Changing face of school population

STEVE DOWNES The changing cultural face of Norfolk was revealed last night as it emerged that children from at least 100 different countries are being taught in the county's schools.


The changing cultural face of Norfolk was revealed last night as it emerged that children from at least 100 different countries are being taught in the county's schools.

But with the number of overseas children increasing rapidly, there are fears that efforts to speed integration could be jeopardised by the axing of grants used to help them to learn English.

Last year, 1,850 foreign children were helped by the county's English language support service (ELSS) - including 731 new referrals.

Teachers from the service visited 233 schools to work with children from 99 countries, speaking 88 different languages.

Those figures look set to be outstripped in 2006-07, with 263 new children put forward for help in the first month of the school year.

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The increases are largely down to the high number of migrant workers from Portugal and those coming to East Anglia from the eight accession states of the European Union (EU), including Poland and Lithuania.

Among the 263 referrals so far this school year, 41 different languages are spoken - including Portuguese by 71 children, 60 Polish, 30 Lithuanian, and significant numbers who speak Chinese, Bengali, Turkish, Russian and Slovakian.

David Sheppard, Norfolk County Council's senior adviser (equalities and special school development), said the growing diversity was a "bit of a bonus" for schools as it helped them to broaden the outlook of English pupils.

But he said: "Of course, it would be good if we had more resources.

"I'm not claiming that the children get as much support as we would like to give them - the more children that arrive, the more stretched our services will become.

"We are managing to cope, but we would like to have sufficient money to enlarge the number of teachers in the team to give better support than we do."

He said the money from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to support pupils with "English as a foreign language" went straight to schools as part of their annual grant.

But another £150,000 a year came from the government in the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant (Emag) - used by the council to fund the equivalent of 12 specialist teachers to support overseas pupils.

Mr Sheppard said: "Emag has been declining over the past few years, and there's some doubt whether it will exist after 2008. Without it, Norfolk would have to make a very difficult decision about whether it's able to continue with the support service."

He said there had been some problems in integrating the foreign children and encouraging communities to accept them.

"Prejudice happens on occasion. But, generally, Norfolk schools are becoming better and better at seeing that and making sure it doesn't impact on the children.

"These children are broadening the experience of the other children in the school. It's giving them greater insight into the diversity in the world. It's a bit of a bonus to have them."

Paul Fisher, the county council's children's services head of finance, said he was "hopeful" the government would continue to fund the support service.

He said: "We work to support all children and young people entitled to an education in Norfolk, no matter where they come from.

"This is an important service and we work closely with many schools to support pupils who have English as an additional language.

"We're committed to continuing this service and are hopeful that the government will put measures in place to make sure funding continues beyond 2008."

Of the 1,850 foreign pupils helped last year, 675 spoke Portuguese, 132 Polish, 123 Lithuanian, 85 Arabic, 56 Bengali, 45 Russian, 41 Spanish and 41 Tagalog - one of the main dialects of the Philippines.