edited by Thomas Tinnefeld

Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching

10th Anniversary Issue (2020), pp. 99-127

Supplementary Schools as Spaces of Hope for a More Inclusive World: Challenging Exclusion and Social Injustice in Multilingual London


Terry Lamb (London, UK)



Following a contextualisation of multilingual London, I will explore the ways in which many of London’s – and indeed the UK’s – language communities and the languages they speak suffer marginalisation and exclusion. Based on an exploration of language education policy, the article employs the construct of “monolingual habitus” (Gogolin 2002), which, whilst tending to monolingualise multilingualism, also offers insights into how the habitus might be shifted. Despite the structural forces at play, I argue that, through their supplementary schools, the language communities themselves can be conceived of as “spaces of hope”, able to challenge the constraints they encounter in order to ensure that their languages continue to be spoken and learnt. I support this argument by first considering their creative educational and cultural practices, and then the ways in which they act as spaces of resistance to the challenges they face. However, I also maintain that they have the potential to play a role in shifting the monolingual habitus beyond their communities, co-creating a more linguistically inclusive society. Further research is needed, however, to understand the processes that may be conducive to this shift and lead to a more inclusive and socially just world. 

Keywords: Urban multilingualism, plurilingualism, social justice, supplementary schools, monolingual habitus, resistance, language policy



0  Preface 

It is already mid-May. We have been in lockdown in the UK since mid-March as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic and I havent been outside the house for almost ten weeks - other than to the garden, where I am now sitting with my laptop. As with all of my academic friends and colleagues around the world, it has been not only a time of deep anxiety, but also a time of fervent activity, in which we have had to seek ways of coping with the practicalities of lockdown - a word, which has now become part of our everyday vocabulary - whilst also ensuring that we maintain our wellbeing and our social networks. Initially this consisted of ensuring that we had enough food and other essential items to be able to survive without leaving the house. At more or less the same time, however, we urgently had to find ways of moving our teaching and our meetings online. A further priority for me as part of my cross-university responsibility was to develop new policies relating to research ethics, not only in areas of medical and health-related research, but in all disciplines. The notice placed on the University Coronavirus Response Page, stating that All face-to-face research interactions must cease immediately, until further notice, was the first and by far the most simple step to take and researchers, including undergraduate and postgraduate students, set about finding ways of refocusing their research or experimenting with online options.

Our lives in recent months have in these ways been defined by the need to overcome constraints. Of course, as social beings, we are never free from constraints: these may be external, such as those challenging us particularly acutely during the pandemic; or they may be internal, those which are, in Ricoeurs (1995) thinking, passed on through our histories and experiences and translated into our mental heritage our beliefs, worldviews, attitudes etc. that influence how we perceive the world and what we consider to be possible (Trebbi, 2008). However, the current constraints are in much sharper relief than usual, palpable, threatening and frightening. In order to overcome them, we have needed to think differently, imagining other histories and other futures, other ways of doing, of being. And it is precisely through experiencing other ways of thinking and encountering other stories, histories and possibilities that, according to Ricoeur, it becomes possible for us to avoid being victims of constraints.

How then does this connect to the emergence of this article? I had already decided that the focus of the article would be on the various language communities I work with in London, revisiting some previous research on the critically and collectively autonomous ways in which they ensure that their languages are maintained and learned through the organisation of supplementary (sometimes called complementary) schools (Lamb & Vodicka 2018). Right at the very start of lockdown, however, I noticed (on Twitter) that some of them were already starting to meet online and to organise their gatherings in new digital spaces, addressing the challenges of maintaining not only their language and culture work, but also the creative and cultural elements that run through their pedagogy, imagining new ways of thinking, doing and learning. I found this immediate leap into the unknown inspirational. Of course I understood from many years of experience of working with supplementary schools that their work within and beyond their communities is in fact always characterised by the need to overcome constraints (such as having no official funding, no space of their own to teach children in, no route to qualified teacher status for their staff). What they were and are doing, however, in this current crisis made me wish that other people beyond their communities could notice this and maybe stop and think; I wondered whether, by noticing this, such visibility could trigger in any way some shift in mindset amongst the general population, encouraging them to reconsider their assumptions, their internal constraints, and start to value the multilingualism that these communities bring and, with that, the individual plurilingual(1) identities. For this to happen, however, the activity would need to be seen.  


1   Introduction

The language communities(2) that inspired this article are living, learning and working in London, a linguistically highly diverse city. London’s linguistic diversity is by no means a recent phenomenon; it has indeed been a multilingual city throughout its history, from its origins as a Roman city in 43 CE, through its period of rapid population growth from about one million in 1800 to 6.5 million in 1900 (Mehmedbegović, Skrandies, Byrne & Harding-Esch 2014: 8), and continuing to the present day with its estimated population of over 9.3 million (World Population Review 2020). Much of London’s population growth over these two millennia has been a result of migratory movements, which have brought ever-increasing diversity to the city (Cohen 1998). Establishing how many languages can be found in London is, however, challenging, because the complexity of its multilingualism is difficult to capture by means of a quantitative language survey (Carson & Extra 2010, Extra & Yagmur 2011). Challenges to quantification include the use of a range of diverse, often opaque, and contested terminologies (e.g. mother tongue, first / second language, main language, home language), confusion about what a discrete ‘language’ actually is when it forms part of a “complex and layered” (Blommaert & Backus 2012: 32) as well as subjective language repertoire that will usually include a number of language varieties, and the lack of clarity regarding what it actually means to ‘know’ or ‘use’ a language in relation to proficiency levels and language skills. In addition, such surveys tend to rely on self-reporting by individuals, who are expected to engage with this complexity and opacity, and yet who, in their everyday lives, tend simply to shift between different ways of communicating through language according to where, when, with whom, by what means, and why they are communicating, without necessarily ever being aware of or reflecting on this. It is no wonder, then, that such complexity leads to conflicting results in language surveys. In 2000, for example, Baker & Eversley’s (2000) survey of languages spoken by children in London schools recorded a total of over 300 languages, whereas Eversley, Mehmedbegovic, Sanderson, Tinsley & Von Ahn’s (2010) survey ten years later claimed a figure of 233.

Any attempt at quantifying multilingualism has, in any case, only limited value (Salverda 2006) in a city characterised by the “diversification of diversity” that is related to globalisation (Rampton, Blommaert, Arnaut & Spotti 2015), a city which can be described as linguistically superdiverse (Lamb 2015, drawing on Vertovec 2007), as reflected in the challenges to quantification identified above. In this age of liquid modernity (Bauman 2000, 2011), quantification cannot reflect the lived experiences and the negotiated, fluid identities, “constructed not from order, but disorder” (Block 2006: 213), of individuals and the communities with which they identify. Nor can it illuminate the “palimpsestic relationships between these diversely plurilingual people” (Lamb 2015: 3), the “multilingualism of entanglement” (Williams & Stroud 2013) that contributes to the vibrancy of many urban spaces around the world, such as the market in Sydney described by Pennycook & Otsuji (2015) or the South London street explored by Hall (2013). Furthermore, and of particular relevance to this article, it cannot convey any sense of the linguistic hierarchies, social injustices, and struggles experienced in the city and its civic spaces, local neighbourhoods, places of employment, and schools (Lamb & Vodicka 2018), and how these manifest themselves through localised language practices, behaviours and policies.

