We MUST fight for an equal chance for all children in the current economic climate of severe cuts to education

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Our school, like most schools, is facing very severe cuts to our budget. The head is battling to keep all teachers in their jobs by trying to avoid replacing some of the staff as they leave.

Like all schools, the head has a legal commitment to staffing all mainstream classes. There is also a legal requirement to pay for extra support for Special Educational Needs. However, there is no legal requirement to pay for any kind of language development within the curriculum for international children who speak no, or little, English. As one consequence of the cuts, 1.6 of our staff are not being replaced for the next academic year.

The EMAG grant which provided small sums to give a little extra help/resources for ethnic minorities who are performing below the national average, and for EAL children, is no longer ring fenced and has been hugely reduced. Thus, some schools up and down the country have had no choice but to place these vulnerable children into mainstream classes with no support and no English language lessons beyond possibly an occasional visit from a consultant with the LA (and their budgets have gone/are going). Other schools have opted to place these children under SEN when they are not SEN.

Many of the parents of these children have no idea how to work the admissions system and there appears to be no local body willing to guide them through it. The present government is absolutely silent about this group of children. I have written to the local Lib Dem offices twice, and also to Mr Gove, and recieved no replies.

Recently, a little boy whose father has died, whose mother is too sick to look after him, and whose granny has had to send him to live with his sister in the UK because she is 85, was kept waiting by the LA for a school placement for seven weeks. An academy refused to accept this student, allegedly because he speaks no English. There are countless stories like this and they are on the increase.

I have read the debates by free schools advocates about selection, non-selection and the numbers of children eligible for these schools who are on free school meals; but, as far as I know, no one setting up a free school has addressed the issue of whether provision is going to be made for EAL children.

Contrary to the Daily Mail hype, economic migrants make huge contributions in all sorts of ways to our country. Furthermore, whatever our views on economic migrants depriving UK citizens of employment, these are children I am talking about. Some of them come in from war zones; some come from cultures and educational contexts that are very different from ours. Many of them have had to leave a parent behind, for lots of reasons; all of them have had to leave their best friends. Many of them become the targets for school bullies.

We owe it to them to give them the best education we can, in line with our commitment to equality of opportunity for all children who are admitted into our education system. We also owe it to these children to see beyond their second language skills. We should not refuse admission on the assumption that they will negatively affect the school's grades and league table positions; or because schools cannot afford the staffing.

Is there anyone out there who shares my concerns?
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 27/03/2011 - 21:10

It's shocking that the Academy refused to accept this student and terrible that these cuts are affecting our poorest children. We really need to sort out the mess of the admissions' system and need to increase the pupil premium. I think the Free School system just doesn't work; even if you had a Free School for EAL students that would just create its own "ghetto". What's desperately needed is a fair admissions' system so that we don't have the situation at the moment where over three quarters of children on Free School Meals are concentrated in a quarter of our schools.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 27/03/2011 - 21:40

I suspect these stories will become commonplace. Navigating the admissions system in areas where there are lots of different schools, with different and complicated criteria, is hard enough for parents who do have English as a first language, but extremely difficult for those that don't and are not well supported in the community. It would be interesting to know how the Labour 'choice advisers' in local authorities have worked in practice in terms of helping the less knowledgeable families. I suspect they will be the first to go in council cutbacks. Plans to take handling of in year admissions away from local authorities, and give this task back to schools, won't help either as in some cases it will mean a return to schools picking and choosing those they want (often the easier to teach) off the waiting list.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 28/03/2011 - 12:33

Education seems to be less about children and more about perceived increases in standards. Governments fall over themselves to prove that they're the ones doing the most to raise achievement, but achievement has been reduced to raw league table position (relying on grade-inflated exams) rather than a steady assessment of each child's progress (as in Finland).

The OECD said last week that education investment in the UK needed to be targeted at the most disadvantaged. It said the pupil premium was a good start but more was needed.

I don't think the pupil premium will be sufficient. Schools will pick the bright child on free school meals, but hope the more challenging will go elsewhere. They won't want to trade league table position for cash.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Tue, 29/03/2011 - 06:32

Thanks so much for sharing my concerns. By the way, I think the pupil premium works out at round 47p a day??

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