It is difficult for children coming into a class where they don’t know anyone, it is even harder when that child has little or no English. While lots of children adapt brilliantly to the new culture, the first while can be challenging when they are not able to communicate and join in with the rest of their class. Marion Stempczyk and Kayee Chui from Falkirk’s Bilingual and Traveller Pupil Support Service (BaTPSS) explained to us the importance of being able to meet with the children and their family before they started school- to give them the opportunity to assess the children’s English level, explain how things work in the Scottish education system and so that the BaTPSS team can help the school get ready for the new students.
We have heard some wonderful stories about teachers who taught the class how to say “hello” in Chinese, so that the new student would be welcomed in his own language and straight away get a feeling of belonging. However, as Marion explained, a lot of teachers are unsure how best to work with students who arrive from a different culture, with limited English and different experiences of school. How can teachers make sure that a child feels included in the class when they don’t have the language skills to join in?
This is where the BaTPSS team come in, as well as helping the children develop their English, Marion and Kayee work with the teachers to help them understand what it is like for the children and how they can support them in the classroom. English as an Additional Language services are only able to support children for a limited period of time and it’s essential that the classroom teachers have the skills to be able to support children who have English as an additional language in their learning.
Here is Marion talking about the work they do with teachers
One of the brilliant things that’s come out of Gathered Together’s work has been the opportunity to build relations with groups. In Falkirk we ran training for community champions (http://gatheredtogether.bemis.org.uk/?p=330) which Megan Farr from Falkirk Council was also able to attend. This helps to build links between the council and one of the groups our community champion Sofia was running. From that meeting they are now working together to start going out to school to visit primary school classes to speak about Islam.
We have also been able to help some of the community groups we are working with to get the support to develop as organisations as well as apply for the Multi-Cultural Homecoming fund http://bemis.org.uk/project/multicultural-homecoming-2014/. It is great to be able to help groups like the International Women’s group and Rainbow Muslim Women’s group to do more and build relations.
In our videos we’ve also been able to showcase and celebrate good practice- there are so many schools and Parent Councils who do a wonderful job and have developed a real ethos of working with families. We’ve tried to make sure we promote good practice as widely as possible so that they get the recognition they deserve.
And finally through our steering group we’ve been able to open up opportunities to work with Skills Development Scotland to promote their website for parents http://www.myworldofwork.co.uk/section/parents-and-carers to parents from ethnic minorities, help communication between local authorities on how to engage parents and start conversations on how the diverse members of the group can work together.
We’ve got lots of partnership work planned for the new year, including with Education Scotland and Bilingualism Matters- these are exciting times!
From our work in rural areas, including Falkirk and Stirling and Clackmannanshire we’ve heard the experiences of parents who were the only Ethnic Minority family in the school. Feeling the odd one out always makes involvement more difficult, particularly in schools where other parents have known each other since they were children. Parents spoke about the difficulty to speak to other parents when it seemed that everyone knew each other really well and they were not confident with their English.
Feeling different is also difficult for children, some mothers spoke about their children being embarrassed by their mother coming into school wearing a salwar kameez. They can also feel uncomfortable about the fact their parents have poor English and being asked to translate for them. In an interview we did recently with two mothers who are part of the Rainbow Muslim Women’s group, Samina spoke about the difficulties to getting involved. Feeling different and not understanding the school system- who to ask for, what her children were being taught etc, made her reluctant to have contact with the school. Other parents have found the very vocabulary of modern education confusing- their children talk about “learn-its” (short sums) and they have no idea what this means or how to support their children with homework. To hear more about Samina and Tasneem’s experience go to http://gatheredtogether.bemis.org.uk/?p=878
Samina said that she has never been specifically asked by the school to get involved- just through general letters asking for help. We think that specifically approaching parents, recognising their skills and interests, can help parents feel a part of the school and help the school to celebrate its diversity. We know parents who have gone into school to teach the class how to count in their mother tongue- this makes their children feel proud of their parents and that their mother tongue is something to be valued not ashamed of. You can also find out about the bilingual story telling group at St Albert’s primary in Glasgow that has parents telling stories to children in English and Urdu- http://gatheredtogether.bemis.org.uk/?p=854
Don McPherson- Head Teacher Denny Primary School
We ran our second Community Champion training session in Falkirk at the end of August. This session was marked by having participants from a couple of different local authority areas (Stirling and Falkirk) who brought their interesting experiences with them, as well as their different perspectives on being an ethnic and cultural minority parent in Scotland.
In addition to this, we were lucky enough to have Megan Farr from Falkirk education department attending too to hear the experiences of delegates. Gathered Together promotes that the results of its sessions are passed on to Local Authorities, but in this case, it was self-evident. The experience appeared to be useful for both the delegates and for the council, so this was great for all of those attending.
We are really excited to continue to work with our Community Champions – hopefully you’ll be hearing from them on our blog as they share their experiences as parents.