Education-line Home Page

I feel this challenge and I don't have the background

Teaching Bilingual Pupils in Scottish Primary Schools

Geri Smyth

Faculty of Education
Strathclyde University
tel: 0141 950 3744
fax: 0141 950 3151

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research,Edinburgh, 20-23 September 2000


In Scotland classroom discourse is predominantly undertaken through the medium of the English language, with its associated discourse patterns. The discourse of the classroom, as in any other specialist environment, incorporates many linguistic and cultural assumptions. Those children who have not been born into this monolingual, monocultural environment can experience disadvantage when classroom discourse is unfamiliar and not explicitly taught.

Teachers need to beskilled in enabling all pupils to achieve in the classroom. However research (Smyth and McKee, 1997) has shown that newly qualified Scottish teachers do not feel equipped to teach children whose first language is not English. Considerable good practice however has been evolved in relation to the teaching of bilingual pupils in those inner city schools where a large percentage of the children are bilingual. But what of those schools and teachers who have very little experience of working with bilingual children? How do they respond to the needs of children who have not been immersed in English language classroom discourse? What influences such teachers' practice? What do they believe are the needs of the bilingual child being educated in Scotland and what are the implications of these influences and beliefs for teacher educators? Smyth (1998) indicated the ways in which the demography of Scotland has changed over the last two decades resulting in classrooms throughout Scotland having multilingual populations. Smyth (1997, 1999) reported on pilot research conducted in three Scottish schools to begin to address the research questions identified above. The central question of the research as it evolved became:

What are the beliefs about best practice which influence non-specialist mainstream class teachers when teaching bilingual pupils and how have these beliefs been formed?

Analysing the Data

The methodology of this research has been described in the previously cited reports of the pilot work. The theoretical starting point for the analysis of the qualitative data gathered in this research was that teachers are constructors of their own meaning (Ball, 1993; Nias, 1993; Woods, 1996) and they bring to bear on events in the classroom a complex personal framework of beliefs and values which they have developed over their lives, not only in their teaching career, to categorize, characterise, explain and predict the events in their classrooms. As an analyst of these categories and explanations I searched for meaning in what the teachers did in the classrooms, what they said in interview and the significance they gave to their actions by discussing the observations in the interviews.

Interviews helped me to become progressively more aware of the challenges, constraints and influences that the teachers wished to talk about and of the folk theories which informed the teachers' practices. The majority of the teachers were very willing to talk although their focus was often on the bilingual child rather than themselves and I had to carefully steer the discussion back to their own practice and beliefs by asking for examples of behaviour or situations which illustrated the terms they used to describe the bilingual child.

The central focus of the research was neither the classroom itself nor the bilingual learners but the teachers. I am not intending to make claims related to the micro context of the classroom but concerning the influences, challenges and constraints faced by teachers working with bilingual children in the macro context of contemporary Scottish education.

The analysis of this qualitative data involved difficult processes of interpretation. The aim of the analysis is to understand the challenges and constraints of, and the influences on, teaching in multilingual classrooms from the point of view of the non-specialist mainstream teacher. Theory which is grounded in the concepts and theorising of the people it is about is likely to fit and work as the basis for explanation (Strauss & Corbin, 1990: 23).

Major categories which emerged at the early stage of the analysis were concerned with the challenges of cultural difference and gaps in teacher-pupil understanding; the constraints of home links without a shared language and the influences of special needs methodology in the absence of understanding of appropriate methodology for the bilingual child. I was concerned however that I was structuring the data within my own a priori definitions rather than being sensitive to the categories deriving from the concepts of the research participants themselves.

The next step then was to consider each transcript as a whole discourse and analyse these in order to unearth the craft knowledge which informed teachers' responses to bilingual pupils. Brown and McIntyre (1989:5) define 'craft knowledge' as

that part of their professional knowledge which teachers acquire primarily through their practical experience in the classroom rather than their formal training, which guides their day-to-day actions in classroom, which is for the most part not articulated in words and which is brought to bear spontaneously, routinely and sometimes unconsciously on their teaching.

