Academic leadership at the programme level to address the BME attainment gap

Helen Barefoot, Judy St John, Amanda Yip

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The BME attainment gap (i.e. the difference in the percentage of White students achieving a first or upper second class degree (2i) compared to the percentage of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students achieving a first or 2i degree) has been a long-standing concern within the higher education sector. Many initiatives and projects have identified the need for Institutional commitment and senior leadership to develop inclusive practice strategies but there has been limited discussion on the importance of localised leadership to ensure that strategies are operationalised and enhancements are embedded and sustained.

Within the University we have recognised the crucial role of the programme leader and the impact of localised leadership on the student experience. This project provided us with an ideal opportunity to consider how programme leaders reviewed their programmes and identified inclusivity related enhancements. The consideration of programme level data (Value Added (VA) scores) enabled programme leaders to consider ethnicity related attainment gaps within their courses and to discuss appropriate actions with their programme teams.

The aim of the project was to support academic leadership at the programme level to enable inclusive curriculum enhancements and subsequent improvements in outcomes for students from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds. The project thus enabled the integrated discussion of leadership, equality and learning and teaching.

Following attendance at workshops that focused on promoting inclusive curriculum approaches for programme leaders, and up to three members of their programme team, structured interviews were conducted with 30 programme leaders. The aims of the interviews were to: explore examples of inclusive practice and actions identified by the programme leader as well as any potential challenges they perceived in trying to enhance inclusive practice. Objective review of annual monitoring and evaluation reports (AMERs) plus follow up discussions with programme leaders, enabled the identification of the range of actions implemented by programme teams as well as consideration of any benefits and challenges associated with implementing inclusive practice changes.

Analysis of the initial interview transcriptions resulted in classification of responses into one of three categories on the basis of their expressed intention, or lack of intention to influence change.
The three categories were:
• Effecting programme level change
• Personal commitment to inclusivity
• Limited action

Effecting programme level change: some programme leaders had an in-depth understanding of the challenges associated with ethnicity related attainment gaps. They had engaged in training previously and were aware of national data and in some cases, discipline related data. They had already made some changes to their own practice and identified clear actions to influence change across the programme. Some examples included; programme leaders raising the profile of BME authors by reviewing reading lists and resources to ensure they were inclusive and representative; increasing the use of BME case studies in the curriculum; and showcasing BME role models within the programme.

Personal commitment to inclusivity: for some programme leaders, the workshop stimulated personal change, for example, in their own teaching, and/or within their module. They identified the need for enhancements but were not yet influencing change in the wider programme team. Barriers identified by programme leaders in this group included the challenge of leading without line management responsibility.

Limited action: A number of programme leaders identified limited actions or no actions. Lack of action seemed to relate to one of four themes: i) general lack of awareness; ii) competing priorities and discussion of other issues such as gender equality; iii) deficit approaches where actions focused on student support; iv) deflection of responsibility.

The reviewing of AMERs enabled the identification of a range of actions associated with inclusive practice and follow-up discussions with programme leaders provided details on how actions were being implemented as well as challenges associated with implementing change.

Despite all programme leaders having attended a very similar workshop there was variability in approach when considering inclusive curriculum actions. Programme leaders had different levels of understanding based on their own previous experiences as well as the amount of race-related staff development in which they had previously engaged and their willingness to consider their practice and their own privilege.

To support programme leaders in leading change at the programme level, 11 case studies of good practice have been produced. The case studies provide different examples of race related actions and are drawn from programmes reflecting a range of disciplines, size of cohort and level of study.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherLeadership Foundation for Higher Education
Number of pages40
ISBN (Print)9781912137817
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2018

Publication series

NameLeadership Foundation for Higher Education


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