Park View School is located in the heart of N15, the UK’s most culturally diverse postcode and arguably one of the most socially deprived areas in the UK. It is considered the most ethnically diverse area in Europe. Just over 77 per cent of our school is EAL (English as an additional language) and there are approximately 50 different languages spoken at any given time.
Consequently, leading the design and implementation of the key stage 3 EAL programme in such a diverse setting seemed like an overwhelming challenge. However, by the end of my first year leading key stage 3 EAL, 68 per cent of our pupils below a Level 4C had made a minimum of two sub-levels of progress in English, many of whom were illiterate in their first language; 43 per cent had made either three or four sub-levels of progress in one year.
Put simply, the challenge was to design a programme of study at key stage 3 and narrow the achievement gap for EAL learners across the school.
At the start of September 2012, there were 101 EAL pupils in Park View with a Level of 3C or below in English. Drawing upon an article that I had read about removing barriers to learning, whereby social and emotional aspects seemed to play a huge role in predetermining successful learning outcomes, I decided that in order to narrow the gap I was going to have to broaden my focus away from literacy and view EAL from a triangulated approach – students, whole-school and community.
In the initial assessment, it is not just their English you are assessing. Upon arrival at Park View every student is assessed in English, maths and science in both their mother tongue and in English to ensure appropriate class setting across departments, giving students the opportunity to show us what they are capable of doing when language is not a barrier.
As a result, we offer recommendations to heads of department about the appropriate setting of students to maximise their attainment. For example, a Japanese student in top set maths in Tokyo, should be in top set maths in Tottenham, regardless of English ability.
We also conduct an in-depth questionnaire that allows us to ascertain everything we need to know that could either hinder or enhance a pupil’s learning outcomes (housing status, family status, hobbies and interests, what they would like to do when they leave etc). Our ambition is that from the outset, even though they may speak little English, students feel as though they are welcomed, heard, and that their learning is personalised and planned for.
In the early days, I spent many an evening staring at a long list of names and racking my brains as to how much literacy I could squeeze into any given student’s timetable before other subject areas started to complain about the large number of withdrawals from their classes. Certainly it became apparent that small literacy focus groups were not the solution to raising engagement and attainment. I decided to try a method that I had used once before when previously faced with an educational issue that I didn’t know how to overcome – I’d ask the students.
With the help of Google Translate, some dusty dictionaries and bilingual staff, we consulted the pupils and asked what they felt they needed to learn and how they felt about their current learning.
Undeniably, the EAL pupils’ main concerns were that they were always “pulled out of fun subjects”, literacy was “boring”, and they “never got to learn with their friends”.
When you are unable to communicate in a new school, the element of needing security in the form of “friends” was an important factor that I had not considered.
After much deliberation, I devised three vertical teaching groups – Induction, Intermediate and Advanced – as well as a Buddied Bilingual Reading Programme.
The induction class contains all the new arrivals and all subject areas are taught, including dance and PE, so that students can pick up the essential vocabulary required to access those lessons around the school. They are often highly practical in nature, we never use textbooks and classes are very engaging – for example, pupils learn about compass directions for geography by blowing a Malteaser around the room with a straw while blindfolded.
Vertical teaching sees all students taught literacy in a class based on their level, regardless of age, allowing for siblings that arrive together to be in the same class initially. The vertical groups are only taught three times a week and their main focus is on higher order thinking skills and core English skills. The rest of the time the students are with their peers accessing mainstream classes with partnership teaching, in-class support or just the mainstream teacher.
The Buddied Bilingual Reading Programme allows students to “bring a buddy” to reading lessons to engage in the Accelerated Reader scheme bilingually. The students lead the learning in these lessons. Ofsted identified this bilingual reading to be “a strength” in our 2013 inspection.
Ask the students what they think they need to learn and how they feel about their daily school experiences.
Teach all mainstream subjects within the induction class.
Provide student leadership opportunities.
Promote socialisation through learning.
Without doubt it is highly important to lead, train and develop staff to be able to competently plan for, differentiate and assess the needs of EAL pupils. This helps to maximise potential and close the attainment gap both effectively and quickly across all national curriculum areas.
As a result of feedback gained through a staff survey, I timetabled in mainstream partnership lessons within SEN, PSHE, humanities and maths alongside spreading my in-class support across into PE, BTEC options and modern foreign languages.
My intention was to train and support staff and share existing good practice around the school to maximise the impact. I wanted staff to feel energised by the challenge of teaching in an ethnically diverse inclusive school as well as equipped to make a positive impact. Furthermore, I considered it imperative that EAL was seen as a whole-school responsibility and not just a room where students who don’t speak much English are sent.
Spread partnership teaching across core and non-core subjects.
Identify, share and build upon existing good practice.
Spread in-class support across core and non-core subjects.
For students who are at the early stages of acquiring English, most pupils will learn and retain three new English words per lesson – therefore you are going to need to be engaging and creative in your teaching of them to keep them on task and learning.
Seating plans: space your EAL learners around the room, you do not need to have them all on the same table. If you want your pupils to learn English give them the opportunity to be surrounded by English-speaking pupils
Know all your students: do you know the language and country that your EAL student speaks/comes from? Is your Portuguese speaker from Portugal or Brazil? You may have a bilingual speaker in your class that you are not aware of who can translate for you. Give them lead learner responsibilities in that class.
Highlight your keywords in colour. EAL learners will know to focus on these words.
Have a picture to set the context of the lesson on the board at the start of every lesson. Upon entry, your EAL learner will know the subject matter of that lesson without needing to ask anyone or use a dictionary.
Allow them to write in their own language in the early days. This allows for students to keep up their extended writing skills, skills which can be transferred as English language acquisition improves.
As a school we have set up consultation forums, worked closely with the heritage team, translated letters home, conducted home visits and offered adult literacy classes. We really do try and provide as much as we can for the students and their families to engage fully in school life.
Get a breakdown of the languages spoken by staff in your school.
Build relationships with the mentors and community workers in your school.
Invite parents in to inform the curriculum planning.
Provide opportunities for parents to improve their English.
Frequently when we refer to “narrowing the gap for EAL pupils” we immediately think of raising attainment by taking them out of mainstream classes and into small group literacy sessions.
While this clearly has its place and value, I’ve found a whole-school approach that encompasses the social and emotional aspects to learning, staff training, mainstream in-class support and student leadership has been the foundation of our success, alongside involving parents in our decision-making processes.SecEd
Teaching LeadersTeaching Leaders is an education charity, whose mission is to address educational disadvantage by developing middle leaders working in schools in the most challenging contexts. The charity is recruiting its next cohort of middle leaders to start its Fellows programme in 2014. Visit www.teachingleaders.org.uk
Hayley Jarvis is head of ethnic minorities and head of key stage 3 at Park View Academy in north London and a member of the Teaching Leaders programme.