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Supplementary Schools

Volume 472: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2008

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Roy.]

Despite the lateness of the hour, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the important issue of community supplementary schools. Those schools, with roots in the African-Caribbean community’s pioneering work in the 1970s, aim to enhance the educational opportunities of young people through the provision of out-of-school-hours educational initiatives. They supplement mainstream education through a programme that emphasises culture alongside the skills required to achieve academically.

I know that Lord Adonis, the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, has taken a keen interest in this issue, and I thank him for all the time and attention that he has dedicated so far to addressing and improving the status of supplementary schools. I also thank Paul Morrish from ContinYou, one of UK’s leading community learning organisations and host of the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education—the NRC—and the supplementary school leaders in my constituency, particularly the Turkish supplementary schools consortium, which has worked tirelessly to build, run and grow these facilities for young people in Enfield.

I am pleased that the issue of supplementary schools is moving further up the political agenda and into the education limelight. Recently, representatives of some of London’s 23 Turkish and Kurdish supplementary schools met Lord Adonis to discuss the pressing issues facing this specific sector of the supplementary schools movement. That was a significant step towards embedding support for supplementary schools. I refer to Turkish supplementary schools because they are the predominant form of such school in my constituency, but there are supplementary schools in a range of communities throughout the country, such as Greek Cypriot, Jewish, Bangladeshi, and Muslim schools, and many others, including the Afro-Caribbean schools that I mentioned, which were pioneers in the 1970s.

One of the ideas that arose from the meeting that the consortium held with the Minister was the suggestion of a senior champion to liaise between the Department for Children, Schools and Families, other Departments and others in the sector, including the national resource centre, to make progress in this area. I strongly welcome such a role and ask the Minister to commit to that extremely helpful idea. I hope that the Government will continue to work closely with and support the National Resource Centre, which does excellent work in this field.

An estimated 5,000 supplementary schools are operating in England. They demonstrate a significant commitment from ethnic minority communities to improve the academic attainment of minority ethnic pupils through the expression and fostering of cultural qualities. They play a fundamental role in facilitating mainstream education, cultural expression and community cohesion while highlighting the considerable efforts and costs burdening parents, teachers, volunteers and community groups throughout the UK. Despite that, short-term funding has prohibited long-term investment in staffing, resources and the development of partnerships. Some supplementary schools are large and well resourced, but the majority are small, cash-poor projects, reliant on the altruism of local parents, businesses and community groups. The problems and frustrations that they encounter will be familiar to anyone involved in community development and informal education: they lack funding and sometimes teaching resources, their teachers are often untrained, and they can struggle to find premises.

Funding for supplementary schools is essential if they are to engage as genuine partners, develop the quality of their provision and engage in joint activities with schools. At their best, supplementary schools and mainstream schools link together to contribute to the integration and attainment of children; where that is taking place in a genuine partnership, the impact is demonstrable and impressive.

The Government are committed to a fair, meritocratic education system that requires every pupil to be valued equally, but that also recognises that not every child should be taught in the same way. Supplementary schools can help to access and unlock the hidden potential of students whose individual intellectual potential has been reduced by a culturally uniform approach to learning. Government-led initiatives such as the ethnic minority achievement grant represent positive action from within the mainstream system to target the underachievement of certain ethnic groups. I feel that it is important to stress that significant progress has already been made.

However, it is essential that children have an education and a knowledge base that is right for them as individuals. There is evidence to suggest that a one-size-fits-all mode of learning has, in part, marginalised ethnic minority children within the mainstream education system, which has in turn led to significant underachievement. Indeed, one of the key messages of “Diversity and Citizenship in the Curriculum”, the 2007 curriculum review led by Sir Keith Ajegbo, was the centrality of a more flexible, diverse and tailored approach to teaching.

In 2006, Ofsted found that

“the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding”

in key stage 3 and

“their origins and implications”

in key stage 4 were

“only rarely deconstructed to explore in any detail what this implies”.

Such views highlight the difficulties involved in redesigning the curriculum to allow for a greater educational diversity for all children, of all ethnic origins.

