This chapter examines issues of English language proficiency and education on a migrant’s participation and settlement in Australia. This chapter details the current Government services to address these issues, including the Intensive English Language Centre (IELC) for school-aged children and the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) for adults.
English language proficiency
Submitters commented on the importance of learning the national language of a country to assist positive settlement outcomes and promote integration.
The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria in their submission commented that English language proficiency is a key enabler for participation in other aspects of civic society.
The Australian Council of TESOL Associations (ACTA) commented on the long term issues associated with poor English proficiency, stating that:
Failure to [acquire English proficiency] affects school completion; further learning opportunities, employment prospects, civic participation and personal wellbeing. It also imposes long-term costs on society through impaired social cohesion and mobility, reduced productivity and increased welfare support.
The submission from the Department of Social Services (DSS) provides data and statistics from the Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) longitudinal study, which is a tool aimed ‘to trace the settlement journey of humanitarian migrants.’ Data was collected annually from 2013 in ‘waves’. Wave 1 data collection ran from October 2013 to March 2014; Wave 2 and Wave 3 ran from October to March the following years.
This study’s findings included information on housing, English language proficiency, employment and income, health, self-sufficiency, community support, personal resources, life satisfaction and education and training of humanitarian migrants in Australia.
The BNLA study highlighted that there were a number of factors which could affect how well a migrant male or female would learn the English language.
Examples of characteristics associated with increased English proficiency for males, included:
Higher levels of education pre-migration; and
Settlement in regional areas in Wave 1.
Factors associated with lower levels of English proficiency for males were:
Not being able to read or write well in own language; and
Being at moderate or high risk of psychological distress.
Factors associated with increased English proficiency for females were:
Studying English since arriving in Australia;
Higher levels of education and occupation pre-migration;
Migrating as a single person compared to females migrating with a family unit; and
Having school aged children.
Factors associated with lower levels of English proficiency for females were:
Never having attended school; and
Not being able to read or write well in own language.
The City of Onkaparinga agreed that higher levels of pre-migration education assisted with learning English:
Humanitarian entrants [are] arriving in Australia with little, or no, formal education in their own native language thereby making it particularly difficult for them to engage with the English language and other education when resettling in Australia.
ACTA noted in their submission that age impacts English proficiency in different ways:
While young children generally gain conversational fluency quickly, older learners with a good educational background have cognitive and literacy advantages that promote language learning.
However, they agreed that ‘fluency and literacy in the first or another language at any age makes second/other language learning easier and quicker.’
Pre-migration English language requirements
English language requirements differ for those entering Australia as a permanent migrant through the Migration Program for skilled and family migrants compared to those entering through the Humanitarian Program, or as a temporary migrant.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) commented that there are no consistent formal requirements or assessments of English language ability across the existing framework.
They provided the example that, generally, visas that allow holders to work have a requirement for English language proficiency level of vocational or competent. At this level it is considered that a person would be able to ‘participate safely in the workplace, transfer skills and experience to others and navigate day-to-day life.’ However, those arriving under the Humanitarian Program do not have an English language requirement.
DSS identified that Arabic makes up a significant proportion of the main language of humanitarian migrants. Data from the DSS Settlement Reports indicated that between 1 October 2015 and 4 October 2016, over 45 per cent of migrants under the humanitarian stream were identified as having Arabic as their main language. In comparison, less than 2 per cent of family stream and less than 1 per cent of skilled stream holders had Arabic as their main language for the same period.
Table 3.1: Top 10 Main Languages of Permanent Settlers (All Streams)
Source: Department of Social Services, Settlement Reports, Top 10 Main Languages of Permanent Settlers (All Streams), 1 October 2015 to 4 October 2016, p. 1.
The DSS commented that Humanitarian migrants generally have low levels of English proficiency when they arrive but this improves the longer they are in Australia.
Data from the BNLA study found that while ‘45.5 per cent [of migrants] reported speaking English not at all before arrival in Australia [this] had dropped to 17.4 per cent by Wave 3. A further 18.3 per cent reported speaking English well or very well before arrival in Australia but by Wave 3 this has increased to 38.2 per cent.’
The Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program has been set up to give refugee and humanitarian visa holders over the age of five ‘practical advice about the journey to Australia prior to arriving.’
While the AUSCO program provides English language support prior to arrival, its objectives are more broad ranging:
AUSCO objectives include encouraging participation in language training in Australia, providing the basic skills necessary to achieve self-sufficiency, and equipping participants with tools to deal with the different stages of cultural, social and economic adaptation. This includes information about Australian laws and norms, including in relation to gender equality and family violence.
