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‘All black children should attend supplementary schools’

AUTHOR: Dr Kehinde Andrews has written a book outlining the history of the supplementary school movement

MORE THAN four decades ago the first black supplementary school was set up to combat the impact of blatant racism in mainstream education.

Today there are approximately 50 Saturday schools, and education activist Nia Imara insists they are still necessary and should be compulsory for all African and African Caribbean children in the UK.

Imara, head of the National Association of Black Supplementary Schools (NABSS), said there are major gaps in mainstream education that the community-based schools fill.

The latest GCSE figures for 2011/12, published in January, revealed that 58 per cent of Black African students achieved five GCSEs including maths and English at top A-C grades. For Black Caribbean pupils, that figure is 49.8 per cent. The national average is 58.8 per cent.

He said: “It is no secret that the education system is failing black children and there is little or no focus on black history and heritage.


“Academia today does not prepare black children to succeed, because it doesn’t encourage them into the mindset of self-sufficiency and setting up their own business and gaining wealth. It is not interested in the advancement of the black community.”

He added: “It is completely Eurocentric. It does not promote cultural pride amongst black children and the result is low self-esteem and underperformance.

“In mainstream education, our children are not taught about the civil rights movements, about the first black mayor, about our prominent musicians and artists.

“You could barely get a mention of [pioneering wartime nurse] Mary Seacole – and we had to fight them for that.”
His comments follow the publication of the first in-depth study into the history of the black supplementary school movement in the UK.

The book Resisting Racism: Race, inequality and the Black supplementary school movement was written by Dr Kehinde Andrews, senior lecturer at Newman University in Birmingham.

It focuses on the black community’s response to the racism they encountered during the Windrush era.
Andrews said he hoped to “to remind people that the context that led to the creation of Saturday schools hasn’t changed.”

He said: “They came out of the experience of racism in the 60s and there is still that experience of racism today - so they are still necessary.”

Bini Brown, a founding member of one of the oldest Saturday schools in the country, Sankofa Sesh, which was established 1967 in Handsworth, Birmingham, described the early supplementary schools as an integral part of African Caribbean children’s education.

SCHOOL OF THOUGHT: Educational activists argue that supplementary schools can make the difference for black children

He said: “Teachers were racist. They would ask the children questions like, ‘does the dirt just come back on when you wash?’

“Children were going to school and weren’t learning, but they would come to our school and in weeks we got them reading, writing and doing their mathematics.”

He added that the early schools faced formidable challenges with resources. He said: “We used to have seven or eight classrooms crammed to capacity and finding a building to accommodate everyone was a big problem.”

The school first met at a church, but was locked out when they refused to hand over control of the movement to religious leaders.


They were then able to secure a school premises, but were fought by the caretakers who went on strike to try and force them out.

Imara says the issue of resourcing supplementary schools has persisted and is calling on the black community to dig deep into their pockets to keep the schools alive.

He said: “The main challenge is the financing. The government is not going to do it so black businesses need to step up to the challenge.”

The activist also called on churches to get involved. He said: “Black churches are failing miserably when it comes to our children’s education. They are not playing their part and they are getting a hell of a lot of money from our community.

“You have so many churches, with fantastic buildings, that are empty on a Saturday morning. They could provide free premises for Saturday schools.”

Dwain Neil, founder of Reach society, a social enterprise group which supports black boys, said parents needed to start contributing to the funding of the schools.

He said: “[Education secretary] Michael Gove has demonstrated enough that he really doesn’t care about the quality of education within the black community.

“Will it mean potentially financial sacrifice? Absolutely. But if those aspirational parents want their children to have an educational platform for the future, then a little bit of sacrifice is an important decision.”

Imara added: “Parents need to start looking at Saturday schools as an investment into their children instead of a burden. Some of us will pay to go raving, we spend so much money on leisure, on bling, on football shirts and top-brand trainers we need to start rethinking our priorities and support our children’s education.”

But Andrews warned that forcing parents to foot the cost of running supplementary schools could “price out the people who need it most.”

Currently most schools charge a nominal fee and he said “commercialising” supplementary education creates another set of problems.

He said: “When parents are consumers, it changes the nature of the school. I know of one school where parents, who were paying substantial tuitions, told the school to stop teaching black studies and focus on mainstream subjects. It becomes a tutoring service.”

He added: “What’s the point of that? You can go and get a tutor anywhere; there should be something different about supplementary schools.”

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