The learners…on developing as communicators

Languages are a major part of life at Jack Hunt School in Peterborough. The school is a specialist language and sports college and the 1,750 students speak 66 different languages between them. This presents teachers and students at the school with some unique challenges.

Ten years ago, keen to understand the needs of its bilingual and multilingual learners and determined to support them in the best way possible, the school created a team of student communication leaders. They didn’t know then what an impact they would have on the life of the school.

Kate Simpson-Holley, Deputy Headteacher
‘We did some student voice work with students who were relatively new to the country and relatively new to English.

‘They told us that they felt like fish out of water and that their self esteem was challenged by being bilingual. It really worried us so we decided to get a group of them together, place them at the centre of training and development and make them real experts in their field.’

So they created a new student role – communication leaders. Today there are 80, all of whom wear a distinctive purple badge with the words “Hello – talk, listen, take part.” They work closely with staff, observing lessons, co-planning, team teaching and even delivering literacy training to teachers – all with the aim of supporting bilingual and multi lingual students while at the same time benefiting everyone.

They have conducted research projects on how the school could change to help all learners, suggesting for example that rectangular tables in the canteen should be replaced by round tables to encourage broader discussion and the mixing of different groups.

Kate points out that they ‘wanted to make sure they knew about learning and teaching and pedagogy and had a voice in how we developed teachers across the school – so that when a new student walks in speaking a language teachers might not have come across before they can support them and help them to feel really good about themselves.

Our bilingual students feel that they have a skill that is not only valued here but will be valued throughout their lives

‘Communication leaders have had a huge impact at the school. Our bilingual students feel that they have a skill that is not only valued here but will be valued throughout their lives – by universities and by employers.’ The communication leaders include advanced bilingual learners who speak a number of languages, Pupil Premium students and challenging pupils.

‘Putting challenging pupils in a situation where they plan a lesson with a member of staff and then go and watch it has been hugely successful. It really changes their relationship with teachers because they can see how much effort goes into a lesson.’

Safwan, Year 9, and Eman, Year 11
Safwan Rija is a highly motivated year 9 student who has been a communication leader since year 7. His first language is Bengali but his English was already excellent by the time he started at Jack Hunt.

He jumped at the chance to help other learners and has done everything from lesson observations and pupil interviews to presentations to school governors and to headteachers at the SSAT’s 2013 National Conference in Manchester. He is also helping Jack Hunt teacher Lucie Swannell conduct interviews with students for her EdD (doctor of education) research on bilingual learners.

While he has undoubtedly helped and supported other students Safwan has gained from the experience too. ‘When I first started it was really scary giving presentations but now I can stand up in front of a big crowd very easily.’

Working as part of a team improves your collaboration skills and means that we can work out new ways of improving school

‘Working as part of a team improves your collaboration skills and means that we can work out new ways of improving school and making things better for other people.

‘You understand how other people feel when they arrive with their own language and don’t understand what is going on. You really feel what they are going through and want to help them out. I try to give as much help as I can.’ Safwan would like to study aeronautical engineering at university and eventually become a pilot.

Year 11 student Eman Aly arrived at Jack Hunt from Egypt two years ago and recognises the value of being able to ask for help from the communication leaders. Arabic is her first language and although her English was good when she joined the school she wasn’t used to people speaking so quickly.

‘It felt strange. Everything was new and when I spoke I had to think of the words first and then translate them in my head. I’d just say a word and then stop and have to think about the next. Now it is easy and I feel confident.’ Like Safwan she believes her language skills will help her in the future.

You have an idea of their traditions and how they treat each other…language skills are very beneficial in life

‘It means you can speak and communicate with people from all over the world,’ she said. ‘You can translate and you have an idea of their traditions, culture, ideas and how they treat each other. Language skills are very beneficial in life.’

Jack Hunt School are one of 22 schools presenting a ‘How to…’ workshop at the SSAT National Conference on How to use student leadership to enhance learning.

Workshop outline
By ensuring that students are leaders in every aspect of school life, Jack Hunt School has raised not only standards but also aspirations. Students lead across the cluster of schools as learner, coaches, teachers and researchers – they even have an input into the recruitment of staff. Students work across Peterborough and in partner schools abroad, training other young people to lead and extend learning for all. This approach can help to engage target groups of learners from pupil premium, multilingual and SEND to the most able students. It ensures that all groups progress as much as possible and challenge themselves to achieve more. Activities that blend a mix of sporting and academic challenges encourage students to seek out personal bests in every aspects of their lives and help to ensure long-term benefits for the whole community.

You might also be interested in…
SSAT’s Annual MFL Conference, 21 November, Birmingham – a specialist conference for all language practitioners in schools


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