Students from new migrant families and others, where English is an additional rather than first language, can have great difficulties at school and require a high level of teaching resources.
Background to the review
Following a significant increase in the number of students in ACT public schools for whom English is an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD), the ACT Legislative Assembly asked the government to undertake a review of EALD services. The review was carried out by the Education and Training Directorate (ETD) and included input from community stakeholders.
Council has been raising this issue for a number of years now. Prior to the 2008 ACT election Council advocated for the raising of the level of English language ability at which students continued to receive funding to improve their English.
During the review, Council President Viv Pearce attended a stakeholders meeting on behalf of Council in late February. Council subsequently made a written submission to the review.
In the ACT, a sizeable proportion of students come from a migrant or refugee background. The review found that there were 4,729 EALD
students in ACT schools. This equates to 1 in 8 students during 2012. It is likely that this figure will increase over the coming years.
Criticisms of the review
Council feels that the final review of EALD was a missed opportunity. The review provided a snap shot into services provided to non-English speaking students in ACT public schools.
However, it failed to pick up on several of the key concerns expressed by Council and other stakeholders.
Council raised numerous concerns about the current system in its consultation with the review. Council was particularly concerned over the levels of funding for migrant and refugee students and the need for greater support for teachers of these students.
Council also expressed concerns over the lack of transparency in the funding model for EALD students and the inadequate model for dealing with translation services. Council had previously raised concerns in relation to the Introductory English Centres which the review failed to address.
Council also advocated the need for teaching migrant and refugee students, with a focus on the cultural backgrounds of the students as well as on their literacy and numeracy.
In all these areas Council feels the review fell short as it failed to address the underlying issues.
Shortfalls in funding for migrant and refugee students
Whilst EALD student numbers have increased, the review highlighted that EALD funding has also increased. In 2007, $6.86 million was provided for the provision of EALD services. In 2012, this was increased to $8.07 million.
However, the increase of EALD students (with a below average language proficiency rating) far surpasses the increase in funding. Council feels it is crucial that funding continues to increase so that the current system can be improved and not merely maintained.
Whether an EALD student receives funding is dependent upon their Language Proficiency Rating (LPR). An LPR of 1 means that a student has minimal understanding and use of English. An LPR of 4 is considered to be equal to an average native English speaker for age and year level.
In 2012 the cut-off for full funding of EALD students was an LPR of 2.25 whilst the cut-off for partial funding was an LPR of 2.50. Some 60% of EALD students with an LPR less than 4 received some level of funding, an improvement on previous years.
But Council would like to see all EALudents whose proficiency in English is below that of an average native speaker receive appropriate additional funding. This will help these students reach their potential, and interact positively in mainstream classes whilst not detracting from the learning experiences of other students.
Support and professional development for teachers of migrant and refugee students is a must
The review found that current support and professional learning courses, to ensure staff working with EALD students are trained and qualified, are adequate. However, Council remains concerned that the report failed to address the loss of several key positions and services that previously supported teachers.
In particular Council remains concerned over the cessation of the EALD specific University of Canberra course which aimed to provide further training to teachers of EALD students and the removal of an EALD executive officer position within ETD.
Transparency issues in funding
The review failed to examine the transparency issues Council raised with regards to the funding of EALD students. Council would like to see an accountability measure in place to ensure that the funding is going to meet the needs of EALD students. It is important that funding is not being used elsewhere, particularly where funding is being provided directly to autonomous schools.
Reduction in Introductory English Centres
Another aspect of the review was to examine the role of Introductory English Centres in the ACT. Introductory English Centres are designed to provide intensive English tuition for students with little or no English proficiency to allow them to attend mainstream classes in the future. There are several centres for primary students located throughout Canberra and an Introductory English Centre for secondary and college-age students located at Dickson College.
Currently, EALD students attend Introductory English Centres for two terms with the possibility of an extension for a third term. ETD tries to maintain a student teacher ratio of 12:1 in Introductory English Centres. Council has expressed concern over the decreased length of time a student can attend a centre. Additionally, whilst the student teacher ratio in centres is lower than most mainstream classrooms it has been increasing over the past few years.
Council feels it is important to provide EALD students with extensive support at their early stages in learning English and remains concerned over the expanding student teacher ratios and the recent reduction in time students spend in Introductory English Centres.
Translation services for parents and carers of migrant and refugee students
The review briefly addressed the question of funding translation services for parents and carers of EALD students.
Whilst schools are given money to access translator services, it is Council’s experience that such money is insufficient. The review also neglected to explain how ETD allocated translator funding. Additionally, the review failed to cover what processes were in place for schools that required additional funding for translator services yet had exhausted the amount assigned to them.
An independent strategic plan for migrant and refugee students
Finally, the review failed to address whether EALD should fall under its own strategic plan or whether it should remain under the broader Literacy & Numeracy Strategic Plan.
Council feels approaching the needs of EALD students under the broader category of Literacy and Numeracy is not specific enough. It results in uncertainty as to where the funds are going, as discussed above. Instead Council would like to see EALD fall under its own strategic plan. This approach would be a similar way to that in which Indigenous students are taught, with a focus on the student’s culture along with their literacy and numeracy skills.
By Tim Lawley
Council's Policy Officer
This article was published in ParentACTion 2.2012, May 2012.