Helping parents find the right words

Helping parents find the right words

i Feb 27th No Comments by

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

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

Scotland, People and Language Forum

i Feb 23rd No Comments by

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!

Cuts to a service that supports new Scots

i Feb 11th No Comments by

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

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.

Training teachers, supporting students

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

Bilingual and Traveler Pupil Support Service- Helping teachers work with EAL pupils from BEMIS on Vimeo.