If I could discover the 'craft knowledge' which teachers brought to bear on their responses to bilingual pupils I might, as a teacher educator be able to assist them to become more skilled in their responses. If through my interviews I could elicit what was not usually articulated in words I should be able to analyse the 'routine and unconscious' craft knowledge which informed teachers' practice with bilingual pupils. Although in the micro-context I was working with specific teachers, the macro context of the research was about the education of bilingual pupils in Scotland. I needed to find an analytical method which would not focus on the teachers' lack of experience with bilingual pupils.

Discovery of Gee (1999) aided me in my till then clueless search as to what to do next with a rather uncoordinated set of material which I had hoped would somehow magically provide "a prolific seed-bed for creativity" which Nias (1993:44) had found in her data.

In his discussion of the strengths of qualitative methods in educational research, Hargreaves (1986: 149) argues that by analysing "the complex commonsense knowledge of members of society" we are "provided with a language for speaking about that which is not normally spoken about" and that "teacher skills rest upon this tacit knowledge" to a great extent.

Cultural Models as a tool for Discourse Analysis

As a teacher educator I am interested in unearthing this 'tacit knowledge' and I needed an analytical method which would enable me to do this. Gee (opus cit.: 43) defines cultural models as "everyday people's explanations or theories" which are rooted in the practices of socioculturally defined groups of people. Cultural models are often totally or partly unconscious and help to explain why words and concepts have different situated meanings for different groups of people. My research wants to discover the situated meaning applied to bilingual pupils in Scottish education by monolingual teachers who are teaching in a macro-context of monolingual educational policies and practices. The way to do this is to use cultural models as an analytical tool for the discourses of the interviews. I then searched the discourse of the interviews to unearth the cultural models (Gee, 1999) which served to inform the teachers' beliefs and subsequent practices.

Few of the teachers (see table 1 below) had had any pre-service input on the needs of bilingual pupils and those that had, reported that this had been a mention in the Special Educational Needs course. All the teachers were monolingual English speakers. The entire curriculum in terms of material, delivery, output from the pupils and assessment was monolingual. These facts drove the need for pupils to operate monolingually in English in school and this was neither challenged nor questioned by the teachers.

Table 1: Teachers' experience

The data resulting from the research (interview transcripts, observational field notes and school policy documents) revealed many insights into the educational experiences of bilingual children. The main concern of this research however was to discover what informed teacher responses to bilingual children in their classrooms and so the interview transcripts were the prime site for analysis, with field notes and policy documents being used to show the potential sources and implications of beliefs, thus adding validity to the study through coverage (Gee, 1999). A myriad of ideas can be seen in the data as to teachers' thinking about bilingual pupils. Some of these are common to a number of the teachers and some are individual. In the analysis I was trying to identify the cultural models or 'taken-for-granted assumptions' (Gee, 1999) which teachers have in relation to their bilingual pupils. Cultural models are not necessarily always consistent as they have been formed in a sociocultural context which varies for every individual. While all the teachers in this research share a sociocultural context, there are individual variations. In this paper I shall discuss the Master Model (Gee, 1999) from which the others derive.


This master model helps to shape and organise the teachers' beliefs and leads to a number of related cultural models:

Parents who do not speak English hinder the child's academic progress, by definition, their ability to become monolingual.

The role of schools and literacy events is to promote monolingualism.

There are two types of bilingual learner - those that fit the 'Master Model', i.e. those who can operate monolingually in the dominant language and those that do not.

Those bilingual learners who do not fit the 'Master Model' are problematic and require learning support.

There are overlaps and contradictions in the way teachers express their adherence to these cultural models but there is enough evidence for each to suggest that they are distinct models, derived from the Master Model, which are used to inform teachers' beliefs and practices in relation to the bilingual pupils in their classrooms.


What does this mean?

