At Featherstone Primary and Nursery School in West London, the overwhelming majority of the pupils (some 95%) use a language other than English in their daily lives. The largest language group speaks Punjabi, but approximately 29 languages are represented in the school. As I walked through the playground, before morning school, the conversations taking place between parents and staff gave the impression that communication, in whatever language, was welcomed. As the morning progressed, I saw many more examples of how “language aware” the school is.
There were multilingual displays in the corridors and classrooms, including one in Italian to acknowledge the recently arrived group of Italian children with Punjabi heritage. Alongside the many displays of children’s work, there were direct quotations where children asserted the things that they ‘can do’. Parents were on display too, with the Nursery children’s parents setting out their ‘star’ expectations of what their child would achieve by the time they reached Reception.
Jayshri Naidoo, the EAL Co-ordinator showed me into the Year 5 assembly. It was Refugee Week and the themes of inclusiveness, belonging and welcoming newcomers were reflected in the pupils’ multi-sensory performances. The school community has been learning Makaton and this language was used alongside English in a rendering of the song “Heal the world”. These themes were also picked up in lessons.
The idea of the school as a strong and supportive community extends beyond the classroom. Mr Ali, one of the parent governors spoke about “spearheading communication with parents”. In addition to Family Learning initiatives and English language classes, there is also regular dialogue, particularly with parents who are newer to the area, on a number of health and safeguarding topics. This work is supported by close working with well-established groups such as Southall Black Sisters and the Victoria Climbié Foundation. Mr Ali also spoke about how data is used to identify underperformance. As a result, some boys from a minority group in the school were being targeted for specific interventions.
Approximately 18% of pupils are assessed using the Bell Foundation Framework as being in the first two stages of English acquisition. These targeted pupils have sessions with the EAL team to prepare them for learning in the mainstream. Activities include pre-teaching vocabulary. Pupils in the third, fourth and fifth stages are supported through scaffolded approaches to teaching in mainstream classes. Children I spoke to said they liked the way their teachers helped them learn. A Lithuanian girl in Year 6 said she felt her teachers had prepared her well for work at the Senior School next year.
The headteacher, Des Lee, was very clear about importance of oracy. He believed strongly that pupils should be given the opportunity to rehearse their ideas and develop the language needed to express them through purposeful talk activities, before attempting to write. Accordingly, teachers plan for language development and the acquisition of more demanding academic concepts. Quality first teaching is the norm, with the use scaffolding strategies such as talk frames/thinking frames. The headteacher is pleased with recent increases in progress and attainment data.
The leadership team know their school well and understand the diverse nature of its intake. The EAL Policy points out the centrality of language to pupil identity. The progress of all pupils is carefully monitored and analysed by proficiency in English and ethnicity. Expectations are high and the needs of children new to learning English are not confused with special educational needs. Regular staff development sessions support staff in distinguishing between, and then addressing, the wide range of children’s needs. The EAL Co-ordinator keeps up to date with developments in her specialism through attendance at the local Ethnic Minority Achievement Network.
By the end of a very full morning, it was clear that Featherstone truly merited a Gold Quality Mark Award. The parents were keen to tell me about how the EAL team had inducted them into school life and helped them understand what their children were learning about during the day. They described the high esteem in which the school is held by the local community. It was clear that they also endorsed the award.