Although the immediate inspiration for the article are the plurilingual individuals, families and communities I am currently working with in London, the context described above could relate to many parts of the UK, including Sheffield and Nottingham, where I have worked previously. In exploring the ways in which the evident multi- and plurilingualism are positioned in society as a whole, I include a particular focus on supplementary schools (also known as complementary schools), the semi-formal communities that choose to meet in the evenings and at weekends in order to ensure autonomously and collectively that their languages and cultures are passed on to the younger generation (Lamb 2015, also Section 5 of this article). In so doing, I position them as agentive, resisting the hegemony of monolingualism by creating spaces in which their linguistic and cultural identities can be safely nurtured and maintained. I also explore their potential to change mindsets beyond their communities, since the social injustices experienced when their languages are devalued and excluded can only be dismantled if there is change on structural, social and individual levels across society through a process of re-education. Despite its critical condemnation of social injustice, therefore, my article explores not only the ways, in which the language communities are constructing new worlds for themselves in the present, but also the possibility of broader social change and hope for the future.

In order to do this, I am not reporting on an individual piece of research in this article, but instead adopting a bricolage approach that allows me to draw not only on a range of my own studies and other existing scholarship, but also on diverse theoretical, interdisciplinary positions and constructs as well as my personal experiences of involvement in policy and practice (Denzin & Lincoln 1999, Rogers 2012). This approach enables me to address the complexity as well as the urgency of the issues under investigation by drawing eclectically, but critically and reflexively, on multiple perspectives. It also echoes the need to understand the changing urban context from two different but complementary perspectives on late modernity: the late manifestation of modernity with its changing but persistent hegemonic and colonialist structures; and the post-modern with its complexities, fluidities and flux (Andreotti 2010, Bauman 2011, Levy-Strauss 1966). It allows me to reconcile both the need for long-term critical resistance to the hegemonic forces that engender social and cultural reproduction, as well as the potential of “bottom-up ethnographic and participatory approaches to research and action with linguistic communities themselves” (Lamb 2015: 153). In this way, this article is also identifying a new research agenda to inform further work with the communities and to support them in their struggle (e.g. Lamb, Hatoss & O’Neill 2019).

Following a contextualisation of multilingual London, I will explore the ways in which many of London’s – and indeed the UK’s – language communities and the languages they speak suffer marginalisation and exclusion. In order to understand the paradoxes that this produces, including in relation to language education policy, the article engages with the construct of “monolingual habitus” (Gogolin 2002), which, whilst tending to monolingualise multilingualism, also offers insights into how the habitus might be shifted. I then build on this to consider the ways in which language communities, through their supplementary schools, can themselves be considered as “spaces of hope”, able to challenge the constraints they encounter and to maintain their languages. First considering their creative educational and cultural practices, then the ways in which they act as spaces of resistance to the challenges they face, I argue that they have the potential to play a role in shifting the monolingual habitus and co-creating a more linguistically inclusive society. In so doing, I suggest that further research is needed to understand the processes that may be conducive to this shift and lead to a new, inclusive and socially just world.

2 Monolingualising Multilingualism: Shifts, Swings and Paradoxes

Drawing on Bauman (2011) and Andreotti (2010), I have previously argued that, in order to understand the ways in which our urban environments are transforming in this “third phase of modern migration”, the “age of diasporas” (Bauman 2011: 35), we need to develop a theoretical perspective that encompasses two co-existing interpretations of late modernity (Lamb & Vodicka 2018: 11). In one of these interpretations, the fluid complexities of life in our cities, already suggested above, reflect a version of late modernity that is post-modern, in which the “grand narrative” has lost credibility and is replaced by “the gradual emergence of the flimsy, indistinct, fragile and ultimately fictitious nature of system boundaries” (Bauman 2011: 33, Lyotard 1984). This manifests itself in an ever-shifting jumble of multilingual dispositions, behaviours and interrelationships that emerge spontaneously in particular urban spaces. For example, as I walk from the underground station to my flat in Barking, East London, at the end of my working day, I see and hear languages from all around the world, snippets of conversations that appear to involve different languages and language varieties, for me a linguistic utopia where all languages are welcomed, used and enjoyed. At the same time, however, the contrast with central London, where I work reminds me of the presence of stark social injustices and inequalities, which reflect a different, more critical perspective on late modernity, one which “is a late development of modernity and its related hegemonic, colonialist power structures” (Lamb & Vodicka 2018: 11). In relation to the focus of this article, namely multi- and plurilingualism, this is manifested in the reinforcement of a Herderian ideology of ‘one state, one people, one language’ (Lamb 2015: 3), a “monolingualizing ideology” (Blackledge 2000: 38), which marginalises and excludes certain language communities, and which can be witnessed across all levels of society, from educational contexts to everyday life in particular urban spaces.

Evidence for this contention can be found in numerous reports conducted into the state of language learning in UK education systems, usually triggered by concerns about the decreasing number of language learners in schools and, hence, in universities. A report from the British Academy (2013a), for example, focusing specifically on the need for increased capacity in a range of languages in the field of UK diplomacy and security, stated that “the current apathy towards language skills across government and the perception that they may in fact be detrimental to an individual’s career development and advancement are particularly worrying” (ibid.: 76). The report also found the study of languages in universities to be in “a persistent state of crisis” (ibid.: 62), thanks to the falling number of language learners in schools, described by one university spokesperson as “nothing short of disastrous for the country as a whole” (ibid.: 60). In short, the focus of the report is largely on the “persistent deficits in foreign language skills that threaten our future capacity for influence” (ibid.: 6) -- a statement, which is hard to reconcile with my experience of the visual and audible linguistic landscape of multilingual Barking and of many other contexts across the UK. This discourse of deficit is, however, common when reporting on the linguistic capacity of UK citizens. A headline on the British Council website states “British worst at learning languages” and goes on to claim that “British people are generally not very good language learners” (British Council, n.d.). A report by Cardiff Business School for UK Trade and Investment (Foreman-Peck & Wang 2014) was entitled “The costs to the UK of language deficiencies as a barrier to UK engagement in exporting”, stating that “even among Anglophones the UK seems to be linguistically backwards” (ibid.: 1). In 2019 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages launched its National Languages Recovery Programme, stimulated by this apparent deficit, and was reported in the newspaper The Independent under the headline: “Britain’s dwindling language skills are a disaster for the country and needs action” (The Independent 2019: 4th March 2019).

