There is a great deal that schools in difference countries can learn from each other about the problems and successes that different approaches to integrating ethnically diverse pupils into schools can offer, says headteacher Neil Berry

When the mayor of Landskrona in Sweden asked British officials for examples of highly effective London schools, he was directed by the DfES to Brampton Manor School in Newham. Brampton Manor is a comprehensive with about 1,600 students. Like many inner-London schools Brampton Manor is ethnically diverse, with students from a wide-range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds (53 languages spoken and students from over 70 countries) learning successfully together.

The mayor was interested to find out if any of the London schools’ experience of integrating large numbers of students from different ethnicities could be applied back in the schools in Landskrona.

Recommended resource: Check out our fantastic new book for international schools, International Mindedness: a whole-school development programme (published 2009) Landskrona is a small town in southern Sweden near Malmo which is experiencing rapid immigration into what was, until recently a relatively homogenous native Swedish population. Some schools in the centre of the town have, in recent years, seen the disappearance of indigenous Swedish students who have moved out of the town centre to schools in the suburbs. There have been reports in the local press of poor behaviour in the town centre – schools and pupils at a town centre secondary school staged a one-day strike last year in protest at the behaviour of other students. Last year the mayor and a group of headteachers and education officials from Landskrona visited Brampton Manor to see for themselves how the school is working towards achieving its vision of ‘success through effort and determination.’ They were so impressed with what they saw that they invited myself and two assistant headteachers to speak at an international conference in Landskrona. The theme of the conference was, ‘inclusion in a multi-cultural educational environment.’ Other speakers were from Herbert Hoover School in Berlin, The International School in Stockholm, and Lund University. There were workshops in the afternoon facilitated by the schools present.

A vision of inclusion

Brampton Manor staff spoke of their vision of inclusion in terms of engaging all students as much as possible in the learning process. Janette Price, assistant headteacher, outlined the school’s key teaching and learning strategies. Janette explained the school’s focus on engagement in Learning, and how this involves teachers planning fast-paced lessons with a variety of activities, related as far as possible to students’ experiences and interests. She explained how the school constantly aims to develop students’ quality of learning by developing greater consistency in the use of assessment for learning techniques such as sharing clear, relevant learning objectives and success criteria with students. She also explained how other pedagogical strategies such as peer- and self-assessment are being used explicitly to encourage students to be more independent in their learning. The second major strand in Brampton Manor’s attempts to engage all students in the learning process is the RED (rewards for effort and determination) praise strategy. This strategy derives from work the school has done on how the research of Carol Dweck can be used to raise achievement in schools. Dweck posits that there are two main theories of intelligence: an entity theory whereby people believe that intelligence is fixed and immutable and an incremental theory which holds that ‘intelligence’ or ‘ability’ can be increased through effort and learning. Dweck’s research indicates that achievement is more dependent on effort and resilience than on innate ability and that, as educators we should promote the incremental view among our students and staff in order to build a community where all believe that they can improve and succeed. Teachers at Brampton Manor have been asked to provide students with opportunities to ‘choose challenge’, give learners more difficult tasks and provide them with opportunities to fail. Brampton Manor is aiming to create an ethos for where staff and students are all focused on effort and its positive impact on learning. We teach students explicitly that levels and grades are merely an indicator of current performance and not a measure of their ultimate ability. If we want students to value effort, we need to praise it and make it high profile. Accordingly, Brampton Manor has introduced the RED awards. Students work in lessons for REDits (credit points) which are awarded on the basis of the amount of effort put in. These are registered electronically by teachers and students can see when they log on to the school network how many REDits they have earned and where they stand in relation to their form and year group. Students are responding extremely positively to these recent innovations and the school plans to develop further its work on valuing progress rather than raw achievement.

