Shared experience is the way to prosper

25th November 2005 at 00:00
You might think the staff and pupils of Kitchener primary school in Swansea would face enough challenges without seeking links with the wider world.

This 400-pupil school, in the run-down Riverside suburb of Swansea, already caters for children from a wide variety of backgrounds. Eighty-four per cent of the children come from ethnic minorities - many are Bangladeshis and Somalis and increasing numbers are from Libya - and speak between them 16 different languages.

"We have groups of children playing in our nursery who don't have a common language between them," says Jane Evans, the head.

Yet Kitchener now has such a high reputation for inclusive good practice that Mrs Evans has been to Germany to address an international seminar on diversity, played host to a group of educators from Catalonia looking at bilingualism and to visitors from Hungary wanting to know how school inspection works.

Estyn, the Welsh Inspectorate, whose most recent report described Kitchener as "a very good school with a number of notable features", knew where the Hungarians should look.

As for the Catalonians, they were "awe-struck" that a school already dealing with so many different languages should even contemplate teaching pupils Welsh as well as English.

Yet it does. Although the priority for non-English speakers has to be English, pupils from the age of three upwards learn incidental Welsh as well. That, after all, is central to the new, play-based foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds in Wales, which Kitchener primary is piloting.

(To support that innovation, it has set up a forest school, inspired by Denmark, and the General Teaching Council has paid for staff to go on training visits to Italy and Canada.) Dealing with such a range of children, many of them traumatised, requires comforting admissions procedures, systems for encouraging children to help each other, and staff who are very committed to equal opportunities, says Mrs Evans. Historically the centre of a very tight catchment area, the school is seen as a safe and non-threatening environment.

Although reassured by her contact with other school leaders at the Berlin diversity seminar ("I concluded we were well ahead"), she relished the chance to listen to and reflect on other schools' experiences and wants to forge more contacts with colleagues abroad. She is busy scanning the British Council's Global Gateway website to find a European partner school under the Comenius programme.

"We could just close our doors and say, we're in Riverside," says Mrs Evans. "But it's a big world out there. Sharing ideas is how you get on and improve."

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