Incredible primary school class where every child speaks English as an additional language… But still gets outstanding OFSED rating
Meet the incredible primary school class where every child speaks English as a second language.
These year 6 pupils alone bring nine languages to the 23 spoken at Greet Primary School in Sparkhill, Birmingham.
But despite the challenge of 94.3% of pupils speaking an additional tongue, and being in an area last year plagued by the ‘Trojan Horse’ extremism plot, the mega primary is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and has a waiting list in every year group.
Headteacher Emma Tyler said: “While the majority of our pupils arrive with little to no English, it’s our mission to seek achievement for all.
“We’re a school for the community and so everyone, staff, pupils and parents, works really hard to make the school what it is.”
The 859 pupils at Greet – as it’s affectionately known by parents and teachers alike – span from the 78 strong part-time nursery intake to the 90 children in year six who are preparing to move to secondary schools in September.
It takes 161 staff and 35 volunteers to help the children make the ‘outstanding progress’ from no spoken English and limited skills in other areas to reach ‘broadly average standards’ identified by Ofsted.
The team is led by two heads of school: Tyler and Sheenagh Edger who between them have 51 years of teaching experience and have spent 34 years at Greet.
They’re also served by an executive headteacher Pat Smart who oversees not just Greet but Conway Primary – a school previously in special measures that has improved to good since Greet took it under its wing.
While many schools have an English as an Addition Language (EAL) team, every teacher at the school is trained in the specialism.
For Sheenagh Edger, the school’s provision starts long before term starts in September.
She said: “Every child is invited to the school for a play session before they start and we do a home visit for every new starter.
“And many of our teaching assistants and teachers themselves speak the community languages their pupils arrive with to help the transition.”
All staff emphasise visual aids and repetition to help children associate words with their meaning and have to employ the highest standards of grammar and clarity in their own language.
And when children join the school mid-way through they are often assigned a ‘buddy’ – a classmate who can help integrate them into friendship groups as well as the new language.
Year six teacher Miss Begum says that although the challenges of teaching EAL pupils has changed by the last year of school, she still uses many of the same techniques as in lower down the school.
“By the time they reach me in year six most have achieved fluency and are secure in English,” she said.
“The next step is to introduce them to kind of language that will be used in the SATs – the kind of vocabulary they might not come across at home.
“So that’s lots of visual aids, using thesauruses and repetition.”
She is helped by the Tyler and Edger’s decision to spend funding from the pupil premium on a higher staff to pupil ratio which can be as low as 1:10.
Saira Bibi, 11, is one pupil who has benefited from the school’s lively teaching and commitment to preparing every child for the next stage in their education.
She alone speaks Urdu, Pashto, Hindko and Arabic as well as immaculate English and is proud to now be learning Spanish with her classmates.
She said: “Sometimes I get confused with all the languages going round in my head but I like it that I can speak to lots of different people.
“If there’s someone that doesn’t speak English very well I can help them and communicate with them.
“And I love this school – it’s really fun.”
Occasionally there are breakout groups to teach ‘survival English’ to new arrivals but Tyler and Edger think inclusiveness is key: the EAL provision is a whole school approach not served by separating the fluent from the less confidant.
Although it is sometimes necessary to hire translators to communicate with families the school’s senior parent support advisor is at the centre of the approach.
Mrs Din is a confidante for parents as much as a link home-school link and herself speaks Mirpiri, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and Gurmukhi Punjabi.
Thanks to their hard work, Greet’s last Ofsted report described the primary as an ‘outstanding school that successfully combines outstanding achievement, extremely high standards of care and lots of fun.’
It’s not just inspectors who are impressed – parents flock to get their children a place and sing the praises of the school’s approach.
Elina Ali’s two children speak her native Romanian, her husband’s native Urdu, and Japanese – the couple’s other common tongue.
Having now learnt English from her children, she volunteers at the school part-time.
She said: “Greet has been amazing for my children. When my daughter first arrived she didn’t speak any English but after five months she understood almost everything.”
And it isn’t just parents who know their children will benefit from the EAL provision that are desperate to get their children a place.
Sassie Hall, 27, is a healthcare assistant who only speaks English at home with her four children.
When her eldest daughter didn’t get originally get a place, she appealed and fought to make sure she could attend Greet.
Her two other daughters have followed and her son is due to start at the nursery in September.
But despite now living eight miles from the school gates she says the journey is worth it every day.