Colin Baker and the Bilingual Education

Colin Baker is perhaps best known for being the author of a widely read textbook on bilingual education, Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, which has undergone four editions. The book has sold over 60,000 copies and has been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Latvian, Greek, and Mandarin.

For Baker, early experience was no predictor of his later career. Born on October 1, 1949, in Danbury, a hilltop village in southeastern England, he remembers only one bilingual person in that village. She was a Belgian refugee speaking French and English, considered by villagers as “different.” In elementary school, teachers and students were monolingual English speakers, matching his nuclear and extended family.

In high school, Baker learned Latin and French through the grammar-translation method. Conversational French was regarded as nonacademic and insufficient as a brain-developing activity; hence, it was largely avoided. All students were native English speakers and were required to use a prestigious variety called “the Queen’s English.”

Despite encouragement from his high school principal to attend a top English university, Baker’s main interest was walking mountains. Having traversed the highest peaks in England, he wished to walk the higher Welsh mountains. Bangor is located very near those mountains, and Bangor University became Baker’s home. The university overlooks a small city. The many surrounding villages are populated with bilinguals, with the great majority of the indigenous population speaking both Welsh and English fluently and some immigrants from England learning Welsh for employment or cultural enjoyment.

University students can take some humanities subjects through the medium of Welsh, and bilingual education is predominant in all elementary and most high schools. In this context, bilingualism is a natural topic for study. One of Baker’s tutors, W. R. Jones, was a world expert on the relationship between bilingualism and IQ and on empirical studies of the effectiveness of bilingual education. Jones also taught Baker advanced statistical analysis for his PhD, although Jones’ “teaching” mostly meant Baker’s self-teaching.

Thus, for young Baker, the foundations had been laid. Another event was probably more influential in precipitating a lifelong interest in studying bilingualism. As a freshman, Baker sang in a church choir and fell in love with his future wife across the choir stalls. Anwen was the daughter of the pastor of that church, and her family lived their lives speaking mostly Welsh. Students were warmly welcomed to the house, and Baker found a second home.

The seamless and effortless movement in that family between two languages, two literacies, and two cultures was in stark contrast to monolingual Danbury. The diversity and value-addedness of bilingualism became apparent and appealing. In years to come, it bore fruit in a thoroughly bilingual Baker household, with three children who were educated in two languages.

The Systems of Education in the UK – English and Welsh Year Groups

In the first part of a series of articles looking at the education systems across the UK, the overarching structure of the school year for state funded schools in England and Wales will be considered. The structures and terms for schools under the Scottish, Northern Irish and Independent School systems differ again and will be looked at in future articles.

The type and range of schools through which children pass during their education may vary depending on which part of the UK they grow up in, the nature of the schools in their locale and their parents ability to fund their education. However, for any schools receiving state funding in England and Wales, the defined schools years, and the requirements for education in each of those years, is set by the UK government and the Welsh Assembly respectively.

The Year Groups

The school year in the England and Wales begins on 1 September and runs up until 31 August and is split into three terms: Autumn (up to Christmas), Spring (Christmas to Easter) and Summer (Easter onwards).

Although children will usually progress through the school years depending on their age(s) in between those dates every year, it is possible to both skip years or repeat years if there is a need; if a child’s performance is above or below the level expected at their current age.

Whilst it is not compulsory attendance for a child, the (state funded) school year system begins with the Nursery year for children who are three years old. The system ends with Year 13 (the 15th year in total) for children who turn 18 in the relevant timeframe. School attendance is only mandatory from the ages of 5-16 and so children are required to enter school at some stage during Reception (the 2nd year), if they haven’t already, whilst, at the other end of the system, they can then choose whether or not to pursue their education in Years 12-13 (Further Education) once they’ve turned 16.

The third year of education is termed Year 1 as it is the first full school year in which children are required to attend school having been introduced to it in Reception (if not Nursery).

