Learning’s in Safe Hands With English Language Project

Two Belfast schools are adopting new ways to support newcomer children in the classroom through a new English project.

Forge Integrated Primary School and Malone College are taking part in The British Council EAL Nexus pilot project, a UK-wide initiative which aims to help young newcomer pupils access learning and positively engage inside and outside the classroom.

Like many Belfast schools, both Forge Integrated and Malone College have witnessed a rise in newcomer pupils and want to help their teachers feel competent and confident in the classroom when dealing with the challenges of integration.

At Forge, just under 10% of the pupils speak English as an Additional Language (EAL), with Polish, Somalia, Russian and Cantonese among the nine other languages spoken.

Delivering the English project to the school was Stephen Bray, British Council’s Nexus CPD expert, who recently made his seventh, and final, visit to both schools.

He said: “My role in the project is to support teachers and develop their understanding of English as an additional language. I provide them with a toolkit and introduce them to a range of materials, strategies and staff training sessions, which hopefully will enhance good practice in the classroom.

“As this is just a pilot, we hope that in the future the scheme can be rolled out to more schools in Northern Ireland. We want teachers to celebrate diversity and build trust, while also introducing pupils to a more tolerant and open society.”

The four-month project involved working with the head teacher and two teachers identified as excelling in the classroom — including Forge’s Primary Three teacher, Sarah Gowan.

About the project, she said: “It’s brilliant to be involved in a project where you get hands on help like this. Stephen has been great to work with, and by observing us in the classroom and sitting down and talking through ideas, we’ve already been able to adopt a number of measures to help the children. All the pupils, as well as the teachers, have really taken to the initiative and are keen to learn more about other languages.

“We’ve also been working more closely with the parents and families – over Christmas, we had a number of parents come in and teach the children; one parent taught the kids Jingle Bells in French, while another talked about Christmas traditions in Poland.

Speaking about the project, Forge Integrated Principal, Neville Watson said:

“It’s been great to see how well the school has taken to the programme, and taking the project forward, we hope to roll these new techniques and strategies out to the entire school.

“Schemes such as this are especially important at a time when we are seeing heightening racial tension in Northern Ireland. Raising awareness between pupils, parents and teachers will hopefully create a more inclusive and engaged society.”

Speaking about the programme, Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director at British Council Northern Ireland said: “With rising EAL (English as an Additional Language) learners in Northern Ireland schools, it is important that projects like Nexus are in place to ensure these pupils and their teachers are well supported.

“It is fantastic to be sharing our expertise in English Language Teaching to bring this programme to both pupils and teachers in Northern Ireland. Our hope is that in creating quality teaching materials and providing support through the Nexus project, teachers across the country will feel better prepared to teach newcomers in their classrooms.

Image of Malone College Belfast
Image: Malone College Belfast

“Not only should the project allow us to make strong progress in developing the Northern Ireland’s EAL sector but will also help ensure that newcomers feel included within the educational setting and wider community.”

In total 12 primary and 12 secondary schools across the UK participated in this Nexus pilot scheme. For more information or for teachers looking for resources or ideas for the classroom visit the new website at http://eal.britishcouncil.org/

For more information on British Council Northern Ireland visit http:// nireland.britishcouncil.org or follow on Twitter: @BCouncil_NI

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