User blog: Jamie Earnshaw

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by Jamie Earnshaw - Monday, 22 February 2021, 11:27 AM
Anyone in the world

In this letter to her new born daughter, native speaker of French and Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Astrid Dinneen reflects on her first steps as a parent raising her baby bilingually.

For Elise

Ma chère Elise,

Did you notice the different patterns and music of the languages spoken at home when you were still tucked into my tummy? Perhaps you recognised they were from different classes of language a couple of days after you were born. You see, your daddy speaks to you in English and I mostly speak to you in French, switching to English or a mixture of French and English when your daddy is within earshot in order to include him in our chitchat.

Long before you were born we always knew we would raise you bilingually – not quite strictly using the ‘one parent, one language’ (OPOL) approach where I would solely use French and your father English when around you. This method simply wouldn’t suit our family unit where - so far - I’m the only speaker of French and where English is the only language that everyone has in common. Instead we’ll use our own flexible approach where you’ll see me dip in and out of French and English and perform a lot of translanguaging.

Mixing languages didn’t use to be recommended as it was understood it confused children however advice is changing around this practice which is pretty common in multilingual households. So, rather than being brought up by two seemingly monolingual parents, you will grow up witnessing bilingualism in action in a dynamic, dual language environment where either French, English or sometimes a mixture of both will be spoken, read and written depending on context and audience – something I hope will help model how you too can use the whole repertoire both your languages have to offer.

This is all nice and well however you should know I suffer from a mild case of language attrition. You see, when you’ve lived in a country other than your own for as long as I have and speaking your first language only occasionally you become a little rusty – the words fail to roll off your tongue, you stumble and you fall mid sentence in a mess of grammatical approximations and incomplete idioms. This isn’t helped by the fact there is no cohesive local French speaking community that I know of hence the opportunities to regularly chat with compatriots are somewhat lacking, especially during a pandemic when even your French family is unable to travel and see us. This is definitely a concern when you think about how much input in French you’ll need to even have a chance to acquire it. But what a beautiful opportunity you’ve given me – the chance to reconnect with a language, identity and culture I am determined to pass on to you.

Talking to you in French all the time offers me much needed practice and reassuringly the words eventually come to me naturally even though false friends occasionally trip me up in my sleep deprived state. For example, the term bib in English is very close to the French word for baby bottle (biberon or bibi for short) hence why you often hear me use these words interchangeably! I’m sure you’ll soon join your daddy in making fun of my slipups but these will make superb opportunities for unpicking quirks and comparing our languages – a process which will soon become familiar to you as your metalinguistic awareness develops (that’s grownup for your awareness of how languages work).

Singing to you in French is a lot of fun and is great for repetition, rhyme and rhythm and you particularly love my rendition of Alouette. I’m rediscovering long forgotten songs and nursery rhymes. I’m discovering new ones too including translations of popular English classics such as The wheels on the bus. Interestingly, in French, the mums on the bus don’t chat, they say chut (shush) straight after the line where the babies cry. Can you guess why the translator made this choice? Have you also noticed how the body parts in Heads, shoulders, knees and toes are in a different order in French so it still rhymes? I’m sure translation will soon become another subject of conversation in our home and you’ll soon discover the skilful way we sometimes have to manipulate language and adapt text to suit our purposes (the metalinguistic awareness I’ve already mentioned will help you do just that).

Practitioners in pre school and school settings may consider you as EAL when they eventually get to work with you. This is such a big umbrella term however and children with EAL have varying experiences which lie on a wide spectrum. You will definitely receive a language diet that is different from your peers raised only in English. However, your exposure to French won’t be comparable to that of children born in an exclusively French speaking household either as their input in French will naturally be greater than yours. You will no doubt sit somewhere in the middle with skills and qualities developed through your exposure to two identities, ways of thinking and speaking.

Will you have a preferred language when interacting with us at home or outside the house? Will this change when you start school? Will you tap into both languages to express yourself in the same utterance? Will you be happy to use French in front of non French speakers? Will you enjoy talking about how our languages work? Will translation interest you? Your development of language will be truly unique and one no one can really predict. One thing is for sure though – it’s how grateful I am ma chère Elise for putting French back into my life in addition to being the best thing that’s happened in 2020.

Bisous,

Maman


NB: Astrid is still on maternity leave. 


References:

Babies, First words – Netflix, April 2020

What is translanguaging? – EAL Journal https://ealjournal.org/2016/07/26/what-is-translanguaging/amp/

How to plan for a bilingual baby? [English edition] – Kletsheads, a podcast with Eowyn Crisfield  https://kletsheadspodcast.nl/2020/06/30/how-to-plan-for-a-bilingual-baby-english-edition/

Advice for parents and carers in our guidance library https://emtas.hias.hants.gov.uk/course/view.php?id=64 


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[ Modified: Monday, 22 February 2021, 4:27 PM ]
 
Anyone in the world

In this blog, Claire Barker, Operational Lead of the Hampshire EMTAS Traveller team, provides an update on the work of the team and gives an insight into future projects.

Showmen Literacy Ambassadors

Hampshire EMTAS includes a very active Traveller team who work closely with schools to support staff with cultural awareness of our GRT communities, to help improve attendance and to engage with GRT pupils about their attainment and aspirations for the future.

In the past, the team has worked in a similar way to our Bilingual Assistants, offering a number of fixed sessions of academic support for every GRT child referred to us.  Over the last year as part of a regrouping exercise, we have evaluated the purpose of our work and reviewed the impact it has had.  We all agreed the children enjoyed support sessions but once we finished, the children did not have face to face support from us again.  This meant that the impact was short-lived.  Unlike children who are new arrivals to the country and struggling with English, our GRT children do not experience a language barrier and can therefore be supported academically by the school day-to-day.  We looked at issues around GRT children and their learning and found that the key recurring barriers to their progress and attainment are: poor attendance, lack of literacy and slower rates of progression in general.  None of these issues can be alleviated by a fixed number of support sessions delivered across half a term.

The crux of working with the GRT communities is trust and we all agreed that this needs to be built up over time, working with the children and getting to know their families.  As a team, we want to work with schools to look at their GRT cohorts and work out how to accommodate small mentoring groups that will be visited at least three times a year.  On each visit, a member of the team will work with the children on literacy, attendance and attainment.  This will be linked to the school participating in our GRT and Showman Literacy Ambassador programme.  This programme is being further expanded to include an interschool GRT and Showman Book Club; this is still in its infancy so watch this space.

