UK: English not first language for 800,000 children

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu May 1 11:53:05 UTC 2008

English not first language for 800,000 children
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Last updated: 8:31 AM BST 30/04/2008

More than 800,000 schoolchildren do not speak English as their first
language, official figures have disclosed. Almost 500,000 children in
primary schools have English as a second language – an estimated one
in seven – with a further 350,000 pupils in secondary schools. It
follows a significant rise in the number of school pupils from
immigrant families. Their numbers have almost doubled in a decade to
reach record levels in England's schools. In some areas, children
without English as their first language account for more than half of
all pupils. Teachers warned yesterday that large concentrations of
foreign pupils with a poor grasp of English were placing an increasing
burden on their capacity to provide all children with a decent
standard of education.

They say more money is needed to cater for the dozens of languages
spoken in some classrooms, amid fears that overall standards could
suffer if they are forced to concentrate on the few struggling with
their language. Many Roman Catholic schools are now printing
admissions forms in Polish and hiring foreign teaching assistants to
cope with increasing demand for places from eastern European families.
According to figures published by the Department for Children, Schools
and Families yesterday, 14.4 per cent of children aged five to 11
speak languages other than English in the home – compared with 13.5
per cent 12 months ago – making a total of 470,080 pupils. In
secondary schools, there are 354,300 pupils with English as a second
language. That proportion increased from 10.6 to 10.8 per cent.

The figures disclosed that in 14 local authorities – almost one in 10
– English-speaking primary school pupils are in the minority. In the
London borough of Tower Hamlets, only 23 per cent of pupils speak
English as their first language. In inner London primary schools,
children with English as their first language are in the minority. One
primary school – Newbury Park in east London – teaches children who
speak more than 40 languages, including Tamil, Swahili, Bengali,
Cantonese, Spanish, Japanese and Russian. Jim Knight, the schools
minister, admitted that "undoubtedly there can be problems" for
schools with a high concentration of pupils speaking other languages
as their mother tongue.

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: "This has
happened because the Government failed to follow our policy of taking
into account the impact of immigration." The National Association of
Head Teachers warned in November that the situation was "out of
control" and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers called last
month for extra funds to "meet the extra educational demands on
schools brought about by the recent influx of children of refugee and
EU migrant families". According to official figures, the number of
pupils speaking other languages has increased by a third since the
main expansion of the European Union in 2004, from 10.5 per cent to
14.4 per cent this year. Last year, official figures disclosed that
since Labour came to power in 1997, nearly four million foreign
nationals have come to Britain and 1.6 million have left.

It was also disclosed that increasing numbers of pupils were from
ethnic minority backgrounds. The proportion of primary pupils
described as non-white British rose from 21.9 to 23.3 per cent. In
secondary schools, the proportion increased from 18 to 19.5 per cent
in 12 months. Mr Knight said: "The gap in achievement between migrant
children and English-speaking pupils has narrowed significantly in
recent years."

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