Lessons to be learnt – How much trust should we give EAL TAs?

Lessons to be learnt How much trust do we give EAL TAs?

After observing some planning and teacher training in London last week the following occurred to me not as way of criticism but more as reflective practice and moving learning in the classroom along.

Clearly we should not give any teacher or TA (Teaching Assistant) 100% trust until we have assured ourselves that they are giving 100% correct instruction. As no teacher is a super teacher i.e.  never needing support, mentoring or guidance then why should we give EAL TAs (English as a second language Teaching Assistants) this trust and change policies to suit them?
Don’t  get me wrong I think TA’s and EAL TA’s in particular are great but we should not implicitly trust them to guide our youngsters in the ETHOS of the school, the teaching of academic concepts and language and assessment without having an overview of their abilities and skills ourselves as senior managers and governors.
I watched a situation recently where a group of excellent teachers were planning and talking about the use of technology available to support maths teaching. They were thinking really creatively about how they could teach in their classrooms (and not looking at a withdrawal group) a mathematical concept that the rest of the year were  learning. For me it was brilliant they were marrying their skills with technology to save time for them when planning and delivering, but increasing the children’s learning ability whilst making it interesting.

All went well until the TA that supports them became part of the discussion and within no time suddenly the TA had convinced them the group needed to be withdrawn and that it could take time for the children to learn it. What struck me most as an observer was that I had been in that situation many times but could see now that the TA  was steering our teaching. Today seeing it this way made me wonder what made these excellent practitioners take another persons word and run with it?

Why didn’t they question or try out their theory and review it if it didn’t work? They had built a translation requirement in, their practice was excellent, their topic was interesting, their own personal understanding of the concept was excellent and yet they let someone without the same or better credentials influence them and their decisions.

Something worth pondering on.

Why modern foreign languages in schools needs an overhaul.

Lovely read via the guardian and a system that  currently works. Something for us all to take note of.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/mar/21/overhaul-modern-foreign-languages-teaching-british-schools?CMP=new_54&CMP=

Can you imagine a British school system where language learning is thriving – a real success story? What would be different?

A question any headteacher should be able to answer is this: if you had a completely free choice, what would your school curriculum look like? I’ve explored this with different people and usually they have trouble fitting in all their ideas within the confines of a timetable. However, even with a completely free hand, I find that all too often language learning is regarded as a problem area. There are pockets of excellence but we’re not exactly taking the world by storm as a nation of linguists and, sadly, our current education system isn’t likely to change that any time soon. Why is this?

I think that there are a number of serious difficulties that need to be overcome.

Firstly, we simply don’t give it enough time in the curriculum relative to what is needed.  A standard curriculum will set aside two hours a week, in line with DfE guidance. This just isn’t enough to build the level of retention needed to facilitate an interactive communicative approach and to break down students’ inhibitions with speaking. Sometimes schools offer two languages to able students but often this leads to them feeling mediocre in both languages instead of proficient in one.
Too often standard pedagogical approaches are limiting and formulaic. It is still too common for students to be given a diet of vocabulary-driven rote learning with a bit of grammar tacked on. Too often I’ve seen lessons in very good schools where students might learn a list of colours in isolation but could not say “the sky is blue”. Or they learn lists of rooms, clothes, hobbies or fruit but can’t put a related sentence together with any confidence. Furthermore, six months later, the earlier vocabulary has been forgotten.

Plus, popular culture is almost exclusively Anglo-centric, fuelling a complacent cultural-lingual apathy. Obviously this isn’t the fault of any teacher or any school – but it is the reality we operate in. A meagre two hours per week is no contest for the mighty cultural counter-weight that says “Who cares? Everyone speaks English anyway!” And, of course, Borgen has subtitles!

The system is permeated by a strong, self-fulfilling perception that languages are difficult and, therefore, only really appropriate for higher attainers. Fair enough, being blasted too soon with ‘nominative, dative and accusative,’ terms you don’t even use in English, is likely to be off-putting. However, in the right conditions, people of wide ranging ability ‘pick up’ languages all the time. This might be out of necessity or through immersion but it suggests that it can be done if done properly; it isn’t inherently more difficult to learn a language than maths.

