English as a second language for 900,000 children
Young children speaking English as their first language are in a minority in almost one-in-10 local authorites, according to official figures.
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Published: 7:00AM BST 12 Aug 2009
In 14 council areas, more than half of primary school pupils speak other languages in the home, it was disclosed.
Nationally, English is no longer the mother tongue for a record 900,000 schoolchildren, around double the number a decade ago.
It follows a significant increase in the migrant population coupled with rising birthrates.
In the London borough of Tower Hamlets, only 22 per cent of five- to 11-year-olds speak English as their first language.
Teachers' leaders insisted that the additional effort shown by many pupils speaking other languages acted as an “inspiration” to native speakers.
But it is also feared that the rise is putting a strain on school resources as large numbers of children with a poor grasp of English dominate teachers' time.
Anastasia de Waal, head of education at Civitas, the think-tank, said: “We need to be honest about the impact on schools. There is a constant stream of prescription and targets coming out of Whitehall but little of it takes account of the fact that language barriers may be holding back many children.
“Unless significant investment is made in language classes we are left with a situation in which young people struggling to speak and understand the teacher are disadvantaged while their peers who speak English are unable to progress.”
Figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families show almost 15.2 per cent of children in English primary schools – 500,000 – speak other languages at home this year. This compared to 14.3 per cent a year earlier.
In secondary schools, 11.1 per cent of pupils – 364,280 – speak English as a second language, against 10.6 per cent in 2008.
The latest figures show numbers differ significantly across England.
In 14 councils, primary school pupils speaking other languages are in the majority. Most are in London.
They also make up more than a third of the primary school population in 31 local authorities, including Blackburn with Darwen, Leicester, Birmingham, Luton and Bradford.
London has by far the largest concentration of pupils speaking other languages. Some 77.7 per cent of pupils in Tower Hamlets, which has a large Bangladeshi population, do not speak English at home. The rate is 73.2 per cent in Newham and 69.5 per cent in Westminster.
The Government said the amount of money being spent on pupils with weak English was increasing to 206m by 2010.
A DCSF spokesman said: The fact is, being an English as an Additional Language (EAL) pupil doesnt mean you dont speak English. It only indicates the language to which the child was initially exposed to early on at home, irrespective of whether they speak English fluently later on.
The language of instruction in English schools is and always has been English. “We have listened to concerns of headteachers and are increasing funding in the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant to 206m by 2010, to bring students weak in English up to speed. We also equip schools to offer effective EAL teaching for new arrivals, with a comprehensive support package.
This support is helping to close the historic achievement gap between EAL and native learners at all levels of the school system and it is only relatively few, about a fifth of all EAL pupils, who are recent arrivals for whom communication problems are acute.”
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