Around 8% of all Suffolk primary school children do not speak English as their first language

Teacher with students in training class

Teacher with students in training class - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Around 5,000 more children do not speak English as their first language compared to 10 years ago in Suffolk – with a large proportion of linguistically diverse speakers in Ipswich.

A total of 6,384 pupils – around 7% or one in every 14 pupils – have a foreign language as their primary language in primary, middle and secondary Suffolk schools.

Figures released through a Freedom of Information request show that 2005’s number of children was 1,470 – about 1.9% of pupils or one in every 55 children.

The percentage of children without English as their first language is higher in primary schools this year – around 8% compared to about 5.6% in secondaries and middles.

Suffolk County Council gives each school £1,500 for every pupil with English as a second language in their first academic year. Lisa Chambers, the council’s cabinet member for education and skills, said “comprehensive” support is given to teachers.

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She said: “This support includes access to advisers who can provide specialist guidance and training. Additionally a wealth of central training opportunities for school staff is available.

“It must be remembered, however, that not all pupils with English as a second or even third language arrive into school with no English; many are literate and fluent in English and a number of other languages and they can and should be seen as an asset to a school.

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“Such pupils tend to make more progress than pupils who have English as their first language and can bring the benefit of gaining additional modern foreign language GCSEs and A-levels in secondary schools.”

Around 130 languages are spoken in Suffolk schools – with a large number of them in Ipswich. A study last year revealed the most common languages, other than English, were Polish, Portuguese and Lithuanian.

Graham White, secretary of Suffolk’s National Union of Teachers, claimed council cuts were affecting the support given to pupils.

“The council needs more teaching assistants who speak different languages, we need more specialist teachers of EAL [English as an additional language], we need more advisory support for schools and schools need the resources to deliver the best they can for all pupils,” he said. “Smaller class sizes would assist the process.”

Dan McCarthy is executive member for teaching union NASUWT in Suffolk. When asked if the increase was putting pressure on teachers, he said: “Not that I know of, we have always had second language learners.

“I accept that it is a rather large increase in primary schools – from 2-8% – but it does not factor in how many of them are born in the UK and how many learn and speak is just not their heritage language.”

He added schools were now free to spend government grants previously ring-fenced to help ethnic minority students. This means the money is not reaching them as schools face balancing tight budgets, he said.

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