Half of all pupils at Peterborough’s schools could be from ethnic minorities by 2020.
A report into tackling child poverty in the city has revealed that 44.8 per cent of schoolchildren are from minority backgrounds, with 142 languages spoken at Peterborough’s schools.
These include Swahili, Bosnian, Filipino and Zulu, as well as many more uncommon dialects.
Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson said: “Uncontrolled immigration over the last 12 years has put huge pressure on local schools and clearly the challenges have affected attainment levels and it will continue if Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is elected as Prime Minister.
“Brexit will reduce the absolute levels of immigration and put border control back in the hands of the UK government and the British people but these changes will take some time of course.”
In 2015, 44,8 per cent of the Peterborough school population (13,458) were classed as ethnic minorities, up from 38.4 per cent in 2012.
In comparison, the percentage of school children from ethnic minority groups across England is 28.9 per cent.
Peterborough City Council was rocked last month when city schools were rock bottom for SATS results, and leading politicians have highlighted the difficulties in educating children who do not speak fluent English.
Council leader and education portfolio holder Councillor John Holdich said the authority’s new strategy to reduce child poverty, which was agreed last week, was of critical importance.
He said: “Kids do speak English very quickly, but do not speak it well enough by 11. English is the key to most exam results because you have to understand the question.
“It brings challenges of course it does. In schools in certain areas of the city it’s a real challenge. But in the main the kids add to the culture of our city.”
North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara said: “These figures are not across the board in every Peterborough school as there’s a concentration in some schools only.
“However, not withstanding that there are children whose home language is other than English, I have much hope that all schools place a very strong emphasis on the need to learn English.
“This is good for the individuals concerned and is the way forward for better community relations.”
The child poverty strategy highlights a number of challenges Peterborough faces, with a quarter of children living in poverty compared to 17 per cent nationally.
There is also a higher percentage of homelessness and children in care compared to the rest of the country.
The solution, according to the strategy, includes providing good education and good homes. This is despite the recent SATS results and turmoil in the private rental sector in Peterborough, resulting in families being temporarily housed in a Travelodge due to a shortage of homes.
Another priority is to help families not fall into debt.
Cllr Sam Smith, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “As a council we can’t technically eradicate poverty but we can create conditions for families to move out of poverty.
“Addressing the barriers to work is the most effective way out of poverty for most people. Our overall vision is breaking that cycle of deprivation.”
According to the strategy, by 2020 the council is aspiring for school results in the city to be in line with national averages.
Toby Wood was headteacher at Abbotsmede Primary for 11 years then spent more than a decade as the social inclusion project manager, head of pupil referral service (primary), at the council.
He said: “The subtext for 142 languages spoken in Peterborough schools is that there are too many migrants in Peterborough and not enough of them speak English. This may be true of the adults but not of the children. Children are adaptable, inquisitive, flexible, resilient and remarkably quick learners.
“Many of the migrants to come to this country are aspirational and want to do well.
“In my experience, many of those children who do not succeed in school come from indigenous families where aspiration has been low for two, three or even more generations.
“I have worked with families who view attending school as an inconvenience.
“Our schools might be bursting and, in some cases, even overcrowded. However, that is the fault of adults, their policies and practices.
“All children have the potential to do well in school, whatever their background, nationality or language. The key to success is motivation and great teaching.”
Abdul Choudhuri, chairman of the Faizan-e Madinah Mosque in Gladstone Street, says the Asian community is now fully integrated in Peterborough.
He added: “All the children of Asian background are the third generation living in this country and all the children speak English. That’s not going to cause any problems in schools in any form.
“Peterborough is one of the best places to live in because we have good communication with the local authority.”