Education case studies

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Case study 1

Reducing exclusions among Somali and African Caribbean boys - Preston Manor School

Background information

In 2012 Preston Manor School identified that Somali and African Caribbean pupils were disproportionately given fixed termed exclusions at Key Stage 4. For example, of the 122 students excluded with fixed termed exclusions in 2011-12, 45 were to Somali and African Caribbean pupils.

Fixed term exclusions have a negative effect on the attainment level of students and ultimately on their life chances. Thus, the school decided to focus some of its resources on tackling this issue. In order to do so, it set the following equality objective to support compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty: to achieve a 40 percent reduction in the number of fixed termed exclusions of Somali and African Caribbean pupils over 2012-13 and 2013-14.


The use of equality information was key in presenting the issue to all parties (staff, students and parents) in an objective and sensitive way. After this was done, the school decided to launch the Black Boys Council (BBC) as their main initiative to tackle fixed-term exclusions among Black boys.

The BBC is made of pupils from various year groups who are academically successful as well as those who are less successful and who are at risk of being excluded. The idea is to provide those pupils with an opportunity to broaden their horizons and to increase their aspirations and self- esteem. For example, BBC members:

  • Met with successful Black men from Blue Chip companies such as KPMG, one of the largest professional services companies in the world and one of the Big Four auditors, along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers ;
  • Participated in the business training day that takes place every year at Preston Manor School and which consists of researching, selecting, marketing and selling a product of their choice.

All of the pupils selected to be part of the BBC are influential within the school community and the idea is to give them responsibilities to enable them to succeed in school but also to become positive role models to others. For example, the school sets up the BBC budget but students are given the opportunity to decide how to spend part of it (e.g. on a product of their choice to sell on business training day).

BBC members are given a special badge to wear at school so other children know that they belong to the BBC. BBC members are empowered to behave as role models to other children. They are responsible for reporting back to their peers and to their parents about the opportunities they have been given as BBC members. Part of this is done by producing a newsletter and an audio-diary every year.


Members of the BBC have become positive role models around the school and everyone now wants to be part of it. As a result, pupils overall behave better so they get a chance to become a BBC member in future (positive knock on effect).

The BBC initiative is part of a wider effort to reduce exclusions at Preston Manor School. Other projects are taking place but the BBC has already contributed significantly to a decrease in the rate of fixed term exclusions from 86 in 2012/13 to just 35 so far this year - a dramatic reduction.

Case study 2

Securing greater accessibility for disabled students - The Open University


The Open University (OU) has had a long track record of making teaching and learning accessible to students with a wide range of impairments. The OU has more disabled students than any other higher education institution in the UK with more than 21,000 disabled students registered in 2012/13.

Broadly speaking, the OU with its open and distance-learning method has demonstrated its suitability for students with complex needs and multiple-impairments.

However, equality monitoring information gathered by the OU in 2011 showed that disabled students were:

  • Three times more likely to raise a complaint or appeal, in comparison to non-disabled students
  • Less satisfied with their overall study experience.

In order to remedy this, the OU committed to 'increase the satisfaction of disabled students from 82 percent in 2010/11 to 84 percent in 2014/15 as part of its equality objectives to support compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty.


Prior to taking any actions, the OU conducted qualitative research to develop a better understanding of the source and the nature of student dissatisfaction. It found out that a significant proportion of its services and reasonable adjustments were made retrospectively once courses started. This 'retro-fitting' created uncertainty for students, sometimes led to delays in obtaining services and often resulted in added costs to the institution.

Thus, the OU shifted consideration of disabled students needs to before and during course development (curriculum stage).

The securing greater accessibility project was established by the director of students (a member of the vice-chancellor’s executive) to embed responsibility for accessibility more firmly in faculties and provide knowledge development.

In the first two years of the project, the following infrastructure was set up:

  • Named associate deans were allocated overall responsibility for accessibility in each faculty
  • Accessibility specialists were appointed in each faculty to champion accessibility in course development. This included training them in matters related to disability as well as providing them with support when required.
  • A central accessibility referrals panel was created to bring experts together to make recommendations on complex cases involving access to the curriculum, accessibility of learning platforms and adjustments for individual students
  • A website was launched to provide a central source of advice and guidance to all staff members on issues such as access to audio and visual material, notation in maths, science and music and use of third-party learning materials


The project has enabled the OU to meet its target, two years ahead of the anticipated schedule. The student satisfaction survey carried out in 2013 showed that disabled students’ overall satisfaction rates increased from 82 percent to more than 84 percent.

As a result of this achievement, a new performance indicator was agreed in 2014 which focuses on reducing any differences in satisfaction between disabled and non-disabled students from a three percent gap in 2013 to two percent by 2016.

Further work is planned to review all services and support to disabled students and to ensure issues identified in complaints are being systematically addressed.

