School cash cuts for ethnic speakers

CASH cuts in Suffolk could affect the development of pupils whose mother tongue is not English.The Evening Star can today reveal that Suffolk's Local Education Authority will miss out on tens of thousands of pounds in funding, which could force schools to take cost-cutting measures.

CASH cuts in Suffolk could affect the development of pupils whose mother tongue is not English.

The Evening Star can today reveal that Suffolk's Local Education Authority will miss out on tens of thousands of pounds in funding, which could force schools to take cost-cutting measures.

The government's department for education and skills (DfES) confirmed the ethnic minority achievement grant awarded to Suffolk's LEA will be slashed by 14.6 per cent next financial year.

The grant, used to provide support for ethnic minority children or those who have English as a second language, has already been frozen at around £356,984 for the past five years and will now plummet to £304,845.

Although the cut is less than expected – the LEA previously feared a cut of as much as 40pc – the news comes as the number of ethnic minority children in the county continues to rise.

There were 48 more schools and 110 more pupils who qualified for help from the grant this financial year, bringing this year's total to 131 schools and 648 pupils.

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Suffolk headteachers, who are waiting to hear how the change in funding will affect their schools, are outraged.

Jon Trotter, headteacher of Handford Hall Primary School, criticised the cut as "unfair on the children".

Around half the pupils at his Ipswich school are from ethnic minorities and around 25 different are languages spoken.

Mr Trotter said: "In fact, the cut is worse than 14.6pc because in the past five years there has been no increase in the grant, whereas the number of children who have English as a second language has risen.

"In 2001, the amount we received for each child was £781, whereas in 2004 it was £620. I think next financial year it must be less.

"The children deserve that support and to erode that support year on year is really demoralising."

Mr Trotter added that if the school received a cut of around 14pc it would mean a reduction in teaching and support.

Chris Darwen, headteacher of Maidstone Infant School, Felixstowe, said:"If you have small numbers it is sometimes just as costly as if you have larger numbers because you may need a support assistant to be completely devoted to one child for a period of time, which is just as expensive as if the support assistant spent time with a group."

Tony Lewis, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for children and young people, said he was relieved the grant has not been reduced by 40pc, but added they were disappointed by the cut and were no lobbying the DfES to review the funding formula.

Mr Lewis, Chris Mole MP and Mr Trotter met with the DfES minister Stephen Twigg MP on Monday to press for better funding.

The new formula being phased in means the grant will no longer be allocated on the basis of competitive bids from LEAs, but will be based on the number of ethnic minority pupils in each LEA, and the number of these eligible for free school meals.

This is likely to mean urban areas with large ethnic minority pupils get more than largely rural areas with relatively low ethnic minority populations.

A DfES spokeswoman said: "The decision to move to a needs-based formula calculated using pupil data means each LEA will receive funding according to need, which is more equitable than the previous system of competitive bidding.

"Matching funding far more directly to actual need will ensure that minority ethnic pupils across the country can benefit."

What do you think about the DfES's move to cut Suffolk LEA's ethnic minority achievement grant? Are you worried your school will be affected? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail us at eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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