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Why a commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion benefits the whole college and wider community

Updated: 04.10.23

Why a commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion benefits the whole college and wider community

The Sheffield College has risen up the ranks to become recognised as one of the UK’s top equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) champions.

James Smythe, Vice Principal, Student Experience, and the college’s strategic lead for EDI, explains the journey so far and why a commitment to EDI benefits the whole college and wider community.

At The Sheffield College, we want to build a community where our students, apprentices and staff are treated fairly and with respect and can thrive and succeed.

It takes time, commitment and determination to achieve this with a proactive and relentless focus on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

It involves being willing to recognise the barriers that stand in the way of achieving those ambitions and doing everything that we can to eliminate them.

Creating a college culture of mutual respect, and putting the right systems in place, to advance equality of opportunity, foster good relations and eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation is essential.

According to an Association of Colleges (AoC) report exploring the status of EDI in further education colleges in England, the education sector lags behind the commercial sector in engaging with EDI.

The AoC report, published in 2021, notes that in the corporate world, big business recognises the social capital achieved by demonstrating a commitment to EDI resulting in improved corporate governance, business performance and profits.

We are in the business of education and training and transforming lives through learning. However, it is important to stress that EDI initiatives go beyond making good ‘business sense’. Ensuring that EDI is part of everything we do is first and foremost an ethical imperative; it is the right thing to do.

As a college, which provides education and training to approximately 13,000 young people and adults a year, and linking in with around 2,700 employers, we are clear that it is morally, socially and economically right to prepare our students and apprentices for life and work in a world that is diverse.

EDI is based on the premise enshrined in law that we all have a right not to be treated less favourably because of our protected characteristics. These include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sex and sexual orientation.

As a college, we are also focussed on the nature and impact of socio economic disadvantage as an EDI commitment.

Whilst this is not currently protected in law, it is a characteristic that shapes our college community. Approximately, 60% of our student population comes from areas of high deprivation and over 55% of our 16 to 18-year-olds receive financial support.

A significant number of our students live in, or on the edge of, poverty and experience higher than average levels of ill health and poor educational attainment, exacerbated by the pandemic and cost of living crisis.

We believe that we have a duty to address issues relating to class and social mobility if we are to deliver our mission of transforming lives through learning.

In our ambition to put EDI at the heart of everything we do, we have been working with the National Centre for Diversity since 2019. To advance equality, we must consider an individual’s different needs and capabilities, recognise and celebrate our differences and strive to be inclusive.

We have launched a range of initiatives and put specific measures in place and are committed to tracking our progress. Our EDI journey has involved reviewing our organisational culture, and what is viewed as acceptable behaviour, and our structures and listening to our staff and the communities we serve.

We are ensuring EDI is reflected in our curriculum and that it is central to employment policies to ensure our workforce is diverse and sub-contracting procedures so that third parties honour our commitments.

We have reviewed our values and behaviours. We strive to put the FREDIE values of fairness, respect, equality, diversity, inclusion and engagement at the heart of everything we do. Our core behaviours focus on the themes of being empowered, working together and thriving.

We have EDI College Development and Training plans. Our Equality Scheme 2023 to 2025, developed with students and staff, sets out how the college is taking steps to eliminate discrimination, advance equal opportunity and foster good relations.

It shows that we help learners from a wide range of backgrounds to make big progress in their lives. For example, a growing proportion of students, approximately one in every three, on our provision for young people (16–18-year-olds) declare an additional learning support need.

We are also seeing a significant rise in the number of students declaring a medical need, coupled with the needs being ever more complex.

Our commitments to EDI make an important contribution to our student community as well as social inclusion and cohesion, and to the economic development of Sheffield and the wider region.

For example, our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Board, established in 2019, has representation from students, curriculum and business and service areas. The board meets on at least a termly basis reporting to the executive leadership team and the Teaching, Learning, Quality and Student Experience Committee of the governing body.

Our Equality Operations Group, which launched in 2020, involves curriculum and support staff who meet monthly to share best practice on EDI with their respective curriculum areas.

Overall, we are seeing some evidence that our efforts are having an impact.  We have a good record of reducing the gaps in success between students with different protected characteristics and from diverse backgrounds, for example, for those from minority ethnic backgrounds, those who are transitioning or have transitioned and those with a declared disability. However, we appreciate that we need to do more.

In a survey in 2022/23, 98% of students who responded agreed that the college provides a welcoming place to study for people of all backgrounds. In staff feedback for a survey in 2023, 97% of respondents said they felt valued and respected by colleagues and 98% understood what the FREDIE values mean in the workplace.

Our progress has also been recognised externally at a national level. The college achieved the Investors in Diversity Award in 2020 and the Leaders in Diversity status in 2021 with re-accreditation achieved in 2023.

Encouragingly, we ranked sixth in the National Centre for Diversity FREDIE Awards Top 100 Most Inclusive Workplaces 2022, jumping from 101st place in 2020. The college also won the Chief Executive’s Special Award category.

The awards celebrate organisations with excellent equality, diversity and inclusion policies and recognise individuals for their contributions and commitment to improving practices and making working environments more inclusive.

In addition, we have been recognised as a College of Sanctuary receiving national recognition in 2022 from the network organisation City of Sanctuary for providing inclusive education and support to refugees and people seeking asylum.

None of this would be possible without strong college leadership and governance behind a commitment to relentlessly pursuing the creation of a college culture that champions EDI.

Despite some significant progress, we are not complacent. For example, we are exploring the disability pay gap, even though it is not a legal requirement. We want to ensure that the composition of our staff and the governing body becomes more representative of our student population.

We recognise that we still have work to do to ensure that we embrace the differences that a diverse community can bring for the benefit of our students, staff and the communities that we serve.

More details about our equality, diversity and inclusion commitments are available on our website.

Pictured: James Smythe, Vice Principal, Student Experience, and EDI lead at The Sheffield College



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