The importance of understanding ethnicity in student attainment

Date 19.10.2020

Research exploring the importance of understanding the relationship between students’ ethnicity and their attainment was presented at the #BlackintheIvory conference on 14 October 2020.

Gavin Douglas, Senior Lecturer in Fashion at the University of Northampton presented early finding from his research project which aims to explore the importance of embracing ethnicity within teaching and learning across Arts at the conference.

The #BlackintheIvory conference, organised by the Global Ethnic Majority (GEM) staff network, in observation of Black History Month, brought together Black academics and professionals to share their lived experiences, research and thoughts on life in academia.

As part of the conference, research papers, that focus on enhancing the understanding of how unconscious biases and systemic barriers can impact the attainment of students of colour were presented by the University of Northampton ‘s Global Ethnic Majority (GEM) Staff Network to UON students and staff, members of the community in Northampton and a wider global audience.

Gavin Douglas, said: “Understanding the lived experiences of art and design students of colour is imperative in order to establish approaches that will improve and support lecturers to tackle the retention and attainment of art and design students of colour.

“Having explored the research data, my early research findings show clear recommendations for change, to work towards creating a further inclusive professional and educational environment within art and design.”

At the conference, Gavin shared his recommendations to enhance the way data is used to understand the complex realities of enrolment, progression and attainment. His recommendations include a move to disaggregate student attainment and subject attainment data by ethnicity, to reflect the nuances of the lived experiences of students studying art and design programmes.  Gavin also suggests that Module feedback forms should be enhanced, to include additional equality and inclusion questions, to access how students perceive the level of equality and inclusivity embedded into their curriculum.

Speaking about the research project, which has been funded by the University’s Institute of Learning and Teaching, Gavin continued: “Art and design is delivered, taught and assessed through varying methods of visual and practice-based learning. Through these research findings, it has become clear that academic colleagues must enhance the way the similarities and differences of pedagogic methods are made explicitly clear. I believe this will enable students to reflect upon and understand their level of participation and attainment. In particular, I feel this will support students who enter at varying levels and with varying entry qualifications and learning experiences to achieve their potential.”

Gavin used the conference to call on academic staff to be accountable for their own awareness of the complex issues surrounding the ethnicity attainment gap data, and to greater understand the relationship between enrolment, progression, retention, attainment and ethnicity – particularly within their own subject areas, to break a cycle of reliance on staff of colour to be the sole arbitrators of ethnicity attainment at subject level.

Catch up with more news and view from the conference, by following the #BlackintheIvory hashtag on Twitter.