Immigration has been one of the top subjects of debate in the 2015 general election. But whatever the political reasoning over the levels and conditions under which we welcome new arrivals to this country, I am absolutely clear about one thing – once people are here it’s our clear responsibility to ensure they are properly integrated into British society.
Here at PET-Xi this means working with children in school. Our High 5 English as an Additional Language courses are key in making integration happen. When the schools tell us that they have young people who are not in a place where they can take part in school life or access the community it’s usually because of language barriers. Much of the ‘bad’ behaviour reported is down to the fact that a young person with no English simply doesn’t understand what is going on, nor what is expected of them in school and their community.
So our priority is to get language skills moving straight away. We also work to ensure school pupils understand what is expected of them culturally. Different courses will be developed for different situations – but always involve three elements, some physical activity, a focus on self discipline, and a reward for good behaviour.
This is perfectly demonstrated in the Combatting Exclusion courses we currently run in Sheffield involving kick- boxing as a way of engaging young Roma Slovaks. As the youngsters learn kickboxing (in itself something they love, so a great reward) they pick up language and learn self-control. The kickboxing teachers become role models that they can look up to and the boxing is also very good at controlling aggressive or difficult behaviour might not be conducive to them getting on at school. Speed and scale are both key. Schools need to address language issues immediately and this is only possible in small groups, which is why our courses run outside of the classroom.
Many immigrants are very aspirational young people who will play an important role in our country’s future economic success. So overall I’m a big fan of immigration and enjoy the cultural diversity we enjoy as a result.
But I understand that immigration has social and cultural impacts that can’t be ignored and am well aware of the dangers when new arrivals don’t integrate – nobody benefits from little pockets of isolation such as for example a totally Asian school or mother’s group. It’s a very complicated area with multiple issues within it – generational, money and poverty, a clash of cultures.
But I truly believe integration can overcome these problems. Mix everyone together and you will get the best of everything, making for a stronger society overall. Coventry and Sheffield, PET-Xi’s main bases are great examples of places with generally good integration. And PET-Xi as a company is another – we are proud to practice what we preach and have a fantastic mix of cultures, with many different languages spoken throughout our staff.