Also, I believe, school leaders lack the will and/or the philosophical commitment required to address these issues. I’m sorry to say this but, for a lot of heads, language learning is not high on their list of priorities. If two hours matches the DfE model, where’s the issue? And in any case, where does the time from? There is a sense that this isn’t our problem and that if we’re churning out another generation of poor or mediocre linguists that is just how it is.

Government policy in this area – such as the with the ham-fisted introduction of the EBacc – is not backed up with any resources. Excellent languages teachers are in short supply and this is far worse at primary level than at secondary. So we have a chicken and egg situation: what comes first? More good languages teachers or more high quality language learners who might become teachers? Enabling policies that help to recruit EU teachers and to provide continued professional development to all MFL teachers are not forthcoming. Half the members of our MFL team are native speakers from Europe and China; one of our cleaners is also our Russian language assistant. The people are out there, but schools need help to recruit and train them.

All these difficulties can seem overwhelming, but instead of giving up, let’s push all of the obstacles aside for a moment. Can we imagine a version of British culture and British school life where all these issues are reversed? Where language learning is thriving; a real success story? Where multi-lingualism is an everyday part of the cultural experience of young people and adults? What would be different?

Firstly, languages would take up a lot more time in the curriculum. For example, in the five years since we’ve devoted four hours per week at KS3 to either French or German, we’ve seen a phenomenal impact: our year 9s are more confident speakers and all-round better linguists than our year 11s ever were before with GCSE results to match. Secondly, MFL lessons would always be characterised by interactive, immersive, communicative approaches where grammar and new vocabulary are seamlessly interwoven and students are empowered with the tools to explore the language by themselves. Finally, schools and the media, supported by politicians and businesses, would celebrate multilingualism to the extent that young people regarded monolingual life as a huge disadvantage and distinctly uncool, and would do all they could to avoid being left out.

If we are ever to reach this point, there is one basic requirement: simply the will to do it.  We can dream of a concerted effort by businesses, politicians and the media to move us forwarded but realistically it will be headteachers and schools who will need to show what can be done. It’s in our hands.

Tom Sherrington is headteacher at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford.

Embracing bilingualism helps school achieve Good OFSTED report.

What great news that a school in Peterborough has improved so greatly in the past months that OFSTED have now deemed them as good. So remarkable that news papers Peterborough Today and the Daily Mail and even the radio station R2 have today run the story.

 

Readers of this blog will not be surprised that by embracing bilingualism and using it to benefit your teaching improves and speeds up the rate that the pupils learn English. I have gathered information about its benefits and the results are now starting to come through. The head teacher clearly supports this view of bilingualism and her results show that by embracing it results can be improved quickly. I believe this is the start of the educational culture change which so many schools and LA officers were resisting up until a year or so ago.

 

Head Christine Parker, 54, said: ‘More and more  of the world is  going bilingual. The culture at our school is not to see  bilingualism as  a difficulty.’

I am also hopeful that this great result will also make sure that gone are the conversations littered with  I only have one or two! or what can I do I don’t speak their language? as an excuse is changing. Gone and evidently going are the teachers plodding along teaching what is comfortable for them in such a way that it takes longer than necessary for the children to pick up the language.  Children pick up social language quite easily and it is the schools job to ensure the curriculum is taught and academic language is known and understood. In the future we should now be able to say that  Every Student does Matter.

There will be difficulties along the way as the head describes here;

‘Sometimes parents have tried to help  their  children learn English but their own isn’t too good,’ she said.  ‘The outcome is  the children aren’t fluent in their own language. If  they haven’t got a good  foundation [in their own language] it can be  very difficult to build on  that.’

but by sharing and supporting each other we can ensure that this becomes the reality.

 

Welsh Education …my worry

Over the past week I have read numerous reports about the Welsh education System being found unsatisfactory at LA level.  To date Blaenau Gwent, Anglesey and Pembrokeshire, Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire are all in special measures and more worryingly on a normal curve there would be the same amount recognised as being outstanding, but this is not the case.

Having worked in areas where schools are deemed to be in Special measures it is really difficult to sum up the feeling of worthlessness and lack of support the individuals in this situation feel, as well as the disbelief at the people who should be helping who either can’t or talk the talk and sadly can’t walk the walk, yet they are making the crucial decisions and walking away scott free whilst pointing the finger.

Has anyone actually thought about what these people are now feeling? Many will feel isolated and teams will also feel isolated but it wont stop them trying to do the best for their staff and pupils, but without any support. To make the necessary changes it takes strong people confident in their ability to make change without the support of those set up to support them.