If you are interested in the GRT children in your school being part of our mentoring scheme and you are a Hampshire school, for more information please contact Hampshire EMTAS: EMTAS@hants.gov.uk

GRT

An important part of our journey moving forward is raising the cultural awareness of both staff in schools and agencies who work with our GRT communities.  We do this in a variety of ways: we have a termly network meeting held on TEAMS where teachers and other professionals can come together to discuss good practice for GRT children within schools and learn about any new ideas and projects.  We are also hoping to hold three GRT Roadshows to showcase good practice across the county.  These will be in Basingstoke, Winchester and the New Forest in October 2021 and we will send out details in due course.

We also hold Cross Border meetings with professionals from outside Hampshire with an interest in GRT communities and education.  These meetings are held on TEAMS and if you would like to take part please contact Lizzie Jenner to be invited: lizzie.jenner@hants.gov.uk  Our next meeting on 1st March is focusing on aspirations and aiming higher with presentations from Darlington EMTAS and the University of Sussex.

Hampshire EMTAS is keen to raise aspirations in our GRT children from an early age and we believe our new way of working through mentoring should help this.  We have coupled this with the introduction of Kushti Careers.  This is a suite of short videos by people who are currently from Romany Gypsy communities, who share their stories of how they valued their education and where it has led them in their lives today.  We hope to add others from the Showmen community, Irish Travelling community and Roma. The idea is to share it in schools to show that there doesn’t have to be barriers to education because of culture and background.

We hope to have one of the presenters of a Kushti Careers video delivering a keynote speech at the EMTAS Conference on 9th July 2021.  Please make a note of this date in your diary.  It promises to be a great day, focusing on best practice for EAL and GRT children in education.

These are exciting times for the Traveller Team moving everything forward, preparing to return to schools and encouraging our GRT families to come on the journey with us so that their children’s futures are aspirational and show how, in the 21st century, our GRT communities are benefitting from expanded horizons and opportunities.


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[ Modified: Tuesday, 2 February 2021, 2:27 PM ]
 
Anyone in the world

Regular readers may recall from the Hampshire EMTAS blog a series of journal style articles documenting Sarah Coles’ PhD research into the language learning experiences of UK-born bilingual children.  Now in the third year of her part-time studies at the University of Reading, Sarah has carried out some piloting of key data gathering instruments and is now focusing on recruitment for the data collection stage proper.  In this blog she reflects on what was gained from the pilot phase of her PhD research. 

From home to school and back again 

I write this two weeks into the third national lockdown with mixed feelings about how the pandemic will impact on my research.  Since the last time I wrote about my PhD studies back in 2019, I have kept myself busy reading and writing for my Literature Review and Methods chapters, completing two compulsory research methods modules run by the University, one on qualitative and the other on quantitative methods, and piloting the use of both visual methods and the Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives (MAIN) with a small group of Nepali-speaking children who attend schools in Rushmoor.   

I had just finished the pilot phase when the first lockdown happened.  It very quickly took over everything as most children stopped attending school, staff started grappling with the many challenges brought by a shift towards remote learning and we were all prompted to wonder if we should be wearing masks, stocking up on tinned tomatoes or taking day trips to Barnard Castle.    

But much as I dislike how my glasses keep misting up when I put on my now compulsory mask, and much as I rue that I am obliged to continue to live in ignorance of the tourist attractions held by Durham and environs, I don’t want to spend too much time lamenting the impacts of the pandemic.  Here, I want instead to refocus, remind myself and you of the purpose of my research and talk a little about the experience of the pilot phase and what was gained through it from working with the children, their families and practitioners at participating schools in Rushmoor.

My PhD research focuses on UK-born bilingual children.  I aim to document the children’s language learning journeys from a point just before they start school through to the end of Foundation Stage.  This is, I believe, a critical period of the children’s young lives, one that will have a profound and lasting impact on them socially, culturally and linguistically.  It is my hope that my research will lead to new understanding of UK-born bilingual children’s lived experiences of growing up in two languages and that this new understanding will be useful to practitioners working in linguistically diverse Foundation Stage classrooms.

The reason for my interest in UK-born children is due to the ways in which they have appeared to me to differ from bilingual children newly arrived from overseas.  Initially drawing on only anecdotal evidence, it seemed to me that the language development of UK-born bilingual children may differ substantively from that of the international new arrival.  This I saw as important in an educational context mainly because of the way I was hearing practitioners talk about how they were noticing differences in terms of both the children’s home languages and their English.  I started to wonder if UK-born children might benefit from subtly different kinds of support and a good starting point in determining what that might look like would be to first develop a better understanding of their experiences and their needs – hence my research focus.

So how are our UK-born EAL learners different?  Well, for one thing their home languages are often not as well developed as those of children born overseas.  Reasons for this are relatively easy to comprehend if we think about how children acquire language from those around them, both as participants in exchanges and as observers.  In a monolingual context, they will hear only one language spoken both in the home and when out in the community.  A monolingual experience in the early years, such as that experienced by children born in the UK into an English-only family, has informed practitioners’ expectations of typical language development for children in the Foundation Stage.  However, the language learning experiences of children born in the UK into families where a minority language is spoken, eg Nepali, will differ in that they will have some experience of Nepali with family members and friends in the home and in some community settings and some of English, for instance when shopping at the supermarket, playing in the park or attending pre-school.  In the EAL world, they may be classed as simultaneous bilinguals, acquiring their two languages together from an early age.  This means that when they start school, they may not so uniformly match practitioners’ expectations of their language skills in either Nepali or English.  Indeed, research tells us that such children will very likely know as many words as a monolingual child if you count both their languages but if you only count one language, then they may appear to have an under-developed vocabulary.  Interestingly, it has been found that the overlap – those words the child knows in both of their languages – is very small; more typically the majority of the lexicon they have in each of their languages is discrete.

A second difference is that UK-born bilingual children are more likely to share with their monolingual, English-only peers experiences of such cultural icons as Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy and of places such as the local library or soft play centre.  This means they may have more experiences that are shared with the monolingual majority population than a child who comes as an international new arrival as well as some that most likely are not, such as taking part in Diwali celebrations.

A third difference can arise from the child’s position in the family.  The first child is likely to have more experience of the home language than any siblings who follow.  Often, parents report that especially where the first child has started school, more English is spoken in the home, particularly amongst the children.  The younger siblings may in consequence have more English and less home language when they start school.  Parents report that in these circumstances it becomes more challenging to keep the home language going, many observing that their children choose to respond in English when addressed in the home language.

In the pilot phase of my research, the children’s backgrounds were explored through the use of visual methods.  Having first gathered information about the family context from parents, each child produced a visual representation of the people who were important to them and talked about the languages they used with those people.  This ‘social mapping’ activity showed that for some children their concept of family was global, including geographically-distant relatives.  For others, it revealed their personal fascinations, for example one boy depicted a dinosaur as a member of his family, alongside his parents.  When talking about their languages, one child confidently asserted that she knew both her languages whilst another child was much less certain about there being present two discrete languages each of which had its own name.  Talking about this with parents, it became apparent that in this child’s family everyone code-switched all the time, mixing English and Nepali in the same sentence so there was no clear delineation.

