I heard a month or so ago that our local service for children who have English as an Additional Language (EMAS) was being cut. Here is their website which gives you a flavour of what they do. The funding for supporting children in secondary schools was to be halved. This was shocking enough as the service provides vital support to pupils and the teachers who are trying to enable them to access the curriculum. There was no news regarding services for Primary School and Nursery children.
On Friday I heard through a primary school Headteacher in Brighton that the Council is proposing that the whole EMAS service is cut, with a small number of Bilingual Support Assistants being retained, but without any co-ordinating service.
The nursery I work in and the school we feed have many children from ethnic minorities and many different languages are spoken. This enriches the experience for all children at the school and nursery. It has a hugely positive effect on countering prejudice because if young children spend time with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and cultures, they are naturally accepting and tolerant. Caring for and educating children who don’t have English as their first language or whose parents speak no or very limited English, has its challenges though. In nursery, we have found the support from EMAS in the form of advice, training courses and, especially, Bilingual Support Assistants who come and work with children at the setting, invaluable. They encourage continuing use of home languages which (although this may seem counter-intuitive) is the best way of ensuring children learn English well. They are also vital in helping us to liaise with parents, acting as translators. One small example recently was with a grandmother who speaks no English and does the dropping off and picking up. She was not bringing a coat for the 3 year old child as she didn’t understand that we take children outside in all weathers; this was not common practice in her home country. Once this had been explained in her home language, she brought a coat every day.
I am not a fan of judging schools by SATs or other test results but this is the system we seem to be stuck with. The school I work in is in a deprived area and is under-subscribed. Prospective parents look at SATs scores because they are encouraged to do so and because they are published. They are put off by low SATs scores even though for the pupils concerned they are often excellent, given their starting points. My youngest son attends the school and is doing really well. He does well because he is reasonably bright and we support him and home and actively support the school. Unfortunately, many parents see what we have done as some sort of gamble.
For EAL pupils, if they have not had adequate support early on, their results will be deflated. As well as being demotivating for the children concerned, it has a negative effect on the school’s overall results. This makes even less parents inclined to choose the school which perpetuates a problem. Under-subscribed schools are forced to take children who have been excluded from other schools because they have spaces. They find it harder to recruit and retain staff, including Head Teachers. A falling roll means less money coming in to the school at a time when the talk is of schools ‘buying in’ support services rather than LEAs providing them for all schools (due to swinging cuts and to funds being diverted to Free Schools).
I sincerely hope the council think ahead to the longer term implications of cutting such an important service but the cynic in me isn’t filled with optimism.