A journey worth taking
It will not be long before the number of British schools franchised for overseas campuses reaches the 100 mark. According to Nick Chaddock the explosion of British schools throughout the world shows no sign of slowing, and this phenomenon raises some important issues for EAL learners, as they master ‘academic’ English.
The export of British teachers overseas
The parallel expansion of the middle classes across the world is likely more than just coincidental. Asia, with its ever-growing wealth and its unquenchable thirst for education, has seen a plethora of these schools open and with them the export of thousands of British staff overseas.
The original British ‘mother’ schools share the same character traits in that they are invariably prestigious, long-established, traditional, high fee-paying, selective independent schools with prominent alumni. However, copying and pasting this model overseas and being able to produce great results for demanding parents and turn a profit in some increasingly saturated markets brings with it a few issues.
Students at the new British Schools
The vast majority of pupils that are attending new international schools are middle-class, non-native speakers with varying degrees of English language proficiency. With them is a growing number of pupils with special needs as their parents know that under state-run education their children are unlikely to receive the extra provision they require. Therefore, the demographics of the international franchise school are the polar opposite to its British mother school, and with that comes a new set of challenges. The issue is not about the ethos or philosophy of a school, it is more about how the practical aims that underpin said ethos are achieved. It is about the journey, a journey that I believe could be made much smoother.
Transferring the pedagogical culture
The image of second language English teaching is a poor one. Its image was manufactured and politicised in Britain and it is one of the few things we still export. As pointed out by Maurice Carder, British school leaders and teachers bring with them the pedagogical culture of the school they have come from. Therefore, if they come from a system where second language learners, special educational needs, multilingualism and multiculturalism were things on the periphery, the likelihood of the EAL (English as an Additional Language), Special Needs and the Mother Tongue Departments being high profile centres of expertise within the international school is fairly slim. Unfortunately, to maximise the potential of a new international school these elements need to be central.
The baggage that comes with EAL, ESL (English as a Second Language), EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and all the other popular terminology surrounding second language learners weighs heavy on school leaders, teachers, parents, consultants and marketing teams. The term in international schools should be ‘Academic English’ – it is as simple as that. Academic English could be part of the English Department’s responsibilities, or a separate department full of qualified, experienced, highly motivated full-time teachers who teach Academic English classes across KS3 and KS4 along with exam subjects such as IGCSE Second Language and IB English B.
Supporting academic English
How a school supports the development of Academic English should be the first question when prospective parents visit a school. Unfortunately, in many countries in Asia the growth of English has been closely associated with status, meaning that if your child is timetabled with the EAL Department it will carry with it some stigma and a degree of ‘shame’. Incredibly, it appears some parents would rather their child receive less appropriate educational provision than be seen to be different in any way. School leaders need to address this and not hide from it.
Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)
It is hard to believe all parents fully understand the demands on their children and perhaps international schools could communicate these demands more clearly. The demands of learning one foreign language and learning an entire curriculum in English are completely different. These traditional independent British schools are undoubtedly literature heavy in their English Departments, but the fact is, it can take from 5 to 7 years to develop the kind of academic English required to really succeed in an international school. The jump from IGCSE to IB or A-levels often exposes the lack of appropriate subject specific academic English instruction through KS3 and KS4, as the demands of these higher-level courses require serious written competence. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) should be a priority at the setup of many new international schools which means recruiting the right teachers with the right experience, the right professional development of linguistic and cultural awareness and a prominent mother tongue department.
Special Needs and Academic English need clear separation and should be staffed by experts. Academic English Learners are not a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’. Nor do they necessarily require ‘extra’ or ‘special’ or ‘additional’ ‘help and support’. They do not have ‘difficulties’ or ‘needs’ and although they do require smaller classes at certain times, they are not a drain on school funds – they are the school funds. In fact, building a school that has a well-developed pedagogical model that maximises the potential of second language learners is the only way for many new international schools to achieve excellent academic results and turn a profit, because ultimately these objectives go hand-in-hand.
Nick is from York in the UK, and currently works at North London Collegiate School on Jeju island in South Korea. Specialising in second language pedagogy and the acquisition of academic English, he is committed to outdoor education and extra-curricular programmes as an essential part of learning.
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