Figures reveal that just 8.3 per cent of college leaders are from a black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) background.
The data from the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) reveals that just 6.8 per cent of senior and middle managers in FE colleges hail from a BAME background, while the figure for principals and chief executives stands at 9.8 per cent.
This does not reflect the country’s demographics: at the 2011 census, the BAME population stood at 13 per cent.
'Too often, leaders are white, middle class'
Patrice Miller, a specialist English teacher at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College, said: “It’s important, for aspirational reasons, that young people see leaders that look like or come from a similar background to them.
“Too often in FE, leaders are white, middle class and don’t understand the issues that young people from minority ethnic groups face. So the operational and strategic decisions they make fail to benefit the communities they serve.”
Andy Forbes, principal at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, said that, for a sector with such a diverse mix of students, serious questions must be asked about why it has so few senior BAME staff. “Despite the prime minister’s words about racial disparity, no one in government has said anything about the FE sector,” he added.
'Stop paying lip service'
Dame Asha Khemka, chief executive of West Nottinghamshire College, said it was time for the government to “stop paying lip service” to issues of racial inequality. “We need to create role models,” she added. “I think it’s very important – at all levels – for staff to reflect the populations they work in and the world we live in. It is our job to support, coach and mentor BAME staff in FE, to get them ready for these top positions.”
Meanwhile, Dawn Ward, chief executive and principal of Burton and South Derbyshire College, said she was concerned for the future of the sector if the situation is not turned around: “We need to inspire people to join our dynamic sector and embrace diversity if we are to sustain an FE workforce in decades to come.”
NUS students’ union president Shakira Martin, who would one day like to become a college principal, said college leaders should ensure that staff are representative of their communities, to “give the future generation of students the role models that are so important at such a vital time in their lives”.
She added: “While progress has been made, we know that barriers to promotion are still a key issue for black staff, resulting in slower progression to senior roles than their white counterparts. The current glass ceiling that exists for black staff must be smashed, and support for black staff – along with training for senior staff – is crucial.”
'We really need to take stock'
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “There was a lot more of a focus and work carried out on this in the 2000s, but the data shows that the lack of investment in recent years has had a negative impact. We really need to take stock of that, as a sector, and agree concrete actions to address the obstacles and challenges.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Diversity and equality of leaders is extremely important – and we would like to see the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff increase.
“That is why we have invested £160,000 in a range of programmes that are designed to strengthen leadership in FE colleges, including developing a leadership pipeline for BAME staff.”