Educators are calling for intensive English courses for foreign students who arrive in New Zealand schools with very little or no English, as statistics show that many fail to get University Entrance.

Keith Burgess, the director of studies at Canterbury College which provides foundation English courses in Christchurch, says some secondary schools are dropping students straight "into the deep end" in mainstream classes when they can't understand anything.

"We have chosen not to have any selection procedure, we take all comers, therefore we have people who can't cope intellectually with high school," he said.

He has obtained data under the Official Information Act showing that only 36 per cent of Year 13 international students attempted the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in 2017, and of those only 60 per cent achieved University Entrance.

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That meant only 21 per cent of all Year 13 international students achieved University Entrance.

"Eighty per cent are failing. They are sitting in limbo at the end of it, they have nowhere to go," he said.

He has asked the Ministry of Education to support more intensive English courses for students who arrive in the country without the language and other skills to cope with mainstream classes.

Keith Burgess from Canterbury College wants students with poor English to do intensive courses before being
Keith Burgess from Canterbury College wants students with poor English to do intensive courses before being "dropped in the deep end" in secondary schools. Photo / Supplied

English New Zealand executive member Darren Conway, representing English language schools, said many high schools were "mainstreaming international students way before they should".

"We have been trying to pressure the Government to set language entry standards for high schools," he said.

A former language school director of studies, Rick Stiles, said Australia required students to do an English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students (ELICOS) if their English was not good enough for mainstream schooling.

"A student has to do an intensive English programme before they can enrol in a state school over there. I think there is a very good argument for the Australian model," he said.

Chonlapat Khongsup, 19, a Thai student who has ended up at Canterbury College this year after four years at Avonside Girls' High School, said she arrived just over four years ago with absolutely no English.

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"They just asked me what's my name and how old am I, and I didn't understand," she said.

Avonside directed her to an intensive English course at Hagley College, but she chose to go back to Avonside after six months because she wanted to be with students of her own age.

"I just wanted to go to normal school because I just wanted to have a friend that had the same age, because at Hagley in my class we were mixed age. I was the youngest," she said.

The secondary special interest group coordinator of the English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) teachers' association, Athlyn Watt, said it took seven years to go from scratch to being fluent enough in any language for academic purposes, and schools should not let students believe that they could do it in two years.

"Our school doesn't usually take in students with foundation level, or very little English, because we don't have a dedicated foundation-level programme," she said.

Patrick Walsh says many international students are not hoping to get into NZ universities. Photo / File
Patrick Walsh says many international students are not hoping to get into NZ universities. Photo / File

However the principal of Rotorua's John Paul College who chairs the Schools International Education Business Association (Sieba), Patrick Walsh, said at least half of his international students did not intend to go on to any NZ university.

"They come just to get a Kiwi experience, a Western lifestyle," he said.

Nationally, although schools enrolled 4045 Year 13 international students in 2017, only 2211 were in the schools on July 1 of that year, indicating that about half came for less than a full year.

Of the 2211 students who were here on July 1, almost a third attended schools offering other routes to university such as Cambridge and International Baccalaureate.

Of those who did enrol for NCEA, the 60 per cent who achieved University Entrance was slightly below the overall NZ average of 63 per cent.

It was below the averages for Asians (74 per cent) and Europeans (71 per cent), but above those for Māori (43 per cent) and Pasifika students (37 per cent).

The Education Ministry group manager for international education Belinda Himiona said the ministry was "very interested in ensuring that all international students have a positive education experience which leads to the outcomes they came to New Zealand to pursue".