In addition to the social mapping, each child was seen on two further occasions to do some story-telling activities using the MAIN.  The MAIN is designed to be used to assess narrative skills in children who acquire one or more languages from birth or from an early age.  It evaluates both comprehension and production of narratives.  Each child involved in the pilot phase had two experiences of the MAIN, one in first language and one in English.  Each time, the session began with a model story using one picture sequence and then the child was asked to tell their own story using a different picture sequence.  Only one child chose to use her home language, Nepali, to tell her own story after hearing the model MAIN story in Nepali; the others all chose to use English on both occasions.  When analysing the children’s stories, the attributes I was able to identify included examples of code-switching, aspects of story structure the children had used and their use of particular grammatical features.

When analysing other data (transcriptions of the audio recordings) by coding them, which is part and parcel of qualitative data analysis, the code “confidence” seemed relevant across the children who comprised my sample.  There was evidence of confidence when talking about their home culture, where clearly the children felt most secure, whereas when talking about school and their learning, especially their experience of early literacy (in English), more hesitation was apparent.

In the data collection for my substantive study, should confidence again emerge as a theme I will have more opportunity to explore it in depth as I follow each child through their first year of compulsory education.  During that time, each child will produce a scrap book documenting their engagement with my research, which they will get to keep at the end.  They will also be party to my field notes and they will share in the co-creation of their own personal narratives, all of which will give them first-hand experience of personal reflection and of research in education, hopefully experiences from which they will derive some personal benefit.  At the end of the year, the MAIN story-telling activities will be repeated, enabling quantifiable comparisons of the children’s languages to be made.   

As the fieldwork phase progresses, I will simultaneously be making observations of the children at school and gathering interview data from the children’s teachers and from their parents, these being key participants in the children’s lives.  Parents’ and practitioners’ views of bilingualism and of the children’s home languages and cultures will be sought with teachers having the opportunity to talk about how they shape and adapt their practice to accommodate their diverse cohort.  This part of my data collection will necessitate great care so as to avoid making unreasonable demands on people’s time.  In exchange, I will be sharing my findings as people see fit, whether it be through an input to staff in participating schools at a staff meeting or through network meetings aimed at a wider audience of practitioners working in Foundation Stage or – already on the cards – at the EMTAS Conference on 9th July.

For now though I want first and foremost to extend my thanks and gratitude to all school-based colleagues who supported me in the pilot phase, and to the EMTAS Bilingual Assistants who accompanied me to work with the children.  I would also like to invite anyone out there who works in a school in Hampshire and who thinks they might like to be included in my research to get in touch.  At this stage, you will need only to have a fair chance of having at least one UK-born child with either Polish or Nepali as their home language starting in your Year R class in September 2021.  And, of course, the willingness in principle to allow me access to your classroom to do some observation, to work directly with participating children as described above (adapted as necessary to be Covid-safe) and to carry out a couple of short interviews with you about your views and experiences of working with young, bilingual learners.

Do email me – with questions, requests for more information or offers of support: sarah.c.coles@hants.gov.uk 


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[ Modified: Wednesday, 20 January 2021, 11:56 AM ]
 
Anyone in the world

In this blog, Rosie Cayless, EAL Coordinator at Fernhill School, writes about her experience working towards and achieving Silver in the EMTAS EAL Excellence Award.

                                    Fernhill EXA

























I was really keen to gain the EAL Excellence Award Level Silver for Fernhill School but, like everyone else, had no idea when I would have the time to actually do the work needed for this. Claire Barker from EMTAS visited me and went through the different criteria suggesting I could make a folder with all of my evidence and then fill in the online form too, but in less detail, as the documentation was in the folder. This galvanised me into action!

I decided to break the tasks down into ones that I knew as a school we were achieving, but needed to evidence (e.g parental engagement), and ones that required action to bring us up-to-date, such as CPD. 

We arranged an EAL training session for NQTs (led by Claire) and opened it up to NQTs from other schools, which was well-received; we had a cosy pre-Covid roomful of over 30 teachers!

Some areas required a lot of detailed recording such as doing the Bell Foundation EAL profiles for selected students, while others could be demonstrated with photographs from events such as our Global Fair. The more evidence I collected, the more enjoyable it became. 

I would say that the whole process increased my sense of job satisfaction; it was rewarding to examine all aspects of EAL provision and ask: ‘Are we doing the best for our students and their families and what can we improve?’ One of the most useful aspects of undertaking the challenge was to completely re-write our school’s EAL policy, which underpins our whole approach and proved to be a vital part of our application. And the most enjoyable was collating examples of some of the wonderful writing Fernhill students have done in their first language.

The moderation visit was conducted by Astrid Dineen - it was very thorough, one could even say rigorous! But by the end of the (lengthy) session, no stone was left unturned and I was left feeling hopeful that we would gain the award. 

It was great to receive the email with the shiny Silver Award logo attached, Astrid sending congratulations as well as encouragement to go for the Gold Award next time!


Congratulations to Rosie and Fernhill School for achieving the Silver Award!


To find out more about the Hampshire EMTAS EAL Excellence Award, visit our website and our Moodle


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[ Modified: Tuesday, 5 January 2021, 1:50 PM ]
 
Anyone in the world

In this blog and accompanying videoscribe, Chris Pim, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor, provides an overview of the needs of more advanced learners of English as an additional language (EAL) and identifies some ways in which schools can support this group of learners in their journey to full proficiency in their use of English across the curriculum.


 

Most schools have a range of children working at different stages in their learning of English as an additional language. Those schools which actively track progress using a specific EAL assessment framework will be aware that rates of progress vary enormously depending on the context of the child, their age and the specific curriculum area within which they are working at any given time. 

Broadly speaking, pupils who are new to English or at an early stage of learning EAL make rapid progress with inclusive teaching and learning practices. However, research shows that more advanced learners, those who have been studying English for around two or more years, can plateau in their learning at various points in their school career. More advanced EAL learners often require specific types of literacy-based support for many years after acquiring oral proficiency. 

So, who are our more advanced EAL learners? These learners, who are often but not exclusively British born, appear to speak and understand English at an age appropriate level, yet still require specific support to overcome the cognitive and academic challenges of the curriculum. Some, but by no means all, will also be literate in one or more other languages. 

