A Fine Gael frontbencher who sparked a wave of controversy with his call for the “segregation” of immigrant children until they learnt English remained defiant last night.
Immigrant groups described the comments of Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes as “highly irresponsible and offensive”, while a DCU lecturer said the call was “clearly, although maybe not intentionally, racist in nature”.
Mr Hayes said this was a complete over-reaction to his demand for changes to the teaching of immigrant children.
“This is a serious issue that has been raised by teachers and it has to be taken seriously, not in a childish way that some academic wants to raise,” he said.
He argued that immigrant children were being “left behind” at Junior and Leaving Certificate level under the current system of fewer than four hours of English language teaching per week.
Fianna Fail Dublin South East TD Chris Andrews added to the debate, saying that he believed that “segregation” was already happening. He called for a quota system to address the problem.
But DCU lecturer Dr James O’Higgins-Norman, who attacked Mr Hayes’ “clearly racist” comments, said segregating children on the basis of ability in reading and writing had been shown in research to affect their socialisation with other students.
The New Communities Partnership, which carries out integration work with immigrants, also criticised the call for segregation as “highly irresponsible and offensive”.
Its spokesman, Issah Huseini, said it would be better to provide after-school and weekend English language classes for immigrant children and their parents.
The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) reiterated its call for English language “immersion courses”, which would see immigrant children who did not speak the language temporarily taught apart in secondary schools.
“This would encourage the speedy integration of these students into the school community and into mainstream subject classes,” a spokeswoman said.
The ASTI once again said that it was strongly opposed to segregation, and that it had always worked for the integration of immigrant children in the education system.
And John Carr, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, which represents primary teachers, said the call for the “segregation” of immigrant children was “discriminatory, inequitable and deeply flawed”.