However, Britain’s supplementary sector represents an existing educational framework that has the unique capacity to cultivate and encourage individuals’ cultural and lingual expression. Supplementary schools can engage young people effectively and help to translate elements of the mainstream curriculum into a culturally embedded context.

I believe that such projects are vital to the integration of minority ethnic pupils in their respective communities, inside and outside school gates. Following the Government’s drive to promote a policy of community cohesion, I am convinced that a great deal can be achieved by celebrating, recognising and encouraging the extraordinary resource that so many of our minority communities offer. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to explore ways in which guidance on community cohesion might best draw attention to the supplementary school sector.

Of course, supplementary schools offer many other benefits to children and communities. They have traditionally worked closely with parents, local community groups and businesses. The supplementary sector generally boasts far more active parental involvement, which has been recognised as having a profound effect on children’s attainment.

Considerable qualitative and quantitative evidence suggests that students who attend supplementary school have markedly improved examination results across the core mainstream subjects of English, mathematics and science, in addition to their native language.

A Bristol project that brought supplementary and mainstream schools together as part of a wider project, called the “Mainstreaming Supplementary School Support Project”, boasted a 13 per cent. increase in those achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE against predicted grades, and a 39 per cent. increase in those achieving any A* to C grades. For some communities, the figures were even higher. Indeed, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority suggests that local authorities and mainstream and supplementary schools should recognise the mutual benefits of collaboration between the sectors and formalise the links between them.

The Government could do more to encourage mainstream schools to take advantage of those benefits, especially by supporting supplementary education through the successful extended schools programme. Given the amount of investment being made, surely some capacity must exist in local authorities and schools to engage with and support their local supplementary schools.

The challenges of collaboration are illustrated in my constituency of Enfield, North, where it is clear that those benefits are not being realised as fully as they could be. Enfield Turkish school is an evening and weekend supplementary initiative hosted at Albany school in Enfield. It has proved a huge success in my constituency. Over the past three years, I have engaged with, and worked with, the chairman of the school, Suleyman Soydag, the deputy chair, Alp Ermiya, and teachers in the supplementary school and in the mainstream school that hosts them.

Four hundred and five pupils attend Enfield Turkish school, of whom 265 attend Turkish language and cultural classes, 60 take GCSE classes and 80 adults attend English language classes. Teachers at Enfield Turkish school are highly qualified and some also teach at Albany school during the conventional school day. The standard of educational provision is outstanding, as is reflected in the GCSE results.

Turkish school students who sat GCSE examinations in the Turkish language in 2005 achieved an average B grade result, with 95 per cent. achieving grades A* to C and 71.4 per cent. achieving either an A or A* grade. Enfield supplementary school is run over the course of a 38-week year, using two school halls and 14 classrooms every Sunday morning.

The costs of renting the hall, the classrooms, the use of PCs, printing materials and additional hours for the school caretaker amount to £16,000 per annum. The chairman of the Turkish supplementary school, Suleyman Soydag explains that the money is raised through donations from local businesses, fundraising functions, a small grant from the local authority for accommodation or donations from the parents of attendees through a fees-based system. If the school let the classrooms and hall space at the standard rate, it would make £22,800. However, Albany school has created a special dispensation rate, letting the room and hall space at approximately 40 per cent. of the standard rate. The school also contributes £3,000 to the Turkish school. If we take all the costs into account, we see that Albany secondary school makes an annual loss of £2,899 on letting to the Turkish school.

The money, effort and enthusiasm invested in Enfield Turkish school and similarly run supplementary projects throughout the country reflect untold academic and social benefits. Without the generous investment from Albany school, Enfield Turkish school could not afford the accommodation for its 405 students. Despite the additional investment that Albany school makes, I have witnessed the reality of the annual ritualistic struggle that Enfield Turkish school faces in maintaining its existing services. It is not that the parents do not want to continue to raise the money; rather, they want to be able to put a substantial amount of that money into the teachers and into the resources in the classroom.

It is clear that further investment is needed. Supplementary schools have grown in number and in quality, owing to the widespread enthusiasm and confidence that communities have in the supplementary sector. As I have said, there are 5,000 projects nationally. Further investment is needed to secure a set of national standards and a quality framework to optimise the clear benefits of such schools, but that must be done in such a way as not to penalise those cash-poor voluntary run organisations.

