Why education needs diversity to tackle key challenges facing the sector

July 5, 2018

Johan Jensen

Director of All-in Education

At this year’s Festival of Education, I chaired a panel which addressed diversity in educational leadership.

I spoke to one attendee afterwards. Let’s call him John. John declared that he was ‘a white, middle class, straight man’.

We talked about why there weren’t many of ‘his kind’ attending the panel session. He said that one reason is that people like him are likely to feel threatened by the diversity and inclusion agenda. I think he’s right.

The diversity and inclusion debate is currently framed as being about other people rather than the likes of John – it’s about women, it’s about ethnic minorities, LGBT+ people and so on. So, if you’re not identifying with any of these characteristics, why should you care?

I believe the debate needs to be reframed. Diversity and inclusion is about John, it’s about every single one of us. We are all diverse in one way or another and we’ve all felt excluded at one point in our lives. Ask yourself, when you’ve felt excluded, how did that make you feel and how did it affect your performance?


Creating an action plan

Taking action to become a more diverse as a team, school, or multi academy trust and creating more inclusive systems will help tackle key challenges facing education.

We live in a diverse world and schools are a part of that – diversity is found in pupils, teachers and the community as a whole. In order to reap the benefits of diversity we need to take action to be inclusive; in relation to the staff, pupils and the communities we serve. Below are some practical tips:

  • Review the recruitment process and ask how inclusive it is of all talent – does your recruitment really reach as far as you want - or do you only get a few applications for each role?
  • Listen to LGBT+ staff and straight allies on how to make the work/school environment more inclusive – do staff feel confident enough to talk about LGBT+ issues, let alone tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying?
  • Reach out to experts and organisations who can support in embedding diversity and inclusion in the school or group of schools (cue All-in Education). Embed inclusive leadership in leadership development programmes which schools have access to.

Ask yourself, where does my organisation draw the limit on inclusion and how does this impact on me and those around me? As you’ll most certainly know, for many, or dare I say the majority of LGBT+ school staff, sexuality and gender identity is where their school draws the limit (NASUWT, 2018 and Teachers’ Report, Stonewall 2014).

Admittedly, many schools foster environments where inclusion is valued and where staff are recruited, promoted and retained on such a basis. Not all see inclusion as a priority, however. I believe that school staff and pupils suffer as a consequence.

"In order to reap the benefits of diversity we need to take action to be inclusive; in relation to the staff, pupils and the communities we serve"

For the sector

As we face mounting teacher and leadership shortages, schools must attract talent from all sections of society. It’ll be increasingly difficult to do so if a school limits the way in which it approaches inclusion and how it fosters a working environment which values people’s differences and actively supports its staff to be themselves. Potential teaching and support staff will simply look elsewhere if the school, or wider education sector, isn’t supportive of who they are.

In 2007 when I worked at Stonewall, I carried out research on over 1,000 young lesbian, gay and bisexual people in schools. 65 percent told me they’d experienced homophobic bullying (Hunt and Jensen, 2007). In the 2017 follow-up polling, Stonewall found that 45% of young LGB people experience homophobic bullying. The 20% decrease over ten years is certainly encouraging but still, more than half of LGBT+ pupils (53 per cent) say that there isn’t an adult at school they can talk to about being LGBT+ (Bradlow, Bartram, Guasp and Jadva, 2017).

When we talk about diversity and inclusion in schools, in businesses and elsewhere we’re not only talking about the ethical case for ensuring that we embrace difference, aiming to create a better world, we are also talking about the business case – that it makes commercial sense.

For argument’s sake, I’ll make the assumption that all headteachers want their staff and pupils to perform to their full potential, but how can we expect them to do that if they can’t be themselves, or ‘simply’ talk about LGBT+ issues or tackle HBT bullying?

When I worked in the field of leadership development in schools, I saw very little focus on diversity and inclusion as elements of high performing leadership. Although the business sector has a long way to go, I’m seeing a greater will from senior leadership to embrace diversity and inclusion and place it at the heart of their organisations – to benefit staff, customers, profitability and the wider community.

Trade Unions, LGBT+ organisations and networks like LGBTed have led the way and worked tirelessly to support LGBT+ staff and tackle HBT bullying in schools. They will continue to fulfil an important role to carry out this work.

Yet, if schools are to attract, promote and retain the best talent – for the benefit of pupils, staff and their wider community – their approach to diversity and inclusion must change. All leaders in education have a key role to play in bringing this to the forefront and to take a lead.

Johan Jensen is Director of All-in Education. As a diversity and inclusion expert Johan has worked with major financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, charity sector and public sector organisations to improve Diversity and Inclusion. In 2018 he founded All-in Education to support MATs, TSAs and other educational institutions to increase diversity and to become inclusive workplaces. If you’re interested to know more email [email protected].

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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