Accessibility links

As the Department of Education begins its review of supplementary schools as part of its wider counter extremism measures, a report from the RSA think-tank has warned that the schools currently face a complex set of challenges and may require some ‘stability funding’ from government to support their longer term future.

Published today, Beyond the School Gates concluded that many supplementary schools were disappointed by the lack of positive government interest and engagement – and yearned for stability and continuity instead of sporadic hand-to-mouth government funding. There was a general sense amongst school leaders that the failure of government to recognise the contribution of supplementary schools, increased resentment when the spotlight was extremism and the Prevent agenda, the report said.

Published as part of the RSA’s Investigate-Ed series, the report said that from building partnerships with an increasingly fragmented school system, to coping with suspicions raised through the anti-extremism agenda, to understanding the changing needs of their community groups, supplementary schools are, in a period of reduced local and national funding opportunities, facing a complex set of challenges.

The RSA called for the schools to be supported in extending their focus (beyond improving the academic attainment of their pupils) to the development of young people’s social, emotional, creative and cultural capacities. Examining how the schools might impact on wider social and cultural outcomes of BME pupils and encourage successful transitions to young adulthood – the report recommended the schools forge much closer connections to mainstream schools, youth-groups, cultural organisations, universities and employers.

The RSA investigation found that whilst the black supplementary school movement is declining, the demand for supplementary education for newer migrant pupils from Afghan, Iraqi, Iranian and eastern European countries in some regions of the country is increasing. Equally, whilst some supplementary schools want to be more visible and work in collaboration with mainstream schools, others wish to guard their independence from orthodoxy and the constraining regulations of statutory education.

The report said the UK’s 3000 supplementary schools play a vital role in reflecting the identity of children and providing positive role models; offering dependable and regular activities for children and young people; hosting a culturally familiar space where children can ‘let down their guard’; demystifying the education system for newly arrived parents or parents whose own experience of mainstream education (whether in Britain or elsewhere) has left them ill-equipped to guide their children through a changed system 25 to 30 years later; and creating a space for adults to share their experiences as parents from ‘minority’ communities.

The report warned, however, that currently it could be tempting for supplementary schools to focus inwards on surviving tougher times: consolidating their existing offer, partly through improved local marketing to parents; meeting the new voluntary and (potentially still statutory) code of practice to allay government fears of extremism; and ensuring that that the supply of volunteer teachers grows again.

The RSA’s analysis, suggested a broader scope for supplementary schools within the local ecology of educational, social and cultural provision for young people. Whilst some supplementary schools may already be moving in this direction, the RSA concluded that overall the sector could be more ambitious in delivering value for young people and their communities, retaining their power as a movement while continuing to challenge mainstream assumptions and practices.

The report recommended that:

  • There should be greater encouragement and support for supplementary schools to work with youth (between the ages of 14-19), directly supporting their further and higher education, career ambitions and transition to adulthood.
  • University outreach, bursary and widening participation programmes should aim to connect with supplementary schools in their area, giving them similar opportunities to those offered to mainstream schools.
  • Mainstream schools should consider whether pupil premium funding could be used to support partnerships with supplementary schools particularly in using the expertise of supplementary schools teacher to support BME students.
  • That wherever possible and appropriate, mainstream schools open up any professional learning opportunities to staff from supplementary schools. Teaching school alliances should also extend their Continuing Professional Development offer to supplementary schools.
  • Local and national government, and national agencies, trusts and foundations, should consider options for offering some ‘stability funding’ to supplementary schools – three to five year arrangements that support their longer term viability as sustainable, ‘commission-ready’’ organisations.
  • Supplementary schools, both individually and through their local and national networks, connect with the youth sector – in particular through the new Centre for Youth Impact – to improve approaches to evaluating impact.
  • Arts Council England should consider using its strategic funding to support supplementary schools as cultural organisations, and to encourage its national portfolio of funded organisations to develop partnerships with supplementary schools.

Commenting on the report, RSA Education Researcher, Selina Nwulu said:

“Tackling persistent inequalities in the classroom as well as in post-16 outcomes requires supplementary and mainstream schools to share a new mission as they did when addressing gaps in attainment; moreover, given the breadth of inequalities, more partners will need to be involved in this mission, including other parts of the local learning ecology, such as higher education institutions; local authorities; youth services; and cultural organisations.

Director of RSA Academies’ Teaching School Alliance, Danielle Sloyan

“We are delighted to be the first Teaching school Alliance in the country to extend our offer to supplementary schools in the region.  Supplementary schools do vital work within the West Midlands and we look forward to working with them to improve outcomes for the community-led after school provision, and the young people involved.”

The RSA investigation explores how supplementary schools can add most value to the life chances of young people from BME backgrounds. It seeks to move ‘BME achievement issues’ higher up the policy and practice agendas and bring supplementary schools to wider policy attention.

Although the past decade has seen welcome improvements in BME attainment in schools and classrooms, outcomes for BME students beyond the school gates are still largely lagging behind their white counterparts, and opportunities remain more limited. As some of the attainment issues have been addressed for most BME groups, achieving more equal post-school outcomes for ethnic minorities may require a more subtle, calibrated set of interventions. Supplementary schools cannot and should not address the entirety of these problems, some of which are deep rooted and structural. Nor can they address any of these problems alone, the report said.

Notes to editors

  1. 1.  To find out more contact RSA Head of Media Luke Robinson on or call 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970
  2. The term supplementary school, or complementary school, incorporates a diversity of provision including Saturday schools, homework and after school clubs, They are usually community spaces run by volunteers, which offer educational and cultural opportunities outside of mainstream school provision for BME children and young people.
  3. Supplementary schools offer an important set of resources for an estimated 15-38% of BME pupils ages 5-16 in England. Whilst there have been educational improvements from many BME pupils, with Nigerian and Bangladeshi students now also attaining above the national average, black pupils remain the lowest performing group at GCSE.
  4. Sixty-eight per cent offer teaching in National Curriculum subjects, focusing on maths and English; 75% provided coaching for GCSEs and 26% for A Level and AS-level exams. 85% of schools taught culture and heritage and 79% taught community or mother tongue languages, representing 53 language groups.
  5. The UK has 3000 supplementary schools in total, which teach 18-28 per cent of all children from non-white British communities at some point during their schools years. Supplementary schools have two overarching aims: A) Developing the cultural identity, self-esteem and confidence of minority ethnic children B) Promoting the formal attainment of minority ethnic children in exams
  6. Beyond the School Gates: RSA Supplementary schools Report is being launched in Birmingham on Thursday, 17 September 2015 from 20:00 to 21:00 (BST) Ikon Gallery 1 Oozells Square Brindleyplace, B1 2HS Birmingham United Kingdom. Confirmed Speakers include: Abdishakur Tarah, Leicester Complementary Schools Trust (LCST), Gurjit Gill, Community, Education & Development Foundation (CEDF), Dr Buick Ghorbani, the Iranian Supplementary School, Birmingham


Be the first to write a comment

Please login to post a comment or reply.

Don't have an account? Click here to register.