From education to employment

Why the passing of Sir William McPherson is a reason for FE to assess its record on institutional racism

Amarjit Basi, Founding Member, Black FE Leadership Group

Sir William McPherson, the judge who presided over the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder, passed away on 14th February. The sad news, announced by his family, came almost precisely 22 years after the publication of his seminal report following Stephen’s untimely death. Sir William and his report have left a lasting legacy, instilling the concept of “institutional racism” in the British narrative and psyche.

People currently connected to Further Education (FE) may not know that directly following Sir William’s Report, the ‘Commission for Black Staff in FE’ was established to address race inequalities in FE, supported by all sector organisations. The Commission set out a comprehensive set of recommendations for the FE sector through its report ‘Challenging racism: further education leading the way’ (2002).

FE to provide role models for the upcoming generation and to show that there exists potential in all 

The recommendations sought to ensure that further education was led, developed and nurtured by people, who could bring the greatest diversity of lived experience to our students, to provide role models for the upcoming generation and to show that there exists potential in all. A true legacy to challenge the context of Stephen’s murder, but as the ‘McPherson generation’ progresses through post-16 education and training, and enters the workplace looking to the opportunities not afforded to Stephen, has anything really changed?

The Black Further Education Leadership Group (BFELG) holds its Inaugural Conference next week (Tuesday 23rd February), to examine this legacy, by focusing on the theme of ‘Making the most of an ethnically diverse Britain.

Decade of Lost Potential  

The Conference presents an evaluation of FE’s progress since the McPherson Report and the subsequent introduction of the Equality Act. It explores why the past ten years represent a ‘Decade of Lost Potential’ for black students and staff engaged in further education, and for Britain as a whole. The implications of which still persist. Black students face attainment and progression barriers from the age of 16. Black students have less sustainable destinations, lower employment rates and earn less over 1, 3, 5 and 10 years. The pandemic has further laid these divisions bare. As we emerge from lockdown we face further challenges and those who are black are more likely to be impacted by the oncoming recession. Alongside this, black representation at all levels of the FE workforce has gone backwards.

Tragically, since McPherson, our society has shifted alarmingly towards a belief that debate needs to be polarised, that truth can to be easily consumed or dismissed, and that a world comprising increasing inequalities becomes the norm.

But this isn’t about two sides, because the issue is not that black and white 

Sir William’s greatest attribute was that he so deeply understood that when some of us fail to reach our full potential, we all lose. When we don’t hear all the voices in the room, we fail to understand what is needed by the communities we seek to serve, and the young people we seek to support. When the role models we show to the next generation of leaders are limited, we limit future leadership. We lose not just now, but for generations to come.

What is its current weakness, could be Post-Brexit Britain’s greatest strength. Black young people account for 20% of those aged 24 or under now; they will account for 1 in 3 by 2051. Diversity brings life experience that can reshape our world for the better of all, asking for the greatest feedback and testing ideas with the widest audience ensures that they are likely to be more successful and sustainable in the longer term. The potential is clear, currently top quartile companies for racial and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to have higher financial returns* if this reached its full potential, this would add + 1.3% (£24 billion) per year to the UK’s GDP.

It is for everyone’s benefit that systemic racism is eradicated 

So it is for everyone’s benefit that systemic racism is eradicated in FE as every individual has the right to live a fulfilling life. And for as long as systemic racism exists, everyone’s potential will be held back.

A reformed further education system will be uniquely placed to unleash the potential of those that the education system may otherwise fail, so as the last bastion of hope, the best we can do is provide an antiracist education, to help people to define and challenge themselves, widen their experience and reshape the nature of Post-Brexit Britain. Sir William McPherson courageously ‘called out’ institutional racism some two decades ago, we owe it to him that we remove this from the FE narrative, once and for all.

Amarjit Basi

You can join ‘Making the Most of an Increasingly Diverse Britain: The Role of Further Education’, (incorporating the Launch of BFELG’s 10 Point Plan Diagnostic Toolkit) on Tuesday 23rd February via the following link

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