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Number of pupils with only basic English jumps by 600%

The number of children without English as their first language being taught in Northern Ireland's schools has increased by almost 600% in just eight years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

There are currently 7,899 ‘newcomer children’ in schools here — compared with 1,366 during the 2001/02 school year.

The children — known as ‘English as an Additional Language’ pupils — do not have satisfactory language skills to participate fully in the school curriculum and do not have a language in common with the teacher.

In addition to the increasing numbers, the diversity of the backgrounds and the needs of newcomer pupils are also now much wider than ever before.

The Department of Education launched its policy for supporting newcomer children in April last year. It aims to help newcomer pupils to feel welcome and participate fully in the curriculum.

Department funding for newcomers was £8m during the 2009/10 financial year, with £6.9m of this going directly to schools.

In March, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane launched three Diversity Toolkits to aid schools as they integrate newcomer pupils.

Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers Union (UTU), welcomed the launch of the kits but said it was vital for the department to realise that this is only a first step.

“For some time now we have been lobbying for more support for teachers as the tide of newcomer children grows,” she said.

“Bridging the language barrier is a fundamental element in integrating these children into our schools and communities — yet in the past we have seen this area targeted when cuts were required.”

Last month, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said that the government does not have accurate information on newcomer children living here.

Patricia Lewsley said the lack of accurate and accessible information on asylum-seeking families, unaccompanied children or child refugees makes it very difficult to provide them with the support they need.

“Greater visibility needs to be brought to the experiences of these children, who can be more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and poor education,” she said.

Meanwhile, South Belfast MLA Anna Lo will welcome young people from diverse cultural backgrounds to the Senate Chamber at Stormont tomorrow when students from integrated colleges meet to consider ways to welcome newcomers into the school environment.

Around 100 students taking part in the citizenship youth conference will tour Parliament Buildings before hearing the experiences of Ayca Lacey, a past pupil of Lagan College, who arrived from Turkey speaking very little English.

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