There is not one definition of a supplementary teacher like in the mainstream schooling. There are as many teachers as there are people who teach. Most teachers at supplementary schools are from a migrant background and understand what the next generation is going through because they themselves experienced similar things. They understand how migrant children feel about themselves and about the world around them. Some of these teachers were first students before becoming teachers to give back to their community.
Some people might think that supplementary teachers are fundamentalists who teach a radical or separatist agenda. Much of my research over the last month has shown that supplementary school teachers work to integrate, not radicalise students.
In this post I will question if spending extra time in segregated spaces helps migrant children to integrate. Practically, I ask- how do teachers help children from their community to integrate in to British society?
Professional Teachers and Volunteer Parents
According to Nia Imara, from National Association of Black Supplementary Schools (NABSS), most supplementary school teachers are volunteer parents. These parents often feel that the mainstream schools aren’t giving their children the same opportunities as white children. These parents don’t have a teaching degree but use their knowledge and experience to pass on to the children.
The parents have, in some ways, more power in supplementary schools than in mainstream schools because the line between parent and teach is ambigious. Indeed they can more easily influence what they want their children to study and the government has no control over the subjects.
At some supplementary schools, parents pay to send their children and in these schools teachers are paid. According to Mr Olu Kubweza, a teacher and project manager at Organisation for Young African (OYA!), the fact that teachers are paid reinforces their commitment to the school.
At the Greek supplementary school, I found out that teachers are recruited by the Greek and Cyprus government. They are teachers in their home country and have the chance to have an experience teaching abroad. They have a contract for 3 to 5 years with the supplementary school and are paid by the Greek community in London.
In some supplementary schools, like the Greek school, religion is taught and students are taken to religious ceremonies but when it comes to faith schools some people get scared. One inflammatory scholar, Professor David Canter, a psychologist at the University of Liverpool, writes that “issues like faith schools are terribly dangerous. (…) If you actually indicate to people that one of the most important ways of defining themselves is in terms of their religion then that opens up (…) the opportunity of drifting towards a more fundamentalist interpretation of that religion that can lead to radical violence”. This dangerous and provocative way of thinking about faith schools is shared by many people who also believe that these schools are an easy way to feed terrorist groups.
In all the supplementary schools that I researched, no school was teaching a radical agenda. Rather, all were focused on the improvement and integration of the child. While many families send their children to supplementary schools to learn about their faith, the children are also benefitted by learning their native language, improving their scores in mainstream schools, and gaining more confidence. This clearly should not be viewed as a radical agenda.
How do teachers strengthen the identity of minority children?
Teachers in supplementary schools strength identity in three ways:
By being role models
Teachers usually have the same background as the pupils they teach which makes the pupils bond more easily with them. Having the same background also gives them more legitimacy to reinforce their diaspora identity. For example, almost every African child has an African and a westernized name and in OYA! they are called by their African name within the school. Teachers often serve as role models for the children as they are examples of successful migrants proving that the children can do the same.
By boosting academic results
In most cases, supplementary schools exist because the children have difficulty at school and can’t keep up. The children revise, learn and practise three main subjects from the English mainstream curriculum (English, maths and sciences) in order to improve their marks at school with often remarkable results.
By building self-esteem
When they are taught literature, the teachers in supplementary schools choose a book that represents the country the children are from. According to Nia Imara, a good way to build confidence, and as a result identity, is “to show the children what has been achieved, what is being achieved and what can be achieved” by black people throughout history.
As we can see, the children’s success is not only in their school reports, as the schools build confidence and knowledge about their background. Supplementary school teachers make sure the pupils have enough qualifications but also push them to raise their ambitions and imagine their future.
Moreover, an assembly takes place at the end of each Saturday school. In these assemblies students express themselves in front of the whole school. This public speaking exercise makes them develop their confidence and courage to speak before an audience. Mr Olu told me a story about a young girl who when she first arrived at OYA! she wouldn’t speak, but through practise she felt more confident and now she has become a trainee at the organisation and is studying to get a teaching degree.
Working in a supplementary school has allowed several points to be improved, in particular:
Supplementary schools are raising their standards for teachers’ qualifications, more and more staff are encouraged to study for UK qualified teacher status which is the accreditation that enables to teach in state-maintained and special schools in England and Wales. This makes supplementary schools more professional and raises the schools’ reputation.
New teaching strategies
Because the class sizes in supplementary schools are usually smaller than in mainstream schools, it allows more concentrated time between teacher and pupil. Teachers are not stuck in standardized teaching methods and as they have more time to do so, they often explore a range of teaching approaches and strategies which can sometimes be innovative, creative and successful teaching techniques.
Impact on mainstream schools
Supplementary schools also have an impact within the mainstream schools because many supplementary school teachers go on to be teachers in mainstream schools.
Moreover, embedding teachers from a minority background within mainstream schools who completed a placement in a supplementary school can lead to long term impact:
- Their experience with troubled or underachieving children will improve the teachers’ ability to deal with a wide variety of issues.
- Teachers will champion the Black and Minority Ethnic community and its student.
- Teachers know the benefits of supplementary schools and have a better relationship.
Continyou is a community learning organisation that functions as an umbrella network between all supplementary schools in the UK. This organisation gives out awards within their quality framework at bronze, silver or gold level. According to the criterions, “These levels cover teaching and learning, governance and community engagement. Schools must complete the Bronze level first to demonstrate that they have essential management and safeguarding procedures in place. There is also a Special Distinction Award for schools that are disseminating good practice with other supplementary schools”. These awards are a real motivation for the supplementary schools because it helps them to receive recognition from the mainstream schools. For example, OYA! received the golden award and this is a reason why the supplementary school has a very good partnership with the mainstream school of the area.
But we can go further as most of the teachers and the supplementary schools are willing to show how they work and are not against being regulated and checked. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) is a non-ministerial government department regulating and inspecting mainstream schools in the UK. On their website, they offer full information about all the schools to help the parents and the children to choose one. From my research, I think supplementary schools expect the government to be included in control and regulation. Being inspected by Ofsted would bring supplementary schools more into the education system. It would give them the recognition and legitimacy they need and would also help them to promote themselves as most of supplementary schools continued based on their reputation passed via word of mouth within their community.
As we can see, supplementary school teachers are dedicated to improving the lives of children in their communities and do this by helping them integrate into British society. These teacher are instrumental in this work because of who they are, their relationships within the communities and schools, and their examples as role models to their students. And they know that this can’t be accomplish at a traditional 9 to 5, Monday to Friday schedule.