The City of Leeds secondary school in England has introduced a programme which will teach English as a foreign language to all of its pupils. The school is located in an area with a high concentration of immigrants, and less than one quarter of the 314 pupils, among whom 55 different nationalities are represented, has English as their first language. This is in addition to measures such as translating parent meetings into other languages, such as Urdu and Polish, and the recent employment of multilingual teachers.
The school’s English as a foreign language programme will consist of an extra 50 minute lesson, to be received by each and every pupil once a week, and aims to provide a grounding in basic English in order to raise achievement at GCSE level. The school’s headmistress, Georgina Sale, stated that the lessons would help to make up for a lack of exposure to English at a young age. She also commented that learning a language generally takes around five years and requires total immersion, an advantage that many of her pupils simply do not have due to their diversity of backgrounds and mother tongues.
A Broader Impact
While this initiative might be seen simply as an attempt to rectify the poor showings of the school in GCSE results (only 26% of students achieved five or more GCSEs at grades above a C last year), the new English lessons are intended to go beyond mere academic results. Ms Sale declared that a rethink is needed in the way the education system treats speakers of foreign languages, and that it is not appropriate to focus on the grades awarded to her pupils when the real issue is their lack of English skills. She added that, to her mind, education should ultimately be concerned with children’s needs, and thus that is the focus of her new programme. This is a position which has received strong support from language experts from across Britain, including Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic of the Institute of Education in London, who stated that the City of Leeds school is doing an excellent job of drawing attention to the inherent problems in the way the current education system treats non-native speakers.