During the course of the inquiry, discussions related to AUSCO focussed on English language support. When questioned whether English language training could be delivered prior to arrival in Australia, the Settlement Council of Australia (SCoA) commented that ‘there are significant limits on what AUSCO, or a similar program, could be expected to achieve.’ They highlighted that there was a ‘limited timeframe for delivery, difficult and variable training conditions in refugee camps…and difficulty reaching all humanitarian entrants equally.’
SCoA went on to say that ‘by far the most effective method of acquiring a new language is not only through tuition, but immersion in the community following arrival in Australia.’
DSS shared an extract from their report with SCoA in which they said:
AUSCO cannot teach English… AUSCO is required to deliver key settlement information, and this is most effectively and efficiently done in the mother tongue of the recipients. However, AUSCO can deliver strong messaging about the importance of English-language proficiency in successful and prosperous resettlement in Australia.
Settlement Services International noted concern with providing English language training prior to arrival:
There is not enough time. Because by the time they get their visas, they do not usually have a lot of time to leave the country they are in.
Whereas, the Australian Migrant Resource Centre commented that settlement outcomes could be strengthened:
… through strengthening AUSCO through which prospective new arrivals could begin to learn English and also understand the laws and values of our Australian society as well as their rights and obligations and what they can expect on arrival. Where AUSCO has been delivered pre-arrival it has assisted our reception and orientation of new arrivals.
Submitters commented that education is important for successful integration of migrants. However, many submitters acknowledged that succeeding in mainstream education can be quite challenging and generally additional support is needed.
State and territory governments are responsible for the administration and operation of schooling to school age children in their jurisdictions. This includes determining curriculums, regulating school activities and allocating funds to individual government schools. Under the Australian Constitution, while the Commonwealth provides substantial funding for government schools, it transfers control of that funding directly to the States and territories.
In their submission, the NSW government explained how their State offers support to migrants in primary and secondary school through the following programs:
English as a Second Language (ESL) programs: Provided in primary schools, high schools and Intensive English Centres to support the English language learning of ESL students, including refugees.
Initial intensive English language support: Newly arrived non-English speaking students receive intensive English language support when they first enrol, followed by ongoing English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) teaching support.
English tuition in an Intensive English Centre: High school students in the metropolitan area receive intensive English tuition in an Intensive English Centre. In rural and regional areas and in schools without an existing EAL/D program, this support is provided under the New Arrivals Program.
Ongoing support: After completing the intensive English program, students receive ongoing support in developing English language in the context of the curriculum delivered by specialist EAL/D and/or classroom teachers within the relevant class program.
Various submitters considered ESL programs and intensive language units in schools as critical in meeting the needs of young migrants.
The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria submitted that ‘given the importance of language in successful settlement, there is great value in investing in programs which provide intensive language support.’
Multicultural Youth Queensland commented that:
These programs provide young people with the opportunity to attend mainstream schools, socialise within their peer group, build knowledge about life in Australia and form friendships with young people in their local communities, while building their language skills.
However, the Multicultural Youth Queensland noted that not all schools offer ESL programs.
The Committee received evidence suggesting that the effectiveness of programs at the national, State and local level was an issue.
Anglicare Victoria shared with the Committee examples of what made a good ESL course, such as, a ‘tailor[ed] approach to the specific learning needs of particular cultural cohorts’ such as students from Afghanistan:
Taking into account the cultural norms and worldviews of newly arrived Afghani students, for example, and synergising teaching approach with these.
Anglicare Victoria were of the view that schools applying a one-size-fits-all approach were not successful:
Schools that are not as successful in their provision of ESL courses, by contrast, tend to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, and do not make full use of Commonwealth and State funding that is available to help meet the needs of ESL students.
Adult Migrant English Program
According to the Department of Education and Training’s (DET) report titled English classes for eligible migrant and humanitarian entrants in Australia, the objective of the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) is to help ‘new migrants learn basic English skills that will assist them to successfully and confidently participate socially and economically in Australian society.’
According to the DET’s website:
… the Adult Migrant English Program is the Australian Government’s largest English language program, available to eligible new migrants and humanitarian entrants.
The AMEP is available to migrants from the family, skilled and humanitarian visa streams and provides up to 510 hours of English language tuition within the first five years of visa commencement or arrival in Australia.
Service providers of the AMEP include universities, TAFE institutes, State education departments, and private educational institutions.
Eligibility for AMEP requires a person to be a ‘permanent visa holder 18 years of age of over who do[es] not have a functional level of English language proficiency.’ Access is extended to some temporary visa holders.
