Thursday, May 13News For London

Lost in Translation: Integrating migrant children in Britain

A recent government report delivered by Dame Louise Casey warned that ethnic segregation is increasing. This is affecting ethnic minorities and migrant communities across the UK. 

© Sergey Nivens

Racial segregation and migrant exclusion are on the rise in Britain. Immigrants are now expected to adopt the English language and children to core British values at schools. According to the report, they are also expected to take an oath of allegiance setting out a “clear primary loyalty to this nation”.

Despite the prominence of this issue, there is no common understanding of how integration should be defined and measured, especially in terms of children. At which point can an immigrant child be seen as ‘integrated’ into British society? What are the indicators showing how much people have adapted to life in the UK?

Isabel Brain, sociologist and MPA from Harvard University and migrant mother currently living in London, regards integration impossible in philosophical terms. “You can’t try to make the others (immigrants) an equal. The difference is necessary. Schools can teach which are the British values, on that way, kids will understand, and respect them. But there is a limit. You can’t expect them to embrace those values”.

Brain considers that the Casey review probably crosses the boundary of the politically correct. But according to her, if the report does not turn out to be nationalist by saying ‘what are the real values’, it is very reasonable teaching how this society works and what are the British values at schools. 

For the sociologist, the English language is one of the core British values. “British people praise their language, then, when immigrants don’t speak it correctly or speak their own language in public spaces, there is a judgment, and immigrants feel that don’t belong”, she commented.

In recent years there has been a general improvement in educational attainment in schools, with a narrowing in the gap between White pupils and pupils from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African/Caribbean/Black ethnic backgrounds. Does level of achievement correlate with British values and lessons?

In fact, several ethnic minority groups now out-perform White British pupils. In 2015, during the early years foundation stage (aged 5 years), children of Indian ethnicity had the highest levels of achievement with 74% assessed as having a good level of development. Children of White Gypsy and Roma ethnicity, in comparison, had the lowest level of attainment at this age, with just 24% assessed as having a good level of attainment. Does level of achievement correlate with British values and lessons?

© Social Integration Commission. Source:
© Social Integration Commission. Source:

According to Social Integration Commission, young people are segregated by ethnicity. Young people under 17 years old have 53 per cent fewer interactions with other ethnicities than would be expected if there was no social segregation. Although Britain is becoming increasingly diverse by social grade, ethnicity, the average Briton is 14 per cent less integrated by social grade, 48 per cent less integrated by ethnicity.

Britain is becoming increasingly diverse by social grade, ethnicity, and age. More than 8.1 million individuals currently belong to an ethnic minority in the UK.

  • In the next 10 to 15 years, the proportion of the UK’s population under 18 or over 60 years old is projected to rise from 42 to 47 per cent
  • The proportion of British residents who are members of a minority ethnic group is projected to rise to around 38 per cent by 2050 (16 per cent in mid-2012)
  • The income gap between the richest and poorest members of society will widen if trends follow the pattern of the last 40 years.
© Marc Farràs. Source:


© Marc Farràs. Source:
© Marc Farràs. Source:

Dr. Rachel Attwood, an expert on the history of immigration into Britain and  a Lecturer at the University of Westminster, gave an insight on the British values and the history of it. She also speaks of ‘islamophobia’ and integration across Europe and the UK.

When asked about how integrated is Britain now compared to decades ago, Attwood said that historically she doesn’t think there has been a strict isolation of power. “I think there was the idea that Britain had some kind of superiority, it didn’t need the rest of the world, but of course things have changed. We need to be joined with other countries whether through supra national bodies like NATO, or the EU. The idea is that ‘Britishness’ is changing as we and lots of people believe that Britain is the future, and the future of British identity is being tied into Britain’s’ status as an independent free-standing power.”

The historian, when asked if British values are relevant now especially with the increased amounts of foreigners living in Britain, suggested that “culture is enriched by foreign influences and so it’s not in the case that British ideals are being compromised by immigration and so forth if there’s anything that we’ve learnt in the past hundred years it’s that waves of migration contribute in terms of the economy, in terms of the society and definitely in terms of the culture and the richness of what Britain is.”