These pupils sometimes slip under the radar of schools, whose focus is often more on beginners; in some cases, they may not even be flagged up on the school’s data systems as EAL at all. There are obvious indicators to look out for, such as reading miscomprehension of key texts and evidence in writing of typical grammatical errors or where writing has obviously been copied from peers or indiscriminately drawn from online sources. However, a more rigorous focus on diagnostic assessment is the only sure way of identifying the specific areas that need attention for each pupil. 

Practitioners need to consider the language demands of the curriculum in order to ensure that they plan to teach the specific language and literacy elements presented by each subject area. And practitioners shouldn’t underestimate the significance of the cultural context of the curriculum either. EAL learners, whether UK born or not, sometimes grow up lacking a degree of cultural capital that means they miss important nuances that inhibit understanding. That’s why the best practitioners make meaning explicit for all their learners through well-planned sequences of lessons using a range of multimodal sources; this helps to make messages abundantly clear. 

Abridged texts, simple English versions of key information and translated sources, where appropriate, will aid reading comprehension. Digital texts can be made more accessible via text to speech synthesis. Pupils will also benefit from specific guidance on how to make the most of dictionaries and thesauri. 

Schools which cater well for more advanced learners of EAL often have a whole school focus on developing academic oracy and talk for writing approaches; strategies which benefit all pupils. Well planned collaborative activities, drama and role-play, presentations, Dictogloss and Socratic talk activities will convert thinking and talking into better academic writing across the curriculum. Recording thoughts and conversations and replaying them prior to writing has also been shown to improve the cohesion of pupils’ writing. 

Another beneficial strategy is a specific focus on pre-teaching and rehearsing the use of key vocabulary, both technical and academic, including exam terminology. A specific focus on Greek and Latin stem and root words can be helpful. Call-out games like follow-me, Bingo and vocabulary Jenga are fun ways to consolidate vocabulary knowledge. Card-based matching games are also very useful. Word clouds drawn from key texts are a great way to get children thinking about subject content, text-type and genre.   

Converting thinking and talking into great writing is a perennial problem for some more advanced EAL learners. Technology has a role here - supportive word processors and in-built soft keyboards can help pupils compose digital texts – for example through speech to text, word prediction and integrated spellcheckers and thesauri. The process need scaffolding using knowledge organisers, writing frames and key word banks. And text-types like recount, persuasion and argumentation need modelling to help pupils understand the conventions most frequently required for each specific subject area.  

Above all, more advanced EAL learners want approachable teachers who understand their needs, make explicit the next steps in their learning and maintain high expectations at all times. 


Links:

Hampshire EMTAS Guidance Library - Advanced EAL Learners

https://emtas.hias.hants.gov.uk/course/view.php?id=60

Aide-memoire of best practice

https://emtas.hias.hants.gov.uk/mod/resource/view.php?id=1089

Ensuring the attainment of more advanced learners of English as an additional language

https://www.hants.gov.uk/educationandlearning/emtas/supportinglanguages/supporting-advanced-learners#step-6

EAL MESHGuide

http://www.meshguides.org/guides/node/112

Bell Foundation EAL Resources (search by language level)

https://www.bell-foundation.org.uk/resources/programme/eal-programme/


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[ Modified: Monday, 14 December 2020, 5:24 PM ]
 
Picture of Jamie Earnshaw
by Jamie Earnshaw - Friday, 27 November 2020, 1:11 PM
Anyone in the world

In this blog, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisors Lisa Kalim and Sarah Coles discuss current thinking in the cross-over territory where EAL and Dyslexia meet.

wordle

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning difference that falls under the umbrella term “neurodiversity”.  It is thought to affect around 10% of the population, cutting right across the range of abilities.  

It is known that different people with dyslexia experience it in different ways.  Although in the past dyslexia was often viewed as a barrier to learning, these days it is accepted that there are positives to thinking differently and many dyslexic people are now recognised for their strengths in areas such as reasoning, problem-solving, oral skills and in visual and creative fields.  

According to the British Dyslexia Organisation, “as each person is unique, so is everyone’s experience of dyslexia”, thus every child with dyslexia will have a different blend of strengths and weaknesses.  In school the focus on an academic curriculum can cause some children difficulties in certain areas such as:

  • memory

  • organisation

  • processing

  • phonological awareness

  • reading, writing and spelling

  • self esteem.

Some people may experience only mild impacts whilst others may experience much more significant difficulties across multiple areas – which may be more noticeable in a classroom setting.  


Does dyslexia exist in other languages?

Yes, it does.  Research suggests that its impact in terms of difficulties children with dyslexia may face may be more pronounced in some languages than others.  This is to do with transparency (NALDIC, 2020).   Some languages are more transparent than others ie the relationship between phonemes (units of sound) and graphemes (written symbols that represent phonemes) is more straightforward in some languages than in others.

  • More transparent languages include Italian, Spanish, Kannada and German.  The relationship between sound and symbol is consistent.

  • More opaque languages include Tamil, English and French. In these languages, it is more difficult to predict spellings and pronunciation because the relationship between sound and symbol is not consistent.


Transparent - OpaqueFigure 1: Continuum showing the approximate degree of transparency of various languages (NALDIC, 2020)


Language and features

Figure 2: Approximate relative transparency of different languages & features which may present difficulties for learners with dyslexia (NALDIC, 2020)


What about languages that are not alphabet-based?

Some languages don’t use an alphabet eg Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Korean.  In Mandarin:

  • the basic speech unit is the syllable

  • the basic orthographic unit is a character

  • the rules in the sound-script correspondence in Mandarin are very different from those present in English

Mandarin and English

In addition to the above differences, Mandarin is a tonal language; a change in tone changes the meaning.  These differences apply not only to Mandarin but also to other languages that work in a similar way eg Japanese and Korean.  A dyslexic Mandarin speaker, for example, may not experience any difficulties when learning to read and write in Mandarin but may find learning to read and write in English much more challenging. 


How come English is more opaque than other languages and what does this mean for someone with dyslexia?

English is often cited as one of the most difficult languages for children with dyslexia to learn. Here are some reasons why:

  • Weak correspondence between phonemes and graphemes eg compare how ‘-ough’ is pronounced in cough, bough, tough, through and dough

  • Mapping between sound and symbol is more inconsistent in English than in most other European languages

  • In combination with weak phonological awareness and slow processing, these inconsistencies present particular difficulties for someone with dyslexia.

Here are some difficulties that someone with dyslexia may experience:

  • Reading speed can be impacted for children with dyslexia

  • Processing time may be longer – learners need to scroll through various possibilities in order to retrieve the correct phonologically assembled label. Eg similar labels (‘god’, ‘dock’, ‘bog’) need to be rejected before ‘dog’, the correct label is chosen.

