Decade-long projects can truly make changes for BAME staff and learners

12 Dec 2020, 9:08

Funding projects with long-term goals have a better chance of improving diversity and inclusion, writes Janet Curtis-Broni

As we draw to the end of our first term of this year, it’s worth reflecting on one of the biggest events that happened during the first lockdown in May.

Black Lives Matter movements exploded across the world in response to police brutality in America, causing even the smallest, most rural college to think about its diversity and inclusion strategies.

But the question was, how best to do this? And as we look back on the first term, have we succeeded?

At our colleges, we encouraged staff and students to talk openly about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues. We invited them to share their own experiences and personal journeys.

We held whole-organisation discussions on Zoom about the use of appropriate language and acronyms. Together we actively sought ideas on what we could do to bring about real change.

Throughout this consultative process, I knew that we couldn’t just “write another strategy”. Yes, we had consulted, yes, we had listened. But none of this would matter if we didn’t take genuine, impactful action with specific measurable targets.

So we agreed to create an EDI grants programme called “Enough is Enough – Tackling Racial Inequality”. The idea behind the programme is to enable our students and staff to develop their own projects to tackle issues and areas that are important to them.

Meanwhile, the college group would commit to funding the projects over a 10-year period – a sufficient amount of time to bring about real, lasting change.

Proposals were submitted by both staff and students and an internal committee was set up to assess and select them.

So far three projects have been chosen for funding, with £70,000 granted in total.

They include a mentoring “empower” scheme aimed specifically at black and minority ethnic (BAME) learners, proposed by a member of staff.

This aims to raise aspirations by offering one-to-one mentoring on self-esteem, teamwork and leadership for individuals as well as a programme of workshops, events and speakers.

The second project is a football coaching programme with younger learners. We are also funding a “positive changes” project, which will offer enrichment opportunities including trips and inspirational speakers for BAME learners with special educational needs or who are at risk of becoming NEET.

Central to this initiative is that action is being driven by the people most affected by the issues.

Action is being driven by the people most affected by the issues

However, to ensure true cultural change throughout an organisation, you need buy-in from the top. All our senior leaders and governing boards have committed to the equality, diversity and inclusion grants programme across the colleges.

They’ve encouraged the appointment of EDI champions throughout the group. These are staff representatives who lead staff support groups, encourage open discussion and share feedback with senior teams.

We’ve tweaked our recruitment processes at all levels – including our boards, on to which we have recently appointed two female governors from BAME backgrounds.

Meanwhile, we’ve launched a new talent management programme that includes specific training schemes (such as our “aspiring leaders” programme).

We also fully support the sector-led Black FE Leadership Group and its 10-point plan, which focuses on addressing systemic racism and driving through meaningful and lasting change.

As we know from previous experience, we will not be able to affect change overnight.

Over the years, the government has introduced various strategies (certainly since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in 1999) and although this is clearly positive, much more needs to be done.

It’s too early yet to say what impact our own 10-year strategies are having.

But by modelling best practice at every level and empowering our students and staff, we can ensure that equality, diversity and inclusion stays firmly on leadership agendas and that our impact will be long-lasting.

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