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Positive Action sometimes gets an unfair negative response. It's a sensitive subject and often those without the relevant protected characteristic feel that they have been left out, or not given the same chances.

This page hopes to explain the true purpose of positive action.

Positive Action a way to counteract sometimes deep-rooted or historic disadvantages by providing under-represented or disadvantaged groups with help to ensure they have the same chances and opportunities as others.

Students with protected characteristics may be disadvantaged for social or economic reasons connected with their protected characteristic/s or for reasons to do with past or present discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 enables education providers, if they wish to do so, to take action to tackle particular disadvantages, different needs or disproportionately low participation of a particular student group, provided certain conditions are met. Taking the right amount of action to counter disadvantages faced by particular groups of students.

View Law Society advice

  • compulsory
  • positive discrimination or quotas which are unlawful
  • the same as making reasonable adjustments for disabled clients and employees. It is not unlawful to treat a disabled person more favourably
  • the same as a genuine occupational requirement. (For example, if a domestic violence refuge for women required only women counsellors, it would not be acting unlawfully to make clear that only women could apply for the role).
  • Positive Action is also not the same as positive discrimination, which gives applicants from disadvantaged and under-represented groups preferential treatment in the recruitment process, regardless of their ability to do the job.
  • An employer cannot offer the job to a woman, or someone from an ethnic background, purely to improve the company’s gender balance.

The statistics below, published in a recent HEFCE news article evidence just some of the current gaps in higher education:

  • Ethnicity: Black entrants had the highest rate of non-continuation of 9.4 per cent in 2011-12, and Chinese entrants had the lowest of 5.2 per cent in 2011/12.
  • School: A higher percentage of state-school entrants were no longer in HE after year one than entrants from independent school: 6.5 per cent compared with 3.5 per cent in 2011/12.
  • Age: Mature entrants were more likely to have left HE one year after entry. In 2011/12, 10.4 per cent of mature entrants left after one year compared with 5.7 per cent for young entrants.
  • Disability: Non-disabled entrants were less likely to remain in HE at the end of their first year, with 7.8 per cent not continuing in 2011-12, compared to disabled entrants at 6.2 per cent in 2011/12.
  • Social background: Entrants from areas with low participation in HE were more likely than entrants in high participation areas to no longer be in HE at the end of year one: this is the case for both young and mature age groups.

Guidance published by looks at two of the protected characteristic groups (Equality Act 2010), illustrating how even when people of different races (racial equality) and women (gender equality) do well at school and college, that they do not get their fair share of the top jobs.

For example:

  • only 15 Members of Parliament are people of different races. Looking at the diversity of this country, there should be 60.
  • only three top judges are people of different races.
  • fewer than one in every six top people in universities is a woman. To be fair, three out of every six should be women.
  • only one out of every 10 top people in big companies is a woman.

It is important to remember that any organisation wishing to facilitate positive action must have evidence of different needs, disadvantages and/or low participation rates before taking any further steps.