Mon, Mar 04, 2013 - Page 9 News List

British multicultural school could provide lessons for society

Not one pupil at the Peterborough school in central England speaks English as a first language. However, despite the challenges, it has just received a glowing inspectors’ report

By Patrick Barkham  /  The Guardian, London

“No,” she says, amazed that anyone would consider this to be a possibility.

Does Gladstone ever forbid foreign languages be spoken at school?

“Why would you do that?” she asks, mystified.

Actually, she remembers there was one time when she told their cricket team not to speak in Punjabi when playing an opposing school. Surely it could be a competitive advantage?

“Of course, we do want to win,” Parker says.

The school is helped by additional local-authority funding for newly arrived pupils in their first three years at school. About £97,000 (US$145,000) this year has funded innovations such as a new “family support worker” who liaises with parents (who may struggle with English) and visits families at home if pupils are absent from school. Other unique features include a buddy system, so new arrivals are paired up with schoolmates who speak their “specialist” language, and Gladstone’s determination to forge links with other schools.

Sixth-formers [16-to-18-year-olds] from The King’s School in Peterborough visit to teach science; others from Oundle public school also take English classes.

Then there is a regular arrangement with a school in Stamford in which nine-year-olds pupils spend time at each other’s schools every two weeks.

“What I’m really pleased about is that they are really learning together,” Parker says. “It’s really good to have peers speak English as a first language.”

If Gladstone has problems, they seem fairly typical of any school. When I arrive, a mother has turned up to discuss her daughter being bullied. When I ask about racist bullying, Parker says the school addresses any incidents in the same way: “We are very open with children and we believe in restorative justice.”

The repeated OFSTED scrutiny was enormously stressful.

“There is no doubt it has a negative impact on staff health and wellbeing, and it wouldn’t be fair to gloss over that,” Parker says.

However, a morning at the school is a genuinely uplifting experience.

“I find it much more rewarding,” Wells says of teaching at Gladstone compared with his experiences at other schools. “There’s that wonderful spark you see when children understand. With these children, it’s much, much bigger and you see the sense of pride when they’ve got it. It sounds horribly cliched, but teaching here is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Teachers know when to be diplomatic, but the beauty of children is they cannot be media trained. What is the best thing about the school?

“We’re famous,” Sarah, eight, shouts. “We’ve been on TV. We’ve been on the newspapers. We’ve been everywhere.”

Areesha, also eight, says Gladstone is “better than any other school. It’s better than the whole wide world.”

Zohib and Maadina are 10 and more circumspect, but still extremely positive.

“The learning is good because if you don’t understand something and don’t want to tell the whole class, you can have a one-on-one with the teacher,” Zohib says.

“Everyone is a friend,” Maadina says. “If someone is upset, someone else goes and cheers them up.”

Peter, 11, came to Britain from Slovakia when he was eight and only arrived at Gladstone last year. His previous school contained more English pupils.

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