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Vegan student, 18, studying animal management is allowed to skip farming module after complaint

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 the course could see her work on a farm and possibly visit an abattoir.

The teenager, whose mother used to be a veterinary nurse, complained to tutors that she was suffering with anxiety over the module.

She claims tutors told her it was mandatory – despite the exam board later confirming it was not. 

She enlisted the help of the Vegan Society – who once called on bosses to provide workers with their own vegan shelf – to fight her corner and together they complained to both the college, as well as the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Despite being rejected twice, their complaints were eventually heard by exam board Pearson who decided the college could offer her an alternative module while taking the BTEC qualification. 

Despite assurances from the college that the module would be ‘ethically planned’, she’s finally been told she can take a business unit instead, which it believes is ‘more suitable’. 

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

Animal lover Fiji Willetts, 18, didn't think a college course on animal management would have a module on farming

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

After making numerous complaints, the vegan has been told she doesn't need to take part in the unit

After making numerous complaints, the vegan has been told she doesn’t need to take part in the unit

Veganism is classed as a philosophical belief  

Last year a judge ruled that veganism was a belief protected by law – after a case was brought by a man who avoids taking the bus as they crash into insects and birds. 

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, claimed 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 last January 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.

Last year the society called on bosses for a shake-up in the workplace – including separate food areas in office kitchens for people following the diet.

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Fiji, from Downend, Bristol, whose father is a software designer, 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.

She said: ‘This course is the only one in Bristol which allows 16 to 18 year olds to study to work in the sector.

‘The course has given me what I need for the most part.

‘Near the end of last year I heard people talking about having to go to a farm.

‘Then at the start of this year (September 2020) they said we would be going to a farm weekly or fortnightly.

‘I looked on the Pearsons specifications and saw that the module is optional.

‘There are 15 optional units, and colleges can select which you have to take.

‘My college has decided this one should be mandatory.

‘Near the end of last year I heard people talking about having to go to a farm.

‘Then at the start of this year (September 2020) they said we would be going to a farm weekly or fortnightly.

‘I looked on the Pearsons specifications and saw that the module is optional.

‘There are 15 optional units, and colleges can select which you have to take. My college has decided this one should be mandatory.’

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

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

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

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

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

The world’s oldest charity for vegans: The Vegan Society

Set up in 1944, The Vegan Society has helped promote veganism across Britain while also informing people of its benefits and beliefs.

The group strives to end ‘exploitation of animal life by man’, and does so by promoting an alternative diet, while also lobbying politicians to adopt its message.

In 2018 it released a booklet for vegan criminals and for prison staff so they can ensure those who want to lead an animal-free life can continue to do so even when locked up.

At the time, the charity said British vegans are ‘protected under human rights and equality law’.

They argued that prisons have an obligation to ensure they ‘don’t interfere with a vegan’s right to freedom of conscience’. 

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Following a tutorial given to her class for Mental Health Awareness Week, Fiji felt safe approaching her tutor to describe how she was feeling about the Farm Husbandry module, on October 7.

She said: ‘He had just given this tutorial, so I told him I was suffering with really bad anxiety, and showing clinical signs.

‘He said ‘you merely need to learn the subject and complete an assignment.’ I felt really upset, and I just couldn’t see a way forward.’

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.

‘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.’ 

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'

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'

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'

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'

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’

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

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

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

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

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.’

Source: Daily Mail Australia | World News

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