Nearly 4800 youngsters were recorded as requiring English as an additional language (EAL) support at the start of the current school year – equal to around one in ten of all pupils and marking a jump from just over 3700 in summer 2013.
But the budget for providing specialist assistance has barely moved, meaning teachers are increasingly diverted from core lessons as they aim to ensure pupils in difficulty get the support they need.
The most recently available data shows dozens of languages – including Polish, Urdu, Cantonese and Turkish – are now spoken at Edinburgh’s most multi-ethnic schools.
At Dalry Primary, around three quarters of youngsters speak English as a second language, with 60 national tongues and dialects spoken by pupils from as far afield as Vietnam, Argentina and Sudan.
Staff said increasing diversity was to be welcomed but warned quality teaching had been put at grave risk by a failure to match funding to need.
Seamus Searson, general secretary at the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: “Teachers are already stretched when dealing with youngsters and their range of abilities.
“If the need increases then it’s putting further demand on them and it will become impossible for teachers to meet the needs of all children. Obviously, we want the money to be put where it’s needed.”
Budget figures show money invested specifically in EAL support has nudged up from £1.54 million in 2012-13 to £1.57m this year. Parent leaders said the rise was nowhere near enough. Rob Coward, chair of Stockbridge Primary parent council, said: “Teachers are only human beings. They can only do so much. Without support, their time will be spread more thinly and that’s got to have an effect on the quality of teaching and learning.”
Councillor Melanie Main, Green education spokeswoman, said: “It seems odd that the budget for supporting English as an additional language has not risen in line with demand so it is something the education department needs to look at seriously as it plans ahead.”
Education chiefs acknowledged the number of pupils requiring EAL help had risen faster than funding but said some extra money had been allocated from the additional support for learning budget.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “With an increased number of EAL pupils there will always be a requirement for extra help and we will continue to make sure that assistance is provided.”