From education to employment

ONS Findings on 2011 Census Consultation find Place for Languages

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) conducted a consultation between May and August 2005 on content for the Census of 2011.

The document, entitled “The 2011 Census: Initial View on Content for England and Wales,” has now been published. It includes the answers from around 500 users on the following topics: Health & care, Housing, Income, Labour market & NS-SEC, Migration, Population, demography & travel, Qualifications, Sexual orientation and Ethnicity, identity, language & religion.

The main aim for the consultation was to find out which new topics users believe need to be included in the next Census. The consultation has resulted in establishing the need for collecting information in all areas of the Census 2001. However, there was also a high demand for new topics such as sexual orientation, income, second residences and particularly information on languages. Furthermore, other factors like data quality, public acceptability and respondent burden were taken into consideration for the final content of the questionnaire.

Languages Scoring High

There were around 70 topics being evaluated and each was then ranked in accordance to user requirements” demand and strengths. Each topic was allocated in one of three categories; topics likely to be collected in the 2011 Census; topics where further research and assessment is required before a decision is made on whether to collect information on them in the 2011 Census; or topics which will not be included in the 2011 Census.

Languages in general were attributed the highest score, placed in the first category. There were 80 answers received about the subject of languages. Most users consider that it is essential to know which languages, besides English, are used so that it is possible to improve resource allocation and service provision, such as interpreter and translation services. The question about English language proficiency scored really low and therefore will not be included in the Census. All the other language information is still under testing to establish whether it is feasible to include them in the 2011 Census.

Assessment of the Detailed Results on Language

The consultation noted a high requirement by users to identify the languages spoken throughout England and Wales. This information would be of great help to public authorities enabling them to ensure that no one would face language barriers in trying to access information and services. Furthermore, local authorities could allocate better teachers for English as a second language, provide translations of services in specific languages and also address social exclusion problems. Another issue raised was the demand for information on the use of specific languages like British Sign Language (BSL) and Cornish.

Information on language should be analysed in relation to other areas of the Census such as Ethnicity, Religion, Migration and Labour Markets and importance should be given to the identification of small population groups so that it is possible to develop effective policies and service provision, according to the specific needs of each locality and of each individual user.

A National Problem

Nevertheless, the consultation confirmed that besides the usefulness of this information at a local level, the language questions should be conducted in the whole of UK. This way, central governments could develop consistent national strategies. The Census was also considered the only resource for providing national information on the language sector and on English proficiency.

The National Centre for Languages (CILT) also reinforced this idea, commenting on the findings: “There are no reliable data on the number of people living in Great Britain whose first language is not English. This causes serious problems with the planning and delivery of education and training provision.” If the questions of language are approved, it will be the first time that this topic will feature a Census in England and Wales.

Summing Up

In general, the high importance that language received in the consultation of ONS demonstrated how in a multicultural country like England, people are more aware of the importance of languages and the role they play in our societies and also believe that it is central that governments take this diversity into consideration.

Therefore it is essential that, in the next Census in 2011, this area is questioned and analysed so that it will be possible firstly to improve public services provision and consequently improve resource allocation in the whole country.

Joana Lage, Language Learning Correspondent

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