It can also be the case that a child’s dyslexia is mild in their more transparent first language but more pronounced in English with the latter presenting phoneme-grapheme correspondence problems they didn’t encounter in their first language.  For instance, a Spanish-speaking child may experience only minor difficulties reading and writing in their first language as Spanish is very transparent whereas in English, a very opaque language, they may struggle more.


What does all this mean when it comes to MFL?

It is thought that more transparent languages may be easier for a dyslexic person to learn, so in school, the outcomes for a person with dyslexia may be better if they were to take Spanish or Italian then if they took French.


So how can we support children learning English as an Additional Language who also have dyslexia?

The support strategies recommended for monolingual children with dyslexia are equally relevant to children learning EAL and may include:

  • Approaches that help with self-esteem

  • School staff should consider sharing information about dyslexia with the individual child and with their parents/carers (ie that it’s a specific difficulty that affects particular areas and does not mean that the child is ‘stupid’ or cannot learn)

  • Collaborative approaches – peer support

  • Grouping – children with dyslexia should not be in the bottom group but with children of similar cognitive ability

  • Over-learning/repetition

  • Multi-sensory approaches

  • Extra time for processing eg slowing down the rate at which instructions are given and allowing more time for pupils to respond to questions

  • Limiting the amount of written work required and using alternative ways of recording information/responses to tasks set

  • Use of diagrams and visuals to assist with memorisation

  • Use of technology

        - Auto-correct in word processing software, spell checkers, predictive text

        - Speech-to-text software.  See the EMTAS Guidance Library ‘Use of ICT’ course for some suggestions of Supportive word processors and soft keyboard helper applications to try.

  • Exam concessions eg use of an amanuensis or reader

Some people think that the use of coloured overlays or different coloured paper or background colours on screen are helpful but empirical evidence for this is limited and the jury’s still out on these points.  

An individualised approach will be needed for each child with dyslexia.  Children with dyslexia who are learning English as an Additional Language will still need EAL support appropriate to the stage they have reached in their acquisition of English.  See the Bell Foundation EAL Assessment Framework for an example of an EAL-specific framework that maps progression and allows practitioners to track progress.

For further advice on individual bilingual children in your school who you’re concerned about, see the EMTAS website for a step-by-step process to follow and a downloadable, editable form for recording relevant information.


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[ Modified: Tuesday, 1 December 2020, 10:25 AM ]
 
Anyone in the world

In this blog, Dawn Tagima, Cultural Ambassador at Cherrywood Community Primary School, writes about her experience achieving Gold in the EMTAS EAL Excellence Award.

EAL Excellence Award Gold

My name is Dawn Tagima and I am the Cultural Ambassador at Cherrywood Community Primary School.

After achieving the silver Award in 2019, this April the school was delighted and very proud to be awarded the first Gold EAL Excellence Award from EMTAS. The Award was developed by the EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisory team and is an online school self-evaluation framework to help monitor the impact of provision to all EAL children.

I was introduced to the Award at one of the EMTAS Network meetings run by Claire Barker. I quickly realised that not only would it be amazing for our school to be recognised in this way, it was going to be of huge benefit to me in my role.

The Excellence Award covers 5 broad areas-

  • Leadership and Management

  • Pedagogy and Practice

  • Data, Assessment and Progress

  • Teaching and learning

  • Parental and Community Engagement

Using this framework (which has become an invaluable tool), I was able to make sure that we, as a school, were ensuring the provision we were offering was making the best impact on our children.

I was still relatively new to the role and will admit to initially feeling a little overwhelmed, especially as we have a high percentage of EAL pupils in our school, so when the Award was shown to me I thought it perhaps seemed a scary prospect and was concerned it may add to my work load BUT how wrong was I! I was able to clearly see what was needed in our school and how this could be achieved.

I made the decision to keep a file, breaking it down into the 5 areas. I was able to add photographs, pieces of work children had completed, assessments etc to use as evidence. Personally I like things in ‘paper’ form that are easy to refer to. Equally, I know of other schools that have done the whole Award online which has also worked well for them.

One of the things we worked hard on in school to move from Silver to Gold was to ensure we were encouraging our children to use their first language in the classroom.

Some examples of this were one of our Yr 6’s wrote a beautiful piece of work about Word War 1 which was proudly put on a class display in Portuguese. She was very proud of this and shared her work with her peers. Another child in Yr 2 sat and wrote out the numbers from 1 to 100 in Nepali which again was displayed in class on the maths working wall and became a real topic of conversation.

The use of first language is also shown around the school environment with ‘hello’ and ‘welcome’ signs written by the children in the entrance hallway in many different languages and a ‘changeable’ sign outside that at present says’ be happy’ written in Pashto and translated to English.

Using first language in the school/classroom environment not only embeds their first language but makes the children feel included, accepted and proud!

I was offered support from EMTAS throughout the whole process whether it be asking questions by e-mail or visits to the school to help inform me of our next steps and what we could improve on to reach our ‘goal’.

When I felt we were ready to be validated, I sent all the evidence to EMTAS and was then visited by a Specialist Teacher Advisor from another area, Astrid Dineen. I shared my file and we discussed what we were doing as a school and how we were ensuring we were embedding the best practice for our EAL learners and their families.

By using the Award as such an amazing tool, we have been able to make sure we are offering best practice in all areas but most importantly making sure we continue to do so in the future. As the school's Cultural Ambassador, I now feel so much more confident to know what this ‘best practice’ looks like which helps me in my day to day role. One of the criteria was to make a three year development plan so this is now in place to refer to and also reaching Gold has made the SLT team, the named Governor and all the teaching staff aware of what we have achieved and what we need to do moving forward. I am also carrying out observations in classes and auditing what resources are needed regularly.

Obviously we are living in a very different world at present and all our children are needing extra support to settle back in. We as a school are finding different ways to make sure our children still thrive and learn. Our EAL children have come back happy and ready to learn and we are determined this will continue!

I would encourage any school to use it. Everything is so clear and laid out for you and gives you the ability to see what you are working towards to become an ‘excellent school'!

Congratulations to Dawn and Cherrywood Community Primary School for achieving the Gold Award!

Find out more about the EMTAS EAL Excellence Award

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[ Modified: Monday, 16 November 2020, 4:36 PM ]
 
Anyone in the world

In this blog, Debra Page, PhD student at the University of Reading, shares two video updates with us on her research on the Young Interpreter Scheme


Hello readers. First of all, a huge well-done on making it through a very difficult term! 

In this first video, I update you on where I am at with my PhD research evaluating the Young Interpreter Scheme. The project is now all online and I am looking for schools to take part... 

 

 

In this second video, I talk about some new resources that I will be using during the research project: 

 

 

If you would like to be involved in the research, or have any questions, please email me: debra.page@pgr.reading.ac.uk.


