Black leaders: where are they?

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Certainly not in the inner cities where you'd expect. Things are improving, but a lot of people's attitudes have got to change. Martin Whittaker charts the progress

Daniel Khan is part of a very select group - one of only seven black principals in England's 386 FE colleges. But the distinction is one that Professor Khan, principal of Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, hopes will quickly disappear as more non-white leaders assume office.

Only when you do the sums do you begin to comprehend just how seriously black staff are under-represented in senior FE positions. If the number of principals were in proportion to the 18 per cent of ethnic minority students funded by the Learning and Skills Council, there would be nearly 70.

Figures for management show similarly poor representation: there are only 58 senior managers and 256 middle managers from ethnic minorities. There are just nine who are chairs of college governors. And none of the leading sector organisations has a single ethnic minority member on its senior management team.

Professor Khan took up his Grimsby post five years ago and has since developed a solid reputation. Last year he won a STAR Award for outstanding leadership at the "Oscars" for the learning and skills sector. And in 2003, Ofsted inspectors judged 11 curriculum areas at the institute to be good.

One area, media studies, they declared to be outstanding.

"It's making people from ethnic minorities actually apply for the jobs and believe that they have a chance to get into some of these top positions,"

he says. "I think it raises awareness as well as giving support in terms of infrastructure, programmes and courses."

Daniel Khan was born in Trinidad, and trained as an accountant before moving to England. He worked in industry and moved into education in the early 1980s. After a spell in higher education, he became deputy principal in charge of finance and business development at York College.

Because he has bridged both the cross-sector and the cross-cultural divides, he has a broad perspective on diversity and equality. Why does he think ethnic minority staff are so poorly represented in top jobs?

"I think governing bodies of colleges probably need to be more aware of the issues of cross-cultural divide. Because generally, governing bodies are very conservative, although that's changing now.

"The other thing is progression. You cannot go to the top unless you progress to middle management, and there is an issue about people progressing within an organisation. In the private sector, you find progression is a lot quicker and more pronounced."

Mr Khan believes FE's poor record has parallels in universities and the health service. "If you take chief executives of NHS trusts, you have a lot of very good consultants (from ethnic minorities), but at that level of leadership there seem to be obstacles to progression.

"And you should check out how many university vice-chancellors are black."

Many people in FE have banded together to try to correct the obvious inbalance. The Network for Black Managers was set up to tackle the issue in 1998, when there were just two black college principals. Robin Landman, the network's secretary, says that, although there has been some progress, FE's record on diversity and equality is still worse than that of the police.

"I think there is a stubbornness to recognise the issue and act in a really decisive manner," he says.

One factor he believes is that there has been no lead government body taking responsibility, and colleges are autonomous organisations. "There's nobody actually saying: 'Do this or else.' "

Of the seven black college principals, two are in Hampshire and one in Surrey. Many urban areas with large ethnic minority populations go unrepresented. There is only one black principal in London. There are none in Birmingham, nor in the East Midlands.

"All the big centres where you'd expect to see them we don't have them,"

says Landman. "Now nobody would want to stereotype black principals and say you should be in inner-city areas, but the places you would expect to see them you don't."

The issue of equality of opportunity for FE staff is raised by Sir Andrew Foster in his review of the future role of colleges. Improving diversity of the workforce is a priority, he says. While there have been a range of initiatives, he argues, more needs to be done.

One such measure, the Black Leadership Initiative, has won universal praise. Robin Landman says: "Its strength is that it's been able to engage with principals, get them to see themselves as part of the solution and not part of the problem.

"Many of them don't have a social relationship or friendship with black people. So for the first time they're working in a supportive, facilitating role with somebody who can give them an insight into the day-to-day experiences of black managers."

The initiative began three years ago as a pilot scheme. It was one of the main recommendations of the Commission for Black Staff in Further Education, which branded the sector institutionally racist. The scheme now works in partnership with the Centre for Excellence in Leadership.

The initiative - this summer it was named Diversity in Education Champion at the 2005 British Diversity Awards - offers many development opportunities for black staff to support and encourage them to become leaders.

There is a programme offering a secondment for up to a year into a middle or senior management post at a college or related instititution. There is also a mentoring programme, which matches staff with principals and experienced senior managers. And a work shadowing programme offers a five to ten-day placements in one of the sector agencies, such as Ofsted, the Adult Learning Inspectorate or the Learning and Skills Council.

