Hastings Community of Sanctuary is committed to strengthening a welcoming and sustaining environment for refugees and those seeking asylum.
As a consequence of the Secondary School’s Forum decision last year to withdraw from pooling financial resources from secondary schools for the English as an Additional Language Service (EALs), East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has concluded that the provision of the service is now unviable, and proposes to cut it.
ESCC’s online consultation, which closes on February 3rd, is a welcome offer for people to have their say but we are aware that the children and families most likely to be adversely affected by this closure, many from refugee backgrounds, are among the most vulnerable in our community and have little collective voice. Some are being helped by their caseworkers to respond to the council’s letter sent to directly affected families but we feel that wider awareness of this issue and its likely ramifications is of paramount importance.
In the hope of bringing these marginalised voices together with our own, to the table, we have been consulting across various groups over the past weeks. We have found a general and deep dismay at this proposal within the primary school community, given that the primary schools voted unanimously to continue pooling resources to enable the continuation of EAL provision in all of the schools where it is required. Schools are increasingly cash strapped and any reduction in service from ESCC will tend to affect their ability to provide additional educational support.
We have also found that the refugee families are deeply concerned to maintain and if possible strengthen the provision of extra English language support, so crucial for the academic progress and social integration of their children and, even as things stand, still not provided at a consistent level across all schools and in particular secondary schools.
We consider that without this service from the council it is very likely that many schools will find themselves compelled to reduce their EAL provision and prioritise what funding they have for other areas of curriculum and activity. This will mean that the children not only of incoming refugee families but also from other second language English backgrounds will receive less than the optimal amount of extra English tuition which they urgently need, on a sustained basis and of high quality, and for long enough to enable them properly to access the curriculum.
Devolving this responsibility to schools places an unreasonable burden on them and removes the accountability and visibility of the fair and equal provision of this service which should remain with the council.
There are particular worries for the consequence of any reduction of EAL provision within secondary schools, where children at secondary level are expected to know basic grammar before they begin secondary school, where grammar is no longer taught. There is thus a serious gap in the understanding of refugee and other second language English children who are entering secondary school on arrival in the UK, without having had the solid grounding given to those children in the primary system.
With the removal of funding for extra English lessons, the children at secondary level will struggle even more to comprehend written as well as spoken English, and therefore the entire curriculum. Academies often spread funding throughout their chain, so if a child were to go to a school with a low need for the language provision, as opposed to one within the chain in another area of the county with a higher need, they may not be able to access the academies’ funding for English lessons, as that money will be targeted at the higher need school.
An additional area of concern is that children with English as their second language may well have other special educational needs, and in this case, they will need far more intensive English language lessons, more likely one-to-one. Such needs as those posed by, for example dyslexia, or dyspraxia (or indeed ADHD and Aspergers) are likely to be masked in children learning to speak English and any such children will become even more vulnerable as their levels of support are stripped away.
Our conclusion is that the result of cutting EALs will inevitably be a considerable lessening overall of English language support and this probably of compromised quality without recourse to the expertise of the people currently employed to deliver this service. Although the proposal claims to ensure that the service is replaced by something just as satisfactory, it is in essence a cut in provision of extra, and expert, help to a large number of children whose lives may be adversely affected in terms of their academic, social and emotional progress and well-being.
A final and highly significant point is the inevitable knock-on effect any such cuts can have upon the far greater number of other children, in both primary and secondary schools, whose first language may be English, but who have various other special educational needs and who are also thus very vulnerable. Like the children from refugee families, they are also unlikely to have any kind of collective powerful voice or representation. As those who work in schools know, any diminution of one kind of support is likely ultimately to impinge upon schools’ abilities to provide all categories of extra support.
In resisting the cutting of this service we are expressing a concern with both its immediate and its wider impacts – upon children coming into school with no English, upon children who need support with other special educational needs and upon the many teachers, currently supporting these children, who will lose their jobs or find these seriously diminished and likely to make them less able to provide the optimum level of educational support.
The consultation closes on February 3rd, and we would urge the wider community to learn more about this proposed cut to EALs, and to complete the consultation by February 3rd here (you might need to cut and paste this link to your browser): Information and on-line survey for East Sussex PARENTS, CARERS and COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS (RESIDENTS
…to make your points directly to your own ESCC councillor – you can find your councillor here: https://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/mgFindMember.aspx
You can find more information and powerful responses about the SAVE EALs campaign here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SaveEALS/
And our call to action from Hastings Community of Sanctuary, with information and further links here.
Dr Felicity Laurence is Chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, and also writes on behalf of Hastings Supports Refugees, and Hastings Refugee Buddy Project.