Mother-tongue teaching works

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Joan McVittie, new head of White Hart Lane school, Tottenham, north London, has stopped teaching science to Turkish students using their mother tongue ("Mother-tongue classes scrapped", TES, February 17).

This was a progressive and enlightened initiative, that had been welcomed by former minister Stephen Twigg as "the kind of good practice we want to promote". There were plans to extend mother-tongue teaching to Somali students, another significant group in the school.

Research shows that helping bilingual learners develop their mother tongue has a significant impact on academic achievement.

Recent research from Goldsmiths College showed that Portuguese students who attend mother-tongue classes have a much higher probability of obtaining grades A* to C at GCSE in a range of subjects.

It has also been shown that tri-lingual 11-year-olds in Hackney outperform monolingual students in reading tests.

Children from multilingual families develop complex patterns of language use and literacy development. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that bilingual children show enhanced abilities in other subjects, especially music, maths and science.

We should be supporting such linguistic and cognitive enrichment, rather than narrow-mindedly excluding it.

Mrs McVittie claims that the initiative was not "cost-effective". But if you discourage children from using their mother tongue, this can easily lead to self-exclusion and all its associated social "costs", particularly in a deprived area.

As a head of English as another language in two east London schools, I feel that the decision to stop mother-tongue teaching at White Hart Lane shows a worrying lack of understanding of the needs of bilingual students.

Not only is access to the mother tongue proven to be essential to a bilingual child's development, it is also a human right.

Name and address withheld

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