Taking advantage of ERO’s regular cycle of reviews, the evaluation investigated how a group of early learning services (74) and schools (38) in Auckland responded to increasing cultural and linguistic diversity in their learning community.
Most of the services and schools knew who their learners were, and to some extent, had taken steps to respond to the learners’ language and culture. These services and schools had:
ERO found that only 37 percent of services and 58 percent of schools (see Figure 10) intentionally promoted learning by using a home language or cultural lens to support the learner’s acquisition of the English language, and to promote engagement with the learner, their parents, whānau and communities.
Figure 10: School are more responsive to cultural and linguistic diversity than early learning services
Nearly two‑thirds of responsive early learning services had mixed groups of learners from Asian, Māori, Pacific, Pākehā and other cultural backgrounds. The majority of the learners spoke one or more languages other than English. One‑third of these services were located in low socio‑economic communities and had extremely diverse groups of learners; there was no majority of learners from any one ethnic group.
ERO found strategically appointed staff who spoke more than one language in the responsive services. Even though some teachers did not speak the learners’ home languages, they were bilingual and understood the challenges of learning the English language. Each learner’s home language was valued and acknowledged through the use of language resources, cultural celebrations, and sharing of stories and food. The teachers were committed to learning about each other’s languages and cultures.
Teachers believed it was important to maintain the learners’ home languages, as it nurtured each learner’s identity and helped them develop a sense of belonging. They created a learning environment that reflected the learners’ home languages. Cultural displays and resources in the learners’ home languages were evident. Parents and adults from the learners’ community participated in centre activities. Teachers designed a curriculum that was connected to the learners’ interests and strengths, and supported the rich and sustained use of the learners’ home languages.
Teachers prioritised building strong relationships with parents and whānau. They recognised this as key to understanding the learners’ cultural and family backgrounds. Parents were comfortable to share their aspirations for their children and encouraged to continue to speak in their home language with their children. Some teachers supported parents in discussions with other external agencies. Teachers shared their understanding about expectations for the children’s learning, reflected regularly about their practice, and accessed relevant PLD and resources to support their teaching practice.
Just over half of the responsive schools were primary and intermediate schools. Of these schools (12), three had a majority of learners from one ethnic group. The other nine primary and intermediate schools, and almost all of the responsive secondary schools, had great diversity of ethnicity and home languages. Nearly three‑quarters of all responsive schools were in low socio‑economic areas with a diverse range of learners enrolled. Many schools had reported increased numbers of migrant and refugee learners enrolling over the years.
Leaders of the responsive schools understood the changing demographics of their school community and reviewed the curriculum in response to learners’ strengths, interests, and learning priorities. They had good relationships with agencies and networks who could support CLD learners, their parents and whānau to settle into the community. These schools valued each learner’s language, culture and identity by celebrating cultural events and providing some learning opportunities in their home languages. These schools encouraged learners’ use of digital technology and apps like Google Translate to support them to learn English and communicate with their teachers, peers, and parents.
Schools had rigorous enrolment processes and multiple sources of information to get to know CLD learners, established processes for identifying their interests, strengths and learning priorities, and in some cases developed individual learning programmes.
Teachers recognised learning through a home language as a way to promote engagement, achievement, and collaboration with parents and whānau. Some schools offered opportunities to learn a foreign language. In these schools, the languages reflected the learners’ cultural backgrounds, while in others these were determined by popular demand. Other schools offered compulsory strands of learning another language in their junior secondary curriculum, with options for senior learners to take it as part of their NCEA pathway.
Leaders and teachers in responsive schools valued the TESSOL qualification; it helped them to implement teaching strategies that supported CLD learners. Boards and leaders expected ESOL teachers to have, or supported them to attain, an appropriate qualification such as TESSOL; they also employed bilingual staff such as teacher aides.
Most schools used the common approach of withdrawing learners for ESOL class, and provided extra support for those learners who needed it. However, there was growing recognition for teachers to provide more in-class support to these learners. Teachers used relevant tools and resources such as English Language Learning Progressions and other specific PLD to support their assessment of CLD learners. A few schools delayed their assessment of learning the English language to allow teachers to get to know the learners better, and for the learners to settle and feel comfortable in school. These learners knew what they were working on and were confident to ask questions or seek clarification.
Some school leaders were aware of CLD learners who had received the maximum ESOL funding but still needed support for their learning. These schools continued to provide ESOL support, from their operational budget, for these learners. Other schools found the older CLD learners took longer (more than five years) to show positive shifts both in academic progress and English language acquisition. These findings aligns with research that, depending on their age, English language learners’ can take between 5-10 years to learn the language before they are considered competent (Harvey 2007; Cummins, 2000). The current ESOL funding period of five years for immigrant CLD learners or three years for New Zealand-born CLD learners can affect the level of support schools can provide to these learners.
Home‑school partnerships were a priority and parent workshops such as Reading Together and parent fono/hui were regularly organised. Some of these workshops were conducted in the families’ home languages. Important school information was provided in multiple languages. Teachers had a collective understanding about expected outcomes for CLD learners, and shared information about individual learner’s progress with each other and parents.
Leaders and teachers in less responsive services and schools generally had good relationships with CLD learners and their parents, who were the key source of information about the learners. Services and schools valued the learners’ home languages by celebrating cultural events, and parents joined in some activities.
However, the curriculum in these services and schools was less responsive to changing demographics, learners’ interests and strengths, or learning priorities. Learners were expected to fit into the existing system. Cultural and linguistic diversity were more likely to be seen as challenges rather than opportunities for learning. Research (Alton-Lee, 2003) shows that recognising, valuing and using learners’ diverse languages significantly improves their academic performance, including English, and contributes to the learning of their English-speaking peers.
The lack of educational leadership and deliberate planning resulted in poor pedagogical practices with low quality interactions between the learners, teachers and parents, and teachers not reflecting on their practice or developing a culture of critical enquiry. Teachers in these services and schools were aware of the CLD learners’ priorities, but did not have a shared understanding of expected outcomes. They had not developed a clear and collective understanding about how to plan, promote and celebrate the learners’ home languages and cultures, as well as ESOL, in the curriculum. These challenges were compounded by the teachers’ general lack of awareness or access to language specific resources and/or PLD.
Teaching practice in the less responsive schools was variable and based on teachers’ individual skills and capability. Bilingual teachers or those from the learner’s culture were more aware of how to make conversations meaningful and run parallel to concepts or ideas they were teaching. Apart from ESOL teachers, most teachers were generally unaware of available ESOL resources and had no specific PLD for teaching culturally and linguistically diverse learners.
Many school teachers worked on a regular withdrawal programme for CLD learners, and in some schools, older learners were encouraged to identify learning gaps for these learners. However, the lack of monitoring and reporting on CLD learners’ progress had an impact on teaching strategies, planning, and assessing for improvements. Expectations for learner success were insufficiently planned or articulated. Teachers did not always plan transitions for CLD learners and make sure there was a contact person known to the learner, their parents and whānau.
There was limited engagement with the parents and whānau about how to support the learner at home. In some schools, meetings with the learner and their parents were restricted to report evenings and/or for behavioural matters.