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How we did it

Children at Goathland primary school in Longbenton near Newcastle upon Tyne are getting a head start in French - and learning that there's life outside North Tyneside, says headteacher Sheelagh Tickell

We're a big school on an inner-city estate with a mixed catchment, and some children here would never visit France unless it was with school. We felt it was important to give them the opportunity to learn a second language. The earlier you start children with a language, the easier they find it to learn.

Three years ago one of our teachers - Susie Doswell, who had just finished her first year as an NQT - said she wanted to teach French. She speaks French and Italian and had taught English as a foreign language.

Governors were so impressed with her plan that they awarded her a management point to carry it out. She set to work, teaching through conversation - and singing - and slowly involved the whole school in all sorts of links with other countries. She started teaching French an hour a week to Year 6.

On our first trip abroad, to Normandy, I was surprised at how capable and confident the children were after just 10 months.

We started an international week, in which each year group studies a country. It extends to art lessons, and even to our kitchen - one day we have a Greek lunchtime, the next day French, the next Italian.

The whole school is labelled in French. There's a label on my door, on the classrooms, the office, the international room. We have forged links with a school in France and one in Italy - Italian is the next language we hope to introduce.

French children come to spend time at our school. Whenever children have relatives or friends from other countries to stay, we ask them to come into school and we learn from them. We have had students from Norway and Denmark.

We keep our eyes open for people applying for teaching jobs we could use in our initiatives, and I welcome new ideas from young staff. It gives them the impetus to forge their career.

From February 2003, we're extending the French lessons. We now have a second teacher, who is going to take Year 5. And a third teacher, who teaches reception, also speaks French.

We recently won a British Council International School award - one of 75 nationally. It's a real accolade - it shows you've made efforts to promote the international dimension within your school.

We are committed to what we are doing. It isn't just about the core subjects of English, maths, science and ICT. There are other things that are important in the hidden curriculum. We want our children to see that there's life outside Longbenton - good customs, good food and good habits - and that it's one big world.

Interview by Martin Whittaker

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