We look forward to hearing more from Debra soon!


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[ Modified: Wednesday, 11 November 2020, 1:39 PM ]
 
Picture of Jamie Earnshaw
by Jamie Earnshaw - Thursday, 15 October 2020, 1:39 PM
Anyone in the world

By Lisa Kalim, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor.

When a school has concerns about the progress of one of their bilingual pupils, an underlying SEND is often suspected.  But how can teachers decide whether this is the case or whether the pupil is just going through the normal process of acquiring English as an Additional Language?  Lisa Kalim discusses how to tackle this tricky decision and signposts the support that EMTAS can offer.

SEND

So, you have concerns about a bilingual pupil in your class - let’s call her Agata.  She is a likeable, well behaved pupil with good social skills and a talent for sport, but her academic progress has been slower than you had expected.  You are worried that Agata will not reach the required standard by the end of the year.  You are concerned that she sometimes appears not to understand what is said in class.  Agata is very quiet and only responds to direct questions in class, usually with just a one or two-word answer.  Sometimes it looks like she has drifted off into a daydream – she seems to find maintaining her concentration difficult for longer periods of time.  She struggles to produce independent written work.  The written work that she does produce is very short, uses very simple vocabulary and contains grammatical errors.  However, you are not sure if this is just because Agata has English as an Additional Language or whether she may also have an underlying Special Educational Need/Disability.  Where should you start?

Think of the process as being a bit like doing a jig-saw puzzle but where the pieces are scattered around in different places, are mixed up with some pieces from different puzzles that you don’t need, and the box lid is missing so you don’t have the picture to help you.  You need to gather all the pieces that you need together, discount the pieces that belong to other puzzles and then you can start to put the pieces together to make the picture.  So, in relation to Agata, there are lots of pieces of information and evidence that you need to collect, some things you need to check and possibly discount, and then you can start to consider and analyse what you have found out.  Following this process will hopefully result in you being able to reach a conclusion on whether Agata could have an underlying SEND or whether her needs are just related to having EAL.  However, sometimes it is necessary to continue monitoring a pupil causing concern for a longer period before deciding, or to refer to EMTAS for help if still unsure.


Steps to take:

1.  Record the reason/s for your concerns and inform other relevant school staff such as your SENDCo.  EMTAS have developed an easy to use suggested format for doing this and recording the information/evidence described below.  It can be found here.


2.  Collect as much background information as you can about Agata.  This should include:

  • when she arrived in the UK or whether she was born here

  • information about her family background including which countries they have lived in and when

  • which language/s are spoken in Agata’s home and details of any others that she may have been exposed to in other contexts

  • any relevant medical information such as diagnosed conditions, significant illnesses, periods of hospitalisation etc. 

  • information regarding Agata’s early childhood development including whether developmental milestones were achieved at the expected times

  • details of her previous education (if any) including information on any gaps or interruptions and her levels of attainment

  • whether she has been identified as having any type of SEND by health/educational professionals in her country of origin or elsewhere and if so, gather as much detail as possible

  • whether the pupil has experienced significant trauma during her life

  • attendance data since she has been in your school

If Agata has been previously assessed by EMTAS you will find much of this information on her profile report.  You should also speak with the pupil’s parents/carers, using an interpreter if needed.  (EMTAS may be able to help with an interpreter if required – please contact our office to enquire.) This can reveal extremely useful information that you may not have been aware of previously which proves key to the decision around EAL/SEND.  Sometimes a parent/carer has crucial information but has not been able to convey it to school staff until a meeting facilitated by an interpreter takes place. 


3.  Collect evidence/information on the following:

  • Agata’s strengths and areas in need of development

  • the steps that have already been taken in meeting her needs, including teaching strategies, resources used and support for EAL. If appropriate teaching strategies and resources for learners of EAL have not been consistently used over the time that Agata has been in school in the UK then this could explain her slower rate of progress making it appear that she might have SEND when actually she may not have  

  • Agata’s current levels of achievement in English (listening, speaking, reading and writing). EMTAS recommends that you use an EAL-specific assessment tool such as the Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework to do this, available here: Bell Foundation framework.

  • Agata’s rate of progress over time in English and other curriculum areas. Include information gained from using the Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework (or other EAL-specific framework) together with the perceptions of teaching staff, pupil, parents and any other agencies involved.

  • samples of Agata’s work over time


4.  Collect information about Agata’s proficiency in her first language.  You need to know her proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing (if literate in first language) in as much detail as possible.  This is important as difficulties in first language can be an indicator of some types of SEND. With speaking and listening, check whether there any difficulties apparent in her speech sound pronunciation, her use of grammar and vocabulary use, as well as how fluent she is, how well she can communicate and whether she has any difficulty understanding what has been said to her.  With reading and writing it is important to know how much schooling Agata has had conducted in her first language when considering her proficiency. Remember that many countries start their formal education later than in the UK which may mean that they have had less years of schooling than their contemporaries here in which case a lower level of literacy is to be expected.  It is also important to bear in mind that pupils who were born in the UK will have had less exposure to their first language compared to their peers born in their country of origin and so may have less well developed proficiency.  Thus, it is very important to bear in mind that a lower level of first language proficiency does not always indicate an underlying SEND.


5.  Analyse all the information/evidence collected. (Try and put the pieces of the jig-saw together.)     


6.  Carefully think about whether there are other factors that could explain Agata’s perceived difficulties:

  • Is her attendance poor or has she had extended absences from school either in the UK or whilst in country of origin?

  • Has she experienced a high level of mobility during her life involving frequent moves between countries or schools?

  • Has she had exposure to multiple languages/different languages at different times during her life? (if so, she will require additional time to acquire proficiency).

  • Has she had an unnoticed problem with her eyesight, hearing or other medical problem that has affected her ability to learn?

  • Has she received appropriate EAL support in school or was it stopped too soon? 

  • Has she been placed in appropriate ability groups/sets (if used)? – EAL learners should not be placed in lower ability groups unless they are known to also have SEND.

  • Has she experienced significant trauma, bullying, racism, bereavement or difficult living situations which could have affected her learning?

  • Is she unhappy in school or about living in the UK?

  • Has there been a misunderstanding about the typical length of time required for pupils with EAL to reach equivalence with their monolingual peers, leading to you having unrealistic expectations?

  • Have tasks been set that are too academic for Agata’s current level of language proficiency?  Remember that it generally takes around two years for pupils to acquire conversational fluency in English and up to ten years to reach full academic equivalence.


