Bristol Metropolitan College is located in Bristol and has a 650+ student population with a strong mix of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The school was granted specialist status as a Language College in January 2005.
The school motto reflects the school’s approach to community language learning:
'The school at the heart of the community, the community at the heart of the school.'
The school is committed to community languages and liaises widely with other primary, secondary and supplementary schools. Its status as a Language College has allowed it to increase the range of languages it offers, invest in improving classroom space for language teaching, purchase new resources and technology and appoint new staff.
The school has 6 language classrooms that are fully equipped with Interactive Whiteboards and has purchased 60 laptops for students to use for independent learning in the classroom. It runs GCSE accreditation in 4 languages, accredits home languages for students from other cultural backgrounds (including students from other schools), provides twilight language lessons, has introduced the Certificate of Business Language Competence (CBLC) at Key Stage 4, runs language lessons in 5 partner primary schools, provides Briarfield - a shared-site school for children with severe disabilities - with ‘taster’ language classes, and has offered adult language classes to the local community.
It has a thriving and innovative Culture and Language Week each July during which a specially designed 5-day timetable allows all subject areas to explore activities relating to different countries, languages and cultures.
The nature of collaboration
The Polish demography in Bristol has changed with the numbers of new immigrants rising dramatically recently, which has led to a demand for Polish teaching as well as a need to support young Polish pupils arriving in the UK.
The Polish Supplementary School has recently opened a second centre that meets locally at the Woodward Centre in Fishponds. The rise in immigration has had a significant effect on the complementary school environment as 1st generation children arrive in the UK, with fluent Polish, fresh from a native Polish environment. These children, now often the majority in the school, have very different expectations of the school and different needs with respect to the language and support they require. As a result, the native British children’s role within the community is weakening. The emphasis within the curriculum is also changing with greater focus on writing skills (important if pupils may one day return to Poland) rather than speaking skills.
Bristol Metropolitan College’s collaboration on the Polish language provision started initially as a result of 2 students at school who were also attending the Saturday Supplementary School and required in-school support. Since then, Polish pupils have become the second fastest growing group at the school, after Somalis.
Bristol Metropolitan College decided to employ a teaching assistant as a Polish Liaison Officer to support Polish pupils in the school and to coordinate outreach work with feeder Primary Schools. The current teaching assistant, Basia Everett, provides a mentoring role within the school, offering support to Polish students adapting to the English school system. Basia works individually with students, offering help with subject content, such as science, and helps with the integration of new pupils during the year.
Not all Polish students attend the complementary school where they receive help on examination preparation. Most children will sit for GCSEs and A-Levels at their maintained school where Basia runs sessions with groups of Polish students in school prior to the examination. She works as an examiner for Polish GCSE and A-levels both for pupils from Bristol Metropolitan College and sometimes for pupils from other schools who come to the school specifically for purposes of examination.
Students and parents are appreciative of the support they receive and are glad to be able to discuss any problems and/or their child’s progress with Basia. She has also translated many letters about the school process and helped to explain the cultural differences in education (e.g. INSET days, the importance of uniform, dinner cards).
Pupils who attend the complementary school will usually take GCSE and A levels at their maintained school with two key advantages. First, pupils may take exams in advance of other subjects (e.g. GCSE in year 10) which provides them with an early sense of achievement and confidence for their other examinations. Secondly, pupils usually achieve good marks, which enhances the school’s overall results and profile.
The opening up of opportunity arising from language ability has led to one of the Polish School’s students to be taken on by the British Council as a result of their language skills.
Full integration of Polish pupils into the local community is difficult to achieve because of the numbers of other local Polish speakers and the availability of Polish goods and services. Polish pupils tend to gather in large groups in school, there are Polish shops selling Polish products, computer services such as Google and satellite channels are available in Polish.
The parents of the children attending the Polish school usually work in jobs with demanding and often unsociable working hours which means little time for promotion of English or to enforce activities which will give the children greater exposure to English life, language and community.
What could have been done differently?
The families of newly arrived pupils need more help with everyday management and understanding of school activities such as ‘in-service’ days, school dinners (as school generally takes place in the morning only in Poland), writing notes for absence, and the like.
Basia sits on Bristol’s Supplementary Schools Forum which brings together all supplementary/complementary schools at least once a term to share ideas and best practice. Although the focus has traditionally been on black, ethnic minorities, Basia stresses the importance of taking the new white European populations into consideration as far as support for schooling is concerned.
She would also like to see greater involvement with the outside community, key local figures engaging more actively, more ‘integration’ visits for children to help them understand British culture (e.g. to Parliament, London, historic sites).
Exploration of other areas of development will take time but Basia would like to be able to offer Polish classes to non-Polish students if there is adequate demand.
They have applied to receive funding from the British Council Comenius to partner a school in Poland and carry out several joint projects across the curriculum. This would include a visit to Poland in the second year and in preparation they intend to teach some of their students Polish. The children will also prepare for the ASSET Breakthrough Listening and Speaking Tests.
About the School
Bristol Metropolitan College (formerly Whitefield Fishponds Community School)
- SCHOOL TYPE
- Snowdon Road, Fishponds, Bristol BS16 2HD
- TELEPHONE NUMBER
- 0117 377 2071
- E-MAIL ADDRESS
- info [at] bristolmet [dot] bristol [dot] sch [dot] uk
- CONTACT PERSON
- Mrs Linda Button, Head of Languages
- Bristol Metropolitan College motto
'The school at the heart of the community, the community at the heart of the school'