What does surprise me is this statement

It’s no coincidence that many of our councils look to England for inspiration,  with several directors of education (the majority experienced in working in  deprived areas) parachuted in from across the border.

Why are they looking over the border? I am sure they have schools which have been judged outstanding by ESTYN so why don’t they harness these staff, they are relevant and in touch with todays policies, strategies, parents expectations and pupils needs. All too often we look to those above us, or in this case those in a different system. A few years ago there was a lot of work done about 360degree evaluation which sadly in many cases meant looking at what is worse below us and improve it rather than looking at what is best practice and bringing it through.

This together with the fear of staff re job losses due to our current national financial situation, who works well in a climate of fear?  The way many councils have dealt with this is to cut the necessary staff needed to do these jobs, this together with the cutting of wage levels so that a different level of staff are attracted i..e. rather than paying for Local Authority Consultants at deputy Head level many have opted for the equivalent wage of a head of department, in that way they get heads of departments and not people with the educational depth and knowledge needed to support and improve practice.

Finally from a story at Wales Online

Mr Andrews’ bullish reaction was to be expected. Having already threatened to  pull education from council jurisdiction, Estyn’s findings were more power to  his elbow.

My concern is that if this continues and staff morale decreases, parental support is diminished it will open a wide chasm for someone like Capita to sweet talk The Welsh Government that they can do better and education in Wales will never be the same again. Capita and similar companies will always have the verbal verbosity to explain the reasons why the LA’s or schools  should be in specials measures, but are not necessarily caring about the children and learning but more about profit as we can see from the recent translation debacle, but if this happens the Welsh Govt will have no way back and that will be a very sad day for Welsh education for everyone.

Remember the reason we are in education and making policies about teaching and learning is because we want to support our children.

Read more: Wales Online http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education-news/2013/02/23/why-half-term-is-usually-the-calm-before-the-storm-in-welsh-education-91466-32862733/#ixzz2LohsPxJq

OFSTED – Analysis and challenge tools for schools Guidance

OFSTED have set out a  set of tools to help support ensuring that your pupil premium is spent effectively and gives guidance for schools to show how its use is closing the gap. Different criteria for secondary and primary it focusses attention on results and the use of the money to improve English, reading, writing and maths.

Here are some highlight but it is worth having a  good look at the document in its entirety. Choose the PDF or word version from this link http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium-analysis-and-challenge-tools-for-schools

 The items covered are:

Analysis and challenge toolkit for school leaders: secondary

Where are the gaps in Year 11?

Where are the gaps (other year groups)?

Where are the gaps (other eligible groups)?

Reflective questions

Analysis and challenge toolkit for school leaders: primary

Where are the gaps (Year 6)?

Where are the gaps (other year groups)?

Where are the gaps (other eligible groups)?

Reflective questions

Planning and evaluation outline

Self-review questions for Governing Bodies

Below is the guidance for Secondary and primary schools re. where to look for the indicators.

Year 11: Indicator (using data from RAISEonline for 2011 and 2012, and school data for current Year 11. Definition of FSM for this purpose is the same as RAISE –those pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium under the ‘Ever 6’ measure. LAC and
service children in later section).

Data for the pupil outcomes table for Year 6 should be taken from RAISEonline.
Data for other year groups should be available from the school’s own tracking of pupils’ attainment and progress.

The following is a question raised by OFSTED about the date and indicators you have.

What does your data analysis tell you about the relative attainment and achievement
of FSM and non-FSM pupils for each year group? Are there any gaps? To what
extent are gaps closing compared with previous years’ data?

Early Years

Year 1 (consider   whether pupils are making expected progress on the basis of their Early Years   Foundation Stage score; consider the phonics screening check)
Year 2 (consider   predicted end of key stage results for reading, writing and mathematics at   each sub-level, as well as current data)Overall guidance

Pupil Premium used for: Amount allocated to the intervention / action(£) Is this a new or continued activity/cost centre?  Brief summary of the intervention or action, including details of   year groups and pupils involved, and the timescale Specific intended outcomes: how will this intervention or action   improve achievement for pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium? What will it   achieve if successful? How will this activity be monitored, when and by whom? How will   success be evidenced? Actual impact: What did the action or activity actually achieve? Be   specific: ‘As a   result of this action…’
If you plan   to repeat this activity, what would you change to improve it next time?