Within the terms of this paper a bilingual pupil uses two or more languages in their everyday life (Wiles, 1985). The pupils in the research sites used Chinese languages, Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi at home and used English in school. While I used the term bilingual to describe the pupils and explained what I meant by this, it was not a term that was used naturally by the teachers. This was in part due to the fact that each teacher was only teaching one or two bilingual pupils and referred to them most often by name. However it is also due to none of the school policies giving any place to the special nature of bilingualism or the needs of bilingual pupils.

Consideration of the field notes for all twelve classes showed a very high proportion of time at school is spent by the children on individual text-based work. In all the classes, the bulk of the morning is devoted to language and maths work, largely drawn from commercially published schemes of work. In three of the schools the bilingual children in the infant classes are extracted to the Bilingual Support Unit four afternoons a week, so an even higher proportion of their school time is spent on individual text-based work than the rest of the children. As this work is all written in English and requires responses in English this confirms for the teachers that the main need for the children is the English of the curriculum.

None of the six school policies make any mention of children who operate in languages other than English, although two of the schools' policies refer to the teaching of Modern European languages. Two of the schools had posters and/or signs in the communal areas of the school in languages other than English but there were no curriculum materials or classroom resources in any language other than English.

All the teachers interviewed expressed a desire for the children to fit in and not feel isolated but when this aim was analysed in the light of the interviews and the teachers' practices it seems that in order to fit in the onus is on the child to operate monolingually in English. This overarching cultural model has been alluded to in other work related to the education of bilingual children (Biggs and Edwards, 1994) although not explicitly named or explained. This master cultural model is not only held by individual teachers but is embedded in the Scottish education system, which at the time of writing does not consider the needs of bilingual pupils in policy statements.

The Master Model in Action

Very few of the teachers had heard any of the children using their first language. On occasions where the child's first language has been used in the classroom it was referred to in negative terms or responded to in surprise. The term language is frequently substituted for English language and many of the teachers did not consider the fact that the children have another language to be of any positive benefit in the learning situation.

Morag, the Primary 1 class teacher in Nanvale, for example, holds to this model which indicates that the child's bilingualism is the cause of any difficulties (lines 3-4, 13-14, below) rather than the school not responding to the child's bilingualism:

1. M Right, he's a very bright child and copes with all the learning the skills.
    The steps he takes on board have proven he's capable. He has 
3. given me the results I'm looking for. His language I think if he spoke
    only English would be much better,
he'd be much more forthcoming 
5. but I think he's still reluctant to speak until he is absolutely certain 
    because you've seen that when he's confident and he knows what 
7. he's about he's a different child and when he doesn't he just shies
    away and I think that's the language. He doesn't fully understand, 
9. even watching in music today, if he didn't fully understand what was 
    being asked he copies and it's not because he's of poor ability
11.because the poor children tend to do that, it's the language, he didn't
     understand what was being asked of him but once he knows he can
13.cope because he has the ability, he's clever enough to do it, so he's a
     bright child and the language perhaps is hindering him in some way.

Interview, Morag 1, 19.11.98

A number of the teachers referred to the behaviour difficulties exhibited by the bilingual children and there was some recognition that in certain instances these may have been caused by the children's frustrations at not being understood but the teachers did not have any strategies for enabling the children to express themselves in their first language. One teacher resonded to the bilingual child's needs by explaining him to the other children as if he was a foreigner who needed encouragement, although the child was born in Scotland:

K I wonder how much he's taking in, I wonder how much of the language he, I mean I always put it two or three different ways and even occasionally resort to Pidgin English you know just to make it as simple as possible.

Interview, Karen 1 ,23.11.98

Karen can see the benefit of peer support in the class but has not been able to utilise this either to support N's first language or to help himdevelop English. Karen was not the only teacher who admitted to modifying her speech to what might be termed Pidgin English when talking to the bilingual children.

Concern and even fear at not being able to understand the bilingual children usiing the home language were also expressed. The cultural model ultimately being expressed here is that it is the child's responsibility to be understood but this must be done in a way which conforms to school norms, i.e. in English.

