An Explanation of Our Unique Bilingual Stream at BWA
Background & Partnership
Relationship with École de Wix: Our Bilingual Stream opened its first Reception class in 2006 - the first in London. It was created and established with our French sister school, École de Wix, which is also based on our site (École de Wix is one of the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle's primary schools). We work together with our French colleagues to ensure that pupils in our shared bilingual stream learn, and learn through, both English and French.
Language acquisition approach: We use a 2-way immersion approach to language acquisition and learning, whereby pupils learn for half of their school time in English and half of their school time in French. We operate a two-week cycle – Week A and Week B. Over the two-week cycle, pupils in this stream will have had one English focus week and one French focus week. The learning in English is provided by teachers from our school (BWA); the learning in French, by teachers from École de Wix.
Linked learning: Each class in the bilingual stream will have two teachers - a French teacher and an English teacher. Both teachers work closely together to ensure that what is taught in one language is complemented in the other, wherever possible. In this way, pupils are guided through language and learning links, whilst avoiding repetition of the same content in both languages, except where necessary.
Monitoring and strategic overview: All aspects of pupils' provision are monitored and agreed by the BWA Headteacher and École de Wix Directeur, who meet weekly. Representatives of the BWA leadership team and senior educators at École de Wix also meet formally twice a year with Q1E's CEO, the Proviseur at the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle and educational representatives from the French Embassy to ensure that both partners monitor and agree all aspects of the provision.
Biculturalism – primary and beyond: Our provision is bicultural as well as bilingual. We do not seek to merge our two cultural or pedagogical approaches, but rather to respect and understand them; one is not more important than the other. One of our aims is that pupils in our Bilingual Stream are familiar and comfortable to move to English or French secondary provision (see Section 7 below for Secondary school options).
Entry and Admissions
Pupil numbers, pupil support: There are 28 pupils in each bilingual class; 14 BWA-registered pupils and 14 Lycée-registered pupils. Irrespective of registration, pupils' provision and support in class is identical - where, for example, BWA-registered pupils may need additional French language support, this is provided by École de Wix, just as in-class support required by Lycée-registered pupils in English is provided by BWA. Educational support only becomes the sole domain of a pupil's school of registration if his or her needs require specific, out-of-school support, for example, from a speech therapist or an educational psychologist. This is due to the schools' funding routes, but even in this scenario, the practical impact is that both the pupil's teachers will know and incorporate the advice provided by any external expert into their provision.
Admission routes: BWA and École de Wix/the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle have their own, discrete admissions policies and criteria and, with the exception of language assessments for in-year admissions (below) we respect one another's autonomy in this respect.
Class age range: One consequence of our different admissions criteria is that our classes cover an age range of 16 months, not 12 months, as in typical maintained school class. This is because admissions in England follow the academic year - i.e., all pupils who turn 5 between September and August will be in the same Reception Class. The French approach is that pupils join their equivalent of Reception Class if they turn 5 in the same calendar year - i.e., between January and December.
Where and why language assessments are required: For pupils entering the bilingual stream in-year (that is, they start after the September of Reception class) both schools require a language assessment for pupils looking to join the Bilingual Stream from Year 2 to Year 6. This is because our intense language acquisition support is heavily focused on in Reception and Year 1, in order to ensure pupils receive the maximum benefit of learning through both languages as they progress through the stream. We have agreed minimum, baseline language assessments per year group with École de Wix and where these indicate that a potential in-year pupil would significantly struggle to access their learning in one of the languages - and thereby half of their school time - our position is that our bilingual offer is unlikely to be in the child's best interests. Where this is the case, a place will be offered to the child in our mainstream class, if a place is available.
Language expectation and family support
No prior language expectation for Reception and Year 1 pupils: There is no expectation that pupils should already be bilingual when they join our Reception Bilingual class (see also Section 2).
Family support: There is, however, an explicit expectation that families of our Bilingual Stream pupils actively and continually engage in promoting and supporting both languages outside school, in order to help their children make the very most of their bilingual language acquisition, and their learning in both languages at school.
Types of out-of-school language development support: For families without both languages at home, language support can be achieved by 'soft' and play-based routine social experiences, such as play dates with families who use the other language, listening to language-appropriate songs and stories together and watching children's programmes and films in both languages. There are also after-school clubs in both languages which families are actively encouraged to use. For support with homework and more structured experiences, families within the class are well-placed and familiar with supporting one another.
The Bilingual Curriculum and provision
Bilingual curriculum coverage: Our bilingual curriculum has been designed in conjunction with École de Wix, to ensure that all national curriculum objectives, on the part of both the British and French governments, are covered by the end of the relevant key stage.
We have planned, agreed, and shared programmes of subject coverage for Maths, History, Geography, Science and PSHCE. Reading, writing and comprehension in French and English are taught discretely, but co-teachers ensure that they reference what has been learned in the other language, where this is to the benefit of pupils' developing knowledge and skills in both. Specific examples are in grammar, shared vocabulary and etymology, and understanding similarities and differences in syntax.
RE and wider curriculum subjects are also taught separately, whilst the schools keep one another informed of what is being covered, in order to make the most of cross-curricula links, to avoid repetition for the pupils and ensure the National Curriculum expectations are met.
