English 'to be second language' in GCSE plan
By Julie Henry, Education Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:43am BST 07/05/2007
Pupils who speak English as their second language could sit a separate GCSE in the subject under plans being drawn up.
In a highly controversial move, the Government's exam watchdog has held discussions about the need for the English exam to accommodate the soaring number of ethnic minority students.
Figures released last week showed that one in eight pupils in England has a mother tongue other than English. In primary schools, where the number of pupils with English as their second language last year rose by 7 per cent to 448,000, the figure is one in seven. It is not uncommon to find schools where more than 50 languages are spoken.
A separate GCSE qualification for children with English as an additional language (EAL) will be hugely contentious, however. It implies that schools are incapable of bringing pupils up to the level required for general GCSEs and that a two-tier system should be created to provide ethnic minority students with an easier exam.
David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, said: “This is another example of the debate about the implications of immigration going on in corners of government rather than out in the open.
“We should be doing everything possible to integrate children who don't have English as their first language. Creating a separate exam structure risks turning them into second-class citizens.”
The need for an “EAL GCSE” for students in England was first mentioned last September at a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) board meeting.
In February, Mary Curnock Cook, the director of qualifications and skills, told board members that research was under way to determine “the best way to address the need for qualifications for English as an additional language”.
A test designed for children who do not speak English at home is likely to be less demanding than the current GCSE and similar to modern foreign language exams, covering basic writing skills and concentrating less on style and context.
A spokesman for the QCA said: “To prepare 14-16-year-olds with English as an additional language for post-16 education or employment, consideration is being given to a number of different options, including the development of a new qualification, accrediting EAL qualifications currently not available to schools or modifying current qualifications.”
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Qualifications and Curriculum Authority