‘Not our responsibility?’: Incorporating equality and diversity into tutor teaching development

In universities, we often think about equality and diversity at a relatively high level, for example university policy (at Edinburgh, the ‘Equality and Diversity Strategy’, and the ‘Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy’ or departmental or School codes of practice, which are usually implemented by senior teaching teams.  Diversifying the curriculum has been highlighted as a possible step (see here).  This is sound advice, but is relevant only for staff with control over the content of their teaching.

These ‘top-down’ approaches mean that for many junior colleagues – namely tutors – issues of equality, inclusion and diversity are not a primary concern: in others words, ‘not our responsibility’.

Tutors are part-time, adjunct, assistant, sessional or casual staff essential to many universities’ teaching provision (Beaton and Gilbert, 2013), but often labelled as lost, invisible, intangible: an ‘academic underclass’ (Brand, 2013; Sharaff and Lessinger, 1994, p. 12; as cited in McCormack and Kelly, 2013, p. 94).  Such a view of tutoring can only exacerbate the sense that equality and diversity are not their responsibility.

Yet, tutors are hugely important to front-line teaching in many institutions (Beaton and Gilbert, 2013), not least the University of Edinburgh, where tutors teach on a significant proportion of undergraduate courses.  As the main teaching point of contact for many students, it is clear that equality, inclusion, and diversity are the responsibility of tutors; and for those who support the development of tutors, both in Schools and in other areas like my own Learning and Teaching team in the IAD, it is our responsibility to help.

In our own training and support for tutors, the first thing we did was to explicitly highlight University and (to a lesser extent) national policy on equality and diversity.  We were finding that, for whatever reason, tutors were not aware of these policies, so we began by telling tutors that these documents exist.

We then worked to draw out points from University strategies and policies which were relevant to the teaching roles of tutors.  In particular, we highlighted parts of the mainstreaming of common learning adjustments as outlined in the ‘Accessible and Inclusive Learning’ policy including:

  • Providing presentation slides for seminars at least 24 hours in advance of the class
  • Giving key words and formulae to students at least 24 hours before the class
  • Telling students about changes to rooms, classes, or courses by email
  • That students are allowed to record any teaching for their personal use
  • That all teaching staff should wear a microphone where available (even if it doesn’t appear that there is a need for it).

We share with tutors the idea that these measures make teaching accessible for everyone. We also provide resources for tutors on ways to make teaching more inclusive and accessible, for example, the Race Equality Toolkit, which offers practical advice and tips), Teachability (for general help with teaching that is accessible to students with disabilities) and advice on netiquette for online teaching.

Yet, we are aware that these are simply first steps.  In the future, we plan to develop our connections with other parts of the University undertaking work around equality and diversity in learning and teaching, such as the Student’s Association (EUSA) and the Support Services who provide training and resources for staff more widely.  Equality and inclusion in assessment and feedback (much of which is carried out by tutors) will likely be a focus for the future.

It is certainly the case that we can do more, but the steps we have taken are an important start to recognising that creating equality, inclusion, and diversity in teaching is the responsibility of all teachers, no matter their role.

AmyBurge_85_90About the author

Amy Burge presented a presentation on this topic at Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education: Sharing experiences and Best Practice, King’s College London, March 2016.


Beaton, F. and Gilbert, A. (2013). Developing effective part-time teachers in higher education: New approaches to professional development. Routledge: London.

Brand, T. (2013). Foreword: The lost tribe. In F. Beaton and A. Gilbert (Eds.), Developing effective part-time teachers in higher education: New approaches to professional development (pp. xv-xviii). Routledge: London.

McCormack, C. and Kelly, P. (2013). How do we know it works? Designing support interventions to meet the real needs of new part-time lecturers. In F. Beaton and A. Gilbert (Eds.), Developing effective part-time teachers in higher education: New approaches to professional development (pp. 94-113). Routledge: London.






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