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In the third part of the series, FE News reporter Sara Hashash evaluates the report issued by Ofsted, assessing the findings and ramifications for FE.

Leadership

An evaluation of the findings of the Race Relations report in FE colleges revealed that in colleges meeting the highest standards of practice, innovative and strategic methods to tackle specific problems such as underachievement of learners and imbalances in staffing, were initiated at the management level. The quality of leadership at a senior level was therefore found to be critical to the success of a college, with good managers inspiring a college-wide ethos of equality.

The most vigorous response was taken on behalf of colleges in areas with a greater racial diversity. Measures to combat harassment and discrimination however had been placed at all colleges surveyed. Independent specialist colleges were found to have made the least progress in responding proactively to the legislation. Half of the colleges inspected throughout 2004 "“ 2005 were discovered to have been slow or not yet met the guidelines set out by the Race Relations Act 2000.

The Oldham Example

The report provides an in-depth case study of progress made at Oldham College, which is located in an area with a history of racial tension. The approach at the college has been to promote diversity by emphasising that equality benefits everyone. It has incorporated race equality into its general equal opportunities implementation plan, and has taken direct action to promote equality through setting targets, holding dialogues with minority ethnic groups, setting up courses in the community targeted to learners" specific needs as well as establishing numerous mandatory staff training courses on the topics of managing diversity and promoting equal opportunities through the curriculum.

The college has also sought to find innovative and imaginative ways of meeting standards even holding a highly successful celebrity diversity competition last year. Although all the colleges inspected had set up largely satisfactory race equality policies relatively few had been put in place within the agreed timeframe of May 31st 2002. The best policies incorporated all legal requirements as well as other issues resulting from college analysis of their institution's specific needs "“ displaying a real understanding of local context.

Positive Action

Some colleges made outward commitments to positive action whereas others were less direct in approaching the topic. Policies generally covered the college's principles regarding issues of racial equality, access and participation, harassment and discrimination as well as disciplinary procedures, staff recruitment, training and development. However, the integration of race equality aspects into general planning was found to be weak in about a third of colleges.

Making effective use of data on ethnicity was also found to be an area in need of improvement. Also little had been carried out to assess the impact of race equalities put into place, and means of publishing results gained through monitoring of process were found to be insufficient. Most colleges had contacted external sources for advice when producing their policies such as the Learning and Skills Council amongst several others. In addition, the majority of colleges had made links with external organisation to assist their race relations activities in order to enhance community cohesion. Colleges worked with both national and local networks such as those operated by LSDA, local race organisations, youth forums, local councils and community groups.

Committee Structure

There was a considerable variety in the committee structures produced by colleges to support race equality to the governing body. Shorter and more direct lines of communication between colleges and governing bodies were found to be more effective in communicating clear messages about race relations responsibilities. These were mainly found in colleges with large BME learner groups.

Committee structures generally tended either to have an equality and diversity committee reporting to the academic board and thus the governing body, or a committee that acted as a subcommittee of a governing body committee. A couple of colleges even had an equality executive or action group on equality and diversity reporting directly to the governing body. The vice principal, deputy principal or other senior manager at the college was appointed directly responsible for race equality in the vast majority of cases, however in a minority of colleges the principal took on this role.

Sara Hashash

Read further instalments of Sara Hashash's series right here at FE News!

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