First, let’s define what supplementary schools are. They usually share the following characteristics:
- They offer a range of learning opportunities, including national curriculum subjects (English, maths, science and others), religious studies, mother-tongue classes, cultural studies and a range of extra activities, such as sport, music, dance and drama.
- They run throughout the week in the evenings or on weekends.
- They are set up by local community groups.
- They are voluntary organisations. They rely almost exclusively on volunteers.
- They operate from a variety of venues: community centres, youth clubs, places of worship, mainstream schools and other places.
The controversy on this subject is Do children integrate more in to British society by attending community schools which are often segregated and isolated spaces? In this blog series, Supplementary Schools: Isolation or Integration?, I will explore how this type of schooling is working and if it actually helps migrants to integrate and excel in society.In the UK, there are about 5,000 supplementary schools, also known as community schools, Saturday schools or complementary schools. They are numerous and diverse. In one area, there can be as many supplementary schools as there are nationalities and often there are several supplementary schools for one community.The main purpose for most supplementary schools is that they enable the children to interact with people their own age who share their cultural and linguistic backgroundMy name is Solene and I am on a placement at MRCF and over the last month I have researched supplementary schools in London. I am interested because it deals with how migrants help the younger generation fit in to their new location. My country, France, worships the concept of laïcitébut over the last few years has struggled to enforce laws about secularism in public spaces.I think extreme secularism in France leads to a form of provocation which leads to mutual disrespect.
This theme attracted me because I know that inFrance there is little respect between communities especially between white and Muslim French. It feels like we are caught in a vicious circle and doing this research over the last month has showed me the progress made in the last thirty years in the UK.
In this blog series, I will first give a general overview about supplementary schools, then we’ll see the subject from the teachers’ side, from the parents’ side and finally from the pupils’ side.
Why do supplementary schools exist?
Dissatisfaction with the English education system
Supplementary schools don’t all exist for the same reasons depending on the communities they serve. For example, according to Nia Imara, from National Association of Black Supplementary Schools (NABSS), the fact that many black boys start to fail in the secondary school shows that there is something missing for them in mainstream schools. Imara points out that the only thing that black children learn in English schools about Africa is slavery, so a child grows up thinking, “Before I was a slave and before slavery there were no black people around”. Imara proposes that what is missing is that black children don’t hear anything about Africa that builds up their self-esteem in mainstream schools. In response to this problem, supplementary schools show “what has been achieved, what is being achieved and what can be achieved” by black people.
Disappearing language and cultural identity
Another goal for supplementary schools is to preserve the language and cultural identities of their communities. According to Dr Chen Yangguang, professor at Goldsmiths University, unlike Caribbean parents who have been sceptical about the English education system, on terms of offering their children “equality of opportunity”, Chinese parents have set up schools to maintain their language and cultural identity-not as a response to dissatisfaction with the English education system.
The same thing can be said about Greek schools. Parents worried that their children and grandchildren will be ignorant about their background. Their priority is also for them to learn to speak Greek so they can communicate with their grandparents or anyone from Greece or Cyprus. Greek parents are also aware that with Greece being in the European Union, being bilingual will be an advantage.For Christina, a mum taking her daughters to a Greek school, “knowing a second language can take them along down the road… [to give more options in life]”.
Purpose of Schools
Department of Education, 2011Teaching in culture and heritage85%Coaching for exams and tests70%Teaching in English National curriculum subjects 68%
What do supplementary schools do?
Some schools are completely free of charge and for others, the parents are required to pay to send their child. The free schools rely on the help of volunteers (who are often parents) to run the classes and the administration. Some of the schools also rely on the financial support of the local government.
1. Teach culture and heritage
Supplementary schools provide children with classes to learn their mother-tongue language and about their country’s culture and history. By knowing their language, children will be able to communicate with their family who do not speak English. By learning about their culture, younger generations can understand their parents’ values which bridge the communication gap between parents and their children.
2. Teach English National curriculum subjects and coaching for exams and tests
Most supplementary schools teach subjects from the English National curriculum to offer extra help in these areas as many parents can’t do it. The majority of the schools teach maths, English and science. Besides teaching, they prepare their pupils for mainstream exams and test and do everything in their power to make sure they keep up with their classmates.
For other pupils, the issue is not of being able to speak their family’s language but being able to speak English. Going to a supplementary school allows them to learn English with teachers who speak their language and speak English, which makes it easier to explain the standard subjects.
Because class sizes in supplementary schools are usually smaller than in mainstream schools, it allows more concentrated time between a teacher and a pupil. Teachers have more time to explore a range of teaching approaches and strategies that sometimes turn out to be innovative, creative and successful techniques.
These schools are where integration starts. They help migrant children keep up with their classmates, deal with difficult cultural issues, and teach them to speak better English. This all helps migrant children be more part of British society.
What needs to be done now?
The following aspects should be taken into consideration in order to improve the work of supplementary schools:
- Promote supplementary schools and outreach to new students
- More parents involved in supplementary schools
- Establish local partnerships between supplementary schools and mainstream school
- Become more independent from government funding
1. Promote supplementary schools and outreach to new students
Supplementary schools should develop stronger outreach programmes because attendance drops off for many students and families. This is because it is difficult for families to attend on Saturdays and other reasons. Many well established supplementary schools currently don’t have much outreach and as a result their communities don’t know about them. Finally, recent migrants need supplementary schools the most but don’t know that they exist.
2. More parents involved in supplementary schools
One problem Nia Imara also raises is that some parents use supplementary schools like a “drop off shop”. They drop their children off and go shopping and come back. It is most common in fees based schools as parents consider themselves to be clients On the other hand, free supplementary schools tend to involve more parents as they have little funding and need everyone’s support.
3. Establish local partnerships between supplementary schools and mainstream schools
There is often tension between mainstream schools and supplementary schools because mainstream schools are reluctant to admit that supplementary schools are necessary. Working in partnership would acknowledge that mainstream schools are failing migrant and minority students. More tension comes when supplementary schools are not credited for the improvement of underachieving children.
The situation is looking better as partnerships have already begun in some areas. According to Continyou, a community learning organisation, more and more mainstream secondary and primary schools are opening their doors to supplementary schools and have established teaching and operational partnerships by offering supplementary schools their premises.
OYA! (Organisation for Young Africans) is an example of a good partnership between supplementary and mainstream schools as they share school reports, meet with the local head teacher and other arrangements. This is the kind of partnership that should be replicated and used as a model for other schools.
4. Become independent of government funding
The biggest challenge for supplementary schools over the next few years will be sustainability. Many schools are funded by local governments, and are now in financial trouble because of cuts in this funding. Nia Imara said that, “To a certain extend it’s their fault if they are suffering as a lot of them just sat there relying on the local government money to keep them going instead of fundraising and finding other alternative means of income”. Imara thinks that supplementary schools should start selling their services and their expertise to mainstream schools and become social enterprises.
As you can see, supplementary schools are drivers for interaction of migrant children. Whether it is through teaching English language or enabling the students to excel in mainstream schools or by learning about their back ground, these supplementary schools are key institutions during individuals’ and families’ integration process.
In the next post, I will discuss more precisely what teachers do and how they impact their schools, communities and children.