Different approaches

It was interesting to note the different approaches taken by the schools represented at the conference. Brampton Manor advocated the approach that good teaching, thoughtful lesson preparation and an acute knowledge of students’ learning needs is the best way of ensuring that students derive the maximum benefit from their time in school. Colleagues from Berlin talked about how they had agreed a code of rules with the school council (a body representing teachers, students and parents) which are strictly implemented and have led to improvements in behaviour. One rule which the Berlin school introduced to great controversy in Germany, was a German language-only rule. They introduced this rule because students’ spoken German was not improving as quickly as they thought it should. The staff proposed that German should be the only language spoken inside the school and this was agreed by the school council. However, this was picked up by the local MP and the press and became a matter of hot debate in Germany, with teachers at the school being accused of racism and intolerance. The students and parent body, however, supported the policy and it is still in force in the school. The teachers said that they do not punish the students for speaking their own language, they simply reminded them that they should be speaking German and the students complied. There is some debate in Sweden about whether to ban newcomers from speaking in their own native language as some of the Swedes believe that this will enable students to learn Swedish quicker and assimilate more rapidly. This debate has become polarised with strong views both for and against. The teachers from London talked about the way that they approached language difficulties and how the various systems that they had put in place aimed to maximise the exposure of students to English without having to prevent them speaking in their other tongues. The Londoners were able to demonstrate that their approach had been very effective in terms of raising both standards and attainment and that the inclusion of ethnic minority students and their achievement (EMA) had significantly risen.

Context is all

The big lesson that we all learned from this, whatever country we were teaching in is that context is all and what works for one country may not necessarily work in another. The speaker from Lund University spoke about the need for systemic change. Change always presents a challenge to everyone but encouragingly for the Londoners the English educational system was described favourably in detail. Ofsted, National Curriculum, SATs and performance management for teachers were all viewed as positive instruments of national school improvement. England, of course, was the exemplar nation because of the rapid changes that we have successfully made in the context of a highly mobile international population increase in English schools. In the afternoon, the British and German teachers held workshops. The Swedish teachers and educationalists present were particularly interested in comparing the prescriptive nature of the English system with the much greater flexibility and freedom to choose what to teach and how to teach it afforded to Swedish teachers.

Future collaboration

The second day of the trip consisted of a visit to a local secondary school followed by a joint planning session to draft a bid to the European Union Commenius Project for funding to continue the collaborative work between Berlin, London and Landskrona. It is hoped that if the funding is made available that staff from all three countries can continue the work that has already started. Brampton Manor has provided teaching materials, books and other resources to the Swedes and an email link will soon enable the sharing of schemes of work and other educational material. The visit to the school in Landskrona was a very interesting experience for the English teachers. Unlike most English schools it was very small with only about 350 students with ages ranging from six to 16. The school building was a listed building in the centre of a beautiful 18th-century town with 95% of the students coming from overseas backgrounds. The school and the classrooms were spotless and well-equipped although there was an obvious gap in the amount of IT equipment available for students to use compared to the high-tech classrooms which the London teachers work in. The children came from all over the world. The London staff chatted to students from Somalia, Bosnia, Turkey, Lithuania, Cuba and other countries. All of the students were well behaved and working hard. Many of them could speak a little English and a few of the braver ones asked the British visitors questions about London. The atmosphere in the school was calm and extremely friendly, with students greeting both the visitors and their teachers with great affection. It is customary for Swedish children to speak to the teachers addressing them by the first name and this was the most immediate difference that was encountered. Classes were much smaller than in England, (about 12 to 15) but otherwise a school in Sweden is much like a school in London. This was a state school and the facilities were excellent. Teachers from the state sector, however, are concerned about the recent growth in private-sector schooling. The private sector in Sweden is state funded with exactly the same amount of funding as the state schools. The government funds private schools in order to provide parents with choice and to ensure state schools have to compete for students. Teachers from the state sector fear that the growth in the private sector may be fuelled by native Swedes with drawing their children from state schools with high immigrant populations.

Brampton Manor plans to continue to collaborate with the schools in Berlin and Sweden as part of its work as an officially designated international school.