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Cash to boost ethnic success

The money is available but it could be used much better, says Virginia Hunt

Around pound;155 million has been allocated to local education authorities and schools nationally to support activities directly related to raising the attainment of minority ethnic pupils in 2002-3. This includes the support of pupils for whom English is an additional language. Most of this funding (about 85 per cent) is devolved to schools by authorities, using a locally agreed formula for funding.

The money comes from The Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant (Emag) which was introduced in 1999, replacing the old Section 11 funding, which provided extra support for children who had settled in the UK and whose language and culture was different from that of others in the school, and the grant for traveller education (1988 Education Act).

Headteachers are responsible for managing the fund and for spending priorities. The grant is ringfenced, and must be used to raise attainment for minority ethnic pupils and meet the needs of pupils for whom English is an additional language.

Most of the grant covers the cost of employing staff including bilingual teachers and classroom assistants. An element may also provide training costs and relevant teaching and learning materials.

Education authorities were initially required to provide action plans to obtain a grant, but their educational development plans now include strategies and targets for ethnic minority achievement.

Much of the grant is attached to cities with a large proportion of ethnic minority pupils. For example, more than 60 per cent of Caribbean pupils, 80 per cent of African pupils and 68 per cent of refugee children live in London.

Whitehall has also linked Emag with other initiatives such as the partnership with Excellence in Cities projects. At present there are two pilot projects, involving 15 authorities with a high proportion of ethnic minority students and the aim is to bridge the achievement gap. Each authority receives an annual grant of pound;40,000 for three years. Key areas include the transfer at 11, monitoring and target setting, parental involvement and analysis of performance data.

Although the grant is devolved to schools, many choose to buy back services from their authorities as and when required. Tony Hill, of East Sussex Ethnic Minority Pupils Service, feels that where there is not a concentrated ethnic minority population, this centralised use of resources enables specialists to work alongside mainstream teachers where a need is identified. The central team is also available to advise on issues such as policy development on equal opportunities and anti-racism.

It is fairly common for teaching staff in predominantly white schools to have little knowledge about multi-cultural education. Research carried out by Luton University concluded that mainly white schools do not prepare their pupils for adult life in a culturally and ethnically diverse society. It found that teaching provision for children in the early stages of learning English as an additional language was variable and there was no provision for supporting children with EAL beyond the initial stages. There was also little evidence that teachers had received training to prepare them for the challenges of cultural diversity.

Given that many more schools now have some minority ethnic pupils than in the past, the report underlines the need for training, resources and specialist support to enable teachers to address more fully the needs of all their pupils.

This is particularly pertinent to the provision for refugee children and asylum seekers. While the largest concentration is in London, with refugees representing about 6 per cent of schoolchildren there, the 2001 dispersal arrangements have placed asylum seekers in areas outside the usual strongholds of Manchester, London and Glasgow.

Despite David Blunkett's claim that refugee children were "swamping" schools, authorities report that the placements have been well managed on the whole, given the limited resources. The most difficult to integrate are older pupils who may not be able to fully access the curriculum at such a late stage but often authorities work in liaison with other services in supporting these pupils.

Most problems that arise are due to the lack of funding which would enable authorities to deal with a sudden influx of pupils with specific needs. The NUT argues that there should be a coherent national strategy for refugee children with grants available to provide language support and to cover the costs of extra expenses.

The proposal to segregate asylum-seeking children by educating them in accommodation centres also received widespread criticism from teaching unions. The Save the Children Fund found the Government's plans "misguided", after carrying out a survey with Glasgow City Council, one of the first councils to take asylum seekers under the dispersal programme. Their research among young refugees found that over three-quarters of those questioned felt that attending local schools had been a positive experience, providing opportunities to socialise as well as learn English. The DfES and Ofsted also stress the importance of carrying out Emag work, as far as is possible, within the mainstream classroom.

The development of a nationally coherent strategy for pupils learning English as an additional language is advocated by organisations such as NALDIC (National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum). Many practitioners complain that the exchange of information and dissemination of good practice is patchy and relies largely on ad-hoc arrangements between individual schools and authorities.

This leads to the marginalisation of the Ethnic Minority Achievement role. The DfES does not hold information on the levels or nature of Emag staffing in schools but the trend seems to be a move away from the traditional EAL teacher, curriculum development teacher and home liaison teacher towards learning assistants and homeschool link workers.

With effect from January 2003, the DfES will make use of the revised ethnic background coding collected by the Pupil Levels Annual Schools Census (PLASC) to provide statistical evidence of the educational experiences and attainment of pupils in different ethnic groups. This data may help the Government to identify future strategies to address under-achievement and set meaningful targets. There are also plans to move to a needs-based formula for funding.

While this may successfully identify and target pockets of under-achievement, there is concern among those in authorities with a relatively small minority ethnic population that those pupils may become more vulnerable if the problems of isolation are overlooked. Consultations on the strategy and its funding are due to take place next spring.

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