An award-winning programme to support race equality and career development should become part of the mainstream, not just an add-on, says Rajinder Mann

Whether you are a high-achieving lecturer with your sights set on being a college principal or a young offender with a determination to quit crime, you share a number of basic needs – as inquiry after inquiry into the shape and future of FE keeps reminding us.

The 2005 Foster review of FE said it, as did this year’s Lingfield review of professionalism in the sector. You need the self-esteem and self-confidence that raises aspiration and turns that desire into something concrete. Moreover, you need the support and mechanisms to sustain it – particularly if you are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic (BME) group.

This week, the Network for Black Professionals was thrilled to hear that our  Black Leadership Initiative® (BLI) – our training and development arm – has won The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Volunteering Award 2012. We won it for our national mentoring programme to support race equality and career development which, in ten years, has trained 600 mentors and 500 mentees and contributed to increasing the number of black college principals from four to 16.

The programme emerged from the Commission for Black Staff in Further Education to address the under-representation of BME staff in senior positions within colleges. Building on the success in FE, we developed the work shadowing programme in schools with Ofsted and the National College for School Leadership.

“Our toolkit for mentoring gives pointers to understanding different groups and cultural values”

Forty participants became heads and deputies, an increase of 13 per cent in those promoted. The National College sees it as a flagship programme.

We have extended our work in partnership with National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and raised awareness of the importance of mentoring to help young offenders turn their lives around and reduce recidivism. To spread the work wider we have produced a toolkit for mentoring, which gives pointers to understanding different groups and cultural values.

As our experience shows, such developments take time, whether for aspiring principals or young offenders. In his 2005 review, Sir Andrew Foster acknowledged this and said: “Workforce training, such as that developed through the Black Leadership Initiative needs to become more widespread.” Likewise, this year, Lord Lingfield stressed the importance of mentoring – which is at the heart of our operations – for newly qualified teachers and those coming in to teach from outside of FE.

We need more programmes for the future structured in this way and seen as a resource, not just as an add-on and not just for BME staff. It is about more than staff development, it is about engaging hearts and minds, with successful people willing to give something back – people such as the late Reg Chapman, former principal of Blackpool and The Fylde College.

Thanks to the efforts   of the likes of Reg – who volunteered and trained as a mentor in 2004  – more than 100 principals in England have joined the leadership mentoring programme.

Reg said: “The mentoring training was among the best training I have ever encountered in my career. It was fun, professionally organised, challenging and insightful. It gave me a range of mentoring skills and insights I have used over the years in working with many BME mentees.”

Mark Flynn, former principal of South Derbyshire College, said: “I have been on other race equality programmes and I have been made to feel part of the problem. On this programme, I feel empowered to be part of the solution.”

So join us in celebrating the Queen’s Award. It is an honour to receive it. It is a tribute to the dedicated and committed mentors who give their time so generously, the staff team who work tirelessly to deliver the programmes and our very supportive board members. But the greatest honour would be if this programme became mainstream across sectors.

Rajinder Kaur Mann, OBE is executive director of the Black Leadership Initiative