we're on now, I think.”

JF: “Are there any practices in particular that you suggest will create positive change to promote an equal inclusive, open and diverse culture, support learners and staff in FE, and ultimately change mindsets?”

JF: “I think we've discussed this before – the way that change happens at a number of levels. There’s change taking place at the operational level of the practitioner where individuals in organisations and colleges are taking action based on things that they've seen or done with the ETF, and that's absolutely fine; that groundswell is really important. Another groundswell that's taking place is where you have principals and leaders, organisations, as David said, recognising that there's something that has to be done, but maybe not always knowing how to do it. Now what I'm seeing is that people are coming together and almost admitting that ‘We don't know how to do this individually. But collectively, we might know how to do this’, and beginning to have those conversations, which are not easy for leaders of organisations, where you're always expected to know the answers; that almost opens up a level of vulnerability as a leader, which can be uncomfortable.

“What I'm seeing and what I find really quite refreshing is that there are leaders who are willing to share that vulnerability, which allows them to open up to have a collective conversation of how they can solve the problem together. The third area of work is where you have organisations which work in adjacent markets within the sector, which are also beginning to have the same conversation as the ETF and as the principals. The next opportunity or challenge is to bring those organisations to the table, so that we can have that conversation at a sector level about what an inclusive FE sector looks like for students and what it looks like for staff. What does it look like for those stakeholders and what's their contribution to making it happen? I think, David, that's something which we're very close to being able to stimulate. It’s going to be a long journey, but it's a start we are looking to make.”

DR: “Yes, I agree. The question is about cultural change, really, isn't it, and that's what you're talking about. And what is the ETF’s role in cultural change? We have no direct influence or control over the institutions and the sector. Our role is about thought leadership – 'thought leadership' can sound a bit pompous as a phrase, but we're not here to tell the sector what to think, no – that's not our role. But we are here to help the sector work out what to think about. We are also here to help them do that thinking in a high-quality way. We're also here to help facilitate the actions that flow from that thinking. So, all that work that Jeff is talking about, is actually about cultural change, which is really hard. To give an example of the sort of the importance of simply having these conversations in a protected space comes from when we did a joint symposium recently with a leadership group, looking at one aspect of diversity in particular, a very important aspect. We had a lot of senior leaders from the sector there, which was fantastic. One of them said very openly: ‘I've been in the sector for over 20 years. I've been a senior leader in the sector for over a decade and until the last year I didn't really think this was my problem.’ Some people might be a bit shocked by that, they might want to give them a hard time about it. That wasn't the context and that wasn't the response. Actually, I was hugely encouraged by that because I thought, that's a sign that there is a sea change and that senior leaders are feeling okay, this is everybody's problem, and this is my problem, this is my responsibility, and let's talk with each other about what we're going to do practically. Once you've broken through that reticence, that reluctance, sometimes that embarrassment; it's awkward, isn't it, having discussions about these issues sometimes?"

JF: “As well as these verbal discussions about ED&I in the FE sector, how will it look? Is it going to be a handbook? What is it going to actually look like?”

JF: “It's fascinating question, isn't it? What does it look like? I think it has to look like whatever we have available to use to go back to that point of ignorance, to raise the awareness that inclusion is the direction of travel, that diversity is something which exists, and that equity is the outcome that we're looking for. Whatever means we have available to us, we have to use. The open conversation, bringing it together is what ETF is doing and that's a primary means of allowing people to have that safe space for these conversations. Using practitioner practice to raise the profile of what others are doing in the sector, and then challenging organisations to do the same or to do better – that another way of increasing it. Podcasts, as we're doing here today, sharing thoughts, again, there's a way of doing this, and I think, bring together organisations across the sector from different perspectives, is another way of showing the country and the sector that there are lots of different ways of getting to that point of inclusion, because each organisation is unique. Each organisation has to take from that plethora of resources, the ones that have made the biggest impact in their structures.”

DR: “Yes, it is a great question. What does it look like? I would say it is really important that we don't think there's a one-size-fits all solution here. It depends where you're starting from, and it depends on what your particular strengths and weaknesses are as an institution in inclusion. It also depends on what the issues are that you want to address. Effective practice can look really different in different places. I'll give you a few concrete examples – I remember going to visit a college in the northeast. When I walked through the door the first thing that I encountered was performance group (a choir) who were singing on that day in the foyer in the atrium, a choir made up of staff and students. The students all had learning difficulties and disabilities and they were doing a really high-quality performance that a huge amount of work had gone into, showcasing the work of those students in performing arts. Absolutely fantastic. Everyone who came to the college that day saw that, and I bet that with a lot of people, a light went on in their mind, and they started to see those students in a different way, because of what was happening there.

“I’ll give you a different example from a different college I visited in the Midlands. My first experience as I approached the college was of a security guard approaching me to find out what I needed, how he could help me, showing me the right place to go, and making sure that I was being taken care of properly and my needs were being met. Obviously, he was very vigilant. When I talked to the principal about this and mentioned what a positive experience I'd had on arriving at the college, he said that it was because they took a whole college approach to their staff and students, and all the staff who work there were included in their safeguarding and Prevent, and they felt they had a stake in the safety and security of the students. He went on to tell me a very powerful story of how that had helped them head off some very potentially very difficult problems because of that whole college inclusion approach.”

JG: “The fundamental thing which that highlights in my mind is that there are three instances says where that evidence base is going to be situated, first in the students that the students feel absolutely included, and that they understand that they have equal opportunity to succeed, and that the staff in organisations know that they belong in that organisation. And finally, that the college and the community know that together, they've got something that they are working on together. So those are the three areas I think which all organisations feel comfortable as the focus for their activity.”

