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With saturated government and media coverage of failing African-Caribbean children, we decided to talk to Rudolph Charles, a recently qualified teacher, to discuss his opinions on the state of the British Educational system and if it is failing black children.

There have been many reports written about the failures of African-Caribbean children. Are African-Caribbean children failing?

Yes they are, because there’s a part of the education system that doesn’t understand how best to deal with them. The government’s new buzz-word is inclusion, but are they really being included?

Do you think African-Caribbean parents are doing enough to facilitate their children’s education?

I’ve got a big beef about that and I can put my hand on my heart and honestly say, black parents are failing their children: honestly failing their children. It’s like growing a plant from a seed. If you sow a seed and when it starts to grow you don’t look after it, put a stick beside it to support its growth and nurture it, then it won’t grow well. A lot of the parents are not putting in the time with their children.

So you’re saying that part of the problem is not necessarily the children themselves…?

It’s not the children at all; it’s the parents. A child is a child; that’s what we need to recognise. In many homes the child has his or her own room, so the mother or the parents push the child to their room. In their rooms they have X-Box, PSP’s, Play Stations, the TV, DVDs, computers, but there is often no dialogue between the child and the parent. There is no relationship between the child and the parent, so the parent doesn’t really know that child and the teacher is often more of a parent to the child. Children need the support from home.

Do you think the government is doing enough?

I don’t think the government is doing enough. I think the government just does enough to get by; they’re dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, and for them it’s all about a percentage of A-C’s. My problem was always, what about the percentage that do not get A-C’s? The focus in the government is 50% A-C’S, 60% A-C’s, this year we have risen to 70% A-C’s, but what about the ones who are under-achieving?  They never speak about D’s – F’s; they’re always talking A-C’s and that’s all the government cares about.

If not by its results, then how else do you suggest schools’ performances be judged?

It is about results, but my point is that the government cares more about the ones who can achieve and not necessarily about the ones who are under-achieving and they need to bring the under-achievers up to speed.

What should the government be doing?

Again, it is a focus on the children; they need more help. We need more classroom assistants to be able to aid teachers in translating the learning to the pupils. For one teacher teaching thirty children with two disruptive children who may have some issues that stem from home or their upbringing, then it’s hard for the teacher to focus on the other twenty-eight.

You’ve identified the problem as primarily stemming from the home. How do you engage the parents and get parents to be more responsible?

That’s a very good question. I think by trying to build better links between home and school. If their child starts in September, you don’t tell them in July that their child is failing.

That’s fine, but if you have parents who are not paying any attention to the child, you can send as many reports home as you like or give early assessment summaries, but if the parent is not interested, it is hardly going to make a difference. How do you address the failures of the parents?

By inviting the parents to play a bigger part in the school community; so, get them out of the home and make them feel more of a part of the school community.

That sounds wonderful, but it’s a little vague. Isn’t there something more direct?

I can’t put my finger on anything. I can say I’ve only just started; I’ve been in teaching for my first term.

Well, that’s a cop out!

It’s not really a cop out, because with experience, I will be able to identify things much clearer. But right now I would say rather than just having the school/home relationship, you get the parents into schools, so you create activities that bring the parents into schools, so that the parent plays a bigger part in the school community.

There is a vibrant black supplementary school thing that has been going on for some time, whereby you have African-Caribbean parents who believe that the education system is failing their children and opt to supplement their children’s education via black supplementary schools. How progressive are things like that?

They are very progressive, in the fact that the children then believe more in education; they begin to see education in a different light. I’m talking from experience, because my children attended Saturday schools for about seven years and based on that, it gave them a more concrete foundation in mainstream education.

Most black supplementary schools receive no support from the government. Would you then advocate as part of a solution towards addressing African-Caribbean under-achievement, that the government should make accessible more funding for these types of fringe educational facilities?

Without a doubt, the government should be funding these supplementary schools. I’ve been part of a supplementary Saturday school and it has an Afro-centred curriculum as well as doing the core subjects: English, maths and science, and a lot of them are struggling because they do not have the funding to carry on. The teachers are doing it on a voluntary basis. I mean, many parents have had to give computers or what have you to the schools because the schools receive no funding. I think the government themselves might be scared of the fact that these schools are black-run or Afro-centric and they think something else is going to come out of it other than education. They see it maybe as a mob thing or a black thing. But you’ve got Jewish schools, you’ve got Muslim schools, and so why can’t we have black supplementary schools?

Have you been instrumental in your children’s education?

I have three children: Savannah, 16, Ravine, 14, and Krishna is 7.  And over the years of their growing, they’ve seen me play a very important part in their education. I’ve always been there to ferry them from mainstream education to extra curricula stuff, whether its dance, music, art, or Saturday school, and they’ve also seen their dad go on to further his education, higher his education. It is all built on from a foundation of me from an early age, showing an interest in their education and translating to them how important an education is.  I just do my best to explain to them you can do anything in life once you have an education; if you want to work abroad, study abroad; the key is to have an education.

As a parent and a teacher, what advice would you give to African and African-Caribbean parents trying to raise their children within this system?

Stop and pay a bit of attention. Spend a bit more time getting to know your children and understanding where they are at and understanding how you can help them. You don’t have to be intellectual, just once you can give them the confidence, they can find out the rest for themselves.

Given that you suggest parents aren’t doing enough, how do you get parents to become more involved?

You have to put pressure on the parents. I’ve been a parent on the PTA at my daughter’s school and out of 600 students, we were struggling as a Parents Teachers Association at a secondary school in inner London to get four to six parents once a term to a meeting; there you have the problem. Another thing, I was the only male in most instances and if there was ever another instance when there was another male, the chances were he was not a black male. I went from being just a member to being the Chair of the PTA  

So really what we are saying in terms of identifying the problems, it’s not just the school, it’s not just the child, it really is a collective effort and primarily you are putting the bulk of responsibility back on the parents?

Without a doubt, the bulk of responsibility goes back to the parents.

So when people gripe and say the government is not doing enough, the schools are not doing enough, you dispute that?

I definitely dispute that. They have to take a look at themselves in the mirror and think what am I doing, how can I make a difference as a parent? A child can go to a school that might be failing, but if that child has enough guidance and a foundation from home, there is nothing that will stop that child from achieving what that child wants to achieve.

What about parents who perhaps have different social problems, being young, inexperienced, going out to work, single parents trying to raise some money and not really finding enough time for their child? How do we combat that issue, the issue of parents who want to spend more time with the child but they are just consumed by the volume of everyday existence?

How does that same parent make time to sit down and watch East Enders, Casualty, E.R., or whatever? The PTA meetings that we have do not last more than an hour, and we are talking about an hour per term. It’s about managing your time; you make the time, you don’t find the time.

1st December 2007
Trying To Make a Difference