"Yes, but what do you speak at home, lad."
"English," said Asim.
"Yes, but is there another language you speak with your parents?"
"Well, sometimes we might speak in Urdu, but it's mainly English."
"So, your first language is Urdu then."
I don't remember how the exchange started or even what it was all about, but I do remember thinking, "Why is sir being a spack? He never said that," before going back to scratching IRON MAIDEN into my desk with a compass.
I'm put in mind of that every time the tabloids rehash the old scaremongering about how many schoolchildren speak English as a second language without telling you they only mean primary school children and they only mean in London until right at the very end after the rentaquotes from Sir Andrew Green about how shocking it is that so many kids can't speak English.
There's a new take on the same old familiar story on the front page of the Express, which has the headline 'STRANGERS IN OUR OWN COUNTRY'. Not only does the Express do its favourite trick of excluding people it doesn't like from being one of 'us', but this time it adds to that by following the headline up with the subheading ''English' pupils are now the minority in 1,500 schools throughout the UK', redefining 'English' for us. The headline of the online version is at least as misleading as the paper version, but perhaps not as emotionally manipulative. ''ENGLISH' PUPILS BECOME MINORITY' it pretends.
The article keeps up the pretence right until the end, and by 'until the end' I don't mean until the last paragraph or two where the actual context of the figures is put in a quote from an unnamed 'spokesman' to cast doubt on it. I mean the story finishes without telling us that pupils who can speak English as a second language only make up over half the roster in a tiny minority of schools. We know the story is talking about 1,545 schools, but is that a large number of schools? The headline of both versions leads us to believe it is.
In truth, there are 25,636 schools in the UK, according to figures collected here for primary schools and here for secondary schools. So there are 1,545 schools with more than half the pupils who speak English as an additional language, but 24,091 with fewer than half. We're talking about anything from 51% of pupils upwards in just over 6% of schools.
The Mail fares better, at least in the online version of the story. It doesn't bother to pull the usual trick of lying in the headline and opening in 'English-speaking pupils now the minority in 1,500 British schools', just focusing straight on the number of schools without pretending this makes 'us', whoever that is, 'strangers in our own country'. It might not stay that way though. The article is timestamped 8.34 this morning and Daily Mail Reporter has the byline, so it might just be churned from the Express and we'll get a better spun version tomorrow.
Of course, neither bothers to try to explain that almost all these kids probably speak English perfectly well (plus, I can't help wondering how many are like Asim), and neither gives an idea of how many of these kids can't speak English at all, or need help speaking English.
What this reveals clearer than ever before is that these stories aren't about concern for lack of resources, as if we didn't know already, but they're about trying to frighten white people into thinking we're becoming outnumbered by a deluge of probably brown foreigners who will take over.
Comments are off on the Express version of this story, but not the Mail, where commenters get stuck in with the reactions the story's after. My favourite:
Gordon must be pleased, another step towards removing English culture from England.When Desmond bought the Express, he faced a lot of opposition because he'd been a pornographer. People thought he'd take his papers downmarket, which he did, but I'd guess not in the way they imagined.
Seems like we lost the war and not a shot was fired...
- Dino Fancellu, Epsom, Surrey, 12/4/2010 8:55
I wonder how many realised he'd make his tabloids have the thinnest veil over its racism than any other paper in the country.
More on this at Hagley Road to Ladywood and Pressophobia, and have a look at Enemies of Reason too.
*Being a shortarse at school, I only ever managed this once. Turns out I'd punched a teacher. True story.