Equal opportunities in colleges of further education: policy versus practice
This research questions claims made by Colleges of Further Education that they are committed to equal opportunities. Although policies may exist, it is not a guarantee that they are effective. This research explores the realities behind anecdotal evidence that indicates policies figure more prominently prior to inspections and validations. A literature review reveals a dearth of evidence to suggest that any consideration is given to policies in practice. Equal Opportunities, in general, are well documented but research in this field in Further Education is almost non-existent according to Cole (2000) and Wallace (2001). This research identifies a move away from an observable commitment to equal opportunities that colleges need to address to justify their claims. In Phase One colleges provide copies of their policies for analysis that identifies commonalities but also striking differences. In Phase Two a postal questionnaire clarifies how successful colleges have been in addressing equal opportunities and whether this can be attributed to live, working documents. Phases One and Two provide the framework for the debate and in Phase Three the survey results are complemented by in-depth interviews. Detailed questioning compares the commitments expressed with procedures and practices. The research used both qualitative and quantitative approaches with the different sources of evidence presented so as to provide a rich, layered understanding of the dynamic of policies in colleges. The conclusion to this research is that whilst colleges have policies, that are generally devised following accepted guidelines, the real problem lies in ownership and the monitoring process. As a result provision is affected, as the needs of individuals are not always recognised, thereby denying them equal access to the educational opportunities that colleges aim to provide.
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