Teachers struggle with immigrant pupil influx
By Graeme Paton
Last Updated: 1:55am GMT 22/03/2008
Schools are struggling to cope with an influx of thousands of immigrant children, teachers said yesterday.
They need more money to cater for the dozens of languages spoken by pupils from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, it was claimed.
Small primaries are under particular strain as teachers face classes in which a third of pupils speak English as a second language, said the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
Addressing the union's annual conference in Torquay, staff said many pupils were bright, but failed to reach their potential as schools were unable to teach them properly.
The comments follow the publication of figures showing that children with English as their first language are in the minority in more than 1,300 schools. At 600 primaries and secondaries just a third are native English speakers.
In some parts of London, children from ethnic minority families account for more than nine in 10 school places. The disclosure has led to warnings that a rise in pupils who struggle to speak English has put excessive pressure on teachers and risks undermining standards.
Yesterday, the 160,000-strong ATL called for ministers to recognise the impact of immigration on schools.
Stephen Holmes, a teacher at Coundon Court School, Coventry, told the conference that schools struggled to find translators in up to 100 different languages.
“For many years the number of pupils in Coventry has been falling,” he said. “Like many other authorities we faced possible redundancies and school closures until the downward trend was reversed by the arrival of over 4,000 children of immigrant families in six years.” More than 3,000 children were placed in primary schools in the area, he said, with the majority in some of the most deprived schools.
“Day after day the elasticity of the teachers and support staff is tested as they plan and deliver lessons for groups with over a third of the children for whom English is a second language,” Mr Holmes said.
“It's about time we stopped hiding the problem behind classroom doors, challenged the Government's glib euphemisms and insisted that despite its complexity, the problem must not be ignored.”
David Kinnen, a teacher from President Kennedy School, Coventry, said that 10 students had been put in a science class, including one with special needs and nine who spoke English as a second language. “Was there any support in the classroom? No,” he said.
Earlier this month, it emerged that one primary school – Newbury Park in east London – was teaching children who speak more than 40 languages.