A vegan student studying animal management has won a battle with her college over the right to skip a farming module that would have have involved a trip to an abattoir – forcing tutors to find her a ‘more suitable’ assessment.
Fiji Willets, 18, didn’t expect the topic of farming to come up when she signed up for the BTEC National Extended Diploma in Animal Management at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College.
She joined after reading it was ‘great for people who love animals’ – but was shocked to discover animal management course could see her work on a farm and possibly visit an abattoir.
The teenager complained to tutors that she was suffering with anxiety over the module, but they told her the unit was mandatory.
She enlisted the help of ‘the Vegan Society to overturn their decision – which was eventually approved by Pearson exam board.
After numerous complaints, and despite assurances from the college that the module would be ‘ethically planned’, she’s finally been told she can do a ‘more suitable’ unit instead, while other students continue with the original course.
The 2021 prospectus for the BTEC course says it is ‘Great for people who love animals, want a career within the animal care industry, are passionate about conservation and the countryside, like hands-on work and varied responsibilities and like being outside in all weathers.’
The decision comes after vegans won protection under anti-discrimination laws last year, when a landmark hearing ruled ethical veganism is a philosophical belief.
Animal lover Fiji Willetts, 18, didn’t think a college course on animal management would have a module on farming
After making numerous complaints, the vegan has been told she doesn’t need to take part in the unit
Fiji, from Downend, Bristol, said: ‘I am vegan because I love animals, so to attend a farm where I would be supporting a farmer would be wrong.
‘I would have been denied a college education.
‘I couldn’t simply break my way of living purely to pass a course.
‘I hope I can now be an example to other vegans so they don’t have to go through the ordeal I went through.’
But after enrolling, she discovered she had to take and pass, a module on farm husbandry – the branch of agriculture which focuses on raising animals for products.
Students were expected to attend working farms and a slaughterhouse visit was also discussed, according to the Vegan Society, which supported Fiji’s claim.
The 2021 prospectus for the BTEC course says it is ‘Great for people who love animals, want a career within the animal care industry’. Fiji has had the farming element of her qualification replaced with a business module
Other teenagers on the course are expected to work on a farm and could potentially visit an abattoir, but after complaining with the help of ‘vegan rights advocates’, Miss Willetts will not have to
FACT BOX TITLE
A vegan who avoids taking the bus in order to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds has today won a landmark case in which a judge rules ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and therefore protected by law.
The groundbreaking case was brought by Jordi Casamitjana, who said he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns that its pension fund was being invested into companies involved in animal testing.
The 55-year-old, from London, claims he was unfairly disciplined for making this disclosure and that the decision to dismiss him was because of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism.
In his witness statement he claims to go as far as avoiding holding onto leather straps or sitting on leather seats, and prefers to walk rather than catch a bus in case the vehicle kills a fly while on its journey.
At the tribunal in Norwich today, judge Robin Postle ruled ethical veganism satisfies the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief and is therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010.
Fiji started suffering with anxiety and raised concerns with her tutor, but was told she had to complete the module or fail, the society claims.
She submitted a formal complaint to the college, which maintained a substitute module was not available, it is claimed.
A similar complaint was issued to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), who supported the college.
But the case was escalated to the awarding body for non-compliance with equality law, and college tutors finally changed their minds.
Five months after the start of Fiji’s claim, they have agreed to provide ‘a more suitable module’ for her to complete at the college in Filton, Bristol.
Speaking today, Fiji said: ‘I’m quite a quiet person so didn’t tell many people about my struggle with this case.
‘I just told a few friends who have been quite supportive.
‘Whilst I was still ‘fighting’ it, I didn’t want to openly share it with everyone in my class, as I am aware of the backlash and negativity that vegans often face.
South Gloucester and Stroud College tutors initially told Miss Willetts that she would have to take the farming unit or it would result in an ‘automatic fail’
Complaints were initially dismissed, until Miss Willetts, helped by The Vegan Society, escalated her claim. Supporters say it is ‘a big win for the vegan movement’
‘I really wanted to keep things quiet until I had actually succeeded to avoid as much negative attention as possible.
‘Whilst most of our lessons have been online because of the pandemic, the days where I have been in college have felt quite awkward and I haven’t been shown any support.’
Jeanette Rowley, vegan rights advocate at The Vegan Society, said: ‘I’m delighted Fiji was able to stay at her college and continue working towards her diploma.
‘This was a really big win for Fiji, and for the vegan movement.
‘Education providers have a duty to be inclusive and must do everything they can to remove any disadvantages faced by vegans.
‘There is an urgent need to assess the approach taken to teaching students about nonhuman animals and the way they are treated.
Five months after the start of Fiji’s claim, they have agreed to provide ‘a more suitable module’ for her to complete at the college in Filton, Bristol
‘Vegans in the UK have the protection of human rights and equality law, and it is vital that schools and colleges understand that they are under a statutory duty to examine how their educational policies and practices might have a negative impact on vegan students.’
Principal of South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, Sara-Jane Watkins said the college has repeatedly assured the teenager and her parents that the course was ‘ethically planned’ while also offering her the chance to take another qualification.
Ms Watkins said: ‘The College has made every effort to explain to Fiji Willetts that the unit was chosen with the intention of delivering a holistic and well-rounded programme that both meets local need while also enabling learners to progress onto the next stages of their education.
South Gloucestershire and Stroud College said itrepeatedly assured the teenager and her parents that the course was ‘ethically planned’ while also offering her the chance to take another qualification
‘On at least three separate occasions the college has also acted to reassure Fiji Willetts, and her parents, that the unit had been ethically planned and, in addition to our commitment that it would be delivered to the highest possible standards and with the highest regard for animal welfare, that it would not be delivered in a way that either disregards Fiji Willetts’s beliefs or places her at any disadvantage.
‘The college also confirmed with Fiji that she would not be expected to undertake any activity with which she was uncomfortable and that she could opt out of all or some of Unit 19 if she so wished.
‘The College has remained in contact with Fiji’s chosen university to ensure that any alternative options offered would not negatively impact upon her application to read programmes such as Zoological Management or Integrated Wildlife Conservation at University.
‘The college has confirmed to Fiji exactly what the College has done to ensure that unit 19 is delivered in total respect of, and sympathy for, her beliefs. Fiji has also been offered the option to opt out of some or all of Unit 19 or to complete an alternative unit.’