Hayes regrets 'segregation' remark


FINE GAEL education spokesman Brian Hayes has said he regrets using the word "segregation'' in his remarks about the teaching of English to immigrant children.

But he defended his call for separate classes for children with poor skills in the language.

"I should not have used the word 'segregation', but that does not change the debate,'' Mr Hayes told The Irish Timesyesterday.

"The core point is that children who do not have fluency in the language need total immersion before they are brought into mainstream classes.''

Mr Hayes caused controversy when he said, in a newspaper interview earlier this week, that many parents were frustrated at the effect the lack of segregation was having on the education of their English-speaking children.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said the proposal to separate students with poor language skills was "discriminatory, inequitable and deeply flawed''.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said it supported the idea of separate classes initially for some immigrant children that would focus on English language skills. However, it did not support "segregating'' pupils.

Mr Hayes stressed yesterday that he was referring to children attending second-level schools only.

"The post-primary sector is exam and subject-driven, and too often many of the children I'm referring to have no idea what is going on in the classroom.''

Mr Hayes said that the notion of total immersion, which was commonplace all over Europe, needed to be extended to the Republic.

"It very much depends on the child's language skills.

"If the child just needs three or four hours tuition, that is fine,'' he added.

"But teachers are telling me that they are spending an inordinate amount of time with children who have no idea what they are saying in the classroom.''

Ferdia Kelly, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), representing the management of 400 voluntary secondary schools in the Republic, said yesterday that schools had been very innovative and caring in their attitude.

He added that schools had responded to the learning needs of students from international backgrounds by adopting approaches such as part withdrawal of the student for intensive English language classes during Irish class and/or for one to two hours each morning for the first four to six weeks of term.

Also, there were mentoring programmes where a student for whom English was the mother tongue acted as a buddy to a student with little or no English, he said.

Mr Kelly called on the Department of Education to increase the language support resources available to schools and consider giving resources to clusters of schools to provide intensive English support classes for new students during holiday periods.