Only three further education colleges have been featured among the UK’s top LGBT employers in the past decade.
Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index has become a benchmark for the “top 100” inclusive employers in the UK and it provides an endorsement of an organisation’s equality policies.
A total of 434 employers entered this year through a process of self-nomination, and the 2018 index includes 16 employers from the education sector. However, the only FE college to be selected was Newham College, compared with 14 universities.
The London college is seen as a trailblazer for inclusivity, having featured on the list for seven of the past 10 years. In fact, only two other colleges made the list at any point in the last decade: Somerset College, twice, and Vision West Nottinghamshire College, once.
“We encourage all organisations, including FE institutions, to take part in our annual Workplace Equality Index,” said Stonewall director Pete Holmes. “More FE institutions can follow Newham College’s lead and come out for LGBT equality in the workplace.”
Ian Pretty, chief executive of the Collab Group of colleges, said he was shocked that more colleges were not featured on a list that seeks to showcase how much an organisation cares about inclusivity.
'More to be done'
“Does the FE sector take seriously the importance of things like Stonewall? Does it take seriously that LGBT employees feel that the company or organisation they work for is a positive role model for other LGBT people or not?” he asked. “Not participating in this sends out a signal.”
Kirsti Lord, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that there was always more to be done on this issue, despite some great work already going on in FE.
“Colleges across the country are doing excellent work engaging with and supporting LGBT students and staff – including working with Stonewall to deliver training programmes, running LGBT advisory groups chaired by students and staff, and working with senior managers to raise awareness of issues throughout LGBT History Month and beyond,” she said.
Education consultant Laila El-Metoui says it is because FE is the “forgotten arm of education” that provision is better for students at universities.
“Universities have a budget for staff and students groups for example. All staff need to be trained on how to be more inclusive and welcoming for the variety of sexual orientation and gender identities,” she adds.
Ms El-Metoui has been pioneering LGBT inclusivity in adult education and ESOL classes since the repeal 15 years ago of section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act – which effectively banned discussing homosexuality in local authority funded education provision.
“It’s about contextualising teaching and challenging stereotypes,” she says. “It’s about usualising and normalising the lives of LGBT people and raising awareness of issues. As soon as you make the invisible visible, people react.”
This is an edited version of an article in the 16 February edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents