Bilingual education – a possibility? 

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S is approaching school age, turning five this September. I know the majority language will get a substantial boost when he starts reception (first year of primary school) and it is likely his Spanish will take a back seat as he begins to learn to read and write, and make friends in English.

He currently attends preschool three days a week, and we’ve been lucky that he’s had at least one Spanish-speaking teacher since he was 2.  We’ve also been fortunate to have/have had range of Spanish-speakers for him to interact with including: friends, family, babysitters, Airbnb guests and lodgers. To date we’ve successfully managed to keep his Spanish at a similar level to his English and so far we’ve never had a negative reactions to speaking Spanish at home.

Bilingual education isn’t common in the UK. In Bristol several communities have set up Saturday schools and after school clubs to provide extra minority language input for school age kids.  This is definitely an option. However I feel children already have a long, tiring week at school and I really wouldn’t want S to feel like Spanish is a chore and taking him away from other fun activities.  Play is vital throughout the primary years and I feel it’s important not to over-schedule children’s free time. Friends have told me that their children are so tired at the end of the school day.  Ideally weekends would be free for seeing friends and family, informal play time and impromptu activities.

Interestingly, Bristol is home to a French school that takes primary school pupils one day a week while they attend a local primary school for the rest of the week. In education jargon this is apparently called ‘dual schooling’. It appeals to me as the minority language is supported during the normal school week and therefore avoids putting pressure on children’s free time.

S is due to start primary school this September. We have made our application to the local education authority with our preferences and will be allocated a school place in April.  After hearing about the Ecole Francais de Bristol and their flexible agreement for language immersion alongside mainstream primary education I was intrigued by this model and began wondering if I can instigate something similar in Spanish for S. I have no desire to open a Spanish school as such. But I am looking into whether some sort of arrangement with a private teacher might extend the possibility of bilingual education to a small number of children including S.

I am planning further research into what is known as ‘flexischooling’, where children are registered at a school but attend part-time. This can be for a host of reasons including special educational needs, illness, and challenging behaviour, and I understand acceptance is at the discretion of the head teacher. Children in reception are also allowed to attend part-time until reaching ‘compulsory school age’ which is the term after they turn five. In S’s case, as he turns five in September, he would normally be required to attend full-time from January 2018. It has been suggested that we start reception four days a week in September, with one day for Spanish. Hopefully when it gets to January we may be able to convince the head teacher to let the arrangement continue.

Watch this space. Bilingual education might be within reach after all.

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