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Tales of the unexpected effects of discrimination

WITNESSES giving evidence to the Commission for Black Staff in Further Education have not just talked about overt cases of racism that have affected them personally. The commission panel has so far heard from a range of staff, bringing some unexpected perspectives on issues of racial discrimination in colleges.

One issue to emerge relates to college mergers. A witness told of how 25 staff had taken voluntary redundancy at their Midland college following a merger. Of those, five were black.

"They felt that with the new organisation they were no longer needed," said Sam Allen, a NATFHE member of the panel from Loughborough College.

"With the merger process you have a lot of white managers coming in from the other colleges. That means the small pocket of black managers, who had become a positive role model, become very frustrated.

"They could see that there was nowhere to go. At a time when you want to encourage more progression and opportunities, it's sad when they all leave."

Another witness is a part-time teacher at a Midlands sixth-form college, who came to this country six years ago.

Educated in her native country to postgraduate level, in Britain she has found her qualification is constantly challenged. But she has also been a role model for black students at her college.

"She's come from outside into the system," said Sam Allen. "Therefore she can see the lack of opportunity for black teachers. She said she doesn't have the baggage of being black and British. She's not into the clas system and has more confidence.

"It was refreshing to listen to what she had to say - it's somebody from outside giving us a different slant on some of the things we're looking at.

"She talked about facing discrimination in terms of her colour, and also in her qualification. She finds this is constantly a question - is it a genuine grievance?

Another panel member is Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly, chair of governors at Lambeth College. She said: "We've seen three people today and they've all been very different. And I feel strongly that the motivation of the three people we've seen so far is positive. "It's not about what I want for myself - it's about future generations, staff at a lower level coming through.

"One of the first witnesses this morning wanted to be involved because she wants the commission and herself to help managers at a lower level to encourage them not to give up, but to keep progressing and working their way to the top.

"I felt she was such a positive woman - no matter what's gone on for her, she's still encouraging others. She's saying if things don't change, we're going to lose these people."

The commission has also heard evidence of differential pay for black and white staff who appear to be doing the same job, said chair Mike Peters.

"One of the issues coming out is whether people have clear job descriptions, so that you can make an assessment about what they should be paid," he said.

"Some of the feedback we are getting is that this is not the case."

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