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Language is one of the major barriers to integration for migrant families, as has recently been reported in the Casey Review. The number of pupils who are non-native speakers has been increasing over the past few years, with 19% of children in primary schools not speaking English as their first language. Our experience supporting parents who speak minority languages in schools has shown that comprehending the value and potential of bilingualism within education is a vital ingredient to the success of future generations.

International Mother Language Day aims to raise awareness of the benefits of multicultural and multilingual education. With this in mind, I am going to share our top five tips for how schools can engage minority language parents.

  1. Actively promote a supportive, non-judgemental culture at your school.
    Staff who demonstrate this are more likely to build trust with parents. An open and respectful dialogue between parents and teachers minimises misunderstandings and helps shy or nervous parents feel accepted.
  2. Have a rolling calendar of low-intensity, drop-in events such as coffee mornings, arts and crafts or parent-assemblies.
    This will reassure your parents that they play an important part in school life.
  3. Offer activities targeted to specific groups of parents.
    This can give them a chance to make friends, enhance parenting skills and discover their own aspirations. Targeted activities may include cultural-specific coffee mornings, English for Speakers of Other Languages courses, and workshops for understanding the British education system.
  4. Provide parental information in range of formats.
    Don’t assume that parents are all able to read the letters you send or that they understand what is written in school reports. Providing information in a variety of formats such as display screens, newsletters, texts, coffee mornings, websites with translation options, welcome signs in community languages and staff photos can be very helpful.
  5. Run a parent volunteer scheme that benefits both the school and parents.
    This gives parents an opportunity to support the school with a wide variety of activities while developing parental skills and confidence. It also helps to encourage participation among other, shyer parents.
Jim Cotterrell