Given my 40 years’ experience of working in educational institutions in multilingual cities, such statements raise for me the question of which British people and which languages these reports and headlines are referring to. According to the National Pupil Database in 2018, 54.4% of pupils aged 10-11 years in Inner London primary schools were classified as having English as an Additional Language (EAL) (Demie 2018); in other words, they are plurilingual, speaking other languages at home. Though Inner London has one of the highest percentages of plurilingual children, numbers elsewhere are not insignificant; according to the school census of 2013, the percentage of pupils in English primary and secondary schools aged 5-16 with EAL had increased from 7.6% in 1997 to 16.2% in 2013, which translates into more than a million pupils (Strand et al 2015: 14). Reports on the shortage of language learners, then, seem to be referring only to those British citizens in formal education who, stereotypically, speak only English and struggle to learn other languages, seeing little need to learn them because of the status of English as a lingua franca. It would appear to be these British citizens, or at least some of them, who need to be encouraged to learn the languages offered in school to enhance their cultural capital and to contribute to the nation’s economic and political needs. In contrast, the many plurilingual citizens of the UK, who may have a range of capacities in a number of languages and who may shift with ease from one language to another in their homes or other informal spaces, are clearly not the ‘British’ being referred to in such discourses. They appear to be “others”, a concept with roots in postcolonial theory, which “assumes that subordinate people are offered, and at the same time relegated to, subject positions as others in discourse” (Jensen 2011: 65). Furthermore, this “othering” process also relegates the languages that they speak to a lower position in the hierarchy of languages. On the one hand, languages perceived as having a higher status (e.g. Chinese, French, German, or Spanish) are valued sufficiently to be offered on school curricula. On the other hand, the many languages commonly heard in London’s neighbourhoods, often languages from Africa, South Asia, or Eastern Europe (e.g. Somali, Bengali or Albanian), which are learnt and spoken by many children at home and in their local communities, including their supplementary schools, continue to be perceived as unimportant, even problematic (Edwards 2001, Lamb 2001, Lamb & Vodicka: 12). Rather than being valued as a resource and considered as linguistic capital on which to build, these languages are perceived merely as obstacles to English and to learning more generally (Lamb 2015, Li 2011). The “monolingualizing ideology” (Blackledge 2000: 38) thus means the exclusion of these languages from formal learning spaces, indeed often from other formal public spaces (Lamb & Vodicka 2018), with children who speak them often being considered, at best, as semi-linguals (Pearse 2006), with low capability in their home language and a deficit in English, at worst, as “language-less” (Blommaert, Creve & Willaert 2006: 53), as ‘non-English speakers’ (Chen 2007, Siraj-Blatchford 1994), defined by what they are perceived not to have rather than what they do have. This goes some way to responding to Piller’s (2016: 31) questions: “[H]ow [is it] possible that linguistic diversity – ubiquitous as it is – is so often obscured from view? How can linguistic diversity remain hidden in plain sight?” In other words, how is multilingualism being monolingualised?

This paradox is, in fact, also raised by the British Academy. After expressing its concern about the falling numbers of language learners in schools and universities and the need to attend to the development of language skills in the UK, the report referred to above (British Academy 2013a) recognised that “not enough is done to encourage or develop the skills of native or heritage speakers at the school level” (45). Indeed the British Academy then devoted a separate report (British Academy 2013b) to “Multilingual Britain”, focusing on the value of the UK’s multilingualism for businesses, public services and social cohesion. Its most recent publication on languages (British Academy 2019), produced together with the three other UK National Academies (the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society) takes this forward by calling for a national strategy for languages, suggesting the need to place greater value on “‘community’, ‘heritage’, or ‘home’ languages (ibid.: 8) and to “build[ing] bridges between mainstream and complementary education” (ibid.: 6).

Although this appears to be a promising development, it is less so when considered historically. Since my own career began as a languages teacher in schools in 1979, I have seen the pendulum swing several times in relation to official support for and valorisation of what in the UK tend to be called ‘community languages’(3). In Benson & Lamb (2020), I provide an example of the ways in which London’s multilingualism was more educationally valued in the 1980s, particularly in cities, describing a North London secondary school, in which, as Head of Languages, I was able to introduce an innovative and inclusive languages curriculum. This consisted of month-long tasters of Turkish and Greek (the languages, which, apart from English, were the most widely spoken in the school and neighbourhood) being offered alongside French and German tasters to all 11-year-olds, following which of the pupils were able to choose which language to continue studying for the next five years of compulsory language learning. In addition, the other 40 languages spoken by pupils in that school were represented in meaningful ways on the curriculum, such as in language awareness lessons (drawing on Eric Hawkins’ (1987) work) as part of the Personal, Social, Health Education curriculum, through events and exhibitions, such as the Multilingual Maths Week organised by the mathematics department, or in optional lunchtime and after-school classes. This curriculum was informed by the principle that everyone needs to be educated to value multilingualism if we are to develop more inclusive attitudes and approaches to linguistic diversity in society, and research conducted by my department demonstrated its success:

Firstly, it led to a significant number of monolingual English speakers choosing to continue with either Greek or Turkish rather than the more traditional choice of French or German, their justification being that they wanted to speak the languages of their friends and their neighbourhood;

Secondly, motivation for language learning was enhanced, as evidenced by the increased number of students opting to study an additional non-compulsory language the following year;

Thirdly, teachers reported that their students showed an increase in interest and curiosity in relation to the languages spoken by their classmates – and indeed, it also stimulated the teachers’ interest in the children’s plurilingualism, evidenced by, for example, the inclusion of a range of languages in classroom displays across different subjects.

It has to be said that, in that London school, much of this innovation was made possible by the Local Education Authority’s commitment to supporting multilingualism, with a special adviser for community languages in place and a Centre for Bilingualism established, which taught courses in a range of languages in the Centre itself, whilst also offering all schools access to peripatetic teachers who could move from school to school to teach a range of languages. My mainstream school’s close partnerships with supplementary schools were also helpful in promoting a positive, visible image of the various language communities as well as providing support to enable students to practise their languages in and beyond the classroom. In addition, and highly significantly, schools at that time were able to offer a more devolved and flexible curriculum, which allowed them some freedom to adapt it to their local contexts.

In the 1990s, however, following the Education Reform Act of 1988, such opportunities disappeared with the introduction of a more rigid National Curriculum (DES 1989a). In relation to the languages curriculum, a list, consisting of the official languages of the European Union (at that time Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek (Modern), Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish), specified which languages could be offered as an ‘unconditional foundation subject’ for an obligatory full five years. Other languages, including Arabic, Turkish and Urdu, appeared in a second list and could only be offered if the child was already studying a language from the first list (DES 1989b). At the same time, financial support for supplementary schools and community languages generally became more variable; many supplementary schools lost it completely as a result of their funders, the local education authorities, losing much of their funding from central government along with many of their statutory responsibilities for education, which were instead either centralised at a national level or devolved to individual schools (Lamb 2001).

The pendulum swung again, however, at the turn of the millennium when, following a change of government in 1997, the first National Languages Strategy for England and Wales, Languages for all, languages for life, was published (DfES 2002a). This national strategy had been stimulated by a major report by the Nuffield Foundation (2000), which, amongst its many recommendations, had made a case for greater support for community languages in mainstream education. This included proposals for the development and provision of teaching and accreditation, as well as routes to qualified teacher status, in a much wider range of languages than hitherto, arguing that “the multilingual talents of UK citizens are under-recognised, under-used and all too often viewed with suspicion” (ibid.: 36). Building on the research conducted to inform this report, the government established the National Languages Steering Group to develop a National Languages Strategy, the first ever in the UK. Amongst a wide-ranging set of interventions that emerged from the Strategy, many were designed to promote the teaching and accreditation of community languages not only in schools but also beyond the classroom, including support for “language learning through community resources and family learning” (DfES 2002a: 14). Over the following eight years, large amounts of funding were provided by the government for developments such as Asset Languages (Jones 2007), which offered accreditation of learning in 25 languages, including the first ever accreditation for Somali and Yoruba, and the Our Languages project, which funded partnerships between mainstream and supplementary schools (Sneddon & Martin 2012). I was also personally involved in the two-year World Languages Project, which was funded in 2009 to conduct research into diversified languages curriculum models and ways of enhancing qualified teacher supply in community languages with a view to informing a strategy specifically aimed at broadening the range of languages offered in schools. To reinforce its position on multilingualism, the Strategy was accompanied by a separate pamphlet, Language learning, in which was stated:

We need to […] recognise the contribution of languages -- not just European languages, but all our community languages as well -- to the cultural and linguistic richness of our society, to personal fulfilment, commercial success, international trade and mutual understanding. (DfES 2002b: 1)

In a further review of languages in 2007 (DfES 2007: 16), community languages were acknowledged as a “national asset”. The review also announced

the establishment of a new National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education which will support the development of more and better supplementary schools, through, in particular, the extended schools and specialist schools programme. (ibid: 16)

Nevertheless, this positivity towards multilingualism came to an end yet again in 2010, when the National Languages Strategy was dismantled, without replacement, by the incoming Coalition Government, bringing about the loss of all of the related interventions, including those referred to above. Since then, the place of community languages in mainstream education and the valorisation of learning in those languages, including in supplementary schools, has been diminished, leading the British Academy, as seen earlier, to argue for new government interventions that take a more inclusive approach to multilingualism by building on the country’s linguistic wealth.


