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February 2018

Performance statistics for England’s English learners spark debate

Graph Me News p7

Non-native-speaker children have hit the headlines in England after government figures showed they outperformed their native speaker peers in their GCSEs, the national exams taken at age sixteen. The way the statistics were presented, however, has come under fire from experts.

The difference in scores between native and non-native speakers was less than 1 per cent. This was far lower than the 27 per cent difference between children receiving free school meals – the strongest indicator of poverty – and their more privileged peers, regardless of language background.

Indeed, the marginally lower overall exam performance of native-speaker children can largely be accounted for by the disastrous performance of the poorest white British children, according to a new study by the Runnymede Trust.

Among those on free school meals, children of poor families from India, Bangladesh and Africa scored double the marks of the white British.
Educationalists are concerned that the government will use the results as an excuse to reduce funding for English language support for migrant children, based on results achieved by largely second-generation migrant children.

Non-English-speaking children currently in English primary schools were born after the increase in EU migration in 2004 and are more likely to have been born abroad to first-generation migrant parents who don’t speak English.

As the graph shows (above), except for the Chinese, the performance of all ethnic groups fell slightly in the recent exams for 16 year-olds. This is because a new system of marking was introduced, which gave more marks for high performance and with fewer marks available for other levels. Ethnic Chinese, who make up only 0.7 per cent of the population, have long been the top performers. Children of Indian heritage, 2.3 per cent of the population, and those with families from Bangladesh, 0.7 per cent, also perform above the national average. Children from all three groups are generally second- or third-generation migrants whose parents speak English well.

Roughly 15 per cent of the school population in England currently comes from a non-English-speaking background.

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