Community Engagement: Supporting Turkish Pupils and their Families

Earlier this school year when Emily Gazzard, Inclusion Manager at a large primary school in North London, found that some of the school’s EAL learners were not doing as well as hoped, she and her colleagues worked with parents to set up a comprehensive project for community inclusion. In this post she describes the steps they took to launch the project and reports on how it is improving school engagement and inclusion and making a difference for the children.

Em Headshot 2

Emily Gazzard

At our school, a large primary in London, over 170 (26%) of our pupils have English as an Additional Language. In general, our EAL pupils make excellent progress. However, we recently noticed that some of our Turkish first language speakers were not performing as well as we felt they could. One of the main differences between our Turkish children and other EAL learners in the school is that most other EAL learners are from bilingual families where at least one parent has English as their L1. This means that they tend to be more familiar with the English school system and have well developed English proficiency, allowing them to engage with school more efficiently. Our Turkish speaking pupils, on the other hand, tend to come from families where only Turkish is spoken. School engagement is therefore commensurately more difficult. We thought that it would be helpful to work with our Turkish families to help improve the school experience for their children.

We started by inviting all our Turkish parents in for a coffee morning. The turnout was brilliant (only one parent couldn’t make it because her child was ill). After making short work of a large plate of biscuits and pouring lots of cups of tea, we introduced the project and its aims to the parents: We wanted to make sure that their children made the most progress possible whilst at school. We also wanted to support the parents in supporting their child’s learning. Finally, we wanted to help the pupils develop their Turkish language. Some parents felt that speaking just English at home would be helpful for their child so we encouraged them to use their home language as much as possible.

I was really pleased with the openness of the discussions we had with the parents at this session. They shared their concerns and worries about their children and also described how difficult they sometimes found it to support their children with their homework. The parents asked, therefore, if we would be happy to run a homework club for their children. We thought this was a great idea, and wasted no time in setting one up the following week.

So far, the homework club is going really well. The pupils enjoy it, particularly as it makes them feel like they are part of an exclusive club. The younger ones in particular seem to be very proud of being Turkish and of being part of the club. Every Monday afternoon, we gather up the children from Reception to Year 6 and they all get stuck into doing their homework together. Already, we have had feedback from parents saying how helpful the club is and how it is making a real difference. It is also enabling us to take more of a child’s eye view of the homework that we set. Is it accessible for all? Is it closely matched to the ability of the pupils? One aspect of the club which is lovely to see is the older children helping the younger ones. They often help their own siblings but, more often than not, help another child that they haven’t previously met. I think it has made the children feel more cohesive as a group.


Members of the Homework Club

When we initially met with the parents, we also discussed how they were developing their children’s Turkish skills. Many of the parents had tried taking their children to a Turkish community school at the weekends but, for various reasons, the children had not really engaged with it. Some of the parents felt that the agenda at these weekend schools was too religious, and they were not comfortable with that. Nonetheless, the parents were keen for their children to learn more Turkish language and learn more about Turkish culture. We have now liaised with the Turkish embassy and have a weekly Turkish language class for the pupils.

Another part of our new programme was to develop a community of parents volunteers who would be happy to act as interpreters for parents with limited English. Normally this role would be taken by our one Turkish speaking staff member, but now we have several mums who enthusiastically help out. This has been particularly helpful when parents are required to navigate the bureaucracy often associated with the education system in England. This can be overwhelming for English L1 speakers, let alone for parents whose English is still developing. Our parent volunteers provide much appreciated linguistic and moral support for new parents in these circumstances.

Finally, one of our teaching assistants is running an action research project looking at reading attainment for our Turkish pupils. She leads two early morning reading clubs per week. The pupils come to breakfast club and then spend 40 minutes working through various reading activities. This has been particularly successful for children who were finding getting to school on time a challenge. They now attend breakfast club every day and arrive at school ready to learn at 8am.

Overall, we are hoping that developing strong positive relationships with our Turkish families is providing them with the support they need so that in turn they can support their children with their learning. Our once quite disjointed population of Turkish children have now developed into a strong and cohesive community within the school. We are optimistic that the Homework Club, Parents’ Group, Morning Reading Club and Turkish lessons will all continue to work to support the pupils and encourage them in all aspects of their learning.

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