Language cuts ‘put city kids’ education at risk’

Learning assistant Kiran Duggal at Dalry Primary. Picture: Greg Macvean
Learning assistant Kiran Duggal at Dalry Primary. Picture: Greg Macvean
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CUTS to spending on English language assistants are putting the education of children in the Capital at risk, union leaders have warned.

A surge in the number of ethnic minority children in city classrooms has resulted in spending per head for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) dropping by nearly 30 per cent since 2005.

Bosses at the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) said the cuts risked leaving thousands of youngsters “shut out” of the curriculum, and warned there could be discipline problems as teachers struggle to prepare lesson plans for all their pupils.

SSTA acting general secretary Alan McKenzie said: “When you’re dealing with classes of 30, it’s difficult to give a bespoke service if you’re having to adjust for pupils with language needs.”

According to the figures, obtained under Freedom of Information powers, £1.56 million was spent on EAL support in Edinburgh schools in the 2012-13 session – up from £1.033m in 2005-06.

But with EAL pupil numbers more than doubling from 1747 to 3721, the average spend per pupil dropped from £591 to £420.

Across the city, teachers now work in classes where dozens of languages are spoken.

At Dalry Primary, one of Edinburgh’s most multi-ethnic schools, more than 13 per cent of pupils have EAL needs.

Union leaders praised the quality of service provided by language assistants but slammed the funding trend as “unfair”.

Mr McKenzie said: “If you’re cutting spending per head then you’re restricting access to the curriculum and if you’re restricting access to the curriculum, you’re doing these pupils a complete disservice.

“If there are kids who are effectively excluded because of language difficulties, then there are potential disciplinary problems. Kids start doing things they shouldn’t be.”

Neil Mclean, Edinburgh secretary for the NASUWT union, said: “The quality of EAL staff is superb but there seem to be fewer of them and they are stretched.

“I find that pupils who come here from abroad tend to be very well-behaved, hard-working and positive. But they can become completely disillusioned if they don’t get the support they need.”

Education chiefs stressed that total funding for additional language support had increased in every year since 2005 and said many of the approaches aimed at EAL children – such as the city’s Fresh Start literacy project – would benefit all learners.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “This year we have put a record £1.6m into our schools at a time when Scottish local authorities are having to make financial savings due to the economic climate. Edinburgh has long been a multicultural city which we value strongly.

“It is important that we reflect this in the education we provide to ensure every child in Edinburgh gets the best possible start in life.”

Diversity on the increase

Ethnic diversity in the Capital’s schools has soared in recent years, according to the latest data.

Nearly one in five of all pupils in city classrooms (18.2 per cent) are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds – up from 11.6 per cent in 2005.As a result, schools are much more polyglot, with 107 languages now spoken across Edinburgh.

Flora Stevenson tops the list of primaries boasting the highest number of languages - up to 36 can be heard in its classrooms. And James Gillespie’s emerges as the most linguistically diverse secondary school - 43 languages are spoken there.

Education bosses have introduced programmes to promote the Capital’s growing diversity, including the TRUE Colours group and school-based celebrations of languages and cultures.