Functional English is defined in the legislative instrument Immigration (Education) (Functional English) Specification 2017 and is assessed in accordance with a test or following the provision of evidence.
The DET told the Committee that ‘functional English would be a pathway to [International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Level 6].’
The DET added that the assessment framework is different to the IELTS and while functional English ‘is not equivalent to the level 6 [it is] somewhere between a 4 and 5 under the IELTS.’
While AMEP is generally a program for adults, ‘migrants and humanitarian entrants aged between 15 and 17 years of age, who do not have functional English and whose needs are not met through mainstream schooling, may be eligible to participate in the program.’ This is considered on a case by case basis.
The following legislative time limits apply from the date the person’s ‘eligible visa came into effect or the date they arrived in Australia, whichever is later’:
Register within six months;
Commence tuition within 12 months; and
Complete tuition within five years.
Register and commence tuition within 12 months; and
Complete tuition within 5 years.
AMEP offers additional hours of study to some clients through the following three subprograms:
The Special Preparatory Program (SPP);
Settlement Language Pathways to Employment and Training (SLPET); and
The SPP provides additional hours to humanitarian migrants to address their ‘greater learning and support needs arising from difficult pre-migration experiences, such as torture or trauma, and/or limited prior schooling.’
SLPET is designed to assist with transition to work.
This program provides up to 200 additional hours of vocation-specific English language tuition, including up to 80 hours of a work experience placement in a diverse range of fields, to help clients gain familiarity with Australian workplace culture and practices.
AMEP Extend is a new program that came into force from 1 July 2017 and offers up to 490 hours of additional tuition for those who have almost exhausted their 510 AMEP hours without achieving their English language proficiency goals.
The DET submitted that the intent of AMEP Extend is ‘to improve outcomes for clients who have demonstrated dedication to English language proficiency and to assist them to close the gap between the completion of AMEP and achieving functional English.’
AMEP now offers two streams of tuition: pre-employment English stream and the social English stream.
The Pre-employment English stream is for clients who wish to gain functional English to participate in the workplace, or further training which may lead to sustainable employment.
The Social English stream is for clients wanting to improve their competence in conversational English to help them participate socially and to gain the confidence to live independently within their local community.
AMEP’s program delivery includes classroom tuition, distance learning, home tutoring and provides child care.
TAFE Queensland English Language and Literacy Services told the Committee that:
The AMEP contextualises English language tuition around mandated settlement topics, and these include life skills, culture, loss of family and friends, health and safety, managing money and banking, public transport and driving, child care, education, the medical system and services, and the law and the legal system.
Adult Migrant English Program challenges
Numerous submitters commented on possible barriers for migrants wanting to participate in the AMEP including: eligibility restrictions and time limits, competing priorities and the English language proficiency of the AMEP.
Eligibility restrictions and time limits
AMES Australia identified gaps in the AMEP service as ‘not all migrants in all visa categories are eligible for all services.’
The Victorian Multicultural Commission commented that the ‘AMEP can be restrictive in terms of eligibility, attendance and assessment.’
The Brotherhood of St Laurence commented that AMEP lacks flexibility and that ‘eligibility timeframes do not factor in people’s employment, personal and family caring commitments during initial resettlement.’ They commented that this inflexibility results in migrants not being able to capitalise on the full number of allocated hours.
FECCA noted that there is ‘really… a very tight time limit on people being able to create an entirely new life for their families.’
They went on to say that in the first five years of arrival migrants are provided with a range of services, including health care, education, English language programs:
…attention needs to be placed on making sure that people are able to continue building healthy and creative and safe lives for themselves and their families beyond that five-year limitation, because lots of the settlement services taper off after the first five years of arrival.
FECCA considers that settlement is an ongoing process and takes more than five years. They recommended providing access to programs beyond the five year mark ‘or for … second-generation children born in Australia to recently arrived refugee communities.’
The Brotherhood of St Laurence recommended that the eligibility for AMEP be extended ‘from 12 months to five years post-settlement.’
In their submission, ACTA commented on AMEP’s decision to create a pre-employment stream and a social English stream in 2017-2020. They stated that AMEP already had considerable flexibility to tailor classes to meet the needs of specific learner cohorts but that these changes that introduce ‘rigidities into learner pathways intensify difficulties in forming viable tailor-made classes at different levels and multiply administrative requirements.’
ACTA went on to say that Community Hubs that already exist are much better suited to attracting the cohort envisaged for the AMEP social English stream.
Whereas, the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland said that the AMEP redesign that establishes two new service streams ‘is a positive step towards ensuring equitable outcomes for migrants and bettering settlement prospects.’
