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Double disadvantage for minorities

Many parents endure anguish and isolation when the absence of an interpreter prevents them discussing their child's special needs. Kwai Fong, whose 19-year-old son has Down's syndrome, told a Glasgow conference last week that throughout his time at a special school she had great difficulty in dealing with the education authority and experts.

"I didn't know what was going on, and I wanted someone to translate the different terms that were used," Mrs Fong said. "All I am asking is for us to be able to help our children." Speaking via an interpreter, she frequently broke down.

For the first time there was public discussion at the conference of the Commission for Racial Equality report on provision in the former Strathclyde Region. Four years ago the commission initiated an investigation into whether too many children from minority backgrounds were being sent to special schools. David McNeill, the then senior depute director of education, became involved in a row after speculating about the role of genetic or nutritional factors.

The commission's report concluded that there was no effort to assess bilingual children in their mother tongue and little consistency among psychologists about the best way to assess them. Interpreters were used only in liaison with parents and not to involve them in the process of assessment.

Alex McKay, director of educational services in Fife, told the conference that the changing of attitudes in this area was a complex matter requiring political commitment at a time of financial difficulty for councils. Mr McKay said: "Sometimes we have to accept that councils get it wrong."

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