As children, after a long school week, my friends would skip off to the Saturday morning pictures for a few hours of fun. I, however, would trudge off to Polish school for a few more hours of lessons.
Like many Poles who came to this country after the Second World War, my parents wanted me to learn to read and write in Polish and to study the history, geography and culture of their fatherland in our mother tongue.
I railed against it, protesting that Polish was a useless language, unlike, say, French or German. Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen that, only decades later, it would become the second most spoken language in England.
And lessons in Polish are today just as popular with a new generation trying to hang on to a little of their homeland and to give their children a sense of who they are and where they came from.
Paweł Porański, head of the Polish School in Glasgow, says that children are immersed in the culture over here 24/7. “We just offer a chance for them to explore a little bit of another part of their heritage,” he says. “We don’t teach that one culture is better than another; we teach that they are both important” (see our feature on supplementary schools in this week's TES).
There are thousands of supplementary schools doing just the same – black, Islamic, Chinese and Afghan, among others. Some are struggling to survive, but others, particularly the Polish ones, are struggling to cope with growing demand.
This is a direct effect of the free movement afforded by Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004, which saw hundreds of thousands of Poles come to the UK.
It is this kind of immigration that has been the dominant issue in the lead-up to the referendum vote on whether to leave or remain in the EU. But among the teaching population, it seems, migration fears have failed to take grip.
A YouGov poll conducted for TES saw only 8 per cent of teachers saying it was the most influential factor in their voting decision.
Overall, a large majority of teachers – 70 per cent – said that they would vote to remain.
The desire to stay in is echoed by headteachers. A straw poll at the NAHT heads’ union conference last month saw three-quarters saying that they wanted to remain.
Mainstream schools up and down the country deal with the direct effect of the influx of foreigners every day, making teachers, union leaders point out, “uniquely placed” to see the positive effects of immigration in schools and “the desire to learn by many second-generation immigrants”.
Moreover, a majority of teachers (51 per cent) fear that leaving the EU could have a negative impact on the futures of all their pupils.
“They look at children in their schools and look at the futures they would face, and many seem to believe there would be more opportunities for the children if they remain,” says Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT.
Teachers are right to be thinking of their students. When we go to the polls next Thursday, it is not for ourselves that we should be voting, but for our children and everyone else’s children. The future is not ours; it is theirs.
When my father was dying in hospital, I showed him the entry in Who’s Who that I had just received on becoming editor of Times Higher Education. “You are truly English now,” he said. Then he smiled and added: “But you’ll always be able to sing all the verses of the Polish national anthem.”
This is an article from the 17 June edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.