LGBT History Month is always a great chance to recognise the achievements and contributions of the LGBT+ community, and an opportunity to reflect on the challenges people face, and last week a roundtable event in Parliament gave me opportunity to learn more about the LGBT+ experience in further education.
I was especially interested to hear Office for National Statistics figures showing that one in 25 young people identifies as LGBT+, and that in schools only one in four LGBT+ pupils knows of a gay member of staff. There was no equivalent information for colleges. That was part of the challenge given to us as sector leaders, at the event – chaired by Helen Grant MP and organised by World Skills UK – to better understand the experiences LGBT+ people face in the FE sector, so that we can better support them.
There’s undoubtedly great practice across the college world. City of Glasgow College and Newham College are both in the Stonewall top 100 employers and many other colleges are also working hard to support LGBT+ staff and students and to create inclusive environments for everyone to flourish.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
I’d like to see us open the equality, diversity and inclusion discussion more widely in the college sector though. A central part of that would be encouraging colleges to proudly showcase more of the good practice that they often take for granted; but, equally, we would want more of a stocktake of colleges’ overall performance.
I worry that we don’t know enough about the experience of students and staff, about the levels of, and the reporting and resolution of, bullying and harassment, about stereotyping, about support and culture, about outcomes for students across the legally protected characteristics and beyond.
A bigger focus on equality, diversity and inclusion might identify problems that we don’t know about; great practice which could be shared more widely and resources which we need to disseminate or develop. Do enough teachers and curriculum leads know about inclusive practice and curriculum? Do colleges do enough to offer the best pastoral care and actively promote good relations between all students? Do sector bodies, such as the Association of Colleges, do enough to support colleges and promote this agenda? Have the government and its agencies done enough to set expectations and monitor delivery?
Support and respect
I’ve always been proud of working in the college sector and a big part of that is the inclusive and open way that colleges recruit and support students from across the communities they serve. I have spoken to scores of students over the years who have reached college and found, for the first time, a place in which they can feel safe and respected and can be their true, authentic self. A place that helps them flourish. That’s all well and good, but the roundtable was a useful nudge to make me ask whether we know enough to have confidence that this is true for all students everywhere.
Along with the other people in the room, I have committed to follow-up actions. I started with a simple one last week when I invited college leaders to step forward into a conversation about equality, diversity and inclusion with me and other AoC staff. It will be interesting to see how much interest there is, how the conversation develops and where we get to.
At the AoC, we have been having our own conversation about this. Last year we committed to the Investors in Diversity Award, which many colleges have achieved. The staff survey, support from Investors in Diversity and the internal discussions are helping us to become a more welcoming, inclusive and supportive employer. They are supporting us to develop a stronger culture of inclusion, which is easy to take for granted as the CEO.
My position is one of privilege within the organisation, and it’s critical to create the space for staff to be honest and open. I am sure that we will create a more tolerant, supportive and respectful culture at AoC as a result of this work. That’s our ambition and I look forward to writing about all of this again in the coming months.
David Hughes is chief executive of the Association of Colleges