The Key Stages

To provide a framework for teaching and examinations the National Curriculum (for state funded schools) in particular uses the following key stages to group these years together:

  • Foundation Stages:
    • Foundation 1 – Nursery
    • Foundation 2 – Reception
  • Key Stage 1 – Years 1 & 2
  • Key Stage 2 – Years 3 – 6
  • Key Stage 3 – Years 7 – 9
  • Key Stage 4 – Years 10 & 11 (ending in GCSEs)
  • Sixth Form/College – Years 12 & 13 (ending in A Levels or International Baccalaureate)

The Standard School Structure

The first Nursery year nearly always involves the child attending a designated Nursery school but after that the structure can vary. The most common structure for the schools that a child will progress through in the subsequent years is that of:

  • Infant School – Reception to Year 2 [Foundation Stage 2 & Key Stage 1]
  • Junior School – Years 3 – 6 [Key Stage 2]
  • Senior School – Years 7 – 11 [Key Stages 3 & 4]
  • Sixth Form/College – Years 12 & 13

Many schools, however, combine the functions above so that the structure is simplified into two levels to fit neatly with the idea of primary and secondary education:

  • Primary School – Infant School & Junior School
  • Secondary School – Senior School & Sixth Form

Some more traditional schools in the secondary education system still refer to the Years 7 through to 11 in the older notation as Years 1 to 5 (or First Form to Fifth Form) with the following Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) split into the Lower and Upper Sixth.

The Alternative School Structure

A less common alternative structure sees a three tier system straddling primary and secondary education and the curriculum’s Key Stages with:

  • First School – Reception to Year 4
  • Middle School – Years 5 – 8
  • Upper School – Years 9 – 13

Children can and do switch between schools following these structures according to the opportunities in their locality and it is particularly common, for example, for children to switch to a Secondary School for the rest of their secondary education once they have finished Middle School.

Ultimately, the year groups only provide a framework to determine how and when the National Curriculum and examinations should be implemented. There are therefore many varying types of schools even within the above definitions, from Faith Schools to Academies to Grammar Schools, depending on other factors such as selection criteria and funding.

Visit Boston and Experience New England

New England may offer a colder climate and fewer opportunities for sunshine than the country’s more vacation-friendly West Coast, but this north-eastern region remains a popular destination for tourists in the United States. Consisting of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, New England – one of America’s most historical locations – boasts a busy produce industry that counts seafood, potatoes and maple syrup among its main exports. However, if you’re planning a visit to New England and only have time to visit one location, make it Boston, Massachusetts – the region’s largest city by population.

As one of America’s earliest founded cities, Boston is famous as the site of some of the most important turning points in the American Revolutionary War. From the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in 1775, Boston’s rich heritage is reflected in its diversity of museums and galleries. When in Boston, make sure you visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the MIT Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum and the Museum of Science, among a host of other attractions.

Moreover, Boston is renowned as one of the United States’ foremost centres of education and higher learning. Often referred to as “the Athens of America”, the Greater Boston area is home to more than 100 colleges and universities – from the likes of Harvard University (located across the river in Cambridge), MIT and Tufts University to smaller conservatories and art schools, including the Massachusetts College of Art, the Boston Conservatory and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. As a result, it boasts a lively, youthful atmosphere that makes it irresistible to many a visitor.

Indeed, Boston’s vibrant urban lifestyle and cosmopolitan culture has won the hearts of many. Among the numerous novels that have been set in or near Boston are Henry James’ “The Bostonians”, “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner and, most recently, Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty”. Moreover, Boston has been represented on screen numerous times, in popular TV shows like Cheers and Ally McBeal as well as iconic Hollywood films, including Good Will Hunting and Martin Scorcese’s The Departed. So anyone planning a visit to Boston is sure to have an immediate frame of reference in mind.

If you’re visiting Boston, make sure you don’t miss out on its native cuisine, which generally presents itself as a fine example of the food you’d find in New England. Among the most well-known Boston dishes are New England clam chowder, lobsters, steamed or fried clams and fish and chips. Boston also offers visitors and residents a variety of first-class restaurants, including the Union Oyster House – the USA’s oldest operating restaurant.

Finding a hotel in Boston during your visit is easy too, as many of Boston’s hotels are located in its downtown Theatre District. From here, you’ll find it’s simple to locate Boston’s main performance venues, its busy Chinatown or the calming Boston Public Garden, as well as a host of other central locations in the city. So you’ll truly be able to appreciate New England’s premier city in style!