Further education has a key role to play in promoting diversity, says Toni Fazaeli, who calls for an independent commission to report on current sector practices.

Nearly 12 years after the publication of Challenging racism: further education leading the way, and six years after Niace published From compliance to culture change: Disabled staff working in lifelong learning, the Institute for Learning (IfL) is calling for an independent commission to look at improving diversity in FE and skills, focusing on the distorted patterns that remain apparent for sex, gender, ethnicity and disability. The time has come for a fresh appraisal of diversity in the sector, drawing on the excellent work done in the first decade of the century by the Commission for Black Staff in Further Education and the Commission for Disabled Staff in Lifelong Learning.

Like the previous commissions, it would be an independent body, comprising commissioners from a broad spectrum of relevant organisations.

Its role would be to investigate and report on current practices, commission research to gather evidence, and make practical recommendations for policymakers, colleges and providers, professional bodies, unions and careers advisers, with the aim of influencing culture and practice, and promoting career opportunities for all.

Teachers and trainers are role models. We know that there is still a strong sex bias in people’s work choices.

According to recent research by City & Guilds, young women are being discouraged from becoming apprentices, because the apprenticeship programme is seen as male-orientated.

The 17 per cent of women encouraged to take up apprenticeships (compared to a third of men in the survey) were also more likely to be steered away from careers like IT and engineering.

At a time when skills gaps are constraining so many industries and we continue to suffer high levels of youth unemployment, this seems to be a shocking waste of potential talent.

Across the sector, the uptake of apprenticeships by women and by men broadly mirrors the patterns of female and male teachers across vocational areas and subjects.

Analysis of IfL’s large data sets for teachers and trainers over a three-year period shows that the profession is predominantly female, with nearly twice as many women (62 per cent) as men, and that female teachers are more heavily concentrated in certain parts of the sector: adult and community learning, the voluntary sector and, to a lesser extent, sixth-form colleges.

Analysis of the Institute for Learning’s large data sets for teachers and trainers over a three-year period shows that the profession is predominantly female

In terms of vocational areas and subjects, women predominate in languages, health studies, administration, animal care, family learning, literacy, hairdressing, early years and child minding, and beauty therapy.

The armed forces are the only part of the sector where male teachers and trainers are the majority, and they are concentrated in prisons and work-based learning too.

Areas where male teachers prevail are bricklaying, carpentry and joinery, motor vehicle studies, electrical installation, mechanical engineering, plumbing and gas, and engineering.

Our analysis also indicated that subjects with very high levels of male or female involvement seemed to be less ethnically diverse.

On International Women’s Day, neuroscientist Gina Rippon of Aston University, said the notion that men and women have different brain structures is merely a myth pedalled by the “drip, drip, drip” of stereotyping, and that gender differences are environmental, not innate.

Children are influenced by stereotypical attitudes and unconscious bias, from an early age, which in many cases prevents them from being the people they really are. It is surely not right that we continue to reinforce these attitudes in FE.

Teachers and trainers are crucial role models for their learners, including apprentices, and greater diversity in the profession will help encourage young people to consider subjects or vocational areas typically perceived as being ‘male’ or ‘female’.

Stereotypes must not hold back ambition. Teaching or being an apprentice in engineering, construction or IT should be perceived as perfectly comfortable choices for everyone, as should careers in social care and hairdressing, or teaching these.

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive, Institute for Learning