In 2003 Diane held the hugely successful "London Schools and the Blach Child" conference in Westminster. Following the conference Diane offered to host local meetings for Black parents in the London Boroughs, and Ealing Education Department immediately contacted her to ask if she would come to Ealing. The request was strongly supported by Dr Caroline Whalley, the Executive Director of Education and by elected members. They had already identified the achievement of African-Caribbean pupils in schools as a priority in schools as a priority for development in Ealing, recognising the national, London-wide and Ealing concerns about inequality of achievement in the education system. They were keen to take advantage of the opportunity to hear parents' views and concerns, and hoped that as a result of the meeting a constructive collaborative approach between the African-Caribbean parents and the Education Services would be fostered.
Diane invited officers from the Education Department at Ealing to meet her at Westminster and brief her about the Ealing context and to discuss the possibility of a parents' meeting.
Ealing has a long-established African-Caribbean community, with a history of supporting the education of their children. The first African-Caribbean supplementary schools (West Indian Saturday Schools) were set up by the community in the early 1970s and two in particular have been running for 30 years. The community organisations supporting children, young people and families in education embrace teaching, counselling, advocacy, career guidance and information services. Many of these organisations offer advice and inservice training to teachers, as well as curriculum development work with pupils (particularly to reflect African and Caribbean culture and history). It is a measure of the community's strong commitment to education that although the organisations are largely unfunded or struggle to run on a shoestring budget, they continue their activities through the dedication of volunteers from varied professional backgrounds.
As soon as Diane agreed to host the meeting in Ealing, the Education Department wrote to African-Caribbean community organisations to inform them about the event and ask for their collaboration in organising it. A steering group was convened from representatives of the local authority and the community, and this group planned and organised the meeting.
It was the total commitment of this group that ensured the success of the meeting.
In 2004, the Ealing Parents and the Black Child meeting went ahead. Over 300 adult participants and more than 80 children and young people who attended addressed the questions:
* What can parents do to improve the achievements of African-Caribbean children and young people?
* What can schools do to improve achievement of African-Caribbean children and young people?
* What can young people do to improve the achievement of African-Caribbean children and young people?
* Where do we go from here?
What was so special about the conference?
* It was the first meeting of its kind to be organised jointly by Ealing Education Department and African-Caribbean community organisations in Ealing.
* Over 300 adult participants and more than 80 children and young people attended. Young and old, male and female, new parents and community elders worked together.
* There was a strong feeling of agreement and consensus throughout the meeting and in making recommendations.
* The meeting called for a new collaborative approach between the community, schools and the education services.
Why is it so important to take messages from this conference seriously?
* Because the messages come from African-Caribbean parents, children and young people and are born from their own experiences of education.
* Because statistics show that African-Caribbean children and young people continue to be failed by the education system.
What did the conference affirm?
The attendance, ethos and recommendations of the meeting dispelled myths and stereotypes about the African-Caribbean community. It was quite clear that:
* African-Caribbean parents ARE interested in their children's education.
* African-Caribbean young people DO understand the value of education and DO understand the value of education and DO want to learn and succeed.
* Within the African-Caribbean community there are many high achievers, who have been successful in varied fields, as professionals, academics, politicians, business people, writers and more.
* The African-Caribbean community DOES want to work with schools and the education authorities to turn around the situation for their children and young people.
What were the main messages of the conference?
There were messages from the meeting for parents, schools and children and young people to learn. It was recognised that everyone had a role to play and responsibilities. The main messages of the meeting were: -
* It is fundamental for all parents to support their children in all that they do. African-Caribbean parents feel a particular neccessity for this in the light of current concerns about the education of their children and young people.
* It is vital for parents to make their presence felt in school in a positive way, including attending meetings, becoming school governors, building relationships with their children's teachers, informing themselves about education and offering support to the school.
* An Ealing African-Caribbean Parents' organisation should be formed, which can work in collaboration with schools and the education department to raise African-Caribbean achievement, can act as a support group for parents, can network with other African-Caribbean organisations and can represent the education concerns of the African-Caribbean community to education authorities, including to the Government.
* Schools and the education department at Ealing are asked to take steps to improve educational outcomes for African-Caribbean pupils, and to work in partnership with parents to achieve this improvement.
* African-Caribbean children and young people understand the importance of educational success, want to aim high in their own education, and are asking parents and schools to support them in their ambition.
What can parents do to improve the achievement of African-Caribbean children and young people?
* Keep remembering how fundamental it is to support their children
* Continue to positively motivate their children
* Ensure that you regularly check the progress of their children from the beginning of school right to the end of their education careers
* Look at their own roles as parents and support other parents and children in all that they do
* Be pro-active: visit the school, develop a relationship with the teachers, ask for regular reports, be more proactive in helping the school to better meet children's cultural needs
* Make sure they attend parents' evenings, and go prepared with a list of appropriate questions
* Be assertive in voicing their concerns as well as acknowledging when things are going well
* Empower themselves by finding out about their rights as parents and their children's legal rights
What can schools do to improve the achievement of African-Caribbean children and young people?
* Raise their expectations of Black children
* Reduce the number of exclusions of Black children
* Give Black children the same respect given to other children
* Increase the number of Black teachers by conducting a recruitment drive for teachers representative of communities of Black African-Caribbean heritage
* Have effective monitoring practices with relation to attainment
* Have effective monitoring practices in relation to incorporating African and African-Caribbean culture into the mainstream curriculum
* Become more aware of the cultural needs of African-Caribbean children
* Set up a rolling programme for Black professionals and mentors to go into schools continuously to promote achievement.
What can young people do to improve the achievement of African-Caribbean children and young people?
* Prove statistics wrong by making their GCSE results the highest they have been and eventually make a difference in society
* Be committed to working hard and taking life seriously because too many Black people are underachieving and getting involved in violence.
* Take responsibility for their mistakes
* Achieve in all that they do