Exclusive: Immigrant pupils ‘care more about education’

Immigrant pupils’ more positive attitudes towards education might spread to native students, study finds

Will Hazell

Ofsted says that more outstanding leaders are needed to drive up standards in 'stuck' schools

Pupils from an immigrant background have more positive attitudes about education and its benefits than their native peers, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Bristol and the London School of Economics and Political Science also found evidence that immigrant pupils’ positive attitudes towards education might be “contagious”, improving the attitudes of other pupils at their school.

The research analysed data from the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test, covering 4,500 pupils aged 15 and 16 at 205 schools in England.

In addition to sitting the test, pupils completed questionnaires detailing their background characteristics and personal views. Researchers used this to obtain the pupils’ attitudes to education.

Of the pupils surveyed, 9 per cent reported themselves as first-generation immigrants who were born overseas, and 9 per cent as second-generation immigrants who were born in the UK but whose parents were born overseas.

“Our main finding is that attitudes to school are strongly linked to immigration status, a relationship that is statistically significant,” the paper states.

Immigrants' positive attitude 'contagious'

The research found that pupils from an immigrant background were about 60 per cent more positive about education and its benefits than the average native student.

It ruled out the influence of socioeconomic background, gender, parents’ jobs and school policies on these students, and found no sign of any differences in outlook between first- and second-generation immigrants.

The paper states: “This suggests that these [positive] attitudes are effectively transmitted across two generations within a family. That is, there is no sign of mean reversion or adoption of native pupils’ culture in regard to their attitudes to education.”

Professor Simon Burgess, from the department of economics at Bristol, who co-authored the paper, said: “Our analysis clearly shows that immigrant students have a more positive attitude to education than native students.

“People who emigrate are naturally more aspirational and risk-taking. Such grit and determination is passed from parents to children and we’ve seen how this then manifests in the school environment.”

The study found that pupils with more positive attitudes to education were more likely to achieve higher Pisa results.

It also found a “significant positive relationship between the share of immigrant pupils" in a school and "natives’ attitudes to education”. 

The researchers said this could suggest that the positive attitudes of immigrant pupils are “contagious” and “spill-over” to other pupils at their school.

The researchers also looked at regional variation in pupil motivation, finding that motivation for school is “considerably higher in London” than in other parts of the country.

However, when they adjusted for pupils’ immigration status, they found that “this London effect disappears entirely”.

Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren, from the department of social policy at LSE, said: “We found that students in London have much better attitudes to education on average, compared with students in the rest of the country, which is entirely accounted for by immigration status.

“This supports previous research showing that the so-called ‘London effect’ is largely due to schools’ ethnic composition.”

The findings come at a time when education policymakers have shown intense interest in the relationship between immigrant status and academic achievement.

In 2017 GCSE pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) outperformed native speakers on all of the Department for Education’s key measures for the first time ever.

Last month, Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, suggested that white working-class communities may “lack the aspiration and drive seen in many migrant communities”.

However, headteachers leading schools in poor white British areas have argued that the school accountability system is loaded against them.

And in February the Education Policy Institute thinktank branded the claim that EAL pupils outperform native speakers “profoundly misleading” because it masked "enormous variation" between children with different first languages.

The Bristol and LSE academics said the next stage of their research would focus on how the positive attitude of immigrant students might affect GCSE results.

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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