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Native language as Exceptional Medical or Social Circumstances in school admission - any ideas?

(124 Posts)
Phenikz Mon 18-Apr-11 14:26:17

We are French speaking Swiss Family. All primary schools in our area but one offer French as part of their curriculum. We applied to our local catchment school under the admission rule about "Exceptional medical or social circumstances". Our reason (exceptional social circumstance) is that our son needs to access French as part of the curriculum. In this way he will maintain his native language and we will preserve our linguistic cohesion as a family. If he does not experience French at school, he will be embarrassed and reluctant to speak it at home and will eventually loose it. This was happening to our elder daughter until we moved her into a school that does offer French. Then we will have to speak English, a foreign language, to communicate within the family. We do speak English as well, don't get me wrong , but we would like to preserve our cultural heritage.

For sad reasons we were allocated a place at the only local school that does not offer French, even though we are not in its catchment area. The curriculum there is deliberately restricted (even "Topics" were abandoned) because it is failing (in special measures), so they are not likely to teach French in the foreseeable future.

We are going to appeal. The LA did not consider us under this rule maybe because it is not medical or social services related. But some LAs, Devon notably, do interpret it broadly and include compelling educational reasons.

Could anyone advise what the law about exceptional reasons is? Any other laws or regulations that could help us?

Any experience?


mrz Mon 18-Apr-11 14:31:43

I don't think it would count I'm afraid as an exceptional circumstance. Primary school French lessons are unlikely to meet your expectations and many children attend schools where their home language isn't spoken much less taught.

hocuspontas Mon 18-Apr-11 14:31:50

If you had Portuguese, Mandarin, Swahili etc as your 1st language you wouldn't expect to get into a school that had those languages on the curriculum so I can't see that you have a special case. Most families I know speak their native language at home and the children pick up English at school. I can't see that an hour a week of French on the curriculum would make a lot of difference. Good luck anyway!

pooka Mon 18-Apr-11 14:34:12

Umm... Well in dd's class at school (now year 3) there is a girl who speak spanish at home, all the time. Her parents speak Spanish to her, they are native speakers (south American/Spanish). She speaks English at school and is completely bilingual. No Spanish lessons at school. Same applies for the girl with Chinese parents, the girl with Bulgarian parents and the boy with Russian parents.

They do learn some French at school, but not much really and rtainly not enough to support or maintain fluency.

I am surprised that with you and your dh speaking only, no English, at home, it is not possible to foster bilingualism. I also remember my beet friend at school had a Greek mother and English father and they followed the one parent one language system at home and friend was completely bilingual ANC capable to switching in a heartbeat from Greek on school run to English inplayground and back again to Greek with her mother and into English when her father got home.

pooka Mon 18-Apr-11 14:37:00

Obviously meant French only at home.

To be honest, if I were another parent chasing a school place I would be pretty hmm if this were taken as grounds for winning an appeal gaining entry into preferred school.

Gooseberrybushes Mon 18-Apr-11 14:39:10

Total immersion is just that. Tis up to you to maintain her native language not the state system.

Gooseberrybushes Mon 18-Apr-11 14:40:15

I mean, sorry you are in a failing school, that's terrible. But no, I don't think you should get a place so that you can keep up her French and I hope the local authority doesn't think so either.

Goblinchild Mon 18-Apr-11 14:40:36

Sorry, but this would come under the 'Grasping at straws' filing category.

frakyouveryverymuch Mon 18-Apr-11 14:51:18

I don't think it would work, although I see your point about 'normalising' French. I know of a couple of people who've tried it for the bilingual schools in London as an exceptional need and had their application turned down, and that's for bilingual immersion and maintaining a French curriculum which is more of a compelling reason than wanting to preserve bilingualism, which can be done for many languages without school support.

mrz Mon 18-Apr-11 14:51:19

One lesson a week of learning a song in French or colours/fruit/veg isn't going to maintain the language.
My Polish pupil had 2 visits from a non Polish speaking support teacher and then left to learn English from non Polish speaking teachers ... and he has.