Only one teacher interviewed (see table 1) had attended inservice on the needs of bilingual children. She expressed views about children's home language which were grounded in a similar cultural model to the other teachers but her beliefs have been informed by other influences. She recognised that there is some benefit to J.' the bilingual pupil for whom she had responsibility, using Chinese, and she tentatively offered this by questioning her perceptions (line 6 below), but she did not know how to enable him to do so (lines 6-8) as she could not divorce teaching from direct oral response to pupil input:

1 P Just recently I have noticed once or twice him using a bit as if he was 
   the thoughts in Chinese but he didn't do at all. I mean he didn't seem
3 to be thinking. It was almost a blankness for a while. Now I think hei
   is beginning to speak more in English but I have noticed little phrases
5 in Chinese as if you know he doesn't know what the right phrase and 
   he'll just use the Chinese which I am assuming is a good sign? But I
7 can't really do anything about it. You know I mean I can't respond 
   except respond to the bits that I do understand in English, but yes
9 he started just quite recently to use little phrases in Chinese not a lot 
   but occasionally. He has of course his brother but I don't think that
11 they speak the same dialect.

 Interview Pat 1, 3.11.99

For many of the bilingual children school responses to their needs have been to provide remedial support until they can cope with the monolingual curriculum. Within this context teachers have their Master Model confirmed, but other influences distort and change the Master Model. As the Master Model does not benefit the bilingual children, the role of the inservice provider must be to enable teachers to act on the distortions they are beginning to recognise and overcome the apparent contradictions. All the teachers interviewed were very aware of the responsibility of the school to provide for the emotional wellbeing of all the children and this was a recurring theme in their discussion of their teaching. The emotional benefit for the bilingual children of having their first language recognised in the class was occasionally recognised. Nevertheless several of the teachers explicitly viewed progress as being more use of English. In attempting to explain their theories about bilingualism, these teachers, who had very little expereience of working with bilingual children, would draw on their knowledge of bilingual adults. Jenna compared her bilingual pupil J. to her Chinese speaking friend, whose English language acquisition she believes was hindered by not having anyone to speak English to outside the school setting:

1 J My best friend's Chinese and it's Cantonese they speak at home and 
   in the restaurant and her English is dreadful. Her grammar, she talks
3 about 'too many cheese' instead of too much cheese. Her grammar
   is not good at all. They speak it at home and I think she had to go to
5 the Learning Unit as well so I don't know, it can depend on the child
   cos she has cousins as well that are super brains and they were away
7 to university at sixteen. I think it depends on how clever the child is 
   and how quickly they can pick up and also she was the oldest so she
9 didn't have anyone speaking English at all, whereas her younger 
   brother and her younger sister are much more fluent.

Interview Jenna 1, 3.3.99

In line 5 above, Jenna refers to her friend attending the Learning Unit. By this she means the Bilingual Support Unit, which J now attends four mornings a week. Jenna frequently referred to this as Learning Support rather than Language Support, indicating her belief that bilingual children who are not fitting in to the monolingual requirement of the system, require remedial learning support. Jenna's suggestion that ability depends on the child (lines 5 and 7 above) is an indication that the responsibility for success does not lie with the school. This is a common theory derived from the Master Model.

Not all of the teachers shared the view that the home language is of no relevance to the pupil's 'success'. Megan, for example (see table 1) has taught in South Ayrshire authority for eleven years, but previously taught in Glasgow where there are many more bilingual children and her beliefs have been influenced by her experiences there and the Cultural Model she adheres to has been influenced by this particular educational context:

M Because one of his greatest problems is ----- I mean at home there isn't the community of Chinese. That is the biggest problem. He has got no knowledge and no background in Cantonese as far as reading it or writing it.

R So he's not reading it at all then, Cantonese?

M No

R He doesn't go to Chinese school or anything?

M No. And of course there isn't a large community so I mean that is where you feel that children like W maybe do lose out compared to what might happen in Glasgow.

