Written by Steve Frampton, MBE, AoC President (at the time of writing)
The subject of diversity in colleges is no new thing, but unfortunately nowhere near as much progress had been made as is needed. Further education does inclusion well, but it can do better, and it must.
The protests after the racist murder of George Floyd, the climate crisis direct action and other recent events across the globe have shown us that it is young people organising in their communities, taking a stand and ultimately educating others with their collective voice. We have a responsibility to help more students develop their voice and to ensure that it is heard in colleges and beyond.
Engaging young people in educational debate is vital if we are to make decision-making processes more inclusive in further education. Student Governors allow us to co-construct the best curriculum and optimum student experience, but we need more of them. That begins with us empowering our students to get involved and see governance as something that is for them.
Unsurprisingly, students are experts on the student experience. I have learnt so much from my students and their amazing representatives and governors. It helped me change a college timetable, creating compact days, that started at 10am and ended at 4pm with two extended periods. Introducing iPads in 2012, when many institutions were questioning what this shift in the way students did their learning would mean for long term academic achievement. It feels very odd, with nearly six months of nearly total online learning under our belt due to the pandemic that we were so hesitant at first.
Young people are utilising technology and new ways of working and learning at a rapid pace. Accelerated in part by the coronavirus pandemic, but they are also embedded in technology in a way generations before them haven’t been. We must learn from them, embrace advancements and crucially include their ideas and vision in the future of everything we do in education.
However, we cannot expect young people to just knock on our door and ask to be involved in the board’s decisions. Some do, which is great, and I would encourage more students to stand up and share their ideas with their teachers, support staff and principals. But we must prioritise the training, encouragement, mentoring and support of our students to become representatives. We need to create governing bodies that feel accessible and inviting students as observers could help student governors to feel more confident and to participate more effectively.
Enabling them to attend external training events organised by AoC or NUS is another good way to boost student governors’ confidence in contributing to meetings and provides them with useful contacts in other colleges.
Our governance spaces need to ensure no one, or group gets left behind. The wider you cast the net for representatives and opinions the better a college will run and the more valued students will feel in the decisions that ultimately affect their day to day lives. Their voice deserves to be heard, we must open the floor to them.
I would like to thank and dedicate this article to all the brilliant, kind, committed, generous governors I have been lucky enough to work with. Especially student governors, who have inspired and helped me make a real difference, and organisations like Unloc and Students Organising for Sustainability that continue to champion this critical voice.