Calm after the riots

30th June 1995 at 01:00
The school is spacious, airy and light. Built four years ago, it is a model of good design: pleasing to the eye and comfortable to work and play in. The children, too, look comfortable, happy, industrious.

It's not what you would expect in Manningham, the district of Bradford that was the scene of violent riots recently. The ugly images of angry young Asians clashing with police, framed by unlovely streets of drab shops, lifeless 1960s estates and tatty Victorian back-to-backs, don't tally with the optimism and energy that radiates from the sanctuary of West Bourne first school. Yet the children within are the offspring, brothers and sisters and neighbours of those boys and young men who were on the streets.

Around 90 per cent of the 360 pupils are of South Asian origin, mainly Punjabi speaking; the remainder are white. Headteacher Denise Richardson and her forceful team have established an ethos built on respect for parents and children, a respect for their languages, their cultures, their differentness.

If there was one word that meant the opposite of xenophobia, it would succinctly describe their approach.

Ms Richardson has taken care to bring in staff who reflect the children's backgrounds. Out of the 24 teaching and nursery staff, four are of Asian background in addition to eight classroom assistants and special needs assistants and a part-time administrator, all of whom are bilingual.

Bilingualism and South Asian culture are celebrated and evident. In the nursery, most of the labels and signs on the walls are in English and Urdu. Some are for the children and others for the parents. "Please look at your children's work," says one in both languages. "The nurse will weigh and measure you," says another over the play doctor's surgery.

The emphasis on community languages is based on the understanding, according to liaison teacher Ruth Overy, that "the children need a firm foundation in their home language in order to learn English well. Nursery is exactly the right time to give children a good head start in their own languages."

After the riots, Denise Richardson sent a memo to staff about the need to allow children to talk about their fears and feelings without being judgmental. "I want school to be a calm place," she said "so that we all feel it is a safe and welcoming place for the community."

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