Jeff Greenidge: the man tackling FE's diversity problem

Jeff Greenidge is aiming to use his coaching experience to help the FE sector to become more diverse
22nd January 2021, 12:42pm
Kate Parker


Jeff Greenidge: the man tackling FE's diversity problem
Jeff Greenidge: The Aoc & Etf Director For Diversity Is Aiming To Drive Change In Fe Colleges

Jeff Greenidge has a lot of questions for FE. And when it comes to the answers, he wants more than just words: he wants action.

"It's time to begin asking colleges and providers: if you are really going to be serving your communities, does your staff and does your board reflect those communities? If you are really going to ensure that each learner gets the qualification and gets the achievement that they deserve, is your curriculum inclusive? Or does it exclude women? Does it exclude transgender individuals? If you're really going to be inclusive, as an organisation, do staff see representation of black minority ethnic people at a higher level?" he asks. 

"If not, it's all words. So you're making these commitments, you're making these statements - but now it's time for the action." 

Greenidge started 2021 with a new role as the director of diversity sitting across both the Association of Colleges and the Education and Training Foundation.

It's a role that is a first for both organisations and one that will see him push for real, tangible change on diversity, inclusion and equality in FE, while coaching "the change makers", as he calls them, in providers to bring about that change themselves. 

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Greenidge was born in Barbados, and moved to the UK with his parents and two brothers when he was five years old. His mother and father, a nurse and a train driver respectively, moved for work and when Greenidge turned 18, they moved to the US to start their own business.

The only black student in school

Greenidge says he attended a multicultural primary school in Ilford, and was a good student - "I wouldn't call myself a swot," he laughs, "I just liked winning." He passed the 11-plus and went on to Beal Grammar School, where he was one of the only black students.

It was a big change, but the school's focus on competition made for an enjoyable experience for him - "You name it and the school had a competition for it, and because I wanted to be the best in all my subjects, I really loved that," he says.

When it came to life beyond school, his teachers - many of whom he is still in touch with - encouraged him to go to university to study the subjects he enjoyed the most. And so, despite a desire to become a journalist, he went to Swansea University to study Latin and French.

When he left university, he found a job that harnessed his two passions of languages and sport: teaching. Despite falling into the profession, he taught for more than 10 years - and says that the school, and the community in which it was embedded, shaped the values he still lives by today. 

"The school was in the South Wales Valleys, and again it was a situation where you're the only black person for about 50 miles. I found myself embraced by a community that wanted me to be there, because I was teaching their young people and playing for their local rugby team. I was fed, watered, housed, given a bike, all things to make sure that I stayed and had a really good time in that community," he says. 

"And they made me learn about the community, I went down to a coal mine to understand the families of those youngsters I was teaching, what their life was like. It was an incredible learning experience for me to teach, and to live in that mining community. A lot of my values are honed by that experience."

He says that the choice to leave teaching came about via a free meal - he was approached by someone in the Welsh government who had observed him teaching a few times and who wanted to take him for lunch. He was offered a job building the Welsh national curriculum in languages while also training teachers at Swansea University in his way of teaching, which was all about bringing languages alive through interaction and role play, rather than teaching formal grammar. 

And in supporting and coaching the trainee teachers, Greenidge uncovered a major passion.

"What you get to see is some really enthusiastic youngsters who are very, very talented. It isn't easy, but it's about how do you garner that enthusiasm, channel it, structure it in such a way that it makes an impact, but doesn't dampen their enthusiasm?" he says. 

"I suppose, looking back at my life, there's been no great plan involved, but there's always something about supporting people to do better than they could do. And that's probably because people have supported me to do better." 

Stepping into the world of FE

After seven years with the Welsh government, he moved across to work specifically with vocational subjects - developing the qualifications needed to mobilise the workforce. Vocational subjects may seem a world away from languages, but Greenidge says that languages are far from academic, and are, actually, "entirely vocational". 

