INSTITUTIONAL racism in education is as entrenched and as far-reaching as it is in the police force, according to the pressure group Network for Black Managers The group has called for a shake-up of further education as dramatic as that recommended for the police in the Macpherson report into Stephen Lawrence's murder. It is 18 years since the Scarman report first sounded warning bells about racism, but the network says there has been little or no impact in FE.
Meaningful statistics on the under-representation of black people in FE are hard to come by.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of lecturers union NATFHE, believes this is due to the far higher turnover among black staff than white and that a large number work part-time. But, he says, the data "is more unreliable than ever."
Figures gathered by the network show that, while black people make up 6 per cent of the population, they comprise 12 per cent of the student body. But at managerial level, it is a more dismal situation - just 2 per cent of the 4,000 staff is black. And it is believed that the number of black managers losing their jobs is outstripping the number coming in to the sector.
The network was founded last November in response to this exclusion by South African-born Robin Landman, former head of Wolverhampton's lifelong learning unit and Wally Brown, principal of City of Liverpool college. The group now has 250 members and aims to support black managers by monitoring and shadowing them at work.
According to Mr Landman, black staff are discriminated against on two levels. First, they seem to be more vulnerable to the demands of restructuring and so are last in and first out of predominantly part-time jobs. Which means, he says, that they quit teaching either because they are not promoted or simply rationalised out of a job.
"I got into teaching on the back of the Inner London Education Authority's equal opportunities programme in the mid-1980s. But, I'm convinced that the only reason I got the job then was because the panel was black.
"Black teachers need to be given a crack at the top jobs so that we can change things from the top down," he said.
Mr Landman believes the network is fighting the traditional, white groupings of governors, principals and senior managers.
"White governors and principals simply do not know black people, never come into contact with them, and so don't think about recruiting them," he said.
He contrasts the situation of black managers with the rise of women managers, the number of whom have "shot through the roof in the past few years," he said. "The number has risen by 700 per cent since 1990 - but none of the women is black. So it is crucial for the network to promote the gender issue too."
Ahmed Choonara is the network's vice-chair and principal of South Nottingham college - the only Muslim principal in Britain. In fact, he and Mr Brown are the only two black principals out of 450.
But Mr Choonara believes that the 18 black members of his 300 staff feel integrated and relations are excellent. "Maybe this is because of my own ethnicity and because we have a very transparent, open system here," he says.
He has experienced discrimination in his career, specifically in a case pursued by the Racial Equality Commission in Leicestershire. But he is confident that he is employed at South Nottingham on merit.
The real problems for black staff, says the network, are at junior manager and lecturer level. And the battle against the high turnover is one which has long been fought by NATFHE. Paul Mackney says that from his own casework as regional secretary, 50 per cent or more of all probationary cases where performance was questioned involved black staff. "What was striking was that they all felt that they had not received the support or necessary induction given to their white counterparts. Consciously or unconsciously, white managers did not like to suggest that black lecturers needed coaching or support," he said.
He also found evidence of resistance from white students to black lecturers and managers.
The way to better recruitment levels, says NATFHE, is for the Further Education Funding Council to set targets, introduce positive discrimination and consign to history the "burger-bar contracts" often doled out to blacks.
Mr Landman believes that if the Macpherson report is right for the police then it's right for FE. "Just imagine, he says, "Within 10 years we would have several thousand new black members of staff. We must seize this opportunity."