Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Quick thoughts on the language of pupils

A few early observations about the English is a second language for 1 in 7 pupils story that leads the Mail and appears in the Express and Sun too.

One: The increased figure has prompted Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green to demand an annual limit on immigration. Not true - Tory policy has been an annual limit on immigration since 2005, was adopted by David Cameron in 2006 and re-iterated by David Davis in 2007. Cameron repeated immigration needs to limited in February 2009.

Two: The reports seem to be willfully making the assumption that not speaking English as a first language means that these pupils (14% of the total) do not speak English at all. Again, not true. Just because English isn't their first language doesn't mean they are incapable of speaking and understanding it at all.

Three: the figures are made out to be all pupils in the headlines, but make clear are only about primary pupils in England in the stories. For secondary school kids, the number is 10% - lower, so not as prominent.

And read the account in the Mail from headteacher Tim Benson (scroll down). His only complaint is that Ofsted inspections don't always take account of these language barriers. He says: 'Children build up a basic vocabulary very quickly. Within two or three weeks they know enough English to get around and summon help.'

When the Yorkshire Post is reporting 5,000 racist incidents in schools in Yorkshire over the past two years, including 700 expulsions for racist behaviour, you may wonder how the tone of such stories helps.

[19 Feb edit: 5CC has done an article on this, pointing out that the figures are a year old and were reported on then too]

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