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Year 3 'laps up' Somali lessons for all

Head says classes are improving language skills even of those who speak it at home

All year 3 pupils in a Sheffield Primary are receiving lessons in Somali as part of the school's language provision.

The lessons, introduced by Springfield Primary headteacher Beth Stevenson, are one element of a project with the city's Somali Community School

Sheffield has four link-ups, which are part of the Our Languages project funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to raise the status of community languages in mainstream schools and recognise the work of supplementary schools.

Mrs Stevenson said: "We already do Spanish in Year 4 and French in Years 5 and 6. Across the school about 40 per cent of the pupils are Somali, but it is interesting that although those children may understand Somali, they don't speak it much. At home, they'll be spoken to in Somali but they will answer in English."

The 21 Year 3 children, of whom seven are Somali speakers, learn Somali for half an hour each week, taught by their bilingual teaching assistant alongside their class teacher.

Mrs Stevenson said: "They love that lesson. It's very popular. Our children are so switched on to learning a language, they lap it up.

"But for us, it's not just another language, it's about giving our community a role. It says to them that your language is important. We're a very diverse school with lots of people from different ethnic groups."

Ashahani, seven, who was born in Sheffield to Somalian parents, said: "My parents are very proud because I get to speak it (Somali) in school and speak it at home."

Eight-year-old Mikey, who was born in Liberia, said: "I speak English normally, but Somali lessons are fun especially because I have lots of friends who already know it."

Viv Edwards, director of the National Centre for Language and Literacy at Reading University, praised the project. "It has enormous benefits in terms of Somali children's self-esteem and it is very useful for monolingual English speakers to see those children as having something to offer, having a skill. It raises the status of Somali children.

"It also helps the Somali learn in English. The more input you have in the mother tongue, the better for their educational outcomes."

Staff at Springfield Primary and the Somali School are also working together to create lesson plans and teaching materials in Somali.

The four schools in Sheffield and their project partners - including Silverdale School and Sheffield Star Mandarin School, Brigshaw High and Leeds Chinese School and King Edward VII School and Polish Saturday School - are holding a series of events about their work over the next month.

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