7.  Based on all the above, try to decide whether Agata does have an underlying SEND or whether her needs are just related to having EAL.  It may be helpful to talk this through with a colleague such as your SENDCo.  If you are still unsure it may be that further monitoring of Agata’s progress over a longer period is needed after which it will become clearer whether she does have an underlying SEND or not.  Additional help is available from EMTAS if you need it (see below).


Help available from EMTAS:

EMTAS have a range of resources available to help you when distinguishing between EAL and SEND.

  • Our website has a section dedicated to this topic here.

  • A handy aide memoire which summarises key points around EAL/SEND (pictured at the beginning of this blog)

  • An article on standardised testing and EAL learners which discusses why such tests may not be helpful when assessing bilingual pupils.

  • Our Moodle has an e-learning module on distinguishing the difference between EAL and SEND

  • The EMTAS EAL/SEND phone line runs every Tuesday afternoon in term time from 12.00-4.00pm.  Callers can discuss individual pupils that they have concerns about and receive advice.  If necessary, a school visit can be arranged by an EMTAS Teacher Advisor.  They will then be able to assist you with assessing them and advise on any appropriate next steps.  Before calling is best to have already collected as much information/evidence about your pupil as possible as outlined above.


So, did Agata have SEND as well as EAL or not I hear you ask.  After following the steps above, Agata’s teacher concluded that she most likely did not.  Key to this decision was the collection of background information/evidence which showed that Agata had only been in school in the UK for just over three years and so would require at least another four to five years (maybe even a little more) of UK education before reaching full academic equivalence with her peers.  Additionally, assessment of her skills in first language showed a good level of proficiency for the number of years of education that she had received in her country of origin and her progress across all curriculum areas was average to above average before she came to the UK.  This suggested that SEND was unlikely.  Some of the other areas of concern were in fact quite typical features of pupils learning EAL (e.g. the grammatical errors in writing, finding sustaining concentration for long periods when working in English difficult, and not understanding some more academic language used in the classroom).  Furthermore, on reflection, her teacher decided that EAL support had probably been stopped too soon for Agata.  As a result of going through this process, Agata’s teacher was then able to put in place appropriate on-going EAL support for her.  She continued to monitor Agata’s progress and was pleased with her rate of progress going forwards. 

[ Modified: Wednesday, 16 December 2020, 10:01 AM ]
 
Anyone in the world

In Diary of an EAL Mum, Eva Molea share the ups and downs of her experience bringing up her daughter, Alice, in the UK. In the latest instalment, Eva reflects on the process of finding a secondary school for Alice. 

leap

Prequel

Just like every parent, since our lovely daughter's birth, my husband and I had made plans for her future. Plans that, obviously, did not take into account Alice’s own ideas, inclinations and desires. Don’t look at the screen with that scolding face… we all make castles in the air when our children are young, it is just natural to wish them all the happiness in the world according to the way we see it.

Having said that, when we were in Italy, we had already decided that she would have attended either the humanistic or the scientific secondary schools starting in year 9 (the Italian system is different, so children have to make a choice about their future five years in education in Year 8). But our education plans took an unexpected turn when we moved to the UK, and the choice for a secondary school comes two years earlier.

And since we are not anxious parents and leave everything to the last minute (ahahah), we started touring the schools in Year 4. So, we took our lovely little girl (aged 8) to the open evenings of 3 schools in the area, did the school tours, questioned our guides, had Alice take part in all the possible activities, sat and listened through all the Headteachers’ presentations, and went home possibly more confused than before. We looked at the prospectus of each school and then put them on the shelf. In the end, Alice was only in year 4.

We repeated the full exercise in year 5, but with just two schools - the two schools we visited the previous year which we had liked the most. We discussed with Alice these schools in detail and listened to her supporting evidence for both. Once again, the prospecti from the two schools went on the shelf, next to the ones from the previous year. In the end, she was only in year 5…


September 2019

Year 6, here we come! This was the time for us to make this very important decision for Alice’s future. I looked for guidance on Hampshire County Council’s website which had a lot of useful information about the application process. But, I still had a lot of questions: were we in the position to make an informed decision? did we really know what to look for when visiting the schools? should we have only visited the two schools we had liked in Year 4, and therefore re-visited in Year 5, or should we have explored more? It goes without saying that we decided to explore more, so we attended the open evenings of 4 schools. But we didn’t go as tourists this year. My husband and I went with our inquisitive hats on (we nearly took our notepads and question lists out… just to remind you, I was a journalist in my life pre-UK) and a strategy:

1-     Headteacher’s talk

2-     School tour visiting the the departments more interesting to us and Alice (please notice the order, which is not casual): English (me), Modern Foreign Languages (me), Maths (husband), Sciences (husband) and then Food Tech, Music, Drama, Dance, Arts and the Canteen (all Alice’s choices).

The Headteacher talks gave us an idea of the principles guiding the schools. My husband really appreciated the slides with numbers on them (being an engineer, he finds safety in numbers). I looked at the Headteachers’ attitudes and ways of talking to and of the children, their passion, the things important to them; the extra-curricular activities; the pastoral care; and listened attentively to the students’ presentations. I am not sure what caught Alice’s attention, probably her friends in the hall with us. 

Once we had gone through the hardest bit, we enjoyed the tour and were very lucky to have friendly and chatty children taking us around and willing to answer all our questions:

  • Do you like your school?

  • What is the best bit?

  • What is the worst bit? (there is always one)

  • What are your favourite subjects?

  • Are there many bullying incidents and how are they dealt with?

  • How is good behaviour rewarded?

  • Have you made many friends?

  • Do you attend any after-school clubs?

  • What are the extra-curricular activities on offer?

  • How is the food?

  • What subjects will you take at GCSE?

In each department, whilst Alice was doing the activities organised for the prospective students, we spent our time looking at the books, at the learning walls, at the resources, at the revision guides and talking to the teachers. We questioned them on the curriculum, methodology and results. If there were slides showing GCSE results from the previous years, we asked them to break them down for us and highlight any improvements. I doubt they loved us…

From each school, we came home with some good feelings and some grey areas. But at least now we had some information to reflect upon. 

I went to Alice’s current school for advice and guidance. As always, the school reassured both Alice and me, and talked us through our doubts (have I already said how amazing her school is? As a reminder, you can check the previous chapters of this diary). We left still uncertain about what would have been the best option for us, but at least we knew that we were looking at good schools, in terms of Ofsted ratings, academic results and reputation. 

We kept on talking about the secondary school choice for weeks, to the point that we were all sick of it, without reaching any decision. My husband and I had our hearts settled on different schools. Alice was in a bubble because all her school friends would be going to one school, which was next door to her current one; none of her school friends, but most of her dance friends, would be going to our catchment school, but we only hit the 8th admission criterion for that school. 

