In May 2017, Sue Smith from the EAL Academy and I visited the Phoenix School, Peterborough to verify their self assessment for the EAL Quality Mark. This school is for children with profound/severe and multiple learning difficulties and caters for ages 2-19. Needless to say, the EAL Academy Self-Assessment tool did not quite match up to the very focussed work that the school provides, so we had to go there with very open minds about what makes a school like this good for children with EAL.
Achievement and progress for pupils with EAL is in line with other children, and the school has been judged outstanding by Ofsted for the past three inspections.
EAL is led by the Trudy, deputy head and the Languages post holder, Cathy Ruffles. Both have training in good practice in EAL and are well positioned to disseminate good practice. At present, the school is expanding rapidly with 150 + staff and the leadership team says that there are challenges ahead with keeping the growing number of new staff trained. However, on our visit, all staff seemed to be very well aware of the backgrounds and language support needed for pupils and families with EAL. This is greatly helped by the fact that all families have home visits from their new teachers before they start school, often accompanied by an interpreter.
The head teacher interviews and supports all new families and the school makes every effort to find interpreters where needed. Many of these are to be found from within the school team, as recruitment has focussed on staff who share community languages. On this particular morning the Head teacher was helping a new parent who spoke Pashto to feel part of the school.
We also met the person responsible for family liaison who was able to explain the procedures for arranging home visits and liaising with social workers, using interpreters, which is often needed.
On our walk around the school, we saw the language of the month, Punjabi, being explored by KS2 children at the wonderful Punjabi Dhaba, where coloured tablecloths, music, dance and decorations were enlivening the sharing of Punjabi food. As part of the maths curriculum, this was helping children to understand money, buying food items and giving change. Children were also learning a few words of Punjabi, and a Punjabi-speaking parent was checking that everyone was getting the pronunciation of words right.
The school was also planning for WOMAID, an annual celebration of world music and dance which lasts for a week and we were shown photos of past celebrations.
Children’s languages were clearly displayed around the school and there were world maps and bilingual books. Children often will have a familiar story in, for example, Lithuanian, read to them, which they enjoy.
One of the highlights of our visit was meeting a group of children from different language backgrounds who are on the school council, and who were all very positive about the school and about the changes that they had made to the way the school was run. We heard how one of the older boys had been very much appreciated in his help with younger children. Another was interested in the words we use in other languages to say ‘hello’ and had been enjoying learning French. A third child used an ipad to communicate, but was overwhelmed by our visit, although she was clearly enjoying being part of the meeting, as you could tell by her enormous smile.
Parents and community
In this area, the school deserves to be awarded Gold, as practice is outstanding. As one parent, Gulshan, said to me ‘ Phoenix school becomes part of the family. One son is at the school now and my other son, who has cerebral palsy, and is now 22, still comes to help out.’ Gulshan was volunteering helping children to make chocolate cakes that morning, and often helps out at the school.
A Polish speaking parent, currently a mid-day supervisor, told me how the school has supported her in managing her child’s complex needs, but has also encouraged and helped her to train to be a TA. Another parent who we talked to via an interpreter was encouraged to attend ESOL classes. Many parents were seen volunteering and all were very positive about the help and support they had received.
On leaving the school, we felt that it had been a great privilege to see how a school can be so supportive of children and families from many different ethnicities and how important it is as a community hub.
Sara Mclaughlin is a member of the EAL Academy’s team and runs The EAL Network for Primary teachers in the Peterborough area. For more information about Sara visit – http://www.theealacademy.co.uk/team/sara-mclaughlin/