Babington Community College’s outstanding practice with EAL pupils has been noticed before. In 2013 Ofsted remarked said: “The school provides outstanding support to promote literacy, particularly for those students newly arrived in the country, who are at an early stage of learning English.” In 2015 the school was a case study in Ofsted’s Overcoming barriers: ensuring that Roma children are fully engaged and achieving in education.
Since then it has continued to prosper. Its 2016 Progress 8 score for EAL pupils is, at 0.58, well above the national average for EAL pupils. So what is it that makes Babington so special?
The school is in Leicester and like most Leicester schools has an intake which is majority but not overwhelmingly EAL. The most widely spoken languages after English are Gujarati, Somali, Slovak and Polish. The high number of Slovak speakers is indicative of a substantial East European Roma population, which comprises about 10% of the school roll. It is also a school that has coped well with high levels of mobility with around 70% of EAL pupils having been in the UK for under five years.
The school operates around the Babington Ways, very short and effective statements about teaching and learning and behaviour for learning. Behaviour for learning is reinforced by BC4L (Building Character for Learning), strands of which always feature in lesson objectives. The ethos and values underpinning this approach are expressed in the form of pledges from the staff to pupils and pupils to the school. So far, so good. However, we all love apple pie and motherhood, but what has all this got do with EAL?
Let’s take one small example. The last sentence of the staff pledge is: “We will recognise and nurture the talents, skills and abilities of each and every one of you to enable you to grow and develop and become learners for life.” What does that mean in practice? If you walk into a classroom in Babington, select a pupil and ask the teacher what the first language is of that pupil, not only can they all tell you, but they also how know how long the pupil has been learning English, how their English is progressing and what strategies are appropriate to support the pupil at this stage of their English development.” They know because the EAL Department has provided them with the information in an easily accessible format and trained them in how to use the classroom strategies. So the pledge is embedded into every teacher’s practice and leaders expect to see the strategies in every classroom.
Wherever you go in Babington you see pupils purposefully engaged in talk (in pairs, in small groups and whole class discussion). They talk to learn and have the vocabulary to reflect on learning. And their teachers genuinely have very high expectations of them. The first sentence of the staff pledge begins “We all want the best for you.” High expectations from teachers lead to ambitious pupils, as I found out at the end of the day when I spoke to some former pupils now at sixth form college (Babington is an 11-16 school). These pupils were Roma. Like the pupils still at the school, they valued the absence of racism, the demands teachers made of them and the extra-curricular opportunities that had expanded their horizons. I asked two of these A level students what they would do next: one wanted to be a pilot and the other a lawyer and they had already plotted the university routes that would get them there.