8th January 2010 at 00:00
Primary school pupils in inner London with first language other than English

London schools are the most linguistically diverse in England. More than 40 per cent of primary pupils in the capital are not native speakers of English, and this rises to 70 per cent of pupils in Tower Hamlets, according to Department for Children, Schools and Families' figures from last January.

By comparison, less than 1 per cent of pupils in the Merseyside borough of Knowsley weren't native English speakers. Politicians in Westminster might like to observe that their local schools have more than 60 per cent of pupils who speak languages other than English.

Only the West Midlands as a region, and especially Birmingham and Sandwell, comes anywhere near the level of linguistic diversity of some London boroughs, although Leicester, Luton, Peterborough, Blackburn, Manchester and Bradford remain islands of linguistic polyglots amid seas of surrounding English native speakers. Many of the authorities with high levels of non-English speakers are the result of links to Commonwealth countries.

Should teacher trainers do more to prepare new teachers who work in these schools? It can be challenging to teach a class where every pupil speaks a different language. How many NQTs working in London schools were specifically prepared for the challenge is unknown. And, although the situation is not as bad in the secondary sector, with only 11 per cent of pupils' nationally not native speakers of English, the issue is still a challenge in many schools and classrooms.

John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.

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