Schools Training

Head in English teaching storm says pupils will be taught differently

31 MAR 2014

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Wog lover, Paki lover. Georgiana Sale, the headteacher at City of LeedsSchool, has been called them all. Ever since it was reported, wrongly, that her school was to give all its pupils English as a foreign language (Tefl) lessons, her phone has been ringing off the hook.

“People are saying that I should be sacked for spending British taxpayers’ money on educating foreigners,” she says in a bluff, northern voice. “Somebody said to me: ‘Why don’t you just send the foreignchildren away?’ As if I have any choice. These children are like family. You can’t choose them.”

If it is a family, it’s a distinctly multicultural one. City of Leeds has just over 300 pupils, drawn from 55 countries. Between them they speak 50 languages or dialects. The school could take more pupils but, as Sale acknowledges, it has had a chequered history. While Ofsted enthuses about her “boundless energy” (“they make me sound like Tigger on speed”), it reports that the school requires improvement.

Sale, the head for three years, desperately wants this to happen. She hopes her school will become an academy very soon. The pupils have already voted to call it Leeds City Academy and wear uniforms. “They want the posh blazer, they want the posh tie. If it comes off [academy status], we intend to buy them their first uniform.” But people prefer to focus on reports that City of Leeds will be the first school in Britain to start teaching English as a foreign language to all pupils, including those born in Britain. The truth is considerably more nuanced and reveals much about the dilemmas facing not just schools, but Britain as a whole.

“There will be a time in the week when the whole school will be doing extra English, but the form that this takes will be terribly different, according to the pupils’ proficiency with the English language,” Sale says in a manner suggesting she has explained this many times. “It’s not the case that all pupils will be taught the same. Rather those with better English skills will receive help on expanding vocabulary and exam technique. Those with a poor command of English will learn the basics of language.”

Staff, from woodwork to geography teachers, have been trained in Tefl, although finding a suitable course for them to teach was not easy. At one stage Sale considered buying a course taught to Libyan children because most on the market are aimed at adults. “They’re all about ordering a double bedroom and a bottle of wine,” she says, laughing.

When reports about the initiative emerged last month there was a furore she had not expected. She believed the initiative was simply a pragmatic solution to a very obvious problem. By her reckoning, English is not the first language for 75% of her pupils, and the remainder lack the skills to meet education secretary Michael Gove’s requirement that pupils should be better at grammar and spelling, if they are to get the top grades. “Lots of schools do it [TEFL]. Maybe they take the ones who need it out of a PE lesson, but I’ve got too many, so I can’t do that.”

It’s an admission that will be recognised by many inner-city headteachers. English is no longer the first language for the majority of pupils at one in nine schools, according to statistics collected by theNational Association for Language Development in the Curriculum. It is estimated that more than a million children in England do not use English as their first language, double the number in 1997. Giving a boost to all of her pupils’ English language skills, Sale believes, is the best thing headteachers of schools like hers can do.


Read full article: The Guardian