In their last blog article published in the summer term, the Hampshire EMTAS team concluded the academic year with a celebration of their schools’ successful completion of the EAL Excellence Award. Now feeling refreshed after the summer break, the team look forward to the year ahead.
EAL Excellence Award
Our work supporting schools to develop and embed best practice for their EAL learners through the EAL Excellence Award continues. Surgeries will be held to help colleagues get ready for Bronze level and many of this year’s network meetings will focus on aspects of the award which practitioners need to develop for the next level up. For example, many schools will want to work on planning for the use of first language as a tool for learning this year (more on this in a future blog). See the EMTAS website for more information about the Award and how you can introduce it in your school or setting.
GRT Excellence Award
Following the success of the EAL Excellence Award, we have developed a similar award to support schools who have Gypsy, Roma and/or Traveller pupils on roll. At present, we have eight schools piloting the GRT Excellence Award and working towards getting their accreditation. To find out more, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
NALDIC Berkshire & Hampshire Regional Interest Group (RIG)
NALDIC is the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum and has an EAL remit. Part of the work of NALDIC is to run Regional Interest Groups (RIGs) across the country. Many of you may have heard that Dr Naomi Flynn is giving up her role as convenor of the Berkshire and Hampshire RIG. Whilst we are sad as this means we will see less of Naomi, we are also excited that the responsibility will now be shared between Portsmouth EMAS, Dr Anna Tsakalaki at the University of Reading and ourselves at Hampshire EMTAS! We wish Naomi all the best in her new role of Events Chair for NALDIC and look forward to working with our new co-convenors.
EMTAS network meetings are a great opportunity to meet colleagues with an interest in EAL practice and provision, to share ideas and to access input and take part in discussions on a range of EAL-related issues. These termly meetings are free to Hampshire maintained schools; staff from academies or the independent sector are also welcome to attend for a small charge. To find dates and information about how to register for a network meeting near you, see the Training section of the EMTAS website.
Our EAL E-learning has been given a complete overhaul this year to bring it up to date. The modules will now play even better in the Chrome browser and are optimised for seamless delivery over mobile devices. Check out our latest module on the ‘Role of the EAL coordinator’ and look out for new modules being developed this year.
SEAL (Supporting English as an Additional Language)
Due to popular demand, this course is running again starting in October 2019. It is a training programme for support staff and EAL co-ordinators to help them build up their knowledge of EAL good practice and pedagogy and has a strong focus on practical strategies to support pupils with EAL within their school environment. The course covers best practice in the classroom, SEND or EAL?, assessment, working with parents of children with EAL and the latest digital technology and resources to support learning in the classroom. If you are interested in signing up for this course, please check details on our website.
This year the NALDIC conference takes place at King’s College London on 16th November (easy walking access from Waterloo station). The conference title this year is ‘Inclusive practices in multilingual classrooms: assessing and supporting EAL and SEND learners in the mainstream’. The NALDIC conference always has a good variety of workshops to suit all tastes, stands from publishers/resource providers and is a great place to network with colleagues from all over the country.
As you can see there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with EAL this year. We look forward to seeing you at an event near you.
Last September we kicked off our second year of blogging with an article introducing our new EAL Excellence Award, a self-evaluation tool for schools created with a view to support practitioners in developing EAL practice and provision. As they are about to break for their Summer holiday the Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisors reflect on their work with schools using the EAL Excellence Award in their area.
The award was met with much enthusiasm after its
launch in our blog and during network meetings. Practitioners found it helpful
as a way of mapping out the areas where provision was already strong whilst
identifying areas for development. For example, many schools identified the
need to appoint and train an EAL Governor. They reflected on policies and the
importance of writing a stand-alone EAL policy. The self-evaluation tool also
highlighted staff training needs which we supported through bespoke sessions as
well as our e-learning. Feedback from schools indicated that they found
the self-evaluation criteria relevant and purposeful.
schools have collated evidence into folders to make the validation visit as
smooth as possible. They have used each statement from the EXA as a divider and
then placed any appropriate evidence, such as lesson plans, copies of school
policies or photos of work, into each section. This
made the validation process relatively straightforward since all the evidence
could be found in one place. For one school, the portfolio of evidence was
a piece of work which particularly impressed the Ofsted inspectors.
