Northern Ireland

'Newcomer' pupils on the rise in Northern Ireland

Primary school children Image copyright Getty Images

Almost one in every 20 schoolchildren in Northern Ireland is a 'newcomer', the Department of Education has said.

A newcomer is a pupil who is often originally from outside the UK and does not initially speak the same language as their class teacher as a result.

About two-thirds of Northern Ireland's 1,092 schools had newcomer pupils in the 2018/19 school year.

While many pupils said they had been made welcome at school, some had faced bullying and discrimination.

"Some reported that their school had dealt with this issue very well, while some reported that the school had not dealt with the issue effectively," the department said.

One-size-fits-all

The Department of Education (DE) provides extra financial help to schools to assist newcomer pupils with their language skills.

Primary and nursery schools receive £999 per pupil, while post-primaries receive £1,027 per pupil.

The DE is consulting on whether that funding scheme - which is a decade old - meets the needs of schools and pupils.

"The evidence gathered from schools to date suggests that the current one-size-fits-all payment fails to adequately address the wide variations in need among newcomer pupils," the department said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There were 16,000 newcomer pupils in Northern Ireland in 2018/19

Schools said it sometimes took too long to receive the funding and that it was often not enough to cover the additional learning needs of pupils who had suffered protracted breaks in their education.

There were 16,000 newcomer pupils in Northern Ireland in 2018/19 - making up 4.4% of all school enrolments.

The number in Northern Ireland is rising at a rate of 1,000 a year and the majority are in primary schools.

The funding to be provided to schools to help newcomers in 2019/20 amounted to £16.5m - just more than 1% of the total schools budget.

Primary schools who have newcomers have an average of 25 such pupils, though some schools have significantly more.

Many newcomer pupils and their parents said they had been made welcome in school and had made good progress.

However, some parents said their children had not received enough English language help.

Among proposed changes to the current funding scheme, DE wants to increase the minimum period a school receives extra money for newcomer pupils from the current three years to five years.

They also want all schools to report annually on how they spend that money.

The department's consultation runs until 15 October.

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