Number of kids needing language help doubles

Dalry Primary Learning Assistant Kiran Duggal with 10-year-old pupil Priyanka Kiran. Picture: Greg Macvean
Dalry Primary Learning Assistant Kiran Duggal with 10-year-old pupil Priyanka Kiran. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THE number of schoolchildren receiving help with English as a second language in the Capital’s schools has more than doubled in only eight years, new figures show.

One in every 11 pupils in the city’s primary and high schools is receiving extra support, with the city investing £1.6 million in an effort to ensure 134 schools and learning establishments get the resources that they need to support 3721 youngsters.

Education leaders, teachers and parents have welcomed the growing diversity as an enriching experience for all pupils.

But union leaders said there were not enough learning assistants to cope with increasing needs.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said: “I don’t think there is sufficient generic support for those young people with English as an additional language [EAL] needs.

“What’s needed in schools are sufficiently trained learning assistants in a range of subjects to serve pupils with additional language needs and I’m not sure that’s available at the moment in Edinburgh. I know it’s difficult getting people trained, and budgets are under threat, but we really need to do the best for all our kids and make sure that support is available.”

Mr McKenzie’s call was backed by parent leaders.

Tina Woolnough, Edinburgh representative for the National Parent Forum for Scotland, said: “Cuts to services at a time when language support needs and support needs of all sorts are growing is not a great combination.

“Classroom learning assistants are absolutely essential and I know a number of parents are concerned that they are the first things to get cut when budgets are tight because they’re quite invisible.”

Teachers are now providing support EAL to 8.6 per cent of youngsters attending primary and secondary schools – up from 3.7 per cent in 2005.

Evidence of rapidly rising demand for English language support comes as overall ethnic diversity in city classrooms soars to new highs.

Just over 18 per cent of pupils attending schools last year were from black and other minority ethnic groups – up from 11.6 per cent in 2005.

Councillor Melanie Main, education spokeswoman for the city’s Green group, said: “As Edinburgh becomes an ever more international and outward-facing city, our schools are really rising to how we teach children about global citizenship and that’s really embedded in Curriculum for Excellence. So what better than to celebrate that diversity in the schools themselves?”

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “This reflects our position as a vibrant city of international standing as families from different countries bring with them a wide variety of new ideas, beliefs, customs and skills.”