EQUALITY – find out what it means to me

Education is fundamental to equality of opportunity. By raising awareness of diversity in schools, and working to eliminate discrimination, all students are given the opportunity to thrive – to reach their full potential. The EQualities Award was conceived to coincide with the Equality Act of 2010 and seeks to support and recognise schools as they embed equality in the DNA of their school. We spoke to Dr Chris Derrington, director of the EQualities Award, to find out more

‘There can be no fair society if age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment remain as markers of disadvantage; and there can be no lasting or deep-rooted progress for disadvantaged groups unless we make a robust case for fairness which involves everyone.’ This is a quote taken from the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 2012 strategic plan, outlining the aims and priorities of the commission. What is conveyed, I think, is the importance of cultivating environments in which equality is a given. Nowhere is this more important than in schools where equal opportunity can be ensured for all learners and a respect for diversity established.

Championing equality

“Around the time the Equality Act was being planned I noticed that local authority (LA) support services had started to diminish and wondered how schools would access the support and advice they needed if LA services weren’t so readily accessible,” Chris explains. The EQualities Award answers this, offering support to schools in need and recognising those doing great work in terms of equality – schools that, due to the Ofsted frameworks which focus on outcomes rather than ‘softer’ measures of success, weren’t being acknowledged.
“Schools take part for a variety of reasons, some because equality is dear to their heart and is embedded in their ethos, others because they feel they’re not quite sure that they’re doing everything they should be, and want to be reassured,” Chris explains. In this sense, the EQualities Award is a development tool, functioning as a development initiative for schools.

An EQualities Award is born

The Equality Act 2010 placed legal obligations on schools and, while it was devised to streamline equality requirements, it also meant that schools would have to prove they met requirements. Part of the EQualities Award is an audit which Chris developed to help schools identify and assess the ways they promote equality of opportunity and ensure better outcomes – regardless of gender, disability, faith and ethnicity, sexual identity and socio-economic disadvantage. It also ensures schools cover the legal side of equality and helps collate evidence of actions taken to promote equality. Importantly, the award celebrates the school’s commitment to equality. “It’s about demonstrating that, as a school, they’re committed to constantly reviewing and trying to get best practice in place.” Having the audit as part of this demonstrates that the school is making a conscious effort to pinpoint discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and create a community of goodwill.

Ofsted’s key judgements in relation to equality

  1. Overall effectiveness Before making the final judgement on the overall effectiveness of a school, inspectors assess the provisions for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. They also evaluate how the education provided meets the needs of a range of learners – including those with disabilities and special needs – and the steps the school has taken to close gaps between different groups of learners – which extends to students for whom English is an additional language and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  2. Effectiveness of leadership and management Under this criterion, leaders and governors are assessed on how they promote all forms of equality and foster ‘greater understanding of and respect for people of all faiths…through their words, actions and influence within the school and more widely in the community’. It also takes account of safeguarding and the promotion of fundamental British values.
  3. Quality of teaching, learning and assessment Ofsted judges schools on equality of opportunity and recognition of diversity within teaching and learning and can extend to the arrangements in place for learners who might face specific difficulties.
  4. Personal development, behaviour and welfare Inspectors make a judgement on behaviour and a separate one on personal development and welfare; where judgements differ, the lower result determines the overall rating.
  5. Outcomes for pupils Inspectors evaluate how effective the procedures in place are at narrowing gaps between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students and that these procedures are having a positive impact

*Information provided by Equalities Award

EQuality and Ofsted

Ofsted’s common inspection framework will be very familiar to SBMs. It’s based on a set of key judgements on aspects such as personal development, behaviour and welfare; these define the criteria that all education providers must meet. Having previously been an Ofted inspector Chris understands the watchdog’s expectations and points out the importance of having evidence available to demonstrate the school’s performance. “We’ve mapped the EQualities Award audit against the Ofsted framework – across all the key judgements – so a school can see how it meets the requirements,” Chris says.
Having equality ingrained in your school – from the inside out – will help you to motivate all your students, helping them to achieve the outcomes they’re capable of which is what every school exists and works for. However – the extra twist is that it might also just lead you through to a successful Ofsted inspection and make the difference between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ verdicts.

 Legal bits
The Equality Act 2010 brought together existing legislation on equality and introduced nine groups with ‘protected characteristics’. The Act provides a platform for tackling discrimination by setting out the duties of all public bodies. From April 2011, the following general duties came into force requiring all public bodies to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • advance equality of opportunity
  • foster good relations.

In April 2012, specific duties were written into law requiring LAs and schools to:

  • Publish information which shows their compliance with general duties
  • Publish specific and unmeasurable equality objectives to meet general duties.

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