‘Worryingly low’ number of BAME college leaders to be tackled with new scheme

A ‘Diversity in Leadership Programme’ is to be launched, following analysis published by FE Week which found just 7 per cent of college principals are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME).

The Education and Training Foundation is aiming to roll out the scheme by Christmas.

It will have four strands: unconscious bias workshops; one-to-one coaching for aspiring leaders; a diversity charter for the whole FE sector to sign up to; and new toolkits.

“People from diverse backgrounds will naturally bring in different perspective”

The programme, which will be offered free of charge, comes hot on the heels of an FE Week investigation from July that found the number of colleges led by a non-white principal has fallen to a low of 7 per cent.

And analysis of staff individualised record data compiled by the ETF, published last year, indicated that just 6.8 per cent of senior and middle managers in FE colleges hail from a BAME background.

Ali Hadawi, principal at Central Bedfordshire College, welcomed the ETF’s scheme, especially if it adopts a “two-pronged approach”.

“If it has one on practitioners to support and nurture and another which has a targeted strand of work on governing bodies especially in colleges that are about to recruit a new chief executive or deputy, to work with governors (and especially chairs), then it would be a good approach,” he told FE Week.

Kirsti Lord, the Association of Colleges’ deputy chief executive, said the number of diverse FE leaders is “worryingly low” and her organisation will work closely with the ETF “to increase the numbers of BAME leaders so staff in further education reflect the communities they serve”.

Mark Wright, the ETF’s head of leadership development, added that the diversity scheme is needed because “people from diverse backgrounds will naturally bring in thoughts and different perspectives which helps break out of the groupthinking that some colleges have fallen into in the past”.

A series of groups aimed at increasing the number of ethnic minority college bosses have ended in recent times.

This includes the disbanding of the AoC’s BAME Principals’ Group in 2017, the failed attempt to revive the Network for Black and Asian Professionals in 2016, and in 2015 the closure of the Black Leadership Initiative, which was launched in 2002.

An equality and diversity steering group has been set up by the AoC in recent months to reverse this trend.

Lord said the group is “beginning to take shape” and its first meeting took place in May. The AoC could not say who the members of the group are at this stage.

A £130,000 tender seeking a partner to implement and help design the Diversity in Leadership programme was launched by the ETF last week.

“The aim of this programme is to challenge bias, remove obstacles to achieving leadership roles and to use tools such as coaching to motivate and build confidence in aspiring leaders across the sector so they can develop sufficient leadership capacity to achieve senior leadership roles,” it said.

Wright told FE Week that the unconscious bias workshops were trialled earlier this year and will involve one-day sessions aimed at team leaders, governors and senior HR practitioners in FE.

Ali Hadawi

“It is about getting the right people in the room who can make a difference because they are the decision makers across the organisation,” he explained.

The one-to-one mentoring side of the programme will include around seven coaching sessions over a number of months in which candidates will be trained to identify “some of their own internal blocks to wanting to take steps forward”.

“Often, people from diverse backgrounds feel the weight of society saying they shouldn’t be taking those positions and that gets internalised – so it is partly unpicking that, building up their leadership skills to make them feel confident to want to go forward,” Wright said.

He added that the diversity charter will be a significant part of the programme, which will be co-created with the whole FE sector.

“FE doesn’t have one as such, although it is something that is quite well developed in HE and in schools. Although colleges are mindful of diversity there is not really that head of steam that would be created by a diversity charter.”

Wright was keen to stress that the Diversity in Leadership programme is not limited to people from BAME backgrounds. People of all genders, sexuality and physical ability can sign up.