Following Brexit, are there more Polish speaking children in the United Kingdom?
Since 2017, the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, based in London, has consistently reported a steady reduction in the number of Polish-speaking children in London schools in the years following the Brexit referendum. This information was based on statistics provided since 2007 every year by the 33 London Borough Councils to the Federation of Poles in Gt Britain. This follows logically from the fact that following the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed in January 2020, newly arrived Poles and other EU citizens could no longer settle or work in the UK, and this has dramatically reduced the number of new Polish families settling in the UK. However, latest statistics from the national education authorities of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland indicate that the national picture does not follow the same trend as the London one.
The current statistics for Greater London for January 2022 show 27,699 Polish speaking children in London schools. This figure covers all such pupils in primary, secondary, sixth form and special schools in the public sector in London. They include not only first generation children of Polish nationals arriving her in large numbers since 2004 when Poland joined the EU, but also children brought up in second and third generation ethnically Polish families that have lived here since the Second World War. The 2022 figure is a 17.3% reduction on the number of Polish speaking children from the high figure of 32,518 pupils in January 2017. The 2017 figure covers the highest yet intake of Polish speaking children the previous summer at the time of the Brexit referendum in June 2016. The referendum and its immediate aftermath had been a period of increased tension and uncertainty over the future of EU citizens living in the UK. Since 2017 this downward trend in London has been consistent year after year in all 33 London Boroughs.
In fact, this downward trend correlates with the London Councils based statistics for the number of Polish nationals on the electoral register of each Borough. From a peak of 11,0189 in 2017 the number of Polish citizens eligible to vote was reduced to only 96,296 in 2022, which was a reduction of 12.6%.
The downward trend of Polish schoolchildren and Polish citizens in London reflected other national ONS statistics. The ONS recorded an almost 30% reduction in the number of live births to Polish mothers in the UK from 20,779 in 2017, to only 14,633 in 2020. In its Annual Population Survey the ONS indicated 696,000 Polish citizens resident in the UK in 2021. This had been a 30% reduction from the 2016 total of 1,002,000.
By significant contrast, the national figures of Polish-speaking children in England, as recorded by the Department of Education, show an increase nationally, not a reduction, in pupils with Polish as first language in English state schools from 142,747 in 2017 to 145,659 in 2022. Closer inspection shows the increase of Polish-speaking pupils in the East Midlands, Merseyside, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Hampshire, and the West country, as well as an increase in some West Midlands education authorities, such as Coventry and Walsall. (However, apart from London, there is a drop recorded in Polish speaking schoolchildren in former larger Home Counties concentrations of Polish children in Slough and Luton, as well as in Midland conurbations with a hitherto significant Polish presence, such as Birmingham and Sandwell.)
The total upward trend for Polish schoolchildren in England since the 2016 referendum is mirrored in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. According to the Education Analytical Services of the Scottish Government the number of pupils with Polish as their main home language was 14,739 in September 2016 but increased to 17,611 in September 2021. Also, according to the Knowledge and Analytical Services of the Welsh Government the number of pupils with Polish as first language in Welsh schools had increased from 5,419 in 2017 to 5,867 in 2022. The Northern Ireland Education Authority, based in Belfast, recorded 6,671 pupils in 2017 having Polish as their native language, and this has increased to 6,935 in October 2021.
Why this disparity between the Home Counties and the rest of the United Kingdom? The question is important because the Polish population was the largest and most significant contingent of EU citizens who were able to settle in the UK after 2004 when the UK labour market was made available to all EU citizens. The Polish population had a high profile because of the sudden influx into the UK which neither the UK government nor local authorities had expected. At one stage there were more than a million Polish nationals recorded in the UK and the Polish language was recorded as the second most frequent language after English to be spoken at home in England and Scotland.
There are two possible causes for the disparity.
First, this trend suggests that, while there appears to be an exodus of Polish families from London and certain high-density Polish communities in the Home Counties, these families may not just have gone back to Poland, or to other EU countries, but could also have moved to other, perhaps less expensive, areas in the United Kingdom. Certainly, there has been anecdotal evidence from Polish community organizations of Polish families with children moving from the larger more expensive cities to more rural areas with a lower cost of living than the Home Counties.
Secondly, another possible explanation could be a change in the age gap. According to the Education Authority in Belfast, the number of Polish speaking pupils in Northern Ireland primary schools has reduced between 2017 and 2021 from 4,544 to 3,969, but the number of pupils in secondary or special education has increased, not decreased, in that period, from 2,127 to 2,966. Regrettably, we do not yet have a similar breakdown in age for pupils in England, Wales, and Scotland. However, it is possible that, with the above mentioned reduced birth rate for children of Polish mothers, there are fewer pupils now in primary education, while the higher earlier figures for children in primary education had now been "pushed up" in the last 5 years into secondary education.
Yet there has been concern recently over statistical accuracy in relation to EU citizens in the UK. While ONS statistics had shown a decrease in Polish and other EU nationals in the UK since the Brexit referendum, this was not reflected by the figures given by the Home Office for the increased number of Polish and other EU citizens applying for settled status by June 2021. This had shown, for instance, 1,091,500 Polish nationals applying for settled status, but with only 696,000 recorded as actually residing in the UK.
"Polish families, along with their children, have integrated well in the United Kingdom over the years, playing a positive role in the economy and in the cultural and social life in this country," says Dr Włodzimierz Mier-Jędrzejowicz, President of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain. "While Brexit caused Polish citizens considerable concern initially, the majority have now obtained settled or pre-settled status and their numbers in the UK are stabilizing. More light could be shed on the statistical discrepancy in the actual numbers of Polish speaking children, when the appropriate ethnic statistics, based on detailed responses to the 2021 national census, are published in full by the ONS. We need to wait too for the education authorities in England, Scotland, and Wales to publish more details on the age distribution of the Polish speaking pupils in their respective territories."
The Federation of Poles in Great Britain CIO was founded in 1946 and is an umbrella organization representing the main Polish secular cultural and social institutions in this country.
Federation of Poles in Great Britain
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