The more diverse Britain becomes, the more scope there is for mainstream schools to take advantage of, and benefit from, the extensive network of supplementary schools that exists in the country. These community-led educational programmes enjoy parents’ support, and offer a personalised and informal learning environment that complements mainstream education. There are between 3,000 and 5,000 supplementary schools in Britain (Ives and Wyvill 2008), set up largely by migrant and ethnic minority communities to offer out-of-school educational programmes covering areas including the core curriculum, languages, and cultural activities.
Though many supplementary schools offer faith-based programmes, this report focusses on the substantial proportion of supplementary schools that do not provide any religious education. The schools explored in this research offer core curriculum and extracurricular activities – some of which may be cultural activities – but not religious instruction.1
At their best, these supplementary schools offer children and young adults a rich learning experience. They provide personalised learning with strong pupil–teacher engagement. They give young people outlets to explore complex questions of identity, engage with role models from similar backgrounds, and develop networks of peer support. An estimated 80 per cent of supplementary schools teach mother-tongue languages: this helps reinforce English language learning, makes children more effective communicators, and develops problem-solving abilities and reading proficiency (Maylor et al 2010). And, as they are community- and parent-led by nature, supplementary schools also provide an avenue for parent engagement as well as community engagement more widely.
In this report we recommend greater complementarity and coordination between the mainstream education system and these thriving supplementary schools. This would make some mainstream schools better prepared and equipped to deal with the pressures that come with catering for a diverse student body. It would also make these schools, as education secretary Nicky Morgan has stated, ‘fully integrated with the local community, responsive to local parents and, crucially, connected with, learning from and supporting other schools’, rather than their behaving ‘as islands, making their own way’ (Morgan 2015).
We call for more mainstream schools to become more active players in their communities by engaging with supplementary schools. In doing so, they can raise the capacity of those communities, and of parents, to take ownership over their children’s education. They can help ensure that out-of-school learning and enrichment opportunities are high-quality, and open and accessible to all pupils, particularly those who need them the most.
This report sets out a roadmap for how mainstream schools can build on and engage with supplementary education, where there is a high-quality local offer. We suggest three modes of engagement with supplementary schools.
- Mapping supplementary school uptake.
- Greater coordination with, and referral to, supplementary schools.
- Cooperative programming with supplementary schools.
‘Making supplementary schools work for your school’
IPPR has also produced a summary of the research presented in this report, tailored specifically for headteachers and other education professionals in primary and secondary schools.
Entitled ‘Making supplementary schools work for your school’, it considers the challenges facing mainstream schools, asks how those schools and their pupils can benefit from supplementary schools, and suggests how they can best work together.
1 Our research was carried out between February and June 2015. We carried out detailed qualitative research and case study visits in two London boroughs – Harrow, and Kensington and Chelsea. We chose these two boroughs due to their substantial migrant communities (both are among the six boroughs in the country with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents) and rich supplementary school provision, and because of their contrasting models of how they coordinate supplementary schools. In Harrow, the local council has been actively involved in coordinating supplementary school partnerships and development, whereas in Kensington and Chelsea the Westway Trust has served as an independent facilitator of supplementary schools in the borough, with financial support from the council.
Our methods were largely qualitative, to allow us to develop a rich and detailed understanding of the history, role and influence of supplementary schools in these boroughs. This involved study visits to a variety of supplementary schools in each borough, including those teaching languages, cultural activities, and the core curriculum. These ranged from Gujurati and Eritrean schools to mixed-community schools. Some were hosted at state school premises; others were housed in community centres or dedicated spaces. Nine schools were visited in total.
Semi-structured interviews were carried out with founders, teachers, teaching assistants, parents and pupils. We carried out participant observation in supplementary school classes, parents’ courses and staff meetings. IPPR researchers also observed supplementary school coordination meetings hosted by Harrow council. In addition, we carried out phone interviews with several headteachers at state schools and academies, including a mix of schools with pre-existing relationships with supplementary schools, and those without. We also interviewed representatives from local and central government, and from Ofsted.