I’ve now been a member of our School of Allied and Public Health Professions for just over one month, and I feel as if I am just beginning to understand a little bit about how we work. I’ve seen some fabulous teaching, and it’s been a pleasure to meet with all groups of students starting their programmes of study. It’s also been uplifting to spend some time with School leaders to think about our School Mission, and how organise ourselves and work together to deliver this. There is still some time to contribute to this, and it’s important that you are able to shape the Mission.

One thing that I have promised to do is to communicate as much as possible about what we are doing within the School. As we all engage more widely with social media and other forms of virtual communication, I did promise to start a Head of School blog, of which this is the first entry. However, I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of the opportunities we have for face-to-face discussions which enable us to get know each other better on both a personal and professional basis. If you don’t already know, my main office is located in Newton t05, and I try to base myself in our Medway campus once a week. On these days I tend to hot desk, so do let me know if there’s a conversation that needs to be had, and we can find somewhere to talk.

I am writing this blog whilst taking the train to Bangor University on Thursday evening. Earlier today I attended a challenging and thought-provoking meeting of the Council of Deans for Health with its focus on issues of equality, diversity and inclusion.

At this point I am delighted to be able to congratulate the School on its achievement of the Athena Swan Bronze award, and to thank especially those who led the development of the submission. I am very proud to be joining a School that is taking the issue of gender equality seriously. Colleagues will be aware of the slow progress in talking gender inequality in the University sector. This award enables us to pause and celebrate, and then begin to work towards the silver award. Although the origins of the Athena Swan programme lie in gender inequality for women in higher education, colleagues will now that gender inequality issues for academic Schools for healthcare are more nuanced, particularly as we try to recruit more men into the healthcare professions.

However, our meeting paid particular attention to issues relating to those who identify within the spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities, and the attainment gap for Black and Ethnic Minority students. The data which highlight the importance that we all need to attach these issues has been laid bare in the Universities UK Report: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Student Attainment at UK Universities. Whilst I am sure that most people have read this report, please do take this opportunity to do so if not.

What struck me though throughout the meeting was the importance of action, rather than acknowledgement of the complexity of these issues. Reflecting on the breadth of issues that we considered in our meetings, including gender, identity, age, race and class, some cross-cutting actions seemed to emerge:

  • Framing the diversity of students and staff within our School as an asset
  • Actively seeking the views of colleagues with experience of exclusion
  • Continually reflecting on our own conscious and unconscious biases
  • Demonstrating unconditional positive regard in our dealings with colleagues and students
  • Avoiding making assumptions about identities and social roles
  • Ensuring inclusivity in our curricula

I am sure there are other actions that it will be helpful for us to implement. I know that others in the Faculty have been looking at these issues in much more depth than I, and that there will soon be an opportunity to hear from Edith Lewis about her important work on the attainment gap for our Black and Ethnic Minority students. More information about this in due course.

I hope that some aspect of this blog has been interesting. You will have a sense that this and future blog entries will have an element of informality about them. I think it’s important to be as open as I can be, and I apologise now if anyone finds anything that I’ve written to be uncomfortable. However, all of us at the Council of Deans meeting were challenged today by Stacy Johnson MBE to speak openly and freely about even the most controversial equality, diversity and inclusion issues. Stacy is Associate Professor of the University of Nottingham; her grasp of these issues was impressive, and I’d recommend taking up any opportunity of hearing her speak. My sense is that if we do continue the conversation, and act on some of the cross-cutting actions listed above, then regardless of the particular contexts of exclusion, we will ensure a culture in which all our staff and students are able to flourish.

Written by Professor Christopher Burton
Head of School of Allied and Public Health Professions