Interview Megan 1, 3.3.99

However, despite the fact that Megan recognises that development of W's first language would help him achieve in school, she, like Jenna, discussed above, does not see this as the school's responsibility:

M I was doing a piece that was actually a piece of reading assessment and it was going into their record folder so obviously I wasn't helping them with it and it was collective nouns, it was main ideas but at a fairly basic level. A list of words like Daisy, Rose. What word could we use for these - flowers and W doesn't know these things, that's where there is this gap. He is standing between - I mean he is not even getting the background at home in literacy in Cantonese and he is obviously not getting it in English and I found that he just didn't get the concept at all. The only one he got was the one which I did with him on the blackboard which was all names of birds. But he doesn't have this background.

Interview Megan 1, 3.3.99

Karen very clearly considers it is the parents' responsibility to enable N to fit into the school norms by speaking to him in English:

K I talked to his father at parents' night and I asked him how much English was spoken at home because mother seems to speak Urdu all the time and he said not very much and I suggested that perhaps although he's out working a lot I suggested that perhaps he spoke a lot more English in the house and he said that quite often he'd say something to N in English and he would look as if he didn't understand so he would repeat it in Urdu which I said was fine you know as long as he gets the English input.

Interview, Karen 1 ,23.11.98

This is a Cultural Model which derives from the Master Model and is discussed in greater detail elsewhere (Smyth, 2000). It has been developed in the context of a school which, like the others in the research, operates monolingually and therefore the teacher who wishes this bilingual child to succeed believes the child needs to be monolingual. Karen does not see Punjabi as being of any use to N. and considers that home input is negligible because it is not in English (below). This reinforces her earlier encouragement (above) to N's father to speak to him in English:

K his language has definitely improved but mother doesn't speak to him in English, she uses Punjabi all the time and Daddy's never in 'cos he's always at the shop so he's not getting that great input from home so anything, any English he is learning is probably from the other kids and from here isn't it? (to M., the other teacher)

Interview, Karen & Morven, 1 ,10.6.99

Megan returned to her belief in a need for W to be enabled to have his first language acknowledged later in the interview, suggesting that this might happen if he went to the Support Unit.

R What do you think would be ideal for him?

M Ideally I think it would still be better for W if he could actually be in a group at the support unit, going to see once or twice a week even where he was meeting other children who are having the same problems because he would realise it is not just him. He is terribly self-conscious he is the only Chinese boy in this class and he is very conscious of it and I think if he were meeting other children it might actually boost his confidence. I think J (W's younger brother)still goes but they seem to have this policy of well you know W's now Primary 4 and he can cope so he doesn't go any more. He can speak English, but you know yes, basically he can. But he does need the support not just for speaking but for the confidence and also the cultural background for his own, for the Chinese culture and background. I don't think he actually gets much of that. Not that I'm, I am not criticizing the parents don't get me wrong but you know there is this he's falling between the two and not quite sure where he belongs.

Interview Megan 1, 3.3.99

Megan has a different name for, and consideration of the purpose of the Bilingual Support Unit than Jenna in the same school although both Megan and Jenna independently express a desire to visit the unit, see how it functions and try to adapt the practices to the classroom. Thus neither teacher seems to believe they have the answer to meeting the needs of the bilingual child and the cultural models they hold are not rigid nor assumed to be correct.

It may be that one of the reasons why teachers hold on to the Master Model of Monolingualism is that they feel so unaware themselves of their bilingual pupils' home languages and cultures. The teachers frequently expressed uncertainty and confusion. However they did all know that the children used more than one language in their everyday life although the macro context in which they were working did not allow them to resolve the pedagogical implications of this. The implicit craft knowledge of the teachers informed them but the lack of practical experience denied them the opportunity to develop this craft knowledge into best practice for bilingual pupils.

G I was in Primary 1 when M., R's big sister, and R. both started school and you are virtually handed a child whose English was virtually school English and that still is the case.

Interview Gwen 1,10.12.98

Gwen shows here, for example, an understanding that there are different Englishes. Although she does not use the term domains of language use, she appears to understand this notion as referred to by Baker (1996) as the context in which the language is used. Romaine (1989) has this same definition of language domains but in discussing research on domains (Fishman, Cooper and Ma, 1971; Ervin-Tripp, 1964) she expands from domain as context to being a combination of specific times, settings and role relationships.

