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BAME leadership – why it’s personal

Written by Ash Austin, Commercial Director of Collab Group
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How many FE college CEOs from a BAME background do you know? I’d hazard a guess that the answer is, “Not many.” Diversity and Inclusion in the FE world is very personal for me, which is why I’m so pleased to be writing about the Black and Ethnic Leadership Pilot Programme just launched by Collab Group.

The programme is part of the Collab Group Strategic Plan, with the aim of identifying and developing future talent amongst our network of colleges. Through collective action we believe we can enhance the capacity and capability of our colleges, especially the leadership skills of the next generation of our college leaders. Participants will be able to network and engage with other potential FE leaders across our group and with leaders within the wider community, be inspired by key speakers from leading organisations in other sectors and get involved in coaching, mentoring, reverse mentoring and shadowing with existing FE CEOs, principals and senior management.

A better path

Why is this personal to me? Because as Collab Group’s Commercial Director I have been nominated by my CEO to be part of the programme, and because of my own BAME working class background, born and bred in South West London and understanding acutely the challenges BAME young people face with vocational qualifications. I went to an all-boys’ comprehensive in Fulham that was one of the worst in London. I was one of only 5 out of 120 boys in my year who achieved A to C at GCSE. I am also dyslexic and the FE route through an apprenticeship would probably have been a better path for me than the university my parents insisted I go to.

Because here’s the rub. For many BAME families there is a culture that university is the only route for bright children, a snobbery that apprenticeships aren’t good enough, and by association a belief that a career in FE is unappealing. You and I know that couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a misconception that needs to be tackled with more BAME role models in the top jobs in our sector. That is where our Black and Ethnic Leadership Programme comes in, following the successful leadership programme we ran at Collab Group last year with 35 future CEOs from our member colleges.

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Collab Group is a membership organisation representing a network of leading FE colleges and college groups in the UK. And out of that number we have one BAME CEO. So yes, when it comes to doing better, we understand the value of practising what we preach. Our BAME leadership pilot runs from October 2021 until April 2022, with 12 participants nominated by their CEO or principal. We hope it is only the start.

Sharing experiences

Motivated to do more myself, I have recently joined the BAME Apprenticeship Network as an Executive Committee member to try to help in any way I can. The network sees apprentices of all ages sharing their experiences to create a strong community to further this agenda. Because if we don’t have more BAME role models, things won’t improve.

Ash Austin, Commercial Director of Collab Group

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