Louise Eccles, Daily Mail (London), August 4, 2011
A school with more than 400 pupils has only four for whom English is their mother tongue.
In one of Britain’s most extreme cases, it has emerged that less than 1 per cent of pupils at Bradford Moor Community Primary School speak English as their first language.
The school is in one of the city’s most deprived areas, and 90 per cent of the 417 pupils are from Pakistan. Many arrive at the school unable to speak a word of English.
A leading think-tank said it was a worrying sign that cities were becoming ‘racially segregated’ and leading ‘parallel lives’, while MPs described the situation as ‘unacceptable’.
Almost one million children in the UK speak English as a second language. Last month, the Mail reported on St Matthew’s Primary School in Redhill, Surrey, where pupils can speak 44 languages.
A snapshot survey of Bradford’s primary schools revealed that more than half of pupils spoke English as a second language.
In three schools, fewer than ten children spoke English as their native tongue. Last night Shipley MP Philip Davies criticised parents who allowed their children to start school with scant knowledge of their adopted home’s language.
He said: ‘This is a totally unacceptable situation that primary schools find themselves in.
‘Primary schools have got to presume that children can at least communicate in some form. Teachers are having to start with one hand tied behind their backs.
‘For me it is one of the key factors as to why Bradford so under-performs nationally on education.’
Official figures show that nearly 17 per cent of pupils in state-funded primary schools did not speak English as a first language last year, up from 12 per cent in 2006.
Dr David Green, of independent think-tank Civitas, said the language barrier was creating ‘dangerous divisions’ in society.
He said: ‘Children cannot even start to get an education if they do not even speak the same language as the teacher.
‘It is also not fair on the 1 per cent of children who do speak English because their lessons will be compromised.
‘The only long-term solution is that people should not be allowed into Britain if they don’t speak English.’ Razwana Mahmood, the chairman of Bradford Moor’s governors’ board, is a former pupil and did not speak English when he started.
On the school’s website, he writes: ‘I remember very clearly my first day at school and everything the teachers said to me.
‘Nothing unusual you might think, except, I had only just arrived from Pakistan and could not speak a single word of English.
‘My teachers were very kind to me. They offered me words of reassurance and went out of their way to comfort me as I was so distraught. Years later, when I had a better understanding of the English language, it all fell into place.’
He says that despite ‘most of our children still starting school unable to speak much English’, this has never been considered a ‘hindrance’.
The school holds several ‘booster’ classes every week to help pupils with their English and is understood to have teaching assistants to help the students with their language skills.
One former Asian pupil, who attended Bradford Moor in the mid-1990s, said: ‘When I was at school there, there were white kids speaking to us in Urdu or Punjabi.
‘Many kids were embarrassed to speak their own language. I had one white friend who could speak Punjabi fluently.
‘Bradford is full of Asians and their first language is always going to be Urdu or Punjabi.’
In a 2009 Ofsted report, inspectors noted that ‘most pupils enter school with either little or no English and are weak in home language development.’
Kath Tunstall, Bradford Council’s Strategic Director for Children’s Services, said: ‘The fact that the children speak English as an additional language does not mean they do not speak English, and we know that young children learn languages very quickly.
‘Bradford Moor Primary School has a strong record of performance, having been judged ‘good’ in its Ofsted report following inspection in 2009 and this year’s provisional figures at Key Stage 2 show a 10 percentage point increase in English and maths since the school was last formally assessed two years ago.
‘Ofsted also found that the school has very strong support from the parents and there is a high rate of attendance at parents’ evenings and other events.
‘Schools do receive Government funding through their Ethnic Minority Achievement Grants to support children who have English as a second language. This support is welcomed by families who also have a responsibility to encourage their children to ensure they are able to speak English as well as being integral to the education delivered by schools.’