I end by thanking the Minister once again for his work on the issue and by asking him to continue to look into how we can better support the supplementary school sector, particularly in relation to the costs of the premises, support through the extended schools programme and integration into broader strategies such as community cohesion. I hope that a more codified set of guidelines can be developed to ensure that supplementary school projects are, at the very least, organised and run at cost.

Ultimately, I believe that supplementary schools should have the use of school buildings for free. I know that the matter is devolved to local authorities, which already have the power to remove many charges, but they are unlikely to do so without pressure from the Government. I ask the Minister seriously to consider the contribution of supplementary schools and to think about what I have said about costs. I do not expect him to give me a commitment this evening, but I know that the Department values supplementary schools.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) on securing tonight’s debate. She has taken the lead in supporting and promoting supplementary schools and, as she mentioned, has met my ministerial colleague Lord Adonis, who leads for the Department on the subject, a number of times to discuss it.

Let me say from the outset that I share my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the good work that supplementary schools are doing. We in the Department see their potential to make an even bigger contribution in the future. We know for a fact that supplementary schools can help to boost a young person’s academic performance in the way that she mentioned. The National Foundation for Educational Research’s pupil research survey in 2001 showed that 84 per cent. of pupils who attended supplementary schools said that they helped them with their wider schoolwork. The research also suggested that supplementary schools helped to improve behaviour by helping to motivate and engage older pupils who might have become disaffected with mainstream school. We are particularly interested in the role that supplementary schools can play in helping us to narrow the attainment gap that exists for certain ethnic groups.

It is also clear that supplementary schools have a broader social value. They enrich young people’s knowledge and experience of their own cultures in a way that goes beyond what the national curriculum covers. Supplementary schools allow pupils to learn their mother tongue, gain a deeper understanding of their cultural heritage and pick up new skills and experiences from older generations that might otherwise have been lost. Supplementary schools therefore help to keep intact the rich cultural diversity of our society, which is something that we all should celebrate and cherish.

My right hon. Friend mentioned several examples of thriving supplementary schools, particularly one from her constituency, and I know that there are many more throughout the country. For example, my colleague Lord Adonis recently visited the Ebony supplementary school in Greenwich. It has taught more than 4,500 pupils, it boasts its own publishing house and it runs teacher training courses focused particularly on helping African and Afro-Caribbean pupils. Its work is valued by the local community and is equally valued by my Department.

I would like to say today that the door is very much open for supplementary schools to make these important contributions. We are taking steps to support them in that, as I will show in a moment, but they will have to face up to the challenge that we are setting them, too. That is, they will have to ensure that they work in closer partnership with mainstream education bodies. Supplementary schools work best when they work alongside local schools—when they literally supplement what the local school is doing, by sharing information and resources and by exploring how their activities can link back into what the children are doing in the mainstream curriculum.

When local schools and supplementary schools get their heads together and exploit these synergies to the full, they can make a very big difference. The problem is that, too often, the relationship between supplementary schools and mainstream schools is not good enough. Some good working relationships exist, as my right hon. Friend pointed out. Another example is Heathcote supplementary school in Waltham Forest, which has established a very good relationship with its local mainstream school. However, we need to spread this best practice, and my officials will be exploring what works well in this case and other cases, and how best to forge better connections elsewhere across the country. I know that they will have listened with interest to the examples that my right hon. Friend gave this evening.

This debate is timely because there are, and will be, significant opportunities for supplementary schools to get involved in the extended schools programme. We are putting £2 billion into ensuring that every school offers after-hours activities and clubs by 2010. One in three schools are already doing that. The vision behind extended schools matches that of supplementary schools—namely, to expand children’s horizons, to offer them new opportunities, and to give them the chance to experience new things. We see extended schools as part of the hub of local communities—an access point for a broad range of clubs, activities and other services. We want them to examine local needs, to build links with local community groups and institutions, and to provide children and families with a tailored menu of the options available to them.

