Archive | October 10, 2012

U.K. The Successes of Supplementary Schools

U.K. The Successes of Supplementary Schools

By Hwaa Irfan

The British Educational Research Association has produced a report entitled: Insights: The Secret of Supplementary School Success. Thirty years later, as a co-founder of a supplementary school, it is great to see that the investment of volunteers over the years have succeeded where mainstream/factory education has failed sections of the community despite the odds! The report begins with the introductory note:

Many minority ethnic pupils struggle in mainstream schools. Concern about these children’s chronic underachievement led to this study of the 2,700 Saturday or supplementary schools set up by their parents and communities. Usually free and run by volunteers, the schools aim to preserve a community’s heritage and raise the attainment of its children. Not only are they succeeding, but their success is having a positive impact on their children’s achievements in mainstream schools. So  what is their secret?

One would have thought 30 years ago, that with time, there would be no more need for Supplementary schools. The system would learn from its mistakes, and learn to involve the whole child in the process of learning. Unfortunately, there is still a need for Supplementary schools!

African-Caribbean Saturday/Supplementary schools were the pioneers in the U.K., and began where factory education never started, with the pupils in mind. For many well-meaning educationalists, this might sound like an afront, but that is because many well-meaning educationalists who have remained within the mainstream/factory education system to this day truly believe that that form of education – the one-size fits all approach is actually ‘education’. In the original meaning of the word, ‘education’ it means to draw out that which is within i.e. the hidden potential. It is an issue that becomes most apparent with so-called ‘ethnic minority’ pupils, but actually applies to all. Even those that succeed, succeed at the price of their own potential, to become the ‘potential’ of the GDP, which has the austerity measures born of the current global economic crisis has demonstrated become expendable. This only serves to reinforce what many have already been taught within mainstream schools, that simply one is not good enough and this cuts across cultures, especially in a class-riddled society!

Jenn Ashworth was one British girl who recalls:

“I’m not the first or the last to do this. There’s even a name for it: school refusal. They distinguish it from common-or-garden truancy because there’s no attempt to deceive – I never pretended to get the bus. Us school refusers are normally academically bright or, if not bright, at least willing. That was me. When school, convinced that I was ill in mind if not in body, sent work for me to do at home, I’d sit up in my bedroom and complete it, arranging my books inside a bag that never left the house. When I did go outside (which was rare), I’d haunt the library. School refusers are, apparently, depressed. They are anxious. It’s a phobia, of a sort.

Jane describes what has been infamously dubbed as ‘factory education’. The result of not being treated as a whole person with a brain of their own, is loss which takes on many forms within the mainstream school system.

The report highlights the grassroots commitment to nurturing child potential, which since the early days now serves a variety of communities and 50 community languages. The report cites the focus has been on the teaching culture and heritage (Maths and English) with coaching (for exams/tests). What has been deemed ‘weaknessess’ in mainstream schools, have become strengths in the Supplementary Schools – this only reflects on the losses of factory education, which churns out information rather than educates within large classrooms ill-suited for the learning process.

Engish, Maths, Science, behavior, social skills, and self esteem improved greatly from attending these community schools fast forwarding their entrance into GCSE’s earlier than scheduled by their mainstream schools. In the language focused Supplementary Schools, the children gained more fluency, and more able to take up GCSEs according to the report. This all belies the stereotypes and stigmas that have been placed upon ‘ethinic-minorities’, particularly the second/third generation British-born African-Caribbean child.

On the benefits of Supplementary education, parents told the BERA:

“They understand the need to work with parents, listen to their concerns and understand that all children can achieve… having high expectations of children, being willing to find ways to work with children as well, and that’s not what we encounter in mainstream schools.” (Parent)

“… what is nice is the approach they use; if they’ve got anything they need to tell us, whether it’s concerns or how they’re progressing, they will always ask to speak to us at the end of the session.”

Teachers who volunteered their time and compassion, aso preferred teaching in Supplementary schools according to the report becuase there was more scope to be creative about teaching than in mainstream school teachers, while mainstream school teachers typically resent Supplementary school teachers.

The report recommends issues for policy makers, that do not really hit the nail on the head, i.e. there is something fundamentally wrong with mainstream education. That is a difficult line to take, if one only sees the problem pertaining to ‘ethnic-minorites.’  The recommendations include:

  • Enhancing minority ethnic streaming, especially Somali, Pakistani, and African-Caribbean
  • Refocusing on excluded children
  • To balance calls from supplementary school staff for recognition, however parents rightly so do not desire governmental interference in what works well

Presents opportunities for mainstream teachers learn how to enhance an inclusive learning environment

However, current U.K. education policy which has turned teachers into police officers, and has become highly administrative leaves little room for actually teaching with children undergoing stop and search by police on the way to and from school. The initial intention of public education was never meant to educate the masses for a meritocracy, but to create a submissive workforce to create the wealth of the elite nation, and current policy has brought the initial intention to a full circle. This makes the need for Supplementary education even greater than before, while the victims of the ethnic majority stand out in the cold!


Maylor, P.U. “Insights: The Secret of Supplementary School Success.”

“Jenn Ashworth: Why I refused to go to school.”

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