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Race equality back on the agenda

The Network for Black Managers has enjoyed a good inaugural year. It has established itself as pressure group with a high degree of recognition and credibility in FE. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that our success has partly been due to selling a message that cannot be ignored.

Institutional racism in Britain has a high profile because of the tragedy that befell the Lawrence family, and Stephen's parents' laudable reaction to their loss has produced a precious legacy for all people of goodwill.

With the support of key agencies, the network has reawakened the collective consciousness of FE to a forgotten agenda item: race equality. Even though the sector has been slow in responding to the exhortations of the MacPherson Report, respond it has, and in handsome measure.

It was symbolic that our annual conference was chosen as the venue for the announcement of the Commission for Black Staff in FE by David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges. This was preceded by the declaration by David Melville, chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council that te Standards Fund would be broadened in scope to address under-representation of black staff in senior posts.

The main business of the conference was to set out our Agenda for Action 2000. Members reminded us that our organisation exists for the benefit of black students, not simply as a forum for black staff. We were reminded that we need to have impeccable credentials on gender, as well as race issues.

Network officers have been given a clear steer on priorities: a growing membership; strategic alliances with other sector organisations with convergent aims and values; an enhanced communication strategy; professional development and networking opportunities for black staff; planning for a future under the Learning and Skills Council regime (and keeping race equality on that agenda) and fund-raising.

This is a tall order for any group, but doubly so for a voluntary organisation with no full-time staff. We have achieved the required momentum and we have no choice but to maintain the pace and pressure.

Robin Landman is an education consultant and former college manager.

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