Portsmouth language class cuts criticised

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Plans to axe funding for community language classes for children in Portsmouth have been criticised.

The city council had helped fund lessons for pupils from immigrant families to learn their family's home language to A-level standard.

Now the authority says it can no longer afford the service, which cost it £33,000 last year, and is withdrawing the funding with immediate effect.

The move is likely to affect about 400 children in the city from September.

Portsmouth City Council has worked in partnership with Southampton and Hampshire's councils to provide volunteer-run classes across the county and both cities.

The Community Language Trust says more than 1,200 children use the service.

'Appetite for learning'

Chairperson, Dr Talat Khan, insisted teaching languages to children aged from five upwards should be "encouraged at all costs".

"It helps in so many ways - with self-confidence, helps them get a successful career and increases their appetite for learning more languages," she added.

Syed Haque moved to England from Bangladesh more than 50 years ago and has lived in Portsmouth ever since.

His six children used the service to learn Bengali.

He said: "It's very important for our community and our children.

"English is now our first language, Bengali is a second language, but it is essential for interpreting for others."

Valued service

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said it was "not rocket science" to investigate alternative ways of funding the classes.

"The public purse can't pick up the bill for everything we want, but that's not to say we have to stop doing these things.

"We should ensure these services continue - they are valued by a large section of the community."

She said Portsmouth City Council should have given the trust more time to find new premises and funding.

The classes currently teach Afghani, Arabic, Bengali, Mandarin, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Italian, Malay, Malayalam, Nepali, Persian, Polish, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu.

Portsmouth City Council spent £33,000 in 2012-13 on classes for 400 students over 38 weeks.

The money included £7,500 rent to schools and community centres, £14,500 in volunteer tutor training and expenses and £11,000 to Southampton City Council for managing the service.

The authority said the cut was a "difficult decision", made as part of the wider council budget process.

Julian Wooster, strategic director for children services, said: "It's with regret we can no longer afford what we've been previously able to provide.

"We can see that the community languages pupils generally do well in our schools, it is children with special educational needs where generally more support is required to help them achieve."

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