Gwen then contrasted the domains of English with the domains in which the children use their first language:

1 G so you get these wee girls who when they're together speak whatever 
   the dialect, I've actually been told, I think, is it Mandarin? I'm not a-.
3 You see that's how little I am aware of the--, who speak together in 
   their own language, who when they go home use their own language,
5 who spend their evenings in a room at the back of the restaurant 
   where the family are living, using their own language, ehh, so
7 English is school, full stop.

Interview Gwen 1,10.12.98

Gwen's hesitations in lines 2 and 3 above suggest an apology on her part that she is not aware of the pupils' home language, as previously discussed. Home language is not recorded in school documents and until my research, Gwen has not had to vocalise what language the girls speak. This lack of awareness was acknowledged by a number of the teachers. At the start of the academic year Inverclyde authority appointed one Chinese bilingual assistant who works in a number of schools. This bilingual assistant, Mrs. H. sees R. once a fortnight for an hour. Gwen discussed this support with me although she still recognises that she herself does not know what R's first language is:

1 G She (Mrs. H.) takes her out and works with her because of the fact 
   that they're working with you know in Chinese, well I'm not sure if it's
3 Cantonese or what it is they're working in. You see there you are 
   again, I'm not absolutely sure what the which one of the languages it 
5 is that em R uses.
   R You were saying that if there's something that you feel R's really stuck
7 with you leave it to Mrs. H ---
  G Well I would obviously eh teaching wise, educationally if there are
9 things that have to get done by me then they get done by me but if I
   feel that there's something that she would, that I would like to spend a
11 lot of time with or have somebody spend time with then I would ask
   Mrs. H to work with her and I would have to spend some time with
13 her and again there you are we're into this business of how do you
    manage your support, where do you get the time to liaise with them
15 and juggle and this is another aspect of the difficulties. The support
   staff are there, there's no question of that, it's just how do we use
17 them to our best advantage and they're not mind readers.
    R No, and as you said Mrs. H is not a teacher ---
19 G --- No, she is a very good eh ---
     R --- And you can't really say oh right we're at level such and such, go
21 over ---
    G --- No no I can't I have to try and explain to her what I want and what
23 the point of that particular lesson is. At the moment it's been very
    simple, it's been things like telling the time so it's been very basic stuff 
25 that she would have done with her own children and you know I don't 
    imagine she's had any difficulty with that but you know it's going to
27 be an ongoing problem. We can't have the best of both worlds; we
    can't have a Chinese speaking teacher.

Interview Gwen 2, 7.6.99

Although Mrs. H. gives R a very small amount of support it has alerted Gwen to the possibility of R's first language having a place in her education (lines 27-28 above). This is causing a change in the Master Model for Gwen but there is no mechanism in place within the school or education authority to provide the guidance and information Gwen would need to implement this change. Gwen is aware that R has needs which she is not able to address but does not have the knowledge base to translate her awareness into practice. Like Jenna, Gwen tries to make sense of R's experience by comparing her to a known adult bilingual (lines 1-4 below) as she does not have experience of working with other bilingual pupils.

In lines 7-12 (below) Gwen expressed a recognition that her many years of teaching monolingual children have not necessarily equipped her to meet R's needs:

1 G I can only imagine what it must be like trying to work in a language 
   that isn't the language that you're thinking in. I have a friend who is
3 Dutch and she now lives and works here and she says she's fine as
   long as it's language but she still counts in Dutch.
5 R Yes and it's difficult to know how much R is trying to work in her
   home language.
7 G So you're conscious that eh that her thought patterns the way she's 
   picking things up are not necessarily the same as everybody else's,
9 accepting that everybody else has their own variations on a theme as 
   well, but most of us who are working in English will surely be working
11 along similar pathways you know and as a teacher who has taught as 
    long as I have you are kind of aware of a fair number of the pathways

Interview Gwen 2, 7.6.99


Skutnabb-Kangas (1981) discusses the world view of bilingualism, suggesting that with the growth of the nation state, bilingualism came to be seen as deviant and that this view has certainly influenced the debates in Scandinavia on language policies. She argues that bilingualism has historically been associated with poverty and viewed as something to move away from, a stepping stone from a low status monolingualism to a high status monolingualism. This is echoed by Siraj-Blatchford (1994: 46) who argues

In British education ---, being bilingual is still too often perceived as an aberration, or worse, as something children should grow out of.

