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Practising English on the West Hill. The future of English lessons for young refugees in East Sussex is uncertain.

Practising English on the West Hill. The future of special English lessons for young refugees in East Sussex is uncertain.

Dismay as ESCC proposes to close English language service for school-age refugees

East Sussex County Council’s move to close the English as an Additional Language service, a vital resource for school-age refugees, has provoked widespread concern among refugee families and support groups. While possible alternative ways of providing the service are being explored, they are calling on the community to respond to the consultation on the issue, which remains open until Sunday 3 February. Nick Terdre reports.

An East Sussex County Council spokesman told HOT: “All schools have a duty to support their pupils to access the curriculum; this includes pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL). Schools have funding within their budgets to support this group of children and it is up to them to decide how to use this resource.

“Until recently, all maintained schools have agreed for the Council to provide a service on their behalf, through the EAL Service, by ‘pooling’ their funds. From April 1, not enough schools have decided to use their funding to buy into EALS and, therefore, we do not have enough income to continue to deliver the service.

“It is with regret that we are having to consider the closure of EALS, but we are unable to subsidise the service where schools choose to use their resources in a different way. There is no reduction in the level of funding, but this money will stay in schools instead of coming to the council. Schools will still have a responsibility, however, to support all pupils with EAL.”

The decisive move came at a meeting of the ESCC’s Schools Forum in September, when representatives of secondary schools voted to discontinue the pooling arrangement, thus depriving ESCC’s service of £137,000 of funding. Meanwhile primary schools, with a combined £400,000 of funding, voted in favour of maintaining the current arrangement.

Vital resource

English language teaching is a vital and effective resource for refugee children entering the school system with no or little knowledge of the language, and thus unable both to benefit properly from educational activities and participate in their local communities. The Schools Forum meeting in September was told that “…95% of pupils supported by EALS showed accelerated progress in English language levels following the intervention from EALS.”

Campaign poster on the SaveEALS Facebook page.

Campaign poster on the SaveEALS Facebook page.

“The approach is all about integration,” Cllr Standley told HOT. “You have to get the languages right so that non English speakers are integrated into school so that they’re not separate, they’re part of the normal system.

“It is my view that the service needs to be supplied. I have written to the secondary schools heads asking how they intend to deliver the service.” This is at present unclear – schools may decide to make individual provision, or some may establish a joint arrangement. The EAL funds are not ring-fenced, so in these cash-strapped times some schools may decide to use them for other purposes.

Jay Kramer, a former local and county councillor in Hastings and member of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, disagrees with ESCC’s decision. “The County is trying to blame the secondary schools for the decision, whereas there is no reason why they should not continue the service,” she says in a statement on the group’s website.

“There has been no attempt to look at different ways of delivering the service or restructuring it, as has been done in Brighton and Hove and elsewhere.”

Redundancies

If the proposal is implemented, EALS will stop in secondary schools at the end of March and in primary schools in August. The 17 skilled and experienced staff employed in ESCC’s EAL service will be made redundant.

Among the parties campaigning to keep ESCC’s EAL service going are Hastings Community of Sanctuary,  Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings Refugee Buddy Project, a number of county and local councillors, including Trevor Webb and Godfrey Daniel, and the East Sussex branch of the National Education Union, which has set up a SaveEALS Facebook page.

In a postcard it has produced for people to send to their councillor, the union proposes saying “…I would ask you to note that East Sussex’ primary schools have voted to commit more than three quarters of the core funding required to run this service from their current budgets, and many of the secondary schools and academies would like to be able to use services on a ‘buy in basis’. The funding is there!

“Management in ESCC Children’s Services claims that the service is unsustainable. Staff actually working in the EAL service disagree – and have produced costed proposals to back this up.”

Hastings Community of Sanctuary has sent an open letter to ESCC listing its concerns if its EAL service disappears. “The service is vital in terms of any consideration of equality of opportunity,” Dr Laurence told HOT. “With the removal of EALS funding, and the likely effects of this on provision of English language support, children with English as a second language may struggle to comprehend written English as well as spoken, and to access the entire curriculum.

“The important points for me and the groups I am working with are, firstly, the very likely adverse effects upon an already vulnerable group of children – those for whom English is not their first language. In the specific case of those children coming into schools from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds, this vulnerability is greatly exacerbated because of their various traumatic experiences prior to coming to the UK.

“Secondly, we are also very concerned that there will be a knock-on effect on many other children, who do have English as their first language, but who have other special educational needs and therefore need extra support of various kinds; any reduction in provision of extra support impacts in the end on all provision of all extra educational support.”

Campaign poster from SaveEALS Facebook page.

Campaign poster from SaveEALS Facebook page.

Hundreds affected

Across East Sussex several hundred young people will be affected. The number signed up for the service so far in this academic year is 250, but new referrals are made all the time, and the final figure for 2017/18 was 471.

“The decision will have the greatest impact on Hastings and St Leonards since we have a Home Office designation for asylum seekers dispersal,” Ms Kramer says. “Many of the families in receipt of the service are traumatised and vulnerable and need the security of help from someone to enable their children to access education when they do not speak English.”

Most schools in Hastings are now part of academy groups, and as such do not participate in the pooling arrangement. According to Cllr Standley, they buy into the service as and when they require it, presumably at lesser expense. The feeling among secondary schools that this is an inequitable arrangement may have helped prompt their decision to withdraw from pooling.

Those sharing the concerns about the future provision of EAL are asked to respond to the consultation, the purpose of which, according to ESCC, “is to understand the effect the closure of the service would have, identify any issues that may not have been considered and help the council identify things it could do to address concerns. The information will also be shared with schools as they will need to provide the appropriate support services in other ways.”

“The consultation was set up to explore people’s concerns, and that’s why we want as many as possible to respond,” said Dr Laurence.

 

 Consultation ESCC is inviting responses to questionnaires aimed at three different groups: pupils and students, schools, and parents, carers and community stakeholders. The deadline for submitting answers is Sunday 3 February.

 

Posted 09:35 Sunday, Jan 27, 2019 In: Campaigns

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Eye on the ball

    Although it doesn’t replace a properly funded service, some additional English language tuition could be provided by volunteers (especially with TEFL teaching experience) in after school groups, one to one speaking and reading, play groups etc. We must give these children every chance we can to succeed.

    Comment by Eye on the ball — Monday, Feb 4, 2019 @ 21:16

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    To close the English language service for refugees of school age is a seriously worrying situation. These young people need all the help they can get from us and this service is a vital service. A resolution must be found. Yet again it appears the most vulnerable in our society are the victims of cut backs. Not good enough.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Thursday, Jan 31, 2019 @ 12:18

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