Enriching the mainstream: Supplementary education in the UK
Samira Bakkiou and Susie Miles
Informal community-based education can play a key role in enabling children from minority communities – including those whose families have fled conflict – to settle into the UK, into a new education system, and to learn more about their heritage. In this article, Samira and Susie provide a brief overview of supplementary education for minority communities.
What are supplementary schools?
Supplementary education takes place outside of normal school hours in the evenings or at weekends. These informal schools offer cultural activities, home language tuition, religious instruction as well as core academic subjects. They are often set up and run on small budgets by volunteers: parents and community members concerned that their children may lose touch with their home language, culture and religion. There is no government funding available to support these schools, yet they contribute to the education of a significant number of the school population.
It is estimated that 18-28% of children from non-white British communities have attended supplementary schools. There are approximately 5000 in the UK, including 162 in Manchester.1 Most children attending supplementary schools also attend a mainstream school – a small number are educated at home. Supplementary schools are effective in motivating pupils who are at risk of failing and exclusion from mainstream education: adult role models from their home culture can inspire confidence in children who are born in the UK to migrant parents and those who have recently arrived.2
The Community Language Programme
I (Samira) set up a Saturday school for all children in the local community wishing to learn about Arabic and French culture and language, and especially children from refugee and asylum-seeking families. We catered for approximately 30 children aged 3-12 years and charged a modest fee to cover costs. Our classes were small and we offered an informal learning experience that was more relaxed than the children’s experiences of learning in mainstream schools.
The teachers, qualified in their countries of origin (e.g. Syria and Tunisia), were volunteers and lived in the local community. They had a good knowledge of the language, culture and religion as well as access to curriculum materials from their countries of origin. Our teaching and learning philosophy was inspired by Paulo Freire: we encouraged a spirit of inquiry, personal growth and a broad appreciation of difference, through food, arts and crafts-based activities. This made learning fun and gave the children both a connection with their home cultures and a better understanding of each other’s cultures.
The school worked well for a few years, but attendance dropped and it was too expensive to keep it running. We moved to a local primary school to continue the teaching of Arabic on Sundays. The primary school is highly supportive of supplementary education and sees itself as a resource in the local community, inclusive of all. It hosts another supplementary school on Saturdays for children from minority backgrounds – this informal school has been running in various locations since the 1960s. Collaboration between mainstream and supplementary schools is rare, but where it takes place it has enabled teachers to share ideas and knowledge about teaching methods and the children they both teach, such as about the children’s special educational needs.
1More information is available from the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NCRSE) contact details: www.supplementaryeducation.org.uk