It’s been a busy year for equality. It seems never a week goes by when discrimination and harassment don’t feature in the news. The campaigns around Black Lives Matter and Everyone’s Invited; the controversial Report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities; the disproportionate impact of COVID on people with disabilities; the increase in ageism; issues around gender inequality; the debate around trans rights… the list goes on. The last year has also highlighted the magnitude of the challenges around equality diversity and inclusion (EDI) within education. Most recently, findings in the report from the survey management site Edurio “Equality Diversity and Inclusion Among School Staff” revealed that as far as many staff members are concerned, schools are not truly equal, diverse or inclusive workplaces. Before that, on 10th June, the National Governors Association and a number of other national associations and education sector bodies also joined forces and published a Statement of Intent demonstrating their commitment to tackling EDI in education.
What is abundantly clear from the last year is that in education as well as generally in society, equality is and remains, a priority issue. It is a matter which, going forward, must be high on every school’s strategic agenda. In line with Equality Act 2010 duties, schools should be consciously thinking about how they will integrate EDI into daily school life and thinking of ways in which they can evidence their school’s commitment to preventing discriminatory conduct and behaviour. Schools should be taking a deliberate approach and be proactive in seeking to tackle prejudice and in working to ensure inclusion in line with their specific equality aims and objectives.
A question I am often asked by schools is how important it is to have an equality policy and for staff to receive equality training? Are these legal requirements, or just a matter of best practice? My answer – whilst there is no formal legal requirement for schools to have either, there has probably never been a more important time for schools to make sure they have both.
Having an effective policy is a school’s way of demonstrating its commitment to EDI. It allows a school to set out its aims and approach to promoting equality and to tackling prejudice. The DfE’s non-statutory advice for schools on Equality Act confirms the importance of policies and training in relation to evidencing compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). ACAS guidance also supports this and the EHRC’s Equality Act 2010 Employment Statutory Code of states “…a systematic approach to developing and maintaining good practice is the best way of showing an organisation is taking its legal obligations seriously.”
EHRC guidance also makes clear that if workers are to understand what equality law means for them, they will need to be told about it so they are familiar with what discrimination is and what behaviour could be discriminatory. The easiest way to educate staff is via training. Training should be part of the induction process for new staff and should be provided regularly for existing staff. Training is important at all levels in school particularly for line managers and decision makers. Significantly for schools, EHRC guidance talks about training for those with a governance role saying it will “….help them embed equality into their scrutiny and decision making….”
In relation to policies, the Code of Practice sets out a whole host of reasons as to why an equality policy is important. It says having a policy can be a driver of good recruitment and retention practice; it can send positive and inclusive signals about your organization and it can make clear the minimum standards of behaviour you expect. It can also help to minimise the risk of legal action and may provide a defence in Employment Tribunal proceedings (as in the case below from earlier this year).
In the case of Allay (UK) Limited v Gehlen (Feb 2021), the company attempted to avoid liability for the acts of discrimination and racial harassment carried out against G by another member of staff who characterized his conduct as “racial banter.” A Ltd asserted they had taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent the unlawful harassment from occurring basing their argument on the fact the company had a written equal opportunities policy and a bullying and harassment procedure and that staff had previously attended equality and diversity training. The Tribunal rejected the company’s defence. The Tribunal said the fact unlawful harassment had taken place in the first place and that the management team were aware of the discriminatory comments but took no real action, clearly showed the company’s policy and training were “stale” and “ineffective.” They said the company should have realised this and that a reasonable step would have been for the training to be refreshed.
The importance of this case cannot be overstated. For schools it means that if they wish to be able to rely on equality policies and training in order to defend discrimination claims they will need to ensure they are effective, of good quality, up to date and refreshed on a regular basis. Schools will need to be able to show that any training has continued to have an impact and that it has been tailored to all levels of responsibility and different roles. Tribunal cases can be lengthy, stressful and time-consuming experiences and given the potential reputational impact and financial ramifications, they should not be taken lightly. Schools who have attended our past equality training will be familiar with 2018 case of City of York Council v Grosset where compensation awarded against the school exceeded £600k!
So, my advice is this – if your school doesn’t already have an equality policy, adopt one; if your staff haven’t been equality training, sort that training. If you already have both, make sure they are of good quality and have been reviewed and updated. Bear in mind that to be effective, training must be properly implemented and most importantly, must be understood. If these basic steps are followed, it is fair to say that although not a statutory requirement, equality training and policies are so much more than just good practice.
**For schools with an HR and People SLA our new Model Equality Policy is now available to download from our website It can be purchased as a stand-alone product by non-SLA schools. The One Education HR Equality Group also offers bespoke equality training according to schools’ specific requirements plus our general training sessions:- “The Equality Act 2010 School Staff – Understanding the Basics” and “The Equality Act 2010 – What Governors and Senior Leaders Need to Know” are available to be delivered as live or as pre-recorded sessions. **
For more information about equality training options and pricing and about our new Model Equality Policy please contact the HR and People team via our helpdesk HRPeople@oneeducation.co.uk or by contacting our HR Business Manager Keren.firstname.lastname@example.org.