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Why our students lead on anti-racism work

17 May 2024

Having grown up in Birmingham I feel privileged to be leading Birmingham Metropolitan College. Our mission is to transform the lives of residents, particularly those young people and adults with significant challenges, which I see as a joint effort with other providers and organisations.

Our approach at BMet is to ensure we are inclusive across everything we do, and we have been working particularly on our approach to student voice on anti-racism. It’s something that allows students to feel supported and listened to and enables them to make the most of their time at college to progress well.

We’ve been working with the Student Commission for Racial Justice (SCRJ) for over four years. They’ve played a pivotal role talking with students and then making recommendations for education, health, policing and employment which institutions have taken forward to allow them to progress. BMet has embedded the methodology of students leading the discussion, review, and recommendations within our own annual cycle where senior leads oversee actions and progress shared with students.

Having worked with SCRJ for four years, we now use an annual survey about students’ experience within BMet. The nuanced questions attempt to glean the impact of the implementation of strategies on students; for example, do they feel there is a difference in approaches towards diverse groups of students?

All the questions are designed to take the temperature on four themes: teaching and learning, support, safety and wellbeing, events, social life and college culture, and the world of work and aspiration. The SCRJ collate the survey results, and the anonymized ‘benchmarking’ and raw data are shared with each institution so that we can analyse it further across areas and campuses. The results are also shared with students by our student commissioners who formulate responses alongside staff to enable us to seek further insight and act. Actions form part of our central action planner monitored by the senior leadership team and reported to our student council. Governors are kept informed via both these reporting mechanisms.

We have significant student engagement in the survey with over 1,000 students completing it annually. The interesting thing here is that the proportion of BAME students that took part in the survey almost reflects the actual proportion being 61% in the first year, and 69% in the second.

We have student recommendations that further confirm areas of work for the college such as increasing the number of culture days, including students in the recruitment process and professional development of staff so that they can confidently talk about issues of race as well as recommendations to improve the communication and implementation of our whistle blowing policy (which students redesigned and called ‘Speak Up’).

Our aim at BMet is to ensure this work with students is just part of what we do benefiting all our students and not perceived as an add-on favouring particular student or staff groups.

Since working with SCRJ other colleges have piloted this approach through the Colleges West Midlands Race Equality Steering Group workstream which looked at the experience of students with mixed heritage, and colleges in the group have taken forward recommendations. As part of specific work in Birmingham led by the Birmingham Race Impact Group (BRIG), comprising organisations from different sectors, BMet and South and City College Birmingham students came together in 2022 to look at what we as colleges should focus upon. This led to each college committing to targets up to 2030 to improve student outcomes, workforce and governor recruitment approved by our governing bodies. This work also aligns with our commitment to deliver on the Black Leadership Group’s ‘10-point plan’. Our work with BRIG has led to an inaugural ‘Pass the Baton’ festival showcased in the local news in April.

Our approach is not new, but like all things we do, it’s about our commitment and follow through to ensure that as an organisation we make a difference.

Pat Carvalho is the Principal and CEO of Birmingham Metropolitan College.