This summer, First Steps to Leadership was launched, designed to develop the leadership capacity of first line managers. It aims to raise their confidence, boost aspirations and develop skills.

The black initiative's director, Rajinder Mann, believes that FE is leading the way on improving leadership opportunities for black staff. Its work has generated some interest among community colleges in the United States.

"We have a gem of a model within the sector," she says. "It's very much a tool for turning policy into action."

But she acknowledges that there are still huge challenges in making college leadership more representative of the black and ethnic minority communities they serve.

"In terms of growing more senior leaders, there's clearly a need for the work of the BLI to continue on the basis of the success it's had," she says. "It needs to have resources thrown at it to ensure that we're hitting a much larger population as well as other sector organisations. At the moment our funding only goes up to March 2006."

The Centre for Excellence in Leadership is developing its role in improving diversity in the sector. As well as positive action initiatives, it is working to promote diversity and equal opportunities, and with leaders to help them create diversity in their workforce.

"We are learning a huge amount from the experience of the Black Leadership Initiative," said Deborah Persaud, the centre's project leader on diversity. "We have developed our First Steps to Leadership programme as a direct response to what the BLI and Network for Black Managers have been telling us about black front line staff.

"This is about unlocking potential. There's a huge number of experienced, very talented black staff in the sector who haven't had the same breaks and opportunities as other staff."


Ian Millard, principal at City of Wolverhampton College, spent more than a year mentoring a middle manager from another West Midlands college under the Black Leadership Initiative. He believes that mentoring brought mutual benefits.

"I was able to get some understanding of some of the issues that she was going through as a black member of staff seeking promotion within the FE structure," he says. "It gave me a greater understanding of what some of my own staff might have to go through."

His role began with an initial training programme involving role playing and testing out mentoring skills. He was then approached by a mentee through the initiative.

"She was a very able and skilled manager in her own right to start with. We were able to make sure she recognised the skill she already had, and looked at how she could enhance it to develop further.

"She was very proactive - we were able to discuss issues she thought were important to enhancing her opportunity for progression."

Other members of his management team have benefited from the initiative, resulting in a number of internal promotions.

"I've also had staff who have left the college and have been able to secure senior posts in other institutions," he says. "I'm really pleased because it demonstrates that as an institution, we're providing support that will allow black staff opportunities for progression."


Bobby Upple, a 34-year-old programme area manager at Leicester College, is spending a year at the Learning and Skills Council's headquarters in Coventry on a secondment organised by the Black Leadership Initiative.

He started at Leicester 10 years ago as a part-time administration assistant and has risen to management. His responsibilities have included building links with businesses, and running outreach IT.

He says moving from a college into working on policy with the LSC was not easy - he started by having to wade through piles of policy documents.

"It's a very steep learning curve," he says. "Being in a college you are very comfortable, you know everyone, you know the organisational culture inside and out because you've been there for so long.

"So I was really looking for new challenges, and to see how policy works, from where it starts as a white paper to how it's implemented within the sector."

During his time with the LSC, he has been working on developing a quality mark for FE providers working with businesses.

He sees the secondment having a big impact on his career. "This has been an incredible experience. I have done a lot of travelling, visiting other colleges that have excellent employer engagement policies, and discussing these matters with principals.

"Probably in a few months time I will get an idea whether this is an area I will want to stay in."


Asha Sahni was new to FE when she joined City and Islington College, in north London as a careers educationco-ordinator last year. She says the Black Leadership Initiative mentoring not only helped her learn how the sector works, it also helped her to realise her own leadership qualities.

She was given a mentor from the senior management at the Centre for Excellence in Leadership. This involved regular meetings, as well as contact by telephone and email.

"It proved ideal for me," she says."It gave me an overview, and gave me somebody I could bat ideas off, somebody who had worked in different sectors and had a really wide understanding.

"Some people in FE have been here a very long time, and it was quite useful to have somebody who had crossed sectors and was quite fresh."

"He (my mentor) encouraged me to develop cross-college responsibilities, and to take advantage of tasks and projects that were outside my comfort zone."

Now aged 37, Asha has got a new job - as careers and student development manager at Canterbury Christ Church University.

"So it was really helpful in terms of my own understanding and development, and it helped me realise that I could do more than I thought I could.

"I would say it's given me a clearer understanding of my skills and helped me to develop them better."

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