Top of the Phorms in languages

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Bilingual school in Germany seeks English staff
Bilingual school in Germany seeks English staff

It is storytime in the classroom, and the five- to seven-year-olds are chatting in English to their teacher about what will happen next.

It could be any primary in the UK. But this is Germany - and last August, nine out of 10 of the pupils spoke no English at all.

The Phorms in Frankfurt is one of a new breed of bilingual private schools in Germany. They hire many of their staff from Britain.

The Phorms education business - which takes its name from the words "form" and "metamorphosis" - recruits teachers internationally and makes its native English-speaking and German staff work in pairs.

Classes are small, and teaching is via the "total immersion" method, which uses technological teaching aids such as interactive whiteboards.

Andrea Prymok, a Canadian-trained teacher, came to Frankfurt when the school opened last year.

"Bilingual teaching is so rewarding," she said. "It's great when kids go from knowing no English, to being able to explain things and ask questions."

Growing numbers of parents in Germany have been considering private education since the country's surprisingly poor performance in the Pisa international comparative tests in 2000, when it ranked behind the UK in many subjects.

Despite this, the Phorms Primary in Frankfurt struggled to attract the 60 pupils it needed to fill its three classes to open last year.

Now that word has spread, however, Steve Mear, the headteacher, has the opposite problem. "We have a waiting list of over 900 pupils," he said. "How ironic."

Mr Mear was born in the UK, and previously taught in Hong Kong and Bahrain as well as Germany. His international teaching experience helped him to get the headteacher's post.

"You need good business skills as well to manage the local system and set up a type of school," he said.

Phorms has also expanded into secondaries, and its primary and grammar schools now cater for 500 pupils in Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin, with new schools opening this summer in Hamburg, Hanover and southern Berlin.

Education from pre-school to university level follows the regional syllabus and the Cambridge International Curriculum, so pupils can aim for the International Baccalaureate or the Abitur, a German university entrance-level qualification.

German state schools tend to end by 2pm, but the Phorms schools work closer to an English timetable, ending lessons at 4pm, then offering after-school clubs until 6pm.

While the pupils get to grips with English, the English-speaking teachers have a chance to learn German. The schools offer on-site German language lessons, and run a one-year MA in bilingualism in conjunction with the Technical University of Berlin.

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