Teacher Talk

Anita Sollis is head of ethnic-minority achievement at Southfields Community College in south London, a comprehensive for 11 to 18-year-olds.
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The Independent Online

How many pupils from ethnic minorities are at your school?

How many pupils from ethnic minorities are at your school?

Our school has got about 60 per cent ethnic-minority children. That means we have the equivalent of two and a half staff members to help with ethnic-minority achievement under the Government's funding formula. We have about 25 per cent Caribbean heritage children, most of whom were born in this country. Then we have pupils from all over the world, including refugees from Albania, Sri Lanka, the Congo, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Some will have never been to school. So they have the culture shock of a new country and of school. We also have a lot of Ahmadi Muslims, who are a persecuted group in Pakistan, where they are treated as heretics and receive death threats. Their centre of exile is in Southfields. It's like the Vatican - their holy leader is here. They are wonderful students. Our school tends to be proactive about taking pupils from abroad. It's often to our advantage because although initially there are language difficulties, they are keen to work.

What does your role entail?

Welcoming the newcomers and making their integration as comfortable as possible. We sort out other students with the same language to befriend them. Our office doubles up as a homework club and a safe haven where they can relax. Beginners in English get maybe a couple of hours of support, but we are very overstretched. We can get into certain lessons and support the pupils, but a lot of our work consists of informing the teaching staff of the pupils' needs. We help the staff differentiate materials for the children. We also suggest that teachers involve the students by using their experiences to illustrate something in class, in geography for example.

Might beginners in English be better off educated separately?

No. It's been proved that they learn best when they're learning through the curriculum. However, with Excellence in Cities money, we've been able to set up a specific class for year 11-age refugees who would otherwise not be in school at all. They have their own lessons and then do art, drama and sport with the rest of the year. We hope to run that class again next year.

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