An institution-wide approach to addressing the Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) attainment gap

King's College London (KCL) has established a whole-institution approach to addressing differences in ethnicity attainment gaps with a strong focus on developing inclusive practices and attitudes amongst staff and students at KCL.

Research indicates that student satisfaction and outcomes differ significantly by ethnic group across the sector, with particularly wide gaps noted between white and black students in relation to degree attainment.

The impact of educational inequality on BME students is unethical and long-lasting. Educational inequality impacts the whole of the higher education sector, there are huge benefits for students and staff when BME learners are able to contribute fully to the community.

Closing differential attainment by ethnicity is a strategic priority for KCL and is a key outcome within the access and participation plan and King’s Education Strategy. KCL has set an ambitious target to eliminate the gap in attainment between White and BME students by 2024-25 and, as part of that, a specific target to close the gap for black students, where the gap is largest.

Attainment gaps are a result of complex and multifactorial issues which are influenced by the unequal structures in society and cannot be attributed to a single cause. One of the key challenges facing all institutions tackling ethnicity attainment gaps is the need for a clear and consolidated whole-provider approach across the institution.

Sector-wide research indicates the following factors contribute to differential attainment:

  • institutional culture
  • lack of ethnic diversity among role models and staff
  • non-Inclusive curricula and learning, including teaching and assessment practices
  • sense of belonging
  • relationships between staff and students and amongst students
  • information, advice and guidance
  • social, cultural and economic capital
  • preparedness for higher education.

With this context in mind, KCL has developed a number of structured interventions to close its attainment gaps institutionally. To close these gaps, it wants and needs the KCL staff community to engage with this agenda, feel ownership of the aims and consider themselves able to implement change.

An institution-wide approach has been implemented at KCL to promote and develop inclusive practices and attitudes across the institution. This has comprised different projects, interventions, strategies and policies to support diverse ethnic student groups and tackle the structural causes of differences in attainment.

The Student Outcomes Team (SOT) plays a critical role in facilitating the institutional response to addressing differential attainment by providing leadership, expert advice and guidance to the academic community for creating an inclusive educational experience.

KCL established the Student Attainment Steering Committee in early 2019, bringing together senior academics, professional services and student union representatives to oversee its work to close attainment gaps.

The committee was created to build the institutional knowledge of attainment gaps and equip key members of staff from each academic faculty and key professional services departments with the information and support necessary for effectively tackling the structural causes of differences in attainment. The committee is chaired by one of KCL’s Vice-Deans of Education and is sponsored by two members of the senior management team.

The emphasis of the steering committee was initially on insight gathering and establishing oversight of activities relating to the attainment gap agenda from across KCL. Moving on from the insight gathering stage, the focus has been on faculty actions and managing cultural and behavioural change. KCL has adopted a change management approach, using the Prosci ADKAR methodology, supporting colleagues across the university to grow inclusive practices to close differences in attainment.

Figure 1: Prosci ADKAR Methodology

A core priority area for the closing attainment gaps agenda at KCL was identifying and taking priority actions.

All academic faculties have completed the process of identifying priority actions in alignment with the King’s Education Strategy and reported back to the steering committee. Inclusion is embedded throughout the education strategy, with various strands supporting the inclusive education agenda.

KCL has commenced a range of activities across the institution. This has comprised:

  • transition support into university
  • development of an inclusive curriculum
  • assessment and feedback review and re-design of assessment formats
  • personal tutoring
  • support students wellbeing and mental health
  • student co-creation
  • develop and pilot a cultural competency module.

KCL has established the Race Equality and Inclusive Education Fund (REIEF). The fund supports activity addressing racial inequalities and embedding inclusive education at KCL.

It has been core to progressing faculty’s action plans to close differences in attainment and supporting cross-faculty collaborations. For example, funding was awarded for a collaborative project to create and collate interprofessional teaching resources supporting inclusive curricula in healthcare programmes.

Other initiatives contributing to the university’s objectives to closing differences in attainment include:

  • The attainment gap forms part of the university’s balanced scorecard which supports accountability at council and senior management team level
  • Adopting a granular focus in data analysis by also assessing differences in First Class degree achievement. This data can be drilled down by faculty, department and programme
  • Prioritising the complementing of numerical data with qualitative insights
  • Developing webpages on the KCL intranet to provide guidance and information on attainment gaps
  • Design and implementation of enabling programmes such as: Conversations about Race and Inclusive Education Partners to embed BME staff and student insights into the work to close ethnicity attainment gaps
  • Delivering training for unconscious bias, micro-aggressions and inclusive teaching practice. This enables teaching colleagues to explore how they can embed inclusivity into their own practice
  • Incorporating universally inclusive measures introduced to mitigate impact of COVID-19 on academic student success including introduction of 24-hour assessments, enhanced mitigation, provision of laptops and MiFi devices and a streamlined mitigating circumstances process
  • Embedding consideration of attainment gaps in central programme regulation and development processes.

KCL’s focus on addressing differences in attainment by ethnicity for good honours degree has seen the gap reduce:

  • BME students obtaining a good honours degree in 2014-15 was 78 per cent increasing to 93 per cent in 2019-20
  • the attainment gap between black and white students in 2014-15 was 26 per cent decreasing to 4 per cent in 2019-20.

It measures success and impact through formal evaluation practices. These include circulating project specific surveys, carrying out faculty progress meetings and tracking the number of new initiatives developed in this space.

The results of the whole-provider approach to closing gaps in attainment has also led to a series of other benefits and advantages, including:

  • Increased awareness and knowledge of attainment related issues
  • Increased staff and student engagement, including sponsorship from senior leaders
  • All faculties analysing attainment gap data and targeting structural barriers to equal attainment by delivering a range of activities and interventions.

KCL continues to prioritise the approach of fixing the institution and will continue to tackle this issue by adopting a multi-pronged approach with a range of actions.

Further details

See the other case studies from King College London:


Syreeta Allen, Head of Student Outcomes and Messiah Odinma, Student Outcomes Manager (Attainment)

Published 24 November 2021

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