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A major factor affecting the delivery of the curriculum in Further Education is rooted in the inequalities resultant from perceived racial and ethnic differences. These are very often based on preconceived notions, usually ill informed, about the beliefs and practices of different racial and ethnic groups.
Over the past few years there has been a small but sustained increase, year on year in the racial mix of potential learners applying to start engineering courses. My practice involves the delivery of the engineering curriculum to learners at levels one to three; the make-up of all these groups reflects the general trend in the increase in racial mix.
Therefore, the primary reason for investigating this topic was to discover the real impact of the increasing diversity and how the legislation is being used to underpin the values described in the Race Relations Act 1976, how they affect College operation (in respect of Oaklands College) and how teaching practice is affected.
In this report, the intention is to set out the background to the Act and investigate its effect on the further education sector with particular reference to Oaklands College and then to discuss the implications for the teacher in the classroom or workshop.
The Race Relations Act 1976 (RRA) and the Race Equality document that supports this and how Oaklands College is implementing it.
Values behind the Policy
The Race Relations Act came into being in 1976, when it was recognised that the existing legislation was weak and had little beneficial effect on the lives of racial minority groups. The underpinning values of the new regulations were, the elimination of racial discrimination, the promotion of equality of opportunity and the promotion of harmonious relations between peoples of different ethnic and racial groups. These are the values, which the majority of British people purportedly avow allegiance; however, they are very much tested by the strength of popular perception which is, as always far more powerful than the truth. A situation not aided by the popular press who take every opportunity to terrify the population by visions of the impending end of the British way of life, overwhelmed by a tsunami of immigrants from all parts of the world. Thus the need to overtly promote the values is even more heavily underscored and even more necessary.
To understand how legislation affects operations in Further Education, it is essential to understand some definitions of aspects of discrimination as described in the Act. The 1976Act divides discrimination into four broad areas; direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Below are some examples and definitions, which illustrate the meaning of each of these categories.
An example of direct discrimination would be to set tighter assignment deadlines to black learners only.
A good example of indirect discrimination is the enforcement of a no headgear rule; this could be seen to exclude Sikhs, who wear turbans, Jewish men wearing yarmulke or Muslim women wearing the hijaab. In practice, if a class contains one or more learners in these groupings plus learners from a majority group who insist on wearing baseball caps, the law would apply if only the baseball cap wearers were asked to doff their headgear.
Harassment on racial grounds is treated the same as direct discrimination because there is a detrimental effect on the victims dignity or it creates an intimidating or hostile environment.
Victimisation concerns people whom have made or intend to make a complaint in respect of racial discrimination and includes any person supporting the complaint. The Act forbids any unfavourable treatment of people in either of these circumstances.
The Commission for racial Equality (CRE, which in 2007was incorporated into The Equality and Human Rights Commission.) issued a Code Of practice (COP), which placed specific duties on schools, colleges and universities. These duties primarily required colleges to publish a policy statement, which actively promoted racial equality. Guidance from the CRE included a number of points, which the college policy was bound to address:
Arrangements to assess the impact of the policy on staff as well as learners.
Ongoing monitoring of the effects of the policy in terms of admissions.
The progress and success rates from differing ethnic and racial groups.
Arrangements to publish the findings of the ongoing monitoring on an annual basis.
Implications for Institution and professional practice
1. The Institution
In 2004 Oaklands College issued an Equality and Diversity Policy (EDP) in which it corporately
“Welcomes diversity, recognises values, celebrates and respects the many different contributions and needs of our learners, staff and the communities we serve” (i)
As required by the Act, the policy sets out a strategy, operational outcomes and responsibilities for implementation and lists supporting policies and procedures. The Race Relations Policy (RRP) is named as one of these supporting policies. Included is a means of ongoing review, which is the work of the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Academic Board. The committee reports to the board on a termly basis and produces a report of its machinations annually. (ii)
Data included in the report is produced retrospectively and is usually only available until after a whole year is passed.
The broad thrust of the Race Relations Policy is to promote inter-racial awareness, mutual respect and the valuing of the diverse ethnicity of all staff and learners. The policy includes a requirement for all staff to be trained and be made aware of the methods of implementation of the Policy. It was anticipated that initially such training would be provided at induction and thereafter be refreshed at regular intervals. This is, however, not mandatory after the induction training and though training sessions are provided, these are not compulsory and attendance is very much at the whim of the individual.
In terms of promotion of the values, much college material is created to take into account the differences in its audience. This is also true in the way that the college advertises to the general public, in a way that hopefully attracts a widely diverse learner body by projecting the image of a multi-cultural establishment in tune with modern, diverse communities. The main page of the College has easily accessible links to an overview of learner support available, including ESOL and the International page also has links leading to information essential to the potential overseas learner as well a guide to the local area. All in English.
2. Professional practice
The effects of racial legislation in the classroom or workshop are best examined by illustration using two real scenarios.
