Educational Supports: Discussion with Department of Education and Science and NCCA.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss with the Department of Education and Science and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, support for children in a multi-ethnic and multicultural society, with particular regard to children whose language is not English, and the NCCA's report on intercultural education. On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome from the Department of Education and Science, Mr. Frank Wyse, Assistant Secretary General, Mr. Johnny Bracken, principal officer, Mr. Paul Ryan, principal officer and Ms Emer Ring, divisional inspector. Also in attendance and representing the Department is Dr. Barbara Simpson, deputy director, Integrate Ireland Language and Training Limited. I also welcome Mr. John Hammond, deputy chief executive, Ms Majella O'Shea, director of curriculum and assessment and Sarah Fitzpatrick, deputy chief executive of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Before we commence, I draw witnesses' attention to the fact that while members of the committee have absolute privilege, the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Frank Wyse, on behalf of the Department of Education and Science, to commence the presentation.

Mr. Frank Wyse

I thank the Chairman for the invitation to discuss educational supports for children whose first language is not English. As requested in the letter from the clerk to the committee, I will give a brief presentation on the general issues as they relate to the Department of Education and Science. I understand my colleagues from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment will give a separate presentation.

By way of background, all children who reside in Ireland, including the children of refugees and migrant workers, are entitled to avail of primary and post-primary education, regardless of their status. Attendance at school is compulsory for children aged from six to 16 years under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. Schools are obliged to enrol any child in respect of whom an application for admission has been made, except where a refusal is in accordance with the admissions policy published by the school under section 15 of the Education Act 1998. The admissions policy of a school cannot discriminate on grounds of nationality or legal status. In the event of a person being refused admission to a school, an appeal under section 29 may be made to the Department.

The Department estimates that there are in excess of 28,000 students in schools at primary and post-primary level who do not have English as a first language. These children share many characteristics with pupils whose mother tongue is English and many of their learning needs are similar to those of Irish children. However, they also have distinct and specific needs because they are learning in and through a language which is not their own and, in some cases, come from cultural backgrounds and communities with different understandings and expectations of the education system.

To meet the language needs of this group of children the Department provides additional support to schools. This can take the form of financial assistance, additional teaching posts or portions of posts. These additional teachers are provided over and above the normal quota for schools and are used by the schools solely for the purpose of providing extra English language tuition for newcomer children who do not have English as a first language. They are intended to assist children with English language deficits, particularly at the initial stages of language acquisition, and to supplement the work of the mainstream classroom teacher. It is important to keep in mind also that newcomer children are also counted with all other children enrolled at the school for the purpose of appointing mainstream classroom teachers. In effect, there are two sources of support; the mainstream classroom teacher and the language support teacher.

Language is best learned in a naturalistic setting through experience of real life situations. That is how we all learn language. Consequently, meeting the learning and teaching needs of pupils whose first language is not English has to be very much a whole-school responsibility. The Department encourages schools to adopt an inclusive ethos where diversity is valued. Language support teaching is provided through a range of teaching methods that include withdrawal of pupils individually or in groups for short periods, in-class support from the main classroom teacher, a combination of both withdrawal and in-class support or, in certain limited circumstances, particularly for older students at post-primary level, withdrawal for more intensive language tuition.

School management can decide at local level on the structure of the support that is best suited to the needs of each school, but the use of the resources provided must focus on the language needs of the non-English speaking children, allowing them full access to the mainstream curriculum in as short a time as possible. The goal is to ensure they reach a standard where they can integrate with normal curricular provision.

There is flexibility for schools in deciding the way in which to structure language support. The majority of schools operate a system whereby small groups of non-English speaking children are withdrawn from mainstream class during the normal school day for a number of hours per week. They are then returned to the mainstream classroom setting. In general, newcomer children are placed in age appropriate classes, unless their standard of English language is so low as to prevent them from successfully following the curriculum of their peer group. In this case, school authorities may place them in classes one level or one year below.

I should emphasise language resource teachers are not intended to facilitate the creation of a parallel system of instruction for non-English speaking children which could lead to their withdrawal from the mainstream classes for prolonged periods of time throughout the school year. Such an approach would not be desirable on educational grounds and would be a barrier to the proper integration of the children into the whole-school setting and a general barrier to proper integration into wider Irish society. Our goal is integration into society.

As a consequence, the Department would not consider it prudent or necessary to apply a simple mathematical formula of one language resource teacher for every 14 pupils, regardless of the total number of pupils in the school. This is not the approach adopted internationally. Neither, I hasten to add, do we consider a limit of two teachers applied across the board to be appropriate, in view of the numbers of children entering the education system in recent times. The limit was conceived at a time when the levels of inward migration to Ireland was not foreseen. Under the previous arrangements, schools with 14 or more newcomer pupils, who did not have English as a first language and who were eligible for language support because they fell below a certain proficiency level, were allowed to appoint a language support teacher. A second teacher was appointed when the numbers reached 28 and generally, no further appointments were made beyond that.

Following the establishment of an internal steering committee to co-ordinate the Department's response to issues relating to newcomers, which I chair, we decided to examine the question of language support in some detail. This examination included consultation with management and union bodies, visits to schools with large numbers of newcomers, which I found to be particularly enlightening, discussions with the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and visits to direct provision centres for asylum seekers in Mosney and Cork. Ms Ring, who is with our delegation here today, and I also visited the Ministry of Education in Latvia to get the perspective from that side and to see at first hand the school system in Riga. We were especially interested in the provision made for the English language within the Latvian school system. We found all of this to be extremely useful in developing our thinking in this area.

