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Reprieve for black leaders' project

Initiative to be funded through centre for excellence. Joe Clancy reports

A project to promote black and ethnic-minority leadership in further education colleges has been saved after a change of heart by the Government.

The Black Leadership Initiative (BLI) feared for its work after being told in May that its funding was being withdrawn.

In a Department for Education and Skills letter, the project was told that its "approach was not sustainable" and its work would be taken over by the new FE leadership college, the Centre for Excellence in Leadership.

But it has now been told to continue its work in promoting black staff into senior management positions in colleges. Instead of being swallowed up by the leadership college, it will continue as a semi-autonomous project reporting to its existing steering committee. It will become part of the college's structure.

Robin Landman, a member of the steering committee, said: "We are delighted that the Government has reconsidered and has responded to our excellent achievements. There are enough ethnic-minority students in the learning and skills sector to fill 58 colleges, but there are only six college principals in England and Wales.

"The BLI has made a powerful difference in terms of second and third-tier appointments. All recent deputy principal and vice-principal appointments from ethnic-minority groups have experienced our programmes."

The initiative was set up in August 2002 and has received pound;700,000 from the Learning and Skills Council to help achieve the council's target of nine black principals by 2009.

In the past two years it has seconded 10 black and ethnic-minority staff to management positions in other colleges. In total, 21 people who have been through BLI programmes have been promoted, six of them to vice-principal level or above.

It has also offered training and mentoring courses for college managers, including 18 principals, and let black staff "shadow" during college inspections.

How the project will be funded is still to be resolved. Ivan Lewis, the skills minister, has approved funds in principle for the leadership college's diversity strategy for a year. The BLI has submitted a three-year strategy to the centre.

The initiative's chair, Stella Mbubaegbu, principal of Highbury college in Portsmouth, said details of how it will operate have still to be agreed.

"The college has got its own structures and how we fit in is a matter still to be worked out," she said.

"We hope to resolve issues quickly so there can be a smooth transition. It is good news in that the DfES has reflected on the successes we have had, though it is a slight disappointment that we are only to get funding for another year. We were hoping for three years."

Rajinder Mann, BLI's director, said: "The leadership college regards BLI as a flagship positive-action project and wants to enable BLI to expand and grow across the sector.

"The benefits for BLI will be that it will operate within the strategic framework of the centre in its role of changing the landscape of leadership in terms of quality and diversity.

"Our success is linked to the partnership approach adopted by the key stakeholders on the steering committee which has enabled the project to have greater influence and make an impact across the sector."

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