3  Understanding and Challenging the Monolingualising Ideology

This brief overview of the past 40 years has portrayed the ebbs and flows of policy in relation to the place of multilingualism in education. It has demonstrated some of the ways in which, alongside the clear presence of linguistic superdiversity, forces have been at play to promote or demote different languages, in the latter case contributing to the exclusion of particular plurilingual identities from educational contexts. Furthermore, however, these monolingualising forces also filter down into everyday practices and interactions at social and individual levels. An example of this can be seen in the marked increase in aggressive and violent behaviour towards people speaking other languages in public spaces following the Brexit vote in 2016. In her research conducted in Manchester, Rzepnikowska (2019) reported increased hostility and violence towards people from Polish backgrounds, with use of the Polish language identified as one of the “markers of difference” (ibid.: 90) that attracted negative attention. Further hostility was seen at the end of January 2020 when, on the day the UK left the European Union, a “Happy Brexit Day” poster appeared anonymously on every floor of a block of flats in Norwich, a city in the East of England; it included the following statement (original spelling and punctuation included):

We do not tolerate people speaking other languages than English in the flats. We are now our own country again and the the Queens English is the spoken tongue here. If you want to speak whatever is the mother tongue of the country you came from then we suggest you return to that place and return your flat to the council so they can let British people live here and we can return to what was normality before you infected this once great island. (BBC, 1st February 2020)

If we take the position that the injustices, discrimination and prejudices highlighted above are intolerable, that social justice is to be striven for and that the needs and rights of all of our communities are to be addressed at all levels of society, it is necessary to try to understand how such hegemonic policies and practices emerge. What are the roots of both the hierarchical positioning of diverse languages and the sometimes violent public outbursts against people speaking a different language? Insights into this question can be gained by enlisting the two different interpretations of late modernity discussed earlier. Heller (1999), for example, has argued on the basis of rich ethnographic research in Toronto, Canada, that the complex relationships between people with different language backgrounds and the ways in which they negotiate their fluid identities make it difficult to identify the source of discriminatory attitudes and practices. This may be the case, but, from a critical late modern perspective, there is a need to continue to try to understand where these attitudes and practices are coming from in order to identify possible ways of addressing them. Blackledge (2006) has indicated, for example, that a critical analysis of political discourses can reveal the ways in which discriminatory ideologies are constructed by politicians. Referring to Bourdieu’s (2000: 169) “magical frontiers” between the dominant and the dominated, he argues that these frontiers, 

reinforced constantly and relentlessly in discursive acts of recognition and misrecognition, appear to have a crucial role in the construction and maintenance of social worlds in which one language is generally held to be superior to others, and speakers of that language held to be superior to speakers of other languages. (Blackledge 2006: 23)

Such ideologies can be seen to impact on both structural and social levels, as well as on the individual level (also Phipps 2019: 24). In other words, the politicians’ discourses can be translated into policy if they are in a government position that enables them to do so; on the social and individual level, on the other hand, they can manifest themselves in an aversion to learning languages or even to the presence of other languages in shared spaces, as demonstrated above.

Without forgetting that, from a social justice perspective, there is ultimately still a modernist imperative for structural change to address the hegemonic social structures that produce social injustices such as poverty, institutional racism etc., the significance of social and individual manifestations of exclusionary behaviour cannot be underestimated. At all levels, it would seem that the monolingualising ideology is sustained by a complex co-existence of interweaving dispositions, attitudes and histories, similar to Ricoeur’s (1995) philosophy referred to in the Preface to this article. In his book on multilingualism in Australia, Clyne (2005) has referred to the construct of “monolingual mindset” to describe the paradox of the representation of Australia, clearly a highly multilingual nation, as a monolingual English speaking country. In order to understand the ways in which such mindsets might evolve and persist, my work on linguistically diverse cities (Lamb 2015, Lamb & Vodicka 2018) has instead previously drawn on Bourdieu (1985) as well as Gogolin’s (2002) construct of “monolingual”, summarising habitus as:

an internalised set of cultural norms that shape individual thinking, identities, choices and behaviours, [and which] is constructed by power relations; […] it is not determined by structures but emerges from dynamic webs of dispositions that have been shaped by past and present experiences and practices. (Lamb & Vodicka 2018: 10)

Furthermore, I have argued that Bourdieu provides insights into possible strategies to shift the monolingual to a “plurilingual habitus” (Lamb 2015: 157), when he states,

To change the world, one has to change the ways of world making, that is the vision of the world and the practical operations by which groups are produced and reproduced. (Bourdieu 1994: 137)

Whilst acknowledging that this is no mean feat, in Lamb & Vodicka (2018), we draw further on Bourdieu’s insights (1994: 137-138), coupled with our own interdisciplinary exploration of the constructs of space and place, to suggest that linguistically diverse cities produce “the conditions in which multilingualism can be normalised and interlingual(4) encounters nurtured” (Lamb & Vodicka 2018: 15). This can be made possible through

changes in the education and everyday experiences of everyone, both formally in educational spaces and informally in public spaces, which must valorise, make visible and normalise the presence of the languages of our communities and develop a ‘plurilingual habitus’ through the production of interlingual shared spaces. (Lamb & Vodicka 2018: 10)

Furthermore, our reconceptualisation of the construct of autonomy from a personal to a critical, collective autonomy enabled us to understand that local communities themselves, including their grassroots groups such as the supplementary schools, have the potential to resist injustice and stimulate change. Referring back to Bourdieu, we argue:

Such groups and communities may inhabit physical urban spaces or virtual spaces in a global world, but collectively they will be living an autonomy that is in the present, shaping “the vision of the world,” developing their symbolic power themselves, and imposing recognition of the value of multilingualism and plurilingualism in a process of shifting the monolingual habitus. (Lamb & Vodicka 2018: 13)

Despite the apparent unsustainability of top-down language policies in the UK, therefore, Lamb & Vodicka see “spaces of hope” (Harvey 2000) in multilingual cities. In these urban spaces, communities themselves engage in bottom-up language planning at a local level, taking action to ensure that their languages and cultures are passed on to future generations, for example through the creation of supplementary schools. It needs to be recognised, of course, that such bottom-up resistance is itself complex. If we turn to Giddens’ (1984) structuration theory, it is clear that, although structural and ideological constraints are not seen as deterministic, given that there is always the possibility of exercising agency and modifying the social environment, at the same time, human activity cannot be accounted for solely by agency. Our position reflects this dialectic: we recognise that the language communities, and specifically here the supplementary schools, are socially positioned within and affected by the monolingualising ideology; nevertheless, we argue that they also have the potential to demonstrate agency, drawing on their critical and collective autonomy to find the “spaces for manoeuvre” in order to resist (Lamb 2000). In Marxist geographer David Harvey’s (2000, 2003) terms, through their activities they are attempting to claim their “right to the city” within these complex and dynamic ‘spaces of hope’:

We are, all of us, architects, of a sort. We individually and collectively make the city through our daily actions and our political, intellectual and economic engagements. But, in return, the city makes us. (Harvey 2003: 939)

Turning to Paolo Freire (1998), such hope, combined with a “conviction that change is possible” (ibid.: 69), is necessary, when tackling injustice. Significantly, Freire argues that “[t]ransformation of the world implies a dialectic between the two actions: denouncing the process of dehumanisation and announcing the dream of a new society” (ibid.: 69). In so doing, he is suggesting that radical transformation of society requires not only “rebellion” and activism from the disenfranchised, but also “grassroots” education (Freire 1998: 74-76).

