A bad day for black and Asian recruits

24th January 2003 at 00:00
There are far too few ethnic-minority governors. So why has a group that has successfully recruited hundreds lost its funding? Nic Barnard reports

TONY Stanley did not know how many other black governors there were in West Yorkshire when he joined the board at his local school. Nobody did: that was the problem.

He knew there weren't many. Despite a large and growing number of black and Asian pupils in the Leeds and Bradford area, their communities were woefully under-represented on governing bodies which then - in 1988 - were about to receive sweeping new powers.

But the issue was low on the agenda which explains the ignorance about numbers.

He knows how many there are now - 785, to be precise, across West Yorkshire's five local authorities. West Yorkshire Black Governors Support Service, the group he and others founded to tackle the problem, has helped recruit many of them, although Mr Stanley says "there is still a huge job to do".

But now all the group's work is in jeopardy. Its four-year funding by the Lottery has come to an end - just as local authorities were getting in touch to find out the secret of the group's success.

The service says it has recruited 270 black and Asian governors, a 50 per cent increase in communities where many believed such roles were reserved for white people with degrees. Growing numbers come from the professional classes.

Working with the five local authorities - Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees, Wakefield and Calderdale - and local race equality and community groups, the service has used promotional tricks from fluffy bug giveaways and stalls in Asian supermarkets to a dedicated radio station in Bradford during Ramadan. Bradford governors even get 20 per cent off at local sports centres.

Perhaps more important has been the network of five field officers under project manager Jenny Moscrop that help governors stay the course. Back-up has included conferences, workshops, a forum in each district and - in Leeds - a mentor for each new recruit.

Mohammed Nazir, 66, became a community governor at Springwood primary in Bradford. An introductory course, run by the support service, gave him more confidence. "It has helped me speak out on issues at meetings, for example on extended leave and the new race relations law," he says.

But with the loss of funding, two field officer posts have gone and the other three are now part-time. John Hesketh, manager of governor services for the authority and a support service board member, warns: "We don't want numbers to drop and we'll work to try to ensure they stay at this level.

But we won't see the increases we've seen over the past couple of years."

The group's work is driven by a belief that black and Asian communities must take responsibility for their children's education as well as a concern that their children are being let down - particularly in areas with large numbers of Muslim families. Some schools fail to understand children's culture.

In Bradford,where a third of pupils are Asian but only one in eight governors comes from an ethnic minority, Muslim governors talk of children being sent home at lunchtime during Ramadan because they were not eating school dinner. They talk of "evangelical" white governors and education workers from outside the area who do not understand local issues. They talk bluntly of racism.

"Schools aren't addressing the problems," says Javed Bashir, a former field worker with the support service who has now joined Education Bradford, the private-public partnership that runs the city's education service. "They're pushing them under the carpet."

With schools now under a duty to draw up a race relations policy, the group says the need for representation has never been greater.

"But it's also about issues like black teacher shortages, the curriculum being inappropriate to many black youngsters, and black exclusions," Mr Stanley says. "We need to battle on all fronts. Governor recruitment alone won't change anything."

He adds: "Challenging is very difficult. Governing bodies are about consensus. We try to get two people on each body because it's daunting.

Heads and other governors would react as if they were being accused of being racist for not looking at these issues."

LEA backing has been more in kind than in cash. The five authorities have provided offices and equipment, but have been unable to step in as the Lottery grant ran out. The service has found funding from the Learning and Skills Council, but with a different purpose - to help at least 75 black and Asian governors on to training courses in the next year.

The support service is enthusiastic about this task, which it dubs the "Champions' Project". But the fear is that along the way, its original purpose is about to be lost.

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