John Holdich Cabinet Member for Education on Peterborough City Council reflects on recent statistics documenting the number of pupils in Peterborough’s schools who have English as their second language. Broadcast at 07:36 on Friday 25th June 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show hosted by Paul Stainton on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
PAUL: One in five pupils in Peterborough’s secondary schools don’t speak English as their first language. In the city’s primary schools that figure is nearly one in three. The figures were released by the city’s MP Stewart Jackson who wants more help from the Government to ease the burden on services. John Holdich is Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Universities at the City Council. Morning John.
JOHN: Good morning Paul.
PAUL: You probably knew these figures already but they’re quite shocking to people who didn’t.
JOHN: Yes obviously we supplied the figures to Stewart. National average in primary schools for speakers of another language is fifteen per cent, and ours is twenty eight. And equally in secondary schools the national average is eleven per cent and ours is twenty one.
PAUL: Yes. This must put a massive extra burden on the city’s schools.
JOHN: Well yes it does. And what’s also happened in the last two years in primary schools we had sixty three languages being spoken in two thousand and seven and we’ve now got seventy four. And in secondary schools forty nine different languages in two thousand and seven is now fifty nine. And whilst we do get some extra money from Government, to give you an example a school that has four hundred and thirty three speakers of another language gets thirty nine thousand quid, and that’s peanuts compared with the effort that they actually put in to these young people. And I’m sure, and I go round the schools, the schools have tremendous efforts that doesn’t affect others’ education, and they work very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. And they also put in their own money. What it does do is affect our staistics. If a young person, a speaker of another language in Year Seven, in other words eleven years old goes up to secondary school, and doesn’t speak English, when they go into that school they stand a forty per cent chance of getting five As to Cs in Maths and English. After that it drops considerably down to twenty five per cent and away to nothing. And that affects our statistics that sometimes you hit us over the head with.
PAUL: MP Stewart Jackson is currently trying to get extra money for Peterborough to cope with all this, for migration services. Do you think he’s got a chance?
JOHN: Well to be fair to Stewart he has tried before. And this is of course a different government and he’s trying again to his credit. But in this time of stringency probably not.
PAUL: Did you ever think, in your lifetime, you’d see a stage where a third of primary school pupils in Peterborough wouldn’t have English as their first language?
JOHN: No. I don’t think you could visualise that, and therefore you couldn’t really plan for it. But there have been schools in the city. When people from Kashmir arrived, all those years ago, I was correspondent to the then Springfield School which is now Beeches in nineteen seventy seven, and there was only one English speaker there then. And of course it’s a bigger problem now because it affects schools all over Peterborough.
PAUL: Is it holding children back who do speak English as their first language? It must be very difficult to teach with all those different languages in class.
JOHN: It is extremely difficult. But if you were to go in, you’ve probably got Mr Erskine on later, if you were to go in to his school you’d see the tremendous efforts that go on so that it doesn’t affect other children’s education.
PAUL: The flip-side of this I suppose we’re going to be a fantastically bilingual city in a decade or so are we?
JOHN: Also the teachers say there’s tremendous advantage in this. It enriches our kids’ understanding of other people’s cultures. And to a certain extent that is true. But it puts a heck of a pressure on the schools, because they have got to make their exam results count, and their stats results count, and it puts a heck of a pressure on those schools.
PAUL: And where are we going to be in another ten years?
JOHN: Well that’s right. I hear different things that migrants are going home. There’s no evidence of that in Peterborough. There’s some evidence that the single migrant workers are probably going home but certainly the families aren’t.
PAUL: John, thank you for that. John Holdich Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Universities at the City Council. One in three primary school kids don’t speak English as a first language. A shocking statistic.