DR: “Yeah, I totally agree. In terms of measurable outcomes, that's one way you can start to get a handle on it and that’s student voice and student and staff surveys; you will get good information back which will tell you where you are on that journey. It's not the only measure, but it is important."

JF: “In terms of Ofsted and the frameworks and reports on ED&I, are there plans for things  to change in terms of how organisations are rated?

JG: “Ofsted is an interesting one because you could go down the compliance road and ask Ofsted to inspect the level of inclusion of organisations. I suspect a lot of organisations will because when you go to any inspection, you pass or you fail, but is this a sufficient measure as to whether people are included? I go back to what David was saying about when you ask students how they feel, do they feel that they belong? They will tell you. When students’ success rates increase and all students are at a similar level of performance, that tells you the data. Ofsted could give you a triangulation of the data, but I don't think that any one measure is sufficient. The other area of work would be the FE Commissioner in its annual conversations; just a quiet conversation around ‘how do you know that your students and staff feel included’ and that gives the organisation an opportunity to share their data and to share the fact that they are producing these surveys and share the fact that they are on a road to inclusion. So, I think there are lots of ways of getting the evidence base and triangulating the evidence against students, staff, and formal regulatory framework data.”

DR: “It’s really interesting – you and I haven't discussed Ofsted have we Jeff? It's interesting to hear your response because sometimes some colleagues in the sector say that Ofsted used to have inclusion as a limiting grade, and they should bring that back. Now, of course Ofted say that is not the case, we never actually had it as a limited grade, and leave that aside and the question of whether it should be. My own view is that when a college does something because Ofsted tells them they have to do it, you're immediately in the wrong place. They'll only do it in so far as they have to, like Jeff's point, in order to pass that inspection, and they may will stop doing it when they no longer have to do. So, it's an outside in way of making change happen. You can make change happen from outside in, but inside out is far more powerful and sustainable. And I think that is the better way to go. If you're changing your behaviour in order to appear to be doing the right things, that can be superficial. Whereas if your behaviour is flowing from changing your attitudes, your beliefs, your values, your sense of what matters and your priorities, that will flow forever, so that's got to be the way to go.”

JF: “David has spoken about sharing practice ideas from different organisations. Are there any examples that you wanted to discuss today about things that are happening at the moment, such as #inclusiveFE on social media, or any other initiatives which are showing positive steps forward?”

JG: “Going back to those three areas of the practitioner level, the level of the principals, and the level of the sector, at a practitioner level, last year within West Suffolk the students there didn’t really know what Black Lives Matter was all about. So, they set about finding out, as young people do. When they found out about it, they said ‘Well, we need to be taught about this, why aren’t we taught about this?’ They worked through with their teachers and their tutors a Black History curriculum, which they're now teaching across the year in West Suffolk College. To me, that's a prime example of where a college has taken the needs of their students, looked and worked with the students to co-create a product which is bespoke to West Suffolk. The examples they use are of black local heroes who live in West Suffolk. Those are people that they know that they've seen in the streets that they understand, so It's very much tailored to that particular organisation. The principles can be shared elsewhere, but the content is very much tailored to West Suffolk. Then looking at the level of the principals, and as David has mentioned, there are leaders out there who now beginning to be very vocal about their reticence, the pace of change within their organisations, and they're sharing that, and they are coming together with other leaders to work out how they can work on things together across a number of colleges. At the third level, we are seeing organisations such as City and Guilds, Pearsons, and WorldSkills, coming together with ETF and the AoC to work together on sharing the impact of the inclusion drives within their organisations, so I'm pleased that these things are happening. Always, you have to push for more, and faster. But let's bank the steps we've made so far."

JF: “You’ve spoken before about this being a time for action, and not just words, with reports being published, and no real change happening. How close are we to that actually happening? And what do you realistically think could be achieved over the next five years?”

JG: “I think there is action, and that action is taking place. Reports will give us a state of play at any particular point in time, and that's helpful to triangulate and to get a measure as to where we are, and I welcome reports. But what I would really advocate is for those who are out there doing stuff, and who are taking action, to begin to share what they're doing much more widely. Colleges are always underestimating their ability to make an impact. They often hide what they do, and I think it's time for organisations to come up front and say, ‘We're doing this, we're not quite sure that it's right, but let's share it anyway and let's have that confidence to share that’. That I think will take us forward in some great strides if people are willing to share what they're doing much more widely.”

DR: “Some governing bodies have always been good at this, but I think many others are waking up to this for the first time. I was talking to a governing body recently which was considering quality and diversity, and it was a very interesting discussion. You could see a wide range of starting points. I mean, the board itself was not terribly diverse, as many are not, and some governors were starting with the perspective of, well, we serve a community that's not all that diverse, so of course, we have to get it right, but it's never going to be a top agenda item for us. And then other governors are saying, that is precisely the reason why this is a really important agenda item for us, because we're not simply preparing our students for success in their local community, we're preparing students for success in the world and we're preparing them to be responsible, caring, successful, generous cooperative members of society; a very diverse, rich, multifaceted society, and we owe it to them to know how to contribute really successfully. So, it really doesn't matter that our student body may not be the most diverse student body, all the more reason that we get this right. And I thought that was fantastic, and exactly the conversation that we'd want to hear.”

JG: “That reminds me of the time when I went to work in Oakhill Comprehensive back in 1981 where the principal said that he was pleased that the school experienced someone who's black, because it shook things up and it allowed the youngsters to see a different person and a different face, and to open up their eyes to the possibilities that they could have, first leaving the mining community and working, first in England, and then in the world as a whole."

JF: “Thank you very much to both for your time today. I look forward to speaking to you more about this topic.”

JG/DR: “Thank you.”

Find out more about how the ETF promotes and supports equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the organisation and wider sector, please visit the ETF website.