The collective autonomy of supplementary schools, then, is not one of absolute freedom from constraints, but can be interpreted as a commitment to maintaining their political resistance and activism whilst ensuring that they are looking after themselves creatively in the here and now to safeguard their future heritage.


4   Supplementary Schools as “Spaces of Hope”

This section will focus on the ways in which supplementary schools can be understood in Freirian terms as spaces of hope, both “announcing the dream of a new society” (ibid.: 69), through their creative educational and cultural practices as well as “denouncing the process of dehumanisation” (ibid.) as spaces of resistance. It will also be argued that they potentially have a role to play in bringing about a shift from a monolingual to a plurilingual habitus, though it will become clear that further research is needed to explore the constraints on this project as well as potential ways of overcoming them.

4.1. Supplementary Schools

Supplementary schools, often known as complementary schools, are voluntary schools, which have been established by linguistic, cultural or religious communities. Though supplementary schools have existed in the UK since the 1800s (Gaiser & Hughes 2015: 5), their numbers have increased considerably over the past half century. Nevertheless, knowledge about supplementary schools issuing from research is “patchy” (Myers & Grosvenor 2011: 501). Li (2006) has provided a historical overview, describing three types of supplementary school in the UK dating back to the late 1960s:

The first type was set up by the Afro-Caribbean community, dissatisfied by their children’s experiences in mainstream education, which “often failed to reflect the interests, experiences and culture of the Afro-Caribbean community” (Li 2006: 76);

The second followed in the late 1970s onwards and was established largely for religious reasons by Muslim communities which had migrated from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (also Rosowsky 2008); and

The third type consists of a range of migrant-background communities, such as the Chinese, Albanian and Turkish communities, who are committed to passing on their languages and cultures to their children.

This section focuses mainly on the latter type of supplementary schools. Such schools tend to meet at weekends or after school on weekdays and offer a range of classes and other activities to children from their community, often until they reach the age where they leave home for work or study or become volunteers themselves in the school. Though many teach their home language, others choose to teach a different language that they consider to be important, such as Urdu for speakers of Mirpuri-Punjabi in Sheffield (Rosowsky 2008) or Mandarin for Cantonese speakers (Li 2011). The following section will provide insights primarily into their educational activities before moving onto a consideration of the ways in which they can be considered as spaces of resistance.


4.2 “Announcing the Dream of a New Society”: Creative Educational and Cultural Practices

Supplementary schooling can be understood generally as “a response to a historically monolingual ideology which ignores the complexity of multilingual England” (Creese & Martin 2006: 1), with Hall et al, (2002: 415) claiming that they play a role in “correcting” the “subtractive” approach to language learning in mainstream contexts. The supplementary schools referred to in this section have mainly been established to maintain the language and culture of their particular communities and to enable the pupils to communicate with their relatives both in the UK or in the countries of origin of the communities (Cruikshank 2015), creating an environment, in which use of the language and expressions of the culture is not only normal, but valued. In addition, Creese, Bhatt, Bhojana & Martin (2006) point out that they allow “the children a safe haven for exploring ethnic and linguistic identities while producing opportunities for performing successful learner identity (Ibid.: 23). The time spent in these schools appears to be greatly enjoyed by the pupils, who tend to be well behaved, have good relations with their teachers, and to be engaged in their learning (Sneddon & Martin 2012: 44). Other studies have demonstrated additional benefits for children’s learning, with the experience of a more holistic form of learning considered to have a positive impact on children’s achievement even in their mainstream schools (e.g. Archer, Francis & Mau 2009, Martin, Bhatt, Bhojani & Creese 2004). Maylor, Rose, Minty, Ross, Issa & Kuyok’s (2013) research confirmed this, but also demonstrated that the benefits reach far beyond impact on mainstream learning, highlighting not only the pupils’ increased motivation for and attitudes to learning, but also improved behaviour, enhanced confidence, and reinforced identity and sense of belonging, which occurs, they claim, when “marginalised students are nurtured, valued and supported” (Maylor et al. 2013: 122).

The research reported above provides evidence that, at least to some extent, the supplementary schools are creating Freire’s “new society”, a safe space, in which the children are encouraged to express those aspects of their identity that are suppressed elsewhere. In this ‘safe space’, it is also possible to codeswitch between English and the home language. For example, Martin, Bhatt, Bhojani & Creese (2006), in their study of two Gujerati schools in Leicester, suggest that the two languages “are juxtaposed spontaneously in what appears to be an unproblematic and uncontested way” (ibid.: 18), both by teachers and pupils. Research by Li & Wu (2009), on the other hand, describes how the Chinese-English pupils in their study of Chinese supplementary schools use codeswitching as symbolic and creative capital. For Li & Wu (2009), creativity here means “pushing and breaking the boundaries between the old and the new, the conventional and the original, and the acceptable and the challenging” (ibid.: 209) in an environment which tends to favour use of Chinese only and in which the pupils’ command of English was superior to that of most of their teachers.

The construct of creativity in relation to learning has been explored by Banaji, Burn & Buckingham (2010), who suggest that “the ‘creative classroom’ rhetoric may be seen to promote forms of learning that are generally held to improve the experience of children in education - holistic learning, active learning, expanded notions of intelligence, attention to social and cultural contexts, social learning and ethical human development” (ibid.: 66). It can also involve content which does not only cross subject boundaries, but which is also “contextually and culturally anchored” (ibid.: 64). Despite reliance on voluntary and often untrained teachers, evidence of such creativity can be found in supplementary schools. In her work with two Turkish supplementary schools, for example, Lytra (2011) observed how children creatively transform an authentic Turkish children’s song when working collaboratively to decide how to perform it, by drawing on a wide range of semiotic resources, such as whistling, humming, clapping, or changing the rhythm. Furthermore, through such creativity, the language and culture avoid fossilisation and become “something that is used in the present or that can be projected in the future” (Garcia 2005: 601), thus looking forward to a “new society” rather than dwelling on the past.

The work of Anderson and colleagues at Goldsmiths College, London, with a range of supplementary schools as well as mainstream schools in which community languages are taught, has explored ways in which creativity in various forms can help to meet the learning and emotional needs of children in community language classrooms. In one ethnographic study of four schools (two supplementary and two mainstream), activities, including dance, song, drama and puppetry as well as the creation of artworks, films and scrapbooks, were developed by the teachers and pupils and, though carried out in collaboration with the researchers, built on practices already found in their Arabic, Chinese, Punjabi and Tamil classes (Anderson & Chung 2011, 2014). Evaluation of the activities demonstrated that they provided children with opportunities for dynamic interaction with their heritage and culture, multiliteracy development, cognitive challenge, teamwork and collaboration, deep intercultural understanding, including symbolic, spiritual and moral dimensions, enhanced motivation, and a greater capacity for learner autonomy. Significantly, as could be seen in Lytra’s (2011) research, children were offered a space in which they were “given the opportunity to interact with these works in their own terms, to reinvent and reinterpret them for themselves” (Anderson & Chung 2014: 289), thus renewing them and avoiding essentialisation and a focus on the past.

