Don't asset strip Section 11

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
In October 1997, Tony Blair announced that he would restore the funding for ethnic-minority pupils. "It is not a cost," the Prime Minister asserted, "it is an investment." Those of us working under Section 11 rejoiced. We, and the pupils we serve, were reprieved.

Now we hear the noise of the scaffold being re-erected and the beginnings of the dismemberment of language services (TES, October 9).

Gone will be the flexibility to meet changing local patterns of need. Gone will be the routine sharing of good language practice between schools. Gone will be the expertise of the English as an Additional Language teachers, for they will be swallowed up by the National Literacy Strategy, the special needs Code of Practice, subject shortages and the "cover-list".

And with them will depart the collective spirit of the body of people dedicated to pursuing the linguistic, social and cultural needs of ethnic-minority pupils and their families.

We feel we can say, "Gone", to the above because we are sure that devoted Section 11 colleagues will succumb to the lure of the mainstream. And who would blame them, shut out in the cold so long!

It was reported that 90 per cent of Section 11 cash would be handed over to schools. Schools will no doubt have to signify how this funding will be spent, and account for it. Which implies some form of monitoring - by the Office for Standards in Education?

Our experience is that inspection teams frequently do not understand Section 11 work. That many OFSTED teams are made up of local education authority inspectors does not inspire us with confidence that LEA inspection would adequately fulfil the monitoring role either.

There were consultation meetings within the review process to listen to the views of the communities. The mood of these meetings, we understand from sources who attended several, was against devolvement to schools for fear of these very consequences. Have their views been over-ridden by their "betters"? The submission to the review of the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum was also firmly against devolvement. They listened, but did not hear.

Local education authorities have a role to challenge schools to improve practice. Under present arrangements authorities have some leverage - that which is additional can be withdrawn. These proposals remove this leverage.

For all its flaws, the current project-based arrangement does provide informed, authoritative support for Section 11 colleagues; support which they can draw upon when challenging school practices which disadvantage ethnic-minority pupils.

These proposals will dismantle that support. It is our ethnic-minority pupils who will suffer.

Devolvement to schools is not investment in the education of ethnic-minority children but asset-stripping.

Andy Alsop, Sehder Bismal, Anne Harding, Eileen McKen, Olav Tyskerud, Penny Wall.

Managers of Section 11 projects in Wolverhampton.

The views expressed in this letter are personal and may not reflect the official view of the education authority.

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