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Language support at breaking point

THE NUMBER of foreign pupils enrolling in schools in one of Scotland's most rural councils has increased dramatically, piling pressure on the language support service where staffing levels have remained static for years.

In Aberdeenshire, the pupils requiring support from the English as an Additional Language service more than doubled between August 2005 and September 2006. And in primary schools such as Peterhead Central and Fraserburgh North, more than a quarter of pupils are from countries such as Poland and Lithuania.

The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe to Scotland is nothing new. By last year, according to the Home Office, an estimated 32,000 Eastern Europeans had found work in Scotland since the European Union expanded in 2004.

When thinking about Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Stonehaven, diverse, multicultural communities are hardly what spring to mind. Yet these towns have been swollen by migrants.

Jennifer Walker, Aberdeenshire Council's EAL coordinator, said that, in the 10 years she has been with the service, there have been influxes of people from Russia and Portugal, but never in such large numbers. "We are very, very stretched and very, very thin," she said of the EAL service. "People are getting agitated and would like more support, but there is no additional funding anywhere."

In March, a vacancy arose and the service was able to take on a Polish EAL teacher to help them cope, but Mrs Walker still has only six EAL teachers on her staff the same number as six years ago.

As well as supporting pupils in school, the service teaches adults and has a staff training and advisory role. Mrs Walker said: "These people from Eastern Europe have been actively recruited and sought by the Scottish government. I just wish that the First Minister had thought to increase the budget to support them and their children at the same time."

She stressed that every child referred is seen and assessed, but the support some receive will be minimal. "We have to prioritise," she said.

The Scottish Executive said there were several streams of funding, provided by the previous administration, that councils could draw on to support bilingual children. A spokeswoman said that the new administration recognised the challenge for schools and would be keeping an eye on the situation.

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