English-speaking pupils do not see their grades suffer if they attend a school where most of their classmates speak other languages, according to research by Oxford University academics published today.
The findings will reassure parents concerned that their children could lose out by being in classes with non-native English speakers, who can take up more teaching time.
Researchers found that pupils with English as their mother tongue who attended schools where many pupils spoke foreign languages did no worse in primary school tests and GCSEs than children who attended school where the majority spoke only English.
On average, English as an additional language (EAL) pupils were behind aged five but had caught up by the age of 16 and were ahead in some areas such as GCSE maths.
But the authors of the report, Professors Steve Strand and Victoria Murphy, warned the overall figures masked a huge range of results for pupils of different backgrounds. Speakers of Portuguese, Somali, Lingala and Lithuanian did badly at GCSEs but speakers of Russian and Spanish did well.
The study also found a huge variation in the proportion of foreign language speakers in schools. Almost one in four schools (22 per cent) has fewer than 1 per cent of pupils who speak English as an additional language. More than half of schools (54 per cent) have fewer than 5 per cent EAL children. At the other extreme, in 8.4 per cent of schools (or 1,681 schools) more than half of pupils spoke English as a second language.
The study criticised the way that children with English as an additional language (EAL) are currently categorised. The report, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy and The Bell Foundation said it was ridiculous that “the bilingual child of a French banker is grouped together with a Somali refugee who may not speak English at all”. Current classifications give no indication of a pupil’s English proficiency.
In 2013-14 just over one million children were classified as EAL. They account for around one in six pupils (16.2 per cent), a proportion which has more than doubled since 1997 and is forecast to continue to rise.