In recent years, such creative approaches to announcing “the dream of a new society” have been further enhanced by supplementary schools through the incorporation of digital practices (e.g. Anderson & Macleroy 2016 Abdelhadi, Hameed, Khale & Anderson 2020). It is of course important to recognise the digital divide between those with access to technology and those without, which means that the creative affordances of technology may not be equally accessible to everyone (Banaji et al 2010: 60-61). Furthermore, the fact that many languages and language varieties have not yet been digitised should also be borne in mind (Diki-Kidiri 2008). Nevertheless, in his report for UNESCO, Diki-Kidiri (2008) recognised the potential of the Internet to offer new opportunities for the maintenance of “heritage” languages by enhancing their status, acquisition and use and supporting the development of “user-communities” in cyberspace. Such user-communities have been identified in research by Hatoss (2013), who found that members of the Sudanese Acholi community in Australia were connecting in virtual ways, building a grassroots “Cyberspora” that enabled online learning and other activities to take place across sometimes quite distant spaces. As Lamb et al. (2019) argue, there is significant access to at least smartphones in superdiverse urban communities, enabling bottom-up approaches to social networking and collaboration via, for example, social media, which “can empower users to navigate across languages, cultures, and identities” (Chen 2013: 125), thus helping learners to “construct their L2 identity and build a relationship with the target culture” (ibid.). The enjoyment of online games can also benefit language learning as well as the development of multiliteracies and cultural awareness (Soyoof 2018, Wright & Skidmore 2010).

As mentioned in the preface to this article, during the period of lockdown in London, there has been a significant presence on social media (Twitter, Facebook) from supplementary schools, who have been regularly sharing the activities that they have organised to maintain active engagement with their communities. With support from the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRCSE), I have been conducting an initial small-scale, exploratory study to inform future larger-scale research with the supplementary schools themselves into the ways in which they have overcome the constraints of COVID-19 and managed to maintain their activities. A search of Twitter and Facebook has identified a wide range of creative online activities that cross disciplines to facilitate engagement with language and culture. Much activity revolves around traditional songs and music as well as food; the latter, for example, has included learning about how fruit and vegetables grow, with children drawing details of the process and even growing some at home, as a way of engaging them physically and cognitively with the science behind plant growth. Games, such as Language Bingo and Hangman, have also been used to facilitate learning and there is evidence of use of online quizzes as an alternative to conventional teaching approaches. Other activities have been introduced which do not require pupils to spend much time online; for example, finding old photographs and paintings, then re-enacting them themselves, before uploading the old and new versions together with a written description in their home language, as well as researching the artists’ lives and writing a brief piece about them. These are just some examples, which have already been published on the NRCSE website as inspiration for other schools (NRCSE 2020). It must be said that there is some evidence from three informal online discussions with the schools that there are disparities between them with regard to their capacity to deal with the constraints of COVID-19 and it is also clear that many of the activities identified have come from larger and more established supplementary schools, though some of these schools have also been actively supporting other smaller schools run by different communities; nevertheless, further research is needed to explore this more thoroughly. What has been seen, however, is that at least some supplementary schools are finding ways of demonstrating agency by continuing to create a new, albeit online, society.

Finally in this section, it is clear that the supplementary schools are often also a hub for their community, offering support in a number of areas of need that they have identified. For example, Shpresa Programme (Shpresa means ‘hope’ in Albanian), the Albanian school in East London established in 2003 (Sneddon & Martin 2012: 40), has initiated projects for women and girls, such as ARISE and EMPOWER, two related projects, which organise domestic violence workshops and deal with individual casework (Coy & Sharp-Jeffs 2016). The social dimension of the supplementary schools has been further demonstrated in the COVID-19 pandemic, during which time some of the communities themselves, including Shpresa and the Albanian community, have been checking that their families and friends are well and ensuring that they have what they need to cope during lockdown, as well as providing information, answering questions and addressing concerns. In this way, some of these schools reach well beyond language and culture maintenance to provide a range of services for their communities.


4.3 “Denouncing the Process of Dehumanisation”: Finding Spaces of Resistance

The other aspect of the dialectic proposed by Freire (1998: 74) concerns the need to denounce “the process of dehumanisation”, which produces oppression and injustice. The notion that supplementary education offers spaces of resistance has been mainly explored in research on Afro-Caribbean schools established in the UK in the mid-20th century. In Mirza & Reay’s (2000) investigation, these schools were described as a “new social movement”, “both radical and subversive, providing evidence of a covert social movement for social change” (ibid.: 523). As well as re-claiming a collectivist, local, family-focused version of community, which, for Mirza & Reay, had been lost in the neo-liberal individualism and competitiveness of the 1990s, such schools both valorised blackness and contested whiteness as normative, whilst also disrupting “prevailing views of correct pedagogy which pathologise child centredness” (ibid.: 532).  

From a Gramscian perspective (Gramsci 1971), such schools are engaged in a “war of position”, establishing a counter-hegemony outside the state school system in order to prepare themselves for agentive confrontation of the hegemonic forces that are disenfranchising them. Although Gramsci’s construct focused on the establishment of working-class organisations as the foundations of a new culture, it is also reflected in the potential for supplementary schools as spaces of resistance (Lamb 2001: 10). However, little empirical research has been conducted on the ways in which the supplementary schools that are the focus of this article engage in radical resistance. Before concluding, then, this article will explore the limited research on this, drawing also on my own experiences of supplementary schools as spaces of resistance.

As mentioned already in this article, supplementary schools face a number of constraints that reflect their marginalisation in relation to mainstream education; this in turn echoes the marginalisation of the languages and cultures they represent in relation to the languages and cultures deemed suitable for the mainstream school curriculum. Since the 1990s, there has been an erosion of support for supplementary schools from local authorities, which previously provided, at least in some authorities, support in financial terms, as well as from local community languages advisors based in the authorities (Gaiser & Hughes 2015: 29, Lamb 2001: 6). Their main income tends to be from parental contributions, though some of the larger schools (such as Shpresa Programme) have had considerable success with funding bids to develop a range of projects and other activities (for examples of these projects:http://shpresaprogramme.com/; 25-08-2020). The lack of funding makes it challenging to find premises in which to run their activities. Although such schools meet in a variety of settings, including in people’s homes, many larger ones like to meet in mainstream schools. This has been difficult to negotiate, however, since mainstream schools were given devolved responsibility for their own budgets; in combination with the need to cope with government funding cuts for education overall, devolution rendered the mainstream sector less able to allow access to supplementary schools out of school hours without charging rental costs to cover the additional costs involved, such as the need to employ their school caretakers at weekends or in the evenings. Lack of funding also means that the schools rely on volunteers to teach the classes and, though some teachers have attended training courses, many are unqualified and would like opportunities for professional development, which are not always easily available or accessible (Lamb 2001). Furthermore, according to Archer et al.’s (2009) research in six Chinese schools, the financial shortages impact on the pupils’ views of their experience in the schools. Although their research into pupils’ constructions of learning and teaching identified more positives than negatives, the negatives (lack of access to resources such as Information and Communication Technology; the use of particular teaching techniques), were clearly related to the lack of funds and infrastructure, a pattern which similarly emerged in Strand’s (2007) broader survey of 772 pupils in 63 supplementary schools across England.

