The corridor displays in Norwood Green Infant and Nursery School are designed not only to represent some of the ‘exciting writing’ themes the children have explored, but also to provide relevant physical and visual stimuli. Pupils from the on-site hearing-impaired unit are integrated into mainstream classes and as a result, staff and pupils are extremely language aware. Language and communication are at the centre the curriculum and this is reflected in many ways, including English being used alongside community languages and British Sign Language to deliver the learning content, model the language needed for learning, and assess pupils’ responses and understanding. Signing, speaking and listening are also readily used for enjoyment and self-expression. The children told me about the forthcoming assembly where some of them would be performing as part of the signing choir.
The children’s language awareness was further demonstrated when a group of six-year-olds, most of whom had a background in Punjabi or Urdu, explained to me that as well as using their languages, they liked to play with children who spoke Polish or Spanish (these being the home languages of two of the more recent arrivals to their class). The children seemed to take great pride in their work, describing the ‘purple polishing pen’ they use to correct mistakes and develop their writing.
Staff plan carefully to structure the acquisition of writing skills, using frameworks for reinforcing patterns and for developing increasingly complex and descriptive sentences. Where necessary, classroom learning objectives are pre-taught or re-visited in small withdrawal groups that are run in the EAL base, which is very well-resourced with IT equipment, games, realia and other artefacts. The EAL team is led by Mandeep Seehra, a Year 2 teacher. Three TAs work alongside her to support pupils, colleagues and parents. The EAL team is responsible for assessing pupils’ language proficiency and ensuring all strategic assessments are in place. They report regularly on the progress of children they are focussing on. The team counts several community languages within its repertoire, which allows them to conduct assessments in a child’s mother tongue when required. They can also draw upon the linguistic resource of the wider staff.
Mandeep and her team run workshops for parents on how to support their children’s development in English. A bilingual book club for parents and children also supports learning. In addition, the EAL team are active in involving parents in school assemblies and in encouraging volunteering at school. EAL staff also organise the activities for each ‘language of the half-term’. The associated display is another way in which language awareness is celebrated in this school.
The long-standing Chair of Governors, Charanjit Ajit Singh, talked from an informed perspective about learning and progress in the school and the governing body’s role in supporting this and all aspects of school life. Her links with the interfaith organisation Hounslow Friends of Faith, help the school to promote harmonious relationships across faiths, across language groups and across the social groups that make up the school community. All community groups are welcomed; indeed, the success of the project run by the Horn of Africa Youth Association (HAYA) is being built on and replicated for the benefit of a more recently settled group.
The headteacher, Daniel Willetts, was frank about the challenges of improving the performance of some underachieving groups. He pointed out that the school development plan is data-led and directs resources to those who need them, but that there was also much value that community involvement could add. The strong understanding amongst the extended leadership team of the need to address the language development of more experienced learners and not merely focus on the newly arrived pupils underlines the whole school approach that merits this Gold Award.