Abandonment of the guaranteed staffing entitlement for English as a Second Language (ESL) under the State Government’s Local Schools, Local Decisions policy should be reversed, an ESL community forum demanded on July 22.
ESL provision is currently allocated to schools as staffing but the State Government’s policy will see that provision go next year, when positions are converted to cash.
The more than 200 teachers, principals, parents, students and community members at the forum expressed their anger at the plan and declared their willingness to hold the government to account on the continued provision of ESL.
University of Sydney Faculty of Education and Social Work Associate Professor Dr Ken Cruikshank highlighted the damage that had been done to ESL programs under devolution in Victoria, where the number of qualified ESL teachers in the Victorian public education system K–6 dropped by over 40 per cent. His research into the UK experience also showed the impact that decentralisation was having on English as an Additional Language and bilingual students there. He went on to present his work on the ‘ESL slump’ that was occurring in south western and western Sydney schools, which showed how ESL students’ performances dropped dramatically once ESL support was withdrawn, despite previously reaching overall state averages.
University of NSW School of Education Research Fellow Dr Michael Michell’s presentation titled NSW — The Failing Multicultural State outlined the damage already done to the NSW ESL program and presented numerous case studies on what was now occurring in schools under Local Schools, Local Decisions and the ‘de-programming agenda’ being pursued by the Department.
Dr Michell also presented on the Auditor-General’s Performance Audit: Settling humanitarian entrants in New South Wales (2012) which was highly critical of NSW Government’s failure to support the settlement needs of refugees: “NSW does not have a coordinated approach to assisting agencies to support humanitarian entrants” and “currently the Multicultural Programs and Services Plan report does not include results or outcomes specific to humanitarian entrants.” Following the NSW Government’s response and rejection of the criticism, the Public Accounts Committee Report (May 2014) Examination of the Auditor-General’s Performance Audits April 2012–August 2012 concluded: “The committee was very disappointed by the response to the report [from the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Community Relations Commission]….NSW is responsible for providing equitable access to government services. Humanitarian entrants are a particularly vulnerable group, and it is disappointing that the NSW Government rejected all of the Auditor-General’s recommendations.”
The long term failure of successive state and federal governments to meet the growing numbers of ESL students and the more than 50,000 ESL students in NSW who need access to the program but cannot be accommodated was also discussed at the forum.
Vivian Cao, a year 11 ESL student from Chatswood High School and a recent arrival to Australia in 2012, spoke of her struggle to learn English. She recounted her experience following her two terms in Chatswood’s Intensive English Centre and her dismay on entering year 10 where she could not understand anything being taught in class. She described “being depressed every day” as she felt she would never succeed and continued to recall what a good student she had been in China.
Her ability to articulate the difference between her mainstream and ESL teachers was astounding, highlighting the vital role that her ESL teacher played, and continues to play, in her ability to engage in the curriculum and school life and allow her the opportunity to reach her full potential.
The forum then saw videos of two ESL primary school students from Fairfield public, Aya Alkhafaji and Behdad Kataneh.
Other speakers at the community forum included Federation President Maurie Mulheron, Smithfield Public School principal and Public Schools Principals Forum chair Cheryl McBride, as well as various teachers and community members from the forum audience.
The forum concluded with the participants being taken through a number of resources relating to speakers’ research and further materials for campaigning (see sidepanel).
Follow up forums with migrant and other community groups are being organised, as well as school meetings with teachers and Parents and Citizens associations.