A further constraint is the current lack of accreditation for most of the languages learnt in supplementary education, which not only makes it difficult to demonstrate achievement in their languages, thus contributing to their invisibility, but also lowers the status of their languages for the children. In an article published in 2012, Sneddon & Martin explored the opportunities and challenges faced by supplementary schools, focusing on the Albanian and Bangladeshi communities. It is important to acknowledge that the article was based on research conducted before 2010, a time when government recognition of community languages as a resource was at a high, following the publication of the National Languages Strategy, which had introduced not only Asset Languages (accreditation in 25 languages) but also increased opportunities to learn community languages in mainstream schools. Even at that time, however, the lack of accreditation in many community languages posed a challenge for their communities. Whereas languages with accreditation, such as Arabic, Chinese, Somali, Turkish and Urdu, could be more easily introduced into mainstream schools, the absence of accreditation in other community languages, including Albanian, continued to exclude them. The desire for recognition both through accreditation and through inclusion in mainstream schools thus led to a vigorous campaign by Shpresa. Disappointingly for Shpresa and many other language communities, however, following the change of government in 2010, the number of languages accredited decreased rather than increased. Nevertheless, Shpresa has maintained its efforts, even taking its case for an Albanian qualification directly to the government; furthermore, their experience and expertise with campaigning for qualifications has also been shared with other supplementary schools. A later study by Sneddon (2014) demonstrated this, revealing that Shpresa was extending its community role beyond the Albanian community, creating a mentoring process, which at that time was supporting Polish, Somali, Portuguese and Lithuanian supplementary schools to

meet the language needs of their communities, to raise the local profile of their cultures, to raise awareness of the importance and value of bilingualism in community languages, and to support pupils to engage directly with examination boards and policy makers at both local and national level. (Sneddon 2014: 575)

4.4 Challenging the Monolingual Habitus

Though limited, the above research does indicate that some supplementary schools are in a position to resist the monolingualising ideology, not only by creating their own safe spaces, but also by petitioning authorities to recognise their status and to acknowledge their linguistic rights in education (Skutnabb-Kangas & May 2016). Nevertheless, as has been argued earlier, in order to shift the monolingual habitus, it is necessary to consider the ways in which these schools can contribute to re-education at a broader social level. Before concluding then, it is therefore useful to explore the ways in which they are reaching out beyond their communities.

In their article referred to earlier, Li & Wu (2009) argued that pupils in the Chinese supplementary schools involved in their study were challenging the One Language Only (OLON) or One Language at a Time (OLAT) policies prevalent in those schools, achieving this by the creative use of codeswitching, a “symbolic resource” which they use “strategically in a game of power and control.” (ibid.: 196). I argued that this can not only be positioned as a strategy to create the dream of a new society, but that it also offers an interesting challenge to the monolingual habitus, normalising the use of more than one language in one place and at one time. Creese & Blackledge (2011) have explored this in relation to the conflicting discourses of separate and flexible bilingualism: with separate bilingualism, the hegemony of the mainstream is countered, as the language and culture of the community is privileged within the school, though there may be a tendency to “settle on simplified cultural narratives” (Creese & Blackledge 2011: 1197); flexible bilingualism, on the other hand, “places the speaker at the heart of the interaction”, stressing “individual agency” to draw on all available languages in order to negotiate their multilingual identities and to interact with other people in different, flexible ways (ibid.: 1197; also Creese & Martin 2006: 1). In this way, the monolingual norm is disrupted and moves towards a normalisation of plurilingualism. Similar processes can be found in explorations of translanguaging (e.g. Garcia 2007) and plurilingual competence (e.g. Coste et al. 2009).

These studies have nevertheless mostly focused on language use within the language communities. As suggested earlier, however, it would be helpful to explore the ways in which the communities, through their supplementary schools, are increasing the visibility of pluri- and multilingualism beyond their own safe spaces and how this might contribute to a normalisation of linguistic diversity and a shift from a monolingual habitus in “interlingual shared spaces” (Lamb & Vodicka 2018: 10). Superdiverse urban localities, in which a range of diverse and hybrid language practices can be found, such as those described as transidiomatic practices (Jacquemet 2005), polylanguaging (Jørgensen, Karrebæk, Madsen & Møller 2011), and metrolingualism (Pennycook & Otsuji 2015), have developed in particular urban environments. In other urban (and indeed non-urban) spaces, however, including mainstream educational institutions, there is ample evidence of the monolingualising ideology at play, not only in the UK (e.g. Blackledge 2001, Blackledge & Creese 2010), but elsewhere (Blommaert et al 2006, Karrebæck 2013, Piller 2016, Shohamy 2006).

Though there has been very little research focusing on the outreach activities of supplementary schools, in my own experience I have seen some evidence that supplementary schools can have an impact beyond their own spaces (Lamb & Vodicka 2018: 24). In 2009, I was part of a team appointed by the Teaching and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) to conduct a two-year research project with the aim of developing a government strategy on multilingualism in schools (referred to earlier). An outcome of the National Languages Strategy (2002), the purpose of this World Languages Research was to recommend ways in which schools could diversify and increase the range of languages, including community languages, on offer to their students. As well as exploring different approaches to structuring the curriculum to allow for this, it also involved making recommendations on ways in which teachers of languages other than those traditionally taught in schools could gain qualified teacher status. Although the research was curtailed by the incoming Coalition government in 2010 – and therefore never completed –, eight case studies had been conducted in primary and secondary schools, which were already teaching a range of languages, including community languages. Significantly, a common feature of the eight schools was their links to local language communities, often stimulated by approaches from members of those communities themselves. In some cases, for example, the mainstream schools had agreed to host the supplementary schools on their premises at evenings and weekends at no cost. One primary school in Sheffield expressed gratitude to the Our Languages government-funded project (referred to earlier) for facilitating collaboration between the school and the Sheffield Somali supplementary school, which had been proactive in promoting the Somali language. This had led to Somali being taught (by a bilingual Somali-English teaching assistant in liaison with the regular class teacher) to all seven-year old pupils for the entire year. Resources for interactive and multimedia learning in the Somali lessons had also been produced collaboratively, including the introduction of a multi-coloured puppet monster called Bahal, whose imaginary life was the vehicle for the language learning content, and a set of story sacks for parents to use with their children at home. By reaching out to the local primary school, then, the Somali school had managed to influence the experience and environment of the school as a whole, including the mainstream teachers. The Somali language (and the other languages that were also introduced in the school for different year groups) became a normal, accepted presence in the school, considered to have educational value for all.

Other studies have also provided evidence of the importance of such contact in shared spaces between the language communities and the mainstream schools. Kenner & Ruby (2013) found that the invisibility in mainstream schools of children’s learning in supplementary schools was transformed when a collaborative action research project enabled a “multilingual syncretic curriculum” to be developed, bringing more holistic perspectives from the supplementary school teachers and enriching mainstream learning. Sneddon’s (2014) study of Shpresa in London similarly found that a close partnership between mainstream and complementary schools had developed around the aim of nurturing children’s multilingual skills. More recently, Szczepik Reed’s (2020) research with three multi-ethnic Arabic supplementary schools found that they were all outward-facing, wishing to prepare children for life as part of a diverse British society and sharing a commitment to shared values. All three schools reported engagement with government initiatives and mainstream schools, criticising other supplementary schools that preferred to remain more inward-looking. In another study exploring the perspectives of a mainstream school, Maylor et al. (2013) reported that the head teacher of the school “regarded the use of his school by an Asian language supplementary school as helping to create broader community relationships between the supplementary and mainstream school communities” (ibid.: 120).

