Foreign pupils up 39pc in just one year

STEVE DOWNES The number of foreign children going to schools in East Anglia has shot up by a staggering 39pc in one year, new figures revealed last night.

STEVE DOWNES

The number of foreign children going to schools in East Anglia has shot up by 39pc in one year, new figures revealed last night.

There are now 10,215 children in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge-shire classrooms whose first language is not English - up from 7,346 in 2006.

The number has almost doubled in just three years, with 5,500 overseas youngsters attending the region's schools in 2004.

The flood of families, particularly from Eastern Europe, is changing the cultural face of the region's schools - and giving local youngsters a broader outlook.

But last night, the head of Norfolk's service to support overseas children warned that more money was needed to cope with the rapid influx and to ensure the children were given sufficient help to learn English.

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David Sheppard, Norfolk County Council's senior adviser (equalities and special school development), said: "The more children who come here, the more stretched our support for schools becomes. The schools are coping well, but of course we feel the pressure of increased numbers. We would like to do a lot more."

Mr Sheppard said the cash for English support was part of the general sum given directly to schools, and added: "That puts pressure on because when more children arrive we are faced with the problem of spreading ourselves more thinly.

"These children add an enormous amount. The richness that results from children from different parts of the world learning, playing and working next to each other gives teachers more opportunities to encourage young people to understand each other.

"It's striking how fast these young people learn and acquire enough English to access the rest of the curriculum. The younger they are, the faster they seem to settle in and gain the skills they need."

He said the eight accession states of the European Union (EU), including Poland and Lithuania, had made the biggest contribution to the increase.

There was also an "ongoing increase" in the county's Portuguese population.

The numbers are expected to continue to rise, particularly from Romania and Bulgaria.

In Norfolk, the number of foreign children rose by 31pc from 2,297 to 3,003. In Suffolk, there has been a 61pc increase in a single year - from 1,944 to 3,134. And in Cambridgeshire there has been a 30pc increase from 3,105 to 4,038.

Geoff Kitchen, head of Harford Manor School and Norfolk president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "I would say that most schools welcome diversity in their classrooms. I think it enriches the culture of Norwich and Norfolk hugely. There's huge diversity in the country and Norfolk perhaps hasn't always been at the forefront of a more cosmopolitan population, but we are catching up now."

Colin Collis, Norfolk secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), said overseas children added "diversity" to schools, and there needed to be a "joined-up approach" to celebrating that in a bid to counter a small number of incidences of racism.

The figures come a few months after the EDP revealed that children from at least 100 different countries were being taught in Norfolk's schools.

The most common languages spoken were Portuguese, Polish, Lithuanian, Arabic, Bengali and Russian. But there were also more obscure languages like Tagalog, Malayalam and Shona.

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