During September of 2006, the limit of two teachers was effectively lifted as the Department allowed schools with large numbers of pupils whose first language was not English to appoint a third teacher. The committee will be aware the Minister recently announced she would approve the allocation of 200 extra language resource teachers to bring the number solely teaching English to newcomer children to 1,450 in the current school year. These extra teachers will be in place in the coming weeks in schools that have been identified with the largest numbers of newcomer children needing English language support. The additional 200 teachers are part of the Government's commitment in Towards 2016 to provide an extra 550 language support teachers by 2009 and to reform the limit of two teachers per school. It is intended a further 350 language support teachers will be provided between 2008 and 2009. That will be for the 2007 to 2008 school year and the 2008 to 2009 school year.

These new resources are intended for schools with large numbers of pupils who do not have English as a first language. Depending on the number of eligible pupils enrolled, this means schools which previously were limited to a maximum of two language resource teachers may now have up to six language support teachers. The 200 posts are being allocated with immediate effect and the authorities of the schools concerned are being given approval by the Department of Education and Science to proceed with the appointments.

Children are assessed for ability and must demonstrate a level below the threshold of proficiency. To illustrate by way of example, a primary school with an enrolment of 70 eligible pupils needing language support would, under the previous system, be entitled to two teachers but under the revised system will be entitled to four teachers. To ensure schools can accurately and objectively assess the language requirement of children, the Department of Education and Science will also send assessment materials to schools that have been developed by Integrate Ireland Language and Training, IILT, which is based in Trinity College Dublin. The materials developed by IILT conform to best international practice and have already been successfully tested on a pilot basis in 98 primary schools involving 553 language support pupils. The assessment materials will enable schools to ensure the specific language requirements of children needing support are met in a targeted way.

Under current arrangements, the additional language support to an individual pupil is generally given for a period of two years. Children who have been given two years of additional tuition in English by a language support teacher should, in normal circumstances, have sufficient competency in the language to be able to engage with the curriculum at the same level as their English-speaking peers. However, it is accepted children have different levels of language and different levels of aptitude for language learning. The IILT materials will also enable accurate initial and ongoing assessment of the language proficiency of the child and his or her need for continued language support. Dr. Barbara Simpson of the IILT is with us here today and if Deputies wish for more information on this, she will be happy to oblige.

At primary level, all language support teachers are qualified teachers who have undertaken programmes in the colleges of education which contain a number of elements aimed at enabling student teachers to address the various needs of all pupils in the classroom, including students whose first language is not English. Initial teacher education for post-primary teachers, either H.Dip or teaching degree, does not specifically deal with the teaching of students whose first language is not English. However, a number of universities and colleges have programmes that cover the challenges of teaching students whose first language is not English within the context of developing awareness among student teachers of intercultural issues they may face in the classroom.

Specifically, at primary teacher training, all students undertake a course that prepares them to teach English in accordance with the revised primary school curriculum which was introduced in 2000. Two modules of this course are taken in each year of the B. Ed. course and it includes the teaching of English as an additional language for students. Student teachers are also given an awareness of intercultural issues including the challenges of teaching students whose first language is not English. This is done in the context of teaching language skills and in the teaching of reading. I will leave it to my colleagues in the NCCA to develop this issue in further detail.

In addition, the colleges of education address in a variety of ways the specific issues involved in the teaching of students whose first language is not English. These include intercultural education, language acquisition and specialised courses in second language teaching. A number of colleges provide specific elective elements of their courses which either focus on teaching English as a second language, as in St. Patrick's College or concentrate on the issues relating to teaching students whose first language is not English, which is the approach taken at the Marino Institute of Education and Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.

Specific training is not provided at pre-service level to either teachers at primary level — colleges of education — or post-primary level — education departments of universities or colleges in respect of degrees or higher diplomas — regarding the challenges of teaching children whose first language is not English. However, student teachers are made aware of intercultural issues, including the challenges of teaching students whose first language is not English.

As with primary initial teacher education, elective elements of programmes are provided on special needs and learning supports that cover students whose first language is not English. For post-primary teachers studying languages, working with students whose first language is not English is covered in the context of teaching the language itself. For example, the combined postgraduate qualification in special education includes a module on inclusive education which covers the issues raised in regard to newcomer students.

It should be noted that all language support teachers are qualified post-primary teachers who have gained skills in teaching methodologies and pedagogies within a number of different classroom contexts. This training helps these teachers when working with students whose first language is not English.

That concludes our presentation. My colleagues and I will be glad to respond to any questions the committee members may have.

Mr. John Hammond

On behalf of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it on these important questions.

In recent discussions surrounding the development of its strategic plan, the council, which is representative in nature, identified the challenge of being inclusive as the major challenge faced by schools at this time. When the council discusses inclusion, three categories of learners usually feature: the children of newcomers, who comprise the direct concern of this meeting, learners with special educational needs, and those experiencing educational disadvantage rooted in socioeconomic status. When considering the realities of schools where the challenges related to inclusion are greatest, it is not always easy to separate one category of inclusion from the other. We do not find it easy in our discussions.

When the council considers what it can do to address inclusion, it focuses on questions of language learning, the promotion of intercultural education and on the many ways in which curriculum and assessment arrangements, teaching and learning can be developed to assist schools in being more inclusive.

