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How difficult is it in a class where half do not speak English as their first language?

(39 Posts)
cherylforPM Sun 01-Nov-09 18:16:30

Post regularly on mumsnet but name changed for this as scared of being misconstrued - please try to understand what I am saying.

Nearest school to us got a bad Ofsted a couple of years ago but says it's improving and I have no doubt it will pull itself up from its 3 rating by the time DD should be due to go there in 2 years time.
My concern is - and would be interested to hear from teachers and parents in same situation - is if you live in a deprived area where half the kids do not speak English as their first language, whether it means that those who do then don't get challenged as much at school? Does this turn out to be a problem?
Please don't flame me for this because I realise this could sound like I don't want my child to go to a multicultural school. I do very much. However I don't want to sacrifice her education on an ideal.....

sarah293 Sun 01-Nov-09 18:20:52

Message withdrawn

mumblechum Sun 01-Nov-09 18:24:35

no idea but bump.

ilovemydogandmrobama Sun 01-Nov-09 18:25:07

It's amazing how quickly kids pick up another language, so even if they don't speak English at home, they will be fluent quickly.

At our local primary, the children who don't speak English as a first language, are able to get 1:1 help, but for the most part, reception and the early years, don't seem to be academically based anyway, but play based.

Do you mean that your DD will start primary school in 2 years time, or is already in primary school and will start in the new school in 2 years time?

littleducks Sun 01-Nov-09 18:25:07

I dont like it at all and have avoided such schools for my dcs

My dh is actually british pakistani, but although the dcs do speak his community language i always insisted they got a good grip of English so that they were able to do well at school

I suppose in reality each school set up is indivual, there is a big difference between children being bilingual and having a thorough grasp of English and not speaking a word on their first day of school (but it would be the same box ticked on the form so figures alone wouldnt reflect this)

My nieces school was very much the latter and most children were expected to learn English at school only speaking English there and picking up stuff from tv, the teachers were exasperated about it and standards of work were far lower

preciouslillywhite Sun 01-Nov-09 18:27:48

What Riven said. Plus usually the kids who don't have english as their mother tongue get extra help in the classroom (unless the school is stingy with its TAs. I assume this won't be the case if half of the kids are non English speakers)...

In my experience, the non English speaking kids pick it up very fast.

If I were you I'd try it out for a year- you'll most likely find that your fears are unfounded.

AvengingGerbil Sun 01-Nov-09 18:29:17

I'm afraid I took my DS out of just such a school as you describe. All the class time was spent on helping the 75% non-English speakers (as it should have been - their needs were greatest). And socially it was a disaster as (perhaps unusually) the non-English speakers all had a shared other language, so the playground language was not English either.

I've felt uncomfortable about the move - I don't want to be seen to contribute to 'white flight', though I guess I have - but it was absolutely the right thing to do for DS.

DameEdnaAverage Sun 01-Nov-09 18:32:44

I teach at a school like this in Birmingham. More than half of the children in my class speak English as an additional Language. However, the vast majority of these children speak excellent English and many are in my top literacy group. They are down on the EAL register because they speak a different language at home. I have only a couple of children who need additional help due to their lack of English.

I would hate to think that the children in my class are less challenged because of the high proportion of children with EAL. I carefully group the children and support them where appropriate. The school also runs booster groups for gifted children and ones with special needs alike so that they all fulfil their potential.

I honestly think that in the majority of cases the fact that many children speak a different language at home is largely irrelevant.

stakethroughtheheartofgold Sun 01-Nov-09 18:37:43

our school has kids from many backgrounds and often has new kids who speak very little english. doesn't appear to have impacted at all on dd1's education, except in a positive way, she knows so much more about so many different countries/cultures than i ever did as a kid. as dog/obama says it's all play based in the early years (plus we're in wales, so more so than england) so it's not all sitting at desks filling in worksheets and our school seems to do a pretty good job keeping most of the kids engaged most of the time, irrespective of their abilities.

WartoScreamo Sun 01-Nov-09 18:45:43

I am on the other side of this. We speak English at home. My dd goes to a french speaking school. Due t it's proximity to Nato, about 30% of class speak other non-local languages and others still speak Dutch at home. It has never been a problem. All teaching is done in French and the children pick it up very quickly. There are no teaching assistants either.

belgo Sun 01-Nov-09 18:47:38

Agree with Warto,n the belgian school system copes very well with having a significant proportion of children who come from a bi ligual or tri lingual houisehold (60% of children in my girls' school are bilingual).

I think it adds to the learning experience, they come home singing happy birthday in spanish for example.

mrz Sun 01-Nov-09 18:57:25

I remember when I was at university my lecturer actively chose a school with a high level of EAL pupils for his own children because he believed it would be an advantage.
Schools I've taught in with high EAL have actually been much better than some with pupils for whom English is their first language. As in all things there are so many variables that affect performance.

stakethroughtheheartofgold Sun 01-Nov-09 19:06:45

i think a school that deals well with difference, whilst binding them into a cohesive community, is a better school than one which expects everyone to fit into a narrow model of expected behaviour/outcomes/learning styles. the ofsted rather than the languages would be my concern - our ofsted (equivalent) is outstanding.

Wonderstuff Sun 01-Nov-09 19:16:26

Children pick up language very quickly. My school has increasing numbers of children with EAL most of them speak v.good English (often better than there native peers tbh) I think it has been a great benefit to my prodominity white working class school, a lot of the immigrant children are from families which really value education and many of them have gone on to get excellent GCSE results. They get very little LSA support, a few hours with a bilingual LSA when they first arrive, then nothing extra unless they have SEN. I think they are allowed a bilingual dictionary in exams if they have been in the UK for less than 2 years.