Clearly, supplementary schools can be a valuable part of this offer. We expect local authorities and schools to involve them as an active partner as they plan their extended services options, and we have said as much in our guidance for local authorities. However, for supplementary schools to make the most of these opportunities, they have to be able to show their value to the community and their willingness to work with mainstream education and with local children’s services. Hence the need to engage with the national resource centre and to take active steps themselves to build links with local schools.

My hon. Friend raised the important issue of funding. As she acknowledged, it is the local authorities that decide which supplementary schools to fund and by how much. The Government provide specific support to local authorities through the ethnic minority achievement grant, which is on top of mainstream funding and worked out using a needs-based formula. As I have already said, £2 billion is going into extended schools, some of which could be used to support supplementary schools and to make stronger links with them through the extended offer. All in all, there seems to be a significant level of financial support, which, taken together with what I am going to say in a moment about the national resource centre, shows the level of our commitment to the sector.

My hon. Friend raised the specific issue of supplementary schools being charged for premises. We have made it clear in guidance issued to local authorities and schools that they should keep the cost of renting facilities to supplementary schools to a minimum. They certainly should not be looking to make a commercial profit out of renting to supplementary schools. We are aware, however, that some supplementary schools are still facing difficulties and we are taking specific steps to help them.

Lord Adonis met representatives of Turkish and Kurdish supplementary schools in November last year. After that meeting, he made it clear that the Department would work with the sector to establish a level of charging on a case-by-case basis in London schools and local authorities. I am certainly happy to commit to Lord Adonis’s work in developing the role of a champion in partnership with supplementary schools. The aim will be to negotiate acceptable terms wherever rates appear unreasonable, and I hope that that process will help some of the schools that my right hon. Friend has mentioned this evening.

My right hon. Friend may also know that we have set up the independent National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education to facilitate closer working relationships between supplementary and mainstream schools, which I know she has welcomed. It was launched a year ago with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and my Department—and it is making excellent progress. The centre is already working closely with 30 partnerships forged between mainstream and supplementary schools in cities across the country. It has established the first national quality framework for supplementary schools, which is now being introduced across the country; it has designed and launched the first nationally accredited programme of training for supplementary schools co-ordinators; and it has developed the first national membership scheme for supplementary schools. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that to achieve all of that in less than a year of operation is an excellent step forward, demonstrating the active, practical support that this centre is able to offer to supplementary schools.

My Department’s grant to the centre was initially planned to end on 31 March this year, but I am pleased to be able to tell my right hon. Friend that I have not come along empty-handed this evening. I am pleased to take the opportunity provided by her debate to announce that we have decided to extend the funding to ensure that the centre’s valuable work continues. In 2008-09 the Department will make available a grant of £350,000, and up to a similar amount in 2009-10, with arrangements to give the centre an incentive to become self-sufficient as early as possible. I hope that it was worth my right hon. Friend’s staying up this late to hear that announcement this evening. That significant funding commitment runs alongside the commitment from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to double its grant to the centre over the next three years.

That is very welcome news. Although I hope that the Minister will continue to reflect on some of the other issues I have raised tonight, I would not want to be churlish, so I say again that he has announced very welcome news.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend feels able to welcome my announcement.

A strong, self-sufficient national resource centre will be much better placed to support supplementary schools, enabling them to engage more effectively and more successfully with mainstream schools.

Let me end, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by reiterating that the door is open for supplementary schools to become part of the fabric of education provision. I promise to take my right hon. Friend’s other remarks back to my ministerial colleagues for further consideration. The Department is aware of the benefits and has made it clear to local authorities that they should bear them in mind when shaping extended schools provision. It is not a one-way street; supplementary schools can take active steps to secure their futures, too. We need them to engage with schools more positively and effectively and to demonstrate their quality and the value they can bring through the accreditation schemes being rolled out by the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education.

Working in isolation is not an option. We need these schools to become more closely entwined within the fabric of our education system. That is the way by which we will harness their full potential and the way that they will convince institutions that they merit additional funding. Given the increasingly personalised education system that we are striving to create, I believe that supplementary schools have a promising future. Once again, I commend my right hon. Friend for the leadership she has shown on this subject and I am sure that, with her and our support, these schools will continue to go from strength to strength.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to Two o’clock.