Issues of languages in education are important because, as we stated in a recent submission to the Department of Education and Science-Council of Europe expert group examining policy on languages in education, access to languages and language competence can be a very significant determinant of who has access to political power, economic resources and life chances. In other words, it is a question of who experiences the full meaning of citizenship and who does not. Promoting intercultural education is central to the questions under discussion because the concept of inclusion is intrinsic to interculturalism. We define intercultural education in our own work as "education that respects, celebrates and recognises the normality of diversity in all parts of human life".

At its next meeting in March, the council will discuss a proposal it has requested the executive to implement, namely, that work with schools should commence aimed at documenting and capturing what being an inclusive school involves and means in real and practical terms. This is with a view to mapping good practice in this area, considering the human and capital resources involved in achieving this at local level, and looking at how issues of language acquisition are being addressed effectively from school. We hope to commence this work with schools later this year.

The council's wish to engage in this work reflects its recognition of the complexity of what is involved for schools where being truly inclusive has implications for many aspects of schooling, including school planning, school culture, learning settings, the curriculum and its mediation, teaching and learning practice and, most particularly, the teaching and learning of languages, which is our topic of discussion today.

Given the time available, today's presentation will focus on two other areas of the council's recent work on interculturalism and language. In 2005, the council developed and published guidelines for schools and teachers on intercultural education in the primary school. This was followed by an implementation initiative. A companion set of guidelines for post-primary schools is about to be published. My colleague, Majella O'Shea, director for curriculum and assessment, will outline this work in greater detail. She will be followed by Sarah Fitzpatrick, deputy chief executive officer for early childhood and primary education, who will outline the council's work on supporting the teaching of English as an additional language.

As Mr. Hammond mentioned, the NCCA has developed and published guidelines on intercultural education for school managers and teachers in primary and post-primary schools. We circulated documents pertaining to the primary and post-primary sectors. The primary guidelines were launched by the Minister in May 2005 and disseminated to all primary schools. Copies were provided to every teacher in the country. They were also circulated to libraries, colleges of education and other relevant organisations. The post-primary guidelines have followed and are available on the council's website, and printed copies and an accompanying CD will be disseminated to every post-primary teacher soon.

What is the purpose of the guidelines? They are based on a general principle that intercultural education is important for all students, irrespective of their skin colour or ethnicity, to help them to participate in an increasingly diverse Ireland, Europe and global society. To this end, they have been developed for all schools and classrooms and not just those that have a diverse ethnic profile.

The guidelines emphasise the importance of a whole-school approach. Intercultural education is integrated within all subjects and with the general life of the school and it is not the responsibility of one teacher or one subject. It is as important in mathematics and science as it is in social, personal and health education. It also goes beyond the formal curriculum and will become real for children when they see it practised in the life of schools, the policies that are developed and the social and physical environment of the schools.

School planning for an intercultural school can be incorporated into school development planning that is already under way in many schools. The guidelines present links to school development planning initiatives. They also emphasise the importance of the involvement of all members of the community of the school, including students, teachers, parents, management, support staff and the local community.

Intercultural education is not an addition to the curriculum. The curriculum at both primary and post-primary levels already provides many intercultural opportunities. The guidelines provide guidance for school management and teachers on mediating the curriculum in a way that reflects cultural diversity, making the curriculum accessible for children from ethnic minorities, enhancing the intercultural experience of all students, and providing support and creating an inclusive school culture.

The documents for both primary and post-primary schools follow a similar structure and approach with much of the background information for teachers and school managers on racism and ethnic diversity being common to both. The differences are in the curriculum-specific materials and the post-primary guidelines obviously build on learning on foot of the primary school document.

The guidelines identify ways in which intercultural education can be integrated into the curriculum, formal and informal, in schools and other educational settings. Some features of the guidelines include background information on ethnic and cultural diversity, advice and tools to facilitate schools to incorporate interculturalism into school planning and policy making, guidance for developing an inclusive social and physical environment in the school and classroom, audits of the curriculum to identify opportunities for intercultural education and exemplars for classroom activities, approaches and methodologies that are most appropriate for intercultural education and for the intercultural classroom, advice on potential bias in assessment and guidance on how teachers can broaden the range of tools for assessment, and guidance for the class or subject teacher on supporting second language learning in the mainstream classroom.

The document refers to supports available to language support teachers provided by the Department of Education and Science through Integrate Ireland Language and Training. These include practical advice on matters such as conflict resolution, choosing textbook and resource materials and welcoming newcomer children to the school and classroom.

As new curriculum frameworks and syllabuses are being developed now and in the future, equality and inclusion, including interculturalism, are key considerations of the work. The thematic approach to integration of intercultural content, set out in the guidelines and based on five themes, provides a framework for future development. For example, the framework for early learning being developed by the NCCA has identity and belonging among its main themes. The key skills that underpin the current review of senior cycle education incorporate skills essential to inclusion and interculturalism, including communicating, critical and creative thinking, information processing and working with others. Inclusion and interculturalism will continue to underpin all aspects of curriculum review and development.

The NCCA is supporting an initiative to build local capacity to support intercultural education in primary schools. This initiative is being undertaken in partnership with Limerick Education Centre, where we have been working on the initiative to support capacity building among the education centres. This project is based on the primary school curriculum and designed to support the development of local initiatives through the 21 full-time education centres in the education centre network. To this end, the NCCA has provided facilitator training for over 40 teachers in education centres to allow them to facilitate workshops with teachers and principals. The initiative will conclude this year with an evaluation report that will provide an indication of the medium and longer term professional development needs in the area of intercultural education and to advise the teacher education section of the Department on meeting these needs.

