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School equality

Information and guidance for Somerset schools on the Public Sector Equality Duty

Why are public bodies asked to set equality objectives?

Much of a school’s work to promote equality is built into its everyday practice and does not require an equality objective to be set. However, for every school there is a requirement through the Public Sector Equality Duty to have one or more Equality Objectives. These will be areas of work where improvements could be made, or developments put in place, that would help achieve greater equality – and where specific objectives may help drive work forward. The precise number of objectives required will depend on a school’s size and on an analysis of where improvements or developments are needed. The objectives should focus on addressing issues that need sustained action over a year or more.

The proportionate use of objectives

In its advice on objectives, Department for Education (DfE) guidance for school leaders states:

“Objectives are not intended to be burdensome or a ‘tick box’ exercise, but they do need to be specific and measurable. They should be used as a tool to help improve the school experience of a range of different pupils. A school should set as many objectives as it believes are appropriate to its size and circumstances; the objectives should fit the school’s needs and should be achievable.”

What to take into account when choosing objectives

Objectives should arise out of the equality information you have available and should help you address identified issues, or prepare for future demands, for example likely increases in pupil populations from specific groups, such as children learning English as an additional language.

Objectives might respond to unequal outcomes for different protected groups, or poor levels of participation in voluntary activities. For schools the main focus is likely to be on pupils, but objectives relating to parents or carers, staff or governors could also be considered.

Objectives should help you achieve one of the points mentioned in the general duty, for example advance equality of opportunity or foster good relations.

Bear in mind that due regard does not necessarily mean that advancement of equality is less important when the numbers in an equality group is small. For example Gypsy Roma and Irish Travellers may be small in numbers but they have the lowest attainment of any group in Somerset by the end of every key stage.

Without adequate involvement of stakeholders, there is a risk that the issues they see as having the biggest negative impact on them will be missed – stakeholder views offer the opportunity to highlight issues in a way that can be challenging but ultimately rewarding. For schools, key stakeholders whose views may not be obtained through existing processes, such as governing body or student council meetings, or targeted pupil voice sessions, might include:

  • pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities and their parents and carers
  • Travellers, pupils learning English as an additional language, or from other minority ethnic groups, and their parents or carers
  • lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender young people or parents or carers
  • pupils from minority religious groups and their parents or carers.

Steps to take to help you choose objectives

  1. Review your evidence, including the information you are publishing to show that you are fulfilling the general duty.
  2. Make a ‘long list’ of possible objectives, considering the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) criteria:
    • Does information at a local or national level highlight this as an important equality issue?
    • Are these priorities for staff and service users themselves?
    • Would this objective stretch the organisation to perform better on equality issues in key areas?
    • How would achieving this objective improve the experience for people with a relevant protected characteristic?
    • How does this objective contribute to the aims of the general equality duty?
    • What are the views of your stakeholders?
    • How many people with relevant protected characteristics are affected by the issue, and what is the severity of the effect?
  3. Discuss the likely value of different objectives in helping to deliver improvements (and engage with stakeholders, if this can be done in a proportionate way, for example using an existing forum, to check on their priorities).
  4. Finalise the selection and the time scales considering:
    • Have you considered all three aims of the general duty (that is, to eliminate discrimination or harassment, advance equality and foster good relations)?
    • What can you realistically deliver?
    • Have you focused on the key issues affecting all protected characteristics and in particular the issues that can really address disadvantage experienced by protected groups? (This does not mean that you have to set objectives relating to all protected characteristics.)
    • Are your objectives SMART? (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Relevant, Time bound)
  5. In a timely manner provide information on progress of your Equality Objectives. DfE guidance for school leaders states: “Publication of information in future years should include evidence of the steps being taken and progress made towards meeting the equality objectives that the school has already set itself.”

Last reviewed: November 30, 2023 by Helly

Next review due: May 30, 2024

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