Equality and diversity will be a key theme for Ofsted inspectors when assessing how prejudiced and discriminatory behaviour is addressed in education institutions.
All secondary schools will therefore need to ensure that they have addressed their statutory duties with regards to the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits unlawful discrimination and the less favourable treatment of an individual on the basis of any protected characteristic, including sex, religion and belief, race and disability.
The new framework now requires inspectors to assess how far schools are compliant with equalities legislation, but also responds to the fact that relationships and sex education (RSE) is to be made mandatory from September 2020.
However, what do we mean when we talk about equality and diversity and what is the difference between the two?
The term “equality” refers to fair treatment of every individual, regardless of, and in respect of, any personal characteristic or individual need. The term “diversity”, has many definitions, but they all tend to embrace the notion that our background, knowledge, skills, aptitudes and experiences are all different and that our differences should be valued and appreciated.
And why do equality and diversity matter? According to government figures, ethnic minorities make up 13 per cent of the UK population (figure from August 2018), while around 13.3 million people have reported a disability, making up approximately 21 per cent of the population (figures from 2015/16 Family Resources Survey).
But inequalities persist. Disabled people are still more than twice as likely to be out of work than non-disabled people (Labour Force Survey January to March 2018), while a White person is still 12 per cent more likely to find work than a person from an ethnic minority (according to government employment figures from September 2018).
At school, the Social Mobility Commission reported in 2017 that gaps in attainment between pupils from high and low socio-economic status backgrounds exist from the start of school, but widen rather than close over the course of education (Low income pupils’ progress at secondary school, February 2017).
While the Ofsted framework will apply to both primary and secondary schools, it is important to note the nuances in how the educational performances of different pupils can vary between stages and phases of education. For example, some racial groups perform well academically at primary school, but less so at secondary school.
Fundamentally, the new Ofsted framework seeks to recognise the myriad inequalities that still permeate the education sector, and of course wider society, by contributing to the elimination of discrimination.
The criteria are clear that this, and the entitlement to a high-quality education, applies to all learners from all backgrounds. It is also interesting that the framework highlights the important role that educators play in enabling learners to be respectful citizens both during and after their time in education, developing their understanding of and appreciation for equality and diversity. This is something secondary school pupils can take with them after they leave school and enter the worlds of higher education or work.
As such, educators clearly have a part to play in ensuring that they celebrate what we have in common and promote respect for protected characteristics as defined in law.
The EIF includes four key judgement areas for all education remits: Quality of education, Behaviour and attitudes, Personal development, Leadership and management.
When it comes to equality, the framework has a sharper focus on curriculum, intending to recognise schools where a commitment to building knowledge and skills may not always be reflected in outcomes.
It will consider whether schools offer truly inclusive education and will seek to tackle issues such as off-rolling.
It also specifically mentions the teaching of diversity under its personal development judgement:
“Inspectors will make a judgement on the personal development of learners by evaluating the extent to which the provider prepares learners for life in modern Britain by developing their understanding and appreciation of diversity.”
On equality, the EIF will be looking specifically at how a school takes account of relevant legislation, including the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty.
So, what can schools do to ensure that they are practically addressing equality and diversity?
Secondary schools should first ensure that they have policies and procedures in place to protect everyone, staff members and students included, from bullying, harassment and discrimination.
For staff, this can take the form of a strong induction process, such as a mentor programme. Also consider whether everyone works as a team and shares the same goals and ethos. Your school should promote mutual respect, equality and positive pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher relationships.
Leadership teams should prepare an action plan to ensure that the whole school takes a holistic approach to wellbeing. This will help to create an ethos where all of those working within the school feel confident in reporting and evidencing issues relating to equality and diversity. Promoting an inclusive environment is key, as is a commitment to deepening pupils’ understanding of “fundamental British values”. These are defined by Ofsted as “democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and mutual respect and tolerance”.
Consider holding an assembly to introduce pupils to these ideas and putting up display boards reiterating how important a welcoming and equal environment is to the school.
Additionally, staff can also talk to children about the diversity of different pupils they need only look around them to see. Inspectors are, after all, looking for evidence of pupil understanding of protected characteristics, but this is also important for creating an inclusive school environment in which everyone can feel safe.
Furthermore, it is important to remove or minimise any disadvantages experienced by pupils who share a protected characteristic. Take steps to meet any differing needs of these pupils, whether that is offering a supplementary workshop or class, or encouraging these pupils to take part in every aspect of school life, including activity where their participation is low.
It also makes good sense for your school to have an equality and diversity policy. Having a set policy in writing will demonstrate to Ofsted inspectors, pupils, families and staff alike that the school respects pupils’ rights, values their differences and deals with problems quickly, thoroughly and confidentially. This policy should state the school’s commitment to complying with legislation, treating everyone fairly and with dignity and respect.
The policy should describe what your school is doing in each area and all staff and teachers should be made aware of it (for which you could consider training). It should also be a “living” document that is monitored, regularly reviewed and reported on.
Other practical steps that your school can take include comprehensive training that introduces teachers to the school’s equality and diversity policies. It should also be ensured that teachers do not make derogatory comments, unfairly discriminate or act in a way that might negatively affect pupils due to any of their characteristics. Both teachers and pupils should be shown the importance of not engaging in harassment, discrimination or bullying behaviour, and should be actively encouraged to respect people’s beliefs and report inappropriate behaviour immediately.
Above all, schools across the country should know what equality and diversity mean and how they are affected. An inclusive learning environment in which everybody is respected is conducive to a happy and healthy learning environment.
For now, it will be interesting to see how Ofsted’s commitment to inclusivity takes shape in practice and whether schools respond promptly and actively. Doing so will ensure that your school is not only compliant with Ofsted criteria, but promotes an ethos of support and parity.
- Dawn Jotham is pastoral care specialist at EduCare.
Further information & resources
To download the Education Inspection Framework’s final documents, go to www.gov.uk/government/collections/education-inspection-framework (Ofsted, May 2019)