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
For Mother’s day we’ve been thinking about all the wonderful mothers we’ve met over the past two years of the project. In our interviews with parents we’ve been asking them to give advice to parents in their first language and wanted to share some of the words of wisdom we’ve been gathering.
Ahlam was a member of Oakgrove Primary Parent Council in Glasgow. She’s been really active member of her community and has helped the school to reach out to all parents, particularly those from ethnic minorities. Ahlam is from Algeria and here she gives advice in her native Arabic
Ji Bian (or Jessie as she is called in Scotland) is a parent at Wyndford Nursery in Glasgow, she’s been involved in the “Well Chosen Words” project which the nursery ran in partnership with Maryhill Integration Network, supporting parents to find the right words and help each other to access local services and activities. She has helped the nursery with translating signs into Chinese and interpreting for parents who are less confident in their English. Here’s her advice to parents in Chinese
Bushra is one of the volunteers at St Albert’s Primary’s Bilingual story telling group. The bilingual story telling group gives children a chance to hear stories in English and Urdu, celebrating the mother tongue. Here she talks about her experience of getting involved in the group and gives advice to parents in Urdu.
What advice would you give parents? We would love to hear from you
I met up with Mary Pat MacConnell, the Head of Wyndford Nursery in Glasgow and Rose Filippi from Maryhill Integration Network to find out more about the project that had been run at the nursery. Gathered Together are always looking for examples of good practice and we had heard that Wyndford nursery was a shining example of involving parents.
Wyndford Nursery is in the North of Glasgow in a housing estate, it is one of the areas in Glasgow with a high population of asylum seekers and refugees and there are a lot of languages spoken by the families who use the nursery. Many of the families are very socially isolated when they arrive, not knowing anyone or where to go to ask for help. Mary Pat described the “Well Chosen Words” project as being born out of “desperation”. One mother was really anxious about asking to take her child out of nursery early to allow him to go to a doctor’s appointment- she didn’t know how to ask this and the nursery was able to help her with literally finding the right words. This incident highlighted a need among the parents who had English as another language.
As Rose explained:
Wyndford Nursery partnered up with Maryhill Integration Network (MIN) to help develop the Well Chosen Words project. MIN is a charitable organisation that has been working to support social integration in the local community for over ten years. Working in partnership with MIN has supported the project via the staff skills and knowledge of engaging with communities from various backgrounds in a sensitive and informed way, harnessing the unique and valuable cultural richness they offer, and finding ways in which to share this with the wider community
Well Chosen Words is a project that engages parents with EAL needs in planning a framework for dialogue that will support their communication needs with regards to their child’s attendance at nursery, further engagement within the community, and ongoing development in education and learning. The project aims to engage parents to play a creative role in the development of support services and material available for parents with EAL needs.
The impact it’s made on the parents has been tremendous, helping them build confidence and support each other. The support in helping to get to know the local area and services has been really valuable, here are two parents- Mathieu and Naomi- talking about how the project has helped them and their families
For more interview with parents click here
On Friday 20 February Gathered Together, in partnership with Education Scotland and Bilingualism Matters held a networking event bringing together people who teach languages and those who support people who have English as an additional language. We were really pleased with the diversity of people who attended- from colleges that provide English language classes, teachers that support children with English as an additional language, language teachers and the community groups that work with people who do not have English as a first language (including the deaf community). The breadth of experience of the delegates helped to make the discussions enriching- giving the third sector and education the opportunity to share experiences and highlighting gaps.
One of the focuses for the event was the “1+2 language learning policy”, the Scottish government’s policy to ensure that children have the opportunity to learn two languages in addition to their mother tongue. While everyone in the room was positive about the aims of the policy there was a lot of concern about how it would be introduced- the training needed for teachers, would community languages like Polish or Urdu be represented and what could be done to support parents from EAL families to get involved in this process. We were lucky enough to have Louise Glen, Senior education officer for literacy and language at Education Scotland and Judith McKerrecher from the SCILT Scotland’s National Centre for Languages to introduce the policy and address some of those questions.
We were also treated to an energetic mini lesson in Spanish from Martha Robinson from SOFT to show us how children in primary school can be introduced to a new language. I loved it and still remember the names and actions for the characters in the story- Martha spoke passionately about how positive the children were about learning a new language, but also about the challenges she faced in getting the teachers and parents involved. Teaching a new language takes confidence and some teachers preferred to take a step back and let Martha get on with the activities rather than joining in. Martha’s research also chimed with Gathered Together experience when talking to Educators and EM Parents about the gaps and misunderstandings in communication on both sides.
Over the course of the morning we had wide ranging discussions- sharing good practice and the challenges faced- we’ll be attempting to summarise these in a report. We are hoping to follow up the event with a seminar at the Scottish Learning Festival and to use our contacts to add to the ever growing bank of good practice for engaging with parents that we’re developing. Keep your eyes on the website for more information!
Recently I attended a roundtable discussion at the Scottish Parliament on “Getting it right for the immigrant child” hosted by the Scottish Child Law Centre. There were some wonderful speakers including Amal Azzudin one of the “Glasgow Girls”. Amal and her family came to Glasgow from Somalia and she and her friends lead a campaign against the deportation against the deportation of refused asylum seekers. The Glasgow Girls were central in ending the detention of children in Scotland (previously whole families would be held in detention centres before being sent back to their home) and ending the dawn raids on asylum seekers. For more about the Glasgow Girls go to https://vimeo.com/47646327
Amal spoke passionately about the difference that her bilingual support (now called English as an Additional Language) teacher -Mr Girvan. It was Mr Girvan who supported the newly arrived asylum seeker children, helping them to develop their English and adjust to their new homes. Across Scotland we have met some fantastic EAL teachers- they are often the first point of contact with school for families who are new to Scotland and work with the whole family to support the child’s learning and adjusting to the Scottish education system. EAL teachers are also really important in providing training and support for teachers with children who are learning English- helping teachers to understand the child’s experience, set appropriate work and be sensitive about areas that children may struggle with. For example children learning English may struggle with maths problems that have a lot of writing- they are capable of doing the maths problem but find it difficult to understand what is being asked of them through all the words.
Sadly EAL services are being affected by the cuts that all local authorities are making in funding- in some areas staff are leaving and not being replaced and recently in Glasgow 15 EAL teachers were made redundant. This is at a time when the numbers of children needing EAL support are increasing and the cuts will have a direct impact on them. Glasgow has one of the largest EAL departments with over 50 teachers, with several schools having a dedicated EAL teacher. This has enabled the EAL teachers to look beyond supporting the child to how they can help the family to support their child in their learning. There are learning clubs, helping parents understand how their children are being taught and giving them ideas of games and activities they can do with their children to help support their education. Loosing 15 teachers will impact on the EAL services ability to continue with these activities and the wonderful work that schools have been doing to get families new to Scotland to become involved in the school and their children’s education.
Amal said that Mr Girvan was her hero and helped her to settle into life in Scotland. We know that there are heroes working in EAL across Scotland and are concerned that these services are being reduced and the impact that it will have on new families who don’t have access to the support that welcomed Amal when she arrived in Glasgow.