In Sheffield, educational achievement for black and minority ethnic (BME) children is well below the national BME average. The Foundation funded a project that enables bilingual children to gain accreditation when learning their mother tongue, providing opportunities for having their achievements recognised for the first time.
"Less than a quarter of our bilingual children sit a formal examination in their home language," says Caroline Norman at Languages Sheffield, part of a consortium that has set up the Home Language Accreditation Project (HoLA). "Gaining a GCSE in their own language has a knock-on effect on achievement across all subjects and can significantly improve a mainstream school's exam results."
A 12-month pilot, completed in September 2011, followed over 150 pupils from five community language schools - Chinese, Korean, Russian, Arabic and Mandarin - and matched up their learning experiences with the education database that documents their mainstream achievements. Certificates were sent to their mainstream schools, some of whom had no idea of the extra-curricular learning.
"One primary school was astounded that three of their less academic pupils had clocked up over 100 hours of Arabic through regular attendance at a Saturday school," says Caroline. "It changes perceptions amongst teachers and raises self-esteem when the certificates are presented during school assemblies."
Although taught to GCSE standard, few community language schools have the resources to enter their students into examinations. HoLA is now supporting mainstream schools to enter these candidates as part of their regular exam season, although the subject has not been part of their own curriculum. "We can organise a trained, native-speaking examiner for the speaking part of the test, and coordinate students coming together at one venue to sit the examination," says Caroline.
PHF's support is paying for a project manager and support workers to organise what should become a sustainable initiative. Part of the project is to train the community language school tutors so they can be more employable by the mainstream schools as classroom assistants or learning mentors, further strengthening connections between the sectors.
"While we have the resources we intend to influence national policy," says Caroline. "There should be more qualifications in community languages - a Somali GCSE, for example, would benefit that community hugely - and a national roll-out of our initiative is completely achievable."