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Top tips for creating an inclusive FE environment

By Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton, Head of Education & Youth at Stonewall (she / her)

Further education is an important time for many lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+) learners. A welcoming environment not only helps LGBTQ+ learners feel comfortable and supported; it also creates the kinds of conditions where they’re able to succeed and fulfil their potential.

But we know from our research that LGBTQ+ learners still face discrimination, exclusion and barriers because of who they are. This can lead to isolation, poor mental health, low attainment and, in some cases, dropping out altogether. Our Shut Out Report (2020) found that LGBTQ+ young people faced multiple barriers to accessing and staying in education, compounded by experiences of poor mental health and disabilities.

One of the best ways to show you value and support all learners is to embed LGBTQ+ inclusion within all your policies and practices. Further Education institutions are mandated by their regulators and inspectorates to tackle discrimination, bullying and harassment, and updating your policies and practices is a simple but visible way to demonstrate your commitment to inclusion. Your efforts will also reassure and attract LGBTQ+ learners, helping to build a diverse college community and alumni.

At Stonewall, we work with schools, colleges and organisations across the UK to support their LGBTQ+ staff and learners. To help you get started in your own setting, we’ve compiled a few of our top tips for embedding inclusion here.

  1. Find out more about LGBTQ+ learners’ experience in your college

Your LGBTQ+ learners will have the greatest insight into what your college is doing well and what barriers you can address. There are a few ways to gain this knowledge. A simple one is to start recording LGBTQ+ identities as a part of your monitoring processes so you can track learner attendance, satisfaction and retention. Another is consultation – surveys and focus groups are a great way to capture and understand learner voices that might not be heard otherwise.

It’s important to note that there can often be a lack of diversity even within LGBTQ+ communities, so it’s vital that you ensure LGBTQ+ people of colour and disabled people are heard when you’re doing this sort of work.

  1. Protect LGBTQ+ learners from discrimination, bullying and harassment

A safe place for learners is one that tackles discrimination, bullying and harassment – including those rooted in homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Your college can do this through clear policies that are explicitly inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, and by ensuring that your procedures respond to concerns that LGBTQ+ learners may have about reporting incidents, such as being outed to people at college or at home.

Creating an accepting environment depends on the confidence of all college staff in tackling harmful language and delivering LGBTQ-inclusive spaces. It’s worth earmarking some staff training budget to make sure everybody feels equipped.

  1. Embed LGBTQ+ inclusion in your services and curriculum

We know that a disproportionately high number of LGBTQ+ learners experience mental health issues. Having a supportive wellbeing and counselling service that can signpost to local LGBTQ-specific services will make a real difference.

You could also ensure that careers service and work placement teams are upskilled to support LGBTQ+ learners in finding inclusive careers and understanding their legal protections in the workplace.

When it comes to embedding LGBTQ+ inclusion through the curriculum, this can be as simple as challenging gender stereotypes and highlighting LGBTQ+ role models in each subject area.

  1. Signal your commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion

The most inclusive colleges communicate their support for LGBTQ+ equality throughout the year – whether that’s online, at events or in physical learning spaces. These messages should reach your current learners, potential learners and all staff, and doing this is a great opportunity to signpost to your LGBTQ-inclusive support services, learner groups and wider work. Working with Stonewall also gives you a quick and recognisable way to signal your commitment to inclusion.

Finally, make sure to support your LGBTQ+ learner-led groups by providing space and resources, and communicate their importance to the whole college community. When an LGBTQ+ learner voice group is well supported, everyone thrives.

In summary

The most important thing is to get started! Creating a culture of inclusion and improvement benefits all your learners, staff and wider college community. This is often an ongoing process, scattered with quick wins and challenging moments.

At Stonewall, we have over 30 years’ experience working with organisations on LGBTQ+ inclusion, and we’re here to help. There are a few ways we can support you to create an LGBTQ-inclusive culture that could be life-changing for your young people.

For right now:

- Research: Read our research into LGBTQ+ young people not in education, training or work, and the barriers they faced at college - Shut Out: the experiences of LGBT young people not in education, training or work (2020)

- Guide: Read our resource: ‘Delivering LGBT-inclusive Further Education’ (2019)

- E-learning: We have two e-learning courses to support staff who work with LGBTQ+ young people, and we will be developing more over the year:

o Supporting LGBTQ+ Children and Young People

o Improving LGBTQ+ Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing

Longer term: Become a member

- As a learner service provider: The Stonewall School & College Champions Programme provides support, an awards framework to benchmark your services, and resources – including e-learning. Get in touch at [email protected].

- As an employer: The Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme provides support, an awards framework to benchmark your practice as an employer, and resources. Any questions, get in touch at [email protected].

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