Jessica Strutt, The West Austrialian (Perth), December 9, 2008
The number of children in State schools with poor English skills whose parents are on foreign work visas has almost doubled in the past year, sparking further fears about the burden they put on the public education system.
Education Department figures released yesterday reveal 1615 non-English speaking children or students with special needs belonging to workers on temporary 457 visas are in public schools, up from almost 870 last year.
Debate on the need for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue was triggered last week when Liberal MP Mike Nahan criticised the Federal Government for failing to fund schools adequately to deal with the huge burden such children placed on them.
The figures released to The West Australian reveal that in the years before 2005, there were only two or three children with special English needs belonging to 457 visa workers in State schools but in 2005 that figure rose to 112.
In 2006, the number increased to 326 and has risen dramatically each year since.
Premier Colin Barnett said last week he would support a parliamentary inquiry, telling Parliament there were about 800 such students in WA schools.
But data compiled by the Education Department in the past week shows that number has almost doubled in the past year.
Independent MP Janet Woollard, who chairs the Lower House education and health committee, will push for a Federal parliamentary inquiry into the “serious problem” of the Commonwealth failing to provide adequate funding to schools to cope with the burden by children of foreign workers.
She said it appeared to be more common in lower socioeconomic areas and was a Commonwealth issue which caused problems for most States.
Dr Woollard said she would write to Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Evans, asking them to initiate a parliamentary inquiry.
She said inadequate funding to schools meant these children might not be getting the special help they needed to bring their English skills up to scratch.
The additional strain they placed on schools was also unfair on other students, who could be missing out as teachers struggled to cope with the added burden of having special English needs children.
“(These schools) need support for the children who are either going to the schools with no English or with minimal English,” she said.
“The difficulty for the children who are already there is that the teacher is almost trying to run two curriculums within the classroom—one to try and help those children who have no English and another for children who . . . are not having difficulties with English.”