Bilingual pupils do
better in exams, report finds
Independent News and Media
31 October 2006
By Richard Garner,
London, E14 9RS, England.
children are far more likely to get top-grade passes in exams in all subjects, a
report has found.
A study of Portuguese children at secondary schools in London showed that those
who were encouraged to continue studying their native language were five times
as likely to achieve five top grade A* to C grade passes at GCSE.
The study also found that 11-year-olds in Hackney who speak more than one
language at home were outperforming pupils who only speak English, even in
reading, in their national curriculum tests.
The report, Positively Plurilingual, is published today by Cilt, the national
centre for languages, to coincide with a drive to encourage the take-up of
In an introduction to the report, Sir Trevor McDonald - who led a major inquiry
into the teaching of languages in schools and is now Cilt's patron - says too
many schools miss out on the opportunity to ensure bilingual pupils develop
their skills in languages other than English. "Rather than thinking in terms of
an 'English-only' culture, we should be promoting 'English-plus'," he says. "We
know that children are capable of acquiring more than one language and that
doing so brings a range of educational benefits, including cognitive advantages,
enhanced communication skills and an openness to different cultural
The report also cites research by Ellen Bailystock of York University in Canada,
which showed that bilingual people were better at multi-tasking than those who
only speak one language. This is because they regularly exercise the part of the
brain known as the pre-frontal cortex which reinforces attention span.
The report says that more than one in eight primary school pupils in the UK -
about 850,000 children - speak a language other than English at home.
"People who already speak more than one language find it easier to learn new
languages than monolinguals," it adds.
It gives several examples of schools that take advantage of the ethnic diversity
of their children - including Newbury Park primary school in Redbridge, east
London, which adopts a different "language of the month" so its pupils get a
grounding in all of the 44 languages spoken at the school.
Peterborough now offers classes in Italian, Urdu and Punjabi in its primary
schools. "The linguistic map of the UK is changing," concludes the report. "The
number of languages in use is growing and diversity is spreading to parts of the
country where previously few languages other than English were spoken."
Dorset County Council, for instance, has teamed up with Tower Hamlets in east
London - where 60 per cent of pupils are of Bangladeshi origin - to provide
distance learning for Bengali speakers. Cumbria offers Saturday classes in
Chinese and Bengali.
More than 200 representatives of schools and local education authorities will
gather at the Polish embassy this morning to promote the teaching of Polish, in
a meeting timed to coincide with the launch of the report. Children of Polish
origin are one of the fastest growing ethnic minority groups in UK state
Today's drive comes in the wake of the decision by Alan Johnson, the Education
Secretary, to set up an inquiry into the teaching of languages in schools -
following the disastrous slump in take-up of the subject at GCSE and A-level
when compulsory language lessons after the age of 14 were scrapped. It is to be
headed by Lord Dearing, the former chairman of the Post Office, and is expected
to make its interim report in December.