"If we are going to compete with other countries in terms of trade and industry, we need to speak their language. I've managed to do things because I speak French and Spanish and German that other colleagues couldn't do - those languages are fundamental," he says.

He says that he'd like to see the teaching of languages included in vocational courses - and that it would be great for apprentices working at EDF or Santander to speak French or Spanish - but says he is resigned to the fact that will never happen. 

A 15-year stint at the University for Industry - now known as Learndirect - followed. There, he held a number of roles and worked on developing content for courses online for adults who were not in formal education. The internet was very new at the time, and Greenidge said that everyone told them that people couldn't learn online - "we proved them wrong," he laughs. 

Today, Greenidge runs his own business, Ariege, where he supports and coaches senior leaders, and also sits on several boards: the Learning and Work Institute Wales, Groundwork Wales, the Institute of Employability Professionals and Ballet Cymru.

Greenidge has been involved with the dance world for years, previously sitting on the Rubicon Dance board, and says that it's a part of his working life that takes him out of his comfort zone. 

"At one of my very first board meetings, we were asked to get up and drum or sing our introduction. I thought, 'Good grief, this is out of my league.' But it takes you out of your comfort zone and it challenges you to think differently," he says. 

"The beauty of dance is that you can express things in that medium that you sometimes find difficult expressing verbally. I thoroughly enjoy working with Ballet Cymru - it's different." 

Why it's time for a 'difficult conversation' on diversity 

And last week, Greenidge took up a new challenge - one that will see his mentoring skills come to the fore once more. It's something in which he has a huge amount of experience, having spent the past few years coaching black, Asian and/or minority ethnic leaders in FE through the ETF's diversity of leadership programme.

And he says that although it's him who has been named as the director of diversity across the AoC and ETF, it's not a job he can do alone. Real change, he says, will rely on the "change makers" themselves - the ones he will be guiding and supporting, the ones who will embed real change in their colleges and communities.

Why now? The time is right, he says. 

"As individuals, we always fight against change because change is challenging for us. It impacts on our status, impacts on our certainty, it impacts on our relationships. People will resist change. What we've had recently, just from a black minority ethnic perspective, we've had the George Floyd piece, we've had things that are taking place in the States which have reflected back over here," he says. 

"We've had a stimulus which has shifted things. We've had the #MeToo movement, which has shifted perspectives. There's the whole transgender conversation, which is getting more prominence out there. So there are a number of things happening out there in the external environment that are causing people to think, 'Are we in the right place? Are we servicing our communities? Are we servicing our students who are diverse? Are we servicing our staff who are diverse?' People are asking questions: the time is right." 

And the key to all of this, he says, is achieving sustainability - making a long-lasting change. 

"If sustainability depends on constant training courses, then there's a risk that the education system is constantly dependent on government shifting. Real sustainability is around individuals within organisations committing to work in particular ways and to develop themselves in particular ways," Greenidge says. 

"If you give people the tools and the support infrastructure to do those things, then you embed sustainability. It's that principle of give a man a fish or teach them how to fish. If we can, over a period of years, develop tools, develop processes, shift the mindset of organisations to think more about inclusion, then I think you've got the support infrastructure for inclusion.

"The bit that we've not spent much time on is creating that environment where people are wanting change, where people are advocating for change, and people are willing to take up the mantle and drive for change."

And it's not just colleges and providers who have a major role to play, but Ofsted, Ofqual, the Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, too, says Greenidge. 

"Government has teeth and it has a number of regulatory bodies that could be encouraged to use their teeth to ensure that organisations are working in the right way. But it can't all be stick, there is a carrot out there for organisations to demonstrate to their communities, staff and students that they are inclusive. That's how you increase success, that's how you retain staff - that increases your ability to deliver," he says. 

Greenidge says that it's time for a difficult conversation in FE - one that everyone right across the sector should not only be contributing and listening to, but acting upon. 

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