As the Assistant Secretary General, Mr. Frank Wyse, has noted, the number of children in primary and post-primary schools whose home language is neither English nor Irish has increased significantly in recent years and is currently estimated at 28,000. The Assistant Secretary General has described the targeted support provided by language support teachers, in particular, for these students, both on a full-time and part-time basis. However, mainstream class teachers, of whom there are over 20,000 in the system, still face significant challenges in teaching these children within the larger class group. In response, the NCCA has developed guidelines for teachers on English as an additional language in primary schools. The guidelines will support mainstream primary teachers in meeting the learning needs of children whose first language is neither English nor Irish. The guidelines are in publication and will issue to all primary teachers in September.

The term "English as an additional language" has been used for the teacher guidelines because it recognises that the child has language and cultural traditions in addition to those of the school. It subsumes the term "English as a second language", which is generally associated with teaching methodologies and mentioned in the context of the interculturalism guidelines.

Who are the children with EAL whom the guidelines are intended to benefit? They come from a diversity of backgrounds and include children who were born in Ireland who have neither English nor Irish as their first language, children who have lived in Ireland for some time who have some competence in English but not enough to engage fully with the 1999 primary school curriculum and children who have recently arrived in Ireland who have different levels of literacy in English and other languages. In addition, the children's parents have different levels of language and literacy. They may or may not be literate in the home language and the language medium of the school.

How will the NCCA's guidelines make a difference to these children and their learning? The guidelines are for teachers but children are the intended beneficiaries. They will help teachers to respond both to the children's language needs and their learning needs. Ultimately, they will support teachers in enabling children to access the curriculum.

What is included in the guidelines? There is a section on language acquisition which is similar for first and second languages. It includes strategies on promoting children's language awareness and cultural competence. There is a particular focus on planning within schools and classrooms for the issues Ms O'Shea mentioned. In the key section, the guidelines describe different teaching methods which can promote children's language learning. Sample lessons are included which are based on the curriculum and demonstrate the use of different teaching methods to promote learning. A further section includes advice on monitoring the child's progress and assessing his or her learning over time.

I have mentioned that the main section includes sample lessons and teaching methodologies. It is important to note that these have been enhanced with authentic teacher materials and student work samples gathered by the NCCA during a school-based developmental initiative in 2006. During this work with schools the NCCA gathered video and photographic materials that showed teaching and learning in action for children for whom English and Irish were additional languages. These sample lessons are best suited to publication in an on-line environment, where teachers can search for lessons which best suit the language and curriculum priorities of their children. These sample lessons will be published on the NCCA's forthcoming ACTION website, which, as its acronym suggests, will showcase assessment, curriculum and teaching innovation on the Internet across a number of projects. It provides a dynamic forum for the NCCA to respond to teachers' needs by presenting sample lessons which are of most benefit for teachers in supporting children who do not have English or Irish as a first language.

What will happen next? Following publication in September, the NCCA's guidelines for teachers on EAL will be subject to a process of rolling review and monitoring. This rolling review will enable the NCCA to gather information on whether, to what extent and to what effect the guidelines support primary teachers in promoting learning for children who have a first language other than English or Irish.

The development of the guidelines for primary teachers seems to provide a solid foundation for investigating the potential of similar guidelines for post-primary teachers. Gathering feedback on the effectiveness of the guidelines in primary classrooms will also speak to the relevance and applicability of similar guidelines for post-primary teachers.

I thank the delegates. We will now take questions from members. A total of 28,000 students was mentioned. What percentage of the overall student population at primary and post-primary levels does this number represent?

I welcome the delegates. It is an indication of the interest in the NCCA and the Department that so many came to the committee.

The lifting of the cap on the number of extra teachers for schools is welcome. What level of flexibility is there in the system? There are schools with large numbers of nationalities and non-EU national children. How are the needs of these schools addressed when it comes to teaching English?

There are two distinct types of school, those which have large numbers of children of other nationalities and those which have only one or two such children in each class. In the latter type the class teacher is normally the primary educator of the children in a school context.

I am concerned about teacher training. In its presentation the NCCA outlined the training programme. To what extent do all class teachers have the opportunity to get this training? The witness has described what is available but teachers lead busy lives and any teacher trying to teach children for whom English or Irish is not their first language should be adequately upskilled. This does not apply to new teachers who presumably learn this in the education colleges, but to those in the system. Do the witnesses have any information or statistics on whether all the teachers dealing with these children have appropriate training and what is done to encourage them to get it? Can they, for example, take time out or must they do this in their own time? It is crucially important to all the children in the classrooms that the teachers know how to deal with this issue.

The committee produced a report in March 2004 on this issue which recommended lifting the cap and extending the number of hours available to children who need more time. Two years is the usual time but is there flexibility in that area? We also recommended teacher training.

Is there provision for family learning in schools? The witnesses may say family learning is the responsibility of the adult education sector but in many of these families the child's ability to speak English may exceed that of the parents. Is there provision in schools for involving parents with children in learning the language?

Commercial language schools bring second level children into Ireland to learn English and enrol them in post-primary schools, some fee-paying, some not. Do the language schools contribute in some way to the public education system as they are making a profit out of this? I assume schools get capitation for these children if they come in at the beginning of the school year. Could somebody from the Department of Education and Science clarify that? I would not like to think that private organisations use the public education system to make money by charging the families of these students and expecting the public system to educate them for nothing.

