The RSA Supplementary Schools Investigation

November 21, 2014 in Blog, Briefing note, Open letters by Gus John

Reading Aloud to Children

This comment is in response to a request from the Royal Society of Arts to join a group of 20 ‘experts’ and advise on a new ‘investigation’ into Supplementary Schools.

To place my comments in context, let me summarise the extent of my involvement with the Supplementary Schools movement.

I was one of the co-founders of the first supplementary school in Oxford in 1965, based in a community hall along Cowley Road in East Oxford. I was then a friar at Blackfriars Priory in St Giles and a theological student there and at the university. I was also the education secretary and Chair of the Education Sub-committee of what would today be called the Oxford Race Equality Council, but was then named the Oxford Council for Racial Integration.

In 1968, I started the first Saturday/Supplementary School in Handsworth, Birmingham, with a group of colleagues, some of them African-Caribbean students at Birmingham University. A major issue for us then was teachers’ dismissive attitude towards and wrongful classification of the home languages of African-Caribbean students (something about which I have written extensively since; cf John 2006: Taking a Stand – Gus John Speaks on education, race, social action and civil unrest 1980-2005).

Those students were generally thought to be speaking ‘bad’ English, with the capacity neither to make themselves understood, nor to understand their students and white English peers. Teachers therefore tended to assume that such students were academically backward and incapable of high attainment. Read the rest of this entry →

“To the barricades!”

May 20, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Open letters by Gus John

On 13th May 2013, Diane Abbott MP put out a call to the 10th London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) Conference: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.

"Michael Gove at Chantry High School" by Regional Cabinet (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“Michael Gove at Chantry High School” by Regional Cabinet (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

For the past 13 years, the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) has been campaigning for equality and justice in schooling and education and against the practice of excluding a disproportionate number of African heritage children.

Diane Abbott has demonstrated a passion for schooling and education over very many years, especially on account of the schooling experiences of children of African heritage.  In 1999, she held two conferences in her constituency the London Borough of Hackney on ‘Hackney Schools and the Black Child’.  In 2000, the third of these was held which, like the previous two, attracted some 400-500 people.  In 2002, Abbott joined forces with the newly elected London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and started the London Schools and the Black Child conferences which ran annually until 2009.

Those conferences proved very popular with African parents, teachers and community activists, some 2000-2,500 of whom attended most years.  However, although the focus of the conference was schooling and the ‘black child’, fewer than 50 black school children attended in any one year.  The conferences generated a great deal of heat and excitement, but typically very little action.  They allowed for no resolutions or demands to be put to government and each succeeding conference failed to focus upon whatever action those who attended in the preceding year may have taken in their communities in response to the issues debated.

Meanwhile, the Labour government of the day continued to pass laws, whittle away rights and allow schooling practices which were as detrimental to ‘the Black child’ as anything the Conservative administration had done prior to the Labour victory at the polls in 1997.  Yet, year on year, the Education (or Schools) Minister would attend Diane’s conference to tell ‘the black community’ what the government was doing to raise standards and tackle the endemic underachievement of African Caribbean children in the schooling system.

Diane Abbott intends that this conference would address the question: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.  Some of us might think it even more pertinent to ask the question: “‘Before Gove, what?“.  Read the rest of this entry →

Open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron

August 13, 2011 in Gus talks, Open letters by Gus John

This open letter was sent to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, on August 13th, 2011.

Dear Prime Minister,

I write as someone whose contribution for more than four decades to the struggle for quality schooling and education for all and for racial equality and social justice is a matter of public record.  I write as a former youth and community worker, community development officer and director of education and leisure services whose work has been predominantly in urban settings.  I am a social analyst and professor of education.  I am interim chair of Parents and Students Empowerment, an offshoot of the Communities Empowerment Network which for the last twelve years has been providing advice, guidance and advocacy in respect of the one thousand (1,000) school exclusion cases on average we deal with each year.

It is with profound sadness that I write to you.

Sadness at the events the nation has witnessed since Thursday 4th August 2011 when a police operation in Tottenham, North London, resulted in the killing of Mark Duggan.

Sadness at the lives lost and families traumatised as the civil unrest spread across London and elsewhere in the country.

Sadness at the number of young people who are now being taken through the courts, most of whom will doubtlessly end up with criminal convictions, if not prison sentences, thereby compounding the social exclusion that had already engulfed many of them. Read the rest of this entry →

Letter to Rt Hon Theresa May MP

July 4, 2011 in Gus talks, Open letters by Gus John

The following letter was sent to Rt Hon Theresa May MP (by then, Home Secretary in David Cameron’s Cabinet), on July 4th, 2011. 

Dear Home Secretary,

Call for a People’s Inquiry into Gun and Knife Killings in the African Community

I write in relation to the recent upsurge of gun- and knife-enabled killings involving young people of African descent both as victims and perpetrators.

I am aware that this is a matter of huge concern to you and your Cabinet colleagues and I very much hope that you will give urgent attention to my proposal that there should be a “People’s Inquiry” to focus African communities up and down the land on the issues this relentless and senseless waste of young lives raises.  As I am sure you would agree, these are issues for the society as a whole, including for African families themselves, for the socialisation and preparation of our young people for life in civil society and for their participation in the economy, for community safety, for community cohesion and for law and order. Read the rest of this entry →

A letter to U.S. President Barack Obama

February 7, 2011 in Gus talks, Open letters by Gus John

"Obama", by "Justin Sloan" (Flickr)

The following letter was sent to U.S. President Barack Obama on February 7th, 2011.

Fraternal greetings from a son of the African Diaspora and I wish you the Creator’s abiding blessings, guidance and protection.

I note with admiration, Sir, your relentless efforts to build and sustain peace between nations and promote social justice at home and it is that spirit that I write to you.

On 19 October 1983, in a collective expression of the people’s will, not unlike the events we have witnessed in Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt in recent weeks, an estimated 60% of the entire population of Grenada gathered in St George’s and proceeded to free the Prime Minister and popular leader of the People’s Revolutionary Government, Maurice Bishop, from house arrest. They marched to Fort Rupert, carrying their Prime Minister aloft and assembled to hear him speak. Sections of the armoured corps of the People’s Revolutionary Army arrived, shots were fired and in the mayhem that ensued the Prime Minister and most of his Cabinet were lined up against a wall and executed.  Many unarmed citizens, mostly young people, lost their lives either through gunshot or by falling over the walls of the Fort in an attempt to escape bullets. Read the rest of this entry →