“Immigration into Britain overwhelms the British education system”,
“Britain’s educational system is inadequate in dealing with immigration into Britain”.
Which is it?
The first three months into a PGCE (Post-Graduate Certificate in Education) are tough. The workload is unsociable, you think about ‘subject knowledge’ as a collection of abstract and unmemorable facts, and you recognise that even though your lesson planning is complete, you are yet to face the paralysis and intimidation that kicks in over your new year ten class, with 70% of the pupils towering over you by at least a 1’5″ margin.
You will also experience your first three months very much in the same way you might experience riding a roller-coaster: you’ll hit every dip and bend at full pace, you’ll climb and climb and climb as your teacher-pupil relationships build and your lesson plans succeed, but then reality sinks in. You’ll soon realise that 40% of your new Year Ten class (the same class with the individuals hell-bent on ruining your life) have English as an Additional Language and are thus labelled as “EAL students”. Impact? In the context of your first three months teaching, your adrenaline will drain as you descend into panic, worrying that your resources are incomprehensible and simply inaccessible for those students.
Now EAL is an acronym that refers directly to pupils that have moved to the UK where they have had to learn English as an additional language to their native tongue, or the language they spoke in their home country when they were growing up. Currently in England roughly 19% of the Primary school population and 14% of the Secondary school population are EAL, and these statistics are growing. Our school communities are becoming increasingly diverse with children entering the British education system from regions as far as India and Africa but they are also arriving within Europe, particularly Poland and Romania.
Now as a beginning History teacher with absolute primitive knowledge of many of these languages, the prospect of teaching the Battle of Hastings to these pupils who may have only had a few months exposure to the English language is far more than a perplexing scratch on the forehead. That is not to say that the pupil from Gambia or Poland can not and will not grasp the lesson objectives and purpose of this topic to the same proficiency as their ‘English-speaking’ peers, but what it does mean is that that there are a lot more stepping stones to cross before they secure a solid footing and comfortability with the said topic. Often is the case in secondary schools whereby those EAL learners are drafted down into the lower sets, with the lower achievers solely because of their weak linguistic fluency; a weak grasp of English does not equate to any lesser academic ability and it might be a thought that had the Battle of Hastings been taught in Polish, that particular Polish student in my class may have been the highest achiever in the room.
For any dedicated teacher, a student with a marginal understanding of the English language will pose a considerable concern for them, particularly because of the challenge of delivering high quality lessons that the EAL student can access and make sense of.
It ultimately comes back to a topic that is contested year on year by politicians across the spectrum: immigration. Immigration is a reality for our country, albeit a contentious reality, but one whereby people choose to live in the UK to enter a better jobs market, or access a higher education. They may also be seeking asylum, whereby families have entered Britain and view our country as a place of sanctuary far from the persecution they have received at home. And furthermore, the real reality is that our government should be accountable for promoting integration for these individuals and families who are entering our society.
But if a government is going to be responsible for immigration, why does it not efficiently accommodate for the challenges that this poses to education? If a government wants to admit migrants into Britain with the purpose of integrating them into the wider society through a free education, why does it not allocate more resources to boosting the attainment of EAL students and improving the accessibility of our curriculum?
Many hours of learning are lost for these students because of an ever-dwindling number of school translators, or over a miscommunication about the student’s grasp of written and spoken English.
By allocating funds within the education system to provide consistent translation in all subjects through the use of an EAL specialist, or the effective implementation of a compulsory EAL team in schools situated in areas of high immigration will the fluency of these students in the English language be boosted. An EAL team might additionally engage in out-reach work within a specific community, informing EAL parents about the structures and principles of the British education system.
This approach is called inclusivity – something which our education system is lacking in it’s approach to EAL.
Only by achieving a nation-wide consistency will the education system provide genuine opportunity for these students to develop their inherent skills which are often badly conveyed by EAL pupils because of their anxiety at being educated in a foreign language. Teachers need linguistic expertise when educating EAL pupils, and these pupils need specialist help to unlock their academic potential. An inadequate educational approach will only be reflected in inadequate development.
If our government chooses to admit migrants families into this country fairly, so then they should also choose to ensure their children will have a fair opportunity to excel in all of this country’s educational arenas.