Northern Ireland: Foreign pupils in a language trap

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Oct 3 10:09:15 UTC 2006

October 2, 2006) Foreign pupils in a language trap

Last year, there were 2,700 foreign children in our schools who have
serious difficulties with English. Many felt isolated and frustrated among
their peers. This year, it is suggested the figure could have doubled and
reports from a teaching union suggest that the Government has been
dragging its feet in helping teachers, many of whom are struggling to
cope. PHILIP BRADFIELD reports Many schools are failing to cope with the
influx of foreign children because of a lack of support from the
Department of Education, it is claimed.

The department's latest figures show there are 2,679 children in Northern
Ireland who have real difficulties with English as an additional language.
However, the figures for this term are not collected until next month and
there are suggestions that the total may have doubled in some areas.
Ulster Teachers' Union general secretary Avril Hall-Callaghan said there
was a structure in place to support teachers but cutbacks have resulted in
it being slashed. "The English as an additional language service has been
disbanded, with 12 teachers going in the Belfast area in August, 2005,"
she said. "There have been reductions in other board areas, too, with the
North Eastern Education and Library Board making 50 per cent cuts.

"We have been trying to pursue the Department of Education to provide a
single Province-wide EAL service but, in the meantime, there are pressures
on schools. "Some are coping well. Some have a large number of immigrant
children who have good English but many just can't cope without specialist
support. "There are certainly schools calling out for more help, in terms
of things like inform- ation packs and interpreting support for parents.
We had been promised a special children and young people's package earlier
this year but, as far as we are aware, it is not yet in place. "It is a
big problem for these children. They are in a different country and, for
some of them, the child is the only member of the family with some

"If that child is not assisted, it is obvious the whole family is being
disadvantaged. In short, teachers need funding and a structure for a
Province-wide EAL service as soon as possible." She said 910 is given to
schools by the department to arrange specialist teaching for each EAL
pupil but it was always agreed that this was going to be only part of the
solution.  "There were very well-trained staff available one year ago to
deal with this," she said. A source in one board said that EAL funding was
a very sensitive issue in relations with the department. "We are trying to
get funding to carry out this function but that is really a Department of
Education responsibility, not ours," said the source. "The actual figures
of EAL children in the system could now be double that which the
department displays on its website, as those figures are now one year out
of date."

A spokeswoman for the South Eastern Education and Library Board said its
number of EAL pupils was increasing and was placing additional pressures
on schools and support services. The board has three full-time and three
part-time specialist teachers working in 46 schools. A spokesman for the
North Eastern Education and Library Board said there was a high level of
demand on its EAL service and its two specialist teachers were working at
full capacity. A Southern Education and Library Board spokesman said it
had over 1,000 EAL pupils, a figure which had risen markedly in recent
years. The Western Education and Library Board said that its numbers were
also growing and the estimated total was 300.

A spokesman said the the board had a stable and well-established team in
place, providing constant support to schools.  Belfast Education and
Library Board did not disclose EAL pupil figures, saying that they were
now being updated with schools. One problem facing all schools is that
funding for each EAL pupil is given a year after they have attended. If a
pupil enrols after November 1, no additional funding is allocated until
the following April 1. Each school is then left to work out how the cash
should best be spent. A Department of Education spokesman said it was at
"an advanced stage in its development of an English as an additional
language policy", which it anticipates should be finalised by the end of
this year. The department has budgeted 3.2 million to be spent on EAL this
financial year, he added. Since 1997, he said, education spending had
increased by 60 per cent while pupil numbers have been falling.  Many
board members have complained bitterly of enforced cutbacks recently. 02
October 2006


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