Influx of migrants affecting grades of British pupils, warns Lib Dem leader
28th April 2008
Nick Clegg says almost 800,000 pupils do not have English as their first language
Pupils are suffering because schools are struggling to cope with mass immigration, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was set to warn today.
He will argue many schools are not able to deal with an influx of children who do not speak English or have a poor grasp of the language.
Mr Clegg's decision to raise immigration as an issue days before the local elections and the London mayoral poll will raise eyebrows at Westminster.
It may also be seen as a sign that he is concerned the Lib-Dems may fare badly in the 1 May polls.
Some activists may be alarmed Mr Clegg is shifting to the Right to counter Tory leader David Cameron's appeal to many liberal voters.
Mr Clegg was due to tell the 4Children conference in London today that almost 800,000 pupils do not have English as their first language.
“It's a challenge for native English speakers, as well, because their learning suffers too when a class can't move forward together,” he was to say.
He will insist the problem stems from a failure to plan for population changes not migration itself.
“The latest wave of migration has brought large numbers – of Eastern Europeans in particular – to parts of the country that have little experience of dealing with speakers of other languages in schools,” Mr Clegg will say.
“Even a few children in a class can be a real challenge for a teacher used to strong English language skills, especially if children are arriving in the middle of a school year – and in unpredictable numbers.
“It's a challenge for native English speakers, as well – because their learning suffers too when a class can't move forward together, learn together and share experiences fully.”
Mr Clegg's aides say he has chosen to raise the issue of immigration and education after receiving complaints from head teachers who say their biggest challenge is coping with the number of languages spoken at their school.
He will also say: “The problems stem from our failure to plan for population changes, not from the existence of migrants.”