Anyway, I wouldn't worry about high levels of EAL, I would be more concerned about what the school is doing to improve.

edam Sun 01-Nov-09 19:24:54

Depends entirely on the individual school and how they handle this - if, as someone further down said, the language spoken in the playground is one your child doesn't speak, that will be a big disadvantage. If all the children for whom English is a second language actually have a good standard of English anyway, then it's unlikely to be a problem.

Have also seen threads where there have been social problems in schools where most/all of the non-English speakers come from one community and that community doesn't do playdates outside its own members.

hester Sun 01-Nov-09 19:35:35

I think it must depend on a range of factors, though I have no useful experience (dd starts primary next year). All our local schools have over 50% children speaking EAL, and some up to 90%. I recently visited one, and thought it a lovely school. The headmaster, who was showing me round, raised the issue unprompted. He said, 'even though over 60% of our children speak EAL, in the main they come from families that are very supportive of education, and that means we can achieve impressive results - social as well as academic". The children were very mixed, with no one ethnic or linguistic group dominating (which would worry me - if 80% of the children share a language that my dd can't speak, that may be very isolating). They seemed happy and enthusiastic and well-behaved.

In another I visited, there were definite signs that it may be more problematic. For a start, they were completely astonished I wanted to visit the school - it was like no parent had ever visited before. And though I liked the school in many ways, and was really impressed by the reception teacher, I was really struck by the scale of the difficulties they deal with. Like: 20% of the children recent refugees, many from very traumatic backgrounds; 90% boys in some classes; 40% turnover in every school year. The alarm bells ringing for me are: within the classroom, dd could be the one child who doesn't need additional support, so could end up getting very little attention. In the playground, she could end up being one of very few girls, and maybe end up excluded linguistically from that small group. And, above all, she will have no stable cohort of friends to go through school with.

These things DO matter, but it's about getting to know the school and seeing what happens in practice, not making too many assumptions (e.g. EAL = bad school). If my dd ends up only getting a place at the second school, I will give it a go, but I'm really hoping she ends up having the benefit of attending a socially mixed school in a multicultural city without having to sacrifice her own learning or social life.

smee Sun 01-Nov-09 19:36:07

When it's time to choose, go and see the school. If the children look happy, calm and confident, then I'd say it's fine. DS goes to a very mixed school in every way and we haven't noticed a problem at all - in fact he came back the other day more than miffed as he only speaks one language (English) and feels left out. If your school's very mono cultured, then what Avenging Angel said about a playground language might be an issue - if so I'd ask the teachers what their take on that is, as nobody likes to feel excluded from play, no matter what the reason is.

GrumpyYoungFogey Sun 01-Nov-09 19:57:59

Extremely sad that the OP had to change their handle to post about their very reasonable concerns.

A large part of the middle-class mania about "good-schools" (and hence most of the discussion on MN) seems to be driven by avoiding schools such as these, or those where there are high numbers of pupils from what are seen as the more disruptive ethnic minorities.

But these people would condemn those in working-class districts like Dagenham for their typically more direct (and much more honest) responses to immigration.

The hypocrisy of the metropolitan liberal is staggering.

deaddei Sun 01-Nov-09 20:00:27

In our area, even if the children speak EASL, they are the ones who usually go to the uner-selective grammar schools. Their value on education is very high.
I agree with Hester- some EASL schools are fab, others aren't.

deaddei Sun 01-Nov-09 20:00:50

uber not uner blush

StewieGriffinsMom Sun 01-Nov-09 20:05:42

Message withdrawn

cherryblossoms Sun 01-Nov-09 20:13:12

As others have said - it depends on the school. In fact I'd pretty much repeat Hester and Edam's postings.

I can think of one school I've visited just like Hester's school no. 1, with its parents who place a value on learning and where they completely handle EAL issues. And I've had friends who's dc have attended schools where there have been no playdates and difficulties in meeting the requirements of all the children.

jennifersofia Sun 01-Nov-09 21:48:03

Echoing what others have said really. I teach at a school that is about 99% EAL, my children go to a school that is about 60% EAL. I think it is important to look at all the 'shoulder' issues - socio-economics is sometimes more important than EAL. If the school is mainly mono-cultural (eg mostly students from 1 country or religion) that may have a greater impact on your child who would not be of that culture. Playdates, friends in playground, ability to communicate etc. Do the parents value education? Do they value it enough (and have enough education themselves) to be actively supportive at home? Also, I think multi-cultural is easier than mono-cultural (but not of your culture).

BeehiveBaby Sun 01-Nov-09 21:59:25

I looked around a school for DD1 where the TAs seemed to be employed as translators rather than TAs and one where the nursery teacher seemed completely exasperated by the EAL children sad. I sent her to one with a growing minority of EAL children where the teachers are enthusiastic but inexperienced with it so hope I have made the right decision. DD1 informed me correctly that some people queuing ahead of us in a shop were speaking Sapnish and I could have died of pride! I have no language skills and am more concerned about rubbish foreign language teaching provision for English speaking kids TBH.

mathanxiety Sun 01-Nov-09 21:59:56

Agree with Hester and Jennifersofia. Looking beyond the surface is very important, especially the attitude to education.

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