The validation process
Validation visits were, in most cases, carried
out by a Specialist Teacher Advisor not previously connected with the
school in order to get a fresh take on practice and provision. It has also been great
being able to meet Young Interpreters in some schools and in one school there
was even the chance to meet with the school governor responsible for EAL. This was supplemented by tours to see displays and collections of
resources in the library or in classrooms. One tip for schools thinking
about gaining their own award might be to take pictures of anything ephemeral
like a classroom display and keep them in readiness.
Since the launch of these materials in September there
has been interest from colleagues beyond the bounds of Hampshire. Schools have
already purchased licenses to use the tool within their establishment and EAL
specialists have been trained as validators to work with schools in their
own locality. If you are interested in finding out more, please contact: Chris.Pim@hants.gov.uk.
More materials will be produced to support schools
with gaining their EAL Excellence Award in 2019-20. There will also be training
opportunities to support aspects of the framework which some schools have found
trickier e.g. using first language as a tool for learning. We will also work with our current bronze schools who might be thinking
about developing their practice and provision towards silver.
Building on the success of the EAL Excellence Award,
the EMTAS Traveller Team have introduced a Traveller Excellence
Award that is currently being piloted in eight schools all around
Hampshire. We hope to present our first award early in the Autumn
term. This award helps schools audit their provision for their Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and helps to ensure that all
staff are well informed about the different GRT cultures in their
setting. If you are interested in finding out more, please contact: Claire.Barker@hants.gov.uk.
We congratulate the following schools for their hard
work in achieving their award:
Cherbourg Primary School, Eastleigh
Cove School, Farnborough
Hiltingbury Infants, Eastleigh
Marlborough Infant School, Aldershot
Merton Infant School, Basingstoke
New Milton Infant School, New Milton
South Farnborough Infant School, Farnborough
St John the Baptist Primary School, Andover
The Wavell School, Farnborough
Weeke Primary, Winchester
Cherrywood Community Primary School, Farnborough
Harestock Primary, Winchester
Ranvilles Infant School, Fareham
St John the Baptist Primary School, Fareham
Wellington Community Primary School, Aldershot
Visit our website to find out more about the
EAL Excellence Award and contact the Specialist Teacher Advisor for
your area to book a visit:
Basingstoke & Deane: Astrid Dinneen, email@example.com
and Test Valley: Jamie Earnshaw, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fareham and Gosport: Chris Pim, email@example.com
Hart, Rushmoor and East Hants: Claire Barker, Claire.Barker@hants.gov.uk
Havant and Waterlooville: Chris Pim, firstname.lastname@example.org
Isle of Wight: Lynne Chinnery Lynne.Chinnery@hants.gov.uk
New Forest – Lisa Kalim, email@example.com
Winchester: Sarah Coles, firstname.lastname@example.org
EMTAS’s ‘Welcome to Hampshire’ information guide for unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) has been updated. By Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Lisa Kalim.
Do you have unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) in
your school? If so I recommend that you
have a look here at EMTAS’s newly updated information guide for UASC and encourage your UASC to
use this useful resource, perhaps assisting them by printing a copy out for
them. This booklet was written
specifically for the young people in our schools who are UASC and aims to help
them settle into their new lives in Hampshire as smoothly as possible. It was first created over ten years ago as a
result of feedback received from UASC who had been in our school system for
several years and who shared what they wished they had known about when they
first arrived. It has been updated
regularly ever since. It seeks to provide
information on various topics that will be relevant to unaccompanied asylum
- what happens at each stage of the asylum process
- what their rights and responsibilities are
- education and schools/colleges/universities
- health care
- working in the UK
- sport and recreation
- how they can attempt to contact family and friends in their home country including those they have become separated from
- details of organisations that can provide support to them.
It has been written as simply as possible to allow those UASC who are already able to read in English sufficiently to access it independently, either in a printed version or via the online version on our website. For those who can understand English well but are not yet able to read it to the level required there is also an audio version here.
For those who are unable to access either the written or audio versions in English there are translations available in the three most commonly spoken languages by our UASC here in Hampshire – Arabic, Pashto and Farsi. These can be found here. Please check that your young person is able to read in the relevant language before providing them with this resource as some UASC may not have had the opportunity to learn to read or write in their country of origin due to difficulties with accessing education. EMTAS hopes to be able to provide audio versions of these translated booklets in the future, starting with Arabic, so keep an eye out on our website.
