One in six pupils don't speak English

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According to new figures, one in six primary school children does not speak English as a first language.

The numbers who normally speak English as a foreign language topped half a million for the first time -  - twice as many as a decade ago.

The trends emerged as the new coalition government prepares to place an annual limit on the number of migrants from outside the European Union.

However, many head teachers say pupils with English as an additional language make a valued contribution to school life and often went on to do well in exams.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The additional responsibilities that schools face when children join them with very little English are significant.

"These children are welcome and are welcomed into our schools but they do need to be properly supported, otherwise their immediate educational experience will be unsatisfactory.

"We would expect that resources remain in place to support them. This is clearly a very important front-line service, not just for the children coming in but for the other children. The education of all the children in class is important and therefore the teacher needs to be supported when dealing with special needs of this kind."

Heads  have urged the new government to maintain funding for schools to enable them to cater for pupils' needs while they are still learning English.

Across all schools, nearly one million youngsters aged four to 18 - around one in seven - are non-native speakers.

In parts of London, English is not the first language for more than three-quarters of primary pupils.

A study by Reading council found this year that pupils in the town speak 127 different languages between them.

Some new entrants can speak so little English that teachers must communicate using pictures and hand gestures.

Figures from the Department for Education - based on a census of schools conducted in January this year - show that 905,610 pupils do not speak English as a first language. This is up from 863,860 in 2009.

At primary school level, 16 per cent speak other languages at home - 518,020 pupils - compared with 15.2 per cent in 2009.

In 1997, when the last government came to power, the proportion was 7.8 per cent. In secondary schools, 11.6 per cent of children, or 378,210, are non-native speakers, up from 11.1 per cent a year earlier.

The proportion of non-native English speakers differs starkly around the country. In 15 local authorities, all in London and the South East, the majority of primary school pupils now speak English as a second language, including Tower Hamlets, where almost 78 per cent normally speak another language. In contrast, fewer than 2 per cent have a different mother tongue in much of the North East, as well as Cumbria, East Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Shropshire, Cornwall and Dorset.