It was all still up in the air when we received a dreadful reminder from Alice’s school that we were running out of time and God only knew what would happen to late applicants! 

We needed to act quickly, so, on a bright Sunday morning on the 19th of October, I sat down with a nice cup of tea and a piece of paper, and spent my time dissecting the 4 schools. This was the result presented to my husband and Alice:

table

We ruled out school #4 because of transport and school #3 because of the walking distance and the number of friends (much less than in # 1 and 2). 

We were left with two schools, which were equally distant from home and where Alice would have had a good bunch of friends. 

I spoke to all the friends, colleagues and literally everyone I know who had children in these two schools to find out about their perspectives and their experiences and whether they were satisfied with the academic preparation and results of their kids. 

I had more information about one school, because it was the one working closely with Alice’s current one, so I contacted the other school to have an appointment with someone who could shed some light. The meeting was very informative, and I left the school a little less doubtful. 

At this point, the choice was only Alice’s. She had a dilemma (oh, how I wish all grown-ups had these kind of troubles!) because her friends from school wanted her to go to their same school or else…

To help her unravel her thoughts and to opt for one school before the deadline of the 31st of October, we looked at the GCSE offer and #1 had 10 more subjects at GCSE level than #2, including Food Tech and Dance, the ones Alice had always wanted to do (let’s review this point in 4 years’ time). We then looked at facilities, and #1 seemed a much bigger and newer school. Her mind was made up in less than 5 minutes… With my brain boiling after such an elucubration, I sat down at the computer and typed https://www.hants.gov.uk/educationandlearning/admissions/applicationprocess

I logged in and put down schools #1, #2 and #3, in this order, as preferences, and clicked submit. What a relief!

In the whole process, there were some points I really could not get my head around, such as:

  • Why are not all schools offering the same subjects? And for the same number of hours per week?

  • Why do some schools work on a 2-week timetable and some don’t?

  • If a child has a problem on the way to school, can they call the school?

  • If my catchment school is very far away, can I apply to a closer one? If not, can I get any support for transport?

  • If a child has a problem in school, who is the first port of call?

  • Is it possible to choose a specific Foreign Language or is it automatically assigned?

  • Why would some schools allow Alice to take her heritage language GCSE and some wouldn’t?

  • How does the cashless system work and how are children’s biometric information kept and used?

  • Why do some schools take GCSE options in year 9, but some others in year 8?

  • If a child changes their mind on studying a subject, could this be changed?

  • How many subjects should one take at GCSE and who decides them? 

With hindsight, besides the open evenings – which offer a great opportunity to see the full array of the subjects and activities on offer at each school – it would have been very useful if secondary schools had visited the primary ones to present themselves and allow some Question & Answer time to prospective students and their families. Unfortunately, there are some questions specific to each child which aren’t covered at open evenings. This would provide an opportunity for more detailed information to be given to students and their families, particularly those who have a different background from English, who might find it tricky to understand some aspects of the education system in the UK.

It would also be great if primary schools, knowing each child’s strengths and weaknesses, could guide the families by shortlisting a couple of schools that would be the best options for the students, with regards to their academic, social and emotional needs.   


Sequel

We waited patiently (couldn’t do otherwise), anxiously (we could have relaxed more), and excitedly (as always when an event gets closer) for the 2nd of March, the day when our future would be revealed to us. Just to keep us on our toes, the Hampshire County Council Admissions Team sent out an e-mail the week before, to check that our accounts were still active. 

On the 2nd of March, at 7.20 am, I received a text from a friend “Morning, did you get the e-mail?”. I was a bit puzzled… I had not checked my calendar and had completely forgotten!!! And there it was, that shiny little envelope on my screen, opening the doors to the so longed-for secondary school, with all its future rewards and tribulations.


September 2020

First things first: we are very lucky that our children could get back to school at the beginning of September, and a big shout out goes to all people working in education for their hard work, resilience and flexibility. You are all amazing!

Please read carefully: even without this ever-changing Covid-19 scenario, secondary school would have been a completely different universe from primary. Parents, and children, really have to up their games. All is new, all is different, and a lot of responsibilities lie on the shoulders of the students (= of their parents). So far, there has been so much to take in, and sometimes the information overload has been hard to manage. Schools have been proactive with digital technology and the Year 7 Welcome Packs are amazing, super-detailed pieces of work, but sometimes, in such a vast sea of words, the important bits can get lost – I could have really done with a bullet point summary at the end!

Things do get easier along the way, but there are some things that will need attention beforehand:

  • Uniform hunt: the number of bits and pieces needed by our children tends to be infinite, and some of them are hard to find or need to be ordered. Before the Summer break we managed to get hold of some bits, getting slightly bigger sizes to allow for a possible growth spur. We left shirts and trousers to the end of Summer, which was not very wise as we struggled to find the right sizes.

  • School bag tetris: secondary backpacks/handbags would not be allowed as hand luggage!! There's so much that needs to get in there, that Mary Poppins’ bag seems ordinary in comparison: books, pencil case, maths equipment, reading book, lunch box, water bottle, Covid-19 kit (hand gel, mask, tissues), lab coat, apron, earring tape (what?? at least this is small), drama shoes (I didn’t even know they existed)… To fill your child’s schoolbag, you need a lot of patience, their timetables, and the ability to compress solids. 

  • Login desperation: there are so many different accounts parents and children will need to get (and remember) IDs and passwords for. Do not despair!! Get a cuppa and sit down, it might take longer than you expected, but eventually you will get there. You might need more than one sitting to get on all platforms, as info comes your way in different shapes (emails, letters, casual conversations with your children) and times. Maybe just one email with all the links could have saved some time, but I quite enjoyed my cups of tea.

  • Homework (un-)awareness: one month in, and this is still a dolorous mystery to me. More or less, all secondary schools have an app (for ID and password read above) that both parents and children can (should/must) download on their smartphones. This amazing software informs about: timetable, behaviour, achievement and homework. This last tab details subject, deadline, and sometimes there is also an attachment. So, how hard can it be? It wouldn’t, if all teachers uploaded the homework there, and also if all homework could be considered due, and not optional… That would save completing pieces at 8pm the night before it is due, only to find out later on that it was optional. 

As we approach the second month of Year 7, with relief I can say that Alice has become much more confident and aware of how big school works. She has made many new friends already and all her fears of getting lost, and being late to class, have disappeared. She is really enjoying the variety, and challenges, of all her subjects, including Religious Studies, that last year used to give her tummy ache every Monday, and the extra-curricular activities offered by the school. Fingers crossed, we will happily whizz through the first years of secondary school and start our quest for the right college :D  

[ Modified: Monday, 5 October 2020, 4:24 PM ]
 
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