Samoan and the Green Screen at Westgate Hill Primary Academy

Westgate Hill Primary Academy is a very worthy winner of the EAL Quality Mark Gold Award. Westgate Hill is a very large primary school. It is housed on a inner-city site with two large buildings. It has 751 pupils of whom 92% are multilingual learners. It has a very high turnover of pupils. Last year there were 215 mid-phase admissions. It has a mix of refugees, offspring of oversea students studying for higher degrees and UK born EAL pupils. Only a small proportion of the children who reach year 6 have been in school since Reception.

These circumstances are not always conducive to educational success. At Westgate Hill they are. It is a part of the Laidlaw School Trust, whose educational philosophy has a strong commitment to inclusion: “We believe that no child is ordinary. We celebrate differences, and provide individual support inside and outside of the classroom to help every pupil soar over the same high bar. We believe in the extraordinary.”

The school has worked closely with the Newcastle University based Roma project ROMtels, a project known for its innovative use of technology to promote a translanguaging pedagogy of particular benefit to Roma pupils. The impact is beyond the Roma community. Translanguaging is everywhere, even in maths lessons where pre-teaching of concepts in other languages helps.

Pupils in this school are proud of their linguistic heritage. They want their languages (all 56 of them) to be included in display and the multilingual word mats that are a feature of the school. I have seen lots of language of the week initiatives in schools. Westgate Hill is the first place I have ever seen Samoan as the language of the week.

When a new word is introduced, it is often via the green screen you see in every classroom.  The green screen has translations of the word, but not the word in English. Pupils have to pool their knowledge to work out what the word is in English.

What strikes you as you wander round the school is how confident, happy, busy and kind the children are. I spoke to two pupils who had been new arrivals around four years ago. They were confident about taking time to reflect before telling me in their perfect, accentless English that the best thing about the school is “the opportunities to help others.”

The last word goes to the parents whose children had started their education in other countries in Europe or Africa and who have friends with children at other schools around the UK. They put it quite bluntly: “For us foreigners, we feel our kids are safe.” I could not stop them talking about how good the school was for their children. They sum up their children’s school as “amazing.” They are right.

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