An evidence-based approach to equality, diversity and inclusion

Hearing the voices of our whole community has helped us embed a genuinely inclusive ethos that has benefited our staff and learners alike

Hearing the voices of our whole community has helped us embed a genuinely inclusive ethos that has benefited our staff and learners alike

12 May 2024, 5:00

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a priority across the whole education and skills sector, but we’ve found that the key to progress and enabling culture change is understanding local circumstances by looking closely at the evidence.

When we started looking at our learner population, we knew our profile would be diverse. Approximately one-third of our offer is ESOL-based and we have good provision for learners with different learning abilities.

However, when we looked closely at attainment data through a more nuanced EDI focus, achievement gaps became clear, including with our cohort of African learners and in some curriculum areas, such as creative industries. Understanding the data allowed us to develop targeted approaches that have helped address these gaps.

We’ve also looked carefully at our staff data, in terms of representation and whether all voices are being heard. We examined the roles we have, the bands for those roles, access to CPD, and progression and promotion. In doing so, our links to the local authority were helpful; We were able to join its annual staff survey, which provided us with baseline information.

That enabled honest, in-depth conversations with staff across the board about ambitions, aspirations and contributions, beyond those who are always involved. This was mutually beneficial and contributes to our recruitment, training and retention.

That activity also informs our Staff Engagement Group. The group had already been established, but the data allowed us to be more precise in ensuring that it reflected the staff body. As a result, the group is now in a position where it is committed to leading conversations with other colleagues to establish what needs to be different from a staff perspective and identify clear actions and indicators to ensure those actions are achieved.

How to share information of this nature with staff needs careful consideration because it isn’t always plain sailing. It needs to be based on an understanding of organisational culture among leaders. We have a very open culture and good levels of trust, partly because of the work we had previously done on our inclusion agenda and the CPD opportunities it had included.

Sharing information of this nature isn’t always plain sailing

That context allowed us to be honest and acknowledge that our starting position wasn’t good enough and that we needed staff help to change it. That was helpful. It made it clear that we all needed to work together to improve all aspects of inclusion and secured buy-in.

It has also aided our recruitment and retention. We’ve employed some creative approaches in this arena for some time, taking on volunteers to provide opportunities for local residents and identifying talent in our learner body to transition into teaching. Equipped with our new insight, we’ve been able to recruit staff who reflect the demographics and experiences of our learners in a range of roles.

The staff buy-in we’d secured was crucial. Particular individuals came forward to lead on this, helping to ensure we supported the growth of individuals within the organisation. That work has built on our long-held commitment to professional development, which manifests itself through things like supporting individuals to undertake initial teacher education and our use of the Education and Training Foundation’s professional standards to encourage progression.

The work with staff is viewed positively by learners, who see themselves represented in the staff body and understand that we are serious about inclusion. At a meeting of our Learner Forum, one individual told us they had initially thought their positive experience was because they were treated specially as a wheelchair user; Seeing what the organisation had done for others made them realise that it was actually our ethos, and they genuinely had a voice.

The work is never done, of course. We need to keep listening to staff and learners and refreshing our approach. The intelligence we gain from our links with the local authority and connections with the voluntary sector, as well as the local knowledge and language skills of current staff and volunteers, will continue to be vital.

Being open and responsive to change is part and parcel of what we do, and that ability and willingness to pivot around EDI is integral to our wider mission.

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