An increasing number of people are concerned about the impact of cuts on children from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds and those who are learning English as an additional language (EAL).
Chris Pim, an independent consultant who works with schools and services in the UK has seen first-hand how local authorities have pulled back on their specialist services.
He explained: “While almost all local authorities will have a named person with a brief for ethnic minority pupils, this may be just one of many roles they have to fill. As services are cut, authorities might opt just to maintain a team of translators or outsource provision to a private company.”
Mr Pim is particularly concerned about the needs of advanced EAL learners. He added: “They may be coping but often they are underachieving. An EAL pupil may be at Level 4B at the end of year 6 and only 5C at end of year 9.
“Schools should not be satisfied with this level of achievement and staff really need to engage in robust monitoring systems and develop specific and additional assistance to help them fulfil their potential.”
EAL children at all levels will suffer because funding is not ring-fenced and schools do not always have the capacity or expertise to take on this area of work.
Many authorities developed provision for new arrivals so that they were not just placed in lower sets but were supported with a proper induction and a well planned buddying system. Critics argue that individual schools often cannot match this level of support.
Resources and expertise are crucial to helping pupils cross the divide between home language, English and the language needed in the classroom. Let’s take a look at some of what is out there.
Mantra Lingua is a UK publishing house which provides tools to help EAL pupils become more independent. Louise Smith, EAL co-ordinator at Bower Park School in Essex, which has 900 pupils speaking 33 different home languages, uses Mantra Lingua posters around the school to “raise cultural awareness”. She added: “We have used their Talking Labels to create an interactive display of the school for parents and new arrivals. The products are useful for our learners because they provide them with good models of speech and provide a quick and interactive entry to many different areas of the curriculum.”
As well as supplying posters, sticky labels, banners and books, Mantra Lingua also offers The Key Terms series which covers English, maths, science and geography. Pupils can see an illustration, learn how the word is pronounced and listen to a definition or explanation of how the term is used.
Often literacy schemes are used with EAL pupils, but many are not suitable because they focus on very English monocultural scenarios or have an exclusive focus on decoding and phonics. Dockside is a mixed media, “second chance” reading scheme aimed at older primary and secondary pupils who are struggling to read.
The scheme includes pupil story booklets and audio e-books which can be used on interactive whiteboards, laptops or net books. Philippa Bateman, Dockside author, said: “Young people with EAL can readily engage with the characters in the Dockside reading scheme because they reflect and embrace a positive multicultural community in which youngsters of diverse cultures are seen to share common interests such as music, fashion and technology. The themes are age and interest-appropriate and the language used is not condescending to the learner.”
Another increasingly popular choice is Fiction Express, serialised online books which can be accessed via computer or mobile phones. A chapter is published each Friday and readers have until 3pm on Tuesday to vote on options for the next instalment. Then the author has just two-and-a-half days to produce the next chapter. It is not just the story which motivates pupils to use their English skills, it is also the level of debate, discussion and interaction in class which raises standards.
Chris Pim advises companies keen to tailor their products for the EAL market and has been working with Texthelp and its product Read and Write Gold, which is widely used in schools. There is now a version called Read and Write Tutor which has many facilities for EAL pupils.
It offers text to speech, a dictionary, picture dictionary, speech-maker, pronunciation tutor and translation tools. The program will also generate a vocabulary list from a piece of text and there are instances where children have taken this home to share with parents.
Mr Pim said: “A recent arrival with little English will benefit from the picture dictionary and hearing things read out. They can pump a piece of text through the speech engine and hear it over and over again. Emergent writers will learn from the tense checker and the prediction tool which helps develop a sense of which words go together and lets them concentrate on content and not so much on the mechanics of writing.”
For late beginners and more advanced learners, Fluency Tutor, a new program from Texthelp, could develop reading fluency because of its advanced reading assessment system.
However, there is a danger that schools will use it too soon: “Children need to have done quite a lot of reading and some may not have really read much in their first language,” Mr Pim added. “When texts are matched appropriately to the reader the system has great potential.”
Cheap and free options
Talking Photo Albums: using simple controls a user can record and playback narration on each page. Use them for talking stories, diaries, non-fiction texts and sound-enabled scrap-books (search at www.tts-group.co.uk).
Use Photo Story to develop talking stories in a pupil’s first language, English or bilingually, and to create non-fiction texts for a curriculum topic. You can download this program for free (search at www.microsoft.com).
Plan upcoming work with audio notes. Some schools are using Audacity for this.
Let pupils use camera and recording facilities on a mobile phone to reinforce new vocabulary.
Use iPads for collaborative work. There are lots of good apps. Find bilingual digital texts with the International Children’s Digital Library.
Book Creator is free software that lets pupils make digital books complete with text, images and sound www.aandibooks.com/download.
Comic Life can develop social and conversational language. Get pupils to take photographs of themselves, their classmates and teachers and add speech and captions.
It may be that there will be a government turnaround with new initiatives that recognise and celebrate the cultural diversity in Britain and the range of languages spoken in schools. But don’t count on it.
It will be a great pity if schools sink back into a system where pupils learn the basics of language but cannot fulfil their potential.
Hopefully schools will have staff who are attuned to the cultural and social needs of EAL pupils and who have the skills to forge parental links and raise EAL achievement but the fear is that in the current climate, EAL and Black minority ethnic pupils may have to put up with makeshift arrangements.
Sal McKeown is a trainer and journalist, specialising in educational technology and special needs, including dyslexia.