East Belfast Assembly Member and Alliance Party Education Spokesperson, Cllr Naomi Long, and Laganbank Alliance representative, Allan Leonard, are to lead a delegation to meet the Chair of the Belfast Education and Library Board to express their concern at proposed cuts to the English as an Additional Language Support Unit. The unit provides support for children in the Board area for whom English is not their first language. The delegation is to include representatives of the Chinese community and the Multi-cultural Resource Centre.
Cllr Long has revealed ahead of the meeting that, in a response to a letter she sent following the announcement that cuts to the service were under consideration, the Education Minister, Barry Gardner, has indicated that the money for EAL is ring-fenced, specifically for ‘centrally-run’ services and that, therefore, cannot be part of any general cost-cutting measures.
Speaking in advance of the meeting, Naomi Long said: “Clearly there is a conflict between what the Minister says and reports of what the Board is intending to do. We want to meet with the Chief Executive of the Board today to clarify precisely their intentions for future EAL provision and end the uncertainty for pupils, parents and staff alike.
“We want to make it clear to the Board that tampering with EAL is not a soft option for cost-cutting — it hits some of those most marginalised in our community. The educational attainment of many children from ethnic minority backgrounds is highly dependent on the provision of high-quality language support.”
Allan Leonard, local Alliance representative for Laganbank, one of the areas which would be most acutely affected by the changes, said: “Clearly the Board is under extraordinary financial pressure. However, the provision of language support is a statutory equality duty and cannot be swept aside. If changes are required to the current system for providing EAL support, then, at the very least, the Board should be entering into dialogue with those who currently deliver and use the service, to ensure that any reconfiguration of EAL support is in the best interests of the users.”