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Immigration trends raise prospect of Polish school
10/07/2007 The Irish News
With hundreds of children from Poland now being educated in Northern Ireland, a first Polish-language school could become a reality.
There are now enough children of immigrants from Poland to create a chain of Polish-medium schools across the north.
More than 600 children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) in primary schools list Polish as their first language.
In addition, almost 230 pupils from Poland are being educated in secondary schools and a further 17 attend grammars.
Polish children now represent the largest minority ethnic group in schools, according to figures published in response to an assembly question by Education Committee deputy chairman Dominic Bradley.
The numbers are high enough to justify the community bringing forward a plan for the north's first Polish-medium school.
The Polish government has said it plans to open a school in Dublin this year to cater for some of the thousands of Poles living in the Republic.
Ministers said so many people had left for the Republic to find work that they needed to give the youngest an opportunity to receive a Polish education.
Education minister Caitriona Ruane has said, however, that she would prefer to integrate ethnic-minority children into English and Irish-medium classrooms in the north.
If the same criteria used to form Irish-medium and integrated schools were applied, any new Polish-medium school would need a minimum P1 intake of 12 in rural areas and 15 in cities.
A new post-primary school would require a first-year intake of 50.
Of the 610 Polish primary-age pupils, 261 attend schools in the southern board area. There are 79 in Belfast board schools and a further 30 in the south-eastern board area, which also covers parts of Belfast. There are 120 in both north-eastern and western board schools.
After Polish the largest group at primary level are Lithuanian children, followed by those who speak Portuguese, Filipino and Cantonese. Other first languages include Spanish, German, Russian, Urdu, Hungarian and Bengali.
Ms Ruane said rather than setting up new schools she would prefer to introduce more languages into primary classes.
She said that she was considering offering exam scripts in languages other than English and Irish.
The Department of Education plans to create a pool of teaching staff trained in education for those with EAL, whose expertise can be called upon when needed.
"One of the first things I did when I came in was look at the issue of languages in primary school. The schools are doing tremendous work with very di-verse classrooms," Ms Ruane said.
"Now what we need to do is look at ways of making sure that the children from different communities, be it Portuguese, Polish, Latvian or Lithuanian, are not disconnected from their native tongue.
"One of the ways we are looking at this is introducing languages into primary school. It will be an opt-in and schools can maybe employ peripatetic teachers.
"Ideally I think it would be better to have integration for the new communities."
Mr Bradley said the growing number of children entering schools with 'other' first languages was one of the biggest challenges facing the education system.
"Latest statistics show that there are almost 4,000 pupils in our schools whose first language is not English with over 1,500 in one board area alone," the SDLP assembly member said.
"This is a growing challenge to our schools.
"The key to those children accessing their full entitlement to the curriculum is the English language or Irish in the case of Irish-medium schools.
"The greater their mastery of the English language, the greater their access to the curriculum."