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English not the first language of more than 600 pupils at Tyrone primary school

By Adrian Rutherford and Rebecca Black

Published 05/02/2016

St Patrick’s Primary School in Dungannon
St Patrick’s Primary School in Dungannon

A Northern Ireland primary school has more than 600 pupils who do not have English or Irish as their first language.

Almost three-quarters of children at St Patrick's in Dungannon have a different native tongue.

It is one of 77 primary schools with more than 40 pupils who are not natural English or Irish speakers.

The details were released by Education Minister John O'Dowd after an Assembly question from Ukip MLA David McNarry.

Thirty of the 77 schools with 40 or more non-English speakers are in the former Southern Education board area.

Another 22 are in the former Belfast area, 10 in the North Eastern area, eight in the Western area and seven in the South Eastern area.

According to Mr O'Dowd's answer, there were 847 pupils at St Patrick's Primary School in the 2014/15 academic year.

Of these, 603 did not have English or Irish as their native tongue.

St Patrick's had by some distance the highest number of pupils whose main language was neither English or Irish.

Some 206 of the 257 pupils at Presentation Primary School in Craigavon had a different native tongue.

And 195 of the 878 pupils at St Bride's Primary School in Belfast were not natural English or Irish speakers.

A total of 18 primary schools had 100 or more pupils who were not mainly English or Irish speakers.

Mr McNarry said he investigated the issue after speaking to teachers who were concerned by a growth in non-English speakers in their classrooms.

"It is all very well saying it is great to bring people into our country, but there are costs that people don't think about," he said.

"I worry that we have dropped our guard.

"The figures in that answer show the growth of migrant children coming into Northern Ireland, and people will be startled by it."

Mr McNarry questioned the cost of accommodating children with a different native tongue.

"If people want to come here then make them speak English," he added.

"We have already seen the huge costs spent on interpreters by the PSNI and our health service.

"I have no doubt some of these people will go on to become brilliant mathematicians, scientists, doctors and so on.

"They have a lot to contribute, but we're paying twice over.

"We are paying for language classes on top of what we are paying for the normal teaching costs."

Mr O'Dowd said the figures provided in his answer related to the 2014/15 academic year and included nursery, reception and year 1 to 7 classes.

St Patrick's Primary School could not be reached for comment last night.

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