Portuguese students in London schools : patterns of participation in community language classes and patterns of educational achievement
This study investigates the academic achievement of Portuguese students in the London borough of Lambeth according to their attendance or non-attendance at Portuguese classes. The following questions are addressed: 1- Why do parents make the commitment of taking their children to Portuguese classes? 2- What differences can we find, in terms of academic results, between Portuguese students attending mother tongue classes and those not attending? 3- What factors can be identified that contribute to students' choices to attend? The study combines both quantitative and qualitative methodologies within an ethnographic approach. Data were collected from a larger sample for quantitative analysis (a total of 166 students in years 2,6,9 and 11) and a smaller sample (28 students in years 6,9 and 11) for the ethnographic in-depth analysis. The statistical analysis of the quantitative data collected (in the form of SATs results) indicated significant differences between the end of key stage results attained by the two groups. Students attending mother tongue classes tended to achieve significantly higher results than those not attending. The data obtained in ethnographic interviews with these participants: a) contribute to a characterisation of the Portuguese community in Lambeth, allowing the recognition of issues that affect its members' inclusion in society and b) explore students' and parental views on mother tongue classes and factors affecting their decision to attend or not Portuguese classes. The intention of returning to Portugal, albeit in a distant future, coupled with a dissatisfactory view of the parents' own education were found to be critical determinants for attendance. Issues of school inclusion are also considered and the problem of Portuguese students `drop-out' during compulsory education is investigated through interviews. Social and educational factors leading to students' disaffection are identified. The results obtained in this study indicate that the attendance at Portuguese classes and the parental involvement it requires benefits both individuals and families in terms of social capital, expectations and relationships. They also lend support to existing theories on the development of bilingual children and highlight the need for continued development of the child's linguistic skills and for cognitive and academic development in their mother tongue.