Generally, however, there is little systematic research focusing on the prevalence and nature of contact between supplementary schools and mainstream schools, how this has developed over time, and how it has contributed to nurturing more openness towards multilingualism. More common is research that describes the supplementary schools as “safe” but “hidden” spaces (Sneddon & Martin 2012: 36), with mainstream teachers being unaware of the learning experiences their pupils are having in their communities (Creese 2009: 272, Li 2011: 373). Yet, as I have argued, in order to begin to change the monolingual habitus, there is a need to re-educate everyone of the value of plurilingualism, which first requires its presence to be normalised and legitimised; for Marten, Van Mensel & Gorter (2012: 1) “[b]eing visible may be as important for minority languages as being heard”. As a contribution to this and in collaboration with supplementary schools, I have in the past organised festivals of multilingualism in schools and universities as well as in Sheffield city centre, the latter involving a range of activist interventions such as poster displays in public spaces, public talks on the importance of languages for business, culture and art, children’s performances in a range of languages, multilingual poetry and storytelling and an interactive exhibition, as well as radio debates and interviews (Lamb 2015: 161). These activities involved significant engagement with the general public and led to rich exchanges of personal stories and experiences; some of these exchanges brought to the surface prevalent myths that problematised plurilingualism, though these could mostly be addressed through the opportunity to share in an accessible way existing research into its benefits. Nevertheless, further research is needed in partnership with the supplementary schools themselves to evaluate the impact of such events on the monolingual habitus, how it might contribute to changed mindsets and how it might illuminate obstacles to this. My own experiences as a secondary school teacher provided some evidence that enhanced visibility of multilingualism and inclusion of children’s plurilingualism as a learning resource for everyone can have a positive impact; children were intrigued by the languages their friends brought with them to school and motivated not only to learn about them, but to learn them themselves (Lamb 2011; Benson & Lamb 2020). Building on research conducted in the fields of urban studies and geography, however, it will be important to explore more thoroughly the significance of different types of encounters in provoking a shift to a plurilingual habitus. Some argue that the everyday conviviality emerging from “light-touch, partially engaged, partially disengaged modes of social interaction” (Thrift 2005: 146) in public spaces is itself a contributing factor to a normalisation of diversity; others argue that more meaningful contact is needed “that actually changes values and translates beyond the specifics of the individual moment into a more general positive respect for – rather than merely tolerance of – others” (Valentine 2008: 325). A deeper interdisciplinary understanding of these processes, developed through co-produced research with the communities themselves and including a range of activist practices (Lamb et al. 2019), would make a valuable -- and inclusive -- contribution to addressing the ongoing constraints and challenges experienced by our diverse language communities.

5   Conclusion

This article has argued the existence of a monolingual habitus, which contributes to fear of and suspicion towards other languages, to a devaluing of many of the languages that form part of the identity of our diverse urban communities, and to discriminatory, exclusionary, and dehumanising practices that impact on linguistic rights and educational opportunities in everyday as well as formal settings. In these ways, the UK is not only  “squandering our bilingual resources” (Cummins 2005: 585), but also colluding with hostility towards and oppression of our plurilingual British citizens.

In order to shift this, we need to work towards change at a structural level to address the injustices perpetuated by the socially reproductive hegemonies that permeate society. At the same time, however, I have stated that we cannot wait for change to occur at a societal and political level and indeed, this cannot happen in isolation from change at the personal level (Phipps 2019: 24). Consideration of the meaning of habitus enables us to imagine ways in which it can be shifted through worldmaking, through small but significant changes in everyday practices that can bring about a new normality for all at local and individual levels. In order for this to occur, we need to find ways of re-educating beyond the language communities themselves, of decolonising our minds (Phipps 2019). Such decolonisation involves a process which can potentially be triggered by on-going exposure to new social, cognitive and emotional experiences that question and disorientate our deepest beliefs and assumptions; in so doing, this can facilitate “a work of examination that consists of suspending as far as possible the system of values to which one refers when testing and assessing it” (Foucault 1988: 197). The making of new worlds also involves engagement with difference, until it no longer appears different to us, but just part of our lives. To return to Andreotti’s (2010: 9) perspectives on the 21st century as “a more complex continuation of the ‘20th century’ ways of seeing”, the way forward is

to decolonise the imagination and to pluralise the possibilities for the future by pluralising knowledge in the present in order to enable dialogue, relationships of solidarity and, ideally, the collective creation of non-hegemonic systems. (ibid.: 9)

For Weil (2002: 33), we co-create the world by de-creating ourselves and in this article, we have seen how supplementary schools have already been stimulating and participating in such de- and co-creation. Nevertheless, it is clear that this is despite their overall marginalisation as seen in withdrawal of support and ignorance of their contribution to society. To achieve a more just society, they need to be supported again in their struggle to maintain and evolve their identities as they were in the past. At the same time, however, through opportunities to engage in collaborative research drawing on activist approaches, the hope is that we will begin to understand better the processes that may broaden the impact of their work to the wider population and, through increased visibility, make a serious contribution to the development of a new, inclusive, and socially just world.



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Terry Lamb

Professor of Languages and Interdisciplinary Pedagogy


University of Westminster

309 Regent Street
Great Britain

Email: T.Lamb@westminster.ac.uk


(1) Inspired by the Council of Europes (2001: 4) work, I use the term multilingualism to refer to the presence of a range of languages in social spaces (the city, the school, etc.) and plurilingualism to refer to an individual’s capacity to draw on and use the languages that form part of their language repertoire. Where I quote other authors, I use their preferred terminology.

(2) I understand that the construct of community is a highly contentious one. Drawing on Block (2006: 25) and Bauman (2001), I am not intending to essentialise the idea of the community as a demographic and uniform entity, but understand it more as a permeable, collective space of belonging, in which people relate to each other from a position of trust.

(3) The term community language is not without problems. Indeed, with so many different languages and variants spoken in communities across the UK, including those commonly taught in schools such as French, German and Spanish, it is difficult to identify what is not a ‘community language’. The term also belies the fact that many of the languages are major world languages, such as Arabic and Urdu. Alternatives such as heritage languages or home languages are no better, however, as they also reduce their temporal and spatial dimensions.

(4) In Lamb (2015: 159-160), I define interlinguality as follows:

I construe interlinguality as dispositions, knowledge and skills dynamically related to a plurilingual habitus. A plurilingual habitus offers more than a perception of plurilingualism as normal; it represents the genesis of new relationships and commitments between languages, individuals and communities. I define interlinguality as an awakening to the enjoyment and value of all languages, a creative and flexible approach to using them as a means  of understanding and communicating with others from different linguistic backgrounds, and an openness to creating the spaces not only for plurilingual encounters but also for collaborative subversion of the monolingual hegemony. In other words, it brings a value-rich, social and critical dimension to plurilingualism, involving interest in and commitment to meaningful encounters with the other, with a view to developing something new. It includes the notion of interculturalism, which involves not just the ability to interact with people from other cultures, but also to see and value the diversity of their perspectives and to mediate these differences (Byram, 2009). It also incorporates “multilinguality,” which views languages as “porous,” “located in the variability and fluidity of linguistic behaviour” (Agnihotri, 2014, p. 2), thereby acknowledging the realities and potentialities of on-the-ground practices such as translanguaging for negotiation of shared spaces.