Racism evidence is not a smear

6th July 2001 at 01:00
Steve Hook's article ("Colleges say racist smear is unfair", FEFocus, June 8) about the work of the Commission for Black Staff in FE was frankly mischievous and calculated to mislead. Its tone reflects the current backlash, which denies the existence of institutionalised racism, and derides efforts to combat it.

The Commission is not in the business of "smearing colleges". We are in the business of finding out what is happening and reporting on that.

We stand by our evidence, which has been gathered from an initial survey into the position of Black staff in the sector, and by talking to large numbers of them nationwide.

We found strong prima facie evidence of institutional racism and also that most colleges do not understand the purpose of monitoring or the principles of equal opportunities. We intend to investigate this further through the commissioning of a national survey across the sector.

Peter Pendle of the Association for College Management believes that it is unfair to say that most colleges do not recognise these problems. I ask him simply how many of the colleges he represents know their staffing breakdown by ethnicity and grade and since incorporation in 1993, monitor this data, and use it to inform policy and procedure?

It is only by monitoring and taking strategic action that problems of rasicm and the employment barriers for Black staff can be addressed. Mr Pendle says that colleges have made significant advances. We would welcome a specific example of this.

Mr Clarke, of the Principals' Professional Council, declares that there has been a significant shift in college management over the past five years. The evidence suggests otherwise. Until recently there were two Black principals out of 450-plus colleges. The numbers of senior managers, both teaching and in support, remains pitifully small throughout the sector.

I applaud the fact that the FE sector is taking the issue seriously, however. Every college must reflect on whether it is being institutionally racist. The Stephen Lawrence Enquiry Report and the new Race Relations Amendment Act require colleges to do just that.

If FE is serious about achievement, it must show that it values its entire staff by looking at its practices and being honest in its response. To refuse to do so is to seriously hinder the achievement of all who work and learn in FE.

Mike Peters Chair Commission for Black Staff in Further Education

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