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Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 11 December

2011 census results: An ‘astonishing’ era of change

Census form document

Data from a national census conducted in 2011 has revealed that the UK is in the midst of “an astonishing era of demographic change”, with the number of foreign-born residents rising by nearly three million since 2001.

The census, which is carried out once every 10 years, is used to build a picture of the UK population and to plan public services. The compulsory 2011 questionnaire was sent to 26 million people last March. Its findings, which were released today, show that foreign-born people now make up 13% of the population of England and Wales, meaning that close to one in eight - 7.2 million people - were born abroad.

The most common birthplaces outside of the UK - from where people have arrived since 2001 - are India, Poland and Pakistan. Other leading countries included Ireland and Germany.

One reason for this increase is the inclusion of 12 additional countries in the European Union, of which the UK is a member state. EU nationals have the right to live and work in the UK. The same is true for any UK citizen wishing to move to elsewhere in the EU, though this is a point that is often overlooked.

As anticipated, London was revealed to be the most ethnically diverse region in the UK. It is home to both the largest proportion of residents (citizens) born outside the UK (37%) and non-UK nationals (24%). 45% of Londoners described themselves as white British, compared to 58% in 2001.

Guy Goodwin, census director at the Office of National Statistics, said: "The release is giving a picture of big change since 2011 and a population that is increasingly diverse.”

The census also revealed a fall of more than 4 million in the number of people who describe themselves as religious. This was highest in Norwich and Brighton, where 42% of respondents said they do not follow a religion.

Knowsley in Merseyside reported the highest number of Christians, while the London Borough of Tower Hamlets reported the least. Muslims now make up 5% of the population, compared to 3% 10 years ago.

The BBC’s home affairs correspondent, Dominic Casciani, said that this showed “beyond any doubt that the UK is now in the midst of an astonishing era of demographic change due to globalisation.”

While the scale of change may be unprecedented in recent times, the UK was long ago built on multiculturalism and immigration. A mix of Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman ancestry gave birth to what has become known as the UK - along with the English language - yet the idea of ‘Britishness’ did not begin to take hold until the mid-18th century.


  • What does the word 'multiculturalism' mean to you? Do you feel that you live in a multicultural community?
  • What are some of the benefits of immigration?
  • Would you ever consider moving to a different country? If so, where would you like to go and why?
  • What is 'Britishness'?

Related resources


  • A great resource pack from the People’s History Museum exploring the history and impact of immigration on the UK.

Migration: A look behind the headlines

  • Introduce pupils to the difference between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees with this comprehensive unit of work from the Royal Geographical Society.

European Union migration

  • BBC Class Clips: Videos featuring interviews with people from Poland who moved to the UK for work and school.

Queen Victoria’s census form

  • A lovely worksheet activity for pupils to find out about Queen Victoria from her census form.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

News items

Sir Patrick Moore, the popular astronomer and broadcaster, has died aged 89.

A Swedish artist has claimed he stole ashes from a Nazi extermination camp to create a painting now being displayed in one of the country's galleries.

Scientists have rediscovered dinosaur fossils which predate the earliest previous specimens by 10-15 million years, a new study in Biology Letters suggests.

The Autumn Statement did not contain much good news for the UK's finances.

In the news archive index

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