This article is a fantastic example of how the Mail creates its immigration scare stories by being dishonest with statistics and by creating links between issues that aren't really as closely related as the paper pretends. The best thing about it though, is that it shows how it pretends to be concerned with a concrete issue in order to demonise a group of people.
How to lie with statistics
First of all, the dodgy statistics. That's quite a claim there in the title. Where did that figure come from? We find out in the text here:
New figures show that one in eight primary school children now speak English as a second language.And buried in the very last sentence of the article, where few readers ever reach, we get this:
There are also 314,950 secondary pupils speaking other languages at home, an increase of 16,000, representing nearly one in ten students, according to figures from the Department for Education and Skills.One in eight? One in ten? Combine them and that makes just over one in ten. But the headline says one in five! Surely this proves the headline wrong? It's justification appears to be:
But the figure [of new immigrants from Eastern Europe] is likely to be much higher, with official calculations of the number of immigrants arriving in Britain already massively underestimating the pressure on the communities where they have settled.So the 'one in five' figure came from the journalist's arse! Hurrah!
The justification the paper uses for making up a new figure - that immigration figures have been miscalculated - doesn't work. First of all, the number of children with English as a second language in schools is calculated differently and by a different government department. Secondly for the justification to work, the number of new immigrants would have to be massive. Enough to double, or even treble the number of kids with English as a second language in the country. And that, my friends, is bullshit!
Now have a look at the first sentence:
Schools are being overwhelmed by an influx of new Eastern European arrivals as one in five primary pupils now come from ethnic minorities.The DfES report 'Ethnicity and Education', also mentions the 20 percent number for primary school children, but it also gives a number for children who have a language other than English as their first or main language, which is just 6.9 percent. That's about one in fourteen. About a third of the made up figure the headline uses, and a third of ethnic minority figure the paper bothers to quote. The ethnic minority figure doesn't give us any idea of the actual number of children who speak English as a second language, so why quote it? Note also that the 6.9 percent figure is not for children who don't speak English at all, but those for whom English is not their main language.
Just stop for a second to consider how dishonest the paper's use of figures is in just the headline and opening sentence. It says one in five children speak English as a second language - twice as high as the figures it quotes and three times as high as the detailed figures in the DfES report. It then quotes the number of primary school children from ethnic minority backgrounds (ignoring the lower secondary school number) when this number isn't that relevant. An article that starts with a blatant lie and follows it up with a bit of misdirection isn't likely to be that reliable is it?
And that's not the end of it. The article also says:
A huge increase in numbers of students from countries such as Poland is leaving some councils with massive bills to fund additional support such as interpreters.So we're expected to believe that the number of new immigrants have more than doubled the number of children who speak English as a second language, and that the number of kids who need interpreters has skyrocketed as a result. Probably doubled or trebled as well. This is bullshit too. There is an actual figure that the Mail could have quoted to show the rise in the number of kids who need extra help if it wanted to. The Telegraph has covered this story, with a more honestly headlined (but still not entirely honestly) 'One in eight pupils speak English as a second language'. It includes this undoubtedly shockingly high figure:
The number of children needing extra help has gone up by one per cent over the last year with much of the increase attributed to an influx of families from Eastern Europe.So the actual figure for the rise in the number of children needing extra help has gone up by one percent. The Mail has made up a figure and used it to imply a truly staggering increase in the number of kids who'll need extra language support - maybe a 100 or 200 percent increase. It could have quoted the actual figure if it wanted to, but it didn't. The actual figure is one percent. How weaselly is that?
Now that we know the paper just makes shit up, we need to be careful of the other figures, like:
In Peterborough, there were just 22 children of economic migrants enrolled in secondary schools in January 2004. By January 2006, the numbers had risen fivefold to 108, representing 0.8 per cent of the school population - up from 0.2 per cent.First of all, a child of an economic migrant doesn't necessarily speak English as a second language. Children of Australian, New Zealander, American, Canadian and Irish parents could be the children of economic migrants. Some migrants might also only ever speak English to their children, so they grow up with English as a first language. Those who do speak English as a second language might speak it perfectly well, so these figures don't actually help us very much in finding out how many interpreters and special support staff are needed.
At primary level, 34 children of economic migrants were enrolled in January 2004, representing 0.2 per cent of the school population. By January 2006, the figure had doubled to 77 or 0.5 per cent.
Secondly, the paper has also deliberately chosen a town with an unusually high increase in it's migrant workers, possibly because it had a low level to start with. It's even used the town before in one of its other disgusting scare stories, with the headline 'The town the Poles took over'. That headline's real and not a joke, unfortunately.
Next, note the misdirection in the emphasis of the 'fivefold' rise in the number of secondary pupils and doubling of primary school pupils, and the way the article uses a different method to illustrate numbers of pupils from the one it uses in the headline. It doesn't mention the total number of pupils in Peterborough either, because that would give a clearer perspective on the numbers. If the article used the same method to display the figure as the headline, there would be a total of around 1 in 50. It would then be obvious that we're supposed to believe that 1 in 50 pupils are responsible for raising the level of chilren with English as a second language from around 1 in 10 to 1 in 5, and that's clearly bollocks. Also note how we're not given a figure for the number of pupils with English as a second language in Peterborough. I wonder why.
Also, no source is given for these figures, so it's difficult - if not impossible - to actually check them. There are any number of ways to be dishonest here, given that we know the Mail sometimes uses ambiguous language to create a false impression. It would be unfair to set them out without being able to check the figures first, but it would be wise to treat them sceptically until that could be done.
The article moves back to the pretend central theme of English as a second language with its next set of figures:
And in Suffolk, there were 467 new pupils in schools for whom English is an additional language in 2005-6. The majority were from the families of migrant workers.Note what's left out here. We have been given absolutely no idea of what proportion of the whole these 467 pupils represent, so we can have no idea, without checking, how these numbers compare to the headline's claim. The Suffolk County Council website states that:
This represents a 45 per cent increase on 2003-4 at a time when the Department for Education and Skills has slashed funding to support ethnic minority pupils in the region.
The total school population is just under 100,000467 pupils out of 100,000 is just under 0.5 percent. The headline says 1 in 5 pupils speak English as a second language. The example it uses of a shocking increase ends up with a total of 1 in 200. Not really justifying the figure it pulled out of its arse much is it? Not really 'overwhelming' either.
It's next figure leaves out the total in the same way:
In Ealing, West London, the number of Eastern European pupils enrolled in primary and secondary schools has increased from 810 in 2003 to 1,474.So we have no idea of proportion. This figure is probably the most significant in the whole article, but we'll come back to it in the next post.
Meanwhile numbers of Polish speaking pupils alone in primary schools has more than doubled from 205 to 582.
The other figures are used in similar ways. We have a figure from Slough of two primary schools having to take in 60 Somalian and 50 Polish pupils in one term. But we do not know if these children are all brand new arrivals to the country or not, or whether they are new pupils to the schools or not. We're not given a reference to check, so it's all but impossible to find out. We have the familiar trick of not giving a total number of pupils so we can't work out proportions. This figure also gives us no concrete idea of how many of those pupils are unable to speak English.
We have the same 'no total' tactic for figures from Wrexham and the same tactic of using a different method to display figures from the headline. 11 percent of Wrexham pupils speak English as a second language. That's about half claimed by the headline. It also doesn't mention how many speak Welsh, although this is probably quite low.
So, these figures are either made up, dressed up or used dishonestly. This isn't much of a surprise, given that the article itself is an attempt to pretend that the paper's concerned with the number of children who speak English as a second language, when it's in fact concerned with something else entirely. We'll find out what in the next posting. You lucky people.