EDI and safeguarding – what binds us together

In November 2021, Jeff Greenidge, Director of Diversity at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), chaired the discussion ‘EDI and safeguarding: What binds us together’ at the Association of Colleges (AoC) Annual Conference.

Jeff, David and Polly

The discussion was led by Polly Harrow, Assistant Principal of Student Experiences at Kirklees Collegeand David Holloway, Senior Policy Manager for SEND at the AoC.

In this follow-up question and answer session, Polly, David and Jeff come together to share some of the conference’s highlights and discuss key topics from the day, including: the importance of data when it comes to identifying disparities in the support offered to learners; unconscious bias in the Further Education (FE) sector; and the importance of safeguarding in relation to Equity, Diversion and Inclusion (EDI).

Jeff: Polly, what were the key points you wanted to address during the AoC conference session?

Polly: When I was asked to participate in this discussion, I was really interested in exploring the link between EDI and safeguarding. For me, EDI is the fundamental founding principle of safeguarding practice, so we need to ask ourselves if we are consistently applying EDI across all our safeguarding services. I started the session by really reinforcing the importance of this workshop and the fact that EDI and its practices are under intense scrutiny at the moment, but for the right reasons. During the discussion, I felt it important to ask ourselves vital questions about our policies, culture and practice around EDI, and the consequences of not giving EDI within safeguarding the right amount of time, scrutiny and resource.

Jeff: At the conference, we discussed a lot about how we use information data to plan, implement and monitor practice. Could you elaborate on that?

Polly: We collect a wide variety of data at my college, because we believe it tells us a powerful story. We’re not only interested in what the data tells us, but also, what it doesn’t. What’s missing from our data? Who isn’t coming forward? For example, over the last five years, we’ve raised the number of male self-referrals significantly – now it’s actually higher than female self-referrals. This was a huge achievement by the college and came directly from staff pro-actively analysing the data and realising that there were no male learners coming through the doors.

Our annual safeguarding report contains a significant amount of data which informs action going forward. It tells the story of so many missing marginalised groups or gaps where we could do better. Armed with this data, we can now go out and proactively find the people who aren’t there and show them that our door is always open.

Jeff: David, what is your experience with college data collection and its disparities?

David: I think Polly is absolutely right in asking the question: What’s missing from our data here? The data has the power to show significant disparities that have an impact on how we should be supporting and teaching our learners.

In a 2018 analysis of school data by two Oxford academics, Steven Strand and Ariel Lindorff, the paper revealed shocking differences in the rates of identification of different needs between different ethnicities.

Jeff: What implications does this have for colleges?

David: I think there are lots of questions that arise from it, and one of them is the question of unconscious bias. It’s hard to say exactly why these disparities are happening, but it’s possible that bias amongst SEND professionals is playing a role in why some learners are being identified as needing support, and others aren’t. If that unconscious bias is happening in the school system, then as a sector we’ve got to reflect and ask ourselves what unconscious biases we may hold. For example, do we have an idea of what somebody with autism looks like, and if so, does that affect how we teach students and how we how we perceive their needs?

Another implication is that there are varying rates of identification, there might be lots of young people whose needs are simply not being identified. In colleges, around 180,000 16-to-18-year-olds are already identified as having SEND needs, but how many more don’t we know about? I think as FE practitioners, we need to be more reflective and have a deeper understanding of which groups of people are being overlooked for certain conditions.

Jeff: Do you think we need to move beyond reasonable adjustments in order to become more inclusive?

David: Changing how we think about reasonable adjustments is at the heart of this discussion on inclusion. Practitioners tend to follow the Equality Act 2010, where the idea is an individual has a characteristic and we make an adjustment for that individual. But if we are saying that there’s an invisible population of learners with unidentified needs, then we can’t adjust for what we don’t know. Rather than having a standard model, we need to instead think about how we can teach in a way that will work for everybody, regardless of whether we know there are needs or not.

Jeff: Polly, in terms of EDI and safeguarding, what’s would you like to see happen in the future?

Polly: That’s a great question, and there are two things I would love to see happen. One, to see ringfenced safeguarding funding available across the sector in recognition of the enormity of the work we do and the significant resource it takes to have the right number of people in place within colleges. This also would help to address the increasing demand around safeguarding and mental health in young people.

Secondly, the role of Designated Safeguarding Leader (DSL) needs to be properly recognised and professionalised, and we should have appropriate qualification pathways. The ETF is already doing a lot of work to support this agenda currently.

Jeff: Thank you Polly and David, it’s been a pleasure discussing this with you. Both of you have shown how tailored support is so important in creating an environment where learners can feel as though they belong and get the outcomes that they deserve.

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