It is helpful if UASC can be given access to Welcome to
Hampshire as soon as possible after their arrival in Hampshire but even if they
have already been living here for several months or years it can still be
useful to them as they may have forgotten some of what they were told early on
or there may just have been too much information for them to take in all at
once at a stressful time. Welcome to Hampshire can be referred to by the young
person from time to time as needed, for example as they progress through the
asylum system and would like a reminder about what will happen next.
Reading Welcome to Hampshire can also be useful for staff
as it will give them an idea of the types of areas that are likely to be
important to their UASC and explains the asylum process simply. It also contains a section on useful contacts
which staff may also find helpful if working with UASC.
At the end of the booklet there is a form on which the
young people are invited to give feedback to EMTAS about Welcome to
Hampshire. This feedback is then used to
update future versions to ensure that it stays relevant and includes
information on everything that the young people feel they need. I would appreciate it if you could encourage
any UASC in your school who use the booklet in whatever format to complete it,
with assistance from a member of your school staff if needed. The young person can write in any language
they like, or their views could be scribed for them. Responses can either be posted to EMTAS’s office
in Basingstoke (address is included in Welcome to Hampshire) or sent via email
I’ll end with a quote from a 16 year old UASC from Iran who
helpfully provided us with the following feedback:
‘When I first came here, I didn’t know where I should live
or what I would do. This little book
helped me to find out what I needed to know.’
By Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Jamie Earnshaw
The early morning birdsong, lighter evenings and even maybe some sunshine peeping out from behind the clouds…this can only mean one thing: exam season is upon us.
This academic year, EMTAS Bilingual Assistants have supported over 50 EAL students in schools across Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight, to help them to prepare for their Heritage Language GCSEs. We have supported students who speak Arabic, Cantonese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Turkish, to name just a few. I’m sure that both staff and students will sigh a breath of relief to get to the end of the exam season this year!
Whilst we all know how stressful the exam season can be, upon receiving their results, many EAL students are given such a boost of confidence. It may well be an EAL student’s first experience of exams in this country and what better way than to acclimatise to the anomalous experience of sitting in an exam room than doing so in a subject they know well.
Nevertheless, just because a EAL student has grown up in an environment in which their first language has always been spoken, or they have had formal education in their home country, it is so important that we do not take for granted that students necessarily have the skillset to be able to take a GCSE exam in a Heritage Language without support. Do students have the skills across all aspects of the exam, speaking, listening, reading and writing, in order to be able to access the exam with confidence?
Having been brought up in the UK, where I spoke exclusively English, it was not just enough for me to turn up to the exam hall and proclaim my readiness for the English Language exam. In fact, I had 4 lessons each week, during my GCSE schooling years, in which I developed, improved and focused my language skills across speaking, listening, reading and writing. There was also the need to learn how to tackle the exams. How am I expected to answer the questions? Which skills do I need to display? What am I being assessed for?
It is essential for EAL students to have the same opportunity to have those niggling questions answered and to receive appropriate support when completing a Heritage Language GCSE. Attempting and receiving feedback on past papers and rehearsal opportunities for the speaking test are vital. It is also worth remembering that the papers are designed for non-native speakers, so the tasks are set in English. Therefore, for a newly arrived student with very little English, time might be needed to develop skills in English to a level in which they are able to access the questions or, at the very least, get used to the target question vocabulary used in the papers.
Once these initial hurdles have been crossed, the benefits for students really are immeasurable. Often, pupils achieve very good grades in their Heritage Language GCSEs and this can be a bonus when they are applying for college places or apprenticeships. It also gives students that experience of completing a GCSE examination, which, if they do earlier than Year 11, will help to ease any worries about what the experience of sitting an exam is actually like when it comes to perhaps those more daunting subjects like English, Maths and Science.
Visit the GCSE page on our website for more information about the EMTAS GCSE packages of support available to help prepare pupils for Heritage Language GCSEs. When you have decided which package you want, ask your Exams Officer to complete the GCSE Support Request and GCSE Agreement forms and return them both to Rekha Gupta using the address details provided on the GCSE Support Request form (by 1st March 2020).