I accept the Department and education system are trying to adapt quickly to a new situation in which many children arriving in the country do not speak English as a first language, and that it will take time to put some systems in place to deal with the issue but it is of utmost importance from the point of view of society to get this right. We do not have a good record in the less complicated circumstances of looking after children from deprived backgrounds. We need to be sure we will get the language teaching right because it is essential to ensuring we get integration right. We cannot afford not to do so. Considering the importance of this issue to society and the future, are we putting adequate resources into this area? Can we evaluate on a constant basis whether the programmes are successful and how can we determine what type of resources will give us a result that will be better than the results of similar exercises in the past?

I welcome the witnesses to this meeting. This has been described as the big challenge in the education system. The witnesses referred to three challenges, namely, disadvantaged, special needs and newcomer children. More needs to be done for the first two groups but the newcomer children present a significant challenge to the education system.

I welcome the removal of the cap, which was a crazy system. Where did the idea for that come from, and when did the Department wake up to the fact that there are 28,000 children who do not speak fluent English here? I welcome the fact this has now been announced because I raised this at least two years ago with the Minister. I was told then that there were two language teachers per school regardless of size, then three teachers and now there are six. Why does it always take so long? While I accept that there are trends, etc., no one foresees this trend changing. Many of the language teachers have two year contracts and it is difficult for schools to keep them. Will this be a temporary measure that continues for another ten years or so? When will the issue be considered seriously with the possibility of extending contracts and so on?

There are children from 54 countries in a school in my area. I have raised this with the Minister and at this committee. The school is on the edge of a disadvantaged area. There is a RAPID area across the road from it. Most of the children come from disadvantaged backgrounds because their parents are on social welfare or some kind of benefit. One in three of the houses is rented out, which means there is a large turnover of people, which causes problems in the area that are reflected in the school.

How important is overcrowding in the school in respect of these children? The library is turned into a classroom and the music room has been split and turned into classrooms. There are kids in prefabs and so on. How important is the school setting for these new kids coming into the classroom? Do those who come from backgrounds where there is no tradition of formal education, which creates difficulties, need more attention?

The Minister talked at one point about supports for parents. Can the witnesses expand on those? I assume they are language supports but there may be others. It is important to encourage those parents into the education system. Mentors are important in those communities. Are parents being encouraged into any sort of education, whether adult education or otherwise?

How do the witnesses arrive at the figure of 28,000? I presume it is a round figure. What was the figure last year and the previous year? Are the figures for the past five years available? Was the cap introduced because we did not have those teachers?

I am informed that teachers who are appointed to teach English as a second language are given one day's training by IILT. Has this changed? I acknowledge that these figures might be wrong. It has been suggested that this is wholly inadequate. English as a second language is a normal subject in other countries and people get specialist degrees in it. Language teachers are hired on a temporary basis and there are no incentives for people to get proper training or for those who have received proper training in other jurisdictions to move here to take up positions, which is necessary. Does the delegation have a view on this? Is this one of the things we need to change when we talk about long-term planning?

I join previous speakers in welcoming the delegation and thanking it for its presentation. I apologise for being late as I was delayed in the Seanad. I apologise in advance because I must leave before the delegation answers all the questions, but I will pick up the answers.

I echo some of the points made although I do not wish to repeat them because Deputy O'Sullivan raised a number of points I wished to raise. I emphasise the area of parents. If, as a society, we stop pigeonholing the issue as the Department of Education and Science versus the Department of Social and Family versus various other Departments, we can see that it is in all our interests to use our skills and the system to afford language training to families as well. If one goes back to the homework scenario where a child comes home to the parents, a problem arises where the child is ahead of the parents. In effect, it is not helping the education of that child if the parents cannot engage with him or her. If we are training teachers in this area, it seems to make considerable practical sense to use the facilities of both schools and that training to broaden it to include family support. That might be thinking outside the box. Has the delegation thought of that or is it just parking it because it does not think this is its responsibility? If that is the case, what can we do about it? From a societal perspective, it is vitally important we bring in families in their entirety, not only for their involvement with the child in school but equally for their involvement in society to allow them to play their part in it. It seems to be a waste of a very valuable resource if we do not use it to target the whole family. What are the delegation's thoughts on that?

My second question is loaded. If people misinterpret it, they will think I am saying the wrong thing, which I do not mean to do. I lived abroad, my two children attended international schools and I saw the benefits of these schools. We must ask about balance. If the numbers are getting out of kilter and a particular school is getting a certain percentage of non-national children, is there a magical figure where the balance affects the mainstream teaching of Irish children? I do not ask this question to raise doubts about the benefits of multiculturalism because they are considerable for children. Multiculturalism is fantastic, but there is probably a threshold where the effectiveness of our primary teaching in particular may be lost if there are so many non-English speaking children in a school. What is this magical figure?

Is the delegation satisfied that special training in language skills for teachers is adequate to deal with the many different nationalities we have here? I am delighted that qualified teachers are being brought in. Are we satisfied that this type of training is based on the best international practice? I heard the delegation's presentations about how this is dealt with in other countries, but are we satisfied we have got it right here?

Mr. Wyse

I will cover a few issues. I know some of my colleagues from the NCCA want to answer as well.