The SCoA commented that AMEP class schedules can conflict with seeking employment. It went on to recommend that ‘English language training must be prioritised for all new arrivals.’
TAFE Queensland English Language and Literacy Services told the Committee that:
Clients may feel pressure to gain immediate employment to support family or community members. This may result in clients who have higher level skills, or the potential to gain these skills, being locked into unskilled and non-sustainable employment because they do not have the necessary English proficiency and knowledge of the Australian workplace to be able to move ahead.
ACTA commented that AMEP class schedules can conflict with Centrelink appointments, and recommended that ‘there needs to be some way of getting rid of the nonsense where people are penalised for not attending their Centrelink interview because of their English class… [and that] there is a lack of coordination between agencies.’
Adult Migrant English Program English language proficiency
The Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australia told the Committee that the average length of time for a person to achieve their 510 hours of language lessons is seven years.
Similarly, ACTA asserted that only seven per cent of AMEP clients complete the full amount of hours they are entitled to reach functional English level and over a quarter of clients leave well below.
The Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services noted that completion of the AMEP does not equip many of their clients with the language skills to successfully obtain employment, or complete further study or training.
Similarly, Active Refugee and Migrant Integration in Australia (ARIMA) observed that:
Many have finished those 510 hours at TAFE, and maybe even thousands. We have clients who come to us who have been going to TAFE for many years, but they cannot even introduce themselves. They cannot say their birth date. In our assessment, we have realised that we can put the refugees into two categories when we talk about English classes. For those who had former education, TAFE is brilliant. But for those who were not educated it is not possible.
They went on to say that there needs to be ‘a well-adapted practical way of teaching and learning’ in which they do not have to learn grammar as they cannot follow an academic kind of system. For example, Active Refugee and Migrant Integration in Australia have ESL teachers, specialists, who give only conversational English to those who are not educated.
The Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia told the Committee that
Current English courses are either not long enough or not relevant enough to the colloquial needs of young people and the lives they experience in Western Australia.
ACTA said that once a person achieves what is assessed as functional English, which they consider to be a level 2 on the Australian Second Language Proficiency Rating, the person is then exited from the program and do not have access to additional hours because they are at a very basic level.
Representatives from the Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australia spoke of the growing need for a ‘diversity of approaches.’ They told the Committee that:
People's learning capacity and the way they learn is unique…particularly if you are a fairly elderly person or not literate in your own language. You can't do it, so you need a variety of teaching methodology as well.
The Committee received a large volume of evidence on the issue of English language education, from a range of organisations in both the government and non-government sectors. Inquiry participants were unanimous that English language, or the ability to quickly and effectively acquire the English language, was an important factor in successful settlement outcomes. The Committee agrees with this evidence.
An important factor that was acknowledged by some inquiry participants is the level of educational achievement or English language proficiency of migrants prior to migrating to Australia. While the government does not have any control over the level of educational attainment or English language proficiency prior to migration, effective and accurate assessment of the educational needs of migrants is a key factor in ensuring that the educational services provided to migrants are appropriate and effective. The evidence received by this inquiry indicates that the current assessment methods are effective in determining the need for English language education.
The Committee acknowledges that migrants have many competing priorities when arriving in Australia such as finding accommodation, employment or caring for family members. Therefore, the requirement to enrol and undertake lessons within the first year of arrival can be particularly challenging.
Further, the Committee agrees with the view that immersion can be an effective method of acquiring English language skills. Activities like finding accommodation and employment necessitate immersion to some extent, and thus can be an effective means of acquiring a certain level of conversational English language proficiency, which can act as an enabler for success in formal English language tuition.
As such, requiring enrolment in AMEP within a year of arrival may actually be counterproductive in some cases, and the Committee believes that the window for registration and commencement of AMEP by migrants needs to be made more flexible.
In the Committee’s view, AMEP’s services need to be more flexible in order to meet the needs of migrants from diverse backgrounds and circumstances. This can be done, in part, by adjusting and extending the eligibility requirements of the AMEP, which will improve English language outcomes for migrants.
The Committee recommends that the eligibility for the Adult Migration English Program be amended to allow greater flexibility through:
enabling all newly arrived migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds access to the AMEP;
extending the registration and commencement times to two years; and
completing tuition within ten years.
Some inquiry participants were of the view that the current approach to English language education is not working as well as it should. The Committee was concerned to hear evidence that some migrants had finished the AMEP without being able to effectively speak, read or understand English.
The Committee shares the concern expressed by some inquiry participants that the AMEP focusses on delivering a specific amount of hours of English language training as opposed to ensuring migrants reach a level of proficiency that allows them to function in mainstream Australian society.
