The Commission on Race has many shortcomings but there are interesting suggestions in the section on education and training, write Jeff Greenidge and David Hughes

The recent report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities prompted strong backlash from many people and organisations.  

The report is selective in its use of evidence, overlooking many important facts that illustrate how racism leads to gross inequalities and outcomes, and has little to say about further education.  

Disappointingly, there is also no reflection in the report of the good work that colleges are doing now to address issues of race and exclusion. On their own, the recommendations are unlikely to address the underlying issues that cause unequal outcomes.  

Perhaps even more worryingly, it seems in places to blame individuals and families without any recognition of the situation, culture and racism they experience and how that all leads to wider socio-economic disadvantages.  

Despite these frustrations, the report’s publication gives us an opportunity to engage in a challenging conversation about race in this country, and in particular in our sector. 

We will focus on the education and training section, and how to address the issues, rather than getting embroiled in the report’s shortcomings elsewhere.  

Proposals that don’t go far enough

That section pays attention to schools, universities and apprenticeships, but doesn’t look at the whole education and training system and the place of FE. 

Different outcomes in terms of employment, wages and life chances are also overlooked. This is a missed opportunity, which we are determined won’t deter us from addressing racism in FE.  

However, the proposal for a ‘highly-targeted apprenticeships campaign’ is welcome – but does not go far enough. 

The proposal for a ‘highly-targeted apprenticeships campaign’ is welcome – but does not go far enough 

We want to see integrated college-level career and advice services supporting young people who currently face discrimination and cannot access the full range of career pathways.  

Like many others, Bolton College is doing fantastic work in this area. Staff are raising the aspirations of learners to go on to higher education, apprenticeships or set up their own businesses.

Initiatives like this need to be recognised and built on at a national level.  

Panel and review are interesting ideas

Meanwhile, the report’s call for government to work with a panel of academics and practitioners to “develop resources and evidence-based approaches of what does work to advance fairness in the workplace” is interesting. So is the “support for families” review.

The Department for Education could follow this up by bringing together practitioners and stakeholders in FE to do the same. 

Practical resources and evidence-based approaches could be developed that advance inclusivity in the curriculum, workplace and community. 

It could also give strength to the push for a richer history in the national curriculum. We should share initiatives like the one at West Suffolk College, where black history is being taught throughout the year with a curriculum co-designed with the students. 

There is also something to be said for the themes in the report’s recommendations: Build Trust; Promote Fairness, Create Agency; Achieve Inclusivity. They are good ambitions, and it is always useful to ‘test’ your own plans against other reports.  

Discussion around report is useful

AoC’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity steering group has a set of actions aimed at increasing the numbers of black and minority ethnic leaders and governors, which are vital if we are to have a truly inclusive and trusted culture in FE.  

Meanwhile, our work on improving data and research will help us better understand how different minority ethnic students achieve in FE.  

We are also working with partners on an inclusive curriculum as well as training programmes for governing bodies, leaders and emerging ethnic minority leaders. 

While the report itself may be a missed opportunity, the conversation and awareness generated around it is no bad thing.  

Colleges, the AoC, Education and Training Foundation and the rest of the sector should seize this moment.

We must turn that awareness and attention into change. We can do without more reports, as long as we get more concerted action.