Cuts 'will demonise' non-English speakers

18th February 2011 at 00:00
Reduction in classroom support will see them blamed for 'holding back' peers, warns don

Children with English as a second language are at risk of being "demonised" for holding back other pupils as funding reforms and local authority cuts threaten support services, it has been warned.

New research shows that plans to devolve the ethnic minority achievement grant to schools are already leading to extensive job losses in local authority teams supporting non-English speakers. Experts say this could undermine the base of specialist expertise available to schools.

In future, schools will receive the money directly and will be expected to buy back services from private or public providers.

Experts fear this will lead to schools buying in support "on the cheap" by taking on untrained teaching assistants or using online resources in place of a teacher.

Frank Monaghan, vice-chair of the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALD), said: "Classroom teachers will be expected to cope on their own and we will get the usual headlines about children being held back by children who don't speak English. They will be demonised and made to feel it's their fault, rather than our fault for failing to address their needs."

Ethnic minority achievement services are also being affected by massive cuts to local authorities' overall budgets, which supplied top-up funding.

Dr Monaghan spoke out as joint research with the NUT revealed that nearly 70 per cent of 87 local authorities surveyed are deleting posts or making forced or voluntary redundancies in their ethnic minority achievement teams.

Around 60 per cent said they were restructuring, which could lead to English as an additional language services being blended with school improvement, traveller education and special needs departments to form more general services. A small number of services were being deleted entirely.

The outcry comes shortly after prime minister David Cameron highlighted the need for immigrants to be better integrated into British society in order to curb extremism.

Meanwhile, teachers in Oldham's ethnic minority achievement team went on strike this week over plans to axe seven out of 10 posts by 1 April. The NUT claims the council has not worked hard enough to get schools to agree to buy back services, in order to secure jobs and maintain the same level of service.

Branch secretary Tony Harrison said that teaching English was particularly vital to the area. He said: "Since the race riots here, there have been massive gains made in community cohesion. The teachers believe this will set back all that has been done. Failing to teach these children English will mean everybody suffers.

"The council talks about choice but the schools have now lost the option for good of buying back these quality local professionals and their services."

Councillor Jack Hulme, cabinet member for children and families in Oldham, said "a proportion" of the funding would be retained to provide a central team of three staff dedicated to "developing skills" to support new arrivals. Six full-time posts would be cut, he added.

"We are confident that schools, their teachers and leaders are able to use this grant effectively to ensure all children are equipped to learn."

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