More than one million pupils in state-funded schools in England — one in six — do not speak English as their first language, official figures out Thursday showed.
The number has swelled by a third in the last five years to 1.11 million children, or 16.6 percent, according to the Department for Education statistics for January 2014.
In London primary schools, where pupils are aged five to 11, the figure is 48.1 percent.
It rises to 75.8 percent in the Tower Hamlets borough and 75.3 percent in neighboring Newham borough in east London, both areas with high levels of immigration.
Outside London, English is not the first language of at least two in five primary school pupils in Birmingham (43.1 percent), Bradford (43.4 percent), Leicester (48.8 percent), Luton (51.5 percent) and Slough (58.3 percent).
A Department for Education spokesman stressed that by the time pupils sit their GCSE exams at 16, “pupils with English as an additional language are performing almost as well as pupils whose first language is English”.
In the 2012/2013 academic year, 60.9 percent of pupils whose first language is English obtained the higher grades in GCSE, compared to 58.3 percent of those whose first language was not.
The statistics also showed that 29.5 percent of pupils at English primary schools and 25.3 percent in secondary schools — for pupils aged 11 to at least 16 – were not classified as being “white British”.
In London, 71 percent of primary pupils were not “white British”, rising to 81 percent in the 14 inner city boroughs.
The figure was 89 percent in Tower Hamlets, with 63 percent being of Bangladeshi origin.