Exclusive: Leeds school to teach English as second language

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AN INNER-CITY school with children from more than 50 different countries is to teach all of its pupils English as a foreign language in a radical attempt to improve standards.

City of Leeds School is taking the unprecedented step of introducing English as a second language classes to every child – including all its British-born pupils.

Head teacher Georgiana Sale said the school was having to “rethink the way we do things” because less than a quarter of pupils have English as their first language and the majority of the children were new to the country within the past four years.

She said it had been decided to include pupils who have English as a first language in this programme because in the “vast majority” of cases their level of formal English was not good enough to allow them to achieve top grades at GCSE.

Last year, just over a quarter of its pupils achieve the national benchmark of five good GCSEs, including English and maths – one of the lowest scores of any state school in Yorkshire.

However Ms Sale it was unfair to expect the school to reach national averages in English when so many pupils were new to the language. She said it did achieve national targets in both science and maths despite the language barrier being faced by students.

City of Leeds has around 55 different nationalities among its cohort including pupils from nations across Africa, Europe, China and parts of the Middle East and Asia. Ms Sale said that one of the largest groups was now Czech Roma children.

She said: “Many of our pupils are not only new to English but they are not even literate in their own language. In some cases we are the first people to put a pen in their hand.”

Ms Sale said that ensuring children could all speak, read and write English was crucial. “Around half of our children are new to the country within four years.

“It is generally thought it takes five years to properly learn a language and that is when you have total immersion it. A lot of our children don’t have that because it is not being spoken at home.

“Imagine being given a few years and then being expected to get a good grade in GCSE geography but having to sit the exam in French – that is what we are dealing with.”

The school is developing the lessons plans itself and the programme is thought to be the first of its kind in the country.

Leeds Metropolitan University and Sheffield University are helping the school to train staff. The lessons would be done in stages not ages, with pupils split into groups based on their ability.

The plan is to introduce them later this year with 50 minutes a week spent teaching every pupil English as an additional language.

Ms Sale said that for pupils with English as a first language the extra lessons would be seen as a way improving the spelling and grammar.

She added: “The demands on the formality of language and the standards of spelling and grammar in GCSE exams are getting higher and higher. The level of language written and talked by the vast majority of our native English speakers would not be high enough to get A grades.”