Suffolk: 130 languages spoken in county’s schools
18:08 21 July 2014
There are 130 languages spoken at schools in Suffolk, new figures reveal.
Macedonian, Kurdish, and Igbo are among the languages spoken by pupils at primary and secondary schools in the county, but the most common languages other than English are Polish, Portuguese and Lithuanian.
Altogether 6,325 pupils out of a total of 97,000 do not use English as a first language. 2,965 of those are in Ipswich, which is the most linguistically diverse borough in the county.
Education chiefs insist the large numbers of pupils for whom English is not their native tongue doesn’t affect the quality of education on offer, provided it is managed correctly.
Suffolk County Council (SCC) said that in areas with long established minority communities such as Ipswich and Forest Heath schools had become accustomed to meeting the needs of pupils who didn’t speak English while other schools were still getting used to it.
The figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, also show that lower year groups have higher numbers of pupils for whom English is not a first language.
In Year 1 there are 679 pupils who speak English as an additional language in Suffolk, that’s compared to just five in Year 14.
Critics say taking on large numbers of pupils who don’t speak English is disruptive and hampers lessons due to lack of communication.
A spokesman for SCC said: “If children have been educated in another education system with different curriculum content, it will obviously take a bit of time to learn the new language and have the same level of subject knowledge for some curriculum areas as their English speaking peers.
He added: “A challenge for schools is often that of communicating with parents if the parents English is limited.”
Graham White, secretary of the National Union of Teachers, acknowledged that teachers often had “difficulty” communicating with pupils who didn’t speak English.
“In my own school we had some Polish children come and we had someone who came in as an interpreter for a while,” he said.
He also said it was possible that pupils who didn’t speak English would receive a disproportionate level of attention from teachers.
“That’s always going to be a potential danger but teachers are going to make sure they devote attention to all the pupils.
“But say you have got 30 pupils and 10 don’t speak English obviously you are going to spend a disproportionate amount of time on those children because it takes longer to explain things to them.”
However, many education chiefs say bi-lingual pupils achieve more highly than native speakers.
Chris Harrison, who represents the National Association of Head Teachers in Suffolk, said: “Any child who is bi-lingual usually will be seen as having an advantage in life, not least because it usually gives a sense of understanding of more than one culture.”
A spokesman at Suffolk County Council added: “Some pupils come from countries where the level of expectation for their age in particular subjects is higher than in England, for example in maths, so in fact pupils can often raise the results in particular subjects.
“Additionally, most secondary schools and academies are entering their ‘English as an Additional Language’ pupils for GCSEs in their other languages… this is used to increase the number of GCSEs the school gains”.
The local authority provides additional funds to schools for every pupil who doesn’t speak English as a first language.
The council’s Equalities and Minority Ethnic Attainment team also supports schools with pupils who don’t speak English with training and guidance.