Language Diversity and Attainment in English Secondary Schools: A Scoping Study

A report for Arvon by:

The Institute for Policy Studies in Education (IPSE)

London Metropolitan University

May 2012

Written by Sumi Hollingworth and Ayo Mansaray

The Institute for Policy Studies in Education (IPSE) was commissioned by Arvon’s (M)other Tongues programme to identify which linguistic minorities are at a ‘disadvantage’ in education in England and to identify where they are located – paying particular attention to areas outside of London. Hence, this report identifies and maps linguistic minority attainment in the secondary school population in England in 2011. This is the first scoping study of its kind with a national focus, and complements the excellent work of Eversley and colleagues (2010) who have examined, in-depth, the London context. The report draws on a combination of DfE published data on attainment by first language other than English; attainment by ethnicity and available local authority information on specific linguistic communities in select regions. In the report we make specific recommendations to Arvon regarding specific linguistic groups and localities on which to focus their work.

What is clear from this research is that there is a real dearth of information examining which specific linguistic groups are attaining less well at school, and where they are located in the country. Indeed, this data is generally not systematically collected, and where it is collected, attainment is often not analysed by linguistic group, only ethnicity. Nevertheless, we have the following key findings:

  • While other first language speakers, and minority ethnic pupils in general, attain better results in London, there are still persistent gaps in attainment between English first language, and other first language speakers, nationally.
  • There are large attainment gaps in the Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West regions, which need further exploration.
  • Overall, many of the widest attainment gaps are present in local authorities with substantial Pakistani ethnic minority groups – for example, Peterborough, Oldham, Bedford, Bury, Derby, Sheffield, and Calderdale – who tend to speak Urdu, Punjabi or Mirpuri and experience economic disadvantage. This association clearly needs further examination.
  • There is clearly a need for further research into new ethnic communities from Eastern Europe, whose educational and language profile, and needs, tends to be obscured in the White, or White Other ethnic category
  • Similarly, Black African ethnic groups need to be specified in relation to language to gain a fuller picture of their educational achievements. In particular, more recent migratory flows from Central and East Africa (e.g. Congo, Angola, and Zimbabwe).

This report highlights, that, given the growing “super-diversity” of England and the rest of the UK, crude ethnic categories (of Black, White, Asian) in published DfE data mask a great deal of ethnic, national, linguistic, religious and social diversity which may be getting in the way of how we ‘make sense’ of minority communities’ relative achievement, and how we understand who is at a disadvantage. If we are to get any closer to understanding the role of language / bilingualism and multilingualism in children’s relative attainment we need better data and more fine grained analysis

Read the full report here