EU pupils attainment – “high regard for education & great respect for teachers,” experts comment

In a new report, education data analysts, School Dash, have looked at the figures relating to the academic performance of white non-British, non-Irish school children. They conclude that schools with large numbers of immigrant children from the EU perform better than the counterparts.

We have asked several academics who have extensively researched the performance of EU pupils the reasons why these children might do better than their fellow British pupils.

Comment from Prof. Louise Ryan, FAcSS, Co-Director of the Social Policy Research Centre, Middlesex University:

“Based on extensive research with migrant families, Professor Louise Ryan and her colleagues at the Social Policy Research Centre (Middlesex University, London) have found that migrants to Britain often originate from countries where there is a high regard for education and great respect for teachers. These migrants place a high value on education and encourage their children to work hard in school and listen to their teachers.

In addition, the researchers also found that many migrants, particularly from within the EU, experience de-skilling when they arrive in Britain. Although having achieved a good level of education in their native countries, many of these migrants work below their qualification levels in the Britain – often because of language barriers. Many such parents are determined that their own children will not experience such barriers and so they actively encourage their children to attain good qualifications within the British educational system.”

Dr Antonina Tereshchenko, Research Associate, Best Practice in Grouping Students, Department of Education and Professional Studies King’s College London analysed Key Stage 4 attainment statistics of pupils across England whose first language is recorded as being Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian (Romania), Slovak, Slovenian, and Russian formed part of the research project. The National Pupil Database linked to the Annual School Census data was used for this overview.

Her report findings regarding student success included:

– ” Over the last five years, pupils speaking the above Eastern European languages as their mother tongue have seen a steady improvement of their Key Stage 4 results. For example, between 2009 and 2013 the proportion of these pupils leaving secondary education with 5 GCSEs at Grades A*-C increased by 22.2 per cent, compared with an average for the national cohort of 11.8 per cent.

– The FSM/non-FSM attainment gap compared to national average is much narrower: In 2012-13, the gap for the proportion of Eastern European pupils eligible for FSM achieving 5 GCSEs at Grades A*-C (including English and maths) and non-FSM Eastern European pupils is 3.2 percentage points, compared with the national gap for FSM/non-FSM pupils of 26.9 percentage points.”

Professor Stephen Gorard, School of Education, Durham University, who has looked at regional differences in school performance gives his expert reaction:

“It is important to note what School Dash did and did not find (as opposed to what they claim and what newspapers are implying). One of the authors is quoted as saying “Why would schools with large numbers of foreign kids, many of whom learned other languages before picking up English, do better academically than similar schools catering mainly for native British pupils?”.

The implication is that it is the presence of the white non-UK pupils that is somehow making these schools better (to have higher attainment outcomes). But there is nothing in the evidence to support this.

The question can be answered in many ways. Probably the simplest is that these ‘EU’ pupils appear disproportionately in regions that have lower levels of disadvantage and higher attainment anyway.

Ministers and OFSTED have recently been concerned about a gap between London in the South and North East England, for example. NE England has long had higher levels of poverty and unemployment and lower levels of school attainment than the South (on average). The map presented by School Dash clearly shows few ‘EU’ pupils in the North. So, surely the simplest explanation, until individual figures are analysed, is that ‘EU’ pupils are just more likely to attend schools in places with higher average attainment.”

Professor Steve Strand, Department of Education, Oxford University, has researched the issue of pupils with English as an additional language and migration. His analysis is based on pupil level data.

Here he summaries the key points: 

1. “EAL is inadequate variable because it does not identify the key thing we need to know which is a pupil’s fluency/proficiency in English. However following Prof. Strand’s recommendation the Department for Education (DFE) in England do now intend to collect data on EAL students proficiency in English.

2. The achievement of pupils with EAL varies widely. Many of the factors associated with risk of low achievement are the same for EAL pupils as for those with First Language English (FLE), e.g. having an identified Special Educational Need (SEN) and the intensity of the SEN, being entitled to a Free School Meal (FSM), living in an economically deprived neighbourhood, being young for the year group and being male.

3. However other factors represent particularly large risks among the EAL group including: · Recent entry to England from abroad with the last four to five years (as proxied by the absence of a prior attainment score); · Changing school in the last two years of a key stage; · Black African or White Other ethnicity, and some specific first languages within these two ethnic groups. For example among White Other Groups particularly low scores were noted for students with Romanian, Lithuanian, Turkish, Portuguese and Polish recorded as their home language. These differences by first language remain after taking account of socio-economic deprivation.

4. There is no evidence a high proportion of EAL speakers in a class/school has any negative impact on the achievement of White British students in the class.”


Professor Ryan and her colleagues have developed a toolkit for schools working with migrant families which will be launched at an event hosted by Middlesex University on Friday 10th June. She has blogged about it here. Any schools or organisations interested in attending the event should contact the Social Policy Research Centre – Further event details can be found here.

Dr Antonina Tereshchenko study, New migration, new challenges: Eastern European migrant pupils in English schools on Eastern European migrant students in English schools was funded by the British Academy and carried out during 2013-2014 at King’s College London.

Press release and summary from Professor Strand’s original report published in 2015 with two page summary.

Professor Strand has written for the Oxford Migration Observatory on the educational outcomes of children with English as an additional language. It can be found here: Migration Observatory_Educational outcomes briefing_FINAL


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