In the Committee’s view, the focus on a specific amount of hours in English language training should be shifted to include a focus on outcomes. Rather than focusing on the amount of time migrants spend in tuition, a more effective approach would be to focus on English language competency.
A focus on competency would have flow on effects in terms of improved community engagement and employment prospects. It would facilitate a greater level of engagement with mainstream Australian society, in turn leading to a greater level of immersion, which as noted above can be an effective method of gaining and improving English language proficiency.
The Committee recommends that the Adult Migrant English Program amend its business model by focusing on English language competency to enable better community engagement and improved employment prospects; and supporting clients to access additional hours of tuition as necessary to reach that level.
Additional community views on settlement support
Lack of transparency in school funding
Various submitters commented on the lack of transparency in the use of school funding, specifically for ESL purposes.
When questioned on how much funding States get for schools, the DET said that ‘from 2014, Commonwealth recurrent funding for schools is calculated under the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) funding arrangement in accordance with the Australian Education Act 2013.’
The DET added that the SRS funding includes a base per-student amount, plus loading for students with low English proficiency:
The SRS includes a base per-student amount with different levels of funding for primary and secondary students, plus loadings for certain types of student and school disadvantage, including a loading for students with low English language proficiency (ELP). The ELP loading is calculated at 10 per cent of the SRS funding amount per student.
The DET noted that the schools are able to allocate their resources based on student need:
Commonwealth is not prescriptive on the use of loading funding amounts, schools combine funding from the Commonwealth with other funding from the States and Territories governments and private sources and then allocate their total resources within their school to address student need.
The National Settlement Framework (NSF) was introduced to foster effective planning and coordination of services between the Commonwealth, State and Territory and Local Governments. Under the NSF priority areas, State and Territory Governments have responsibility for English as an Additional Language programs in schools in addition to a variety of complementary programs.
The National Settlement Services Outcomes Standards was launched by the SCoA in May 2016 and ‘aims to streamline settlement professionals’ work standards and develop a set of Best Practice Benchmarks in providing settlement support.’
ACTA commented that ‘English language … provision for migrant-background children and youth in schools has deteriorated significantly’ as a result of removing tied Commonwealth grants and by allowing school-based management policies, which places responsibility for management of resources directly on schools.
ACTA held the view that principals had increased discretion over schools’ EAL/D funding and staffing. In their submission they included the following responses to a survey they conducted in 2016 of EAL/D teachers about where funds were being used:
There is less leverage on principals to allocate funds to support students in need. If the principal does not see the needs, then it is difficult to progress with further support and funding allocations.
At my current school the principal is aware of the need for EAL/D support and ensures that the allocation is used appropriately. This was not the case in my former school. It is really up to the principal how the funding is spent.
Too many stories of schools misusing funding (a new driveway in one school paid for with funds meant for refugees).
All funding for our EAL/D students has been put into the school general budget. We don't have a separate budget for EAL/D students.
EAL/D funding is being pooled with Special Education funding, so Special Education teachers are asked to take on the role – with no ESL training.
Funding is not being used for the purpose it is intended. There is a clear difference in levels of progress and achievement between students who were supported by EAL/D allocation prior to the changes (3 years ago) and those younger students who have not received the support they are entitled to.
ACTA held the view that there was a lack of transparency and accountability in the distribution and use of EAL/D resources.
The Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN) Australia agreed that ‘there is limited national accountability in terms of how funds are allocated to support English language learning at the school level.’
The Settlement Services Advisory Council (SSAC) pointed out that State governments may not be able to provide data showing how they are spending Commonwealth money on settlement services:
… at the very least you should be able to get regular reports about how the State governments are investing Commonwealth funds in this area. They should at least be able to tell you—and I suspect that, if you asked each State government to give you the data about where young refugees are, how they're progressing in their learning, how many went through the English-language-learning programs and so forth, not all States would be able to provide that data readily to you.
The SSAC recommended a requirement to report how funding is being used, potentially thorough either the Senior Officials Settlement Outcomes Group (SOSOG) or a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) type process.
MYAN Australia agreed with the need to ‘establish school accountability mechanisms to ensure that loadings for students with limited English skills are firmly tied to the education needs of [the] cohort.’
ACTA recommended that the NSF and National Settlement Outcomes be further developed to include a national best practice standard for effective EAL/D provision in schools.
ACTA recommended an improved governance structure for NSF, such as using the NSF ‘and National Settlement Outcomes … as a basis for annual reporting to the Council of Australian Governments.’ In their submission ACTA provided a figure on how they envisaged a proposed governance structure would look (Figure 3.1).
