Ipswich: Pupils at Hillside Community Primary School speak 58 languages

Lee Abbott is head teacher at Hillside Primary.

Lee Abbott is head teacher at Hillside Primary. - Credit: Su Anderson

At Hillside Community Primary School in Ipswich there are 471 pupils speaking 58 different languages.

The main minority languages spoken at the Belstead Road school are Portuguese, Polish and Lithuanian, representing respectively 4%, 4% and 3% of the total.

However the head teacher, Lee Abbott, said one of the most difficult things to deal with is the misunderstanding about what it means to have pupils at his school for whom English isn’t their first language.

“One of the challenges is the misconception that these children have no English and there is a great deal of time and money spent on these families and that simply isn’t the case,” he said.

Mr Abbott said pupils whose native tongue was not English are often not much further behind other pupils.

“Our English speaking children can come with very poor communication skills anyway when they first come in.

“At that point at reception age whether they have got English as an additional language or as a first language the language development is a priority, the process is the same, and language acquisition is about the same rate.”

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Similarly, when conversing with parents there are numerous obstacles to overcome other than simply language barriers, and many different ways of approaching parents.

“There are parents we would need to write to but we can’t because they don’t have literacy skills,” he said.

Pupils who arrive at the school without a good grasp of English do not sit in regular English classes but receive six to eight weeks of intensive instruction in ‘English as an Additional Language’ from a qualified teacher.

For other classes they are taught the vocabulary that they will need the week before it comes up in class.

The school also employs teachers who speak a variety of languages, including Polish, French, Swedish and Punjabi.

Progress for pupils whose first language isn’t English is, just like native speakers, variable on factors such as their home life and dedication to education. However he added that immigrant families are “generally aspirational, they want their children to do well”.

He also rejected the idea that large numbers of non-English speaking pupils diverted attention from others.

“We track the progress of all of the children to make sure the resources are targeted at children who aren’t progressing at the right rate,” he said. “That’s regardless of background.

“Our resources go on children who require the pupil premium. Because lots of these children progress well they don’t need to have additional time and resources within the school.”