Tous les entretiens
With Deputy Head and Bilingual Stream Coordinator, Rebecca Osuntokun
A city lawyer who used to resolve insurance and reinsurance disputes might seem an unusual background for a deputy head at a primary, but with a father as an educational psychologist, Rebecca Osuntokun, who is also Bilingual Stream Coordinator at Wix Primary School, is no stranger to education. When Osuntokun retrained to teach eight years ago she was assigned to Wix as part of her practicum. As it turned out, that was the only catalyst she needed to begin her career in education.
Although her first assignment in 2010 was a nursery class in the classic English programme, Osuntokun has a background in Foreign Languages, and it was a matter of time before she had her eyes set on the bilingual stream distinctive to Wix. She taught for three years before applying to the Deputy Head position to jointly replace retiring headmaster Marc Wolstencroft who graduated the first batch of bilingual stream students fully educated at Wix Primary in 2013.
Osuntokun quickly explains the admissions process.
"Each year contains 28 children composed of 14 who apply through Wandsworth, the borough in which Wix Primary is based, and 14 who apply through the Lycée Français. Admissions through the Wandsworth channel conform to the nonselective and nonfeepaying criteria of UK state schools while students admitted through the Lycée are feepaying and their entry is based on AEFE selection criteria."
The switch in the two-way immersion happens at lunchtime so that the bilingual stream students spend 2½ days in a French classroom then 2½ days in an English one. Lessons on both sides follow the national curricula of France and the UK respectively, and Osuntokun spends a good part of her time with the delicate process of coordinating the two.
Take for example the subject of history. French and British curricula both follow a chronological approach except that primary British history only goes from pre-history to 1066, whereas French history continues to the creation of the EU. What to do?
"Lay out key points in time and draw from the strengths of both," says Osuntokun. "If the marriage works well, the synergy is second to none, offering students with intellectually stimulating comparisons:
"So the English had a civil war, the French, a revolution. What gave rise to that? What was the thinking? What was the ideology? What were the wishes of the two people? How come one ended up with a monarchy and one with a republic?"
Comparative ideologies hardly seem the matter of primary school kids but Osuntokun makes it happen by taking the best of both worlds. For example, Wix Bilingual combines British and French SLOW-FAST teaching methods so students at Wix get all the support they need in the beginning.
From the British teaching practices, Wix Bilingual uses the emphasis placed on differentiation & self-esteem by sending a teacher from the student's weaker language once a week during lessons to the other half to contextualize and frontload language learning. From French teaching philosophy, Wix Bilingual uses the idea of cementing basic material before moving on to the next, and then accelerating once the learning is acquis (acquired).
"Taking the best from both sides is the only way that the students can achieve twice as much in half the time," argues Osuntokun.
Indeed, retired headmaster Wolstencroft would probably only agree as he has shown this to be true. In stark contrast to the fear that bilingual students end up weaker in both languages, Wix bilingual stream students outperformed the national standards in the UK and in France. For example, for the French National Reading Test 2013, Wix Bilingual had 66.7% in the Très Solides category compared to 43% nationally; Wix Bilingual had 92.6% for the French National Maths compared to 38% nationally.
To many, the numbers will speak loudly. But at the entrance to the school is a quieter motto that sums up the success of Wix's bilingual stream.
Two languages. One Spirit.
8 October 2014