Don McPherson- Head Teacher Denny Primary School
We just spent an afternoon at St Albert’s Primary school in Glasgow with their bilingual story-telling group. These are parents who are being trained to read stories in English and their mother tongue (Urdu) to children. St Albert’s has a huge ethnic minority population with most children coming from Pakistani and Asian families where both English and Urdu are spoken in the home.
When we met the group several of the parents spoke about their children not valuing Urdu and believing that English was “better”. The school has made a real effort to celebrate the different languages in the school- there are signs in Urdu all over the school and the bilingual story telling lets children hear their native language be used in school. We were able to join a group of children hearing “the very hungry caterpillar” in English and Urdu, the children were enthralled and eager to show that they knew words in Urdu. One of the ladies said that her daughter has started to boast to everyone that she speaks Urdu.
As well as encouraging children to use their mother tongue the bilingual story telling sends an important message to the parents. It shows that the school values and respects their cultures and helping them to feel a real part of the school community. To hear from the parents themselves and to see some of the story telling go to http://gatheredtogether.bemis.org.uk/?p=854
Language always come up in our training when talking about barriers to getting more involved. Not feeling able to talk to teachers or feeling nervous and worried about saying the wrong thing can make any contact with school stressful. In a recent session we did with deaf parents they highlighted that many parents would avoid them as they couldn’t use sign language. Missing out on the playground gossip that parents share can make these parents feel very isolated. We’ve recently heard a lot of stories of children being taken to school without Halloween costumes as parents weren’t aware that their children could dress up- this is really embarrassing for both parents and children and emphasises that they aren’t a part of the school community.
However more schools are starting to use texts to parents to remind them about important things (from in-service days to book fairs), much easier for parents to read than long letters and more likely to reach parents than school letters that can be left in school bags and forgotten. To help parents become more involved in the school it’s useful to have activities that everyone can get involved in. Oakgrove primary school in Glasgow recently needed help putting sand in their new sandpits and sent a text out to all parents asking for help. This was a simple activity that almost any parent could get involved in (Oakgrove is a very diverse school with over thirty languages spoken) and was just asking parents to help for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. Almost sixty parents along with their families came along to help- creating a real sense of the school community as well as getting the sandpits ready in no time. Could your school use parents in this way?
We had an exciting meeting with George Muir, lecturer at the City of Glasgow College’s Television Department- exploring the possibility of getting a film crew of students to try and make a short film about Gathered Together and the work we’ve been doing. While our intern, Maryam Karim, has been doing a great job filming and editing interviews with the people we work for she is working with a pretty basic camera and the college students will have professional equipment to make sure that we have a very professional film.
We want this film to act as an introduction to the project- why we were started, what we’ve managed to achieve and what our hopes for the future are. George advised us the film should only be about seven minutes long and we now have to work out what should go into it- there are just so many great stories that we want to tell!
The Scottish government recognises the value of speaking more than one language; Scotland however is behind many European countries in the area. To help address this and ensure that children in Scottish have the advantages of being able to speak other languages, the “1+2” policy is being rolled out.
“1+2” means that every child will speak their mother tongue and also have the opportunity to learn two additional languages. One of these languages will be taught from primary two until at least third year in secondary school and the other will be taught from primary five. We think that this can provide a great opportunity to teach languages that reflect the makeup of the school- such as Polish, Urdu or British Sign Language. Learning these languages can help children from ethnic minorities feel a part of the school- giving them the opportunity to speak to their Scottish friends in their native language, and creating the chance for their parents to get involved in the school. We already know about schools who have invited parents from ethnic minorities to come in and read stories in their native language or teach a class to count to 10 in Urdu and their children have blossomed in confidence.
From our recent session with deaf parents in Glasgow we know the difference it can make to parents as well for children to be learning their language. When we mentioned that British Sign Language was one of the languages that children could be taught their faces lit up- this could mean that children in the playground would be able to talk to them and give the parents a sense of being part of the school. However asking parents to teach their mother tongue can be a real challenge- standing in front of a class and teaching can be very daunting and we feel that support is needed to help parents develop the capacity to get involved in this way.
From working with language schools we know that many of them would be very interested in making closer links with local schools, including the Glasgow Chinese School. The “1+2” policy brings a lot of potentially great opportunities to get parents from ethnic minorities more involved in their children schools, but we recognise that there will need to be a lot of support in place to help make it a reality over the next few years.