Now that Learning and Skills Improvement Service funding has ended, the Education Training Foundation must continue to support the Black Leadership Initiative, says chief executive Rajinder Mann.

Since 2002 the Network for Black Professionals’ (NBP) Black Leadership Initiative (BLI) has worked in FE to address the under-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff, especially in leadership roles.

The work is a direct result of the Commission for Black Staff in Further Education, which identified the main barriers that BAME staff face in their FE careers. As the sector welcomes the Education Training Foundation, the NBP, and many of those who support its work, wonders how the BLI’s work of the past 11 years will be supported now that LSIS funding has ended.

With the change in demographics confirmed by last year’s census, it is critical the sector continues funding the progression of BAME staff through targeted succession planning, ensuring that learners have the role models that they need. Our work has had a major impact in diversifying the FE workforce, as evidenced by the increase in the number of senior managers and leaders in colleges — up to 15 black principals compared with four in 2002.

All these principals have benefited from the NBP’s activities; 13 have participated in the BLI programmes and, in turn, have supported aspirant BAME staff in the sector. The social return on investment from BLI sets a standard that no other part of the public sector can match. Currently, for example, the police service is lobbying for a change in the law to tackle its failure to recruit, retain and promote a representative workforce.

How will the Black Leadership Initiative’s work of the past 11 years be supported now that LSIS funding has ended? ”

The BLI won the British Diversity Award in Education and, more recently, a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award for its mentoring scheme. It has been cited in a wide range of reports, as a model of good practice, and its success enabled us to develop the Ofsted shadowing programme in the schools sector in partnership with the National College for Teaching and Learning. We have adapted the approach with the Women’s Leadership Network and with the University of the Arts, London. This is a tried and tested approach with real impact.

A third of college principals actively support the BLI, as do many chairs of governors who give their time freely as mentors and champions for equality. Its track record and reputation has the confidence and trust of BAME staff and the college sector, and represents a compelling case for a national strategy to build on its success.

The risks of allowing this work to wither away for want of funding are clear — a loss of momentum and a failure to provide the representative workforce that our learners need and deserve.

The NBP’s approach has been to work with the sector in leading and promoting inclusivity and supporting the sector to define, deliver and assess its own standards for race equality. The case for diversity not only in the workplace but also at board levels was eloquently addressed at the recent Women’s Leadership Network conference.

There is an unanswerable case, to paraphrase the front cover of the commission’s report, for the sector to continue leading the way by building on the good practice of the BLI and for the new Education and Training Foundation to make good on its aim of ‘promoting and championing equality and diversity across the sector’ by funding its work.

Rajinder Mann OBE, chief executive, Network for Black Professionals

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