Although Skutnabb-Kangas indicates that this negativist attitude to bilingualism is changing, certainly in Scandinavia in relation to other Scandinavian languages, she highlights (ibid: 70) that a move to language minorities becoming balanced bilinguals is dependent to a large extent on political and in particular educational decisions.

If this is indeed a world view which has had significant influence then it could inform teachers' practices in situations where policy is poorly formed or non-existent as was the case in this study. Skutnabb-Kangas demonstrates the different situations that linguistic minorities find themselves in depending on whether or not their first language has any status in the country in which they are living. The first language of the children in the schools considered in my study was either Punjabi or Cantonese, neither of which have any legal status in Scotland. In addition Punjabi is not a written language for the majority of the Punjabi speaking children in the study as they are Moslem children, for whom the written language is Urdu, and this is an additional significant factor according to Skutnabb-Kangas. She argues (ibid.: 75)that for most bilinguals in the world they are bilingual because they are forced to be in order to survive in the majority community, and this is certainly the case for the children in the studied schools. This situation then may affect the educational aims held by the teachers for the children who may see survival in the majority language community as the main focus of educational practice.

Cazden and Snow (1990: 4) indicate that bilingual education is a simple label for a complex phenomenon. In the context used by many Anglo-American writers on the subject of bilingual education, the term suggests that two languages are used as the medium of instruction. However most of the education received by language minority children in Scotland is through the medium of English, the majority language, only.

In their study of the academic achievement of seven hundred thousand bilingual pupils in five school districts of the United States over a fourteen year period, Thomas and Collier found (1997:15) that

the first predictor of long-term school success (for language minority students) is cognitively complex on-grade level academic instruction through students' first language for as long as possible and cognitively complex on-grade level academic instruction through the second language (English) for part of the school day.

As has been indicated this is not the situation for bilingual pupils in Scotland. The current research did not and could not consider the academic effects of the schooling that exists for Scottish bilingual pupils but it does begin to identify why Thomas and Collier's key finding is not apparently influencing practice in Scotland.

The Master Model at work as shown in the above discussion is that the bilingual pupil needs to be monolingual. This Master Model leads to the teachers implicit feeling that although they are successful experienced teachers in the medium of English they can not translate this into being successful teachers of children for whom English is an additional language.

This Master Model has been arrived at by lack of support and policy to indicate otherwise and is strengthened by school ethos and limited partnership between the mainstream and the EAL support where available.

In fact the teachers showed understanding of the realities of bilingualism, the connections between language and culture and the importance of recognising the children's home language. What they did not understand was how to translate this implicit craft knowledge into explicit best practice for bilingual pupils. In Morven's words I feel this challenge and I don't have the background.

This context is one in which there is as yet no consistent policy regarding the education of bilingual learners and very limited provision of pre-service or inservice teacher education on meeting the needs of bilingual pupils. In three of the six authorities in which this research was conducted the bilingual pupils in the infant stages of the schools, who are assessed by the schools as not having sufficient English to cope within the mainstream, are removed from the mainstream class and school to special language units four afternoons a week for intensive English. In all twelve classrooms, the bilingual pupils receive learning support, outwith the class from the schools' learning support staff. This learning support is not geared to the children's bilingualism and is provided by staff who have no specialist knowledge of bilingualism. The curriculum and resources provided in the schools reflect the experiences of monolingual English speaking pupils, effectively suppressing the experiences and language of linguistically diverse pupils. Only one of the authorities employs a professional who can communicate in the home language of some of the bilingual pupils. This Chinese speaking classroom assistant is deployed peripatetically and no guidelines have been provided by the authority as to how her language skills can be best used.

