The Sydney schools where most students speak another language


A total of 47 different languages are spoken at Evans High School in Blacktown where more than half the student body speaks a language other than English, in a picture that is increasingly becoming the norm - at least in some parts of Sydney.

More than 33 per cent of students at NSW public schools had a language background other than English in 2016, compared to 27.4 per cent of students a decade ago.

While the overall proportion of students from diverse language backgrounds has grown steadily, these pupils have remained concentrated in Sydney's west, south and south-west, according to new figures released by the Department of Education.

Sydney's western suburbs have the most language diversity, with 65.5 per cent of students across primary and high schools speaking a language other than English.

About 60 per cent of students in schools in Sydney's south and south-west speak a language other than English.

In comparison, only 29 per cent of students in Sydney's north-west speak a second language.

Across NSW schools, Chinese has remained the most common language other than English since 1997. It was spoken by 16.2 per cent of students with a diverse language background in 2016.

Arabic is the next most common, spoken by 13.7 per cent of these students, followed by Vietnamese, which was spoken by 6 per cent of students.

Evans High School principal Nerina Pretlove said the diverse language population presents a teaching challenge, but also a wealth of benefits for both teachers and students.

"I can't speak for the experience of teachers from other areas, but I think they miss out," Ms Pretlove said.

"Compared to a school with less diversity, it brings a whole lot of depth to people's life experiences."

In 2017, about 1417 schools in NSW are expected to receive government funding to support 166,000 students through specialist teachers, learning and support programs and interpreters.

Evans High School has about 33 English as an Additional Language or Dialect teachers, intensive English teachers and ethnic teacher aides in classrooms, but it is often factors other than language that pose the biggest challenge, Ms Pretlove said.

"It's not so much about the language background of students as their social and cultural background, and the implications of how they've come here," she said.

"It's about whether they've seen war, seen people die and seen torture and rape.

"We have regular meetings with teachers and year advisers to keep information flowing and identify strategies.

"There's a course around teaching refugee students that staff can do online, and they help each other. There's a lot of collegiality."

The school operates one of several Intensive English Centres in the state, which help newly arrived students reach a required level of English proficiency before they start high school.

The languages spoken by students at the centre and at Evans High School often reflect the conflicts going on around the world, Ms Pretlove said.

"We have students who speak Kurdish, Pashto and Assyrian Aramaic," she said.

"There was one language I'd never heard of [in the Department of Education report].

"Chaldean...I had to go and look it up, it's an Aramaic dialect. We might have students who speak that come later in the year when a new group of refugees comes in."

This story The Sydney schools where most students speak another language first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.