Secondary battles for validation of its GCSE - in Lithuanian

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
Head looks to human rights legislation in campaign for pupils to be allowed to take qualification in mother tongue

An east London comprehensive that has become a magnet for pupils from Lithuania is developing a new GCSE so that they can take an exam in their own language.

Bishop Challoner Catholic Collegiate School has more than 100 pupils from the Baltic state and received an award from the Lithuanian government for its work in educating them and integrating them into the community.

Now the Limehouse school, which won this year's TES Outstanding Community Involvement Award, wants to go further and offer the pupils a qualification in their mother tongue.

It is pressing the British Government and exam boards to validate its own GCSE in Lithuanian and has the backing of the Lithuanian embassy in London.

Head Catherine Myers believes the school could have a case under the European Convention for Human Rights if its plea is rejected.

"Every child should be able to take a certificate in their mother tongue," she said. "It is available in many different languages but not to Lithuanian students. This is about equal opportunities and pupils' self-esteem."

Bishop Challoner's links with Lithuania began in 2004 when it suddenly found itself with 27 new pupils from the largely Catholic former Soviet republic.

Many were children of construction workers employed on building projects in nearby Docklands.

As the construction boom continued, boosted by the 2012 Olympics park, and word spread about Bishop Challoner through a Lithuanian chaplaincy, numbers soon reached three figures.

Already a multi-cultural school, which has pupils with 73 different first languages and staff with 38, Bishop Challoner was used to educating pupils from as far away as Ghana, India and Brazil.

But Mrs Myers said: "They usually come in small numbers. With the big increase from Lithuania, we thought, 'We have got to get someone who can speak Lithuanian and who is qualified to teach in English'."

Today the school has two such Lithuanian-speaking teachers.

They help the pupils get to grips with English and adjust to London life when they first arrive. Extra Saturday sessions are also run to improve parents' English, while their children are taught in Lithuanian about their country's history and culture.

Mrs Myers said: "They (the Lithuanian pupils) are an absolute asset to the school. They are very well behaved and will challenge people who don't behave."

An O-level in Lithuanian used to be available, but was cut in the 1970s due to lack of demand.

Bishop Challoner was told by exam boards that there was no financial case for developing a GCSE replacement. Now, acting on legal advice, the school is developing its own so that an exam board can validate it.

Mrs Myers intends to finish the work before she retires next month.

Renata Retkute, chair of the UK Lithuanian Association, said: "This exam would put Lithuanian on an equal status as other modern foreign languages like Polish.

"The size of our population here means it is unfair that this exam does not exist. Bilingualism can help pupils' all-round education and should be encouraged."


- The first written mention of Lithuania was in 1009.

- Last year, Bishop Challoner Catholic Collegiate School staged an exhibition on the country's culture and history to mark its millennium celebrations.

- In the 20th century, the country was part of the Russian empire, independent for 20 years, then occupied by Nazi Germany. Eventually it became part of the Soviet Union.

- The Baltic state, with a population of 3.3 million, declared independence again in 1990 and joined the European Union in 2004.

- An estimated 200,000-250,000 Lithuanians currently live in the UK. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, there were 31,000 Lithuanian pupils in the UK in 2007.

- Bishop Challoner head Catherine Myers (pictured left) went on a school visit to the capital, Vilnius, and found that pupils were two years ahead of their English counterparts in maths, but lacked comparable skills and facilities in subjects such as design and technology, ICT and science.


- Suo sued mano namudarbus - The dog ate my homework

- Vienas is geriausi mokini klaseje - Top of the class

- Skambutis yra man, ne jums - The bell is for me, not for you.

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