The attainment gap between white and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students has been well documented and extensively researched. The literature identifies BAME students’ experiences of teaching and learning at a university as a factor.
The experience of racism and exclusion in Higher Education, along with the use of student deficit models as modes of explanation and instance-based interventions (rather than a whole systems approach) as a means to understand the impact of race for meaningful discussions, are well documented.
Redressing attainment disparity
Numerous Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have undertaken institutional and sector-wide research to examine, understand and redress the BAME attainment disparity. The University of Roehampton, like many others, have participated in this exploration.
In 2009 we began a journey to explore, understand and work to reduce our attainment gap. Starting with a small research project entitled Journeys to Success, a team from the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit examined the work conducted in the schools’ sector, examining how it had successfully begun to raise the attainment of BAME pupils to see if lessons could be learnt for Higher Education. With this as a starting point, the team set out to discover – via appreciative enquiry – the factors that contributed or inhibited a positive learning experience at Roehampton.
Journeys to Success
The Journeys to Success project highlighted that a high number of assessment interventions incorrectly placed the onus on marginalised students to change their behaviours rather than university teams delivering institutional change and changing their behaviours. The analysis reflected four key themes: expectations, care and respect; teaching and learning; assessment and standards, and feeling included in the university curriculum and community. As a result, in 2011, ‘Re-imagining Attainment for All’ (RAFA) was born.
Through an analysis of the four key areas outlined in Journeys to Success, RAFA narrowed the focus to provide greater transparency in the process of assessment and the communication of high expectations to all students. This was the first step in reconfiguring and redefining teaching, learning and assessment and the overall academic culture at Roehampton.
RAFA has based on three key elements: an intensive CPD programme for staff; the recruitment of student consultants to be involved in developing staff CPD, and masterclasses for students which focussed on factors contributing to success in assessments. RAFA’s own success was viewed in terms of the impact it had on raising colleagues’ awareness of the potential causes of the attainment gap between BAME and white students, along with departmental assumptions and practices.
Other successes include the development of a ‘student as partners’ approach, where students co-produced resources, were central in generating change and supported the creation of department action plans. Staff buy-in was an unexpected success, but most convincingly was the ensuing reduction in the BAME attainment gap.
In 2017, aided by the Catalyst Fund, RAFA2 was launched. This phase aimed to extend the knowledge base and develop practical solutions by working towards overcoming the BAME attainment gap as part of a sector-wide approach. Through collaborative working, RAFA2 set out to share the RAFA methodology across two other HEIs (Carshalton College and Queen Mary University of London). By doing so, the aim was to learn lessons for scaling up, replicability and sustainability.
RAFA2 is a student-led initiative, focused on the process of assessment with the aim of eliminating the attainment gap between Black / African / Caribbean / Black British and White students. Muslim women students were also a specific focus throughout the project.
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