Page last updated at 14:45 GMT, Monday, 17 December 2007

Multi-lingual pupil numbers rise

Writing at a desk
Poverty has more impact on results than speaking another language

The proportion of primary school pupils in England with English as a second language has risen by 73% in a decade.

Across the country the proportion is 13.5% - up from 7.8% in 1997.

But below the national average there are sharp local variations - with inner London having by far the highest proportion, currently 53.4%.

There are 1,143 primary schools and 195 secondary schools in which at least half the pupils have English as a second language, official figures show.

The figures about the number of schools were obtained by the Daily Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act.

Regional divide

They add school-level detail to national and local figures published earlier this autumn showing a growing linguistic and ethnic diversity in the school system.

It follows concerns raised by head teachers about the need for schools to have adequate specialist support for pupils who do not speak English.

Behind the headline national increase is a more complex picture of big regional differences in how demographic changes are affecting schools around England.

Across the 14 boroughs of inner London a majority of pupils in primary school - 53% - are classified as having English as a second language. In Tower Hamlets this rises to 76% and in Newham 72%.

The experience of schools outside London can be very different.

Across the north-east of England the proportion is 4% and it is 3% in the South- West. In Cornwall, Dorset, Cumbria and Cleveland the figure is below 2%.

Poverty gap

The definition of having English as a second language does not necessarily mean that the pupil cannot speak English or that they were born overseas - it means that the child's family might have another "first language" used in the home.

In terms of achievement, a less affluent family background - defined as qualifying for free school meals - has a much bigger negative impact than such a multi-lingual family life.

In literacy tests taken by 11- year-olds, children with English as a second language were eight percentage points less likely than English speakers to have reached the expected level.

However, the achievement gap in the same tests was much wider - 21 percentage points - between those who did and did not qualify for free school meals.

But the figures, published by the government in the autumn, show that ethnic and demographic changes are much greater in inner London than other urban areas.

In the 14 inner London boroughs - an area including Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Wandsworth, Westminster, Islington, Southwark, Newham and Camden - the proportion of primary pupils defined as "white British" is 21.5%.

None of these boroughs has a "white British" primary school population above a third of pupils. In Newham, less than 12% were defined as white British.

Outside London, there is much less ethnic diversity. White British primary pupils are a majority in almost every other borough in the country - with the exception of a handful of urban areas, including Leicester and Birmingham.

There are many local authorities in which more than 90% of primary school pupils are defined as white British. Across the North-East the average figure is 93%, in Yorkshire and the Humber it is 82% and in the South-West 91%.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families says that the government has responded with extra funding for pupils with English as an additional language and ethnic minority pupils.

"Spending on education has risen by more than 60% in real terms since 1996-97.

"Local authorities also receive funding through the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant (EMAG) to provide support for minority ethnic pupils and pupils with EAL. The grant is 179 million in 2007-08 and will continually increase to 207m in 2010-11."

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