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Practising English on the West Hill. English lessons for young refugees in East Sussex are safe for another year.

Practising English on the West Hill. English lessons for young refugees in East Sussex are safe for another year.

EAL service for school-age refugees reprieved

Following a change of mind by maintained secondary schools, the English as an Additional Language (EAL) service provided to schools by East Sussex County Council has been saved – at least for a year. The news has been widely welcomed, as Nick Terdre reports.

ESCC’s EAL service, a vital resource primarily for young immigrants and asylum-seekers who speak no or little English and are thus unable to benefit fully from the education imparted at the schools they attend, has been reprieved following a decision by maintained secondary schools to maintain the pooling arrangement for funding the service.

The move reverses their decision last September to withdraw from the pooling arrangement, whereby funding provided to schools by the Department for Education for EAL purposes is handed over to ESCC to finance their EAL service. The loss of the secondary schools’ monies in turn prompted ESCC to announce that running the service was no longer viable and it therefore proposed to end it.

The decision would have taken effect at the end of March in secondary schools and in August in primary schools, and the 17 staff employed by the county council would have faced redundancy. At the same time a consultation into the proposed closure was launched by ESCC.

This prompted a massive response. “We had 838 responses to the consultation from parents, students, community members and school staff,” ESCC told HOT. “There were additional individual and group responses from EAL service colleagues. These will now be analysed and the responses will inform the future development of the service.”

The widespread dismay and protest against the proposed closure revealed by the consultation may well have contributed to the change of mind by secondary headteachers. In a statement they say that after reviewing their decision they have agreed to pool funding for the next financial year. However, they are clearly not entirely happy with the current arrangement and add that they will work with primary schools and academies to consider alternative options for the delivery of the service.

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement to support the service for these vulnerable pupils for another year,” said Hugh Hennebry, chair of ESCC’s Schools Forum and a representative of East Sussex maintained secondary schools, “And welcome the opportunity to look at new ways for schools to use the resources provided by the DFE to agree a more sustainable delivery model.”

Squeeze on school budgets

The root of the problem appears to be the crisis in school funding. The secondary heads note that as “schools budgets have been relentlessly squeezed, there is pressure on the money needed to pool resources to fund EALS” and provide a link to a parliamentary petition “should people wish to urge the government to increase funding for schools.”

Among the many who welcomed the secondary schools’ volte-face was Cllr Bob Standley, ESCC’s lead member for Education and Inclusion, Special Educational Needs and Disability, who had previously written to the heads to ask how they intended to provide the service when the arrangement with ESCC ended.

“It’s really good news that they have decided to make sure this funding is available for the coming year,” he told HOT. “We will talk to them about a longer, sustainable future for the service.”

Representatives of refugee support groups also welcomed the news. “We are very pleased at this change of heart by the Secondary Schools Forum,” Felicity Laurence, chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, told HOT. “Working as we do with children and families whose ability to participate in their new community is so dependent upon learning English really well, we are happy that support for the EAL Service is assured for the coming year.

“We will be continuing our campaign nonetheless to support the continuation of this excellent service without further disruption in the longer term.” She previously told HOT that closure of the ESCC’s service would also hit children “who do have English as their first language, but who have other special educational needs and therefore need extra support of various kinds…”

Jay Kramer, a former local and county councillor, pointed to the influence of the protest campaign on the secondary heads’ thinking. “I am delighted at the decision which demonstrates the strength of feeling in favour of this invaluable service,” she said.

“It just goes to show the impact of organising a grassroots campaign involving the community, trade unions, the Labour Party, etc. I hope over the coming year it will be possible to find a sustainable future for the EAL service.”

Meanwhile ESCC was keen to stress that the proposal to wind up the service was driven by the secondary schools’ decision to end pooling. “The consultation into the closure of the services was in response to the decision by maintained secondary schools not to pool funding, making the services unviable,” a spokesperson told HOT.

Union begs to differ

However its judgement of unviability has been contested by Dave Brinson, branch secretary of the East Sussex branch of the National Education Union. The union celebrated the withdrawal of ESCC’s proposal to close down the service which it attributed to a high-profile community campaign.

It also argued that, as primary schools accounted for around three-quarters of the funding (£400,000 compared with the secondary schools’ £137,000), the “County Council’s insistence on closing the whole service was irresponsible and unnecessary.”

A detailed analysis of costings by a senior member of the EAL staff had shown that it was possible to keep the service going, Mr Brinson told HOT.

“My members working in the service have argued all along that it is efficient and sustainable. It is a vital service supporting some of the most vulnerable students in our schools. Hundreds of parents, teachers and other members of the local community have tirelessly lobbied their local councillors over this issue and should rightly be proud of achieving today’s result,” he said.


This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 19 February.



Posted 20:18 Thursday, Feb 14, 2019 In: Campaigns

1 Comment

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  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    One good result this week! Shocking that the closure of this service was even considered.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Feb 15, 2019 @ 09:39

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