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What the inspectors saw - Good practice by Ofsted - Everyone a linguist: Cherry Orchard Primary

In brief

Using bilingual children as classroom assistants is just one of the ways that this primary ensures every pupil is immersed in French from the day they start school.

The project

Primary schools are increasingly making modern foreign languages a key part of their curriculum, with many opting to teach French. One school that has been singled out by Ofsted for its work on this is Cherry Orchard Primary near Greenwich Park in southeast London.

The school's pupils already speak about 25 different languages at home, with about 60 per cent of them speaking English as an additional language. Did those pupils really need to learn what would, for many of them, be a third language? The school decided the answer was yes, as the children would benefit from additional work on languages and it would bring out skills they had already started to develop.

Headteacher Jan Beames says: "Over half the children enter school with English as a second language, and every day they use this new language - English - as a vehicle for learning and social communication. To learn a modern foreign language is merely another opportunity to practise skills they already have."

The school teaches French to all year groups, in a very informal way at first. In key stage 1, the children are encouraged to develop an "ear for languages" and are read stories in French such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar - or, as they know it, La Chenille Qui Fait des Trous. In key stage 2, specialist French teachers provide a one-hour lesson each week, which is frequently reinforced by the class teacher.

In Year 3 pupils learn to describe the appearance of characters in both English and French; in Year 5 they create role plays entirely in French; and in Year 6 the children do complete pieces of creative writing in French.

Bilingual pupils who are already fluent in French are used as classroom assistants to help other pupils. The French-speaking mother of one boy says: "He has always refused to speak French at home, but since he has started learning French, he has started to speak French as well as English with the family."

Although French is the only language formally taught at Cherry Orchard, pupils are encouraged to use their skills in all the languages they know and to record their progress in a language portfolio. One pupil says: "It's a language portfolio, not just French."

Despite cutbacks to grants for pupils who speak English as an additional language, the school has continued to do strong work in this area, too, pairing new arrivals with existing pupils who can speak the same language.

Signs of success

The attainment of pupils in English and maths at the end of KS2 last year was above the average for their peers nationally, and above the national average for all pupils. The school closely monitors pupils' linguistic skills, which the inspectors said contributed to their progress. One pupil says: "French is my favourite; it's an interesting language. It inspires me."

What the inspectors said

"This success is not the result of costly initiatives or investment in technology, but comes from a blend of excellent teaching, an imaginative curriculum and a commitment to valuing languages."

The school

Name: Cherry Orchard

Location: Charlton, southeast London

Type: Primary, ages 3-11

Number of pupils: About 250

Intake: About 75 per cent of pupils come from minority ethnic groups and about 60 per cent speak English as an additional language. The proportion of pupils who have special educational needs andor disabilities is above average.

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