Deputy O'Sullivan raised the issue of flexibility. There is a considerable degree of flexibility in how schools may use these resources. In my presentation, I outlined some of the methodologies used. Groups of children are withdrawn for particular periods of time to get intensive language tuition. We do not want a situation to develop whereby children who do not have English as a first language are withdrawn for very extended periods of time from the normal classroom setting. I am sure my colleagues from the NCCA and my colleague, Dr. Barbara Simpson from IILT, wish to say more about this. First, there are issues relating to the natural setting in respect of how a language is learned in the first instance. Second, there are wider integration issues which must be kept in mind all the time.

We should not be under any illusion about the considerable level of resources being put into the school system. A total of 1,450 teachers effectively deal with 28,000 children. Deputy Crowe mentioned that those numbers have increased and we anticipate they will continue to increase for the foreseeable future while economic migrants, particularly those from eastern Europe, come to this country under the current system. We anticipate that the figures will continue to increase and we are planning for this. In my presentation, I mentioned that we will appoint an additional 350 language teachers in addition to those already in the system over the next two years.

Flexibility is important and we allow schools considerable flexibility in how they use resources. We are anxious to ensure that schools with large numbers, of which there are not many, are catered for adequately by the resources we are putting into them. This is why we made the changes.

Dr. Simpson may wish to say something about the issue of two years. If a child comes into the primary education system at four or five years of age and after two years, he or she has adequate training in the English language, the normal expectation is that he or she should be able to integrate with the curriculum.

There are issues relating to the home environment, which is also an important consideration in respect of language. The home environment has an influence on the capacity of a child to learn a language. Obviously, if the home language is Polish, Russian or Chinese, the children will be at a disadvantage. This is why we feel the resources we are providing will assist in overcoming this disadvantage. I believe Senator Minihan raised the issue of parents and the provision being made for families and we are certainly not ignoring that. We have turned our attention to the issue of adult language provision within the education system outside the normal education sector in terms of schools. Up to now, we very much concentrated on schools. We have discussed the question of jointly coming up with a set of proposals in respect of adult language learning with our colleagues in the reception and integration agency in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There is provision within the system. There is quite extensive provision in the vocational educational committees and there is also provision in private colleges and institutions, some community schools and colleges and through IILT. However, there is a sense of provision being somewhat fractured and we need to bring it together and have a coherent approach. I give the example of somebody coming to Ireland with little knowledge of English. Somebody coming to take up employment in Ireland will not be able to attend from nine to five but will need evening classes. The provisions for families need to be tailored to their circumstances and issues such as that are coming to the fore.

Deputy Crowe also asked about the progress in disadvantaged areas. My colleague, Ms Ring, who is a senior inspector in the Department, has visited a number of schools in disadvantaged areas and will reply to that question.

I propose to answer the questions Deputies have asked on the role of the inspectorate and will allow colleagues to answer questions on training and other matters. Deputy O'Sullivan asked about training for class teachers. Having spent all last week evaluating provision in a very disadvantaged school in the inner city I was particularly impressed by the class teacher's skills in utilising methodologies that are particularly effective with children whose first language is not English. Such methodologies include task analysis, direct teaching, peer tutoring, co-operative learning, the use of concrete and visual materials and whole-class teaching and collaborative learning. Class teachers have very impressive skills in this area and are making great progress with children.

Does that apply across the board?

I have been impressed by my experience in schools. The role of the inspectorate, as set out in the Education Act 1998, is to evaluate, support and advise teachers. Deputy Gerard Murphy asked about evaluation and whether progress is being made. The inspectorate produces whole-school evaluations, which are available on the website in the section on supporting students.

The inspectorate also evaluates the quality of management and curriculum provision, as well as of teaching, which are key for all students, not only those whose first language is not English. Our work is carried out with the language support teacher, in class and on a whole-school basis because, as Mr. Wyse pointed out, it is a whole-school responsibility. It involves assessing not only the child's contact with the curriculum but his or her contact in the school yard. Buddy systems are used in many schools because, as the intercultural guidelines make clear, focus must not just be on one curricular area such as English but across the curriculum.

It is very important for society to get this right because we do not want to look back in five years and say we should have done this or that, or devoted more resources. We need constant evaluation to ensure the correct level of resources are put in and we need regular reports to confirm we are achieving what we set out to achieve. We cannot let it slip for three or four years because it would be too costly for society. We need to know if resources are inadequate or if the systems are not achieving their objectives. Evaluations must be available at least annually so that action can be taken to rectify any problems.

I am very confident that will be the case. The involvement of the inspectorate in the probation of newly qualified teachers is very important.

Senator Minihan asked about parents. A book is being published by the inspectorate on our schools, which is a guide to self-evaluation in primary and post-primary schools and sets out clearly how seriously the Department takes the role of parents. It encourages parents to participate in the education of their children and schools to liaise with parents to develop mechanisms to that end. We are involved in a North-South project under the standing conference on teacher education North and South to develop a resource pack for schools, which promotes the role of parents and provides advice, supports and practical resources to schools. As Deputy O'Sullivan said, teachers are very busy and schools are very busy places. The more we can facilitate schools in meeting the needs of students and involving parents the better.

Mr. Wyse

Ms Ring mentioned the North-South project. I recently gave a presentation in Armagh on our approach in this area. Our colleagues in the Department of Education in Northern Ireland were extremely interested. They take a different approach and do not appoint language resource teachers. Along with many authorities, they consider the role to be that of the general classroom teacher and not one that requires additional resources. We must be careful about this.

