A short note about the Hungarian supplementary/weekend schools in the UK

In contrast to what we had planned, due to the pandemic this research has been conducted exclusively online so far, when both our interview partners and us stayed at home in lockdown. Often this resulted in unexpected situations when a bunch of kids run into the room during the interview and asked for all sorts of things from mum/dad/aunt/uncle etc.: a piece of biscuit, the exact date of the collapse of the Roman Empire or which colour to pick for their princess doll’s dress. In such cases the interview diverted towards child raising and decisions about education. Depending on the age of their children, parents faced different challenges, but what seemed common in the interviews is that parents wanted their kids to keep using the Hungarian language and get familiar with the Hungarian culture even after kids enter primary education in the UK. Therefore many talked about their experiences with Hungarian supplementary schools or weekend schools as they refer to those (we will use this term). In the followings we provide a brief overview of supplementary schools operated by the Hungarians and some reflections from teachers who work in these schools.

The number of available researches on supplementary schools in the Hungarian diaspora is very limited and rather case studies of certain institutions or communities. Therefore we were happy to discover an excellent recent study written by Attila Papp Z., Eszter Kovács and András Kováts (in Hungarian) about the Hungarian weekend schools in the United Kingdom.

The study is based on their field work interviews and observations executed in eleven schools in the UK in 2018-2019. These institutions can be analysed in the frame of diaspora building and also as part of education and ethnic socialisation. They refer to the definition by Archer and Francis (2016) and describe weekend schools as supplementary education, which is run by an ethnic community and its aim is to teach one subject and/or the mother tongue, and cultural habits and rituals. In the UK the number of such supplementary schools is estimated between 3000 and 5000, among which 19 is listed as Hungarian. Most of this we can find in London and its vicinity, whereas others are located in other major cities (Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh). However the first Hungarian weekend school was established in 1948, the first stable one was established in 1978 in London (Londoni Magyar Iskola/Hungarian School in London). Importantly, overwhelming majority of the schools exist today were established between 2010 and 2016, which clearly resonates with the post 2008 migration trends of Hungarians arriving to the UK . According to Papp Z., Kovács and Kováts, three major arguments can be traced among parents who enrol their kids into such schools. One is personal, namely that parents want their kids to use Hungarian language outside of the family, and weekend schools are ideal and safe social spaces to do so. As second they mention rationality, which derives from the often mention shocking costs of childcare. Some of the weekend schools provide services which can be a more affordable alternative of the very expensive kindergarten/nursery/babysitter. Third, some parents were unsatisfied with other schools thus they decided to open a new one. Importantly, in the UK supplementary schools can apply for funds from authorities and local governments as well, which many did so. However in the cases we heard about the survival of the schools was dependent on the parents mainly. 

This is how our interviewee Rebeka, who is in her 40s and lives in London since 2010, remembers to her experiences as a teacher and member of the board of trustees in one of the Hungarian weekend schools. According to her experiences pupils are arriving from three main circles to Hungarian schools: 1) from Hungarian families, where both parents are from Hungary; 2) from families where both parents or one of them is from a transborder Hungarian minority community (from Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia); 3. from mixed couples, where one member of the family is of Hungarian descent. She speaks about committed parents with great respect, however she also points to the fragility of such schools. When parents find employments some other part of London, or decide to move to the countryside where housing is a bit more affordable than in London, the schools always need to figure out ways how to keep balance in budget. Interestingly, she observed that among teenagers, who enrolled into traditional British schools where boys and girls study separately, the coeducated (mixed-sex) Hungarian weekend school might remain popular.

In another interview Péter, who was a teacher at the Hungarian School in London from 2015 to 2017, confirmed that the motivation of Hungarian parents is to preserve Hungarian language, culture and customs. According to Péter, most of the pupils in the Hungarian School in London came from families which migrated recently. They are more connected to Hungary, so they consider it important for their child to learn how to read and write in Hungarian, to get acquainted with Hungarian history, literature, etc.

He also noted that the teaching methods, the overall atmosphere in these weekend schools are looser, more easy-going than in an average school in Hungary. This was unacceptable to him, thus he resigned. 

“Here’s what the kid wants…she/he goes out because she’s/he’s hungry or she/he wants to drink, she/he wants to play football, and you can’t tell her/him anything. I do not want this.”

The Hungarian School in London is an important place for Hungarian community life in England, which we will talk about in more details in our next post.

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