Thursday, September 21, 2006

Multilingual school

A London school has pupils that speak in a mind-boggling 71 different languages.

Southfields Community College in Wandsworth, South London, takes kids who have fled war zones around the world and speak no English. Some have never been to school before.

But incredibly the college — believed to be the most cosmopolitan in Europe — has only THREE translators. It has 1,300 UK and foreign pupils aged 11-18 — and 550 of these arrived in Britain speaking no English.

So their first lesson was a crash course in our mother tongue. The pupils are then slowly introduced into mainstream classes, supported by the school’s ethnic minority achievement unit.
Among the languages spoken are Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi Kazak , Croatian, Zulu (South Africa), Swahili (Kenya) and Krio (Sierra Leone).

Headteacher Jacqueline Valin said many of the children arrive deeply traumatised. She recalled: “One young Somalian girl had a scar on her hand from being shot. We’ve had an increase in the number of pupils from abroad but there has never been a problem with the racial mix. These children have a burning desire to learn.”

Despite the language barrier the school’s exam results are improving.

The proportion of pupils getting five Cs or better at GCSE rose from 27 per cent in 2002 to 38 per cent last year.

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