EAL – What lessons can we learn?

Having grown up abroad, worked previously as an EAL teacher, and as a current Spanish language learner, I understand and deeply value the challenges and rewards of language acquisition. As a result, I was delighted to read about a primary school in Birmingham (Water Mill Primary School) where 31 different languages are spoken, and up to 70% of children have English as their second language.

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By Clare Martin 

Having grown up abroad, worked previously as an EAL teacher, and as a current Spanish language learner, I understand and deeply value the challenges and rewards of language acquisition. As a result, I was delighted to read about a primary school in Birmingham (Water Mill Primary School) where 31 different languages are spoken, and up to 70% of children have English as their second language.

According to Birmingham Live’s ‘The Birmingham primary school where 31 different languages are spoken’ by Zoe Chamberlain, there are currently 30 different nationalities at the school. Headteacher Paula Rudd explains that the school’s internationalism is a result of its vicinity to both the University of Birmingham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital – as many pupils attend the school whilst their parents are studying at the university or working at the hospital.

Impressively, the school is in the top 2% of primary schools in the country for SATs. However, this has not always been the case, as back in 2016 Water Mill Primary saw only 38% of pupils achieving the necessary standard in reading, writing and maths. So, how has Paula Rudd managed such a notable turnaround, what lessons can we learn from this primary school in Birmingham, and how can we apply them when welcoming EAL learners into classrooms in Cornwall?

1. Celebrate cultural differences

According to Paula Rudd, one pupil described the school as being like the United Nations – by celebrating the different cultural experiences each pupil provides, school life is enriched for everyone. One way Paula Rudd has done this is by having ‘a big map in the hall and we have photos of all the different children on the countries they come from and string linking the different countries.’

2. Open children’s eyes to the world around them

Since the students are surrounded by different nationalities and cultures, it provides them with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the world’s diversity. The school have an ‘International Week’ where children bring in food for their home countries for everyone to try, giving them an insight into life in that country. The school share dishes from China, South Africa, China, India, Pakistan and the UK.

3. Work together towards a common goal

Following the Pandemic, the school is planning a ‘Rebuilding our Community Week’, where children fundraise for local charities, highlighting the importance of having a positive impact on their uniquely diverse community. Paula Rudd explains that they will be undertaking ‘a range of community service type acts, from singing the song outside the local care home…to offering to clear residents’ front gardens.’

So, next time we have the invaluable opportunity to welcome an EAL learner into one of our lovely schools in Cornwall, let us take a leaf out of Water Mill’s book to ensure our learners feel as appreciated as possible.

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