Deputy Crowe asked why we had wasted so much time. We have a system for co-ordinating the report of the Department on this issue, which is one reason so many of my colleagues are present today. I have many functions, as members of the committee will know, given that I have been before it on two occasions in recent times. My function in this area, however, is to ensure a co-ordinated approach in the Department. The areas include teacher training, allocations, which are the responsibilities of Mr. Bracken, the inspectorate, the NCCAs, which are extremely important for the formulation of policy, and the IILT, which deals with certain aspects of provision and is the responsibility of Dr. Simpson.

We do not claim to get it right all the time but we are acutely conscious of the need to keep close watch on the issue of co-ordination, which is why I visited numerous schools to see the position for myself and discuss the situation with teachers. I also visited direct provision centres because children there may not have been given status but require an education. These children must not be segregated as a special group because their language requirements are of temporary duration. I am satisfied that, if it is approached properly and a whole-school approach adopted, they are fully capable of being completely integrated into every aspect of Irish society. Dr. Simpson has experience of the delivery of these provisions in other jurisdictions to a much greater extent than me, so she might say a few words on the subject.

Dr. Barbara Simpson

I am involved in other jurisdictions because I work with the Council of Europe and as such have engaged with education ministries all over the greater European area, involving 46 member states. My work has concentrated on the area of migrant language learning, from early childhood education to adult learning. In answer to Deputy Gerard Murphy's point, my personal commitment, and that of the teachers of this country, is to achieve an integrated society and ensure we do not end up with a number of parallel societies. Everything we do is predicated on that principle.

My work outside Ireland has spread a long way east and north to Iceland and the model of implementation in this country leads the way. It gives me great pleasure to tell people what is happening in Ireland. They are amazed at what we have achieved in a short time.

I will comment further on what Mr. Wyse said on language support and the fact that our colleagues in Northern Ireland do not have a language support system. I have been quite puzzled by that because helping children and teenagers to learn the language has always seemed the logical way to help them integrate fully. They will integrate fully as time passes.

To figure out why that was the case, I looked back at some of the early reports commissioned by the British Government into languages in education, second language learning in particular. I refer to the Swan and Bullock reports, for example. For some reason the recommendation in both was that children simply be "parachuted" into mainstream education to either sink or swim. The model we have is second to none and with the new announcements made by the Minister, it is even better again. We can be very content that the education system will be very good for our newcomer population and its access to education. It is, after all, their potential that we are here to ensure. We must also guarantee we have an input into the shaping of our society.

Deputy Crowe mentioned in-service training for language support teachers. In the past year this has been, in a sense, limited to a very intensive one day induction course. Teachers with whom I work on induction days are all qualified. The teachers working in the primary sector, in particular, need time to stand back and look at the issue. They realise that the development of the English language proficiency of newcomer pupils is very close to the development of the first language that they automatically and normally undertake in primary education, the first language of native English speaking children.

It is a question of looking at methodology and materials. At Integrate Ireland Language and Training we are now delivering on-line and looking to deliver more with the help of the Department in order that it can be immediately available to teachers. It is really about affirmation more than anything else.

Mr. Wyse

I will mention another important issue which I think was raised by Senator Minihan, the matter of balance in the school sector. We wish to ensure the numbers of children entering the system within the group about which we are speaking are not being concentrated to an undue degree in a relatively small number of schools in particular geographical locations. We know from international studies and the Irish experience that there is a tendency among parents of particular groups to send their children to a specific school if one or a number of the same nationality go to it. The children want to be with their friends. We look at cases where there are particular schools in specific geographical areas which have a preponderance of enrolments, with other schools having very few members of the newcomer population.

With the assistance of our network of regional offices, we are assessing the issue. We have reached the point of identifying the numbers in specific schools and looking at the enrolment policies of such schools to determine what further action we must take regarding interaction with them. In other words, our inspectors from the regional offices go to quite a number of schools to dig deeper into the reasons there might be an imbalance in enrolments in particular geographical areas. We have begun the process, to which the Minister has made reference on a number of occasions.

We have been hogging the time available; no doubt our colleagues in the NCCA wish to contribute also.

Mr. Hammond

Most of the comments, questions and observations of the Deputies related to issue of provision rather than the direct concerns of the NCCA in terms of the curriculum and assessment. Nonetheless, this area has, as I mentioned, been the subject of considerable discussion within the council. It is very much a priority area for discussion and work within the council.

If we were asked the question of whether the provision of the guidelines my colleagues have introduced was enough and whether the work we have done on interculturalism and languages was sufficient, our answer would be that it was not. The answer of the council and the representative bodies would be the same. We are all familiar with the gap that can emerge between the intentions associated with guidelines and their reception and implementation. It is for that reason that the members of the council are particularly keen on the idea of doing some work directly with schools to try to answer some of the questions posed by some of the Deputies. We are looking at how events are panning out at ground level, what differences there are and how different types of school or schools with different concentrations of students deal with the challenges they are facing.

We are very conscious in our discussions at the council that the challenge is not being equally shared among schools and that there are clear differentials in terms of schools which take up the challenge of being truly inclusive and those which are less inclusive in their approach. We want to get into some of these schools to consider the differences between them and see what works. We wish to ascertain precisely whether the available resources are working well and being used effectively, particularly in the context of the curriculum and assessment.

