Socialist Worker

Asylum seekers success in London school

Home secretary David Blunkett claims asylum seekers are \"swamping\" schools. Children and staff at Christopher Hatton Primary School in central London could teach him a thing or two. KEVIN OVENDEN reports.

Issue No. 1802

ABOUT HALF the 210 children at Christopher Hatton Primary School do not have English as their mother tongue.

Some of them are asylum seekers. But the only thing that is swamping this school is success. Parents from nearby housing estates and from smart Georgian town houses alike are queuing up to send their children there. The school's achievements have registered high on the government's favoured measures-exam results and reports from Ofsted inspectors.

Sophy Warner coordinates support at the school for children with little or no English. She explains:

'CHILDREN COME from a huge range of backgrounds and countries. At one stage we had 31 languages spoken in the school but that fluctuates as children come and leave. A new child arrives at least every two or three weeks. They will often have little or no English. It's important for the class teacher to settle that child straight in. In every case it has been successful. The school receives funding allocated according to the child's ability or level of English.

That is used to employ me, a full time support assistant, and a bilingual nursery assistant, and to pay for resources. We support children throughout the school.

We also have what we call a buddy system. When new children come in they are buddied up with a child who has been at the school for a period of time. That child will then sit with them on the carpet, show them where to get pencils and books, and do all the things that child needs to know to settle in quickly. The child who will be buddying will either have the same language or be fluent in English.

The children all want to be buddies. Whenever we have a new child, hands go up to volunteer to look after them. They get excited when a new child comes. They are curious about where that child comes from and how people live there.

If you have the staff to support the child and the children are encouraged to be part of it, then the arrival of children from other countries is not seen as a negative thing at all. Staff themselves come from many different places. I know it is possible for it to work, because here is an example of how it does.

The English-speaking children are totally accepting of different languages being spoken around them. And the parents are hugely supportive. They are pleased that children of different cultures and different backgrounds mix so happily. There is an English class at the school for parents twice a week. We have a coffee morning when parents are invited to come.

There is a toy library where we take time to explain how to use the games so that the parents can support the children's own learning.| So if the arrival of children from abroad is not the problem, what difficulties does the school face?

'Funding and funding,' says Sophy. 'The more staff you have, the better it is going to be for every child. If there were one adult for six children who did not speak English they are obviously going to be better off than when there is one teacher in a class of 30.'

'We learn about other cultures'

FIVE CHILDREN from years five and six spoke to Socialist Worker about their time at Christopher Hatton. They were Sharna Jean James, Mohamed Mahmoud, Maha Majed, Rona Tunnadine and Zahra Loosley.

Maha 'I was a bit worried when I first started. But then you realise everybody is friendly. It's the best school I've ever been too. 'And it is far better than the school in my other country, Lebanon, because we don't have to do the same thing every day.'

Rona 'We can do lots of different things and every day seems different. We learn about other cultures and people all over the world.'

Zahra 'I've been here since reception class. I can walk around the school and speak to anyone. I know they will be friendly and not be the same as me. That makes things really interesting.

Mohamed 'I have been here for four months. I came here from Sudan. I like the teachers. I like my class. I have friends.

Rona 'It's just rubbish to say that people don't get on. For example, you might be prejudiced against someone but when you get to talk to them and meet them you learn so much about them. And they can learn about you.'

Sharna 'If you walked down the street and just saw the same type of people it would be like you had woken up in a different world.'

Maha 'If you all had the same religion or something, then it would be so boring. At school you can play with all sorts of friends and find out about different things. '

Sharna 'Children are always arriving at the school. We have buddies to help them in class.'

Rona 'When we go downstairs to buddy the younger children they are often from different cultures. But we have a lot in common too. I couldn't imagine a school without people from different cultures. It wouldn't be a school. Well, it could be a school, but a very strange and bad one.'

Zahra 'A new girl has started and someone sits with her until she gets used to things.'

Sharna 'Two girls have just arrived from Canada and someone came from Colombia. We had an assembly where people stood up to say where they were from. There were so many countries!'

Rona 'Mohamed can't speak much English but he's learning.'

Maha 'People who speak the same languages can help each other. I can help Mohamed because we both speak Arabic.'

Sharna 'We have classroom assistants and Sophy to help people as well.'

All the children are proud of the displays, which cover every bit of available wall space. Their ideas about what they would like to do range from being a lawyer (Sharna), a singer or dancer (Maha), singing and football (Mohamed), to 'lots of different things, but it's too early to decide' (Rona and Zahra).

What we think

THERE IS nothing sensationalist in the story of Christopher Hatton School, nothing to make scaremongering headlines in the tabloid press. It, like thousands of other schools across Britain, is battling hard every day to deliver a great education for all its children-black and white, newly arrived or born here.

Schools and their children could do without bigoted comments from politicians. They could do with:

  • Increased funding.
  • Education based on cooperation instead of enforced competition.
  • A government as committed as they are to overcoming prejudice.

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