Language can be a barrier to learning but by embracing diversity you can not only engage more with pupils but the wider community itself.
Schools are increasingly becoming multilingual places by nature of our society. By supporting and empowering pupils with different languages, cultures and heritages this can unlock benefits for the educational institution.
The Thomas Deacon Education Trust (TDET), based in Cambridgeshire, has implemented an innovative bilingual club model at Gladstone Primary Academy, in Peterborough, to support pupils aged four to seven with learning both English and their home language.
The academy is seeing improvements in pupils’ language skills and an increase in their engagement both in and outside of the classroom.
The aim of our bilingual clubs is multifaceted. We want to support and celebrate the different heritages that are represented in our community and enhance provisions for pupils with EAL, as over 95 per cent of pupils at the academy are in this position.
We also hope to improve pupils’ bilingual and literacy skills, expand their vocabulary, boost their confidence and form stronger relations with their parents.
We initially set up a working group made up of the academy’s headteacher, Simon Martin, and staff who work in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2. We discussed what the provision would look like and if it was feasible for us to pursue.
I also travelled up to Sheffield to visit The Northern Association of Support Services for Equality and Achievement to see the work they do with EAL children.
We then applied for funding, which was a challenging process as there are lots of grants and schemes to choose from.
We were successful with an application to Peterborough City Council’s Communities Fund where we had created a proposal setting out the aims of the bilingual club and what resources and materials we would need to set up a Czech/Slovak, Romanian, Urdu and Lithuanian club.
The council held drop-in sessions which were useful as we could ask questions and get feedback on our application before we submitted it. Within weeks, we were awarded £13,000 for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Recruiting staff and pupils
After receiving funding, we began recruiting for our club leaders. This was our biggest challenge as we needed people that had experience educating young children, could speak fluently in English and either Czech, Slovak, Romanian, Urdu or Lithuanian, were available to work after school and were the right fit for our academy.
We knew that employing the right people was essential, so we asked applicants to run a mini-club session as part of their interview process. Overall, we have been slower to appoint people then we expected but we didn’t want to compromise on the quality of the clubs.
Alongside recruiting, we needed to get our parents on board. We held several coffee mornings for parents to come along and find out about the initiative and express their interest. We then consulted with our KS1 teachers to identify the pupils who would benefit the most from being part of the bilingual clubs.
How we run our bilingual clubs
We run the clubs four days a week after school. We use storytelling as the main vehicle to develop pupils’ listening skills, social interaction, vocabulary, use of longer sentences and confidence to contribute in a group setting.
Our club leaders run activities including storytelling, acting, games and crafts all based on the story of the week. They model the use of languages throughout the sessions and encourage pupils to continually switch between English and their home language. This shows the children that both languages are equally important and reinforces their ability to translate.
On Thursdays, we invite parents in to attend the clubs. We have a café area where they can have a refreshment and talk with staff. They also take part in the activities alongside pupils and find out how to continue the children’s learning at home.
The impact so far
Our Czech/Slovak club and Romanian club are up and running. We have appointed our Urdu leader and are now recruiting for our Lithuanian leader. We tested our pupils before they started the clubs to provide a baseline to judge progress against and will retest them again later.
However, already we are seeing that pupils are talking and engaging more in activities and have a rapidly expanding vocabulary in both languages. They are more confident which is benefiting their learning in the wider curriculum with teachers commenting that pupils are more willing to speak and offer answers in class, helping to increase attainment.
The clubs have also had a huge impact on our parents as they now have stronger relations and better communication with the school and our teachers. They feel more included and valued and appreciate the effort made to preserve and continue their heritage and culture. This is shown with strong attendance, despite the clubs running four nights a week. It has also given our academy and Trust a better understanding of their communities and how we can better support them.
Our short-term vision for the bilingual clubs is to establish the Urdu and Lithuanian groups and continue to embed the great practice going on at Gladstone Primary Academy. In time, we hope to roll this model out to other schools in TDET and share our learning with others in the education community.
The bilingual clubs are an exciting and innovative way to engage your pupils. Enjoy the process and continue to learn and develop your provision. If you are looking to find out more about Thomas Deacon Education Trust’s bilingual clubs, please contact Colin Baxter at [email protected].
TDET’S guide to setting up your bilingual club
- Spend time planning: researching and planning is important to ensure you know if the clubs will work in your school setting and how you would like them to run.
- Secure buy-in: your headteacher and key members of staff need to be on board with the concept and understand the impact it can have.
- Engage your parents: EAL parents can be challenging to communicate with so make sure they understand the benefits of the club.
- Find the right space: running the clubs in a space removed from the traditional “classroom” and “teacher” environment is essential to break down barriers, not only with pupils but with parents too.
- Employ the right staff: having the right staff to lead these groups is crucial. They need to not only have the language skills but also be able to communicate with and motivate pupils.
- Enjoy and continue learning.
Colin Baxter, Literacy and English as an Additional Language (EAL) Strategy Leader at TDET.