Another question raised by members was how long it takes to be effective in including such students in a real way in the culture and life of a school. When we pose such a series of questions around the table at council meetings, the view is that we do not know enough at the level of the school to answer the concerns and questions.

We have also done a good deal of work in communicating the curriculum to parents, a matter on which Ms Fitzpatrick might like to comment.

I will make an input with regard to parents, in particular, and briefly comment on the extent to which we are supporting teachers and teaching languages at primary level.

With regard to supporting parents, the NCCA conducted a rolling review of the curriculum and guidelines in schools. This is part and parcel of our remit and how we work. We published the first phase of our review of the 1999 primary curriculum in 2005. The review targeted the voices not just of teachers and principals but children and parents also. In that regard, it was a novel way of getting answers to the questions raised by Members today and others. The review highlighted the need of parents, including those of children who did not have English or Irish as a first language, to know more about the primary school system in the first instance, the nature of the curriculum and learning in the classroom. In responding to this need we developed a DVD entitled "The What, Why and How of Learning in the Primary Curriculum".

We consulted many bodies in the developmental process such as the Combat Poverty Agency and the National Parents Council, as well as a number of parent bodies such as Pavee Point and so on. We developed a DVD that was published in five languages — English, Irish, Latvian, Polish and French — and one was made for every home in the country with a child at primary school going. These are being distributed in the current school year through schools in collaboration with principals and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation.

In terms of gauging the success of this strategy our method of evaluation is straightforward and will be implemented at the end of this year. We are asking whether, to what extent and to what effect this has been a success. "Whether" refers to whether parents understood the DVD, "to what extent" relates to the extent to which parents used the DVD on receipt of it and "to what effect" relates to differences it may have made in terms of how parents support their children's learning in the home. We will begin this evaluation, internally and using market research, in November or December and hope to find some of the answers relating to the experiences of parents of the children about whom we are talking.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is developing a framework for early learning and this has been described as a specimen curriculum in the White Paper, Ready to Learn. It is a curriculum framework for all children up to six years of age but it is not being developed only for practitioners and is relevant also to parents. We are near completion of this framework for early learning, following a broad consultation process in 2004, a consultation report in 2005 and a series of background papers and studies that we have since developed to underpin the framework. The framework has particular relevance to the needs of parents of the children about whom we are talking today. In recent months we have finalised this project, brought the last pieces through the council and prepared it for print this autumn and our concern during that period was to meet the needs of parents.

My final point is on the extent to which teachers are supported in teaching languages. Our concern at this meeting relates to children learning English as an additional language but there is an underbelly to this discussion concerning the complexities of teaching languages in the primary school curriculum. It is important to note the centrality of language in the curriculum as it was stated on its publication in 1999 that children learn with and through language, that it is indivisible, that it unlocks the door to learning for all children and that it must have a primordial role in the curriculum.

Teachers received in-service training on teaching English following the publication of the curriculum in 1999 and a number of reports published since then tell us more about the complexities of teaching languages. As I mentioned, we published our curriculum review in 2005, a curriculum implementation evaluation study was published by the Department of Education and Science inspectorate, an evaluation of the primary curriculum support programme, PCSP, the support programme for primary school teachers, was published by Trinity College Dublin, and a national assessment of English reading was published by the Educational Research Centre. I mention these studies because they all point to the particular challenges of teaching languages and the fact that teachers need support in this regard. This also applies to all students, including those mentioned by Mr. Hammond who have experienced disadvantage and have low levels of literacy in addition to students who do not speak English or Irish as a first language.

I mentioned that the DVD came about, in part, as a response in support of parents developing children's languages in the home but the NCCA also published additional support materials for the English curriculum and we will continue to monitor the experiences of teachers, children, principals and parents with the language curriculum. The studies told us that more needs to be done to focus on the centrality of language in the curriculum and how it unlocks learning for children at all levels.

I had a specific question to ask, which I know is out of sync with the rest of the discussion, that relates to children brought here to learn languages.

Mr. Wyse

I will respond to one or two questions. Regarding the provision of information for families by the Department, we have basic information on the Irish education system on our website in Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, Spanish and German. This will be developed further and we are providing a specific section of the Department's website to address the matter, not only for parents but for schools that can convey the information to parents.

On the issue raised by Deputy O'Sullivan, the Department is aware there may be rare circumstances where children enter second level education through private schools. I cannot go into too much detail but we are aware of the situation and are determining the best way to address it as the issue of entitlements and how they could be curtailed in certain circumstances causes a complexity. We would not like to see a situation where the resources of the State are devoted, in a small way, to enriching a private company.

The witnesses might revert to the committee with the total percentages involved.

Mr. Wyse

It is slightly lower than 7%.

What extra resources do schools with a high number of children whose first language is not English receive, aside from language support?

Mr. Wyse

We also give additional grants in excess of €620 to schools entitled to the language resource and they can spend this as they wish. Schools may have more specific requirements, for example, some children whose first language is not English may have other special education or psychological assessment requirements that are masked by their language difficulties. In conjunction with our colleagues at the national educational psychological service, NEPS, we have been in discussion as to how such matters should be approached. We give additional resources where required, though sometimes the need is not clear. It is not easy to assess a child who does not speak English but there are ways and the system is becoming more adept, for example, at assessing whether a child needs special education interventions. We have taken up this with the National Council for Special Education.

I thank the delegation for its contribution. The select committee will meet next Wednesday at 9.30 a.m.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.10 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 March 2007.