CEO blog: Diversity and equality in education and training : why they matter and what the Foundation can do

David Russell

David Russell, CEO, Education and Training Foundation @DavidRussellETF

What’s the issue ?

England is a country of great diversity, and always has been.  The full range and significance of the diversity of our people is understood, appreciated and codified as never before.  In appreciating ethnicity, gender, age, languages, beliefs, abilities and many other dimensions, civil society moves inexorably – if unevenly – towards a world where equality for all is protected and diversity is not only celebrated but promoted.

This is as true of the beneficiaries of further education and training as of anyone.  And it’s true of the professional and para-professional staff in our sector too.

But not everything in the garden is rosy; not by some way.

The Foundation’s recent workforce data for England suggests that the teaching population within the sector does not reflect the profile of learners nor does it reflect the profile of local populations.  This is particularly true at leadership and governance level:

  • Women comprise 64-74% of the workforce across different types of settings, but hold only 48% of senior management roles.
  • 84% of staff are of “white British” ethnic background – which rises to 91% for senior managers. 4% of staff are of Asian and 3.5% of African/Caribbean descent, but only 2.2% or 2.5% respectively out of senior managers. This contrasts with 8.2% and 6.4% of learners nationally.
  • People with disabilities are also under-represented amongst staff and governors, though comparisons with percentages of learners are more complex due to classification issues around learners with learning difficulties or other special educational needs.
  • We lack data on other protected minority characteristics; this is a problem in itself.

These are national statistics, and we know that there are even more pronounced differences at local levels.

It is surprising to me that anyone still asks why this matters.  But they do.

Perhaps I should not be surprised; after all, despite the diversity of modern Britain there are a great many people who have been brought up in ‘monocultural’ and ‘heteronormative’ environments, perhaps with naïve beliefs about what equality of opportunity really means : for example, the well-meaning but frustratingly simplistic position of “it’s simple, just treat everyone the same”.  (I can say this with feeling and without judgement, as I myself was once one of these people, arriving wide eyed and rather ignorant in London as a young man, some 20 years ago.)

But even in recent months a senior businessman asked me, in all sincerity, why it mattered if a College’s staff did not remotely reflect the diversity of their students.  We must never assume that everyone understands the issues, or that we’re into ‘delivery phase’ now.  The case – depressingly perhaps in 2015 – must still be made.

Is this really a priority ?

The case for increasing the diversity of the workforce, and of senior leadership especially – is two-fold.  Front and centre is the business case.  If an employer looks at a provider and does not see a diversity which reflects her own business or that of her customers, she is going to question whether that provider has the only thing that really matters : the ability to help her do her business more effectively.  And if as a learner – or indeed a teacher – I look at the senior leadership of a college and can’t see any sign of individuals like me, I may start to wonder whether this is a place where people like me can succeed.  And in all these cases the likely result is the same : the business, learner or teacher goes elsewhere, taking their talent or their business with them.  And that, as they say, is a Fail.

Behind the business case sits the moral case.  The obligation on institutions is, we have come to understand as a society in recent decades, every bit as strong as the obligation on individuals to treat people respectfully and equitably (which is not the same as equally, in all cases).  And indeed since 2010 this obligation on institutions is recognised and codified in law, in the form of the 2010 Equalities Act.

So what can the Foundation do to help ?

This month the Foundation launches its renewed strategy for equality and diversity.  We have had high ambitions from our inception : our operational plan sets out that we wish to see the senior leadership of the sector reflect the student population in its diversity by 2020; a huge challenge.  We have woven equality work into our processes from the beginning, and supported bespoke projects and specialist work in this field.  But now we want to raise our game to a higher level.

 A six point plan : practical actions within a strategic approach

1              First of all, we recognise that signals – or lack of them – matter.  Equality and diversity can easily become an add-on concern that never breaks through into the mainstream discourse of an organisation.   The Foundation will signal at every opportunity the importance of this agenda.  From our visual branding – our little silhouette figures which clearly represent diversity – through the accessibility of our services and products.   Our own data collection is uncompromising in its comprehensive approach to inclusion.  Our questionnaire which we use internally and with all contractors has been compiled with equality experts to represent most up to date practice in equality-proofed data collection.  This not only gives us actual data to monitor progress, it also in itself sends a powerful signal about the importance we place on equality.  Confident mainstreaming of equality championing matters.

2              Next, we recognise and use the power of process.  We are in essence a commissioning body, delivering through contracts.  Our tendering and awarding processes are vital to our character and our success.  We highlight, require and demand thoughtful and impactful approaches to equality and diversity at all stages of our tendering processes.  You cannot win a contract from us without having a  serious, credible plan for how you will make your work accessible and ensure that it is not only open to diversity but actively promotes it.  Every contract we let is another chance to make inroads into inequality of opportunity by focussing hard on under-supported or under-represented groups.

3              Third, we will use our large programmes explicitly to pursue our ambitions on E&D, for example:

  • our contract for Learning and development for leaders, managers and those involved in governance in the education and training sector (led by AELP), has E&D embedded through an accessible and inclusive approach to resource development, support and development for delivery partners in integrating E&D, the use of our E&D monitoring form and analysis of the resulting data.
  • our Professional Standards incorporate E&D explicitly as part of teachers’ and trainers’ professional development.
  • we support teachers and trainers in improving provision for learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), including high-quality resources on the Excellence Gateway;
  • Resources produced through our Traineeships and Apprenticeships Staff Support Programmes are supporting staff working with vulnerable learners.

4              Fourthly, for as long as it proves necessary and effective, we will go beyond the core strategy of skewing our big programmes towards under-represented groups and also have bespoke support projects. For example, we are currently funding a range of career development bursaries for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic education and training professionals in partnership with the Network for Black and Asian Professionals, as well as providing sponsored places for “future leaders” at the Women’s Leadership Network annual conference.

5              Fifth, we will work to improve overall attitudes and data in our sector. We have conducted a nationwide strategic consultation with NIACE (see the excellent outputs here ) to understand better the attitudes and issues behind E&D across the sector.  We have also worked with them to bring together a pan-equalities group of the many specialist organisations in education and training to drive deeper collaboration towards addressing these challenges.

6              And last but not least, we strive to set a good example in our own behaviour as an employer, both in our recruitment and in our ways of working.  I am delighted, for example, that over the 13 months since I arrived at the Foundation we have started to look and feel more like an organisation representative of modern Britain in our own staffing.  We will continue with that aim.  Because, after all, the better the Foundation itself represents the diversity of our education and training system in all its glory, the better we will support it.  And so the virtuous circle is born……..

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