Poor showing for FE sector in employer list

Just three FE and skills institutions made it onto a list of top employers for lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people compiled by gay rights group Stonewall.

And among the sector’s representatives on the list of 100 employers doing the most to create supportive workplaces for LGB staff was Newham College, which hit the headlines last year when a recording of lecturer Dr Mark Walcott allegedly making homophobic comments was leaked on YouTube.

Creative Skillset and Somerset College completed the FE and skills sector’s representation on the list. It stands in contrast to the five universities, 10 law firms, 10 NHS trusts or ambulance services and 17 local authorities on the list.

It has prompted calls for more FE and skills bodies to promote their LGB-friendly approaches.

The National Union of Students vice president for FE Joe Vinson said: “It’s disappointing that only two colleges are featured on this list, especially because although there are thousands of for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in FE colleges across the UK, not many LGBT societies exist on campus.”

University and College Union head of equality and participation Helen Carr told FE Week: “Colleges should be commended for challenging themselves and submitting an assessment to Stonewall.

“More should be prepared to do this and open themselves up to greater scrutiny.”

Her comments were echoed by the Institute for Learning chief executive Toni Fazaeli, who congratulated the two colleges, but encouraged more colleges to put themselves forward in future.

Newham College was the top performing college, ranked 82nd out of 100, despite hitting the headlines last year when a recording of lecturer Dr Mark Walcott making homophobic comments was leaked on YouTube.

It dropped 50 places in the ranking since last year and was overtaken by sector skills body Creative Skillset, at 41. For at least the last five years they had been the only sector institutions in the list until Somerset College joined them this year, at 91.

A Newham College spokesperson said: “Over many years, Newham College has focused unrelentingly on equality, and we are pleased Stonewall has recognised this.”

Referring to Dr Walcott, the spokesperson said it was an “isolated incident” and the college’s “really strong commitment to equality” had led to his dismissal.

“The individual concerned clearly did not share the college’s values, and was not promoting these values in his recorded conversation with staff,” he said.

Stonewall head of workplace Simon Feeke said: “Dr Walcott’s comments were absolutely reprehensible. But one individual’s homophobia shouldn’t detract from the fantastic work that many individuals are doing at Newham College to support gay staff and students.”

Jo Welch, diversity and inclusion manager for Creative Skillset, said: “It is important to us not only to be progressive and forward-thinking in our approach to diversity and inclusion but to evidence the action we take to address inequality and under-representation.”

Somerset College director of human resources and customer services Sheena Murphy-Collett (pictured) said: “I am absolutely delighted that our commitment and hard work has been recognised by Stonewall.

“We will continue to build on this success and further develop our strategy for all areas of equality and diversity.”

A total of 369 employers put themselves forward to be considered for the index. A Stonewall spokesperson was unable to say how many were from the FE and skills sector.