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New kids bloc system

A new class of children is formed every fortnight, but there are not enough English teachers to cope, writes Henry Hepburn.Specialist English teachers in Glasgow claim they will not be able to cope with the influx of pupils from eastern Europe unless new recruits are taken on.

Consultation is taking place over proposals that would see existing English as an additional language (EAL) teachers assigned to the city's schools as and when necessary - rather than being based in individual schools.

But Scotland's biggest teaching union believes Glasgow's 140 EAL teachers cannot deal with the increased demand on their own, and the only solution lies in recruiting more specialists. Willie Hart, Glasgow secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland, supports the city council's aim to "reconfigure" the EAL service, but not if that means merely moving around existing staff. "We are not averse to looking at some movement of staff in terms of where the need is, but that will only be efficient if there is a considerable increase in the number of staff," he said.

In 2006-07, 1,156 foreign nationals enrolled in Glasgow schools, compared to 869 the previous year.

Mr Hart said that the equivalent of a new class of children was being formed every fortnight, and that not only did these children tend not to speak English, they came from backgrounds where they had little experience of school.

"Unless there is a willingness to find more money for the training of more specialist teachers, we can do all the re-organisation in the world but it won't manage to solve all the difficulties," he said.

Mr Hart fears that creating a focus on the newer arrivals would be detrimental to bilingual children born in the UK, whose English may be better but who still need support. He stressed that the official EIS consultation response had yet to be submitted, and has concerns that EAL teachers may be subsumed into additional support for learning departments under the authority's plans.

He fears that ASL teachers may be asked to do work for which they lack the skills and confidence - a move the EIS would "very, very strongly resist". The union would be "wholly opposed" if EAL teachers were asked to deliver aspects of ASL. Mr Hart sympathises with the demands that the increasing number of non-English speakers placed on council budgets and resources.

The city's bilingual support units are "full to the brim" and have long waiting lists, he said. He called on the authority to investigate whether more funding might be available from the Scottish Government or the EU.

Gordon Matheson, the council's executive member for education and social renewal, said: "This is not a cost-cutting exercise and there will be no reduction in teaching staff working in this sensitive and important field in the city.

"Instead, we are embarked on a genuine and widespread consultation which will result in the development of our staff, better parent and pupil involvement, and improved and responsive services across all schools and nurseries."

Glasgow City Council consultation on the future of EAL ends on December 14.

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