The Black Further Education Leadership Group put the spotlight on the sector’s shortcomings when it comes to tackling racism, as well as its lack of diversity at leadership level.
The group, made up of “black, Asian and minority-ethnic (BAME) senior leaders and allies, who work or have an interest in the UK FE sector”, wrote an open letter to prime minister Boris Johnson and education secretary Gavin Williamson, stressing that racism was undermining the sector’s ability to fully engage with its constituent communities.
The letter said: “At a time of elevated advocacy for FE, failure to recognise the insidious nature of racism undermines the sector’s ability to fully engage with all its constituent communities.
"The supporting data and our lived experiences present an uncomfortable truth, that too many BAME students and staff have for far too long encountered a hostile environment and a system that places a ‘knee on our neck’. It is self-evident that we will not accept this moving into the future.”
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While for most in the sector it did not require a letter to make them aware of the sector’s shortcomings in this area – and Tes research had shown the lack of BAME leaders in FE only weeks previously – the group’s work led to a commitment by apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan to help tackle the problem.
The following weeks and months also saw a range of action being taken by organisations such as the Association of Colleges to try to address the lack of diversity in their own staff and representatives, along with webinars and events aiming to inform those working and learning in FE.
And while significant change has yet to take place, in a year when – like the rest of society – the sector was focusing a large proportion of its attention on dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a campaign leading to real, tangible action deserves to be rewarded and supported.