UK: English as a second language

More and more pupils speak their foreign tongue as first language, says report

28 January 2009 – One in 30 primary schools in England have 70% pupils who do not speak English as a first language. Moreover, every single pupil in ten schools around England speak a foreign language as mother tongue.

In whole England, 466,620 children aged 4-11 do not have English as their first language, equivalent of one in seven primary pupils.

Co-chairmen of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration Labour MP Frank Field and Conservative MP Nicholas Soames have argued that these figures "make a nonsense of the government’s aim of integration and show the very real strain that uncontrolled large scale immigration is already placing upon our society.”

The Department for Children, Schools and Families provided Mr Field with a list of schools where seven in ten youngsters did not have English as their first language. Also, the list reveals the local authorities where 20% of schools match the above figures, including the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets (62%), Newham (46.9), Brent (28.8) and Ealing (28), plus Blackburn (26.7), Leicester (25.9), Bradford (25), Luton (20.3) and Birmingham (20).

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: ‘Two successful elements of any immigration policy should be to limit the numbers coming in so that the pressure on all public services is reduced, and to insist on English being spoken to a competent level by people coming here to get married.

‘It is relatively easy to cope with a small number of non-English speakers, but incredibly difficult if there are large numbers. Scale matters.’

A spokesman for the Children’s Department said: ‘Even if a pupil speaks another language they may still be highly competent in English, and many are. In cases recent arrivals from countries such as Poland have helped keep small rural schools open that may have otherwise closed because of falling pupil numbers.

‘The language of instruction in English schools is English and this is vital in boosting community cohesion.

‘The task is to get every child up to speed in English so that they can access the whole curriculum.
‘We have listened to the concerns of head teachers and are increasing funding in the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant to £206million by 2010, to bring students weak in English up to speed.”

Director of communications at the National Centre for Languages (CILT) Teresa Tinsley noted that ensuring that more children in the UK become bilingual will help the economy prosper in the future.

"We are interconnected and we need to understand people from other cultures and we need to work with them, not just to solve economical problems but the problems of the planet," stated Ms Tinsley.

A rise in the proportion of pupils in England’s schools who did not speak English as their first language was registered in figures released by the UK Statistics Authority in April last year.

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