Is immigration affecting the performance of native English speakers in schools?

11 December 2015
What was claimed

British pupils are suffering because teachers are struggling to cope with an influx of foreign students speaking different languages.

Our verdict

The proportion of pupils with English as an additional language has been rising. But research suggests the performance of pupils with English as their first language isn't affected by this.

"British pupils are suffering because teachers are struggling to cope with an influx of foreign students speaking a total of 300 different languages, a union has said".

Daily Telegraph, 1 April 2015

There are rising proportions of pupils in England's state-funded schools thought to have English as an additional language (EAL). This doesn't seem to be affecting the performance of native English speakers, according to research published earlier this year.

By the time they're 16, EAL pupils outperform native speakers on some measures, although the difference is pretty small.

We're focusing here on the language of pupils, which is what the Telegraph's article was talking about, rather than the performance of pupils with different nationalities.

Over one million pupils with English as an additional language

Over one million pupils were identified as having a first language other than English in 2015. That's 17% of all pupils in state-funded primary and secondary schools in England. It's more than double what it was in 1998 (the oldest set of figures available), when it was 8%.

These statistics don't tell us how good these pupils' English is, or even that English definitely isn't their first language—the question asks teachers if they know or believe pupils to have a first language other than English.

It could be that these pupils can speak and understand English very well or very poorly.

The proportion of EAL pupils is particularly high in some regions—the highest being London at 45%, and second the West Midlands at 19%. The lowest is 7% in the North East.

Our analysis of the data suggests that about one in 11 state-funded mainstream schools (9%) have a majority of pupils with English as a second language. That excludes special schools, alternative provision and pupil referral units.

The results vary depending on which schools you include—research looking at slightly older data gave a figure of around one in 12.

Roughly two-thirds of schools had fewer than 10% EAL pupils, including about 11% that had no EAL pupils.

A figure of 300 different languages being spoken among British school pupils was given by the Daily Express earlier this year—we've asked the Department for Education for the data behind this.

Study found no evidence that prevalence of EAL pupils affects others' attainment

It's been suggested that the increased number of EAL pupils in some schools could affect the performance of their peers, because they'll get less attention.

The proportion of EAL students in a school was found to have very little impact on student attainment or progress of native speakers in research by the Education Endowment Foundation, when student background was taken account of.

That's not to say the case is closed on the debate (for example, other research in America found there was a negative impact on performance), but this particular piece of research suggests overall it's not an issue.

By age 16, EAL pupils generally perform better than native speakers

EAL pupils perform significantly worse than their peers in reception (ages four to five). They are likely to be affected by not using English as much as their peers before they start school.

But the gap between the attainment of pupils with English as a second language and their peers decreases gradually as they get older, to the extent that by GCSE the difference is very small. By some measures it goes the other way. That's according to the same research by the Education Endowment Foundation.

The Foundation said that certain factors among EAL pupils tended to lead to lower performance. For example, if they belonged to a specific ethnic group (such as Black African and Pakistani), had Special Educational Needs, if they arrived in England during a key stage, or if they attended a school outside of London.

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