Good luck to all those students (and staff) anticipating GCSE results this summer!
In a previous blog, Hampshire EMTAS colleagues Smita Neupane and Sudhir Lama discussed the use of persona dolls in a project aiming to support transition in Early Years and Key Stage 1 with a particular focus on Service children. In this blog, Cherrywood Community Primary School’s EAL Co-ordinator Dawn Tagima shares one year group’s experience of working with Himal.
Year 1 children at Cherrywood Community Primary School in Farnborough were delighted to welcome a brand new member to their class, Himal who was from Nepal. Cherrywood Community Primary School has a high number of children with EAL however not many are from a Service background. The school does have experience of working with the local Nepali community and the Year 1 classroom teacher leading this project is herself Nepali. So when the school looked for creative ways to support transition, the persona doll project (and specifically Himal) fitted the bill.
Himal came with his own passport and a 'talking book' which told the children all about his country. The children were told about the fact that Himal was new to this country and how he must be feeling. This encouraged conversations from our children about their own experiences and their own family situations.
Himal was given his own special place to sit in the classroom and the children involved him in every aspect of the school day. They particularly loved sitting and reading to him!
The children made a book about their plans for Himal both in school and at home. Himal was lucky to go home with many of the children to take part in family celebrations and trips out. The children shared this with the class, brought in photos and wrote about it in Himal’s scrapbook.
Himal helped to introduce a brand new topic about feelings and this encouraged the children to produce some amazing work.
Himal has now gone off to another school much to the disappointment of our children but they are always reminded of him with a lovely display in our main hallway and we hope he can come and visit us again when he returns from his 'travels'.
The children gained so much from Himal’s visit. We talked about religious traditions, diversity, beliefs, equality, inclusion, self-esteem, ideas, opinions, sensitivity and pride.
I encourage Early Years and KS1 settings to consider using persona dolls with the children. Simply contact Hampshire EMTAS to discuss the loan of dolls and resources.
Sarah Coles shares the third instalment of a journal-style account of her reading for the literature review and methodology chapters of her PhD thesis.
Week 5, Autumn 2018
Last time I focused on sequential and simultaneous bilingualism with a light touch on the Critical Period Hypothesis, specifically referencing the age at which one starts learning an additional language, a cause for personal lament. I mentioned how there is a general difference between early starters and late starters, with the acquisition of phonology being the key area in which a difference can be discerned. Apart from that, the notion of there even existing a Critical Period is open to debate, so the jury’s still out. Undaunted I will keep up my efforts, practising asking for things in Turkish when in France.
There are, of course, various factors that are important in second language learning and in this instalment I will talk about two more: aptitude and attitude/motivation. First to aptitude, and the literature reveals that…wait for it…some people are better at learning a second language than others. Ground-breaking stuff you’d never have thought of for yourself, eh? Anyway, in the 50s and 60s, aptitude was a popular area of study and there were many tests developed, each designed to assess language aptitude. These were largely geared towards formal second language learning in the 1960s classrooms of the UK, where students conjugated verbs, did precis and dictation and learned lists of vocabulary (in fact exactly how I was taught French in the 1980s) but rarely – if ever – used the new language to communicate with others. How weird is that? Anyway, when teaching practice evolved to include experience of actual communication (must’ve been after I left secondary school), aptitude testing fell out of favour. There ensued a tumble-weed period of about 30 years until the debate bump-started again in the 1990s when working memory was put forward as a key component of aptitude, conventional intelligence testing having become a subject of much controversy. The net result has been to propose language learning aptitude needs to be redefined to include creative and practical language acquisition abilities as well as memory and analytical skills. Mystic Sarah predicts the conclusion will still be that some people are just better at it than others but that a lot more hot air will have been generated along the way.
Now, if you’re all still keeping up, to attitude and motivation. As you might presume if you give it 5 minutes’ thought, these are difficult things to measure. Gardner and Lambert (1972) helpfully distinguished integrative motivation and instrumental motivation. These go as follows. Integrative motivation is based on an interest in the second language and its culture and refers to the intention to become part of that culture. I wonder if by this they were really talking about assimilation, given they were writing in the 1970s, but that aside they developed tests to measure motivation and attitude. These included factors such as language anxiety, parental encouragement and all the factors underlying Gardner’s definition of motivation. A sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, then. For Gardner, the learner’s attitude is incorporated into their motivation in the sense that a positive attitude increases motivation. This is not always the case, some astute observers note, citing by way of an illustrative example Machiavellian motivation in which a learner may strongly dislike the second language community and only aim to learn the language in order to manipulate and prevail over people in that community. They do like to quibble, these academics.
