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Loud and clear

Teachers continually strive to improve spoken and written English, especially where for many pupils it is a second language. Hannah Frankel tells of an inner-city school's creative approach

It would be interesting to know how many languages Charles Dickens could identify at his namesake school in south-east London. At the Charles Dickens Primary in Southwark he would encounter an incredible 36 different tongues.

Even though 81 per cent of pupils speak English as an additional language at the school, compared with 13 per cent nationally, English results remain largely in line with the national average.

Last year, 83 per cent of pupils achieved the expected level 2 or above in reading and writing at key stage 1, and the results are mirrored further up the school. Its English results now place it in the top 20 per cent of schools nationally.

Ali Mawle, deputy head, credits creative arts with helping EAL pupils get to grips with the curriculum.

"Our resident Nigerian artist and English musician make a massive contribution," she says. "We use visual texts, art and in-built drama techniques so that the text is never a barrier. Before writing, we always use drama and plenty of talk. Then we'll go into the garden and make labels for the flowers. Writing has to have a purpose."

Reading has received a similar push. High profile authors, including Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson, are frequent visitors to the new library, as are parents. The library is also used for weekly bilingual story-telling sessions, which involve a teacher reading out a story in English, before a parent does the same in their native language.

Such initiatives are transforming parental involvement. The school's AGM meeting attracted just eight parents in 1998, but now that it has become synonymous with celebration and improvement each parent brings in a cultural dish and is entertained by Nigerian dancers and drummers it is packed out.

It wasn't always like this. In 1998, the school was in special measures and all the teachers left, bar one. The turnaround has been dramatic, but Ali insists the school cannot become complacent. "We never take it for granted. It's tough sometimes but we always strive to do better."

Free resources from The TES

Key words spelling for infants: 150 PowerPoint slides by TES Resource Bank star contributor Bev Evans. Download at

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