Speaking up for difference

Inspectors praise schools that place racial equality at the heart of their work, reports Jon Slater.

Windsor, with its royal castle and nearby Eton college, is hardly the first place that springs to mind to define multi-cultural Britain.

Yet, Windsor girls' comprehensive has been praised by Ofsted as a shining example of what can be done to promote racial equality in education.

During Year 10, every pupil with English as a second language has the chance to take a GCSE in their native tongue. The aim is to build their confidence before taking the rest of their exams the following year.

Ten languages are spoken at the 13-18 school, and about a fifth of its 700 pupils are from ethnic minorities, many from nearby Slough.

Twelve Year 10 pupils are sitting GCSEs in their first language this year.

GCSEs have been offered in almost 20 languages over the past eight years.

Windsor girls' runs after-school classes in Punjabi and Hindi and pays for private tutoring for students who speak other languages, ranging from Greek, taught by the mother of one of the pupils, to Urdu, taught by a local mosque.

Carole Chevalley, the head, admitted finding teachers was sometimes difficult. The school contacted the Indonesian embassy after failing to find someone to conduct a GCSE oral in the language.

She said: "We like to celebrate students' different backgrounds. Doing a GCSE in their first language is very good for their self-esteem."

Next summer the school will hold a language day to promote respect for other cultures. The school has also analysed its curriculum to emphasise cultural diversity. This has led to teaching about black women role models such as Mary Seacole, a contemporary of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean war, and music and arts lessons which emphasise the work of artists from different cultures.

Windsor girls' is one of 50 schools in 12 local authorities visited by inspectors as part of a survey of good practice in the education of students from different ethnic backgrounds.

Their report, Race equality in education, found that heads in these schools considered race issues to be central to education rather than a "bolt-on"

concept.

It praised a Birmingham secondary which set up an informal group of black pupils to raise boys' achievement and holds regular meetings with black parents.

A primary was singled out for teaching Year 3 pupils about human rights and free trade and a secondary was praised for its teaching of blues music.

But inspectors said that some schools were not reporting some racist incidents because of a lack of clear guidance from some councils about how to define them.

Mrs Chevalley said the only serious incident to occur at Windsor was when an argument erupted between pupils in the school hall shortly after the September 11 attacks. It was quickly broken up by staff. Assemblies with each year group about acceptable behaviour helped to defuse the situation, she said.

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

Race equality in education is available from www.ofsted.gov.uk

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