Figure 3.1: Proposed governance of English language provision based on the National Settlement Framework and Outcomes
Source: Australian Council of TESOL Associations, Supplementary submission 108.1, p. 4.
The Committee understands that as each school has control of their resources and how to allocate them, there is no consistency across jurisdictions. This in turn makes it extremely difficult to analyse the effectiveness of all the services that schools offer to address the needs of EAL/D students.
Similarly, the Committee is of the view that there needs to be better methods of identifying and reporting on EAL/D learners’ needs and outcomes, especially considering there are over 300,000 EAL/D students across all systems.
The Committee notes the concerns of submitters about the lack of accountability with the allocation of funds to support English language learning in schools. The Committee agrees that schools should be required to submit annual reports showing the allocation of funding to ensure that funding is being used to enhance the learning of EAL/D students.
The Committee understands that responsibility to oversee the NSF currently lies with the SOSOG, which considers plans and reports from the three tiers of government.
As discussed in Chapter 2, the NSF lacks clarity surrounding roles and responsibilities of Commonwealth, State and local governments. Therefore, the Committee believes that further work is needed to deliver better coordinated education services.
The Committee accepts that the COAG Education Council provides a forum through which strategic policy on school education, early childhood and higher education can be coordinated at the national level and through which information can be shared. The Committee agrees that the NSF and National Settlement Outcomes should be used as a basis for an annual report to COAG.
The Committee recommends that the Senior Officials Settlement Outcome Group produce an annual report on outcomes of the National Settlement Framework for consideration by the Council of Australian Governments.
The Committee recommends that the Council of Australian Governments have oversight of the National Settlement Framework and that any reporting needs to be sent to the Council of Australian Governments for consideration at their meetings and that settlement service needs of all migrants be considered.
Skills for education and employment
The AMEP & Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) Program Alignment Report on the DET’s website provides a brief background on the program:
The SEE program is the Australian Government’s primary program for helping eligible job seekers to improve their language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills with the expectation that such improvements will enable them to participate more effectively in training or in the labour force.
The report notes that eligible clients can:
… access up to 800 hours of free training which can be undertaken on a part-time (10 to 19 hours per week) or full-time (20 to 25 hours per week) basis over no more than a two year period. The program provides initial, basic and advanced accredited English language training, as well as basic and advanced literacy and numeracy training. The number of training hours undertaken weekly by each client is set out in Individual Training Plans (ITP).
There are three streams of training under this program:
Initial language stream – solely for those whose first language is not English;
Basic language and literacy stream – for both language and literacy clients, where the focus is on consolidating functional language, literacy and numeracy skills; and
Advanced language, literacy and numeracy stream – clients as above but at a higher level.
The SEE program is primarily delivered in face-to-face classrooms but distance learning is available for those who cannot access on-site delivery.
Work placements are only possible if a person is enrolled in a training package that requires this.
Community views on the Skills for Education and Employment Program
In its submission, ACTA identified the SEE Program as the ‘de facto pathway from the AMEP for English language learners seeking employment.’
ACTA believed, however, that a ‘lack of coordination between the two programs effectively makes the AMEP a dead-end for many people.’
ACTA added that the SEE program does not offer childcare which could potentially exclude women.
TAFE Queensland English Language and Literacy Services commented that migrants with high speaking skills and a strong desire to get a job may not be referred to the AMEP or SEE program because they present with good English speaking skills. However, ‘these same clients have low reading and writing skills, no knowledge of Australian workplace language or culture, settlement needs which have not been addressed and possible physical or mental health issues as a result of their refugee experience.’
The Brotherhood of St Laurence recommended greater collaboration between Jobactive providers and their peak bodies ‘to increase referrals to the SEE program.’
Submitters commented on academic challenges faced by migrants who had a history of disrupted learning.
The Migration and Refugee Research Network (MRRN) stated that the level of educational achievement is lower for refugee children as many have lost several or more years of participation in formal schooling.
The Centre for Community Child Health report titled Exploring the impact of community hubs on school readiness (Community Child Health report) said that ‘children who begin school with limited proficiency in the language of instruction at school are more likely to experience poorer outcomes across a range of health and developmental domains that exceed language and academic challenges.’
The Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (DCCSDS) echoed the difficulties faced by young migrants when placed in the Australian school system, because they have ‘disrupted or no prior education, low levels of literacy in their first language, significant cultural differences, past trauma and settlement shock.’
ACTA submitted that academic performance is influenced by a person’s proficiency in the language and that EAL learners ‘need five to seven years of English language and literacy support to close the gap in academic performance with their English speaking peers.’
