East Belfast Assembly Member and Alliance Party Education Spokesperson, Cllr Naomi Long, and Laganbank Alliance representative, Allan Leonard, have called upon the Minister responsible for Education and the Belfast Education and Library Board, to work together for the benefit of pupils from ethnic minorities in Belfast.
Earlier today, Naomi Long and Allan Leonard led a delegation that met the Chair of BELB, David Cargo, to express concern at proposed cuts to the English as an Additional Language (EAL) Support Unit. The delegation included representation from the Multi-Cultural Resource Centre, the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, and the charity Embrace.
Speaking after the meeting, Naomi Long said: “The BELB have confirmed that funding from the Department which is ring-fenced for EAL, £117,000 for 2005-2006, will continue to be spent directly on this support.
“However, the crux of the problem is that BELB have been directing additional resources to EAL, approximately £135,000 in the last year alone, which is over and above the ring-fenced allocation. Due to financial pressures, this extra funding will no longer be available.
“We want to see the current provision retained until the review and consultation on the way forward for EAL across Northern Ireland has been completed, with a phased change over to any new structures. There is already a confidence gap in terms of people,s expectation for the service; the danger is that premature changes to the unit will also create a service gap. The Department of Education and the 5 Boards must work together to address the fear that the current uncertainty is creating.”
Allan Leonard added: “BELB must comply with equality legislation, and conduct a proper consultation into the potential impact resulting from any reduction in service. However, this is being frustrated by DE’s pressure to expedite decisions on budgetary spending.
“Instead, Alliance is calling for the Education Minister to work with BELB to provide the relatively small amount of funding required to maintain the existing level of EAL support unit provision until new, agreed arrangements are in place.
“Otherwise, the worst result will be a harsh reduction in support to this vulnerable section of society, and the ensuing damage done to the pupils who will not be able to avail of this valued service.
“There is a clear common purpose; what is need is a common will and co-operation to resolve the immediate crisis and indeed, improve support to those from ethnic minorities.”