School will teach in pupils' own languages

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Monday 31 December 2001 01:00

A comprehensive school whose pupils between them speak 65 different languages is to pioneer a new way of teaching by holding lessons – such as maths and science – in each pupil's mother tongue.

White Hart Lane School, near the Tottenham Hotspur football ground in north London, has a truly international flavour to it, with pupils from all over the world including refugees with little or no command of English.

Under a new scheme, teachers are to offer as many as possible the chance to learn subjects in their home language rather than English.

The school is thought by education experts to be the first in the country to adopt such an approach which, if successful, could be adopted elsewhere in the country.

The school's headteacher, David Daniels, who devised the scheme, said: "Any day of the week, a child may arrive at this school from any part of the world literally not speaking a word of English.

"It can take three years for a pupil to acquire enough English to access the curriciulum for 14 to 16-year-olds, yet we have children in that position who may be quite able in maths and science. It seems wrong that they should have to put those subjects on the back burner while they learn English."

The school will start the new year by teaching science in Turkish to some of its 371 Turkish and 113 Kurdish pupils. Mr Daniels then plans to extend the scheme to maths lessons.

He is seeking sponsorship for the scheme and has already broadcast on Turkish Radio (in English) and won support from the radio station for the scheme.

In an appeal to would-be sponsors, he said: "Turkish speaking students at our school are incredibly successful when judged by their Turkish language grades at GCSE and A-level. They are less successful in a range of other subjects. Why? I am convinced it is because the curriculum is more difficult to access for some Turkish speaking students.

"Initially, we can provide a planned bilingual approach to teaching one of the most important 'core' subjects for targeted students in science."

The school already has Turkish-speaking teachers on its staff. It has just taken on one, Ben Hilmi, through the graduate training scheme. Mr Hilmi, aged 31, worked as a design consultant before transferring to become a teacher He is one of 10 teachers on the graduate training programme – under which staff can train while working as a teacher. Another is the 1998 French winter Olympics bobsleigh bronze medal winner, Jean Pierre Macabee, who is a sports teacher at the school..

In fact, the 80 staff at the school cover more than 25 different nationalities and Mr Daniels hopes to extend the project to Somali pupils, of whom there are 111, and some of its 39 Albanian pupils.

The school is encouraging all its staff to learn another foreign language and Mr Daniels himself is tackling Somali and Albanian. He said of the scheme: "It's not really a question of raising standards – it's more releasing standards."

He stressed the pupils will still be given extra help to master English, adding: "When they first start, they may be learning 80 per cent through their home language and perhaps 20 per cent through English. As they progress, the tables will be turned and they will learn 80 per cent through English and perhaps 20 per cent through their home language. Using bilingualism at the very least does not disadvantage the children. At best, it can actually make their progress much more rapid.

"We don't have ethnic minority pupils here. They are the majority. In many respects, we are an international school and what we are doing is making internationalism a positive resource rather than seeing it as a weakness or a difficulty."

The school is seeking funding from the Department for Education and Skills for the project, which is just one of a number of initiatives introduced by Mr Daniels when he took over at the school at Easter after Ofsted, the Government's education standards watchdog, declared it to have "serious weaknesses".

One of the first weaknesses that he tackled was punctuality. "When I arrived, we had about 150 pupils arriving late every day," he said. "Now we have got it down to about 40 which is not bad for a school of this size."

He stations teachers on the gates every morning to take the names of the latecomers and insists they are all put in detention that day. He also introduced Saturday morning detentions.

He also tried to instil more discipline by insisting on pupils standing up in class when he or a senior member of staff entered their classroom.

"Some of our pupils come from countries where that is standard practice out of respect," Mr Daniels said. "It is a way of making them feel more at home, too."

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