Education news

Overseas pupils fear for their future, warns Ulster Teachers' Union

Young newcomer pupils at an event at Malone College in Belfast. Picture by Declan Roughan

SCHOOL children from overseas are worried about being forced to leave following the Brexit vote as well as a potential rise in racism, a union leader has warned.

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) is urging the Stormont Executive to reassure pupils about their future in Northern Ireland by the time the new term starts in September.

General secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said it is a time of uncertainty for up to 12,000 `newcomer' children.

Some young pupils from European backgrounds, she said, fear they may be forced to leave.

Union colleagues in England have already written an open letter to the prime minister asking for reassurance for EU pupils, she added.

In recent years, schools across the north have been experiencing a steady growth in children from other parts of the world.

The term 'newcomer' is used to refer to a child who has enrolled in a school but who does not have satisfactory language skills to participate fully in the curriculum and does not have a language in common with the teacher.

Newcomer pupils account for 3.5 per cent of the school population.

Polish children are the largest such group in primary education with about 2,500 pupils, followed by Lithuanian and Portuguese.

Ms Hall Callaghan said some pupils are now "worried about being forced to leave, about a potential rise in racism and community conflict".

While there have been concerns about a rise in hate crime in Britain in the wake of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, reports of crimes in Northern Ireland have fallen since Brexit.

The PSNI said 31 racist hate incidents were reported in the week after the EU referendum, a 34 per cent drop on the same period last year.

This was in contrast to a sharp rise in reported hate crimes shown in figures compiled by the National Police Chiefs' Council.

"They are concerned about their prospects in an uncertain and isolated Northern Ireland on the edge of Europe," Ms Hall Callaghan said.

"Our young people need their fears to be addressed specifically in regard to their education and their future in the place they have called home for so many years.

"Schools have a pivotal role to play at this time. They are where we shape our next generation and we must ensure that the young people believe they have a vested interested in the future of their country."

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