Immigrant pupils do not mean lower school standards, OECD reports

There is no link between the proportion of immigrant pupils and the performance of a school system, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In a report published today the international think tank has found that in general immigrant pupils perform worse in school than non-immigrant peers.

But the OECD also notes that it is their socio-economic status that makes the most difference, rather than their immigrant backgrounds.

It notes that schools with larger concentrations of immigrant students are often located in poor neighbourhoods. In the United States 21 per cent of all students have an immigrant background, but 40 per cent of the students in disadvantaged schools do.

And most immigrant pupils have aspirations which match, and in some cases surpass, their classmates from non-immigrant families, according to the report – Immigrant Students at School: Easing the Journey towards Integration

In Belgium, Germany and Hungary, parents of immigrant students are more likely to expect their children will gain a degree than non-immigrant parents in those countries, the report found.

And in 14 countries students themselves have more ambitious career expectations than non-immigrant peers.

“While it is true that migrants often endure economic hardship and precarious living conditions, many immigrants bring to their host countries valuable skills and human capital,” writes Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the OECD in an introduction to the report.

“The policies and practices that countries use to integrate immigrant students into schools have a major influence on whether integration is successful or not; and countries that are unsuccessful in integrating the first generation will pay an even larger price in future generations.”

The OECD has set out a series of recommendations on how education systems can help immigrant students to integrate into their new communities – saying that language support in regular classrooms is key.

It also suggests encouraging immigrant parents to use early years services; attracting high-quality teachers to schools serving disadvantaged, immigrant and ethnic minority students; tapping into the supply of trained immigrant teachers; and avoiding concentrating immigrant students in disadvantaged schools – creating ‘enclaves’ where upward mobility is difficult.

“It is common sense, and borne out in the evidence shown in this report, that schools that struggle to do well for domestic students will struggle even more with a large population of children who cannot speak or understand the language of instruction,” writes Mr Schleicher.

“Countries that distribute immigrant students across a mix of schools and classrooms achieve better outcomes for these students. A more even distribution also relieves the pressure on schools and teachers when large numbers of immigrant students arrive over a short period of time.”

The report also said that first-generation immigrant students expressed the most alienation from education systems in Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal, compared to students without an immigrant background.

The study comes after research from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University last year suggested that the reason for London schools’ success, compared to the rest of the country, was its higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils.

It said that children of immigrants typically had high aspirations and found that London state school pupils scored on average eight GCSE grades higher than pupils in the rest of England, relative to their results aged 11.

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