Non-English-Speaking Background Students: A Study of Programmes and Support in New Zealand Schools

Publication Details

This report details the findings of a small-scale, exploratory study undertaken in November 1995 involving 14 schools in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. Fifty-four interviews were conducted in these schools to find out more about the types of programmes and support they had in place for their non-English-speaking background (NESB) students. The experiences described and the ideas put forward in the report provide other schools with examples of good practices on how to meet the needs of their NESB students.

Author(s): Shelley Kennedy and Sharon Dewar, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: October 1997

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Overview of the Study

The study involved five researchers visiting a small number (14) of primary, intermediate, and secondary schools in November 1995 and interviewing staff and others who had some role in the teaching and support of non-English-speaking background (NESB) students in their school. The schools, located in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch served communities representing a range of socioeconomic levels. Some schools in the study catered predominantly for Pacific Islands NESB students (both New Zealand-born and recent immigrants) and others catered predominantly for Asian NESB students. Still other schools catered for NESB students from diverse backgrounds — for example, from Somalia, Iran, and Bosnia, as well as from Asian and Pacific Island countries. The proportion of NESB students for whom English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) funding was being received on the participating schools' rolls ranged from approximately 15% to approximately 80%. The schools were selected to participate in the study on the basis of their having 'good practices' in place in relation to programmes and support for NESB students. The study was intended to be a small-scale 'exploratory' project to collect some information about the reality for New Zealand schools of providing programmes for NESB students.

Fifty-four individuals were interviewed: of those interviewed, 15 were principals or deputy principals, 13 were ESOL coordinators, 18 were teachers of classes which included NESB students, and two were board of trustees representatives. The remaining six interviewees held other positions within the school (eg, teacher aide, Reading Recovery teacher).

Some of the participating schools had programmes for NESB students in place which had evolved over some years. Other schools had had to quickly establish programmes in order to respond to a situation that they had not experienced before — for example, having to cater unexpectedly for students from newly arrived immigrant or refugee families. Catering for NESB students is a steadily growing and changing area for New Zealand and all schools in the study were aware of the need to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the programmes they provided. Staff of participating schools were able to identify a range of characteristics of the programmes that they ran which they felt were successful; they were also able to provide considerable insight into the factors which appear to either enhance or inhibit NESB students' ability to learn English. At the same time, however, no participants in the study felt that their school was able to fully provide the level of support they considered desirable for their NESB students. Sometimes this was due to circumstances within the school which they were working to overcome but, more often, inability to provide sufficient support was attributed to insufficient (government-allocated) resources. Despite this, schools in the study had made and were continuing to make considerable progress in providing good programmes for NESB students and their families. It is hoped that the experiences described and ideas put forward by those interviewed over the course of the study will go some way towards helping other schools who are working on ways to best meet the needs of their NESB students. It is also hoped that the experiences described will highlight the importance of ongoing consideration by policy-makers and others of the factors which contribute to schools being able to offer programmes for NESB students that will provide these students with the means to cope well in our schools and in our society.

Summary of Key Issues Evident from the Study

From the material obtained during the study, it was evident that, for schools to provide as effective programmes and support as possible for their NESB students (taking into account financial and other constraints), there needs to be:

  • an overall school policy of inclusiveness and of meeting the needs of all students
  • a commitment by the school to ensuring that NESB students and their families are welcomed to the school from the outset
  • philosophical and administrative back-up and support for teachers of NESB students from the principal and other senior staff
  • a person (or persons) appointed to the role of ESOL coordinator/teacher, whose job it is to liaise with other staff in the school, work with NESB students and, often, their families, and generally coordinate all programmes and support for NESB students within the school
  • teachers committed to meeting the needs of NESB students
  • teachers who have had specific training and experience in working with NESB students
  • staff who have knowledge about support services outside the school and a readiness to seek help from those services
  • a policy of enlisting the help of interpreters and/or support people (eg, when enrolling students and seeking initial background information)
  • practical (eg, in-class) support for teachers
  • a policy of providing, when required, as much support as possible for NESB students through out-of-class support ('withdrawal') time and one-to-one instruction
  • a commitment to helping students maintain or foster their first language
  • a commitment to employing, where possible, bilingual or multilingual teachers and teacher aides
  • access to appropriate and sufficient materials (eg, books)
  • a commitment by the school to sharing resources, ideas, and experiences with other schools
  • a policy of fully integrating NESB students into the regular classroom as soon as possible
  • a commitment on the part of all staff to learning about NESB students' backgrounds and promoting cultural understanding among different groups within the school
  • a commitment to achieving open, ongoing communication between the school and NESB families (through home visits, school events, etc)
  • a commitment to involving parents/the community in the school and in their children's education.

It was also evident from the material obtained that there was often a shortfall in the resources1 required to fully realise aims. According to participants there was therefore a need for:

  • more funding to employ staff to take 'withdrawal' classes and provide in-class support for both teachers and students
  • more funding to employ ESOL staff for a greater number of hours to enable students longer periods of support
  • more bilingual staff in schools
  • more materials (and/or assistance to produce necessary materials)
  • more access to outside support agencies (eg, teacher support services) which, while found to be very helpful, were said to be overstretched.
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