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Leading the way in equality and diversity

Since the introduction of the Equality Act in October 2010, equality and diversity has been a hot topic across a wide range of industries using the legal framework to further protect the rights of individuals and aid the advancement of equal opportunities. At Richmond upon Thames College, the new legislation has been used to further support the college’s moral responsibility in promoting these values to learners.

“We are, and have always been, an incredibly diverse organisation,” says Theresa Bray, Director of Quality and Student Services at Richmond upon Thames College. “One thing Ofsted commented on in November 2015 was the fact that learners are from very diverse backgrounds, yet integrate with each other harmoniously to create a real sense of community.”

So, as a top performing college located in the UK’s most diverse city, what exactly does Richmond upon Thames College do to champion equality and diversity?

“Our mental health provisions and ability to sign-post are particularly good” says Theresa, who goes on to exemplify the college’s Advice Hub, the focal point for students’ looking for support in a range of issues from financing to counselling, “we make it really clear to students who their points of contact are and that we are able to support them throughout their journey at Richmond upon Thames College. We also do a lot for our LGBT+ students – we have a very active LGBT+ society and our support for transitioning students is also fantastic. This year the LGBT+ society, SHOUT, and allied students celebrated Pride Month by participating in the annual Pride in London parade.”

However, the college’s provision for equal opportunity and college-wide integration does not stop there. Tutorials cover a range of topical social issues and the college regularly participates in social movements such as Black History Month.

What makes the college so good at providing equal opportunities and catering to the needs of its diverse populace?

“The college probably has one of the best equality statements that I’ve seen. Our statement is different to a general policy because it means we’re able to develop and action change immediately,” says Theresa, who has an extensive background in teaching and has spent her career developing diversity and equality in large colleges in and around London. Theresa goes on to say, “I commend the college for its dedication to learner voice. We really do listen to our students. We have a great Students’ Union whose members are involved in college management and an effective student representative scheme for each tutor group. Feedback from these initiatives identified that aside from the Christian Union and Islamic Society, there was no provision for other forms of prayer and quite reflection, so we were able to act on this and now have a dedicated space for quiet reflection.”

Whilst sharing her passion for gender equality, Theresa acknowledges the college’s sports activities as another example of the brilliant work our sports development team has done in increasing the sports opportunities available to women. Richmond upon Thames College now has female-only gym sessions and activities.

Last academic year also saw the introduction of a new sports activity in the form of wheelchair basketball. The college now has a trained coach and regularly takes part in competitions, “it has been a brilliant opportunity for those with disabilities and without” says Katy Parnell, lecturer in Supported Learning and Additional Learning Support, “we now include wheelchair basketball as a full-time enrichment programme for all students.”

“What the college excels particularly well in is that we look beyond our legal requirements and statutory duties. Through learner voice and our in-depth data, we can figure out what is actually going to make students’ lives easier and what is going to help them when they move on from college,” says Theresa, who is keen to emphasise that championing equality and diversity was not just down to our learners, adding “our workforce at Richmond upon Thames College is also diverse, but more importantly it is representative of the industry sectors they work in. We prepare our students for the outside world in every aspect.”

How will Richmond upon Thames College continue to develop its equality and diversity values in the future?

When speaking about new initiatives within the college, Theresa is keen to highlight the recent introduction of Equality Ambassadors and the Equality and Diversity Action group. “The ambassador roles work towards making the college a more equal and diverse environment, so that we can take our equality statement further by ensuring that all of our staff, within every role, are confident and comfortable knowing what to say and do.”

“I think our next mission is to work towards being a Stonewall Diversity Champion*,” says Theresa, who proceeds to talk about the college’s future plans and exciting new building, “we will of course be continuing our work in closing achievement gaps and reducing retention. It’s important to mention that the new build will allow us to make an incredible leap forward in terms of our capabilities. The college will be accessible in every aspect. We will have lifts, brail signage and many more facilities that will allow us to open up services not just to our staff and students but also the local community. We will also be one of the first educational providers to have both non-binary bathroom and changing room facilities. We will never cease our commitment to champion equality and diversity.”

*Stonewall are the largest LGBT rights charity, whose Diversity Champions programme celebrates leading employers' who ensure all lesbian, gay, bi and trans staff/students are accepted without exception in the workplace.

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