Over a million schoolchildren do not have English as their mother tongue

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More than a million schoolchildren do not speak English as their first language, official figures show.

Data published by the Department for Education show that the numbers of youngsters who do not have English as their mother tongue has increased by about 200,000 since 2007.

In the last year alone, the number speaking English as a second language has risen by around 49,600 youngsters.

The figures show that 1,007,090 pupils in England’s state primary, secondary and special schools, as well as pupil referral units (PRUs), have a first language that is known or believed to be other than English.

Last year, this figure was around 957,500. In 2007, it was just under 800,000, although this does not include PRUs.

The figures are higher in primaries, where around one in six pupils (17.5 per cent), 577,555 in total, speak another language at home.

In secondaries that figure is around one in eight (12.9 per cent), or 417,765 pupils.

The statistics come from a snapshot of the make-up of England’s schools, taken in January this year.

The data show that rising numbers of youngsters are eligible for, and claiming, free school meals (FSM) – a key measure of poverty.

It shows that a total of 1.245 million youngsters in state schools were receiving the dinners this year, compared with 1.227 million at the same point last year.

This means that in total, almost a fifth (18.2 per cent) of youngsters were on free lunches as of January.

Jo Nicholas, of the School Food Trust’s research and nutrition unit, said: “Research shows that a decent lunch at school improves children’s focus in class and their behaviour, while for many children living in poverty it can be the only proper meal they eat in a day.

“So schools need to keep doing everything they can to encourage families to register for free meals if they qualify, but also to actually take their meal once they’re registered.”

The snapshot also shows that more primary school children are being taught in bigger classes.

The average size of a class for youngsters aged between five and seven was 27.2 pupils, compared with 26.9 pupils in 2011.

And 1,508 infant classes had 31 or more pupils, above the legal limit which currently stands at 30 children.