The Secretary of State has shown interest in the issue by giving James Paice, junior minister for education, responsibility for Section 11, the Home Office funding which provides support for pupils whose first language is not English. The Labour party has called for secure funding for the teaching of English as a second language.
Yet no one should be lulled into thinking that, because there is a gap between bidding rounds, the problem has been solved. The Pounds 15 million recently put back into Section 11 by the Government was a necessary sticking plaster. That is all.
Current funding is characterised by damaging divisions and temporary allocations. As a result of half the Section 11 funds being transferred to the Single Regeneration Budget, Section 11 projects have lost approximately Pounds 5 million this year.
The SRB is a less satisfactory method of ensuring consistency in race equality than Section 11. At least Home Office funding can be identified as a national sum earmarked for a specific purpose. The SRB compels local authorities to make choices in their bids between race equality education and non-educational regeneration projects.
In deciding successful bids, the Department of the Environment itself has to make choices between educational and non-educational projects. It is worth remembering that funding for Reading Recovery is not officially extinct; it has just disappeared into the SRB.
For Section 11 there are no clear rules which relate funding to needs. Grants are discretionary based on local education authorities' determination of bids.
There is little consultation with schools, parents, teacher associations or ethnic minorities on the bids to be made. There are no national guidelines on how LEAs should deliver support to ethnic minority pupils in schools.
There are other problems apart from funding. Mother-tongue teaching and combating racial harassment cannot be funded under Section 11.
Clearly there is a need for radical rethinking on the subject. The alternative needs to be simple, transparent and coherent. It should demonstrate a clear relationship between funding and educational needs, accountability to local ethnic minorities, and it should provide stability.
I believe that the following proposals meet these criteria: Race equality funding should be unified under the responsibility of the Department For Education and Employment.
The DFEE should develop a national framework and guidelines for assessing needs subject to the widest possible consultation.
LEAs should be asked to conduct an audit of LEA and school requirements based on this framework.
The DFEE should develop explicit standards of service for schools and LEAs in meeting the needs of ethnic minority pupils.
Funding should relate to the "real costs" of providing an acceptable standard of service.
The DFEE's funding structure should be in the form of a grant with sub-heads for specific activities. Whether or not the grant is paid should not be discretionary.
Funding should be allocated according to a national, easily understood formula based on the audit and not on discretionary and competitive bids. The formula would link the levels of need in an LEA to available funding.
Provision should be managed by the LEA. The DFEE would ensure that provision is monitored and inspected.
Arrangements for race equality funding for grant maintained schools and sixth form colleges should be reviewed.
Most current Section 11 projects end in March 1997. This presents the Government with an opportunity to resolve an issue which has been undermining the security of a vital service.
The education service cannot afford to lose skilled and committed teachers, nor can the educational opportunities of ethnic minority pupils be put at risk.
The National Union of Teachers is keen and willing to work with the Government to find a viable, sustainable and effective alternative.
Doug McAvoy is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers