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Going holistic when Saturday comes

Ebony Saturday school celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. This is a great achievement, claims co-ordinator David Simon. He has seen many African-Caribbean Saturday schools come and go in his time.

He believes that the success of his school, which has more than 100 children on its roll, is due to good management skills. "It's a steep learning curve, " he says. "That's why so many Saturday schools go under. I have learnt to provide an efficient service at low cost. We also have all the measures needed for health and safety, plus insurance.

"You go down the road to another school and there are 50 children in one cramped space. To me, the problem with many Saturday schools is that they are not uniform - the only thing they have in common is the name, 'Saturday school'."

Ebony offers the children a combination of academic work and drama during its two-hour sessions. It is this mixture - designed to aid the "holistic development of the child" - that seems to make the school popular among children and parents.

The school's success has had an interesting influence on the school, Holbeach primary in Catford, that Ebony uses as its base. David Simon had an uneasy relationship with the host school in the early days. There were frequent complaints about discarded rubbish and chairs being left in the wrong place but things have now completely changed.

The school now makes referrals to the Saturday school and it has asked to borrow the computers bought for the Ebony children. The new relationship has blossomed so well, in fact, that Simon was recently invited to become a governor of the primary school.

So why do some black children work so well in Saturday school and not in the mainstream? Simon mentions one word, "boredom". He feels strongly that many mainstream schools have not engaged the interest of their children. He points to a host of black boys who have had multiple exclusions from state schools but sit down and work really hard at Ebony. The need, he says, is for schools to use the background and interests of the children as the basis for engaging them in the learning process.

Ebony points to the new ways in which Saturday schools could be a key component in the educational improvement of all children. There are great possibilities, particularly for minority ethnic children, when both traditions work together.

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