THE impact of having foreign families living in South Holland has probably been felt most by our schools, whose staff have had to learn to teach students with little or no English.
But the good news is that the result of having those pupils with English as a second language (EAL students) has been all good, both in terms of exam results in mathematics and science subjects and in the benefits to English students.
While their parents, who moved here for work and for a better quality of life, have been busily working to support their families, the children have been equally industrious, adapting to entirely unfamiliar surroundings, sitting in lessons that are not in their own language and learning a second language at the same time.
The lessons where fluent English is not essential – primarily mathematics and then science with translations for key words – are where the EAL students shine. Or, as Shona MacLeod, head of EAL at the Gleed Boys’ School, puts it: “Algebra is the same wherever you are.”
The Gleed Boys’ School – an international school since 2009 – has a dedicated EAL unit, something that evolved as the number of foreign students grew: it is now at 20 per cent, with 121 EALs among just over 600 pupils. They come from Bangladesh, Brazil, Equador, Nepal, Somalia, Philippines, Russia, Spain, Slovakia, Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
Schools have had to adapt rapidly, with the number of foreign students booming suddenly in 2006-2007 following the expansion of EU borders.
That was when the Gleed school established its dedicated unit, and Shona explains: “They come here with different levels and some might have been learning English during one lesson a week for nine years, but that’s not really preparation. What we do here is use a very structured programme, at four levels, to equip them for mainstream lessons.”
Following an assessment, an action plan is drawn up and that student is withdrawn from mainstream lessons for anything from two to ten sessions a week to receive help with the language.
That is gradually decreased as English skills grow, and at the same time two teaching assistants help the students in lessons. Additionally, all teaching staff have access to a bank of resources of translations in various languages.
“We have a really positive attitude towards EAL,” says Shona. “Our school hasn’t suffered as a result of the number of EAL sudents. In fact they probably bring the maths results up, and maybe even science.”
A peer mentoring scheme, in which English students mentor EAL pupils, is also having a good effect.
At St Paul’s Community Primary School too the experience has been positive, although with 28 per cent of EAL pupils in a 200-plus pupil school the expectation might have been otherwise. Headteacher Heather Beeken says the school has benefited from additional funding because of the amount of support staff have to give pupils.
However, she says: “We are finding the vast majority are working very hard and make good progress, in many ways better progress than the English children once they take off with reading and writing. Overall standards are rising, partly because we are doing a lot of work to improve teaching and learning in school, but as we are almost 30 per cent EAL, part of it has to be their good work ethic that has contributed to it.”
Being able to help their peers in group work, such as science experiments, and in the buddy system that pals up EAL pupils with fluent English speakers, also boosts the confidence of local children.
In fact, if anything the worry of Mrs Beeken and EAL co-ordinator Mandy Bailey is not that the EAL children are not learning English, but that they haven’t got enough knowledge of their home language, which makes learning a second language more difficult. To help them, the school employs a Polish teaching assistant, Anna Dobrawolska, a qualified teacher in Poland, who is giving children in the nursery/reception classes basic vocabulary both in English and their home language.
And there is another way English students are benefiting. Poland and other eastern European countries have some lovely traditions, which are being celebrated and enjoyed during culture days by the entire school.