Differing national age-related expectations: As age-related expectations of attainment have been raised in recent years under the English National Curriculum for young children, academically they have been softened under the French National Curriculum for 'maternelle' (equivalent to our Reception and Year 1 bilingual classes). Whilst pupils are taught in English to read using phonics and to write from Early Years, this is not the case in the French National Curriculum. The French pedagogical approach is that more time is explicitly spent in these first years of schooling preparing pupils for their formal learning. This is achieved by focusing on oracy, developing pupils’ learning attitudes and behaviours, socialisation, and providing structured learning opportunities using manipulatives and via play. These approaches all explicitly feed into developing a strong base of oral language acquisition.
How we cater for differing national expectations: BWA and École de Wix adhere to their national requirements. Therefore, pupils learn to read and write in English first (from Reception) and only start to read and write formally in French typically in Year 2. Our experience would indicate that staggering the teaching of reading and writing works to the benefit of the vast majority of our bilingual pupils and, anecdotally, our French colleagues report that pupils learn to read and write in French very quickly when they start, as they are already familiar with the concepts and key skills required, due to their English teaching. French and English national attainment expectations begin to align more consistently by the time pupils enter Key Stage 2 (Years 3 to 6).
Pupil assessments: Both schools continually assess the pupils’ progress and attainment in order to ensure that pupils achieve and succeed to the best of their abilities. However, all pupils are also prepared for, and sit, all national tests, whether formally or informally, under both systems. This is part of our bicultural approach, where all pupils are exposed to all English and French learning experiences and expectations.
Practicalities and Differences between the streams – FAQs
- Week-to-week rotating teaching: Since the Covid Lockdown period, our bilingual classes are run on a one-language-a-week rota across the academic year. That is to say, a class will learn in English with BWA for one week, and then in French with an École de Wix teacher the next.
- Whole-school activities: The approach in the Bilingual Stream is that all bilingual classes will be invited to whole-school activities by either school, but where it is during a week when the class is learning with the other school, they will be invited but there is no expectation that they attend.
- Specialist provision: in subjects where our pupils are taught by English specialist teachers, for example, in PE, Music, Computing and Art, bilingual pupils will be taught by them during their English focus week. However, pupils also receive lessons in these subjects in their French learning time and so do not miss out on the amount of time spent on learning these subjects.
- Formal reporting arrangements: On agreement with École de Wix, parents meet with both their child's class teachers twice during a school year and receive two written reports, with one exception. In Reception Bilingual parents meet their child's teachers three times in the year, but only receive one end of year written report.
- Contacting the school: If parents wish to contact their child's English class teacher, this is via the BWA School Office. However, if parents wish to contact their child's French teacher, this can be directly by email to the French teacher.
- Safeguarding, SEND, medical needs, allergies and GDPR considerations for pupils in the Stream: The safeguarding and safety of all our pupils is everyone's responsibility and of paramount importance. Accordingly, parents of pupils in the Stream consent to the sharing of all such information, in order to ensure that all necessary school staff are aware of all such information at the appropriate level.
- Biculturalism: We pride ourselves on our bicultural as well as bilingual provision. From time to time the consequence of the Stream's biculturalism is that the schools have different approaches or positions on the same issue. As far as possible where this occurs both schools will endeavour to explain this to families in advance. For example, on French weeks, pupils will take their exercise books home for homework purposes, whereas exercise books are not sent home on English weeks – parents are reminded of this at the beginning of each school year.
Not for all
For the vast majority of pupils, our 2-way immersion teaching approach is successful. However, there are some children for whom learning bilingually via our intense two-way immersion offer is unnecessarily challenging or stressful. Ensuring that all pupils thrive and are able to make the very most of their learning time is paramount for us, as it will be for families. Therefore where, notwithstanding targeted support and interventions having been put in place over time, a pupil is consistently struggling to make good progress in the Bilingual Stream, we will advise that he or she joins our mainstream class. We strive to ensure that we work closely with the family to ensure that a pupil's provision is in their very best interests in this scenario, but the ultimate decision is pedagogical and rests with the Headteacher.
Progress, outcomes and secondary school
Progress and attainment comparisons with mainstream learning: Generalisations can be misleading, but with that caveat, a 'typical' learning trajectory in the Bilingual Stream is that pupils do not make progress in English at quite the pace of the mainstream peers for the first 2-3 years of their schooling. This is due to the explicit approach of only learning in English for 50% of their school time, whilst also learning in French. However, once pupils are comfortable to learn through their second language, rather than focusing on acquiring the language itself, they typically catch up with their mainstream peers in formal language assessments. By the time pupils complete the Key Stage 2 assessments at the end of Year 6, year on year the vast majority meet - and frequently exceed -national averages in Reading Comprehension, Writing, Maths and Science, as well as being comfortable and familiar in learning through French.
English secondary school options: We are a feeder school for Bolingbroke Academy and many of our bilingual pupils move there for Year 7. Some also move into the English private school system. For those pupils who move on to English secondary education, we understand that most take French GCSE several years earlier than their peers.
French secondary school options: A significant option available to our bilingual pupils is moving into the French secondary system, typically at the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle in South Kensington. Here, they can either follow a predominantly French-based 'stream', or one which teaches through French and English (although not on the same 50:50 basis as at BWA). We are extremely proud that, year on year, the vast majority of our pupils, who apply to move up to the Lycée for their secondary education, secure a place, as a result of their bilingual learning with us.
If you have any further questions, please call the School Office and ask to speak to Rebecca Osuntokun, our Bilingual Consultant.