Instrumental motivation is all about the practical need to
communicate in the second language and is sometimes referred to as a ‘carrot
and stick’ type of motivation. The learner wants to learn the second
language to gain something from it. I can see the carrot here, but where
the stick comes in is less clear, unless it means putting in the effort
required to make progress. Back on planet earth, it is often difficult to
separate the two types. For instance, you might be in a classroom
learning a second language and you might have an integrative motivation towards
your progress in acquiring the second language. You might, for instance,
yearn to have a Spanish boyfriend and fancy going off to live in Madrid or
Barcelona to find him. But you might at the same time have an
instrumental motivation to get high grades in order to ensure you can get onto
the A level Spanish course next year, just in case he turns out to be nothing
more than a pipe dream and you need to rethink your strategic timescales.
People more recently engaged with this aspect of the discussion suggest this
dichotomy (integrative/instrumental) is a bit on the limited side. They
put forward ideas such as social motivation, neurobiological explanations of
motivation, motivation from a process-oriented perspective and task
motivation. So nowadays motivation is seen as more of a dynamic entity,
in a state of constant flux due to a wide range of interrelated factors.
That said, motivation is a good predictor of success in second language
By Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Claire Barker
As the summer fast approaches many of us will see our Traveller children and their families disappear for the last weeks of term or dot in and out as they attend the most notable horse fairs around the country. The horse fairs are a valuable and treasured part of the Traveller culture and should be shared and enjoyed in our schools that have Travellers as part of their school community.
The season always opens and closes with Stow Fair which is held in May and October. It takes place at Maugersbury Park and thousands of Travellers come to the showground to trade and parade their horses. This particular fair has been an annual event since 1476 when a Royal Charter was given for a fair to be held.
Locally, in Hampshire, Wickham Fair is always held on 20th May unless that day falls on a Sunday and then the fair will be on 21st May. This year it is an extra special event as this is its 750th anniversary. King Henry III granted a Royal Charter to Wickham in 1269 to hold the fair and markets in the town. It was not a Gypsy Horse Fair at this time but in later centuries it became one of the main English horse fairs for Travellers. A condition of the Charter was that a fair had to be held every year on that day so during World War II a local Traveller placed a carousel in the Square to keep the tradition of the fair going so it could continue after the war.
Appleby Fair is the
big event of the year for Travellers and it happens in the first week in June
and goes on from Thursday to Wednesday with the main events happening on the
Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Like Wickham
and Stow fairs it was also granted a Royal Charter. King James II granted a charter to Appleby in
1685. Many Romany historians claim this
fair is older than five hundred years with some claiming Travellers from the
Roman times travelled to Appleby to trade and parade.
The fairs and the
events surrounding them form a vital heartbeat in the Traveller
communities. It is a time when
Travellers from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England come together to share
their traditions and values. They trade
together buying and selling horses and goods.
They eat together and socialise and there is lots of catching up with
families from far and wide. The fairs
are often times for family weddings, baptisms and birthday celebrations as the
whole family is together. Many young
Travellers meet their future partners at the fairs.
Romany, Irish Travellers, Scottish Travellers, Welsh Travellers and Showmen come together to ply their goods and catch up on the year’s events. However, the Showmen tend to be at the fairs as service providers running carnivals and catering wagons for all of the Travellers.
Many of the families will take pictures and share them on social media and this provides schools the opportunity to discuss and find out about the fairs and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
If you have a child from a Traveller community in your school and they are absent for a fair, take the time on their return to ask them to share the magic and experiences they have had. Explore their world together and create a greater understanding of one of Britain’s oldest communities and what they hold dear.