Self-review questions for Governing Bodies
Governors’ knowledge and awareness
1. Have leaders and governors considered research and reports about what works to inform their decisions about how to spend the Pupil Premium?
2. Do governors know how much money is allocated to the school for the Pupil Premium? Is this identified in the school’s budget planning?
3. Is there a clearly understood and shared rationale for how this money is spent and what it should achieve? Is this communicated to all stakeholders including parents?
4. Do governors know how the school spends this money? What improvements has the allocation brought about? How is this measured and reported to governors and parents via the school’s website (a new requirement)?
5. If this funding is combined with other resources, can governors isolate and check on the impact of the funding and ascertain the difference it is making?
6. Do governors know whether leaders and managers are checking that the actions are working and are of suitable quality?
Leaders and managers’ actions
1. Do the school’s improvement/action plans identify whether there are any issues in the performance of pupils who are eligible for the Pupil Premium?
2. Do the actions noted for improving outcomes for Pupil Premium pupils:
 give details of how the resources are to be allocated?
 give an overview of the actions to be taken?
 give a summary of the expected outcomes?
 identify ways of monitoring the effectiveness of these actions as they are ongoing and note who will be responsible for ensuring that this information is passed to governors?
 explain what will be evaluated at the end of the action and what measures of success will be applied?
3. Is the leader responsible for this area of the school’s work identified?
4. How do governors keep an ongoing check on these actions and ask pertinent questions about progress ahead of any summary evaluations?
5. Are the progress and outcomes of eligible pupils identified and analysed by the school’s tracking systems? Is this information reported to governors in a way that enables them to see clearly whether the gap in the performance of eligible pupils and other pupils is closing?
Pupils’ progress and attainment
1. Does the summary report of RAISEonline show that there are any gaps in performance between pupils who are eligible for free school meals and those who are not at the end of key stages? (Look at the tables on the previous pages of this document for some indicators to consider)
2. Do the school’s systems enable governors to have a clear picture of the progress and attainment of pupils who are eligible for the Pupil Premium in all year groups across the school, not just those at the end of key stages?
3. If there are gaps in the attainment of pupils who are eligible for the Pupil Premium and those who are not, are eligible pupils making accelerated progress – are they progressing faster than the expected rate – in order to allow the gaps to close? Even if all pupils make expected progress this will not necessarily make up for previous underperformance.
4. Is the school tracking the attendance, punctuality and behaviour (particularly exclusions) of this group and taking action to address any differences?
Overall, will governors know and be able to intervene quickly if outcomes are not improving in the way that they want them to?

There is also a good document giving examples of good practice at http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium-how-schools-are-spending-funding-successfully-maximise-achievement

Hope this helps if you have any ideas to share with others where you have used it successfully please add comments.

138,000 speak no English – census UK

Following on from the last blog it seems that the question of movement and more children arriving in classrooms with another language and little or no English is going to be an upward trend.  Todays census information has ben revealed and suggests:

The number of Polish-born people living in England and Wales has risen by almost 900% since the last census and they now make up 1% of the population – more than Irish-born residents.

Pete Stokes, census statistical design manager for the Office of National Statistics. says most of the Polish migrants tend to be younger, and more prepared to move for work.

“Polish migrants are driven by economics and they are going everywhere. People from Poland are in every local authority in the country, they are not clustering,” he said.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20713380

Furthermore the statistics show that:

The number of people living in England and Wales who could not speak any English was 138,000, latest figures from the 2011 census show.

After English, the second most reported main language was Polish, with 546,000 speakers, followed by Punjabi and Urdu.

Some 4 million – or 8% – reported speaking a different main language other than English or Welsh.

Of those with a main language other than English,

1.7 million could speak  English very well,

1.6 million could speak English well, and

726,000 could speak English, however not well. The remaining 138,000 could not speak English at all.

On the plus side there are lots of people and probably teachers arriving with Polish as their first language so maybe we should look at a curriculum which promotes Polish as an MFL and not French? On the negative side schools need to look at how they communicate with parents, children and community to engage them in schooling otherwise our stats as a world leader in education will keep going down and then how they ensure the curriculum is taught and academic language achieved in order that they can partake of formal examinations and receive a grade/number relevant to their true potential.  A hard one but something we must look at, at National and local level to make sure we are not failing our children.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21259401

Finally when I first started teaching I remember people would say there were geographic areas which attracted new arrivals from overseas again this is borne out by the census as is my recent blogs that more and more schools are now witnessing challenging learning requirements to make sure all the pupils reach their potential.

