Kris Hopkins: Children must learn to speak the language of integration

DAVID Cameron confirmed at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this month he “completely agreed” with my strongly held view that there is a responsibility and an obligation on parents to ensure their children can speak English before they go to school.

It is a subject I have raised many times before, most notably during my period as leader of Bradford Council. And it is something I will return to again and again until I am confident that all children in my constituency are being given the best possible opportunity to achieve their full potential in the classroom.

Only a few days ago, I received the answer to a written parliamentary question asking how many pupils who enrolled in primary schools in Keighley and Ilkley in each of the last five years did not speak English as a first language. What it revealed underlined my feeling of concern.

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In 2006, some 1,555 pupils – 23.4 per cent of the total number who enrolled – did not speak English as a first language. And by 2010, this figure had risen to 1,888 or 28.7 per cent of the total number of newly enrolled children.

This trend is neither acceptable nor sustainable if Keighley and Ilkley is to make the economic progress that is so urgently required.

In order to effect positive change, we must be open about how this situation has come about.

And 13 years of uncontrolled immigration under the previous Labour government has certainly played a significant part in getting us to where we are today.

Linked to this is the trend in Keighley, as in many other parts of the country, for wives to travel from Kashmir to live and bring up their children. Together with their husbands, that is their choice and one they have every right to make.

However, I believe it is an absolute necessity that both parents speak English in the home and that their children are supported from birth in speaking English as a first language.

David Cameron’s recent speech in Germany – which centred on the need for greater integration in our country – attracted widespread coverage, some of it critical. But, as our Prime Minister, it was a speech he was right to make.

Diversity and difference should be causes for celebration. But they should not be used by some members of the community as an excuse to become inward looking and insular, effectively cutting themselves – and their families – off from the rest of society.

Instead, we should all feel the need to engage with one another, to work together for shared interests and to take responsibility to ensure that our children are brought up with these values in mind and, in so doing, receive the high quality education that they will need to progress in their adult lives.

And these issues are not focused solely on Asian or British Asian members of our community. Indeed, far from it.

Again in common with towns and cities all over the country, parts of Keighley have significant problems surrounding benefit dependency with some families now entering their second and third generations of no-one in the household ever having gone out to work.

As well as the obvious drain on the state, this leads to a total void on the aspirations of children to value educational attainment and develop the skills necessary to break out of the cycle in which, through no fault of their own, they have grown up.

The onus must be on the parents to take responsibility for their children, ensure they are given every opportunity to do well at school – including the provision of somewhere suitable to do their homework – and open up a range of options for later life.

Looking to the future, the coalition Government has made a good start in putting a limit on non-EU economic immigration and ensuring that those coming to the UK to get married are able to speak English.

More locally, each of the five primary schools and one secondary school in Keighley and Ilkley with a high percentage of Asian or Asian British pupils now has a Parental Involvement Worker (PIW) in post, part-funded by Bradford Council’s Parental Involvement Programme.

Each of these PIWs works closely with the school staff, the local community and families to help promote parental engagement and families supporting the children in the schools to help them achieve more and improve the outcomes for those children.

But, of course, much more needs to be done.

No-one in today’s modern society can be forced to integrate with the rest of the community, speak English in the home or encourage their children to do the best they can in school.

However, the rewards can be great if, together, we can reach for these shared goals.