An inner-city Leeds school with children from more than 50 different nations is to teach all of its pupils English as a foreign language in a radical attempt to improve standards.
City of Leeds School is taking the unprecedented step of introducing English as a second language classes to every child - including all its British-born pupils.
Head teacher Georgiana Sale said the school was having to “rethink the way we do things” because less than a quarter of its pupils had English as their first language and more than half of the children were new to the country within the past four years. She said it had been decided to include pupils who have English as a first language in the programme because in many cases their level of formal English was not good enough to allow them to achieve good grades at GCSE.
Last year the school had just over a quarter of its pupils achieve the national benchmark of five good GCSEs, including English and maths, - the lowest score of any state school in the city.
But Ms Sale it was unfair to expect the school to reach national averages when so many pupils were new to the language.
City of Leeds has around 55 different nationalities among its cohort including pupils from nations across Africa, Europe, China and parts of the Middle East and Asia.
She said that one of the largest groups was now Czech Roma children.
She said: “Many of our pupils are not only new to English but they are not literate in their own language. In some cases we are the first people to put a pen in their hand.
“Around half of our children are new to the country within four years. It is generally thought it takes five years to properly learn a language and that is when you have total immersion it it. A lot of our children don’t have that because it is not spoken at home. Imagine being given a few years and then being expected to get a good grade in GCSE geography but having to sit the exam in French.
“I can’t worry about how many Cs some of my pupils have in other subjects when they are new to English. Education is about giving children what they need and so we have asked ourselves what do our children need?”
Leeds Metropolitan University and Sheffield University are both helping the school to train their staff to be able to deliver English as an additional language.
The lessons would be done in stages not ages, with pupils split into groups based on their ability.
She said that for pupils with English as a first language it would give them the chance to improve their spelling and grammar.