The greatest numerical change has however been in London. In 2001, almost two million people in the capital were born abroad. Today it is almost three million. If anyone doubted that London was now a world city, rather than just the capital of the UK, the figures say different.

Only 44% of people in London now describe themselves as white British. In the east London borough of Newham, fewer than a fifth of the population described themselves so.

Four out of every 10 people in London in 2011 were foreign-born – up from three in 10 in 2001.

Overall, four London boroughs – Newham, Brent, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea are now home to a majority who were born outside of the UK. Three other parts of the capital are not far off.

LEAST BORN ABROAD

  • Blaenau Gwent 1,500 (2.2%)
  • Redcar and Cleveland 3,000 (2.2%)
  • Staffordshire Moorlands 2,200 (2.2%)
  • Knowsley 3,400 2.3%
  • Caerphilly 3,400 2.3%

MOST BORN ABROAD

  • Brent 171,000 (55%)
  • Newham 165,000 (54%)
  • Westminster 117,000 (53%)
  • Kensington and Chelsea 82,000 (52%)

The history of migration was once the story of cities: We had very distinct communities in specific places – an African-Caribbean community in London or Birmingham, for instance, and Indian or East African Asian people in Leicester.

Large historic communities remain – but there is also greater geographic spread among newcomers. For instance, some 90% of the Poles in the UK are spread across England and Wales in community after community.

So overall, increasing change, rapid change and increasing diversity.

Today, almost 10,000 people born abroad call Boston home – 3,000 of them from Poland, more than any other local authority outside of the South East.

We will need to create teaching resources using all the ICT and non-ICT resources we have available to make sure that these children grow up as world or global citizens, available for work in more than one country, yet achieving at the best level they can regardless of language/s.  It is our duty to make sure through our unwillingness to change or change our practice that we hold these new world citizens back

Promoting bilingualism supports other language learning

One of the benefits of promoting bilingualism in ones own country I believe is that it gives that underlying support for languages.  It subtly says it doesn’t matter what your first language is we can communicate and are willing to meet you half way. It doesn’t mean we are going to bend over backwards to accommodate you and neither should it influence the countries social, financial or political aims, but, become a tool with which to get a message across to your neighbour.

This story about Canada shows this well. The country is clear that its languages are French and English but that doesn’t stop the need for other languages to be incorporated into everyday lives.  I would suggest that this is very similar to Wales where English and Welsh are the languages within its community for communicating with everyone, but there is still the celebration of other more diverse languages also within each smaller community. Currently they report that almost 200 languages are spoken in Canada and 17.5% of this community are bilingual

In one school that I worked with the Head clearly told all members of our community that the language for communication within our school was English.  This didn’t stop us celebrating Greek and Turkish festivals, Divali or St Davids day or in assemblies sharing another language but what it did do was to make us all richer in the knowledge and cultures of others, less fearful of the unknown and proud of our own heritage wherever that may have been from.

It let me experiment with language allowing me occasionally to call the register and asking the children to respond in their preferred language. Learning how to say a phrase in one language and then everyone in the class to use that phrase for a month. More difficult in secondary when each class would choose  a different phrase so I would have to remember which it was.

While the government deliberates language learning at KS2 research indicates that the real question should be When will we be implementing language learning at KS1

Check out this Ted talk by Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies.

http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius_of_babies.html

She shows us at 3.14 that before the first birthday the children are already beginning to screen out sounds that they do not need to communicate with their parents.  At one point they are equal but for example two months later they are taking statistics on what they hear.  English has a lot of r and L’s but Japanese have more intermediate sounds and the brains change to recognise their mother tongue.

She then explains more about the babies brains and how the brain responds and a machine that can track this. Great pics of the children’s brains working.

It makes me wonder why the Government are considering whether we should have compulsory language learning at KS2 when they should be saying when will be implementing language learning at KS1.

