Meeting the diverse cultural needs of students

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Stubbs (1983) states that language is crucial in a child's education, as schools and classrooms are pervasive language environments. He emphasises that 'every teacher is an English teacher and every lesson is an English lesson' and in this sense he reiterates the fact that teaching is inconceivable without language, namely the English language. Although his work is dated he does raise some key issues when looking at the way children are taught within contemporary modern schools. Despite the influx of minority ethnic pupils and the growth of diverse linguistic and cultural needs within schools, English is still the dominant discourse and the ability to speak this language is a pre-requisite for success in today's education. The very fact that schooling is almost entirely conducted in English, regardless of the first language of the children, raises huge concerns for those who have migrated to England, where English isn't their first language. The Government have thus sought to address these linguistic and cultural needs and have made various provisions for such individuals. However, Blackledge (1994) identifies that policy makers and practitioners have looked on the needs of minority language groups from remote, if not unsympathetic, perspectives. He argues that we need to provide better opportunities for children who speak minority languages and bridge the gap between school and home culture. Within this essay I will critically assess the provision made for individuals with linguistic and cultural needs within my placement school, School A. This school is a predominantly white school which has recently seen a rise in the number of minority ethnic pupils over the last few years; however, these numbers are still negligible.

As discussed above, British schools can be seen as monolingual and monocultural institutions, in which their primary function is to enlighten those who have departed from the received linguistic and cultural norms (Edwards, 1983). Important population changes and the growth of ethnic minority groups in England have thus given rise to serious challenges to the accepted values and practices. Initial Government policy sought to assimilate the minority groups into the British way of life, however, the notion of complete absorption was proved to be unrealistic and as such a phase of integration followed in which minorities were to retain their distinctive multi-cultural identity. Government initiatives were therefore introduced in order to promote the cultural needs of ethnic minority groups. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2002) is one such policy, which, serves as a useful tool to promote inclusion of ethnic minority groups within schools as a means of valuing diversity and challenging racism (QCA, 2008). The Act identifies that an inclusive curriculum is a statutory requirement of the national curriculum and as such all schools have a responsibility to provide a curriculum which meets the specific needs of individuals and groups of pupils. School A has embraced the Every Child Matters (DfES, 2004) strategy throughout its day-to-day operations and has five members of staff to represent the five key outcomes. Teacher A is responsible for ensuring all children enjoy and achieve. As an Asian teacher within a predominantly white school, he is keen to promote a sense of cultural awareness and runs many projects within the school to raise money and recognition for a scheme he initiated; International Dimensions. This is charitable cause that seeks to raise £15,000 to build a school in India. The project has had great success thus far and has served to embrace cultural diversity within the school. Such initiatives seek to promote an inclusive school environment and aim to develop the bi-cultural skills and understandings of ethnic minority children as a means of enabling them to achieve their potential, even when the culture of the school is different from that of home.

School A has also put in place many schemes and projects to tackle racism and promote the cultural needs of minority ethnic groups. All children take part in weekly Citizenship lessons, which encompass a wide range of social issues. One of the modules studied focuses on discrimination, racism and challenging behaviour that serves to marginalise individuals because of their race. It also examines notions of British identity and immigration within contemporary society as a means of opposing stereotypical racist viewpoints. Such lessons are crucial in raising awareness of other cultures within School A, as the children here are very naive in their views of ethnic minority groups. Topics covered seek to challenge inherently racist beliefs that are held by the children and provide a more inclusive school ethos. Websites and ICT such as Britkid are also used as innovative ways of tackling racism and discrimination. Through scenario based computer games children discuss harassment, public attitudes about race, crime and discrimination through a medium in which they can relate to. In some situations, however, instead of serving to oppose racist beliefs, they actually serve to reinforce them. In one of my classes I overheard two children laughing at one of the Indian children on the computer game, the character was wearing a turban and the children started calling him 'nappy head'. I took these children to one side and questioned what they were saying, emphasising that what they were doing was inappropriate. However, the views of the children and their families are so intrinsically racist, it is often difficult to fully challenge and override their beliefs.

Within School A it is evident that much is being done to promote an inclusive school ethos where cultural values and needs are concerned, however, when we look at the provisions made for linguistic needs it can be seen to be lacking somewhat. Within England there are 686,000 children who are classified as being EAL (English as an Additional Language), where English is seen as a child's second language or a foreign language (Teachernet, 2007). Nationally, over 200 languages are spoken in the homes of children attending British schools. As such, it is essential that schools with a high number of bilingual pupils develop English Language Teaching as part of an all-encompassing curriculum. National policy and guidance recommends that the following practices be encouraged; newly arrived children should be given time to absorb English by allowing them a 'silent period', teachers should use culturally relevant resources and learning materials and promote thinking and talking in first languages to support understanding, group EAL learners who share the same home language, use ICT to enable children to develop and edit text and involve parents to gain extra support in developing the child's understanding and vocabulary. In School A, however, only 4 pupils are classed as EAL (less than 1%), some of which have little or no English at all. With no funding to support these children, national policy and guidelines have little impetus within this school environment. In addition to this, the SEN Code of Practice states that 'children must not be regarded as having a learning difficulty solely because the language or form of language of their home is different from the language in which they are taught' (DfES, 2001: 6). Consequently, the children at School A have no Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to address their specific needs. It is thus up to the individual teacher to decide on the provisions that will be made for the four children. I teach one of the children in a mixed ability class and find it very difficult to accommodate his needs. I try where possible to create resources that are linked to his home culture and make cards with translations from English to Slovakian, to encourage the use of his first language. Government policy emphasises the use of a child's first language, however, this is very time consuming and due to my limited knowledge of the child's first language, what I am doing may be grammatically wrong and of little benefit to the student. More funding and resources are needed to ensure this is carried out effectively. I spoke to the SENCO at School A to raise my concerns about the student as I feel that I cannot provide adequately for him and I was informed that the child in question would be moved to another school because the school has limited resources to assist the child. This has not happened as of yet, but emphasises the distinct lack of provision available at School A, for children who are classified as EAL.

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