Attwood goes on to explain that she see’s “a wave of islamophobia that is running in Britain and I’m very much aware of the occurrence of anti semitism-it’s gripping Europe. Primitive forms of racism are still alive and well dangerously so in our society today.  The London Olympics in 2012 we saw people coming together showing a version of Britishness it was nice, it seemed to cut across boundaries of class ethnicity and gender to a certain extent.”

Jose Conchadoas Learning Support Teacher at Essex School, talks about his teaching experience and how his school tries to help migrant children in terms of integrating into a British school.

Jose Conchado explains what his school does to help foreign children to integrate as an example for other schools to follow.  “In my school, there’s a team that deals with all the kids who are new into the country. They fully support them, do pullouts from the classroom and work with a teacher nearly every day for half an hour. They also supervise how they learn English and analyze how every group is performing in education.” 

Conchado is averse to the phrase “British values,” because he feels it seeks to maintain the focus on the Western world.  “What I really dislike is when they talk about tolerance, because it has an arrogant connotation – it implies a superior position. The underlying issue here is that they want to prevent extremism.”

He believes that overall London is a welcoming society, but he fears that Brexit is causing a cultural shift.  “Until recently I had never come across someone who told me to go back to my country or who asked me what I am doing in this country. In general, Britons are welcoming, but I am worried about the post-Brexit and the society we are going to have in the UK.”

Harris Academy in Purley, Croydon, South London
Harris Academy in Purley, Croydon, South London. © Harris Federation

Hillary May has 12 years of teaching experience and currently works as Drama Teacher at Harris Academy, Bermondsey, South London. She spoke about her encounters with language issues and social skills in school.

“One of the best ways to integrate them, May explains, is by including drama in the curriculum, which I think it is even better than English, Maths or Sciences because it is always based on teamwork and being confident and cooperative.”  This helps the children overcome one of their biggest obstacles: language barriers.  “Drama lessons would help them to gain communication skills because in drama they learn not only English language skills but also social skills. Arts and culture are definitely a good way to integrate them.”

When asked about the situation in London schools regarding integration, May believes there isn’t any segregation.  “The only segregation I see is when a child has a particular learning difficulty. We should work to fit them into mainstream schools.”

While Ms. May is not sure whether London schools “currently facilitate an education for different cultures and religions,” she believes that London is and always will be a welcoming society.

Sokesh Sudharia is a Primary Year 6 Teacher and Sports Teacher at Priestmead Primary School and Nursery, Harrow, Nort-West London

Sokesh Sudharia explained how the curriculum at his school helps teachers make things esier for students who are learning Enlgish as a second language. “We have a system called phonics from year 1 and it does continue to year 2 and 3. It explains to them how the alphabet works and embed it until they are familiar with how the language works by the time they got to year 6. We introduce SMC which is Social Moral Cultural and we look at teamwork and embed social communication to get them to talk to other children and the language.” 

A. Z., Israeli father of three, says language was a major difficulty for the children at the beginning. “My wife’s English is very good, but the kids not understand a word, so they could not do any classwork or homework. But the school was very helpful and supportive. We asked them to give us a list of words that the kids needed to know about each topic, and they even offered us an assistant.”

While the kids were taught English at school, the family was asked to keep their native language at home. “The teachers wanted the kids to speak Hebrew with us to prevent them from our English mistakes. And it was great because of every day after school and struggling with a new language they just wanted to relax.”

The parent confirms that the school was crucial for their children’s adaptation. “They knew what we were going through. The most important lesson for the whole family was that if you do not understand something, you should ask. Because people are usually ashamed or embarrassed to ask. So just ask.”

Two of his kids, 7 and 9 year-old Israeli sisters say that most of their classmates were born in England, but they don’t really notice the difference among them. They also talk about what helped them to integrate to the British society and to learn the language, saying. for example, that teachers are very important.

Immigrant parents shared their impressions about how their children’s schools perform in terms of ethnic integration:

With mixed reactions and approach to the issue of social integration in the British society, reports such as Casey review help people evaluate the on-going migrant crisis in the UK.