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Education Minister’s Approach to EAL Education Farcical

22 February, 2008

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education Pearse Doherty has described as "farcical" the 26 County Government's approach to English as an Additional Language (EAL) education after the Minister admitted that training seminars are no longer being offered to primary language support teachers.

Senator Doherty said:

"In response to questioning this week by my Dáil colleagues Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Arthur Morgan, the Minister stated that the seminars offered to EAL teachers have been suspended and their 'training' will now consist of receiving a 'language resource kit'. This is an entirely insufficient method of preparing teachers in the special skill of English language support.

"While the seminar itself was flawed - teachers need more time and hands-on training than was available to them under this method - at least it provided a vehicle for the exchange of information and resource materials. The inadequacy of the official training programme is demonstrated by the fact that over 900 EAL teachers have enrolled in a language support course offered by the INTO and Marino College - for which teachers must pay out of their own pocket. This is a farcical approach to teacher training.

"The Minister also persists in appointing language support teachers only on a temporary basis, or putting permanent teachers into these positions for two years or less. The consequence of this is that teachers are disincentivised to develop a real expertise in EAL teaching. It also results in a wasting of all the experience attained by the teacher during this period.

"The increase in the number of primary students without English poses a considerable challenge to our education system. Minister Hanafin may think that she has met the challenge just by adding more under qualified teachers but those on the front lines say otherwise. We need to start treating EAL teaching as the special skill that it is and work to ensure that we have a body of highly-trained, permanent language support teachers for every school where they are needed. Anything less short-changes both teachers and students and impedes the aim of integrating newcomer children into our communities." ENDS

Note to editors: Transcript from the Dáil exchange follows:

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the fact that Integrate Ireland, the body to whom she has given responsibility for training English language support teachers, has had no seminars for some time and none is currently planned; the way she expects language support teachers to get the education and experience necessary when no training is available; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Deputy Mary Hanafin: As the Deputy may be aware, the Government has dramatically increased the number of language support teachers from just over 250 in 2002 to nearly 2,000 this year. We have also placed an emphasis on developing specific materials for teaching English as a second language.
Integrate Ireland Language and Training has developed a number of key resources which have been distributed to all schools by the Department. These include comprehensive packs of classroom materials for language support teachers and recently a tool kit for diversity in the primary schools was issued to all primary schools on the island of Ireland as this was a North-South project. A language assessment kit for use in primary schools will be issued after Easter. The post-primary version of this assessment kit is currently being developed by IILT and will be available later this year. IILT has also delivered some seminars for teachers. However, its primary function has been one of research and direct provision to programme refugees and other non-nationals with leave to remain in the State and its role in teacher training has always been a limited one. Training for teachers in supporting students with English language needs is being provided in a number of ways.
All student teachers are given an awareness of inter-cultural issues, including the challenges of teaching students whose first language is not English. Language support teachers at primary level are qualified to teach English.
The review of initial teacher education being undertaken by the Teaching Council will undoubtedly be informed by the need for all teachers to be able to respond to the increasingly diverse backgrounds of our students.
Summer courses play a very significant role in meeting the professional development needs of primary teachers in particular. This year Coláiste Mhuire Marino, in conjunction with the INTO, piloted a national on-line course on teaching English as an additional language. More than 900 teachers participated in this course.
An English Language Support Teachers Association has recently been established under the teacher professional network scheme for post-primary teachers, which is funded by my Department. This network will assist post-primary language support teachers in the provision of peer professional development. The inspectors in my Department will conduct an evaluation of the provision of English as an additional language in a number of schools in the next school year. This will help identify needs and inform policy in this area for the future.
Deputy Arthur Morgan: Can we just focus for a moment on primary English language support teachers? My understanding is that seminars had been arranged for teachers in that category for some considerable time. My colleague, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, tabled a question to the Minister in November 2007, at which point it was established that no seminars were scheduled. No seminars for primary English language support teachers are scheduled at the moment, as far as I know. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case, that there were no seminars scheduled then, and that none has been scheduled since? Is she concerned about that?
Deputy Mary Hanafin: I am not aware of seminars due to take place, but the fact is that all schools will be issued with a language resource kit, the materials for supporting teachers, the assessment kit for identifying children's needs - with a particular focus on the years they might need - after Easter. This material will be going out to primary schools as well at the end of the year. The fact that this initiative is also integrated within the whole teacher training area probably picks up the need. However, the support teachers' professional development body, funded by the Department, also looks at peer development, which will also work towards filling the gap.
Deputy Arthur Morgan: Will the Minister please confirm that her Department intends to hold no further seminars for primary English support teachers and that the seminar scheme, which was poor enough in its own right, will be replaced by the issuing of a language resource kit? Will she accept that this is the cutback of all cutbacks?
As regards her earlier reference to the INTO-Marino College course, my understanding is that 230 applicants applied for that in the autumn of last year and that teachers paid for it out of their own pockets. Will the Minister accept that this is clear testimony to the need for additional training by teachers, which should not be paid for by them but by the State?
Deputy Mary Hanafin: Some 900 teachers participated in that course last summer. It was part of the summer courses primary school teachers do. They do a five-day course and get three days in lieu, time off, during the school year. It was a particularly popular course, so the Deputy can see we are being flexible in all-----
Deputy Arthur Morgan: It was paid for by the teachers.
Deputy Mary Hanafin: They do, however, get three days in lieu. It just shows the flexible manner in which the Department is supporting the teaching of English as a foreign language - as an additional language, in this case.

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