Dalry Primary publish book on school’s diversity

Headteacher Grant Gillies with just some of the pupils who speak English as a second language. Picture: Greg Macvean
Headteacher Grant Gillies with just some of the pupils who speak English as a second language. Picture: Greg Macvean
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IT IS a school that looks like any other in the Capital – yet one where daily lessons are conducted in dozens of languages from all corners of the globe.

Now children at Dalry Primary – where three-quarters of pupils speak English as a second language – have published a book celebrating their school’s diversity.

They said they had written A Whole New World – which tells the story of Martian wolf boy Beast and his first day at primary school in Edinburgh – to highlight the range of cultures and nationalities at Dalry and welcome next session’s P1s.

With around 60 languages and regional dialects spoken by youngsters from as far afield as Vietnam, Argentina and Sudan, the west Edinburgh primary has rapidly become one of the city’s most multi-ethnic.

Headteacher Grant Gillies said catering for children from countries all over the world had energised teaching and encouraged a focus on lessons that were dynamic and interactive.

Around 40 youngsters – 13.5 per cent of the current roll – require English language support and Mr Gillies admitted rapid growth in levels of ethnic diversity at the school, which mirror city-wide trends, had created unique challenges and opportunities.

He said: “Cultural barriers are a big thing for us, pulling together all of the different elements in the school is something we have to work on all the time, but in the end our diversity enhances the school’s ethos.

“We promote children working together and that develops understanding and respect. If we give these kids anything, it’s to celebrate who they are.

“Children will always spot differences – for us at Dalry, it’s about turning that into a positive.”

Mr Gillies said supporting children who needed help learning English as an additional language (EAL) was a big focus for staff, particularly as the number of pupils from countries across the world 
continues to rise.

But he praised investment provided by city education bosses to boost the school’s EAL provision, with specialist bilingual learning assistants available in languages ranging from Hindi and Polish to Arabic and Mandarin.

And far from undermining overall educational outcomes, he said learning and attainment were boosted by the school’s linguistic diversity and the measures put in place to accommodate it. “Yes, you could always use more learning assistants,” he said. “But we are really well covered by EAL support. The school is a harmonious place to be and we all work really hard to keep it that way. If anything, the challenges have helped us – they have become opportunities.

“The school has really developed organically. The lessons have become genuinely interactive because they have to be – it’s as a result of the specific numbers that we have here at Dalry.”

Pupils whose families have only recently arrived in Edinburgh said learning a new language and keeping up with lessons at the same time was a big challenge. But they said they had made good progress at Dalry thanks to “welcoming” staff and fellow pupils, who have helped them settle in.

Merghani Bilal, 11, from Khartoum in Sudan, who receives help with English from a learning assistant, said his mother and siblings had come to Edinburgh last year after his father, a mechanic, arrived in 2010 to take up a new job.

“It’s good learning another language here but sometimes it’s hard,” he said. “Sometimes if I ask a question and I do not understand the answer, I have to ask one of my classmates for help. But I have learned a lot and I have lots of friends at school. The best thing is making friends – and jokes.”

City education bosses hailed the pupils’ new book and said it was testament to Edinburgh’s status as a caring, cosmopolitan melting pot.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “I’ve read the book and was impressed with how the children have come up with the different storylines and illustrations.

“It’s a great idea and just shows that Dalry Primary School really does live up to it’s school motto of ‘Many Clans, One Family’. The fact that Dalry so many pupils from the four corners of the globe is a perfect illustration of how Edinburgh as a capital city welcomes people from all over the world.

“We pride ourselves on our cultural diversity and nowhere is that better demonstrated than in our schools.”