New research finds strong progress in English language skills among children of migrant parents between ages 3 and 9

The outcomes of children born in Ireland to migrant parents is an important indicator of migrant integration. In this new study, published by the ESRI and produced in partnership with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, we examine English language and reading development from 3 years to 9 years of age and self-concept at 9 years of age. Fluency in the language of instruction is important for children’s school success as well as for their interactions with peers. Self-concept – how children think and feel about themselves - also matters as it impacts on children’s daily interactions with others, their success at school and overall confidence.

Migrant-origin children show considerable progress in English-language development between the ages of three and nine: at age three, 60 per cent of migrant-origin children were in the bottom quintile (fifth) on an English vocabulary test (including those who had insufficient language skills to take part in the test). By age five, this had declined to 52 per cent. By age nine, 26 per cent were in the bottom quintile for reading, compared to 20 per cent of their Irish-origin peers.

Main findings

  • One-third of children in the Cohort ’08 of Growing Up in Ireland, born in 2008, have at least one parent born abroad, though this group is diverse in terms of parental country of birth, linguistic background and ethnicity.
  • 14 per cent of children had one parent born abroad and one Irish-born parent. A further 19 per cent had both parents, or a lone parent, born outside the Republic of Ireland.
  • 11 per cent of children were in families where neither parent (or a lone parent) was a native English speaker.
  • Migrant-origin children were somewhat less likely than those with native Irish parents to have attended centre-based childcare at age three, prior to enrolment in the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) scheme, but this varied widely by maternal country of birth. Centre-based care use at three was highest among mothers of Western European origin, and the lowest among mothers from Asia and Eastern Europe.
  • Children with both parents (or lone parent) born abroad were more likely to attend a designated disadvantaged school (DEIS schools): 28 per cent compared to 20 per cent of children when both parents (or lone parent) are Irish-born and 17 per cent for those with one Irish-born parent and one parent born abroad.
  • Despite strong progress in English language skills since the age of three, children of parents who are both non-native English speakers still have lower mean reading scores at age nine compared to children with at least one native English-speaking parent.
  • Turning to the characteristics of the school, we find that the proportion of migrant students in a school has no influence on individual reading scores at 9 but attending a disadvantaged school is associated with lower reading scores, even when family circumstances and vocabulary at an earlier age are taken into account.
  • For the most part, second-generation migrant-origin children do not differ from Irish-origin children in terms of their self-concept score at age 9. This measure incorporates children’s sense of their intellectual, educational, physical, emotional and social characteristics.
  • Having no native English-speaking parent in the household was associated with a lower self-concept score. This was largely explained by lower socio-economic resources in these households.

Dr Helen Russell co-author of the report noted:

The findings highlight the importance of access to quality early learning opportunities for migrant-origin children and the need for supports at primary school level, including enhanced supports for DEIS Urban Band 1 schools where the children of migrants are over-represented.

Welcoming the publication Minister Roderic O’Gorman said:

I am delighted to launch this report which provides policy makers with new data and insights on some of the factors that can improve learning outcomes and opportunities for children from migrant backgrounds.  This report will be an important input to the National Action Plan Against Racism, which the independent Anti-Racism Committee hope to submit to me in the coming weeks. It will also be a key input into the evaluation of the Migrant Integration Strategy 2017 to 2021, and the development of its successor.