Smithy Street Primary School, Tower
Hamlets Local Authority
Why was Bengali chosen?
Smithy Street Primary School is a
multicultural state school in Tower Hamlets in East London. 95% of
children come from the Indian sub-continent, particularly
Bangladesh. 99% of these children speak Sylheti, a dialect of
Bengali/Bangla. Whilst the majority of these children are
2nd or 3rd generation British, some were born
in Bangladesh and their first language is Sylheti. Another 4% of
children are Somali speakers and there are some Chinese and Urdu
speakers within the remaining 1%.
There has been support for community language
learning for some years through provision of after-school classes
in collaboration with local supplementary schools, as well as
occasional after-school clubs in languages such as French, German
The school also holds an annual World
Languages Day which brings parents into the school to take part in
a programme of multicultural activities.
In September 2007, the school introduced a foreign language into
the curriculum for the first time in preparation for the primary
languages entitlement. Bengali was the language chosen for all
children to learn.
Whilst Sylheti and Bengali are closely linked, the spoken
languages have significant differences and Sylheti has no written
form. Bengali is the language used in the professions, such as law,
medicine and the civil service and, of course, provides a writing
system for educational, business, social and family purposes.
It is a language used every day on the streets of Tower Hamlets,
therefore of immediate practical use by all children, whatever
their linguistic background.
The study of Bengali enables all children to develop language
learning skills, knowledge about language and oracy and literacy
skills, as well as intercultural understanding, through comparison
of Bengali conventions with English, Sylheti and other languages
spoken by the children.
It is also anticipated that study of Bengali will support the
development of literacy in English, as a result raising achievement
across the board. Parents have been kept fully informed of
plans throughout and the response has been enthusiastic on all
sides. After-school classes in other languages spoken by children
in the school are also made available, largely through cooperation
with local supplementary schools.
How does the curriculum model work?
The teacher leading this pilot project is
Rakib Ahmed, who has been a class teacher at Smithy Street since
1993. Rakib is a native speaker of Bengali but his degree is in
Economics and he trained as a primary generalist.
With the support of Tower Hamlets Local
Authority and resources such as the Training
Zone on the Primary Languages website and the
Tower Hamlets Scheme of Work for Bengali, he has been
developing his understanding of language teaching methodology.
He first started to teach an after-school
Bengali class, which enabled him to develop and practise skills, as
well as produce some teaching materials. He no longer works as a
class teacher and has taken on responsibility for teaching Bengali
across the school.
He is developing work with Years 1 and 2 and
teaches a lesson of 45-60 minutes with each class in Years 3-6.
In the Bengali lessons, Rakib adapts his
teaching to the needs of children from other language backgrounds
and these children are learning Bengali very successfully.
The class teacher stays in the classroom to
learn along with the children and, where possible, finds
opportunities within the school week to practise elements of
language in small ways.
Through the bilingual learning research
project mentioned below, class teachers are bringing all the
languages of their children into cross-curricular work, such as
that on International
Primary Curriculum topics.
The schemes of work that Rakib is developing
for use with Smithy Street children link in well with the KS2 Framework for languages which will be
referenced throughout. In Years 3 and 4 he is focusing particularly
on developing speaking and listening skills, but literacy skills
are also being developed.
He is using a Romanised form of Bengali,
whilst also familiarising children with the Bengali script at word
and phrase level. An additional benefit of using Romanised script
is that non-Bengali speaking class teachers can access materials
and recall sounds. From these words and phrases, children are
building up knowledge of the alphabet and how letter shapes change
when linked together in words.
In this second year of the pilot, Rakib’s next
challenge is to develop this strategy further to ensure that
children are taught the Literacy objectives for Years 5 and 6,
aiming to reach National Curriculum Level 4 at the end of Key Stage
2 when using Bengali script. He will also develop teaching of the
intercultural understanding strand and
intends to explore setting up international
On the whole Rakib has had to create his own
resources, using software such as MS PowerPoint. It is possible to
type in a non-Roman script in
English environment Word and PowerPoint by making simple
adjustments to operating system settings.
Rakib has taken traditional stories familiar
in English, for example, and created illustrated slides to tell the
story, displaying both Romanised and Bengali script, as well as
inserting audio files. He has created similar resources around
songs, taught with gestures to reflect meaning, which teachers can
practise easily on their own with their class.
There are some bilingual books and some web
resources available for Bengali, such as on the Around the
world section of the BBC CBeebies website, but these are
limited. Tower Hamlets LA is looking at ways in which it can help
develop a bank of resources, for Rakib and other local teachers to
contribute to and use.
There are opportunities for children to
continue their learning of Bengali into secondary school. All Tower
Hamlets secondary schools offer Bengali GCSE, with some offering
early GCSE entry in Key Stage 3, often in collaboration with local
supplementary schools and with the support of the LA.
Children also get the opportunity to start a
second foreign language, such as French, German or Spanish. Rakib
is currently developing language profiling for Years 3-6, both to
track learner progress and provide information to secondary
schools. Tower Hamlets LA has well-developed materials for first
language assessment which Rakib is able to adapt and the Languages
Ladder provides a basis for informal assessment also. He is also
exploring the possibility of external assessment through
Asset Languages, which is
likely to be popular with parents.
Smithy Street is not working in isolation on
this initiative. Innovative work began at the start of the school
year with Goldsmiths, University of London, on
the latest phase of the
Bilingual Learning Research Project. This involves a number of
class teachers at both Smithy Street and Hermitage primary schools
working closely with local supplementary schools and parents and
grandparents to develop bilingual learning in both settings.
Many children attend after-school Bengali
classes and the project is exploring the opportunities for
designing lesson content to complement what is happening during
curriculum time. After-school classes are provided for other
languages spoken by children in the school, as mentioned