Equal opportunities and access to Ptlls

I wanted to tackle two issues in one in this weeks (long) article: equal opportunities both from the point of view of an educator and as a learner. So this is relevant to those yet to start Ptlls right along to those who have finished. We’ll have a look at a few common equal opps cases and of course this is related to T4 on inclusion, equality and diversity.

Essential reading here is the website of the Government Equalities Office which includes the Equalities Act 2010 with FAQs and breakdowns of the Act in the form of downloadable PDFs produced along with the Citizens Advice Bureau.

A common example of a disability encountered in education is dyslexia. Dyslexia is thought to affect up to 1 in 10 people, which would be about 6m people nationally. It is categorised as a learning difficulty but is about more than just not being able to spell or read great. Although there is no cure for dyslexia it can be very successfully managed with the right support, techniques and systems.

For you: If you are dyslexic there is no reason for that to be a problem in doing Ptlls. If you declare your dyslexia before the course it gives the institution the chance to provide timely support for you. You are entitled to that support under the Equality Act 2010 where they have to make reasonable adjustments so that you are not at any disadvantage because of your dyslexia or indeed any learning difficulty or disability. The institution does need to know you are dyslexic for it to be held responsible under these rules though. As much as it has a responsibility to give you the support you need it also cannot harass or victimise you because of your dyslexia so you are covered on either front.

For your students: Screening and awareness is so much better now in schools meaning dyslexia will be picked up on by GCSEs in the majority of cases. These students will be aware of their dyslexia and probably declare it and hopefully will already have had support and be used to the system. However that was not always the case as many of you know. Many adults were never diagnosed at school and only realised later in life – possibly by coming back to education. So arriving on your course might be some students who will be adapted already, some might be less confident in themselves and some may not be aware yet. None of this should be a problem for you – teaching is about being creative and aware of barriers and you should also know about support services for your students.

For more information on dyslexia try Dyslexia Action and the British Dyslexia Association both of which have resources for teachers and/or students.

Overshadowed still by the LGB part of the equation I am particularly interested in reactions to transgender issues in education. In FE colleges and universities young people are gaining the confidence to be themselves but I don’t think the organisations are keeping pace, even less so when it comes to adults. Transgenderism incorporates transsexuality, transvestitism and anything in between or outside of our society’s rigid gender binary of male-female.

For you: Everyone has the right to respect and dignity and educational organisations have to provide a safe environment for people to study. Codes of conduct for students are pretty strict and even if not mentioning transgender issues directly certainly encompass them and equal opps policy should certainly directly address trans issues. Any difficulties should be raised and swift action should be expected.

For your students: As I said I don’t think educational institutions have really caught up with these issues… I don’t know any college that allows people to opt out of the gender question on forms or omit their title. The most important thing to recognise is that everyone is different and should be treated as individuals. Trans students may be out, where they are open about being trans. Or they may be stealth and trying to pass or present as their chosen gender. Or they may happily be straddling that gender division with no intention of transitioning. A respectful environment should be a standard but when you start to really listen you are surprised by the offhand homophobia, transphobia and poor gender attitudes that are about.

For more information on gender issues there’s the Equality and Human Rights Commission pages on transgender equality containing lots of advice and guidance, the Gender Identity Research and Education Society which has a section for educators and The Gender Trust with FAQs and a blog.

Another two common issues people have accessing education is childcare problems and English language barriers. Though not protected characteristics under the Equalities Act 2010 there is useful protection contained in the Act and institutions should recognise these issues as potential barriers and do what they can to alleviate them.

Childcare can be a huge obstacle to overcome when taking a course and participating in education. Eldercare and caring for a disabled child are covered by the Equalities Act 2010 as are responsibilities by your employer. But further education institutions are not obliged to sort out childcare for students. Whilst this remains people’s own responsibility there are ways the institution and other services can help.

For you: You need to be aware of your options and start making arrangements as soon as possible. Childcare provision and funds are in high demand and will run out quickly. Your institution may want to assess your situation which will mean providing details of family income and outgoings and they will have eligibility rules relating to those incomes and outgoings, benefits being claimed and so on. These funds, known as Discretionary Support Funds are distributed by government depending on demand and bidding by institutions and the institutions themselves set the priorities and exact amounts they give to students. Even if they are not able to offer support they might be able to advise you about other options such as other funds, there’s information about grants and bursaries for adults or Care to Learn if you are under 20. There’s also the Learner Support helpline for advice on childcare costs while learning.

For your students: Worry about family responsibilities can sometimes have a detrimental affect on someones work and sometimes family and children are the driving force behind someone returning to or furthering their education. As educators we need to be aware of all the different barriers and motivations that exist for our learners. Establish people’s need early and incorporate it in to your lessons. Within the groud rules for the group you might want to cover what people should do if they need to take a child-related phone call during the class – which is almost an inevitability. Know where to refer your learners if they have questions or concerns – to your institutions own services, to the local authority or other support services.

There is lots of information though not necessarily regarding education at Working Families and linked above are some Directgov pages and Next Step.

In Leicester, where I live, English language needs are a non-issue as they are so prevalent and the systems are well adapted. In other places with less people speaking other languages the wheels may not be so well oiled. Classes will have varying proportions of people for whom English is not a first language, second or third. Ability may range from fluent to needing improvement. From either a student or tutor point of view it is an opportunity to learn and develop.

For you: As discussed in the English and Maths skills post a few weeks ago many courses will have an IELTS requirement of level 6.5. There is often an English requirement for native English speakers as well. Most FE colleges that offer Ptlls will also run ESOL courses so if necessary you can get that ticked off first quite easily. Anyone whose English is at that standard or above will be able to cope with the standard of English used in the course and should expect exactly the same support as anyone else if there are any problems.

For your students: If the institution you teach with has entry reqs then you can be confident your students have the basic skills covered. At some point the difference in ability and comprehension between a first language English speaker and someone with English as an additional language just fade in to each other. Again it is just a question of being intuitive and receptive to any issues your learners have, creative in overcoming those barriers and knowing where to go for further help and support.

For more information about ESOL there is a Gov.uk page for English, maths and IT skills and One Stop English is a great site that though is primarily aimed at ESOL tutors has some insightful articles that can help any tutor with ESOL learners in their group.

Another issue: those equal opportunity questionnaires. You know the ones I mean. Stuck on the back of everything asking for your ethnicity, home language, religion and more often now your sexuality too. There’s a really good leaflet called “What’s it got to do with you?” which is produced by Stonewall and can be viewed online. It gives 10 reasons why you should fill in these sections.

I agree: monitoring is an essential part of ensuring equal opportunities for everyone. If you don’t know who you are dealing with you don’t know whether you are discriminating or not. When the college I worked at introduced a question about religion to the application and enrolment forms there were several enquiries about it ranging from curiosity to belligerence. Which is okay, all these questions should have some form of “prefer not to answer”. If you are concerned about particular questions or the way they are phrased you should talk to the organisation asking it.

I thought it might also be helpful to throw in a few sample equal opportunities policies…

  • A fairly typical looking policy from West Thames College
  • This one from Sheffield College covers what students should do if they experience any difficulties and discusses how equal opps is implemented in various areas

The conclusion: Whilst I do not fall in to or identify as a member of any of the particular groups above I do strive to be well informed and respectful and reject entitlement and privilege. If anyone has any polite points of view they would like to leave in the comments please do!

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