- Languages spoken range from Polish, Romanian and Spanish, to Arifkaans, Tamil and Arabic
- More than 90 per cent of students achieved the benchmark level four or above in their English SAT
Controlling a primary school class can be testing for teachers at the best of times.
So spare a thought for those at the English Martyrs’ Catholic School in Birmingham where the 414 pupils speak an incredible 31 languages between them.
As this picture shows, children at the school who speak English as their first language are in a tiny minority.
The children and the languages they speak
The other languages include Lingala and Yoruba, both spoken in parts of Africa, Mirpuri and Hindko, both from Pakistan, two forms of Bengali, Czech and Sudanese.
Despite the challenges facing teachers, the diversity appears to have improved results at the school in Sparkhill.
New head Evelyn Harper attributes top SATs scores to the value many of the pupils’ home cultures place on learning.
Last year 91 per cent of pupils achieved the benchmark level four or above in English, and 89 per cent in maths.
The majority of pupils come from a Pakistani background and the most common first languages spoken are Urdu and Mirpuri.
In order to deal with the range of languages spoken, teachers are all trained to teach English as an additional language.
The school sometimes uses translators, as well as a ‘buddy’ system where new students are paired with one already at the school who has the same mother tongue and can help them to start picking up English words.
Languages spoken at the school are: Afrikaans, Arabic (Iraqi), Arabic (Lingala), Arabic (Sudanese), Arabic (Yemeni), Bengali (Bangla), Bengali (Sylheti), Czech, Dutch, English, Gaelic, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Hindko, Jamaican Patois, Kachi, Lingala, Mirpuri, Nepalese, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Somali, Spanish, Sudanese, Swiss French, Tamil, Urdu and Yoruba.
Figures obtained by the Birmingham Mail revealed that more than 120 languages spoken across the city’s schools.
Despite being a Catholic school, the majority of pupils at English Martyrs hail from a Pakistani background, with Urdu/Mirpuri the most common dialect spoken by youngsters in the home.
All teaching staff specialise in teaching English as an additional language and the school also uses translators.
He said: ‘We have had many children who have come in with no English whatsoever, and the first thing we do is pair them with other children, as that is the best way for the language to be introduced to them.
‘We also use pictures, books and the internet.
‘But I find a child having a friend and a confidante is the easiest way for them to pick up words and language which is most important for their day-to-day life at school.’
This can include talking to the teachers and knowing the word for ‘sir’, ‘miss’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, through to words for objects and nouns.
Success: The school was ranked one of the best performing in Birmingham in last year’s SATs exams
Latest Government figures show pupils who speak English as their first language are now in the minority at more than a quarter of Birmingham schools.
Department for Education records showed a majority of students at 117 of the city’s 430 primary and secondary schools listed a different language as their mother tongue.
English Martyrs, which recently celebrated its centenary, has moved from having a mainly Irish Catholic roll from the 1950s and 60s through to a majority of pupils from a Pakistani background today.
Around 11 per cent of students are currently Catholic, but new head teacher Evelyn Harper said she expected the number to increase with greater numbers of pupils from Poland, Romania and other eastern European countries. Mrs Harper added that parents played a ‘huge part’ in their child’s success in the classroom.
She said: ‘I only came here seven weeks ago, but already I can’t believe the respect that parents and children show teachers and the teaching profession that maybe isn’t there from white indigenous cultures.
‘Parents really care for their children, they want them to do better and for that reason our results are very, very high.’