Joining a new school is always tricky even when you speak the same language as your teacher and classmates. Joining as a child from a different country, or even continent, and speaking one or several languages that no one else understands must be like stepping onto a different planet.
So how can we help children settle as quickly as possible? And how can we, as staff, avoid making instant assumptions about children’s abilities when we can’t communicate with them?
Here are a few things to put in place to make things easier for you and your new pupils.
1) Find out what language or languages your new pupil speaks.
• Firstly, it shows that you care and are interested about the child and their family.
• It also allows you to organise the right translation services if required.
• In addition, it gives you the chance to see if there are any other children in the school who speak the same language and might be a good ‘buddy’ for your pupil.
• And it also allows you to think about how that language compares to English – is it a Latin based, Romanised language with the same, left to right script as English, or something completely different. This could have an impact on the child’s literacy learning.
2) Find out about the pupil’s previous schooling
• If they have had schooling, ask the child’s parents what form it took and for how long. Being taught for a few hours in a refugee camp will be a completely different experience from full-time education in France, for example.
• Children who have some formal schooling are more likely, although not guaranteed, to know a bit about classroom rules and conventions. Those without schooling might take more time and encouragement to understand what’s expected of them. Equally, children with formal schooling might not understand why they’re being asked to sit on the floor when there are chairs available!
• Is a child likely to have SEND if they struggle to copy text from a board? Possibly, but then have they ever been asked to copy before? Are they forming a script they’ve never seen? Do they normally write from right to left? With knowledge of prior schooling, you can make more informed judgements about a child’s learning and behaviours and help them to settle more quickly.
3) Ask parents about their children and listen to the answers
• Parents above anybody else, know their children. They will know if their child has been struggling at school. They know what might be triggers for unsettled behaviour. They can anticipate what their child might struggle with. Most parents want their children to be happy and succeed.
• Don’t be afraid to ask if parents know of any SEND or suspect some additional needs in their child. Usually, parents will be keen to help. Only occasionally will they try and hide a learning difficulty if they think its admission will affect how the school views and treats their child.
4) Set up an effective induction programme for pupils with little or no English
• This is important, even if sessions take place in a snatched ten-minutes before lunchtime or towards the end of the school day.
• Time out of the classroom can be a relief for pupils who are exhausted by sitting through lessons they don’t understand because of the language complexity.
• 10-15 minutes of quality, interactive, visual and language focused activities with a trusted adult will build pupils’ confidence and allow them to feel safe and secure in a small group of similar peers.
Consider REAL Learners Guided Language Activities as a possible resource for your induction programme. Go to https://www.reallearners.co.uk/guided-language-activities/ for more information.