Here’s a thought. If you as an English speaking person with no second language moved to a none English speaking city in somewhere like Russia, you move yourself, your family, everything lock, stock and barrel how would you fare?
Would you easily make friends? Go shopping? Meet new people? Or would you seek out other English speaking immigrants and associate only with those?
How would you find a job? What if you were a fully functional, intelligent person, How would you go about portraying that to potential employers and move beyond anything other than the most menial tasks? How could you fill your potential and fulfil your aspirations if others around you had no idea of what you could achieve?
This situation is faced daily in neighbourhoods across Birmingham.
In the cities schools English is a second language to a large proportion of pupils and with a percentage of those listed as having special education needs I can’t help but wonder if there really is a SEN in these pupils or is it that some are highly intelligent, fully functioning individuals that simply don’t understand what is being told them because of the barrier of language?
In fact a report to the Children and Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 29th February 2011 identified that of the pupils that completed Key Stage 1 in 2011 43% had English as an additional language, 25% were on the SEN code of practice, 65% were from minority ethnic groups, and 3% were possible new arrivals during the key stage.
The Peter Latchford report “They Moved Like Fish” looking into the Birmingham riots of August 2011 also identifies with this. When looking at the demographic of the offenders he wrote;
“Two thirds of those arrested were below 25 years old. About a quarter were under 18. 45% were described as African Caribbean, 34% White European, and 19% Asian. 80% of those arrested had previously been logged by the police computer system. About 100 under-18s were arrested, 29 of which were previously known to the Youth Offending Service. 13 of these were on an active order. If national ﬁgures apply, a high proportion of those arrested had special educational needs.”
Further on in the report he then goes on to say;
“… The “special educational needs” label is misleading: a good proportion of inner city students will have this designation, reﬂecting their particular circumstances (for instance, English as a second language) but not their academic or emotional intelligence.”
So how do we overcome this?
If at the end of Key Stage 1 – which is when a child is only 7 years old we have instead of breaking down language barriers we’ve put up yet another barrier by labelling students as having a SEN what does that do to their morale and development? Where does that lead them as adults?
If language is the barrier to academic achievement, to employment to social and community cohesion then in a city as diverse as Birmingham shouldn’t we be leading the way and doing much more to finding a way to resolve these issues?
What are our options is the answer that we should be embracing diversity and employing multi lingual teachers and teaching languages from a primary age to become all inclusive? – or should there be an expectation for everyone one in Birmingham to learn and to be able to speak an adequate level of English? …. or is there another option I haven’t even considered…..?