Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 14 Hansard (Wednesday, 7 December 2011) . . Page.. 5843 ..
(b) provide assurances that future staffing in the ESL area, at both the departmental and classroom level, will effectively address the 45 percent of students who currently miss out on any targeted support from an ESL teacher.
I have made one small correction: it is not 52 per cent of students in need of funding; it is actually 55 per cent. It has been estimated that there are nearly 5,000 students in Canberra public schools who require ESL support, and that number is growing. In fact, ESL students make up 12 per cent of all public school enrolments, and they have increased as a percentage of students by 35 per cent in 11 years.
But it seems, when it comes to languages, this government has a somewhat conflicted view and approach. On the one hand we have the rhetoric and the published mantras that set out to show the ACT is a multicultural society, one well equipped literacy-wise, to help residents meet the challenges of living in a city when their native tongue is not English. For example, we have a proposed whole-of-government language policy to be in place by 2012. This policy talks about language being an essential tool in the social organisation of a community. The preamble says that it aims to cover all languages, including English, and it recognises that “employment and participation in the economic life of the ACT requires ability in the English language”. But it does not give any commitment as to how we get people to have the appropriate level of English. The only thing it says in relation to the teaching of English is:
The ACT Government will pursue opportunities for promotion and provision of English language education to students and teachers from other countries.
Similarly, in its multicultural strategy 2010-13, launched in late 2009, it says that, by 2011, all year 3 to 8 students in ACT government schools will study a language other than English. So we have a government that embraces the notion of a multilingual society and wants to ensure this multilingual education starts in early primary education. We have a government that recognises that employment and prosperity in the ACT depends on an ability to speak and understand English. But that is where the rhetoric ends and reality starts because, when it comes to teaching English to overseas born students, the reality does not match the rhetoric. That support for teaching English is not happening in our schools and the situation has been getting progressively worse for years.
In its latest measure, the government has decided to cut one of only two ESL executive officer positions within the department. These are the people who provide professional support to front-line ESL teachers. This is the position we are trying to protect, Minister Bourke. It does not make sense to, on the one hand, have a policy that identifies the importance of fluent English to achieve employment and prosperity but, on the other hand, slash support that will enable new arrivals to achieve that employment and prosperity. Theory is fine, but when it comes to delivery we see slashed budgets and diverted resources. We saw this last year in the efficiency dividend round—assurances that no service would diminish in the hearing and vision impaired teaching sector and we are seeing it now with ESL teacher support.
The ACT education union and the Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages have both written to the now former minister for education. Not