It could be one of the most multicultural schools in the country.
Pupils at St Mark’s School, Shirley, Southampton, think so – with an incredible 42 languages spoken between them.
The diverse and vibrant primary school is to be cast into the spotlight tonight in a BBC documentary about the extent of immigration in Britain’s towns and cities. It will feature in the Truth About Immigration presented by political editor Nick Robinson.
The documentary is being aired days after Britain opened its borders to Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.
Just one in four pupils at the 500-strong Stafford Road school is white British, with Polish among the lion’s share of languages spoken. Other languages spoken include Spanish, Dutch, Latvian, Portuguese and even Zulu.
Head teacher Anne Steele-Arnett said: “I’m very proud to be head of an international school. The challenges are enormous for pupils and staff but the children work so hard and we work very closely with the families.”
Southampton City Council figures show that half of pupils at St Mark’s do not have English as a first language, compared with the 15.9 per cent nationally. Nearly a third speak Polish as their first language.
The city has witnessed a huge influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe following Poland and seven other countries joining the EU in 2004.
The then-Labour Government predicted around 13,000 people would migrate to Britain, but more than ten times that number arrived – including one million Poles.
The programme follows Nick as he discovers the school’s vibrant community but shows how the language barriers can sometimes lead to challenges for teachers.
Southampton City Council cabinet minister for change, Daniel Jeffrey, said: “Clearly we have seen a big social transformation in Southampton and it is reflected in schools like St Mark’s.
“The school is showing how integration can work well and bring them into the Southampton family, and to have television coverage of this is a good thing.”
But he agreed there are challenges and the council has a “robust” plan in place to deal with the increases in population.
The programme will be screened on BBC2 at 9.30pm.