Minister rejects race monitoring;Further education

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
Just two colleges have Asian or black heads, but Government favours voluntarist approach to institutional racism. Neil Merrick reports.

CALLS FOR new league tables to reveal the extent of race discrimination in further education colleges have been rejected by lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks.

To the dismay of lecturers attending a conference on diversity in post-16 education following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, Mr Wicks said it was up to individual colleges and universities to monitor the number of black teachers working in senior posts.

Mr Wicks was jeered by delegates when he explained that, in spite of his personal preference for ethnic monitoring among staff and students, the government had no plans to make it compulsory or to create league tables.

"Monitoring has to be up to the individual institution. Many of you in FE would be very angry if we in the Department for Education and Employment thought it could run everything," he said.

Earlier, following a call from one delegate for statutory league tables, the minister suggested he would be interested to examine data which might help to explain why teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds are under-represented in key posts in further and higher education.

Mr Wicks' voluntarist approach was later criticised by Stephen Lawrence's father Neville who said black teachers would never have equal promotion opportunities unless there were black managers running colleges in the first place. Just two FE colleges have black or Asian principals.

Mr Lawrence called on the Government to introduce quotas or targets for the recruitment of ethnic minority FE staff in the same way as it was doing in the police and probation services. "Tables might be a good idea," he told The TES. "If colleges know they have to publish every year, it will force a lot of them to sit up and take notice."

Robin Landman, secretary of the Network for Black Managers in FE, agreed the Government was sending out mixed messages by not adopting the same policies on monitoring and target-setting in all departments.

Twelve per cent of FE students are black, he told last week's conference, organised by the lecturers' union NATFHE. "Colleges rely on black students for their business survival," he said. "They deserve to see some black faces in senior positions so that they can aspire to make that sort of progress themselves."

A new commission on black staff in further education, to be chaired by York director of education Michael Peters, was launched at the recent conference of the Association of Colleges. AoC chief executive David Gibson told the NATFHE conference that it was time to be honest and start using the term "institutional racism" in relation to FE.

"There are institutional factors which inhibit black staff. We must find them and make them public," he said.

Universities were criticised for failing to give black lecturers equal promotion prospects in a report published in September by the Policy Studies Institute. One in five non-white respondents claimed to have personally experienced discrimination when making job applications or seeking promotion.

Education and employment secretary David Blunkett has since ordered all HE institutions to introduce and implement policies on equal opportunities.

NATFHE general secretary Paul Mackney said it was disgraceful that no figures were available to reveal the status and pay of black lecturers in FE. "In many colleges, including some beacon colleges, you have to come in as an agency worker with no employment rights and not knowing whether you are going to be employed from week to week," he told Mr Wicks at last Friday's conference. "It's within the crevices of casualisation that racism is to be found."

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