Early language initiative – Primary school UK

Author(s): European Schoolnet
Institution/Organisation: Whitehouse Common Primary School, Sutton Coldfield (UK)

1 Profile of school

1.1 Main characteristics

Whitehouse Common is a very popular two-form entry primary school and is highly regarded in the community for its achievement academically and across the wider curriculum. The school is a state funded mixed primary school situated in an urban setting. It has approximately 460 pupils.

1.2 Language teaching in the schools

The main language of tuition in the school is English, while the languages spoken by the pupils include Urdu and Punjabi.

The children are exposed to two languages in the school, French, which is taught during a lunchtime club and Spanish, which is taught throughout the school. All the pupils learn Spanish at this point within the curriculum. They average class size in 30. Extensive use is made of  ICT tools including an interactive whiteboard, Atantot and Babelzone websites; Voki; Voicethread; Youtube; Audacity; Powerpoint; websites; school wiki; podcasting; slideshare; Animoto; animation; sound recorders; webquests; digital cameras and video.

There are no language assistants in the school, however the teacher has a degree in Spanish (with Catalan) from the University of Sheffield. She has also been to Spain to present the projects approach and use of ICT tools to a workshop for teachers. She has also participated in Professional Development Workshops for eTwinning in Nottingham and Prague.

2 Profile of the language initiative

2.1 General description of the eTwinning action

The eTwinning action is one of the activities that make up the Comenius programme, the school education section of the Lifelong Learning Programme. It currently has 60,000 registered users. Schools and teachers often opt for eTwinning, as it is an easy and non-bureaucratic means of starting a European project. It is unique among the Comenius actions, insofar as it has a dedicated communication space for teachers equipped with a wide range of online communication tools designed for use in the project implementation. Unlike the Comenius school partnership programme, there is no funding for schools involved in eTwinning, and many teachers use eTwinning to begin their Comenius projects while they are waiting for approval, or else to continue the project after the funded period is finished.

The importance of language learning is central to the work of all Comenius actions, and eTwinning is no exception. Within eTwinning, it is impossible to carry out a project without touching in some way on language. This language can be the mother tongue of the project schools, or, as is more often the case, a common third language used as the medium of communication.

2.2 Description of the language initiative

The eTwinning project formed part of the initial stages of implementing Spanish for all pupils at the school from Nursery to Year 5 (3-11 years old). It was based on the exchange of cultural information about traditions and celebrations in Spain and England. Its dual aims were to use the foreign language to communicate and get to know the partners, and to discover and celebrate similarities and differences in their national celebrations. Staff and pupils at both schools contributed to a lively exchange of ideas and materials, and their enthusiasm made the project a success. Whilst not every class was involved at once, all followed the progress and were kept up to date with the link with the Spanish school. The work went in bursts of intense activity centered around the festivals that were the focus of the discussion.

The project has been awarded the National eTwinning Quality label and was runner-up in the UK 2008 eTwinning Awards. They also won the International Schools Award (intermediate) in 2007.

3. Evaluation

3.1 Success factors

The main success factor in this project is the that fact that within the elementary school curriculum in the UK The Key Stage 2 Framework for Languages states in its section on Intercultural Understanding: ’Language competence and intercultural understanding are an essential part of being a citizen. So already the school management has a firm ground upon which to base its language policy in the pedagogic practice of the school. Through the intercultural approach, the teachers believe that the children develop a greater understanding of their own lives in the context of exploring the lives of others. They learn to look at things from another's perspective, giving them insight into the people, culture and traditions of other cultures.

Using this as a basis the teacher involved began an eTwinning project with these values at its core..  The teacher believes that ‘Learning a language that is not spoken on a day-to-day basis in your country can seem an artificial exercise with little immediate point. Through the eTwinning project, pupils were provided with real Spanish people who were interested in them and with whom they could practice their Spanish (in written form). Pupils have produced letters in Spanish and English at WCPS, both individually and collaboratively, with a real purpose – to send them to our partner school and not just as a paper exercise.’ So another factor for success is this contention that to learn a language well, it must be seen as real and relevant by the pupils.


3.2 Success Indicators

Following on from the last point in the previous section one indicator of success is a comment made by a pupil that they had learned about Easter in Spain and then actually seen the parades when visiting her Grandmother in Spain. They saw a purpose in learning the language and liked seeing what other children did at their school, what their school looked like and what their area was like.

Another indicator is the fact that the pupils have also benefited from raised self-esteem as they received replies to their letters, and saw their work showcased on the websites of both schools for not only their peers but also the wider school community to view and enjoy.

An official indicator is the school also received a thematic OFSTED inspection during the period of the project, and the Inspector was highly complimentary about the attitude and ideas expressed by the pupils during the e-twinning lesson he observed.

From the staff’s point of view, an indicator is that the project has facilitated the discussion of other cultures and countries, the ways in which they are similar and yet different and the celebration of that diversity in a new way. The project has not been confined to Spanish lessons but has branched out into other areas of the curriculum (see below), inspiring activities and providing material for e.g. assemblies. Additionally, as the school seeks to introduce Spanish for every child from 4-11 from September, staff have found themselves increasingly aware of the language and begun to use it for greetings and routines.