The Community Child Health report said that Victorian NAPLAN data from 2008 and 2009 showed that ‘the proportion of refugee students who met the education standards for reading, writing and mathematics (in years 3, 5 and 7) was lower than the State average.’
The Committee received repeated evidence of migrant children being classified incorrectly into learning levels in schools when allocated into classes based on their age.
The Forum for Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (FASSTT) submitted that ‘in Australia, age is the primary dictator of school year and most young people are placed in schools according to the age level not academic level.’
The FASSTT offered some further insight into the broader consequences of migrants not being placed in the appropriate class:
… a 15 year old may have had only one or two years of formal schooling and his/her literacy and numeracy skills reflect that. They may not feel able to achieve academically. This has an effect on his/her ability to remain engaged with school and to get work, and will also impact on their overall sense of wellbeing and value.
The SSAC spoke about Australia’s education system following a linear pathway, as ‘preschool sets us up for primary and primary school set us up for secondary school and secondary school set us up for a pathway elsewhere—university or into a trade or whatever.’ They then identified that those who have lived in refugee camps have lost part of that education pathway.
The SSAC highlighted challenge faced by migrants when being placed into a mainstream schools:
They may be 17 or 18 and they are arriving here with at best a year 7 level of education and they get a 12-month opportunity in an English language program to learn English and then they get placed into the mainstream education system. So they end up in the education system much older than the actual education level they are at. They cannot go into a year 7 or 8 class when they are 17 or 18.
MRRN commented that misclassification in school can result in alienation of young humanitarian entrants who see no choice but to drop out.
In their submission ACTA noted a report titled Pathways and pitfalls: The journey of refugee young people in and around the education system in Greater Dandenong that discussed issues similar to this inquiry, included the long term employment challenges faced by migrants when a ‘system is not set up to adequately cater for certain groups of new arrivals’:
The outcome of this failure is largely being played out in secondary schools in terms of low retention rates and the future prospects of young refugees finding meaningful employment.
Similarly, when in Beaconsfield, Victoria, the Committee heard problems regarding flow on effects from low literacy to school performance. Mr Dediwalage, Principal of the Minaret College Officer campus, told the Committee that:
They come to school without adequate language skills. Working with these language skills is a huge issue. Their low literacy levels will flow into other areas as well. Ultimately, they will end up showing behavioural issues in school. There are also some learning difficulties within this community.
Transitioning to mainstream education and employment
Submitters commented on the difficulty migrants faced in transitioning to mainstream education and employment.
According to the MYAN:
Younger people typically spend their first twelve months in Australia in an English Language School (ELS) or Intensive English Language Centre (IELC), designed to help prepare them for mainstream schools or further study, training or work. The rationale behind this model is to provide necessary English skills to be able to make a successful transition into mainstream education and employment.
The Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre told the Committee that for some students a two year stay at an IELC ‘is not sufficient… to acquire the right language and literacy skills.’ Without proficiency in these areas students will have difficulty adjusting to mainstream school ‘when they are amongst everybody for whom English is their main language.’
In its submission, New Change spoke of the time limits surrounding English Language Schools which result in migrants being transitioned to mainstream schools before they are equipped with the necessary English language skills.
A member of New Change, a South Sudanese migrant, provided a personal reflection on the difficulties in transitioning to mainstream schooling:
Some of us started in mainstream schools but many of us were sent to English Language School for a year. English language school was important for us but was not long enough to prepare us to enter mainstream schools. After our year at English Language school many of us were immediately transitioned into mainstream primary school, which was difficult because there were still gaps in our English language skills. Compared to other students our age, many of us were behind and found it difficult to catch up.
The Community Child Health report says that ‘families who have recently arrived in Australia often do not comprehend the complex system of preschool and school.’
The MYAN NSW raised the issue that migrants face a major challenge in understanding their options within the Australian education and training system:
Upon arrival in Australia young people are often faced with an education and training system that is very different to anything that they have previously experienced. Unfamiliarity with the school system and style of learning, as well as the vocational education and training (VET) system, means that ensuring young people and their families are aware of the educational pathways available to them can be challenging.
The SSAC echoed the difficulty for migrants finding the right pathway:
Many of the challenges we have aren't with refugees who have arrived in the last couple of years, in terms of difficulties in the wider community; they're with the group that's been through the system, got to an age where they're no longer able to stay in school, but the system wasn't able to help steer them on a particular pathway.
ACTA commented that common misunderstandings about educational pathways can be addressed, to some extent, by accurate and effective advice.
