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ESOL Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

The importance of belonging

It starts at the top. Principal Cindy Walsh's sentiment is echoed by her staff.

"It doesn't matter if children are with us for three weeks or three years. We give them the best possible start in our school – and we are pleased if other schools benefit." 

This positive approach is particularly relevant in Freemans Bay School in central Auckland. Over half of the 434 students are ESOL-funded. A relatively high number of transient students, including some from refugee backgrounds, come from nearby apartments. The school has given a wonderful start to children from many countries, including Syria and Afghanistan. 

There is an explicit focus on building strong relationships from the beginning, and the enrolment process has been designed to ensure the school learns as much as possible about new learners and their families. The senior leadership team meet with families and complete initial supplementary interview forms. This information is shared with whānau teams and the school's two ESOL teachers.

Ruma reo.


The ruma reo at the centre of the school is a collaborative space where language-rich small group sessions support the identified language needs and interests of the learners.

A corner at the entrance is set up as a cosy reading nook. This photo was taken during Matariki – a map of Matariki stars is on display.

Children learn about New Zealand while they are also encouraged to celebrate their own cultural heritage.

Student wall.


ESOL teachers Trina Saxon and Troy Lunn work with children with the highest language learning needs – often newly-arrived to the country. They work closely with class teachers and make a real effort to get to know each learner. Trina said, "We really try to give all new children a genuine sense of belonging." 

"The reality is that all of our teachers are ESOL teachers here, with around 75% of children in most classes having some level of ESOL need."

A number of learning assistants, many of whom are bi-lingual or multi-lingual, support learning in classes.

PLD is critical, and staff within the school lead ongoing professional learning related to provision of support for English language acquisition. Erin McKechnie (Tools4Teachers) also worked with teachers for the whole of 2020 and with learning assistants in 2021 to ensure that all staff are skilled in providing support for ELLs.

ESOL programmes are based on initial testing, classroom assessment and the English Language Learning Progressions (ELLP). Support for new children also includes making sure they have a buddy, touching base to see how they are going and finding out about each learner's cultural and language background.

ESOL principles.


Tucked away in a corner of the room where the ESOL teachers keep many of their resources, the seven ESOL principles are displayed on the wall as a constant reminder of the fundamental principles underpinning ESOL support.

Getting to know whānau is key, says Trina.

"I choose to be at the gate regularly, even on busy days, to greet and farewell children and their families. This morning the weather was bad and I was tempted not to go, but I ended up having two great conversations with new parents under an umbrella."

Making links with families is valued across the school, and Cultural Competency Leaders Caitlin O'Brien and Ching Liu assist with upskilling staff and ensuring that all cultures are embraced and celebrated. The school is currently looking into establishing a new space for whānau to meet and connect.

A Year 6 student said:

"In Syria we didn't have ESOL, sports or assembly or equipment like balls, and no playgrounds and clear space and no toys, like everything was boring, nothing cheers you up to learn but here at FBS you feel like you are important and enjoy learning. Over there (Syria) you feel like squished up and you can't breathe but here in FBS you feel free."

The strong sense of inclusion and welcome at Freemans Bay School is impossible to miss. He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Published on: 04 Oct 2022