Phenikz Mon 18-Apr-11 14:56:06

Thank you for your comments, Pooka, but the question is not about how to learn English, which we all speak very well, along with German, Italian and a few other languages ...

Parents who speak Swahili do not expect it to be offered because of "efficient tuition and avoidance of unreasonable expenditure".
Since the French is already on the curriculum surely French speaking families should be given access to native language.

If you lived in China and all schools would offer English as a foreign language, you would find it peculiar if you were given a place at the only school that does not.

Any other idea anyone?

What about the Human Rights Act 1998 which confers a right of access to education including for example, the parents’ rights to ensure that their child’s education conforms to their convictions (so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure)?

Equality legislation?

Any expats with some ideas or experiences?

hocuspontas Mon 18-Apr-11 14:58:41

But it's not 'access to a native language'. Primary French is learning a few verbs and colouring in.

mrz Mon 18-Apr-11 15:02:32

The point is that Primary French isn't really going to be a benefit to a French speaker.

This is the Primary curriculum

1. In the early stages of language learning pupils might be taught:

how to use and respond to the foreign language

how to listen carefully in order to discriminate sounds, identify meaning and develop auditory awareness

correct pronunciation and intonation

how to ask and answer questions

techniques for memorising words, phrases and short extracts

how to use context and clues to interpret meaning

how to make use of their knowledge of English or another language in learning the foreign language.

2. Pupils can be taught about other countries and cultures by:

working with authentic materials including some from ICT-based sources

considering their own culture and comparing it with others

considering the experiences of other people.

3. In order to develop their knowledge, skills and understanding further, pupils might also be taught:

the interrelationship of sounds and writing

simple aspects of grammar and how to apply them

how to initiate conversations

how to use dictionaries and other reference materials

how to communicate with each other in the foreign language in pairs
and groups and with their teacher

how to use their knowledge of the language creatively and imaginatively

how to use the foreign language for real purposes.

clam Mon 18-Apr-11 15:07:37

Also, MFL (Modern Foreign Languages often, but not always French, in primary schools) is about to be ditched anyway.
There's no way you could make this stick in an appeal, sorry.

washedup Mon 18-Apr-11 15:07:49

My DD has a good friend who is of French origin and speaks French to her parents at home and English at school. At 8, she finds her French lessons at school terribly tedious indeed and because she is soooo bored, just messes about, being disruptive, which she isn't normally! I don't think you have a leg to stand on with this one.

frakyouveryverymuch Mon 18-Apr-11 15:13:26

Personally I would actively avoid a school which taught either French or English as a first foreign language. If we stay in France I would prefer exposure to German, in England I would request a school offering German, Spanish or Italian - unless, of course, it were a fully bilingual school but they tend to be few and far between in the state sector.

Children get bored when they're taught their native language by incompetent teachers (not that the teachers in that school are necessarily incompetent but they're unlikely to have a very high level of fluency/be native speakers) and it also denies them the opportunity of experiencing the process of learning another language that other children are going to.

GnomeDePlume Mon 18-Apr-11 15:19:22

We were returning expats so basically had to accept a failing school as we joined late. On the plus side a failing school will be getting assistance to improve so there can be some advantage to going to an acknowledged crap school than a decidedly mediocre school.

On the language thing, we sent our DCs to the local school when abroad. The school did teach English towards the end of primary but what was taught was a long way from what we were speaking at home. To maintain your own languages you would be far better doing this at home. We did this.

Sorry, some poor sod is going to have to send their kids to the crap school, why should it not be you?

clam Mon 18-Apr-11 15:20:28

If it is that important to you that your children maintain their mother-tongue, then you can surely just make sure they speak it at home? That's going to be a million times more beneficial than the low-level "Je m'appelle ... " stuff that goes in in your average primary classroom. In KS2. At the moment. In some schools.

madwomanintheattic Mon 18-Apr-11 15:20:38

honestly? waste of time to appeal on those grounds.

and even if you won, it would be hollow victory, because you would spend the next 5 years bemoaning the state of 'french' lessons - which are generally not taught by a french teacher at that point in the curriculum, but by the class teacher (who may or may not even have gcse french ime). and consist, as other have said, of colouring in pictures of the weather and drawing a line between the pictures to link the words.

of course, it would be worth it to get out of the failing school, but you'd have to suck up the rubbish 'french' lessons. totally invalid reason for appeal. in fact, it would prove that you had not done your research.

why not accept the place at the failing school, volunteer as a parent governor, and help the ht pull the school up by the bootstraps.

i assume as the place is failing it is in special measures - they may have an interim ht who is a go-getter, and would appreciate a solid governing body for back-up.

