A passionate languages teacher who was part of a successful campaign to keep lesser-taught languages as part of the GCSE and A Level offering has spoken about how vital it is for foreign-born students to be able sit them.
Polish-born Marzena Henry, MFL and EAL teacher, has been teaching at The Bicester School for 15 years.
As well as continuously going the extra mile for her languages students, she is also the headteacher of the Polish Saturday School in Oxford.
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Back in 2015, Marzena, along with many other teachers, was dismayed to hear of government plans to drop GCSE and A Level options in lesser-taught languages.
These languages included GCSEs in Dutch, Gujarati, Portuguese, Persian and Turkish; and A Levels in Arabic, Bengali, Dutch, Gujarati, Hebrew, Japanese, Greek, Panjabi, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Urdu and Turkish.
“The government’s reasoning was that these subjects weren’t very popular,” said Mrs Henry, “but this isn’t true. At that time (2014) 4,498 children took a Polish GCSE for example.”
This figure rose to 6,003 entries in 2022.
She added: “I’m very passionate about languages so at this news, myself and other members of the Polish Saturday School in Oxford, as well as the Polish Educational Society in London decided that we’d do everything we can to get in touch. with lots of supplementary schools and write a petition and just make sure that it wouldn’t disappear.”
The petition argued that not only were these language exams still popular, but that the teaching of them wasn’t funded by the public purse.
“I didn’t for one minute think it would win,” said Mrs Henry, “at the start I thought, well, that’s it, there won’t be any more options of offering languages to minority students.
“But wow, I couldn’t believe it, we were actually successful.”
To a school like The Bicester School, which currently has 155 students on its EAL list the importance of this decision can’t be underestimated.
Mrs Henry added: “In terms of children’s self-development and resilience, it’s very important for them to be able to take exams in their own language.
“While some may be able to speak and understand day-to-day English, they don’t necessarily read or write it well especially if they join us late with very little English.
“We’ve recently had students from Afghanistan join us for example. It’s much harder I think for them to learn English than our European students.”
This academic year, in addition to the usual French and Spanish, The Bicester School is offering GCSEs in Arabic, Chinese, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Persian and Russian; and A-levels in Italian and Chinese.
This story was written by Matthew Norman, he joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.
Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from diverse communities.
Get in touch with him by emailing: [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @OxMailMattN1