East Sussex residents have less than a week left to share their views on plans to cut support for children learning English as a second language.
East Sussex County Council is consulting on proposals to close the English as an Additional Language Service (EALS) – a service which supports refugee children in local schools and other pupils who don’t speak English as their first language.
The service had previously been funded by the county’s maintained schools agreeing to give over part of their budgets to the county council, which then runs the service on their behalf.
But in September, representatives of secondary schools at the East Sussex Schools Forum voted to withdraw their share of this funding, with the council saying it can no longer afford to run the service as a result.
An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “Although this wouldn’t apply to primary schools, unfortunately it would not be viable for the council to continue to provide the service without the funding we receive from secondary schools.
“Without this funding, we wouldn’t be able to cover the staffing and non-staffing costs such as travel expenses required to continue to provide a comprehensive county-wide service covering the full range of languages we need to cater for.
“The duty to provide this service lies with schools and it’s important to stress that there is no reduction in funding and that under these proposals, children who require this kind of support would continue to receive it but directly from schools rather than through a pooled service run by the council.”
However teachers’ unions dispute this, saying the service could be kept afloat through funding from primary schools and additional ‘buy ins’ from academies and the maintained secondary schools.
Dave Brinson, branch secretary of the East Sussex National Education Union (NEU), said: “East Sussex County Council are saying that they cannot maintain a primary-only core service, plus the buy-ins from academies, despite having more than 80 per cent of the budget they said they needed for a primary and secondary service.
“Any lay person is likely to raise an eyebrow at such a reckless claim, and rightly so.”
Mr Brinson says NEU members have come up with costed proposals for sustaining EALS with the funding from primary schools but said the council had adopted a ‘can’t do attitude’ following the Schools Forum vote.
The decision not to provide funding in 2019/20 was taken at a meeting of the East Sussex Schools Forum on September 28 last year.
The meeting saw representatives of secondary schools vote against funding the service while representatives of primary schools voted in favour.
According to minutes from the meeting, the representatives were told the decision would be ‘irreversible’ and would be likely to lead to the closure of the service.
The representatives also heard the council would not be able to consider alternative funding for the service unless the de-delegation was agreed for 2019/20, the minutes show.
However, this was described as an ‘all or nothing threat’ by Mr Brinson.
He said: “At the Schools Forum, senior managers from ESCC issued the ultimatum that ‘unless primary and secondary schools de-delegated that county council would consult on possible closure as the service was not viable in the current format with maintained primaries only.’
“My members believe that this all-or-nothing threat, whilst perhaps seeming a clever tactic at the time, unfortunately does not reflect the real viability of the service.
“Such a service is clearly viable, if only there was the will at the top of ESCC to make it happen.”
Closing the service is expected to lead to job losses, but it is understood schools would be responsible for directly providing their own replacement services.
The county council says it will provide schools with online advice, information and guidance as well as suggest services that can provide translation and interpretation support.
The consultation on the proposals closes on February 3.
Go to https://consultation.eastsussex.gov.uk to take part.