A Foucauldian analysis of young children’s multilingual practices in the Early Years Foundation Stage (England): challenging the ‘English-only’ discourse

Year: 2018

Author: Fashanu, Christina, Wood, Elizabeth, Payne, Mark

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper is inspired by four and five-year-old children whose multilingual communicative practices subtly resist the dominant discourse that English is the language in the domain of schools in England.
 The one nation-one language model became the operant ideology in Western culture in the eighteenth century (Hornberger, 2003) and has since been promoted relentlessly through discourse, policy, legislation thus linguistic hegemony is presented as a factual, uncontentious reality. This paper accepts Foucault’s challenge to deconstruct this officially sanctioned ‘truth’ by looking at the ways the educational system in England legitimises the discourse that speaking English is normal, and thereby marginalising multilingual practices.
Globalisation and its concomitant impact on migration has led to many schools in England becoming ‘super-diverse’ (Vertovec, 2007). Children come from across the globe though multiple channels of migration, bringing a wealth of experiences, funds of knowledge and languages to the school community. Despite the plethora of research that evidences the benefits of multilingualism, schools tend to privilege homogeneity in terms of languages spoken, thereby supressing individuality. This paper uses a Foucauldian conception of power to explore the ways in which the English language is privileged through networks of power in which each member of the school- adult and child- demonstrate they have internalised the rhetoric that English should be spoken in school, thus becoming unwittingly complicit in aiding the power structures created by wider political ideologies.
Having established how English is promoted and accepted as the language of schools, the paper then draws attention to the children’s acts of resistance where they challenge the dominant discourse by operating spatial agency, looking for opportunities in peripheral and liminal spaces to speak their own languages. Illustrations are drawn from a year-long study of thirty ethnically and linguistically ‘super-diverse’ children in an inner-city school in the north of England. Ethnographic observations were conducted producing co-constructed researcher-pupil cartoons representing social interactions in a range of contexts. These cartoons, combined with language portraits, reveal the children’s perspectives and agency when confronted with the ideolization of English language in school.