Cummins (1996:139 - 141) elaborates on the educational structures which might discriminate against linguistically diverse students. All of the features described above as pertaining to the education of bilingual pupils in the authorities involved in this research form what Cummins describes as structural discrimination. Such structural discrimination sets a framework which constrains the types of micro-interactions that can occur between teachers and pupils and it is essential that the foregoing analysis of the Cultural Models held by the teachers involved in this study is read within the macro-context of this discrimination against linguistic diversity.


BALL,S.J. (1993) 'Self-doubt and soft data: social and technical trajectories in ethnographic fieldwork' in HAMMERSLEY, M (ed.) Educational Research: current issues, Volume 1, London, Paul Chapman Publishing.

BIGGS, A.P. and EDWARDS, V. (1994) 'I treat them all the same: Teacher-pupil talk in multiethnic classrooms' in Graddol, D., Maybin, J. and Stierer, B. (eds.) Researching Language and Literacy in a Social Context Clevedon, Multilingual Matters

BROWN, S. and MCINTYRE, D. (1989) Making Sense of Teaching, Edinburgh, Scottish Council for Research in Education

CAZDEN, C. B. & SNOW, C. E. (1990) Preface to CAZDEN, C. B. & SNOW, C. E. English Plus: Issues in Bilingual Education, London: Sage

CUMMINS, J. (1996) Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowerment in a Diverse Society, California, California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE)

ERVIN-TRIPP, S. (1964) 'An analysis of the interaction of language, topic and listener' in American Anthropologist, 66, pp 86-102

FISHMAN, J., COOPER, R.L. and MA, R. (1971) Bilingualism in the Barrio, Bloomington, Indiana University Press

GEE, J.P. (1999) An Introduction to Discourse Analysis Theory and Method, London, Routledge

HARGREAVES, D. (1986) 'Whatever Happened to Symbolic Interactionism?' in HAMMERSLEY, M. (ed.) Controversies in Classroom Research, 2nd edition, Buckingham, Open University Press

NIAS, J. (1993) Primary Teachers Talking: a Reflexive Account of Longitudinal Research in HAMMERSLEY,M (ed): Educational Research, Current Issues, Vol.1, London, Paul Chapman Publishing

ROMAINE, S. (1989) Bilingualism, Oxford: Basil Blackwell

SIRAJ-BLATCHFORD, I. (1994) The Early Years: Laying the Foundation for Racial Equality Stoke on Trent: Trentham

SKUTNABB-KANGAS, T. (1981) Bilingualism or Not The Education of Minorities Clevedon Multilingual Matters

SMYTH, G. (1997) What teachers know about multilingual, multicultural education, unpublished paper presented to ATEE conference, Macerata, Italy

SMYTH, G. (1998) 'Changing demographies, changing assessments' in ATEE Conference Papers pp111 - 121, Limerick, Mary Immaculate College

SMYTH, G. (1999) 'Identifying learning difficulties among bilingual learners' unpublished paper presented to TESOL conference, New York

SMYTH, G. (2000) Teaching Bilingual Pupils In 6 Scottish Primary Schools: Challenges, Constraints And Influences unpublished doctoral thesis, Milton Keynes, Open University

SMYTH, G. & MCKEE, T. (1997) 'Multicultural Anti-racist Education Policy in Two Teacher Education Institutions' in ATEE Conference Papers pp 184-91, Glasgow, University of Strathclyde

STRAUSS,A. and CORBIN,J. (1990) Basics of Qualitative Research - Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques, California, SAGE Publications

THOMAS, W.P. and COLLIER, V. (1997) School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students, Washington, National Clearing House for Bilingual Education (NABE)

WILES, S (1985) 'Language and Learning in Multiethnic classrooms: strategies for supporting bilingual students' in WELLS, G and NICHOLLS,J (eds) Language and Learning an Interactional Perspective, Bristol, The Falmer Press

WOODS, P. (1996) Researching the Art of Teaching: Ethnography for Educational Use, London. Routledge

This document was added to the Education-line database on 07 February 2001