School gates are opening…and with them comes a return of assignments in the education setting!

We can all agree that this may well have been the shortest, coldest and gloomiest summer EVER.
It doesn’t seem possible that it’s already time to stash away those flip-flops and sun hats and instead start thinking about autumn walks and fireworks.
But, unfortunately, it is what it is and we need to move with the seasons (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
The new school term brings with it a whole range of interpreting (and translation) assignments. Interestingly, although much of the population is involved in the education system, we don’t often hear about this area as a setting where interpreters work.
We assume that community interpreters deal mostly with GP appointments, mental health assessments and the occasional housing/welfare benefits interview, but education somehow tends to get overlooked.

That’s certainly not the case. Interpreters may be used in a variety of situations within the education setting and it’s equally important to have a strong grasp of terms and phrases used in these assignments.
Below you will find a brief description of some educations assignment types, as well as links to great glossaries and other resources to help you build your understanding and expand your vocabulary.

General meetings between teachers and parents
When you think about it, the education system is one of the key areas where processes differ immensely from one nation to another. It is therefore absolutely essential to not only be an interpreter, but to fulfil the role of a cultural conduit in these sessions.
Imagine how lost your limited English speaker (LES) would be if you referred to ‘sixth form’ or ‘A-levels’ purely in their word-for-word translated forms. These are terms that often don’t have a practical equivalent in other languages and a literal translation makes no sense when you’re trying to facilitate understanding. What’s more, if you haven’t experienced the UK education system, you may feel as lost as the LES in this sea of phrases and terms.

It works the other way around as well – in many European countries, for example, once children enter secondary education, they begin counting/labelling ‘years’ or ‘grades’ from 1 all over again. A third grader in secondary school in Europe certainly would not equate to a ‘Year Three’ pupil in the UK.

It is therefore obvious how important it is to fully understand concepts before attempting to interpret them. You can find some useful glossaries below, but all interpreters and translators are encouraged to continuously build on their knowledge through Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and independent research.

Oxford University Press Glossary of Educational Terms
GoStudy UK Glossary of UK Educational Terms

Special Education Needs (SEN) meetings within the school setting
A whole separate topic and potential for interpreting assignments is the SEN part of education. Children with SEN often require more support than other children, and at the same time, their families are likely to have much more regular and structured contact with the school admin team, teachers and other professionals.

With children who were born in the UK to foreign parents, or who have been living here since a young age, the pattern tends to be that they are able to communicate in English reasonably well, but usually it’s their parents who you will be required to interpret for.
This arrangement can be that much more challenging when dealing with a pupil with SEN. Their parents will understandably feel out of their depth, concerned for the well-being of their child, but also overwhelmed by the presence of the multi-disciplinary teams that SEN children often interact with.
As an interpreter, you will likely face a myriad of terms, medical conditions, formal titles and references to plans, support services and other phrases you may not be fully familiar with. Again, it is essential that in this situation, you fully understand the meanings behind the words of the professional in order to completely and accurately convey the message to the LES.


The Child Law Advice charity has a wonderfully comprehensive guide to SEN available on their website. It provides information on the duties of schools and Local Authorities to assess, identify and provide for a child’s SEN within school, and is well worth a read in order to build your education glossary.

If you find yourself interpreting at an SEN meeting, you may encounter references to an SEN information report. This document, provided by Gloucestershire City Council, offers a good overview of the meaning, purpose and structure of the SEN information report.
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