Firstly, a level one group, fifteen strong, is undertaking a largely practical course in engineering fundamentals. Three learners in this group are of the Muslim faith. Their backgrounds are racially diverse, one black of Ugandan origin, one is Bangladeshi and the third is a Lebanese from Beirut. All three have vastly different characters due partly to the natural diversity of human beings, their common Muslim faith and their national origins.
Secondly, a level three group, also fifteen strong is engaged on a level three national Diploma course has a very broad racial and ethnic diversity. The group includes the following.
An Israeli, an Afghan refugee, a Ukrainian, a Romanian, four Afro Caribbeans and the remainder white-British. Immediately we see racial differences that have the potential for giving rise to tensions or even conflict.
In dealing with the three Muslims in the level one group, their needs are very much governed by their racial and faith backgrounds. The society values of each individual within the group will be quite different. Think of the Ugandan, the Bangladeshi and the Lebanese, all Muslim yet all quite different with different individual needs. Yet the Race Relations Act of 1976 demands that each group or individual within a majority group must be given equality of opportunity. Here also there is a case for differentiation extending beyond that required in terms of learning styles alone. The big danger here is the perception of the majority grouping that another individual or minority group is receiving preferential treatment and is thereby gaining an unfair advantage. (Outside the education world a similar principle is bringing about the rise of the BNP in some working class communities)
The majority group could realistically argue that the differentiation applied to the minority group, could be contrary to the principles of the RRA, paradoxically just what the strategy set out to avoid.
The level three group is potentially more volatile in terms of possible conflict, although to date no problems of this nature have been encountered. More to the point are the strategies that can be employed to promote good relations and equal opportunities, since these two values do not always sit happily together.
With such a diverse group, it could be envisaged that language would be the primary barrier to equality of opportunity. The quietness of the Romanian learner at first gave rise to some doubt, but rapidly dispelled on the production of assessable work. The Ukrainian, although born in that country has spent the majority of his life in this country, the Israeli likewise. The only issue in this regard concerns the Afghani refugee. This learner has fairly fluent spoken English and reasonable command of the written. However, this learner does have some difficulty with certain specialist, technical terminology. Support in this regard is provided upon request and ESOL type support is being provided via the International Office.
In general, the College calendar is constructed with the major Christian festival in mind as well as conforming to the traditions of the British academic year. With the annual rise in ethnic diversity, it is now important to recognise the festivals and observances of other religions. A Muslim learner, for instance who is not available for college on a Friday, could be provided with personal support, guidance and of course will have access to any learning materials placed on the VLE. Another possibility is that the date of an assessment could be adjusted in order that Muslim learners are not assessed during Ramadan.
An ideal time to promote racial and ethnic harmony is the tutorial session, which the majority of learners have allocated. Unfortunately support materials for the specific purposes of supporting racial equality sessions are limited to two activities only.
Oaklands College is bound by law to implement the requirements of the RRA1976. However, the advantages are manifold in real terms. If equality of opportunity is achieved, then it naturally follows that success rates will improve and with it the reputation of the college as an excellent place to learn. None of this can happen without compliance. A foundation block of this is the classroom or workshop, where finely tuned strategies are essential for the promotion of racial harmony. Teaching staff, who are the main point of contact for the student, must therefore be cognisant of the requirements of the Act, which places a very pertinent emphasis on ongoing training.
For prospective students especially those from minority ethnic groups, it is essential that their first impression of the College is of a place where they will receive absolute equality of opportunity.
Experience has shown that that race relations and observance of the requirements of the RRA1976 is no longer only a question of colour, the recent influx from eastern Europe brings with it further challenges, in respect of language, customs and religious observances. Though many come skilled into the British workplace, retraining to British standards (here we think of electricians) will mean that there will be an increasing number of students for whom language could present a barrier to their opportunity.
It can be seen that while Oaklands College implements the letter of the Act in many ways, there remain several areas where the spirit of the legislation is forgotten, or at least relegated to insignificance.
In view of investigations, it is recommended that the following points be addressed
The college pays more real attention to the requirements of the act in that it makes the RRP more accessible. Currently the RRP is only listed in the EDP and only accessible via the quality folder on the Curriculum drive.
Staff training should become more regular and mandatory, that is, positively timetabled for every member of staff.
Changing the college calendar in recognition of festivals and observances of religions other than Christian. (Days off for the Sabbaths of all Abrahamic religions?)
Making available more, relevant support materials to promote racial equality of opportunity for use in tutorial sessions.
Oaklands College Equality and diversity policy, Oaklands College, issued 2006 http://intranet.oaklands.ac.uk/docs/CorpPil-EAD%20-%20Equality%20&%20Diversity%20Policy.doc 24/10/2007 at 0915
Annual report on Equality and Diversity Oaklands College Curriculum drive, Quality, All Staff only
Accessed 17/11/2007 at 1500
2. The duty to promote race equality
A GUIDE FOR FURTHER AND HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS
Accessed 25/11/2007 at 0730
Accessed 18/11/2007 at 2315
Accessed 18/11/2007 at 2130