From education to employment

Why we need a unified commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion

jeff greenidge

As Association of Colleges launch an EDI charter, Director for Diversity and Governance Jeff Greenidge explains why it’s needed, what it sets out to achieve and how it works in practice for colleges

As the Director for Diversity and Governance at the Association of Colleges (AoC), it is a privilege to support my further education colleagues in their drive towards a more inclusive future. I recognise that we are living and working in a volatile, ambiguous and uncertain environment, and that progress with regards to making the most of our diverse talents has been slow and, in some cases, regressed.

Engaging in some uncomfortable conversations

However, I am heartened by the response of our colleges, by their willingness to engage in some uncomfortable conversations, and by the very many examples of practice totally focussed on making the most of our talented diverse staff and student populations.

As AoC, we believe the time is right for all colleges to embrace equity, diversity, and inclusion through a unified Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Charter, building on the practice of our colleges.

The charter, launched at the AoC EDI conference in March 2024, transcends mere symbolism; it is a public commitment by the FE sector in England to foster environments where differences are acknowledged, celebrated and harnessed for innovation. For us, advocating for sector-wide commitment to diversity and inclusion isn’t just about morality; it’s a business necessity and simply the right thing to do. We know that embracing diverse perspectives isn’t just about fairness; it’s about enhancing organisational creativity, innovation, problem-solving capabilities and ultimately sustainability.

Collaborating with key stakeholders

Acknowledging the progress made in diversity and inclusion strategies within the FE sector, we recognise that there’s still much ground to cover. Therefore, in collaboration with key stakeholders such as the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), Holex, The Federation of Awarding Bodies, and WorldSkills, and supported by the FE Commissioner, we are advocating for a unified approach across the sector. Although the approach is unified, we recognise that the actions cannot be uniform.

What the EDI charter means in practice?

Each college will identify the actions, tools, success measures, and reporting methods appropriate to their unique social and demographic context. The charter sets out a journey for colleges, from initial commitment to embedding diversity and inclusion into their systems and demonstrating leadership and impact through the lived experience of their students, staff, and stakeholders.

As I have said before, equality of opportunity will only exist when we recognise and value difference, use equity as the tool to lift people up, and work together for an inclusive environment where we know we belong. Signatories to the charter commit to improving opportunities for all individuals within their communities, internally and externally. This commitment includes seeking best practices in recruitment, retention, and career progression, supporting the development of good diversity and inclusion practices, and assigning responsibility for meeting charter commitments to a named senior-level individual. For students, we are asking colleges to commit to building an environment of belonging by ensuring equity and inclusion are reflected in our curriculum and by listening to the communities we serve.

Regular assessments to gauge the effectiveness of diversity initiatives

The charter also recognises the importance of leadership commitment, stakeholder engagement, and regular assessments to gauge the effectiveness of diversity initiatives. By embedding diversity and inclusion into broader organisational systems and processes, colleges can create an environment where everyone feels valued and respected, and we have the evidence-based data to know we are progressing.

For me, the charter represents a collective effort by the FE sector to lead by example, fostering educational excellence and a more equitable and inclusive society. It is a testament to our commitment to genuine inclusivity and belonging for all and a belief that every individual, irrespective of background, holds the potential to drive change and contribute to a resilient learning and skills system.

In signing this charter, further education colleges in England are taking a significant step towards creating a more diverse, inclusive, and future-ready education system that can better serve the needs of their communities. Together, let us pave the way for transformative change and build a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

Jeff Greenidge is the Director for Diversity and Governance at the Association of Colleges (AoC)

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