Rising to inner-city challenge of ethnic diversity

International students at the City of Leeds school
International students at the City of Leeds school
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LEADING an inner city school which is failing to hit national targets and where the majority of pupils are new to English may sound like a daunting job.

However, head teacher Georgiana Sale believes City of Leeds School is a brilliant place to work because its teachers have the chance to make a major difference to the lives of the young people who go there.

The school in Woodhouse Cliff has children from more than 50 different nationalities and pupils have even suggested it change its name to Leeds International School.

From one year to another the intake in the school can vary by up to 50 per cent – meaning it can be working with children for a very short space of time.

And there are pupils not only new to English but new to literacy of any kind.

Ms Sale said teachers at City of Leeds could find themselves being the first person “to put a pen in a child’s hand”

In an environment where head teachers are under increasing pressure to hit targets and deliver improving GCSE results the challenge at City of Leeds School may sound like an impossible one.

But it is one which Ms Sale is relishing.

When the secondary school league tables came out in January City of Leeds was ranked as one of Yorkshire’s worst performers.

It had just 26 per cent of pupils achieving the national benchmark of five A* to C grades including English and maths last year.

However for Ms Sale such tables are just not a meaningful measure of success.

She said: “I can’t worry about how many C’s some of my pupils have in other subjects when they are new to English. It is not the right question for us.

“Education is about giving children what they need and so we have asked ourselves: What do our children need?”

She said that mastering basic reading and writing would be vital for its pupils – not only to allow them to continue in education but also for later in life.

Ms Sale believes the school’s intake has become increasingly diverse and now has a reputation for being good at supporting pupils who were new to the country.

Pupils are provided with a buddy, a student in the school who speaks their language and is either fluent in English or further ahead than the child themselves.

The school also employs staff who work as translators speaking Czech, Romanian and Russian. These translators not only provided technical support to the school when sending letters or hosting events for parents but will also help City of Leeds to deliver English as an additional language lessons for every child.

Every member of the school staff is receiving training in helping to teach English as a second language.

The courses are expected to begin later this year.

Ms Sale said: “All of the teaching English as an additional language material is aimed at adults so we are having to develop a lot of this ourselves.

“I have dome some research and there doesn’t seem to be a school out there quite like ours. The closest thing I could find was a school in London where a lot of pupils come from diplomatic circles with all the embassies nearby. That is obviously very different to us.”

She said that part of the focus on learning English would also be aimed at pupils’ parents to ensure that it was also being spoken at home.

“For some of our pupils the culture and approach to education is very different. The expectations are different – in some cases it seemed that a child could miss weeks of their education and nothing would happen as a result of it. I think it is important to understand that some of our pupils are not just arriving speaking very little English, they might also come from a culture with a completely different attitude towards education.”

Despite all these challenges Ms Sale is adamant that City of Leeds is a brilliant school and a brilliant place to lead.

She said: “ We are known to relish diversity here. The pupils themselves do not tolerate racism and our proud to come from such an international school

“We are bidding to become an academy and pupils even suggested that we change our name to Leeds International School as part of that.”

Ms Sale said that she believed that the school’s diversity gave young people an ideal preparation for going out into the world.