26 pupils. 26 languages. One lesson for Britain

Outstanding: official verdict on school that shows the success of immigration

Sarah Cassidy,Louise Jack,Richard Garner
Wednesday 26 July 2006 00:00 BST

As John Reid, the Home Secretary, rose to his feet in the Commons yesterday to unveil his much-trailed crackdown on immigration, a rather more positive face of the overseas presence in Britain was emerging in east London.

They know all about assimilation at Uphall primary school in Ilford, and working together to achieve great results. And they know that immigration into Britain need not represent a crisis.

For pupils here speak an incredible 52 different home languages among them.

Three out of 10 pupils are refugees and asylum-seekers who did not speak any English when they started at the school, which offers a riposte to those who argue that immigration is damaging Britain and its institutions. Despite the varied ethnic backgrounds - 90 per cent of its pupils speak a language other than English at home - the school has just received a glowing report from Ofsted, whose inspectors described it as "outstanding".

Andrew Morrish, the headteacher, said: "It's like a micro world - we have got children from all corners of the globe. Our success story is how children who have witnessed really traumatic events, people being blown up and shot in the street, how they have assimilated in school. I think sometimes when you see foreign dignitaries thrashing out a peace deal they would benefit from spending a day here. In 20 years' time if some of these children were world leaders the world would be a better place."

In its report, Ofsted concludes: "The school modestly judges its overall effectiveness to be good. The inspectors judge this to be an outstanding school because of the very effective leadership, firmly rooted in school improvement and the way the school responds to pupils' needs. Standards are rising and pupils achieve well, in spite of the fact that almost all have English as an additional language."

Results from last year's national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds show a significant improvement with 79 per cent achieving the expected level in English and 75 per cent in maths. This is in line with the national average. In a letter to all the school's pupils, Judith Dawson, the lead inspector, said: "You told us that Uphall primary school is a good school. We think you have an outstanding school. You should be very proud of your school and yourselves."

Typical of the pupils who wind up at the school is Ibtisham, 11, who came from Somalia in 2004. "I was scared on my first day," she said. "I didn't speak any English at all. The teachers put me with a girl who spoke the same language, Fatima. The school is bigger than my old school and there are more children but the teachers were very friendly and kind. I wasn't scared when I went back on the second day. It took me about three weeks to make friends - now I've got about five."

According to Ofsted, one in three of the pupils comes from a Pakistani background - but the cultures represented in the school include eastern European, Chinese, Afro-Caribbean and Russian. "The children do a lot of practical things, learning through playing games," said Mr Morrish. "The children pick things up so quickly. We help children to things like read left to right instead of right to left, we teach them about customs - like queuing up.

"Some of these children are refugees and are used to having food parcels dropped for them. It is strange for them to queue up for school meals, they are worried they are not going to get any food. We teach them how to live in England. It's a very basic guide on how to live and survive in England."

Mr Morrish added: "We generally assume that all new pupils will have English as an added language. In fact, when we get kids who speak English, it tends to throw people because of the induction programme we've got planned for them."

He is moving on to take control of an inner-city school in Smethwick in the West Midlands after four years at Uphall. When he arrived, results were below the national average and the school had 200 empty places. Now it is one of the largest primary schools in the country with 104 three and four-year-olds in its nursery and 890 pupils in all. Parents are queuing up to send their children to it.

Of the improvement in results, he added: "A great deal of effort goes into our induction process."

The united nations of Ilford

Irma Kliucininkaite 11, was born in Lithuania and came to Britain aged three with her parents and baby brother.

"When I first started at the school they took me into a class with other children who spoke all different languages and who couldn't speak English," Irma says. "We did the basics - adding, literacy and just learning English. Once I could speak a bit more, I went back to the general class and got books that helped me learn English as well."

Mrs Kliucininkaite says: "We're so pleased with her results and it's not only us. For other families it's the same."

Pranav Patel 10, speaks fluent Gujarati and English. His parents came from India but Pranav was born in the UK.

"Some children who come don't speak any English and the school gives them extra lessons," he says.

"All the children in my class speak English but lots speak other languages at home. I speak Gujarati if I'm talking to my auntie or my grandma but when I talk to my sisters or my mum or dad I speak English.

"I would only speak Gujarati at school if someone who doesn't speak good English didn't understand something in the lesson then the teacher might ask me to explain it to him in Gujarati. I am from India - well I was born here, I'm English - but I'm from India as well."

Eliana Jesus 11, speaks Portuguese, French and English. She was born in Portugal to a Portuguese mother and an African father but the family came to Britain when she was a toddler.

"I like my school. It has helped me and helped other children speak better English," she says. "I speak Portuguese at home to my mum but English the rest of the time.

"My friends at school come from lots of different countries in Africa and India."

Her mother, Sandra, says the school has given Eliana the best possible educational start. She plans to send her three younger children, who were all born in the UK, to Uphall. "It's a very good school with very nice teachers who have helped her a lot."

Asim Rehman 11, has attended Uphall Primary School for seven years. His younger brother Saeed, aged nine, also goes to the school.

"It's good at my school, I like it there," Asim says. "I've got lots of friends there. We speak Urdu at home all the time, but I was born here and don't need any special help with English.

"Some children do, and they get another child who speaks the same language to help them settle in and learn English. I think it really helps them."

His mother, Fozia, says: "It's a brilliant school. It's really changed in the last few years. It wasn't so good when the boys were little, but since Mr Morrish became headmaster in 2003 it's been transformed.

"My children definitely get what they need in every area and if there's any bullying, they stop it straight away."

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