Without our international students, we would not be the school that we are. Ours is a thoughtful community, which values its cultural diversity. Here, Debbie Taylor, the school’s International Student Counsellor, explains how we have developed a successful programme of English Language (EAL) support and pastoral care for our international students.
Our international students make up 19% of our student body, and are currently from 14 different countries across the world. Their presence is a stimulus throughout the school. Our learner profile, which defines the character we encourage in our pupils, includes being ‘aware’ because, amongst other things, we want to encourage the awareness of different cultures. With ‘respect’ as a core value, bilingualism and multilingualism are also valued in all students which puts everyone on an equal footing as language learners.
Our EAL pupils have had a variety of experience of learning in English before they arrive. Many come in order to prepare for study in English-speaking universities, others are seeking an English education from a younger age but whatever their needs, they are addressed in a personalised way. We have an induction programme for all new international students at the beginning of the school year to help them prepare for their studies and they sit an Oxford Placement Test to ascertain their level of English, so their support can be planned.
English Language support
Where necessary, sixth formers (students in Years 12 & 13) are given time to prepare for the IELTS qualification and the school arranges for them to be entered for the examination. Year 10 and Year 11 students on the other hand are prepared for the IGCSE English as a second language examination over a two-year course, whereas the younger students are integrated into mainstream English lessons. These EAL lessons in Years 10 and 11 are the only time international students are taught on their own as a group, giving them the chance to gain confidence in both their written and spoken English, as well as provide a scaffolding for language learning. Should SEND or Gifted & Talented needs be identified, then EAL pupils have equal access to the school’s provision.
Every lesson is an English lesson
Developing independence and self-confidence is central to the school’s mission of preparing young people for the challenge of the adult world. For the EAL department, this means students acquiring and using language confidently. They have a right to access all parts of the curriculum without disadvantage, and their teachers therefore have a responsibility for teaching English as well as other subject content. There’s an unexpected spin off! With a focus on language and its meaning, all students benefit – not just those with EAL needs.
Celebrating cultural diversity
Every opportunity is taken to acquire and use English. By dividing our EAL students among the seven boarding houses, they are encouraged to interact with English-speaking students and to integrate fully into school life. However, their “mother tongue” is also central to identity and cognitive development. Students are therefore encouraged to maintain their home language and use it in the school environment wherever possible.
We regularly hold international evenings and show films in different languages. Cultural identity is equally important: we encourage our Chinese students to celebrate their culture by visiting local primary schools, helping them celebrate Chinese New Year in a very direct way. Our catering department also arrange for international students to cook some of their own food in the school kitchens – something our Chinese students particularly appreciate!
Welfare and pastoral care
As an International Student Counsellor I have a particular responsibility for the welfare of EAL pupils, which gives the position a particular depth. My interest is not just academic. I regularly meet with our International Student Council to discuss any issues, arrange trips and social occasions throughout the school year. Like all students – and particularly when they are new – our international students need to feel secure and listened to in their new learning environment.