Equity & Diversity

ELLs Grow in Number in England’s Schools, Outperform Native Speakers

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 19, 2014 1 min read
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The headline, “Pupils with English as a second language ‘outperform native speakers’ ” is not one we’ve seen in U.S. newspapers.

But in England this spring, that headline in The Telegraph newspaper was big education news as it marked the first time that non-native English speakers posted stronger test scores in core subjects than their peers who are native speakers. The scores were presented in the House of Lords by the head of England’s school system, who is also a member of Parliament.

Those test results came just as the 8.3 million-student school system run by the national government reached another milestone: More than 1 million English-learners in its classrooms.

More specifically, students who speak English as an additional language, known as EALs, received better grades overall than native speakers on the English Baccalaureate, which measures performance in math and science disciplines, foreign languages, and the humanities. White boys from working-class families posted the weakest scores on the exams.

English education officials attribute the shift in part to EALs’ strong performance on the foreign language exams, which are a key part of the English Baccalaureate exams.

England has experienced a surge in immigration in recent years, and the increasing numbers of foreign-born students in the government-run school system have raised concerns that schools don’t have adequate resources to meet the needs of their rapidly diversifying student body.

Many of the foreign-born students who are EALs come from families that emigrated from India and Pakistan, where the English language is widely taught in schools. That, of course, makes England’s language-learner population entirely different from that of the United States, where most ELLs are U.S.-born, native Spanish speakers, and more likely to come from households with low levels of educational attainment..

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.