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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 23:52 GMT
Black schools 'booming'
By BBC News Online community affairs reporter Cindi John
It is 12.30pm at Holbeach Primary school in Catford, south-east London.
Pupils listen attentively to a teacher guiding them through the finer points of fractions and decimals.
An ordinary enough scene, except this is no ordinary school.
It is Saturday, and few of the 50 or so children here actually attend Holbeach Primary.
They are students at one of the many Saturday schools aimed at black children.
Flick through the small ads in any black newspaper in any given week and there will be several promoting such schools.
As reports of black children failing in mainstream education grow, the schools are becoming increasingly popular with parents who have the means to pay for extra tuition.
The government's most recent statistics on school exclusions showed black pupils were more than six times more likely to be permanently excluded than their white counterparts.
And a report by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) published in October showed the achievement gap between white pupils and their African-Caribbean classmates had doubled since the late 1980s.
Similar reports 14 years ago prompted David Simon to set up Ebony Saturday school in Catford.
A teacher by profession, he began by teaching just one child at home at the weekend.
But as the news spread among parents he soon found himself with a growing number of pupils and negotiated with the local education authority to use Holbeach Primary.
The school now caters for up to 120 children each week in Catford and another school in nearby Deptford.
According to Mr Simon, though a few of the children who come to his school have had problems in mainstream schools, few have created major difficulties for his staff.
"Sometimes they turn up here with reports from educational psychiatrists, psychologists, welfare officers, teachers. They've been excluded and so on.
"But we've found this documentation to be almost irrelevant in that it doesn't give a true reflection of the child," he said.
And the majority of Ebony's students, like 15-year-old Jaigh Ejakpovi, have never been in trouble at their weekday schools and are doing well.
Jaigh made the decision to attend Ebony himself.
"I've got my GCSEs coming up in May so I thought give myself extra lessons to try and do very well," he said.
Sending a child to Ebony Saturday school costs £11 per week for the four hour session.
But parents, like Enomwoyi Damali who has a five-year-old daughter at the school, believe it is well worth it.
"It's a matter of prioritising. If I didn't spend that £11 here I'd probably spend it on something that wouldn't have a tangible result.
" I could spend it on a day out somewhere but I'm not getting the results I am from sending her here", she said.
Mrs Damali, an education psychologist, has also sent her two other children to the school.
She complains of a lack of expectation of her children from their mainstream schools, partly she believes, because they are black.
"I think schools have their own standards of where kids should be and they can be a bit complacent, they're not good at pushing them a bit further," she said.
Another parent, Sandra Gordon, agrees.
Her six-year old son, Samuel, normally attends Holbeach Primary, the school which houses Ebony's pupils on Saturday.
"He's in a large class and I felt he wasn't getting enough attention. This is smaller and more disciplined," she said.
But it's not only school-age children who attend Ebony.
There is also a thriving pre-school group which Shellan Crawford's four year old son attends.
"I thought before he started infants he needed a good start in life educationally-wise and he will stay here until he's 16, he'll keep coming to Saturday school," she said.
Mr Simon says that whatever their level of education beforehand all the children benefit from the more individual attention they receive at the school.
But he is bitter at what he sees as the lack of credit given to Saturday schools by the education authorities.
"When you look at the league tables there's no mention of Saturday schools.
"But there are times when we will have as many as 25 children from one particular school and the work that we're doing is not being recognised in the league tables.
"So the school gets the credit but the irony is that school is actually failing," he said.
Mr Simon believes there needs to be a change of attitude to make schools more relevant to ethnic minority children and more accessible to their parents.
But in the meantime he says the Saturday school movement should to do more to educate the wider community.
His organisation has already branched out into running short courses for adults and a home tuition service.
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