The Equality Authority worked with FETAC, the agency overseeing further education in Ireland, to develop equality requirements for its quality assurance standards for the sector. This has resulted in a requirement on all education providers to develop equality policies as a condition of registration as a certified provider of further education and training.
The Further Education Support Service (FESS) of the Department of Education and Skills worked with the Equality Authority and key further education organisations to develop a resource to provide guidance for providers of further education and training on complying with the FETAC standard. The resource provides advice and templates on:
The Equality Authority has established a panel of equality experts that further education providers can use to support them to undertake training or equality planning and to insert equality processes into the design and delivery of their programmes.
The duty bearers that we targeted are the providers of further education. Under the equality legislation, these duty bearers must not discriminate in the provision of further education on nine grounds:
The Further Education and Training Council was established by law to make awards in the further education sector in Ireland and to certify providers of further education. FETAC developed quality assurance (QA) standards for providers of further education, covering issues such as programme development, delivery and review; communications; assessment of learners; etc. Equality is one of eight areas that are named in the FETAC QA framework. Accredited providers of further education must provide equality training to their staff and must have an equality policy.
The FETAC documentation states:
Programmes of education and training and related services should be delivered in a manner that accommodates diversity, combats discrimination and promotes equality of opportunity. Delivery agencies should have an institutional capacity and commitment to combat discrimination, to accommodate and make adjustments for diversity.
Equality Policy(ies) should be prominently displayed and circulated to all. Responsibility for implementing the policy(ies) should be assigned with procedures for implementation and handling discrimination complaints.
A provider’s Equality Policy should express its commitment to equality in employment and service provision and anti harassment.
The main objective of the project was to work in partnership with FETAC to insert equality requirements into its standards for the further education and training sector by inserting an equality requirement into FETAC’s Quality Assurance process for further education and training providers.
The tool chosen was “co-operating with regulatory bodies”. The objective was to embed equality requirements in the requirements places upon providers of further education in order for them to be accredited.
The inclusion of equality in the national standard has ensured that all further education and training providers must take action on equality. As a result, it has prompted education providers to change their practices and to integrate equality into their way of working.
A key challenge identified is a risk that the action on equality may become a ‘tick box exercise’ if it is not driven by a commitment to equality within the education provider itself. Education and training providers need access to equality supports in order to comply with FETAC requirements and to embed equality within their institutions. The Equality Authority has established a panel of equality experts who can provide direct supports to the sector to implement equality actions. The Equality Authority also worked with the Further Education Support Service (Department of Education and Skills) to develop a resource to support providers in implementing the equality requirement within Quality Assurance.