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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


How Polish complementary schools have helped transnational children stay in touch during the pandemic

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 31 March 2021

Sara Young.

Trying to stay in touch with friends and family during the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone. Lockdown has been particularly hard for teenagers. But how has it affected those children and young people who are transnationals, and have family and friends in more than one country? (more…)

Learning together: crossing the language barrier with bilingual pupils

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 11 September 2015

Li Wei
“What do I do when all my pupils speak different languages that I don’t understand myself, even though I speak several languages already?” This is a question I was once asked by an experienced teacher who was getting ready for a trip to Sierra Leone as a volunteer teacher. She taught history and geography in an inner London school and spoke English, fluent French, and had a good knowledge of German and Spanish. We talked about the possibilities of having many different languages and dialects amongst the children she would be teaching, and the purpose and objective of her trip. She concluded that the only feasible way was to allow the children to use whatever language or dialect they felt most comfortable in and to ‘co-construct’ knowledge with her. So rather than teaching them directly, she would learn as much from the pupils as they would from her. They would be learning together.
This is the idea behind ‘Translanguaging’, a dynamic process of knowledge building and meaning making that employs (more…)

London’s 300 languages are a boon for all the capital’s children

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 June 2014

Catherine Wallace
The Chief Inspector of Schools, Michael Wilshaw, has hit the headlines again, this time with the suggestion that schools should be able to fine parents if they don’t read to their children. There are many reasons why this is a bad idea: it’s unenforceable, and would tend to penalise families who are already struggling financially, for example. But also, it fails to recognise the many ways that families practice literacy in their homes and communities.
I’ve been studying migrant children in London schools whose first language is not English, and what comes through in these pupils’ narratives is the various ways that literacy is embedded in their home lives. This can involve reading with siblings, teaching English to grandparents or newly-arrived relatives, writing stories that are never revealed to the teacher, and, of course, religious lessons at Mosques or Gurdwaras.
In today’s target-oriented classrooms, there is little space to acknowledge culturally variable ways of learning, and little awareness that socialisation into literacy may not follow the prescribed path of bedtime story reading or parent and child sitting together with a book. And while migrant children may not possess the same sort of cultural capital enjoyed by their middle class peers, they have another, valuable, type of cultural capital that is much less well-recognised.
The ability to think and speak in more than one language and to operate across several cultures allows them to see the world from a perspective that has the potential to enrich learning for them and their classmates. Yet, in schools, as in society, having English as an additional language is sometimes seen as a deficit.
And while English is the goal, since parents and pupils want this, this need not mean an English only classroom.
I studied two groups of children: new arrivals and settled migrants (who make up the majority of second-language learners in London’s classrooms). Two children from the first group were Zara – a refugee from Somalia – and Mohan – who came from Afghanistan and lived for some years in France. Although their English is less proficient than the “advanced bilingual learners” from the second group, they come with a valuable set of resources:

  • Their mother tongues are well established, so that they can more readily serve as a resource. Mohan’s home is multilingual – four languages are spoken and he himself actively uses three in daily life: French to his siblings, English at school, and Pashto to his parents.
  • Some of the pupils have a strong formal educational background and may feel confident in particular subject areas, such as maths.
  • Most are literate in their first language – and first language proficiency in literacy is widely accepted as a strong predictor for successful acquisition of good literacy in English.

Despite these apparent advantages, the pupils’ languages other than English receive scant acknowledgement at school, although Mohan has the advantage that French is his dominant language. There is a clear hierarchy of languages in our schools and society, and Western European languages such as French and German remain at the top.
More than 300 languages are spoken in London’s schools, offering a wealth of knowledge, new perspectives and cultural riches to all of London’s children. Surely this cumulative bounty has contributed to the success of London’s schools. This week’s report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the IOE suggests that London’s multi-ethnic mix could be one reason why the city’s deprived children get better academic results than those in other parts of the country. The benefits brought by bilingualism must be a contributing factor.
London as a global city is ideally placed to spearhead an era of new opportunities for cultural and linguistic exchange in our schools. And yet, while the statistics tell an encouraging story of the positive impact of migration and diversity, the picture is still mixed. Overall, the group of young people I studied is doing well, but it is in many ways a success story against the odds.
Professor Catherine Wallace’s lecture on EAL pupils in London Schools, being given on 26 June, is available from IOE Press