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Independent review into Central’s diversity reveals ‘uncomfortable’ findings as school vows to do more

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Photo: Patrick Baldwin The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Photo: Patrick Baldwin
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A review into race equality practices at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama has found that only half of students, staff and alumni surveyed feel the school exhibits zero tolerance to discriminatory behaviours.

Central’s processes around diversity have come under scrutiny as part of the independent review, which was commissioned in the wake of a row last year. Principal Gavin Henderson faced calls to resign after speaking at debate in which he claimed that introducing diversity quotas risked damaging the organisation’s reputation.

The drama school will now invest £100,000 to “accelerate a step change” around diversity following the publication of the review, by independent consultants Halpin Partnership.

When surveyed as part of the review, 54% of student and staff respondents felt the school had a zero-tolerance attitude to discriminatory behaviour, while other issues raised include reports of “micro-aggression, accidental racism and deliberately racist comments” and instances in which staff had been present but failed to act.

While 16% were neutral, 30% of all respondents disagreed that Central showed zero tolerance to discrimination, a figure which rises to 33% when looking specifically at black, Asian and minority ethnic respondents.

When asked whether they knew what routes to take in order to report an incident, 52% said they did, but 34% said they did not.

The review has now made a series of recommendations on race equality, which revolve around three themes:

  • To make clearer who holds the responsibility for race equality and publish how commitment to building an inclusive culture is being shown.
  • To expand data analysis, benchmarking and reporting around race equality, linking this directly to career pathways and publicly setting goals and ambitions.
  • To ensure that materials such as Central’s website and social media communicate examples of race equality and progress in a prominent and regular way, while student and staff recruitment material should reflect where improvements need to be made.

Chair of the governors John Willis said the report’s statistical evidence indicated that Central performs well compared with other higher education arts providers, but conceded it was also clear “that for some students and staff there is a gap between those statistics and their lived experience”.

Issues raised in the review include feedback from students that they perceived audition groups for Central to be more diverse than their resulting peer groups at the school, and negative perceptions of the socio-economic range of students at Central.

In a statement issued on behalf of the governing body, Willis acknowledged that the review contained “uncomfortable messages” and said “clearly more needs to be done”, but pledged to work with staff and students to implement all recommendations set out by Halpin.

He added: “The governors and senior management team fully acknowledge that we can – and we will – do better, working together with colleagues and students across the Central community.”

An investment of £100,000 will be put into the school “to drive progress and accelerate a step change”, which includes funding for a new full-time equality and diversity adviser.

The board has also set up a sub-committee, including staff and student governors, which will report to the full board on diversity and inclusion.

The review was announced by Central last year when it promised to a series of actions to address the criticisms levelled at it following Henderson’s comments at the Dear White Central event. Halpin said it should be noted that the review did not represent an investigation or enquiry into these events.

The review also claimed:

  • Central has been “successful” in attracting a consistent number of BAME students over the five-year period assessed, and despite there being a need to increase this number, it is comparable with other arts institutions.
  • BAME staff members have increased over the past three years and now exceed suggested benchmarks.
  • Central is undertaking “numerous activities” to improve diversity, the report says, and found a “strong wish” from management, staff and students to support all forms of equality.

Read the report in full.

Read John Willis’ response statement in full.

Royal Central School pledges series of actions to address ‘structural racism’

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