English is the second language of 90 per cent of pupils at 240 schools across the UK, figures have revealed. According to the Department of Education census numbers, obtained and analysed by Sky News, there are now 1.1 million school children in Britain who speak a language other than English as their mother tongue. This is roughly double the number of children starting school with English as a second language compared to the latter half of the 1990s. The figures also revealed that there are five schools where none of the children speak English as their first language. However, some head teachers commenting on the findings revealed those who speak English as a second language frequently perform better than their native English-language counterparts, because they have to work harder to succeed in a second language. Melanie Gee, head of Sacred Heart Primary School in the West Midlands, told Sky: “Our school is really no different to any other. We have a curriculum and all the lessons are taught in English.” Sacred Heart has won an award for its policy of providing inclusive education, and its pupils speak a variety of languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Bangladeshi, Polish and French, among others. Ms Gee said the school has a number of bilingual teachers on its staff, but their language skills are mainly employed in communicating with parents. When it comes to the children themselves, she claimed that while they may start off communicating mainly in their mother tongue, within a few weeks they are talking in English. Ethnic minority achievement leader at Sacred Heart Helen Pflaumer added that children are encouraged to speak English while in class. Should they wish to discuss something in-depth it is made clear they can use their mother tongue, and interpreters are occasionally employed by the school to facilitate communication. However, because English is the main language spoken in class – despite not being the first language of the pupils – the children pick it up “so quickly”, Ms Pflaumer revealed. This is an achievement both the students and their parents are “very happy” with. Another one of the schools cited in the figures is Gladstone Primary, where around 20 different languages are spoken by its pupils. Head teacher Christine Parker has said in the past: “More and more of the world is going bilingual. The culture at our school is not to see bilingualism as a difficulty.” Conversely, while the number of UK schoolchildren who have a different mother tongue to English appears to be rising, the number of pupils choosing to study a language in higher education is dropping. An investigation conducted by the Guardian earlier this month revealed more than a third of universities in the UK have dropped their specialist European language degree offerings since 1998. While students have less choice when it comes to where they study languages, there are also fewer pupils choosing this qualification at A-level. Indeed the number of young people selecting a modern foreign language A-level is now at its lowest rate since the mid-1990s.