Decades of neglect are causing NSW schools to fail to meet the language and literacy needs of young Australians from refugee and migrant backgrounds, a new report shows.
The report on the state of specialist English language provision in NSW was submitted to the Federal Government and Opposition by an alliance of concerned university, community and teacher organisation across the state.
They include the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW, the Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ATESOL) and the NSW Migrant and Refugee Education Working Party, who are all calling for greater support.
The findings of the report show that successive NSW Governments are failing to meet the English language and literacy learning needs each year of up to 50,000 from migrant and refugee students enrolled in the state’s culturally and linguistically diverse schools.
“In the last decade, the number of migrant and refugee students needing English language and literacy support increased by over 30% but the number of specialist English language teaching allocations remained unchanged”, Dr Michael Michell from the University of NSW explained.
Janet Freeman, president ATESOL NSW, said that in many Kindergarten classes, teachers without any extra specialist support, are taking classes where only a handful of students speak English.
“Schools are constantly having to find casual teachers to fill the positions that permanent specialist teachers should be doing. The students are missing out,” Freeman said.
The alliance said that the under-resourcing of specialist English language teachers has been made worse by the “absence of state-wide planning, the misdirection of needs-based funding, reliance on casual teachers and the erosion of targeted English language learning programs in schools”.
The report has outlined a comprehensive policy agenda to address the growing English language and literacy learning needs of migrant and refugee students in the coming decade.
The alliance is seeking commitment from all parties to three urgent priorities:
- the allocation of an additional 250 permanent English teaching positions for schools;
- the restoration of 32 specialist school support consultancy positions, axed in 2013;
- state-wide forward planning and capacity building including the reestablishment of Departmental staffing processes to ensure that trained specialist teachers are appointed to English language teaching positions in schools.
“Addressing these issues must be a priority for NSW Government”, Ethnic Communities’ Council Chair, Marta Terracciano, said.
Terracciano said the NSW public school system must be equipped to respond to Australia’s ongoing migration and humanitarian programs over the next decade.
“We have a duty of care to our young people. Teachers and schools are crying out for this support,” she said.