In a further blow to the education system, the government is considering changing the rules on the budget for extra English support given to pupils in state schools. At present a sixth of all state school pupils in English do not speak English as their first language, yet the government is considering limiting the amount of time for which they are entitled to extra help to support their language learning at school.
The proposals, like so many other blows to the school system under the new funding regime, are not clear -cut, and have not yet been approved. The funding for the language support scheme would not be withdrawn, but rather it would be time-limited, with proposals to allow each pupil only 3-5 years support being considered. Yet it is clear that whilst this may be adequate for some pupils, others, particularly those from completely non-English backgrounds, desperately need more help to take on a completely new language. Furthermore, it is surely short-sighted of the government to believe that cutting back on funding for these students would be of financial benefit, as it will surely have a hugely detrimental impact on the contribution they are able to make to the economy later on.
In April this year, the funding for the scheme was already merged to form part of the school budget as a whole, rather than being ‘ring-fenced’ to be used specifically for language support. Just like the recent withdrawal of specific funding for one-to-one tuition with needy pupils, absorbing the funding into the general school budget is a way for the government to claim the resource has not been cut. But the sad truth is that with enormous education cuts and budgets being slashed, school heads are forced to divert all funds into the most desperately needed areas, meaning that these resources will effectively be lost.
Like so many of the recent government changes to the education budget, whilst these cuts are not overtly directed at pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, the distribution of pupils from minority backgrounds is such that it will inevitably have by far the highest impact on the poorest students.
Just at a time when tuition fees are rocketing to £9000, when vital schemes like Aim Higher are losing their funding, and when the Education Maintenance Allowance has been slashed, to deny pupils the support they need to gain a solid grasp of the English language could be the final nail in the coffin for many students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.