As the FE Guild goes through its early stages of formulation Robin Landman OBE considers an opportunity for the group to create a representative FE workforce.

As we approach the beginning of the brief consultation period for the proposed FE Guild we need to give some serious collective thought to what this new FE formation is for, and what it will actually do.

In his foreword to the guild prospectus, John Hayes referred to ‘.. a modern guild – an employer-led partnership, which brings together key sector interests including employee representatives’. He goes on to say, ‘it is crucial that the guild is truly of the sector, by the sector and for the sector’. A jaundiced observer might pose the question, if the latter statement is true, why did the call for the guild come from the minister of state, rather than from members of the sector?

However, since it is clear that the guild is now the only show in town, we must give substance to the former minister’s aspirations, rise to the challenge and ensure that the guild is fit for its eventual purpose.

Members of the Race Equality Workforce Action Group (REWAG) — a cross-sector group working towards an ethnically representative workforce — have been discussing the challenges inherent in working to achieve its goal at a time of massive budget cuts.

The recently-published census has graphically confirmed that Britain has changed more rapidly than most of us had anticipated, and this makes the development of a representative workforce vital, to reflect modern Britain and to recognise the fact that nearly a quarter of our students are from BME communities or from the rapidly growing ‘mixed’ category. Counter-intuitively, though, the FE workforce is, according to LSIS data, becoming less diverse, with the largest growth coming from the white British category, probably as a result of more redundancies amongst BME community groups.

It was an oversight to have an all-white, all-male panel presenting the bid”

The FE sector has a great story to tell the other education sectors. After the report of the Commission for Black Staff in FE, the Black Leadership Initiative (BLI) was created, and its work, initially alongside and subsequently as part of the Network for Black Professionals (NBP), led to a major improvement in representation at the most senior level. From four black principals in 2002, the number peaked at 16 in 2011, and is now 14. This makes FE leadership the most representative of all education phases, achieved primarily because the BLI was such a successful, and cost effective, positive action intervention, its consistent and high impact recently recognised by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award for Volunteering.

REWAG believes that this issue is a crucial one for the sector, and that it offers an important opportunity for those developing the guild to ensure that it is firmly on its development agenda. This would give substance to the vision for the guild that it is ‘ an employer-led partnership drawing in employee representatives organisations and sector bodies concerned with workforce development’.

As well as the longer-term, REWAG members were concerned about short-term considerations. LSIS will wind up in March, and the earliest date for the guild to become operational is August, so there is a risk that the implied hiatus could have serious implications for the BLI. REWAG members seek assurances that some bridging funding is earmarked for what could be a prolonged period of uncertainty.

We also want to see representation of the whole spectrum of FE membership organisations involved in the development of the guild. It was an oversight to have an all-white, all-male panel presenting the bid consortium at the AoC conference, and that needs to be corrected by the inclusion of the Women’s Leadership Network and the NBP in future discussions, so our sector is seen to be serious about a modern conception of professionalism.

In addition, the BLI Strategy Group – a powerful and representative reference panel, met last week and was clear in its view that the BLI model works well, that it needs to be retained and indeed there is clear scope for the approach to be utilised by the sector, with appropriate adaptation, in the other equality strands.

Robin Landman OBE, chief executive of the Network for Black Professionals (NBP)