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

“It was a bit difficult because some English people speak fast and use different words so I didn’t understand it,” he says.

For all this positivity, it is not only rightwingers who sometimes wonder if it would be better if schools like Gladstone contained pupils who speak English as their first language as well.

“This is representative of the community that is here,” Parker says — and all of the few pupils who speak English as a first language at the school during her tenure left at 11; none were prematurely removed by concerned or prejudiced parents.

She does not see Gladstone as a ghetto.

“We’ve got more diversity and we’re very celebratory about that diversity,” she says of the school’s changing cultural mix. “It’s my job to ensure that when the children leave they are well balanced, achieving what is expected of them and having a perspective of Peterborough that is not just of one area.”

She says that other predominantly white British schools (and there are plenty in the region) should forge links with multicultural schools.

“They have as much of a responsibility to ensure that the children in their schools understand the diversity of Peterborough and have some real experience of that,” she says.

Parker is running a school, not a crusade, but I can see how Gladstone Primary might educate adults as well as children.

As Parker says: “Not only is most of the world bilingual, a lot of the world is multilingual. We’re the odd ones out. When I was working in Pakistan, many of our friends spoke five, six, seven languages. We tend to have a fear about language, but different languages bring different ways of seeing the world.”

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