Recruitment systems within further education conspire to prevent BAME teachers from progressing into leadership, a principal has said.
Speaking at the Association of Colleges’s FE Summit today, Arinola Edeh, principal and head of service at Westminster Adult Education Service, said that the lack of diversity in FE leadership meant there had to be a review of the recruitment processes that take place.
She said: “Some of the systems that we have in place actually conspire to prevent our black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues from progressing because they are not set up to advantage them in the way that they do for someone who's coming from a different background."
“Systematically, we need to take it right back down to brass tacks and review some of the systems and the processes that we have in place. Where you can see that there is a cultural bias, you should look at removing that when possible.”
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The lack of diversity in college leadership was laid bare in exclusive Tes analysis earlier this summer – data showed that 84.1 per cent of senior leaders in English colleges identified as white British, while just 8.7 per cent identified as being from a BAME background.
Shortly after that data was published, the Black Further Education Leadership Group wrote an open letter to the prime minister Boris Johnson and education secretary Gavin Williamson, saying that racism in further education was undermining the sector’s ability to fully engage with its constituent communities.
Tackling unconscious bias
Speaking at today’s conference, Ms Edeh said that at her college, staff did not represent the diverse community it served – and said that the leadership team were taking active steps to tackle this.
She said: “One of the key things we've done in terms of recognising that is making sure that for our recruitment panels particularly, every single person goes through unconscious bias and inclusive recruitment training and is therefore able to recognise where that bias is coming from in terms of when you're actually looking at a candidate and when you're determining whether or not they will be suitable for the post.
“With the structures that we use in terms of recruitment and the assessment methods that we use, we have to ask ourselves the questions: what is it exactly that we're looking to assess and test when we put people through those processes.”
Shaid Mahmood, chair of the Luminate Group, said that leadership at board level needed to drive forward a “positive culture change” to diversify FE leadership.
He said: “Leadership, governance and management don't adequately represent the makeup of the communities they serve. But what if we reframed tackling racism as an opportunity, not just as a challenge? We've got it in our hands as leaders on boards to take action and start now to drive that positive culture change, support our principals and chief executives and diversify our boards, executive and management teams.
“And that’s why chairs are really well placed because we already do so much for further education to supports diverse communities of learners. It's a great platform to build on and we need to do more to diversify, to introduce diversity in the same positive, can-do, make a difference, mindset.”
An organisational ethos
Dr Leroy Logan, former superintendent of the metropolitan police and author, also spoke at the summit and said that no matter which community a college was based in – leaders needed to move forward with positive action.
He said: “I'm trying to advocate for positive action, and not passive indifference, regardless of the size of your footprint, whether it's urban or rural. I think that the themes of being positive and the approach to recruitment around nurturing staff and providing progressive pathways to achieve their true potential cannot be seen as just an HR function.
"It can't be siloed, there has to be an organisational ethos, a change agenda. We've got to get rid of the snow peaks in terms of ranks and grades reflecting ethnicity. This is around how the boardroom looks and feels like at CEO level, and we cannot just allow the lower ranks to be the black and minority ethnic.”
Gerry McDonald, chief executive of New City College highlighted the need to have “difficult discussions” with BAME staff. He said that he had a conversation with a large group of staff about what it meant to be a BAME member of staff at the college and what their lived experience was.
He said: “We've established a reference group to completely cut across hierarchy and hold me and hold the senior team to account if we're not moving forward.
"I've told the board that they're not doing enough and that we need to move much quicker. If the board doesn't demonstrate action because my board is way too non-diverse, that is just going to stop and we won't be able to make the progress that we need to. They were difficult, but absolutely necessary conversations.”