Samoa students ask for bilingual lessons

This seems to be breaking news all the reading that I have done and sharing in this blog about bilingual education has not before thrown up Samoan and bilingual in the same sentence. From this story it seems that in order to save the language the young people themselves feel that they should have bilingual lessons to keep their language alive. Presently most teaching and learning is done via the medium of English because there are not enough Samoan teachers to deliver a bilingual curriculum.

This just shows again how language no matter how strong in an area, place or country if it is not used in the end a stronger one takes over, so I believe to ensure continuity and the ability to be a global as well as a community citizen the use of two languages is a must, or more languages will be lost.

http://www.mvariety.com/regional-news/palaupacific-news/50537-a-samoa-calls-for-bilingual-teaching

 

Unless a child understands what’s going on in the classroom, they won’t engage, they won’t attend, and they won’t learn anything.

Interesting news from Australia via Crikeys blog. it discusses the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiry into language learning in indigenous communities, which of course is really interesting to me.

No English means no future.

We at Fully (sic) completely agree with this opinion: without access to the standard national language, an individual, or more accurately, an entire community of people, will have no prospects beyond the cultural and linguistic borders of their community. The question is how best to ensure that these children learn English. As the report clearly states time and time again, bilingual education, i.e., teaching children for the first few years of primary school in their first language before gradually transitioning into the target language, in this case English, is the proven most effective way to do this.

To see the original http://blogs.crikey.com.au/fullysic/2012/09/18/first-language-education-is-a-matter-of-common-sense/

This is quite a popular story here is another link to a news story  a Report by India Education bureau; Melbourne: A group of indigenous
language researchers from the University of Melbourne is calling on the Federal
Government to implement a proposal to introduce bilingual teaching programs in
some schoolshttp://www.indiaeducationdiary.in/showEE.asp?newsid=15601 “Without a bilingual program, children are being taught in a language they are
not familiar with. This means they often don’t understand what is going on, and
then don’t engage,” she said. This is all too familiar in too many classrooms.

or read further…

As Greg Dickson reported, the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiry into language learning in indigenous communities, titled Our Land Our Languages, was tabled in parliament yesterday. Education was of course, a central theme of the inquiry and is a significant part of the resulting report.

Of the eight terms of reference of the inquiry, three relate to education. They are:

  • The potential benefits of including Indigenous languages in early education
  • Measures to improve education outcomes in those Indigenous communities where English is a second Language
  • The educational and vocational benefits of ensuring English language competency amongst Indigenous communities

The areas that the committee covered included attendance rates in remote schools, the lack of trained indigenous teachers and the inadequate training of non-indigenous teachers given the context, the lack of language testing to establish just what language a child speaks when entering the school system, NAPLAN and its inherent problems for non-English speaking students, and perhaps most importantly, how best to achieve competency in Standard Australian English (SAE). Bilingual education, as you might expect, features heavily in the submissions, the hearings and the report.

Bilingual education is clearly a hotly debated topic and the proponents and opponents are quite categorically divided. Proponents claiming that bilingual education is beneficial to both first language and target language, while opponents claim that teaching children using their first language is deleterious to the acquisition of the target language and that the best way to ensure that all children learn English is to immerse them in English-language classrooms. One commentator, who shall remain nameless, exemplified this position quite concisely yesterday, even before the report was released:

Two problems with [introducing bilingual education], both likely to cripple the future of the children.

First, finding teachers able to teach in indigenous languages will be fearsomely difficult, and likely to lead to language proficiency trumping any real aptitude to teach.

Second, Aboriginal students out bush must learn to speak English fluently if they are to escape their welfare ghettos and find work elsewhere. No other skill is as important to their future. Language immersion at school is critical to that.

The committee found heavily in favour of the proponents of bilingual education as the substantial evidence submitted clearly shows that rather than being deleterious, the use of the child’s first language in early childhood education had widespread benefits. Attendance rates increase when the child’s first language is used in class, children engage in the class for more sustained periods when they can understand what is being said by the teachers, and above all, competence in both languages is increased:

Incorporating Indigenous languages into the education system leads to an improvement in both Standard Australian English and Indigenous languages and can have many cultural, health and wellbeing advantages. (Section 4.158)

The commentator quoted above mentions language immersion at school as the best way to ensure that children learn English. However this is not entirely accurate. Immersion is known to be the best method for learning a language, but immersion requires to leaner to be completely surrounded by speakers of the target language, hence ‘immersion’. One monolingual English teacher in a classroom with thirty or more children speaking a different language is not immersion – not for the children anyway; it would actually be more accurate to describe it as immersion for the teacher. Bilingual, or two-way education, is the tried and tested effective means of teaching children in communities where English is not commonly heard, and ensuring that they learn the standard language.

