Best way on bilingual support

10th June 2011 at 01:00

There are aspects of the suggested closure of the bilingual support unit in Shawlands Academy (TESS, 20 May) which remain unclear at the time of writing. We are awaiting precise details with regard to the rationale, timescale and breadth of consultation for any proposals.

The figures quoted reflect the growing demand for EAL (English as an additional language) provision in Glasgow. This is a challenge for the city council and the Scottish Government, in terms of ensuring that resources are in place for the most effective provision.

There is no clear evidence that the closure of the centralised unit would present best value for promoting attainment, achievement and meeting the needs of the vast majority of children and young people.

The present blend of the central bilingual support unit, EAL staff in secondaries and the EAL response team has provided the flexibility to meet the diverse needs of this particular group, from the most able to the most needy and vulnerable, who arrive in some cases with no English or formal schooling. The BSU can provide a settled, stable environment where English can be taught and pastoral and psychological needs assessed.

This is not universally the case in secondary schools, where there are greater demands on EAL staff and a more fragmented timetable. Additionally, mainstream teachers will face significant increases in English and maths class sizes from 20 to 33 next session.

The BSU model has been successful until now. Any proposed reconfiguration will need to respond to the challenges of changing demographics and increasing need for EAL provision. This will mean protecting the frontline provision from further cuts. It will also mean listening to practitioners in EAL and mainstream during consultation, as well as the families affected, to ensure the best possible outcome.

Hugh Donnelly, Glasgow local secretary, EIS.

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