This is a guest blog from Robert McGill (Teacher of English as an Additional Language South Ayrshire Council) sharing the work South Ayrshire has done to engage with parents who are new to Scotland.
On Friday 28th November, 2014 we had one of the best experiences of our teaching careers when we held the first English as an Additional Language (EAL) Parent Forum in South Ayrshire. Approximately 55 parents made the extra effort to come to the John Pollock Centre in Ayr to tell us about their and their children’s experiences in our schools. It was an excellent forum to get to know each other a little bit better.
Everyone was excited about this event particularly when we saw the invitation letter acceptances coming back in such big numbers. 12 languages were represented on the day: Spanish, Tagalog, Punjabi, Visayan, Swahili, Yoruba, Greek, Turkish, Russian, Nepali, Polish and English. We had sent the invitations out to parents in the home languages as well as in English and the parents made special mention of this telling us that they really appreciated our efforts to use their home languages. Of the 12 languages represented there was a request for four interpreters: Punjabi, Spanish, Nepali and Polish which we were able to provide. These interpreters played such an important role in helping everyone to communicate and share with each other.
As this was our first ever parent forum we were to have we looked at what the issues and concerns of parents are from carrying out a search of the internet. We found the ‘Bilingual Matters’ website to be a wealth of information as they have worked extensively with bilingual parents and have kindly shared their findings and experiences. We also found the British Council EAL Nexus website very useful and we adapted information gained from these websites to provide information to help parents understand the Scottish education system and supporting bilingualism.
As we delivered our talk, which highlighted the importance of developing the home language at home and that parents didn’t need to speak English at home, you could see relief appearing on the parents’ faces. More important than focusing on English is the quality of communication within the family. We talked about the challenges of families with bilingual siblings with sometimes the older sibling wanting to speak English and how this affected the younger brothers’ and sisters’ use and development of the home language. Our core message was that bilingualism was positive and advantageous for all young people.
The core message from the parents was that having specialist language teachers helped their children to learn English and to settle into school life. The parents also told us that they liked and valued the bilingual books which we send home to help parents and children develop the home language and which we have in schools as a way to value and an opportunity to use home languages. The parents told us that interpretation in the schools is fundamental to help them communicate with class teachers and schools. Bilingual parents would like more EAL support available in schools, they would like more support for developing English at home and they wanted easier access to the EAL teacher.
We now have EAL information leaflets translated into some of our home languages which have the contact details for each EAL teacher. We were able to receive funding from South Ayrshire to have key school documents translated into Polish. We have created management advice for translated documents. We have increased our bilingual books library. We are going to continue to have an annual EAL Parents Forum. It was a great day which the parents and EAL staff enjoyed and in which we both learned so much.
Here are some of the information leaflets created for EAL parents