Recommendation 14 therefore calls for the provision of adequately resourced bilingual education programs in areas where the child’s first language is an indigenous language, whether that language is a traditional language such as Warlpiri or Murrinh Patha, or a contact language such as Kriol, Gurindji Kriol or Light Warlpiri.

A corollary issue is of course the lack of indigenous teachers, and the almost complete lack of adequate training for all teachers in dealing with English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D). This fact is often cited by the opponents of bilingual education – see above – as a key factor against its provision.

The committee agreed that bilingual education would likely fail unless this shortfall was addressed, and so recommends the development of a national framework of flexible and accessible training for Indigenous people to gain limited authority qualifications to teach, and incentives for them to do so (recommendations 16 and 17) and also, that English as an additional language/dialect becomes a compulsory component for all teaching degrees, as well as retrospectively as professional development for all teachers currently working in indigenous communities (recommendations 21 and 22).

Language testing is another crucial area that usually receives little attention. It won’t matter how well-provisioned an education system is, if the school doesn’t know what language a child speaks upon entering the education system, they will not succeed. Often, children who speak a contact language such as Kriol, are often mistaken by teachers and schools as speaking a poor form of English. The committee recommends mandatory first language assessment for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children entering the school system (recommendation 13). For most communities, I would add, most children would speak a similar language/dialect, with only a few minority cases of individuals whose family have moved, for instance.

Another significant section of the Our Land, Our Language report deals with NAPLAN. Of course, national standardised tests in Australia are conducted in English. This is obviously problematic in contexts where the children who undergo the tests do not speak or understand this language, and the test therefore becomes primarily a test in English literacy. This means that the knowledge and skills the students do have, albeit in languages other than English, are invisible to the tests. The result is that otherwise intelligent children are painted as linguistically deficient, and we see statistics such as the following (for the benefit of the reader I have inserted crucial caveats to aid the correct interpretation of the figures in square brackets):

Across Australia in 2004, 83% of Aboriginal students and 93% of students overall achieved the [English] literacy benchmark for year 3.

But in the Northern Territory, only 20% of Aboriginal students achieved the benchmark [for Standard Australian English]. Less than 30% of children tested for [English] literacy in Years 3, 5 and 7 were able to read or write [English] properly leaving them with [English] numeracy and [English] literacy skills of five-year old [Standard Australian English speakers] when they leave school.

NAPLAN testing for these children is not only pointless, but as the committee found it can also be damaging to these students and can lead to disengagement in education:

In addition to being misleading, in painting a negative portrait of learners, assessments that fail to take account of these issues impact negatively on learners’ sense of worth and ongoing engagement with formal education.

ACTA, submission 72, p. 17.

There is however, a strikingly simple way that will go some way towards fixing this. It is something that experts in the field have been saying for some years, and now it’s also the view of the parliamentary committee: the provision of alternative NAPLAN testing for students learning English as an Additional Language or Dialect (recommendation 15). In concert with a supported and well-resourced bilingual education system in the children’s first language, this would mean more accurate representation of the children’s educational development, without it being clouded by difficulties of translation.

Opponents of teaching children in their first language, at least for the first few years of primary school, often argue that:

No English means no future.

We at Fully (sic) completely agree with this opinion: without access to the standard national language, an individual, or more accurately, an entire community of people, will have no prospects beyond the cultural and linguistic borders of their community. The question is how best to ensure that these children learn English. As the report clearly states time and time again, bilingual education, i.e., teaching children for the first few years of primary school in their first language before gradually transitioning into the target language, in this case English, is the proven most effective way to do this.

It isn’t rocket science; it’s just common sense. Unless a child understands what’s going on in the classroom, they won’t engage, they won’t attend, and they won’t learn anything.

As of this morning, The Australian is reporting that both major parties have expressed their acceptance of the report’s findings and support for the recommendations, at least in principle. We ) welcome this, but urge the various governments to immediately enact these 30 recommendations, and allow the system time to function properly, and we as a nation will eventually begin to reap the multifarious benefits of an education system that is accessible to all, and does not discriminate against entire communities whose first language is not English.