Oasis Academy Shirley Park in Croydon, a small town located at the south of London, offers education to a total of 1,539 students who speak 69 different languages. In this town, asylum seekers from all over Britain have their applications assessed by the government, which accounts for the diversity of backgrounds in the area. Many of the students from the school are recent immigrants or asylum seekers who have arrived to the country speaking little or no English at all from a variety of countries, ranging from Sri Lanka to Ghana and Turkey. Oasis Academy Shirley Park caters for the children’s needs with special curricular programs aimed at helping them integrate in their new country and learn the English language in a multilingual and diverse surrounding.
Students’ mother tongues range from French and Turkish to more obscure dialects such as Papiamento (from the Caribbean) and Wolof (from Africa). Other examples of languages heard in the school are: Urdu, Somali, Kurdish, Afrikaans, Croatian, Arabic, Twi and Tamil. Nineteen of these foreign languages have only one student who speaks it, while others, such as French and Urdu, are more pervasive among the student population. A total of 422 students of the 1,539 in the school speak English as a second language.
The School’s Approach to the Situation
The school’s approach generally consists of finding the newcomers a classmate who can speak the same language they do so that they feel more comfortable with the foreign situation. This classmate is to serve as a guide and help the new student get easily acclimated to the surrounding. However, sometimes there are no other speakers of that same language, which tends to slow down the process of adoptation. Miss Darakova, English as an Additional Language (EAL) coordinator, personally assesses every newcomer and arranges a meeting with the student’s family. Every child is welcomed with a package including visual aids that help them ask basic questions to survive during the first weeks of class, until they feel more comfortable with the English language, their classmates and teachers. In the case of complete beginners, the school provides English lessons, although the primary aim is to integrate the newcomers with the rest of the class as soon as possible.
In Favour and Against
According to Elizabeth Lewis, Head of Modern Foreign Languages, withdrawing children from class to do some reading and literacy exercises is enough to secure great progress in most children. There are many examples of successful cases within the school. The Croydon Advertiser spoke to one of the students at the school, an 11 year old Sri Lankan who spoke no English a year ago and is now helping her family communicate with other English speakers.
To those who assert that the school’s system or approach puts native speakers at a disadvantage, Head Dan Morrow says, there is actually no data or studies which show that native speakers are held back by the incorporation of speakers of English as a second language into the classrooms. He adds that, on the contrary, exposure to other languages is beneficial and adds to the development of the students. In his view, education is not about who gets more attention but about matching resources to the needs, so that every child has access to the curriculum.