Children of Migrants Outperform British Kids, Despite Barriers to Learning Language

Students who speak English as a second language are outperforming native-speaking peers at GCSE level, according to recent data published by the Department of Education.

Explanations of the figures include research conducted by the University of Bristol and the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2018. It concluded that those from an immigrant background tend to have more favourable attitudes towards education. Even Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman, said children of British families “lack aspiration and drive” compared to their migrant classmates.

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    Potential Reasons Discussed

    Professor Simon Burgess, co-author of the paper and academic at the Department of Economics in Bristol said: “Grit and determination is passed from parents to children and we’ve seen how this then manifest in the school environment.”

    Yet, despite the great efforts and results of bilingual and multilingual young people in the UK, prejudice against those who speak more than just English are rife. Total Law recently reported the case in Norwich, in which a community came together to support immigrants after xenophobic literature was distributed in the area demanding residents “speak English.”

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    Recognising The Reality

    Rosie Carter, Head of Policy at Hope not Hate, said: “A reality [that] needs to be recognised – that feelings about language are an emotive shorthand for wider questions of belonging, fairness, insecurity and community.”

    That reality is inherently political. Migrants wanting to learn English face enormous challenges. Refugee Action’s report ‘Turning Words in Actions’ brings awareness to those challenges. Funding for English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes in England has seen a shocking decrease because of cuts, falling from £212.3million in 2008 to £105million in 2018. Of course, such a vast cut (over 60 per cent) means fewer and fewer migrants or non-native English speakers can access ESOL provision.

    The real effects of not being able to learn English include an increased risk of unemployment, health issues (as those unable to speak English may not be able to make the relevant healthcare appointments or convey their needs to a healthcare professional), and leads to increased social isolation.

    Refugee Action’s report highlight that 91 per cent of the British public surveyed think refugees learning English is an important endeavour, with 86 per cent agreeing that investments should be made to ensure refugees have the resources and support required to learn English.

    Affording Adult Refugees Access To ESOL

    Young non-native English-speaking people achieving excellent grades can learn English at school by interacting with their peers and teachers daily. For adult refugees or migrants who haven’t been educated in the British education system, there must be enough ESOL access to allow them the opportunities to improve their study or work prospects, build confidence, converse with their neighbours and interact in their local communities.

    Bilingualism and multilingualism have an array of cognitive benefits as decades of research has discovered, yet the native British population are notoriously bad at learning different languages. UK universities are even warning that with Brexit building barriers for students to study across the continent, British youth are dangerously close to becoming monolingual. Indeed, the UK is listed as the worst EU country when it comes to learning languages.

    Language has the power to unify or divide. It can be a marker of division, as seen by the actions of the flyer distributors in Norwich, but it can also be empowering, unifying and joyful. Let us celebrate the success of non-native English-speaking children and young people while granting their parents the same chance through investing in ESOL provision.

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