Adding up migration's impact on schools

The Education Review Office is evaluating how schools are coping with record numbers of non-English speaking students. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Record high migration has forced the Government to ramp up spending in many areas – including extra help for thousands of students who arrive at school unable to speak English, reports Lynn Grieveson.

A bulge of primary school students who do not speak English has prompted over $9 million in extra funding from the Government and an ERO investigation into how schools are coping with the influx of children from non-English speaking homes.

In the first two terms of this year, over 41,000 students received funding for support from the Ministry of Education's "English for speakers of other languages" (ESOL) service.

The vast majority - 82 percent - are at primary or intermediate school.

At the start of this school year, an extra 9,373 students started funded ESOL lessons. The service says this shows "a considerable growth in demand" from ten years ago, when 6,211 new students needed funding at the start of the year.

There are 87 schools with more than 100 students needing ESOL support – 79 of these are in Auckland, five in Christchurch, two in Hamilton and one in Nelson. There are two schools with more than 300 ESOL students. The service does not say where those two schools are, but it does reveal that around 26,000 of the funded students are in Auckland. All the other regions trail far behind.

The students speak a total of 129 different languages, but Chinese and Samoan are neck and neck as the most common ethnicity of the students, followed closely by Indian, Tongan and Filipino.

In response to the increasing demand on the ESOL service, last week's Budget included an extra $9.4 m in Government funding.

The Education Review Office is soon to release a report into how well schools and early learning centres are coping with "the diversity of languages in their learning communities," which it describes as creating "significant challenges and opportunities."

It says its early findings show the importance of early learning centres and schools recognising "the changing nature of the demographics" of their school community. The most responsive schools and centres have found staff that can speak the home language of the children. They celebrate cultural events and help their teachers get additional ESOL training and qualifications.

It also says schools that are doing well at managing the influx of non-English speaking children are holding parent workshops and making sure important school information is provided in more than one language.