Is the education system responsible for the lack of diversity in the workplace?

If we are to achieve our goal of more women and under-represented groups in positions of leadership, we need a pipeline of skilled talent. Are schools, colleges and universities doing enough to encourage students to consider different careers?

Pupils must see themselves in the curriculum and the possibilities of what they can become.

Education changes life chances. Challenging stereotypes is vital intervention that benefits us all.

However, schools are under huge pressure to become exam factories. Arthur Costa put it very well: “What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth measuring.”

League tables have led to some schools choosing pupils likely to perform well in tests over those in their local community. In order for children to thrive, schools should be places where they belong, where it is safe to be yourself and to explore ideas. Child wellbeing is strongly related to inequality and the sense of inequality begins in early childhood.

The curriculum is at the heart of education. It is both a mirror and a window. Pupils must see themselves in the curriculum and the possibilities of what they can become.

However, the wonderful diversity of our pupils is not celebrated in the curriculum of today nor is the entitlement of all pupils to a broad and balanced, properly funded education.

Focusing on passing the next test does not help critical thinking or making informed choices about career paths beyond school, especially when the careers service has been dismantled. Breaking the mould requires support from both those within schools and specialists from outside.

Hard-working dedicated professionals in the education service never stop trying to make a difference. They deserve equality and diversity training and space in the curriculum to use it.

Max Hyde is the former president of the NUT  (photo – second left)

Students leave unprepared for the social and economic battles they will face as a part of longstanding discrimination.

Schools are supposed to be microcosms of society, preparing students for their adult lives. Education pathways lead to careers is a regular mantra in the sector. e reality of those pathways, the challenges encountered because of someone’s background, is always omitted. As such, students leave unprepared for the social and economic battles they will face as a part of longstanding discrimination.

Take, for example, gender. Girls outperform boys in every headline measure at GCSE and A-Level. However, the subject, and hence career, choices apart from those headlines are extremely gender-biased. Boys dominate Maths, Physics, Engineering and Computing.

Similarly, boys entering into healthcare are poorly prepared for working alongside the high proportion of women. Schools do little to reverse this bias.

Ethnicity is another major area. Government data shows that on average, BAME groups perform better at GCSE, A-Level and degree-level. Yet those graduates are less likely to be employed and are more likely to earn less than their white counterparts throughout their lives. At no point in their education are BAME students prepared for these realities or given means to change them.

The education system itself does not even model diversity in the workplace. BAME teachers are half as likely to progress to Headship as white colleagues.

All of this means that students leave education unprepared for the continual challenge of overcoming discrimination and succeeding in the workplace. Resultantly, the lack of diversity means change will be slow to achieve.

Allana Gay is deputy head teacher at Lea Valley Primary School and co-founder of  #womened.  (photo – middle right)


Increased diversity in the workplace is not just the role of the education system

I work in an inner city secondary school. Our students are diverse in their backgrounds, ability, problems, needs and mental health. While I do not like to refer to them as underprivileged, we cannot escape the fact that they don’t have the same opportunities as students from more affluent areas.

Government priorities do not help. Exclusive focus is being placed upon academic subjects and schools are increasingly becoming “exam factories” whereby schools are judged only on grades. Besides the impact this pressure has on the mental health of both students and teachers, it also means that students do not have the breadth
of curriculum that will enable them to explore different types of careers. This is unfortunate. I have many former drama students who have used their creative skills to much success in their professional careers within law, accountancy and the media.

Equally, careers advice can be patchy. For example, attitudes about the role of women in certain sectors, such as IT, can deter female students from exploring opportunities within burgeoning fields such as gaming, healthcare tech and agri-tech.

This means businesses need to do more to make their workplaces appealing to a diverse range of students. Perceptions of how welcoming (or not) certain sectors are to different demographic groups tend to be routed in the experiences of others.

If we really want to encourage increased diversity in the workplace, it is not just the role of the education system. Yes, schools have a crucial job to do, but this needs to be in partnership with careers advisers – and importantly, with industry.

Bethan Evans is a drama teacher in Manchester (photo – right)

It is unrealistic to think individuals make career decisions based just on the opportunities they are given while in education

The limited amount of diversity in workplaces and just about every profession cannot be the responsibility of just one part of our society. It starts from gender stereotyping from birth, disparity in “readiness for school” measures and races ahead in adolescence when the identical career aspirations are put out of reach for teenagers from socially deprived backgrounds.

These factors are all too often compounded further by the perception and the reality of university and recruitment processes that give advantage to those with the insider knowledge and networks, and, inevitably, are infected by the unconscious biases of decision-makers. Making this more fair takes time and widespread effort.

The education system has a key role in addressing “gaps” in the attainment and aspirations of students. Oxford University, for example, can show that its graduates successfully close the gap in earnings between those from different socio-economic backgrounds.

However, we still have much more to achieve in ensuring we reflect the diversity of UK society. We need the support of parents, politicians and schools to do this.

It is unrealistic to think individuals make career decisions based just on the opportunities they are given while in education. Family and friends impact on choices, as to do the images, fictional and real, that we see around us. In order to visualise ourselves in a career, we need to see, hear and believe that people we identify with are also succeeding
in that career. This puts an onus on employers, professional bodies and the media to develop, support and showcase inspiring and successful role models.

Helen King is Principal of St Anne’s College in Oxford (photo – far left)

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of LEAD.