Case study 3

Raising expectations to reduce the ethnicity attainment gap - The Open University


Over the past decade, the attainment gap between white and ethnic minority students has remained significant with Black students consistently less likely to achieve a good pass than any other racial groups. This picture is broadly similar across the higher education sector, and has shown very little movement over time.

In the last few years, the Open University (OU) has taken initiatives alongside others (e.g. Equality Challenge Unit; Higher Education Academy) to tackle this issue. As yet, it has not been able to reduce the gap significantly. In effect, the equality information gathered by the OU in 2011/12 is very similar to the information gathered in 2009/10 and shows that the gap between Black and White students achieving a ‘good pass’ is about 30 percent.

The OU is committed to do everything it can to respond to this continuing challenge. Thus, the University has committed to reduce the ethnicity attainment gap between White and Black students that obtain a ‘good pass’ on undergraduate degrees from 28.8 percent in 2009/10 to 25.8 percent by 2014/15 as part of its equality objectives to support compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Action taken

In 2013, the OU participated in a collaborative project with the Higher Education Academy and seven other universities, with each university taking a different approach in order to learn from each other and to identify interventions that are effective to a greater or lesser extent. The OU project ‘Great Expectations’ focused on the effect that tutors’ expectations can have on how they behave and interact with students, and how this in turn can affect students’ engagement, competence and confidence in their own abilities and aspirations.

In the project, around 100 tutors attended workshops and were introduced to the potential impact of expectations and how micro-affirmations can help students to increase their engagement, competence and confidence. The workshops were supplemented by a comprehensive online learning resource, which provides a more detailed theoretical underpinning and further practical resources.

The ‘great expectations’ project is one action the OU is taking to address the ethnicity attainment gap. Other actions include research into how unconscious bias may affect tutor feedback and allocation of marks, investigating the introduction of student or alumni online peer-mentoring, and refreshing English language resources for the large number of OU students who have limited recent experience of using English for study purposes.


Tutors’ awareness of the impact of their expectations and subsequent behaviours is being raised and they are being given tools to strengthen engagement and develop students’ competences in key tasks.

The resources are being made widely available to the OU’s 5,500 tutors in 2014.

At the time of writing, it is too early to evidence the impact in quantitative outcomes. Evaluation is taking place over a number of years of student outcome data as the benefits are expected to be realised beyond the first year.

Case study 4

Raising ethnic minority staff aspirations through mentoring and professional development - The Open University


Equality information gathered between 2008 and 2011 through staff surveys identified that a higher proportion of ethnic minority staff intended to leave the Open University (OU) and were not as satisfied at work as white staff. Subsequent qualitative research identified that a disproportionate number of ethnic minority staff felt isolated and had less access to influential networks and senior leaders.

In order to remedy this, the OU has committed to ‘increase the satisfaction of ethnic minority staff as part of its equality objectives to support compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty. To make this objective specific and measurable, the OU developed the following two key performance indicators:

  • Reduce the difference in intention to leave between white and ethnic minority staff from 14 percent in 2010 to 10 percent in the next staff survey following December 2014
  • Reduce the difference in overall job satisfaction between white and ethnic minority staff from nine percent in 2010 to six percent in the next staff survey following December 2014


The following two mentoring programmes were launched in 2011 and 2012 respectively:

The Aspire~ Plus programme to enable staff who completed the Aspire programme to participate in peer-buddying and work shadowing with senior leaders and to attend additional development workshops. 

  • The Aspire~ programme which enabled ethnic minority staff to be mentored by a senior manager, to participate in development workshops as well as to attend personal development planning and networking events.
  • Both programmes took place over the course of nine months and both were championed by the vice-chancellor and the director of human resources.


Nearly 50 staff participated in the Aspire programme and around 30 in the Aspire Plus programme. Without exception, all participants reported an increase in confidence and felt that the programmes had been valuable to their professional development.

In effect, more than 20 percent of participants felt that these programmes were key to their success in being appointed to more senior roles or to new roles that better suited their aspirations. A larger number reported been given additional responsibilities and recognition in their current role.

Mentors also acknowledged the value of reverse-mentoring and felt that they developed valuable coaching skills, particularly through attending briefings and through the yearly mentoring master-class hosted by the vice-chancellor.

The OU has met and even exceeded its targets, two years earlier than expected. The staff survey conducted in 2013 showed a reduction in the difference between white staff compared to ethnic minority staff in:

  • Overall job satisfaction from nine percent in 2010 to four percent (original target was 6 percent by 2014)
  • Intention to leave from 14 percent to 10 percent.

Now the OU is aiming to increase the representation of ethnic minority staff in senior leadership roles from six percent in 2013 to eight percent by the end of 2016.

Note Since 2012, the Aspire~ programme has been extended to include disabled staff after they raised similar concerns to ethnic minorities staff. This initiative is just starting to deliver similar outcomes.

Last updated: 19 Feb 2019

Further information

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