How we did it

7th March 2003 at 00:00
Hayle community school is helping to keep the Cornish language alive, says headteacher Christine Jackman

In September 2001, Hayle became a language college and I'd just become head. The school had always wanted to increase the number of languages on offer, increase uptake and encourage dual linguists.

We offer French as the main language, and in Year 8 onwards our second language is Spanish. When we gained language status we started a taster course in German because we had a teacher on our staff who could teach it.

Then we developed contacts and found someone to teach Italian.

And last year we started to offer Cornish. We're the only secondary school I know of that teaches Cornish. There are only around 300 fluent speakers left but, surprisingly, finding someone to teach it didn't prove difficult.

We contacted the Cornish Language Board, which works to promote and revive the language, and a parent of one of our staff is a Cornish bard.

We found two people, but they weren't qualified teachers and so couldn't be left alone with the classes; a teacher had to be with them all the time.

Gradually they learned how to work with the children, what interested them, how to use flashcards, pictures, stories about Cornish heritage. It was very much taught as a spoken language; we weren't looking at writing or reading.

This year we have a teacher, appointed through the language college, who teaches French to our primary schools, and German and Italian to our Year 7s. She's just learned Cornish herself.

We have used some of the extra language college funding to equip two classrooms as multimedia language laboratories. resources include an excellent, newly launched CD-Rom for Cornish.

Adults can also come to study languages at evening drop-in sessions.

Teaching Cornish is made easier by the immediate context: some of the children know people who speak it, and they see place names on the road signs, so it's all around them. We simply wanted them to appreciate and recognise their local language and cultural heritage.

At the moment, only Year 7 pupils study Cornish and we have no plans to extend it to other year groups. Whether we can put it on the curriculum and whether there will be recognised qualifications for it, only time will tell. But, with so few Cornish speakers, I doubt whether it will ever make it to GCSE.

Christine Jackman is headteacher at Hayle community school near St Ives, Cornwall. She was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share? Email

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