Inquiry clears college of racism

30th September 2005 at 01:00
South Croydon principal vindicated after 'worst year'. Joe Clancy reports

A college was this week cleared of allegations that it is institutionally racist following a nine-month inquiry by race investigators.

The investigation was sparked by the departures of two black vice-principals within a two-year period, with one formally making allegations of racism.

The report stated it found "no concrete evidence" to support allegations that the principal exhibited "racist, bullying, aggressive, and discriminatory behaviours and attitudes".

Mariane Cavalli, one of the highest-paid principals in the country, said:

"This has been one of the worst years of my life, but now I feel vindicated. I can think of only one thing worse than being accused of being a racist and that is being accused of being a paedophile."

The independent audit of race equality at the South London college was conducted by Focus Consultancy on the recommendation of the Commission for Racial Equality. Focus concluded that on the six stages from an organisation moving from institutionally racist to anti-racist, Croydon college was on stage three of the journey. Their report said: "The commitment to become an anti-racist organisation is not in doubt, nor is that of the principal who has made this a priority. She is committed to driving the college towards stage six of the transformation process."

The report also praises Ms Cavalli's leadership. "The principal clearly is in full control of the college," it states. "She leads from the front and is very active among all her staff, regardless of ethnicity, grade, status, or gender."

Ms Cavalli said she plans to go on working with Focus until the college is at stage six and is a beacon for anti-racist practices.

The report is the third major scrutiny she and the college have faced this year. The race inquiry had just begun when the college's director of human resources was arrested by police following an investigation by Ms Cavalli into poison-pen letters sent to staff over a two-year period. Kaveh Gharachorlou is on police bail while inquiries continue about the falsification of documents.

A consultant, called in by Ms Cavalli to hold an inquiry into human resources practices at the college, was questioning staff at the same time as the race experts. That investigation was stopped on receipt of the director's resignation and a new HR director was appointed this month.

A full inspection by the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate followed in May. The college was rated "satisfactory" and Ms Cavalli was praised for "clear and decisive leadership".

Kevin Henry, chair of governors, said: "Having been exposed to such a high level of scrutiny, we are pleased that the college's commitment to equality and diversity has been recognised."

Ms Cavalli added that she is committed to ensuring that "the concerns and perceptions of a small number of staff are fully addressed". She said she will be sending the report to the Centre of Excellence in Leadership. "This report raises issues for the sector as a whole and if other colleges cannot learn from it, it will be a shame."

The Learning and Skills Council said it will support and work with the college to tackle issues highlighted in the report.

Jay Mercer, the LSC executive director for South London, said: "We recognise the progress the college has made in this area under the present principal. The college has a large population of black and ethnic-minority students - some 59 per cent - and that is why it is so pleasing to see how proactive the principal has been in moving the college on."

NUSANDAnti-semitism 3

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