Last year’s tragic killing of George Floyd and the subsequent outpouring of anger and grief across the US and Europe felt like a watershed moment. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, which has disproportionately impacted people from Black, Asian and diverse ethnic backgrounds, the protests gave huge momentum to a Black Lives Matter movement that demands change now to address systemic racism in all sections of society.
In the further education (FE) sector, the Black FE Leadership Group has written an open letter to the government demanding urgent action and the adoption of a 10-point plan to address systemic racism in colleges.
To get a closer insight into the group’s work, I spoke to two executive members who are also CMI companions – Robin Landman OBE CMgr CCMI and Stella Ngozi Mbubaegbu CBE CMgr CCMI – for our latest Better Managers Briefing.
Evidence-based and solutions focused
According to Stella, the group’s main objective is to put anti-racism at the heart of the further education system – from the Department for Education through to awarding bodies, colleges and all providers and sectors that support further education.
“We use Black in that sense, inclusive of all colleagues – whether from African, Caribbean or Asian background – who have a lived experience of racism,” says Stella, “and we have noticed that in the colleges sector there has been a decline in the number of senior leaders and middle managers from those backgrounds.”
The proportion of Black, Asian and diverse ethnic students in further education has grown to around 30%, yet of the 239 FE colleges in England, it is estimated that fewer than 15 are currently led by Black, Asian and diverse ethnic principals, according to the Association of Colleges – that’s around 6%.
“We wanted not just to express a sense of outrage, but to evidence the issue in a compelling way so that no-one could denigrate what we were saying,” adds Robin. “We wanted to be practical and solutions-focused too. We aren’t just complaining about the issues, we’re offering a 10-point framework around which we can work together to resolve them. We will be there to help you to resolve the issues.”
The group’s 10-point plan recommends, for example, that all colleges should annually publish student performance, as well as staff and governor profile data, by ethnicity, including actions to address identified gaps. “There is very little data around ethnicity in colleges and a reluctance really to collect the data,” says Stella, “but we believe any institution that is funded by the government should be required to collect this kind of data.”
Tapping into talent
The recommendations also include a revision of FE curriculums and qualifications to reflect contemporary British values, the importance of colonial history and its influence on society, the impact of racism on Black and white communities and the contributions made by Black people to society. It calls for the consideration of racial equality to be a central component of all teacher training, professional development and leadership programmes and proposes recruitment processes that address imbalances in the diversity of leadership at all levels.
“The Black, Asian and diverse ethnic communities in this country represent a serious resource that's not been tapped into previously and these growing populations mean that the post-Covid recovery will be dependent on the extent to which these communities are fully engaged and their talent fully harnessed by business, government and the public sector,” says Robin. “But that will only happen if government and business play their part and reduce the obstacles that those communities currently face.”
Stella believes that this will also require the building of trust, so that Black, Asian and diverse ethnic communities know their issues are fully understood and that there is a genuine willingness to tackle them. “There needs to be basic, fundamental listening, gathering communities together and really hearing what people are saying, showing empathy and a willingness to own the issues,” she adds.
Rethink and reset
The government’s Skills for Jobs white paper, which sets out reforms to post-16 technical education and training, is an opportunity to engage these important Black, Asian and diverse ethnic communities, argues Stella. “I think there are opportunities in this white paper for those who will be entrepreneurial and want to seize opportunities,” she says. “By making skills central, we've got an opportunity to be right there at the start, talking about skills for all – not just looking at Black, Asian and diverse ethnic communities as an afterthought, but as part of the conversation right at the outset.”
Although Black, Asian and diverse ethnic students in the English system make up 30% of the student body in colleges, they only account 10% of apprenticeships at present. “We all know that apprenticeships are a route into good employment, so we need to improve this uptake by going beyond just piecemeal interventions,” argues Robin. “We’ve got to eradicate those obstacles being put in place by gatekeepers who are making it hard for young Black people to get access to apprenticeships. Those gatekeepers could be at the college level or they could be at the employer level, because they are the ones who will finally decide whether or not an apprentice is accepted.”
Business leaders have a vital role to play here, agrees Stella. “We need managers to lead us to deliver this kind of deep change in the way we do things and how we work. We need managers to lead us in the creativity and innovation to really rethink and reset.”
For more information on supporting people to create more equal, diverse and inclusive organisations through professional leadership and management practices, visit CMI Race.
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