The role of FE governance in disability equality
10th September 2021
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When one thinks of diversity, more often than not, disability finds its way at the back of the queue. All colleges in the UK are required by law to ensure that students receive equitable provision of and access to services. However, real terms funding cuts to school sixth form colleges of 22% since 2009-2010 and 18% to further education and sixth-form colleges, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has seen the promotion of disability rights take something of a back seat in some quarters.
More needs to be done to highlight disability issues in colleges
In July 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson put his government’s levelling-up agenda front and centre. Under this plan, the National Disability Strategy was unveiled. Johnson explained: “Our new National Disability Strategy is a clear plan – from giving disabled people the best start in school to unlocking equal job opportunities, this strategy sets us on a path to improve their everyday lives.”
Responding to the news of the strategy, Chief Executive of AoC, David Hughes, said: “The additional funding for SEND provision is helpful, but it is concerning to see the omission of colleges from the commitment to invest in accessibility and capacity in education.”
Addressing this omission is central to the work a governor can do to put disability front of centre of a college’s raison d’etre. One key area that a governor can use their influential voice to promote equality across the FE network is pushing for colleges to have parity of funding with schools for non-high needs students in order to provide support for students to see them through their educational journey.
A governor can highlight disability inequality
A key driver behind any successful college is its board of governors. In turn, governors can become powerful agents for change, highlighting disability issues that affect students on a daily basis. How they do this is by acting as a mouthpiece for students living with a disability. It makes sense that students progress better when they feel settled as part of an inclusive community and there is no better way to achieve this than having their voices heard.
This is not a new issue, far from it. But that doesn’t make it any less important. In its 2009 Equality, Diversity and Governance report, AoC concluded that: “By challenging managers vigorously on provider performance, governors can help ensure that equality and diversity is central, fundamental and integral to every aspect of an organisation’s culture, vision and practice.”
How can students with disabilities be better represented in colleges?
Personal experience cannot be underplayed here. Student governors living with a disability can often identify problems being faced by multiple students and alert the board to impending issues. They may also add a range of innovative solutions gleaned from their experiences and/or expertise, making their position on the board an invaluable asset for any college wishing to foster a truly diverse and inclusive environment.
A parent governor may have direct experience of living with a disability or they may have a child attending a sixth form college, for example. Understanding the barriers that students at college may face puts you in the ideal position as governor to strive for disability issues to become a central part of policy.
Ideas from governors with personal experience of the challenges that exist within FE institutions can be put forward from a different perspective, highlighting issues that may have otherwise been missed.
Colleges are very keen to promote diversity and you can expect to see open and formalised advertising for governor roles that clearly explain that applications are particularly welcome from under-represented groups, including from those with disabilities.
How can diversity include disability in colleges?
Diverse governors will be able to enrich the discussion and decision-making process by providing a broader range of perspectives, shedding light on how decisions might impact on students with disabilities. They may also add a range of innovative solutions generated from their experiences and/or expertise. These contributions within a framework of inclusivity and collaboration can exponentially improve outcomes for students.
By addressing the fact that students living with disabilities have very different needs from those who do not, long and lasting changes can be put in place. Governors can help embed and extend good practice that benefits students living with a disability.