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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March, 2005, 17:49 GMT
Black school's moral message
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education staff

Derrick Wilson
Derrick Wilson says schools need to give pupils traditional values
Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, has asked whether some black pupils would benefit from being taught separately.

Haven't we heard it all before? Black pupils under-achieving and everyone blaming everyone else for the poor results?

Derrick Wilson also thought that he'd heard it all too often, and fed up with this cycle of failure and negative stereotyping of black youngsters, he decided to do something about it. He set up a school.

The Tabernacle School in west London was founded by Pastor Wilson and members of a church congregation who were dissatisfed with how black children were struggling within the state school system.

This school, which moved into its first permanent buildings last month after a series of temporary homes, was set up to be a school that would have a much more ambitious work ethic.

'Let's stop talking'

"I've been to so many conferences where people talk about the underachievement of black pupils in state schools. And it's 'What can we do? What can we do? Well we thought, let's stop talking and let's put our money where our mouth is and do something."

Tabernacle School
"Uniforms help pupils to carry themselves properly," says Derrick Wilson

The independent school now has 58 pupils, aged from three to 19 years of age, and it's committed to giving black youngsters what Mr Wilson says they need - a strong education, a sense of self-discipline, a moral awareness and the drive to achieve their ambitions.

His school has smart uniforms, neat haircuts, good behaviour - and he is appalled at the idea that pupils in some schools get away with swearing at teachers. If this seems too traditional, he's making no apologies.

"Political correctness is just nonsense. You don't address the truth, you never address anything directly. Everyone's afraid to speak the truth in case they'll call you a bigot or a racist.

"We see values being eroded, there are no absolutes. We've seen a generation growing up without any idea of moral right and wrong."

The school stresses these values - "lying is wrong, cheating is wrong" - and Mr Wilson rejects as defeatist suggestions that the problem of black pupils' underachievement can only be improved by separate classes.

The Tabernacle's forthright form of self-help by the black community is trying to create a more positive culture where pupils will be keen to learn.

'Failure mentality'

"Children come to us from the state sector with a failure mentality, a negative mentality. It's a process of renewing their minds, letting them see that education is important."

Tabernacle School
The west London school has 58 pupils

He also says that children's behaviour reflects their own experiences, watching guns and gangs on television, or seeing parents shouting at teachers.

He also says that there is a lack of positive adult male role models for black boys, particularly in single-parent families.

"These boys don't know what it is to be a man, so they look at celebrities and pop idols, and it's all drugs, girls and guns, and they think that's what it means to be a man."

Families also have to put their money where their beliefs are. The fees for the school are 3,700 per year (well below the going rate for private schools) - and he says he tells parents this is an investment. "We tell them to forget about running after designer stuff, invest in your children."

But why are so many black boys performing so poorly within state schools?

Miles Nanton, studying four A-levels at the school and getting ready to shoot his own film script this summer, says that in his previous state school in Westminster he was messing around and showing no sign of progressing towards A-levels and beyond.

'The culture is 'I'm bad''

"I was getting influenced so much by the crowd. They said 'Why should I work?' They thought society owed them something. They think they're above working. The culture is 'I'm bad. Don't look at me. If you do I'm going to start a fight. You can't tell me what to do'."

Miles Nanton
Miles Nanton working on his screenplay for a film

He describes this as "looking at life from a kiddy's viewpoint", when pupils suddenly find themselves leaving school without any qualifications - and the expectations of getting a good job begin to evaporate.

The second chance for his education came with the change of school and the instilling of a much positive attitude.

But he says it's very hard for individuals to resist the peer pressure. And if black pupils are going to be allowed to improve, there needs to be a more intervention to help those youngsters who want to succeed.

In particular he says that able and willing black pupils should be helped to make sure that they can reach their potential, and to stop them being held back by low expectations.

But he also describes his irritation at the assumptions made by white people about black youngsters. "We've been stereotyped as worthless MTV watchers, and you see a bunch of black boys on the street and they're classed as a gang."

The Tabernacle School has mostly black pupils, but he finds it funny how people see this as a "black" school. There are plenty of other well-scrubbed, upmarket prep schools in that part of London - but they're not known as "white" schools.

Working on a film script, which he's going to direct himself, he hopes to have the last laugh.

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