Goblinchild Mon 18-Apr-11 15:23:31

I teach French in my primary school. I have an O level from the late 70s and an atrocious accent but it's the best I can do. When the new curriculum comes in, MFL may well disappear from many primary schools if it isn't compulsory.

Phenikz Mon 18-Apr-11 15:28:26

Even learning a few words does convey and reinforce an important message that multilingualism is not a weird embarrassing thing, but is a normal and inspirational thing, an integral part of education. The government want to introduce the UK Baccalaureate which should include a compulsory foreign language. The message is that speaking several languages is an expected normality, is aspirational. Psychologically it would motivate the child to maintain the language.

What is the point of letting the child to loose a language and later to expect him to speak that very language to gain decent qualifications?

A native child would enrich the learning of other pupils learning French.

Multilingual and multicultural families should feel welcome and comfortable maintaining their multilingual and multicultural heritage in this country. Multiligualism involves a particular outlook, values, knowledge which are all iontegral part of education. Education is exactly the place for this.
The policy on RE encourages sharing and learning various religions. So why not allow a french speaking family to share their language and to learn it as part of the curriculum?

mrz Mon 18-Apr-11 15:34:51

I'm sure the allocated school would love you to share your language with them and it would probably be more useful than Primary mfl is to your child. Sorry but I can't see an argument that 1 lesson a week of French (perhaps taught by some who barely speaks it them self) is an Exceptional circumstance.
Do the other schools teach French in reception or just in KS2? It varies greatly and isn't compulsory now so may be scrapped totally as has been said already.

Goblinchild Mon 18-Apr-11 15:35:17

grin I have 7 languages in my class and 19 in the school that I know of.
Many of the children are bilingual. I appreciate the native French speakersa not laughing when we're doing French.
I still think you are grasping at straws and if the place available had been in a good school that had Spanish as their MFL option, you would have been perfectly happy.

frakyouveryverymuch Mon 18-Apr-11 15:44:26

A native speaking child will be used as an unofficial teaching assistant at best, resented for their knowledge at worst. There are many, many threads on MN on this subject, mostly from MNers living abroad whose DC are being taught English at school and not stretched, being used as teaching assistants or being taught incorrectly/labelled as troublemakers for trying to correct the teacher.

I agree that multilingualism isn't weird or embarassing, but you're still denying your child the opportunity afforded to classmates - that of learning another language. Why can mutliculturalism and multilingualism not be supported by a school which doesn't offer French as a foreign language?

If you want your child to grow up speaking a language to a level of functional fluency then you as a family need to put in that effort, rather than relying on school. It might normalise bilingualism for your DC to hear French taught (however badly) but I sincerely doubt it will do much good in the long run. The connection to your native langauge needs to come from within - the need to communicate with family, access to materials or experiences which are only available through the medium of your target language and a sense that multilingualism, not just bilingualism, but communication in all languages is valued.

Gooseberrybushes Mon 18-Apr-11 16:11:40

"What is the point of letting the child to loose a language and later to expect him to speak that very language to gain decent qualifications?"

Why don't you do it if it's that important to you?

There are UK parents who are having to teach their children the basics of reading and times tables never mind MFL. So quite frankly I've no sympathy at all with French speaking parents demanding that the UK system keep up their childre's native tongue. Been an expat and expected nothing like this in any country I've lived in. Including Europe. There are French schools you can pay for if you fancy it. A lot of parents here have to pay for a decent education in the basics - maintenance of a native tongue is an extra particularly when the parents can do it themselves.


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