Saturday, 13 March 2010

Cherish the immigrants, and don't penalise the school for welcoming them

The notices roll in over the week, each week, on the staff email. They go something like [and these names really are fictitious!]:

"Josef Bhalin [Yr 9] joined today attched to 9PY, to be inducted EAL [English as an Additional Language] Monday
Parrah Bhalin [Yr 10] joined today, no tutor group yet, to be inducted . . "

Next day
"Carina Csrsecin joined today [Yr 8] . . ." and then there's another two.

Now, although these names aren't real, the situation is. These are newly arriving children. For reasons of confidentiality we, the staff in general, are told hardly anything about them, apart from their intended tutor group.

Over the past few years we average 50 [maybe more] newly-arriving EAL students per year. And good on them. Their life stories, as they unfold to their friends, develop great empathy in the others. They are living History and Geography and Politics and PSE. Some of them come with surprising musical experiences. Just go to school. You might find someone whose previous life puts your own into perspective.

In case anyone is thinking, They only look after these "foreign" kids. My little Darren will never fit in, I need to point out that we have a well-staffed, Ofsted-commended EAL department who does powerful work with the newcomers. And some of the newcomers already have reasonably good English. And, after a year or so, they will be comfortable and fluent with phrases like "Good morning Miss", "init" and "Hands off our school". But, maybe, faced with "How does the imagery contribute to the delineation of character in "Antony and Cleopatra", their limited English vocabulary of 3 or 400 may not suffice?

Actually that was an exam question from my own English A level paper, but you get the point.

On the language issue alone, I cannot believe that Ed and Vernie from central government would continue to demand the closure of City of Leeds and Primrose. And yet, just to remind us all, here's a quote from Mr [Ed] Balls' [22 September 2009] letter to Education Leeds:

"Dear x, "I am writing to thank you for the dedicated support you have given this year to the National Challenge - our ambitious programme to transform secondary school standards . . " then, "City of Leeds and Primrose . . . [need] long term solutions for these vulnerable schools".

Just consider the language here: dedicated, support, national, challenge, ambitious, programme, transform, standards, solutions, vulnerable. It all seems very noble and worthy, but there's hardly a concrete noun to be seen, no real ideas, and when you attach "long-term" to "solution", well, I think it sums it up.

Now Ed and Vernie could be forgiven their ignorance of the local situation, but I don't think Eddie Leo can. They should stand up for Leeds, for City and for Primrose and tell the government that it's not as simple as that. It shouldn't be up to us, the vulnerable schools, to be scrabbling round for a way out of the mess that Education Leeds has created in inner-city Leeds. Much as I like writing these blogs, I do have tunes to arrange and flowers to grow.


  1. Victoria, there's some kind of online debate thing going on tonight with Mr Balls. I have presented the following question:
    "Why are inner-city schools specialising (without any element of choice in the matter) in educating the poor, the deprived, the recently-arrived and the non-English-speaking, judged by the same criteria as schools whose intake is largely affluent and settled?
    Why are you closing down schools who can't manage to hit the arbitrary 30% A*-C in English and Maths when it is patently ridiculous and unrealistic to expect pupils who have only been in the UK for part of Y10/11 and who don't speak English to achieve that?"
    Doubt if he'll spot it amongst the many!

  2. But, if he did, he'd probably say, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise that children taking exams in English would need to be able to speak English. I am really am sorry. Please take your school back, and here is £50,000 compensation, and if you need any more, please let me know."

  3. He answered no specific questions at all apart from one on the use of cover supervisors. A complete fudge.