Primary dances to an Albanian tune

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Head full of praise for project which illustrates value of minority languages and integration with local community

As a primary head, Bob Garton is often wary of parents coming to him with good ideas which could involve a lot of work for his school.

So when Shpresa, an Albian complementary school, suggested setting up an Albanian after-school club at Gascoigne Primary in Barking, east London, he initially only agreed to a three-month trial.

However, he was soon enthused about the work that his school could do with Shpresa ("hope"), which works with 300 pupils across nine schools.

The relationship blossomed, and Shpresa started a regular club, with language lessons and traditional dance classes.

Mr Garton's experience is an example of how the Our Languages project - a government-funded scheme that aims to encourage the integration of community complementary schools with their mainstream counterparts - has helped promote community languages.

Mr Garton told researchers: "All I have got for them is praise. All I get is really good payback, in community relations, parental relations. I am more than happy."

Pupils from minority communities often attend complementary schools to learn their community language. This project helped mainstream schools support the teaching in these complementary schools - and also gave mainstream schools the opportunity to teach minority languages, enabling a wider range of pupils to take part.

A study of the two-year initiative has found many other successes in the scheme. They include projects in which primaries in London's Vauxhall and Kennington entered into ventures with Portuguese-language schools. Others in Hackney, in the north of the capital, worked with Turkish-language teachers.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham found teaching community languages helped pupils gain qualifications, widened teachers' skills and improved community relations.

The project involved producing a website that has a facility to find out which languages are taught where, setting up links between the two sectors and training for complementary school teachers.

By the end of the project's second year, the number of schools involved had increased from nine to 90, schemes of work were produced by the schools involved and a toolkit on how to establish partnerships was created.

Sarah Cartwright, the Our Languages consortium programme manager, said: "I think one of the best things was seeing the commitment of parents and communities to children's education and how their literacy was being developed."

The project ended in March, although there has been an extension until the end of August to allow for the findings to be shared within the education community.

Kathryn Board, chief executive of Cilt, the organisation that ran the scheme, said: "The project has created a lot of partnerships between mainstream and complementary schools. I think the good links will continue and schools will find ways of making it happen.

"There is interest in trying to build on it, but it will not be easy in a significant recession."

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