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Dunedin’s Carisbrook School principal Ben Sincock said he was only notified two weeks ago that Esol funding support for pupils in primary, intermediate and secondary schools had changed.
He said previously, Esol funding for former refugee pupils was more than for migrant pupils and New Zealand-born children of migrants. Now the ministry was averaging out the funding and everyone received the same amount.
He said Carisbrook had 34 pupils who were former refugees from the Middle East, and the changes equated to an $18,750 funding cut to the school’s Esol educational support next year.
"My gripe is that making an announcement so late in the year, when many schools have already appointed staff to provide the Esol support for students, is extremely frustrating.
"And secondly, and more majorly, the Government has talked about increasing support for students with learning needs and special needs, and here they are actually cutting the support for individual students yet again.
"What’s being said at Government level just isn’t filtering down to schools. And to have 34 of our students next year losing $18,750 of support is dramatic."
Mr Sincock said the funding was important because many of the former refugee pupils arriving in the country had very limited, if any, English-speaking capabilities.
"For them to be engaged in education, the idea is that we give them as much support as possible to bring them to a level where they can start learning in the classroom.
"I’m gutted and angry because I’ve already made the appointments for next year for the Esol support," Mr Sincock said.
"I’m not sure how I’m going to fund that now."
He said the Government had announced schools could now apply for contestable funding for extra Esol support, but schools were "maximising" that avenue each year already.
"The fact is, it’s contestable. Before this, it was a guaranteed amount for each of these students.
"This will affect a lot of schools around Otago, and there is more and more refugee and migrant students arriving in Dunedin every six weeks.
"It’s definitely going to put more pressure on the schools and the students."
Silverstream School principal Greg Hurley agreed.
"The funding is not sufficient. It’s far from the mark.
"The Esol funding that comes from the ministry pays for about half an hour a week. They can’t learn English on half an hour a week.
"We need more funding, not less."
He said another part of the problem was Esol teachers were hard to hold on to because they were in high demand from other organisations such as the Red Cross, and they could get better pay working for those organisations.
"We can’t pay them what they’re worth."
He said there were more than 30 Arabic-speaking refugees across three schools on the Taieri requiring Esol support.
Otago Primary Principals’ Association chairman Chris McKinlay said he believed up to half of Dunedin’s schools would be affected by the changes.
Ministry sector enablement and support deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the recent changes were made to better reflect the ways schools used Esol support.
"We understand students from refugee backgrounds may require additional support.
"The funding available to support refugee students is still available — we have adjusted how it is allocated.
"Previous funding rates were complex to calculate as they differed based on whether students were migrants, New Zealand-born, or refugee background, and the length of time they had been in school.
"The new rates are simpler for schools to budget and plan for, as there is one funding rate for all primary and intermediate students and one for all secondary students."
Ms Casey said supplementary funding was also available for high-needs Esol pupils from refugee backgrounds, and schools could contact their local ministry office to discuss access.
"Our Dunedin team have worked closely with all schools in the area to support the development of a collaborative model for refugee resettlement.
"This includes the provision of several ministry-funded professional development initiatives to ensure teachers are supported to work with students.
"We will continue to support this in 2019."