An expert in Indian Ocean, Atlantic and Pacific languages, Professor Philip Baker’s work focusses on the emergence and evolution of creoles and pidgins. Baker’s impact relates to his study of the multitude of languages spoken by London school children.
The Languages of London project (1998-1999), led by Baker and John Eversley, made the case that the gathering and understanding of data on language use in London – where some languages are proportionally better represented than they are globally – is essential for any social, economic, and educational policy designed to promote equality and opportunity for London’s schoolchildren.
Two key findings of Baker’s research were that:
- While having a language other than English as one’s mother tongue demands additional resources in schools, multilingualism is an increasingly important economic asset.
- The identification of languages spoken by the school population permits a far more detailed and relevant ethnic classification of children than previously used by data-gatherers, thus enabling public services to be targeted more effectively.
In consequence, Baker’s research achieved the following impacts:
Governmental data-gathering procedures and policies have been changed in response to the methodology Baker used in his study of the hundreds of languages spoken by school children in London. For instance, the Annual School Census asked questions about language use for the first time in 2008 as a direct consequence of Baker’s work. Thereafter the decennial Census of Population (2011), carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on behalf of the British Government, drew upon the language catalogue created by Baker for their language focussed questions.
These innovations enabled the Department for Education, as well as local borough councils, to make more informed policy decisions on diversity, translation resources, and training within the state sector.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been able to better engage policy-makers on social issues by utilising Baker’s data on the languages of London. The Runnymede Trust-funded asylum and refugee organisation (ICAR) used such data to support their engagements with policy makers on issues of cultural diversity and racial equality, while Baker’s research also provided a foundation for the policy-focussed interventions of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, the Migration Observatory, and the Bilingualism and Literacies Education Network.
The wealth of data collected by Baker and Eversley thus provided a strong evidence base for policy proposals intended to encourage the integration of socially excluded migrants into the British education system.
Pedagogical approaches to teacher-training and medical education programmes have also benefited from Baker’s research. For example, the University of East London uses Baker’s work in its teacher education at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels as a starting point for student investigations of diverse language use in London, while Baker’s work is a cornerstone of clinical medical training programmes on culture and diversity, as demonstrated by his work’s adoption on the University College London BSc in Medical Education.
The adoption of Baker’s work on education programmes has thus encouraged a recognition of the diversity and importance of languages in the city by practitioners that will soon be working with such children, thus enabling a more targeted use of public services.
Governmental data-gathering procedures and policies have been changed in response to Professor Philip Baker’s study of the hundreds of languages spoken by school children in London, while NGOs have been able to better engage policy-makers on social issues by utilising the evidence base of Baker’s data.