Tue,25 May 2021

Has the sector changed since George Floyd’s death?

The Black FE Leadership Group has achieved a lot – but there is still much to do to tackle racism, says Robin Landman

The murder of George Floyd – a year ago today – was a watershed moment in history. It galvanised a global wave of revulsion against, and protest at, the entrenched racism that gave the policeman who suffocated him the feeling of complete impunity. The belief that he could carry out that act without fear of accountability came to represent the systemic racism that afflicts diaspora “minorities” across the Western world.

George Floyd became the embodiment of the racist injustices that blight the lives of black people living in white majority societies, and his death led to a global mea culpa that white people were gripped by in the face of the sheer, public brutality of his murder.

There is no doubt that George Floyd’s murder gave the Black FE Leadership Group’s open letter to the prime minister and FE system leaders extra bite, especially the utilisation of the “knee on the neck” metaphor. It has motivated whole societies – or at least those with more than a modicum of humanity – to reflect on whether – and the extent to which – their societies are mirroring the systemic racism demonstrated by Derek Chauvin.

Having gained the attention of the sector, the Black FE Leadership Group has had a busy nine months, determined to make this “a movement, not a moment”. Time will tell if our activities bear fruit, and the extent to which there is lasting change lies in the hands of the white majority’s stomach for lasting change, and the determination of the black rapidly growing “minorities” to keep anti-racism alive and well through activism.

Tackling racism in FE colleges: The Black FE Leadership Group’s achievements to date

  • Influencing policy through engagement with the Department for Education, contributing to the White Paper consultation, the College of the Future, etc.
  • Being recognised as FE People of the Year by Tes in December 2020.
  • Producing a compelling evidence base on racism in the FE sector.
  • Our Inaugural conference in February, in partnership with Google for Education, with an introduction by Sir Ken Olisa, lord lieutenant of Greater London
  • The launch of the ground-breaking 10 Point Plan Diagnostic Toolkit. This has been adopted – through our affiliation process – by 20 colleges and other organisations to date, and the number is growing rapidly. We confidently believe that this will be the major contribution to developing an anti-racist FE system
  • We have contributed to thought leadership in the sector, in partnership with the Education and Training Foundation, by hosting our joint symposium in May, with inputs from high-profile national figures like Lord Woolley and Nazir Afzal OBE.
  • We are contributing to changes in sector recruitment practice, through the development of an anti-racist protocol, working with the leading search and recruitment companies in the sector.
  • We are working with the devolved nations, especially Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure that we are, genuinely, a UK-wide organisation.
  • We are working as an increasingly effective lobbying group; for example, being the first FE-focused membership organisation to connect with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education, and bringing to the attention of the QAA (the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) the potential for unfair outcomes for access for HE students.
  • Working with two FE colleges on a ground-breaking local skills improvement plan research project.

All this has been built on a foundation of hard work, with the support of a vibrant BFELG membership, and the sterling support of a growing number of progressive colleges, stakeholder organisations and white allies.

There is a very long way to go, but we remain resolute in our determination that we are here to stay, and to make a difference. One year is too short a time to correct what’s developed over generations, but we’ve made a start.

Robin Landman is executive member of the Black FE Leadership Group