Minority staff let down by colleges

25th November 2005 at 00:00
Ofsted survey says not enough is being done to improve racial equality in senior positions. Joe Clancy reports

Colleges are accused this week of breaking the law which requires them to track the progress of black and ethnic minority staff.

Many have failed to carry out this monitoring, which is required by law, and too few are "actively and systematically instigating change to improve race equality," a report by college inspectors said.

Inspectors found there was a lack of black and ethnic minority staff in senior positions and on governing bodies.

They also reported that too few colleges are taking positive action to support the career development of ethnic minority staff.

The accusations are made by the Office for Standards in Education, which conducted a survey of 41 colleges to evaluate progress in response to the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

Under the Act, all public bodies including colleges have to carry out "race impact assessments" to ensure their policies are not biased against ethnic minorities.

The Ofsted report said while the majority of colleges inspected are meeting their responsibilities under the Act in relation to students, not enough had been done for staff. "None of the colleges had a staffing profile which closely reflected the ethnic profile of the local population or their learners at every level of employment", the report said, adding that only a minority of colleges were making progress.

Vivien Bailey, the report's author, said colleges should have had their race equality policies in place since May 2002.

A key factor in the most effective colleges, the report said, was the leadership of the principal and senior managers in establishing a college-wide ethos of equality.

"The most proactive colleges were adept at developing ways to 'grow their own' future staff and managers of (ethnic minority) origin," it said.

The report found that most colleges had effective procedures to tackle and prevent racism, and aimed to promote an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation of diversity. The numbers of race-related incidents were small, and swift action was taken where these occurred. Almost all learners said they felt safe in the college environment.

However, in one college, a lack of determination in the approach to race relations allowed racist attitudes to be openly expressed.

The lecturers' union, Natfhe, called on the Learning and Skills Council to force colleges to improve equality procedures.

Chris Nicholas, the Natfhe race equality organiser appointed to help colleges implement the Act, said: "It would be helpful if the Learning and Skills Council placed a contractual obligation on FE colleges to meet their legislative requirements. On the whole, colleges are keen to implement and support good race relations but have little sense of how to do it. Too many are putting it at the lowest end of their priority scale."

Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, said: "This report paints a picture that we recognise.

"A lot of colleges have driven forward the equality agenda from a students'

perspective because the business case demands it. But they have made less progress addressing equality issues around race as an employer."

The Ofsted report cited Oldham college in Greater Manchester, a town with a recent history of racial tension, as an example of good practice.

The college has appointed three race equality champions to work with staff on diversity issues. A detailed race impact report is presented annually to governors, and challenging targets are set, with action taken on underperformance.

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