Dr Jean Conteh & Ms Saiqa Riasat

For the past eight years, we have been running bilingual complementary classes in Bradford and engaging in community-based, multilingual research. Our collaboration began in 2002 at Bradford College when Jean was a tutor in Language and Literature and Saiqa was a final-year student on a B.Ed course, specialising in Language and Literature. For her dissertation, she investigated bilingualism in primary schools in Bradford in classes where large numbers of the pupils were third and fourth generation ‘advanced bilingual learners’ from Pakistani-heritage backgrounds. What she found convinced her that there was a need to develop ‘bilingual approaches’ in mainstream school pedagogy for children whose first languages were not being supported either in home or school. With her fellow NQT, Reefath Rehman, and a small, local network grant, she began a ‘bilingual’ class. Shila Begum, who had recently completed her PGCE with a specialism in Early Years, soon joined them. Jean was asked to be chair of the voluntary organisation they set up, and so the Bilingual Learning and Teaching Association, the BLTA, was formed: http://www.blta.co.uk/index.html

Jean’s experiences in multilingualism began when she worked as a primary teacher and teacher-educator in Sierra Leone in the 1970s and 1980s. She was fascinated by the way her own children, both born there, became multilingual from an early age. On her return to the UK in 1988, she experienced a sort of reverse culture shock when she began work as a Section 11 teacher in a large, multilingual primary school in Bradford and found that the language knowledge and experiences the children brought to school were constructed as problems and ‘barriers’ to learning. In 1991 she moved into teacher education at Bradford College, later moving to York and subsequently to Leeds University. She completed her PhD, part-time, in 2001 while working at Bradford College. It was a longitudinal, ethnographic study of successful bilingual learners at KS2. It strengthened her awareness of the ways in which socio-political issues affect bilingual, ethnic minority children’s chances for success, at all levels of their education. Her work since then has been all about this, from the perspectives of teachers and learners and now from families.

Last year, the BLTA was successful in winning a substantial grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, which will keep the classes going for two years, support the development of the work with parents and allow us to carry out some research.  We are collecting data of individual children and their learning in home, mainstream school and complementary class, including photographs, video and audio recordings and children’s work from both classroom contexts. These are contextualised in interviews with their mainstream teachers and visits to their homes to interview their parents and observe family learning settings. Using a linguistic ethnographic framework we analyse and interpret the findings from both local and global perspectives. This exposes tensions between the two policy and pedagogic goals in primary education in England of promoting ‘diversity’ while striving for ‘inclusion’ for all pupils. The following article describes some of the research we carried out last year:

Conteh, J. (2011) Families, pupils and teachers learning together in a multilingual British city, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2011.638077

These publications all draw on work done in the bilingual classes from 2006 onwards:

Conteh, J. (2010) Making links across complementary and mainstream classrooms for primary children and their teachers. In V. Lytra and P. Martin (eds) Sites of multilingualism, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books, 149-160.

Conteh, J. and Begum, S. (2008) Bilingual teachers as agents of social change: linking the community and the mainstream. In C. Kenner and T. Hickey, (eds) Multilingual Europe: diversity and learning, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books, 104-110.

Conteh, J. (2007) Opening doors to success in multilingual classrooms: bilingualism, codeswitching and the professional identities of ‘ethnic minority’ primary teachers, Language and Education, 21(6), 457-472.

Conteh, J. (2007) Bilingualism in mainstream primary classrooms in England In Z. Hua, P. Seedhouse, L. Wei and V. Cook (eds) Language learning and teaching as social interaction. London: Palgrave Macmillan.