EthNic and cultural diversity have brought great benefits to Scotland’s capital. They have added greatly to the city’s reputation for openness – largely avoiding the tensions and social problems that have blighted other cities across the UK.
But diversity has brought challenges. The number of school pupils in Edinburgh needing help with English as a second language has soared by more than a quarter in only a year. Nearly 4800 youngsters were recorded as requiring English as an additional language support at the start of the current school year – equal to around one in ten of all pupils and a big jump from just over 3,700 in the summer of 2013
But the budget for providing specialist assistance has barely moved. Money put aside for specialist language support has been nudged up from £1.54 million in 2012-13 to just £1.57m this year.
This is nowhere near enough to provide the extra support that pupils need, piling pressure on teachers.
Dozens of languages – including Polish, Urdu, Cantonese and Turkish – are now spoken in our most multi-ethnic schools. And at one school, around three quarters of youngsters speak English as a second language, with 60 national tongues and dialects spoken.
Teachers welcome diversity. But it is not hard to envisage the extra demands now placed on teaching staff. Standards can only suffer by a failure to match funding to need. Without support that more accurately reflects the additional burdens placed upon our schools, the time of teachers will be spread more thinly. And that cannot but have an effect on the quality of teaching and learning.
Parents will be concerned, too, that supporting English as an additional language has not risen in line with demand. They will want to see that schools are helped to take these extra pressures into account.
The city’s education chiefs acknowledge that the number of pupils requiring additional help has risen faster than funding. They say some extra money had been allocated.
That acknowledgement is welcome. But they need to have another look to ensure that the funding matched need. Failure here could take its toll on pupils, disappoint parents – and threaten the city’s reputation for social cohesion.