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Equality in further education: tailor messages, develop partnerships and be disruptive

Published: 24/07/2015

Senior Policy Adviser Chris Brill reflects on what he learnt at last week’s further education Equality Knowledge Exchange events

Just over six months ago, a range of providers began work on Skills Funding Agency (SFA)-funded initiatives to support learners from all backgrounds participate and achieve in further education.

Countless challenges and successes later, providers showcased guidance, videos, podcasts, training packs and even pens to over 200 delegates at our good practice dissemination events in London and Manchester.

‘…diversity in the projects demonstrates creativity and innovation.’ Delegate

Importantly projects shared the practical knowledge they gained of what works with employers, vice-principals, national equality agencies, sector agencies and other providers. Out of these discussions came three messages in particular, which I thought I’d share.

Be creative with messaging when speaking to employers, learners and staff

If you are a provider looking to engage with employers, think about what the employers will get out of the opportunity. Appeal to their business interests. The voice of an employer:

‘We want our people to produce their best work for us. To enable this, we need every employee to feel valued, included, encouraged and respected… Competitive advantage is the real objective of D and I [diversity and inclusion].’ Mark Donnelly, Apprenticeships and Skills Manager, BAE systems

If you are promoting opportunities to learners, have conviction that there are opportunities available. Sue Husband, the Executive Director of the National Apprenticeship Service at SFA said:

‘My message to everyone I meet is: no matter who you are, or where you are from, or what career you want to undertake, an apprenticeship can help you achieve what you want in your career and in your life.’

And when developing equality training for your staff, ensure it’s relevant to your organisation. The Equality and Diversity Good Practice Fund projects have produced a huge range of training scenarios across industries such as security, hairdressing, engineering, hospitality and construction.

Develop external and internal collaboration

Walking around the exhibition stalls, it was heartening to witness new collaborations and partnerships being formed as well as delegates discussing key equality issues pertinent to them.

‘I have a list of people to get in touch with about various aspects of the project.’ Delegate

Projects demonstrated how successful partnerships are, and not just between providers; internal partnerships between departments, staff and students will also improve the relevance of your work and its chances of success. Look at working with learners from different protected groups and try and achieve buy-in from all staff in your organisation.

Challenge current thinking

Sometimes, the nature of equality work is to challenge the status quo and disrupt current ways of thinking. How do you talk about equality, diversity and privilege? How do you measure student success? Many ideas were shared at the events, for example ideas around intersectional identities, individualising assessment methodologies. We’ll be sharing these further in the coming months.

All resources from the fund will be hosted on our website, and a report summarising the learning from all the projects will be released in the summer. For those who couldn’t attend (and those who could!) we will also be running some webinars in October.