The Yehudi Menuhin School attracts pupils from all over the world, many of whom do not speak English as their first or even second language. Although the multicultural and multilingual background of both pupils and staff is perceived very much as an asset which contributes to the school’s lively international atmosphere, it is essential for all pupils to be able to speak English. Within the school it is necessary to communicate with fellow pupils and staff and to cope with academic work. For the world outside, our students are aware of the importance of English as an international language and as a key to wider educational opportunities.
Since the majority of pupils have already learned at least some English at school in their own countries, they are familiar with the concept of English as a Foreign Language. Therefore, within the school, the broader term EFL is used rather than EAL (English as an Additional Language), which is currently used in English state schools, or ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages), which is used in post-16 education and examinations. The EFL Department has strong links with both the Modern Foreign Languages team as well as the English Department.
New pupils usually attend two EFL lessons a week to accelerate their progress and to give them the confidence to use what English they already have. Throughout the school all the staff are very aware of their pupils' needs and use their own subjects as vehicles for teaching English – support that is much appreciated! The other children also play an important part. Many of them have been in a similar position themselves and are willing to take the time to help and encourage those whose English is still weak.
A number of older pupils already fluent in English choose to take one of the Cambridge EFL Examinations alongside their AS or A Level options. These examinations are internationally recognised: a good pass at Cambridge First Certificate Level meets the UK Border Agency’s entry requirement of B2 in the Common European Framework and the Certificate of Advanced English provides 70 points towards a UCAS application.
At all levels classes are conducted entirely in English. Occasionally lessons are one to one but more often in pairs or small groups, with all classes providing ample opportunity to meet individual needs. A variety of specialist textbooks are used and, as well as the main skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing, there is a strong focus on grammar and vocabulary. Classes are mainly oral with pairs and small groups encouraged to co-operate with each other in drills and discussion activities. This provides an element of unpredictability enjoyed by both pupils and staff alike! Written work is usually set for homework. Because not everyone within the school does EFL, pupils have to take some responsibility for organising their own learning. This includes finding time to do their homework and to check new vocabulary.
All pupils are generally very happy to go along with this policy, contributing to the enthusiastic forward-looking nature of the Department.