Archive for April 15th, 2012

I’ve written the below for today’s Sunday Express. Bengalis I’ve spoken to about this think it’s a disgrace that council money is being used to pay for private tutors to teach kids what their families call their “mother tongue”. There is nothing wrong with children learning Bengali–indeed it’s positive because multilingualism is a real asset–but should extracurricular lessons be given on the rates? I don’t know when this policy started: my partner learnt Bengali when she was a child but it was her parents who paid for it – and “quite rightly so”, she says.

There are a couple of other aspects to this: the money is being given through the grants system to small community groups–the full list is here and here on my FoI request–so there is little scrutiny about how it is actually spent (plus, the tutors aren’t necessarily qualified or inspected); and this is a clever way of inflating the borough’s GCSE figures.

Here’s the article:

TAXPAYERS are bankrolling private language lessons for children of migrant families to learn their parents’ native tongue, even though many can barely speak English.

Some of Britain’s poorest councils have spent millions of pounds providing after-school tuition in languages such as Bengali, Urdu and Arabic at mosques and community centres.

Despite problems with English literacy in their areas, they claim the policy “celebrates diversity”, promotes “community cohesion” and helps children prepare for early GCSEs in the language they speak at home.

In Tower Hamlets, east London, where the level of English is so poor among some pupils entering primary school that translators are needed, the council spends £185,000 a year providing free Bengali lessons after school hours.

It has distributed £1.3million to about 40 community groups since 2006.

Beneficiaries include several Islamic organisations, such as Dawatul Islam UK and the Madrasah-e-Darul Qirat Majidiah, which also runs a fee-paying Muslim school.

The council’s Community Language Service even runs British citizenship classes at mosques and Islamic madrasahs, but the town hall was unable to guarantee those lessons were given in English.

In most cases, councils are distributing the cash as grants to small community groups and “supplementary schools”, a system over which councillors exert special powers. The money is used to pay tutors’ salaries and to cover rents.

Ofsted admits it does not carry out specific inspections and that it has been trying to ensure that tutors are vetted and qualified.

A survey by the Sunday Express found that most councils which had been offering “mother tongue” classes had withdrawn their funding over the past couple of years so they could concentrate on teaching English.

These included Wolverhampton, Newham in east London, Rochdale, and Ealing in west London, which had been funding lessons in Armenian, Assyrian, Tamil and Somali.  An Ealing Council spokeswoman it stopped its service because “we decided it was more of a priority to support people to feel more confident in speaking and writing in English”.

However, a number of other councils have continued the policy. As well as Tower Hamlets, they include Islington in north London, which gives £160,000 a year to “supplementary schools”, its neighbours Camden and Haringey, and Manchester.

Bradford Metropolitan Council says on its website that “we promote the teaching and learning of the mother tongue mostly in places of worship or community centres” and that it has been helping supplementary schools since 1983. The Sunday Express gave the council 10 days to say how much it gave in grants last year, but it declined saying too many staff were off on half-term breaks. 

Councils and academics claim that the funding helps children become bilingual which boosts educational attainment later in life.

However, David Goodhart, the director of the think tank Demos and who is currently writing a book about post-war immigration in Britain, said the councils’ policies were “barmy”. He said that while it was quite legitimate for children of migrant families to learn their ancestral language for GCSEs and to retain a link with their heritage, it was wrong that taxpayers were being forced to fund private tuition for those purposes.

He said: “If parents want their children to retain those links, then it really should be done privately or through the voluntary sector. This seems to be a kind of multiculturalism that encourages separateness and not a kind that helps launch children into wider society where fluency in English is so vital for social mobility and integration.”

Peter Golds, the leading Tory councillor in Tower Hamlets, said: “Over past centuries this country has welcomed numerous immigrants which has affected our language, cooking and culture. 
“One thing they all had in common was whilst remaining true to their own heritage, they became part of the local community, by learning to speak English and making sure their children spoke English. Schools are where languages should be taught: a local authority should not be handing money to unqualified people to teach languages. 
“In a difficult economic climate, which is not going to change quickly, regardless of who forms the national government, young people need to be fluent in the language of their own country.”

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesman said: “We teach community languages for two reasons: proficiency in a mother tongue aids with proficiency in a second language.  And secondly, pride and knowledge in your own background aids in promoting community cohesion.”

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