The very nature of further education is inclusive; we work to ensure that people from all backgrounds and of all abilities have the chance to gain qualifications and achieve their life and career ambitions.
This context makes for an ideal starting point when it comes to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategies. EDI is a corporate priority for most and nurturing a positive, supportive and inclusive workplace for all is high on every college’s agenda.
Over the past three years, my own college has been on a rapid EDI journey. We are starting to see some positive outcomes, including being awarded a level 4 accreditation by ‘Investing in Ethnicity’. This has put us in the top 25 employers, recognising our commitment to this agenda.
But what does a successful EDI strategy look like and how can it be implemented to achieve maximum impact? We know from our own experience that change doesn’t happen overnight and that EDI is very much a journey. Here are some of our key learnings:
It is essential that colleges know their starting points. Encouraging staff and students to disclose details about their gender, mental health, disabilities, religion, ethnicity and so on is vital to build up an accurate picture. Fully analysing this data and all its intersectional ties will enable appropriate actions to be taken.
Encouraging and enabling this disclosure is key. Everyone needs to feel they will be supported and certainly not discriminated against when providing such sensitive data.
High and accurate disclosure rates will ensure EDI action plans can be effectively targeted, achieving much greater impact at a faster pace.
For staff, it is important to compare demographic profile with the community a college serves. While we had a positive picture in term of overall representation, we saw evidence of under-representation of non-white staff at more senior levels.
This gave us the opportunity to take positive action, which included creation of a talent management programme to identify future leaders, as well as providing mentoring, coaching and other development opportunities.
Staff and student engagement
Any EDI strategy must be embedded across the entire college, at all levels. Training and awareness raising is key; providing context and understanding for staff and students.
We have introduced EDI champions to help with this engagement. Events including debates and workshops, are run to highlight black history month, LGBTQ+ history month and mental health awareness week.
Diverse workplaces bring an important mix of talent, experience and knowledge. It’s not box ticking – it’s about creating opportunity for all, which benefits every business. High quality training supports this, including for example, inclusive recruitment training for recruiting managers.
Embedding EDI in the curriculum
An inclusive curriculum is vital to take your strategy right to the front line.
If a group of students are not achieving, you need to understand the link with EDI criteria. By understanding specific barriers and challenges, positive action can be taken, such as extra tutorials and targeted intervention programmes.
Using this approach, we have narrowed achievement gaps for some student groups over the last two years – for example, looked-after children and young care leavers (by 6.7 per cent) and Black African adult students (by 2.2 per cent).
However, gaps continue to widen for others, including students of black/white dual heritage and those with mental health conditions. This is undoubtedly one of the most challenging areas we face and is a key focus for us going forward.
Working in collaboration with partners to exchange best practice and get an external lens is an essential part of EDI development. The Black FE Leadership Group’s 10-point plan has been central to our work, together with Stonewall’s support with our LGBTQ+ initiatives and Investors in Ethnicity’s help to benchmark our EDI practices.
EDI must be part and parcel of everyday college life. It is not a ‘tag on’. It must be embedded into everything, with everyone understanding their own role within it.
Getting this right takes time but will ultimately benefit the whole organisation and its wider community.