I’ve seen comments on a news piece this evening; a news piece about our Primary Schools being oversubscribed. It is your normal racist codswallop that makes me seethe and I thought I would share why.
My school is over 50% EAL. My year 7 class is typical of our school, it’s like a mini United Nations. I have White British, Pakistani Heritage, Slovak, Lithuanian, Roma, Afghani, Russian, Indian, Polish, Irish and probably more, if I sat down and checked. We are a big melting pot of random loveliness.
Of course, this brings it’s issues, but it also brings something that I think is far more important, and this is why.
This week I had a new student arrive. Quite often they arrive fairly suddenly; as soon as a place is available, it is filled and as this was the week straight after the holidays, a place had obviously opened up in year 7 in the holiday. So, in she walked. In all the chaos that is year 7, I had time to smile, say hello and give her an exercise book. I looked round for a place for her to sit, one of my very quiet Slovak girls looked at me and said, ‘Miss, she sit with me’. Great, I thought, she must be Slovak too, lovely, she can look after her until I get to do a bit of background research and see where we are. The two got along brilliantly all lesson. I noticed the Slovak student pointing out words, helping her with how to set out her work and pointing out pictures of Shakespeare.
The next day, ashamedly, I hadn’t got round to finding out a bit about her. Quite often it does take a while for information on New Arrivals to get to us, particularly with refugees, as there is little to hand and often nothing from previous schools and let’s be honest, sometimes it is the first school they have attended. We were doing a lesson of silent reading, and as we do the Accelerated Reader programme, I thought the best thing would be for her to do the reading test, so I had an idea of how good her reading English was.
Immediately again, the Slovak student said that she would show her where to go for the test, she would introduce her to the HLTA who runs the tests and she would stay with her and then help her choose a book when she knew what level she needed.
They came back about halfway through the lesson, books in hand and sat and read together for the rest of the lesson. At home time, I called the Slovak student over and thanked her for being so kind and welcoming. Working on my assumption, I said ‘does she speak Slovak like you?’
‘No Miss!’ she laughed. ‘She is Greek!’
‘Wow!’ I said, annoyed with myself for making an assumption, ‘how are you managing to talk to each other?’
‘Miss,’ she replied. ‘We always find a way, like you find a way.’
That is why I cannot bear comments like I have seen today. A beautiful 11 year old girl remembered what it was like to be new, to feel afraid in a new country. She showed what humanity should be – caring for others, making them feel comfortable, cared about and supported and in return I have no doubt that she has made a friend who would always do the same for her.
I have seen children with faces damaged by shrapnel from Afghanistan. I have seen refugees with nothing, shocked at the fact that a school has carpet. I have seen hundreds of children whose parents just want to give them a better life. We are lucky in this country. Sometimes we might not feel it, but we bloody well are and I will defend forever, the right for those children to be here, to share what we have. Because that is what humanity should be.