TEACHERS last night gave a guarded backing to calls for immigrant children who cannot speak English properly to be "segregated" in our classrooms.
This followed a Fine Gael call yesterday for the Government to separate immigrant children with poor language skills from the rest of their classmates.
The party’s education spokesman, Brian Hayes, said children should not be put into a mainstream class until they have a competence for it.
He added: “And if that requires segregation, well then we have got to segregate the child in the best interests of that child.”
He said he was also aware that many parents were frustrated at the effect the lack of segregation was having on the education of their Englishspeaking children.
Secondary teachers’ union ASTI last night said they preferred not to use the word “segregation”.
But they gave their backing to the concept of immigrant children being taught apart, temporarily, in secondary schools.
A Government spokesman refused to rule out such a move last night.
He said the Government would wait for the publication of three major research studies into the teaching of immigrant children in our schools.
Mr Hayes' controversial use of the term “segregation”, and its association with the civil rights struggle against it in the US – particularly in connection with education – is likely to draw strong criticism from civil liberties’ groups.
However, he insisted he was motivated by concern for migrant children who were being “left behind” in their preparations for Junior and Leaving Certificate exams.
“They need proper English language training but my view is at the moment, that's not happening. I know my views are controversial, but the bottom line is that I have only the interest of the new Irish at heart,” he said.
Under the current system, approximately 2,000 English language support teachers provide an average of four hours teaching to immigrant children during every week of the primary and secondary school term at an annual cost of €200m.
But the children must return to normal classes in maths, biology, history and other subjects for the rest of the school week, even if they cannot understand what is being said.
His comments attracted qualified support from the ASTI last night. However, they preferred to describe the teaching of immigrant children apart as putting them in “immersion classes” rather than “segregation”.
The ASTI spokeswoman said an understanding of English was the key to the integration of immigrant children in schools.
The ASTI believes more English language support teachers will be required to provide the full immersion classes.
The Department of Education said it had commissioned three research studies into the teaching of immigrant children in the education system.
It was awaiting the outcome of these research studies before deciding whether changes were required.