By Debra Page, Masters candidate at the University of Reading
Hi readers. If you’ve not read about me in the Young Interpreters Newsletter, my name is Debra Page. I am conducting research on the Young Interpreter Scheme under the supervision of the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism at the University of Reading and with Hampshire EMTAS as a collaborative partner. This is the first time the successful scheme will be systematically evaluated since it began 10 years ago. I have worked in research and as an English as a Additional language teacher since graduating with my psychology degree. Now, I am completing my Masters in Language Sciences before starting the PhD. My Masters research dissertation is looking at staff experiences of the Young Interpreter Scheme with a specific focus on motivation for participation in the scheme, views around teaching pupils with EAL and effects of running the scheme on children, staff and schools.
After months of behind the scenes work from the team, a questionnaire has now gone live! The team and I encourage as many staff as possible to complete the questionnaire. This includes people who are running the scheme, who aren’t running the scheme, and staff who work with children with EAL. This anonymous online questionnaire should take around 15 minutes to complete and will allow myself and Hampshire EMTAS to discover what you really think about the scheme, your experiences of participation, and working with children with EAL. Finding out your views in running the scheme (or not) will help EMTAS improve and expand it, plus you will be helping to shape its future.
If you haven’t met me yet, I will be at the Basingstoke Young Interpreters conference on 28th June. If you have any questions about the questionnaire, please email me – email@example.com.
I hope you choose to help by completing the questionnaire. Please spread the word and share the link!
At a recent EMTAS teachers’ meeting we had an interesting conversation about how often we find ourselves repeating the same messages to practitioners about what good practice looks like for schools working with new arrival learners of EAL. We wondered what methods beyond face to face training and written guidance might be effective at communicating those core principles.
Of course we already have various ways of communicating good practice principles to schools in our local authority and the wider educational community, including via School Electronic Communications, Young Interpreter newsletters, our Twitter account @HampshireEMTAS, online EAL training materials and even posting on national outlets such as the EAL-Bilingual Google group.
In thinking about new ways to communicate our messages, we were inspired by Rochdale Local Authority’s brilliant video ‘Our Story’, which explores the feelings of new arrivals on their first few days at their new school. We decided to produce our own video that focused on how to settle, induct, assess and teach new arrivals to ensure they have the best possible start in the UK education system.
To produce our video, we decided on a software tool called Videoscribe (from Sparkol). For those of you unfamiliar with this technology, Videoscribe produces those videos where a hand draws images on a white canvas to the accompaniment of a narration and possibly a musical score.
The first task was to write a script to cover the key messages:
baseline assessment, with the avoidance of standardised testing
valuing linguistic and cultural diversity
building upon the skills and aptitudes of each child
mainstreaming teaching and learning
Having written a script, we pooled our ideas around choosing a strong metaphor through which we could visualise the main ideas (sports day theme) and any potential images that would need to be drawn. Working with a local artist we then incorporated those drawings with the narration into the Videoscribe software. The resulting video can be viewed below:
Do signpost this to colleagues, and let us know what you think.
Mum, I don’t want to go to school today!
By Hampshire EMTAS Bilingual Assistant Eva Molea
This is the 5th chapter of my Diary of an EAL mum, a series of blogs in which I share the ups and downs of my experience of bringing up my daughter Alice in the UK. So far I have spoken about my experience as an EAL child, how we prepared a cosy nest for Alice to feel at home in her new country, how I tried to support her learning, and the sometimes peculiar choices for lunch. This chapter is about attendance.
Author's own image
Unless I was feeling seriously unwell, for me as a child not going to school was NOT an option. Probably because my parents always told me that going to school was my job and that I had to do it as professionally as possible, which meant being neat and tidy - especially at secondary level, where maintained schools in Italy have no uniforms - and well prepared for my lessons. But mainly because staying at home was DEAD BORING. Not going to school meant being locked up at home, no escape. So why would I ever swap a good 5 hours with my friends for the same amount of time on my own?? Therefore, my approach to the subject had always been simple: we all have to go to school. Until... one morning Alice started crying desperately because she didn't want to go to school and that SHE WANTED TO GO BACK TO ITALY RIGHT THEN.
Oh dear me! She was in such a state that, for the first time, I had to consider not sending her to school. I was very surprised though, as Alice had started going to school everyday at the age of 2 (drop off at 9 am and pick up at 2 pm) and had never told me that she didn't want to go to school. What was I supposed to do? I was worried that, had I allowed her to stay at home that day, she would have asked for it again and again. On the other side, to be fair to the child, we had been in the UK for less than a month and she was still finding going to school very hard and tiring because of the massive effort of processing everything in two languages and because of the linguistic isolation she was still experiencing, which she hated.
