Post-Brexit: what happens to schools with a change in migration?

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As we stumble towards stability – a brand new Prime Minster many hope will be a safe pair of hands – and families head off on holiday for a much needed escape from the turmoil of the past few weeks, we contemplate whether migration patterns will now change and what possible impact that may have on classrooms. 

Like most government departments, the DofE has put out what amounts to a holding statement post Brexit.  We will continue to educate, recruit, raise standards, etc, etc. No-one has any answers; no-one knows where we’re going. 

Children in the UK speak 360 languages – almost one for every day of the year

There is no doubt that the influx of school-age children of families migrating to the UK has had a massive impact on schools.  According to the ONS there are more than a million children between the ages of 5 and 18 in UK schools who speak more than 360 languages between them. In London it is fairly common for there to be a quarter of pupils in a school with English as an Additional Language (EAL) needs, often more. In one borough, Tower Hamlets, the figure is 75 per cent, in Birmingham LA it is 40 per cent too. Of course, there are many pupils in every school who have a home language that is not English, but they don’t have any EAL needs – they are fully bi-lingual. Bilingualism in some parts is seen as an educational wonder-drug leading to improvements in English, standardised tests, problem solving and multitasking. Others voice the view that some children may become proficient in multiple languages but at home in none.

Schools have risen to the EAL challenge

From Harrow to Hull schools have developed programmes and support to assimilate migrant pupils into the classroom to great effect.  Different methodologies are used, but in essence pupils may be given intensive English lessons outside the classroom for about six weeks (half a term) and then moved across to the mainstream.  Sometimes the move into the mainstream is gradual, starting with the more visual lessons such as PE, art and music, and in others the move into mainstream is more complete, but with some lessons – English for example – taught outside the classroom for a short while.  All continue with support once the pupil is ready for the mainstream.  Developing these programmes takes time, devotion and commitment from the schools – and our schools have risen to the challenge and embraced the change. UK schools have shown that migration does not have to be a problem in education.

Value-added

We’ve seen the benefit first hand to primary school children who from an early age have made friendships and celebrated their own and their friends' diverse home languages, food, dress and  religions. We’ve also seen in a seemingly homogenous London school a classroom project on each child’s family plotted on a world map – out of a class of 24, only 2 children had a family back to their grandparents’ generation which did not include any migration. Surely a helpful message for these future citizens of the globe – the world is within your reach – Granny did it, even without Skype and the internet!

What next?

So Brexit or not, let’s keep doing the things we’re doing right, only do them better and in more schools and let’s roll out those skills to another group that needs our help and support.  If migration does fall, there are only too many place to allocate the per capita spend.

We might suggest, applying those same EAL principles to our most socially deprived pupils.  Let’s treat them to the same specialised programmes of help and support, let’s show them why they want to work and let’s make all schools outstanding because that is the best way to ensure that schools are not letting down another disadvantaged group, our poorest pupils and to improve the attainment of pupils of all backgrounds and all ability levels.  See Save the Children's excellent report on Closing the Achievement Gap.