What diversifying groups and schools are doing to make overseas children feel welcome

Bignold Primary School staff and pupils celebrating their Ofsted result.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Bignold Primary School staff and pupils celebrating their Ofsted result.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

For those born and bred in Norfolk, there is no denying that the county is one of the friendliest and most welcoming places to live.

But the busy towns and quiet countryside may be a stark comparison for overseas residents who are experiencing our county for the first time, even more so for younger people.

However, as the face of Norfolk diversifies, schools and youth organisations are putting greater emphases on making sure all children and young people feel welcome and at home in Norfolk.

A school which is vastly diverse is Bignold School in Norwich, and has around a quarter of pupils whose first language is not English.

Clare Jones is the former head teacher of Bignold, and is now exective head teacher of the trust which the school is part of, Diversa.

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Mrs Jones said: 'We have 43 different primary languages in our school. When I worked in a previous school in Thetford we only had two, which means we could employ teaching assistants who spoke those languages, as well as English.

'Here we try and do that, but we do have such a vast range. If two children have come to us from the same country, we buddy them up together.'

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Mrs Jones has been a headteacher for 12 years, and a teacher for 27. She continued: 'We try not to look at children as groups, we try to look at them as individuals. Maybe a pupil can't speak English, but they have great skills in their primary language. We try not to measure them only through English skills.

'When we have a new child who starts and may not speak a lot of English, we don't even have to explain it to their class. We'll tell their peers where the new child is from, if we know, but they understand.'

The educator added: 'We do a lot to practically help students. With the younger pupils they throw themselves into activities more, but we give them cards with a happy or sad face on, a card for needing the toilet, so they can tell us.

'With the older pupils we have sessions to teach them basic words and phrases, as well as making sure translating tools like pens and websites are available to them during class.'

She added; 'Being able to see a child who couldn't speak English begin to read and write is lovely, but the most rewarding thing is seeing them banter with their peers. Seeing them communicating with classmates and enjoying using the language.'

One organisation based in Norwich has also always placed experiencing and learning about diversity as a high priority.

Norfolk Youth Projects has been operating for 15 years, and three years ago became a fully fledged charity.

The project organises trips for Norfolk youngsters who may be disadvantaged, to go and visit other European youth groups.

They also welcome other foreign groups of youngsters, many of who return to the UK and regularly become volunteers for the programme, staying in Norfolk for 12 months.

Chief executive John Nooney, said: 'When we have foreign youngsters arrive they're like flowers. They're closed up, they think their English isn't good enough, and they don't make eye contact.

'But soon enough they open up like a flower, they're speaking English as if its their first language, and they've grown in confidence.'

Mr Nooney, 74, who previously worked for Nofolk Youth Services, continued: 'We have a theme for every visit, which is often diversity but is sometimes environment.

'We have two or three days where we sit our Norfolk, and our visiting group down, and we explore diversity through a range of ways. It tends to be exploration through art, drama, and discussion.'

The Hellesdon resident added: 'We do also work with children who live in Norfolk that didn't grow up in this country, and it can be difficult because they're exposed to so many activities like this, it almost becomes a chore for them.

'What's important, and what we tell our youths, is not to treat anyone differently. and give them a good but informal learning programme to get involved in.'

The Young People's EDP Takeover is in association with The Inspiration Trust.

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