So I decided to give her a break and spend the whole day together as a reward for her hard work and intense effort. But I made an agreement with her: this would be the ONE AND ONLY exception in her school life (a bit drastic, I admit, but that's it). In Italy I would have just kept her at home, but here I had to call the school by 9 am to tell them that Alice would not be in school that day and why (schools require all parents to do so, otherwise they call you). I tried and tried but to no avail so I sent an e-mail to the School Office and within minutes I received a reply that it was OK to have Alice at home for that day as homesickness could be a real physical and mental condition. I was very grateful for their understanding. Her school is amazing.
Oh no! I had the hairdresser booked on that day, and a class at the gym I really wanted to go to. AARGH! The wise person that sometimes lives within me told me that instead I needed a plan to make the most of our day together so... We started with the hairdresser (I was not giving this up), next out for lunch, then to the bookshop, played some games at home and cooked a nice dinner for dad who, oblivious of all the things we had done that day, had been only at work (note to self: get a credit card on his bank account).
At the end of Year 1 Alice missed the last day of school too. Our tickets to fly back to Italy for the Summer holidays were a lot cheaper if we flew on the Friday instead of the Saturday, so I went to the School Office and they told me that they understood the issue but the absence was not authorised. I must have had a question mark on my lovely face as the Office, without prompting, explained to me that the Head Teacher had to authorise every absence and holidays were not a good reason to be off school. Obviously I could take my child with me but that would appear as an unauthorised absence on the register. I was very surprised to hear that if Alice made too many unauthorised absences we would have to pay a fine. And being late for school sometimes can count as an unauthorised absence. Aaarghhh! Given my Mediterranean concept of time, I would need to set my watch 10 minutes early to make sure we would be on time!!! The positive news was that Alice would be authorised to be absent during term time for weddings and funerals. So hopefully we will have loads of them. Let’s rephrase this: loads of weddings. Friendly advice: if you wish to know more about attendance policies, please ask the Office at your children’s school or visit the Hampshire EMTAS website.
We navigated swiftly through the rest of Year 1, 2 and 3 with Alice being true to her word up to Year 4 when, all of a sudden after the Christmas break, she started saying that she did not want to go to school. Obviously, I stuck to my principle that she had to go to school every day, until she started to get ill. At the beginning, she was complaining of a constant tummy ache and initially I thought it might have been a bug she had caught in Italy over Christmas. But that went on for a long time and we explored all the possible health conditions, but nothing came out. So, my husband and I started to worry about other issues at school we might not be aware of. So, just to test the waters, I offered her to change school and, much to my surprise, she accepted straight away. She then had to give me reasons for leaving the school she had always been so fond of. And here she opened Pandora's box: friendship issues of two different types, unkind friends and much-too-sticky friends; feeling limited in the choice of children she could play with; feeling the competition on academic grounds; a bit of tiredness because of her busy routines outside school; but the worse thing was the anxiety of not knowing who to talk to for the fear of not being taken seriously. As soon as she had told me all that, she felt immediately relieved, such a big weight having been lifted off her chest. As soon as she told me that, I felt like the worst mother ever. Why hadn't she trusted me enough? Was I being too superficial? Was I too busy to give her the attention she needed? Could have I spotted the sign of her uneasiness by myself? All this called for a large bottle of whisky to drain my sadness into (straight translation of the Italian saying “affogare I dispiaceri nell’alcool”). Sadly, I don't drink...
I addressed the issue with the school the following morning and, at pick up time, Alice and I had a meeting with the teachers who had promptly and delicately discussed this in class with all the children and everything was back to normal. I think I might be repeating myself but her school is amazing.
If I had a lesson to take home from my experience this was to pay attention to everything Alice tells me (which is hard work as she is a chatterbox, I wonder who she takes after...). It is in the little things that we can spot any difficulties our children are facing and an early detection can help us set things right before they become worrying.
Anyway, since then, I have never heard her saying "Mum, I don't want to go to school today". But, they say, never say never…