School windows in London, photo Soile Pietikainen
School windows in London, photo Soile Pietikainen

From early literacy to exams

Comprehensive service to manage learning for community languages in mainstream settings

It is hard to find a school in London that would not have children from minority language backgrounds. While awareness of the importance of minority language literacy has increased considerably, the service provision to meet that need has changed very little.

At the moment individual schools rarely have the specialised skills to manage linguistic diversity. Many schools do not have any staff member with training in bilingualism, bilingual education or biliteracy.

Yet the linguistic skills of London's children and their tolerance of diversity are probably their most extraordinary human resource. With a population like ours everyone should have easy access to a real contact with multiple languages.

The most common response to high levels of linguistic diversity is currently to focus on fast acquisition of English at the expense of children's other languages. 

Bilingual Potential provides outsourced support to approach lingusitic diversity as a positive educational resource. We acn provide support for families and can build capacity for teachers to become confident in using linguistic diversity as a positive resource in their work. 

It takes time to build capacity, but positive impact can be achieved in short time through small initial steps. It is about getting started. 


Accepting every child as the whole child in school is very important. Schools can support children's appreciation of their language skills even when the there are no staff members who share the child's language.

Lack of biliteracy support has real consequences for children. Too often children stop speaking the language of their parents during primary education. Too often bilingual children do not learn to read and write the language of their own family. 

Learning to read and write in the community language is immensely important to bilingual children. Supporting biliteracy helps literacy development in general and helps the child learn English too. Biliteracy is essential for a child to continue developing age-appropriate community language. Without literacy a language starts to fade away because it cannot anymore satisfy communication needs.


In secondary schools some languages benefit from the support of examinations like GCSE and A-levels. However very few languages have this priviledge. Exam preparation must be supported and managed as a coherent process that begins straight away in year 7.

In many schools educational practice regarding community language qualifications is based on false assumptions about bilingualism.  This leads to lower marks than would be possible for the pupils. Bilingual Potential offers a service to manage the community language GCSE process in languages in which the school does not provide teaching. 

However, all languages can be supported in secondary education and turned into a positive educational resource that adds value to learning. Bilingual children need their languages now. Why would they not need them when they grow up?

Any language can open the door to a professional future. The language of our family gives us access to history, culture and identity. It would be strange indeed, if we did not want to foster the very skills that help young people make sense of their roots and prepare them for employment in an interconnected world. 

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