Figure 3.2: Educational Pathways for Incoming Migrant Youth
Source: Olliff, L. (July 2010). Finding the right time and place: Exploring post-compulsory education and training pathways for young people from refugee backgrounds in NSW. Refugee Council of Australia. http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/publications/finding-right-time-place/ p. 5
Key reasons for leaving school
Submitters commented on a range of factors that could result in young migrants leaving school before completion.
According to the Centre for Multicultural Youth, across Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries ‘one quarter of young people who arrive in their host country after the age of 15 are more likely to drop out of school early compared to just 10 per cent of the native born population.’
The Community Child Health report referred to a 2015 State of Victoria’s Children Report that said ‘children from non-English speaking backgrounds demonstrated higher rates of antisocial behaviours, peer problems and emotional symptoms, than the general population upon school entry.’
As noted above, one such reason for young migrants dropping out of school is when they are ‘streamed into classes based on their age rather than level of educational achievement’ and are unable to fit in.
The Refugee Communities Advocacy Network said that young refugees quickly become isolated due to their limited understanding of the school system and school social environment.
The Association for Services to Torture Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS) said that:
The challenges of settling into the Australian education system are compounded by issues such as social circles at school which often lead to race-based bullying and harassment.
The MRRN said that refugee children struggle to successfully complete secondary school and noted that while issues of school disengagement and dissatisfaction were raised, most students ‘cited experiences of discrimination as key reasons for leaving school.’
The South Sudanese Community Association in Victoria commented that some young people in their community ‘drop out of school as the schools become places of bullying, harassments and discrimination.’
MRRN commented on the specific situation in Victoria, and said that data from a longitudinal study of young people from refugee backgrounds in Victoria found that only 62 per cent had completed Year 12 or equivalent which was significantly lower than the national completion average of 86 per cent in 2014.
In its submission, New Change included a personal reflection of a South Sudanese migrant’s challenging experience of high school:
At our school the majority of South Sudanese students were placed into English as a Second Language (ESL) classes alongside other South Sudanese students because the school believed we were not ready to do the same work as the other students. Whilst some of us needed extra English language support not all of us did. It was assumed that because you are Sudanese you will need help. … These classes also promoted a form of segregation.
According to DCCSDS, increased support from the Australian Government is required to secure the best outcomes:
Better resourcing support for schools, and a more collaborative approach and expanded programs to ensure migrant and refugee students are well supported in schools should be prioritised.
However, TAFE Queensland English Language and Literacy Services told the Committee that ‘students who are exiting high school or who are becoming disengaged from high school and who still have less than functional levels of English have access to another program, such as the AMEP.’
The Centre for Multicultural Youth commented on the importance of education and ensuring young people remain engaged:
We need to invest in programs that keep young people in school. Early disengagement from education not only impacts upon entry into further education and training, it places young people at greater risk of short-and long-term unemployment and social exclusion, and increased vulnerability to involvement in criminal activities.
Children as interpreters
While translating and interpreting services are mainstream services available to all Australians some submitters commented that migrant children are taking on the role as interpreters to communicate information for and to their family.
Dr Renu Narchal and Mr Nicholas Szafraniec, lecturers for the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University submitted that children of migrant parents are often required to act as ‘language brokers’:
[That] role involves translating and interpreting a variety of information and interactions from one language to another on behalf of their parents and extended family.
They said that language brokering is needed for a variety of information and interactions, ‘across a range of different settings such as at home, at school, during medical appointments, and in shopping centres.’
Fairfield City Council echoed this situation, in which young people assume the role of interpreters for the family which they rationalise because ‘they acquire language at a faster rate.’ However, in their submission they state that this leads to family roles being dramatically altered.
The Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre raised a concern that when a young person’s parent receives a text reminders or emails from Centrelink. As the parent does not understand what the text means they may not meet a requirement such as attending an appointment. Missing an appointment may lead to a suspension of payment, which has a flow on effect to the detriment of the young person.
Dr Renu Narchal and Mr Nicholas Szafraniec talked in their submission of the language broker’s power to ‘influence the character of communication,’ which leads to the possibility of a language broker to act as:
…gatekeepers for information and essentially act to protect their family from difficulty situations and take on greater stress above and beyond their age and stage of cognitive, emotional and social development.
The Committee acknowledges that when language barriers prevent communications with some migrants, a bilingual child may be used as an interpreter. As a consequence of this responsibility, that child may have greater stress above and beyond their age.
It appears as though, based on this evidence, that newly arrived migrant adults are not either aware of or able to access formal translating and interpreting services.
The Committee believes that as part of the cultural orientation program recommended in Chapter 2, interpreters inform newly arrived migrants about the Translating and Interpreting Services available to them and facilitate access to it.