How a Margate school is adapting to suit its changing population

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Schools are adapting to spikes in the number of children who do not speak English as their native language. Photo: ITV News

At Hartsdown Academy in Margate one in four pupils don't speak English as a first language and most of the non-English pupils have been new arrivals from Slovakia or the Czech Republic.

The school is currently preparing for the possibility that many more Romanians and Bulgarians will arrive in January, but the headteacher Andrew Somers insists they don’t know whether the immigration changes will cause an influx or not.

How can we know? But if it happens we will be ready and they will be very welcome.

Mr Somers has been part of a task force researching how the changes in immigration rules could impact Kent and its local services.

Education will certainly be affected if many Bulgarians and Romanians arrive putting pressure on existing school places.

Children not speaking English as a native language can prove challenging for schools. Credit: ITV News

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But the task force concluded that as most of the migrants will be young, working and healthy, there will be no significant extra pressures on doctors, hospitals, crime statistics or social housing.

But that isn't believed on the ground by other long-term residents, already resentful of new arrivals settling in Margate from else where in Britain. Some locals complain that Margate has become a dumping ground for families other areas don’t want.

In the deprived area of Cliftonville in Margate, hundreds of Czech families have settled and in a nearby local pub we found growing bitterness.

Many locals say their area has lost its "character." Credit: ITV News

One young mother blamed the migrants from eastern European for the fact she can't get a place for her young son at the nearby local school.

She and her friends told me that the new comers had also ruined the spirit of the area and brought down the wages in the local economy because "the Roma will work for nothing".

She told me statistics which suggest migrants contribute more than they take are a lie.

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Many locals in Margate do not believe the statistics that immigrants overall bring in more money than they cost to support. Credit: ITV News

Kent County Coucil predict that if 10,000 migrants arrive between the next 5-10 years, it will cost them approximately an extra three million pounds.

They also predict that the new arrivals will work and, therefore, contribute seventy million to the economy, although they point out that any benefit is likely to be felt nationally rather than locally.

The national government does help with some extra resources - laying on language courses for those who arrive in the port of Dover with little or no English. But the local government feels it has to bear the brunt of the pressure, particularly in the schools.

At Hartsdown Academy over the past decade they have spent money developing ways to help pupils from eastern Europe feel part of the community and it even liaises with their parents as well to help them integrate. Their current head boy is from the local Roma community, the first from that community to hold the honour. Mr Somers said:

It does cost us more. But it has become an integral part of who we are," he tells me.

Hartsdown clearly suggests that where leadership, resources and care are deployed, integration isn't an issue.

I feel welcome as a Bulgarian. So much so that I may start to feel English soon!

But as I turned to leave I heard a young dark haired girl ask her teacher:

Are the cameras here because Czechs like us aren't welcome in this country?

"Of course not," she was reassured.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her what the people in the pub had said.

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