Ambassador wants British schools to teach Polish to help forge close links

Ambassador of Poland Arkady Rzegocki speaks to the media at the Polish Embassy, London Dominic Lipin

Ambassador of Poland Arkady Rzegocki speaks to the media at the Polish Embassy, London Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Offering Polish lessons in British schools could strengthen relations between the two countries, the Polish Ambassador to London has said.

Arkady Rzegocki, who has been in post since September, said the biggest barrier to closer ties between the two nations was a lack of knowledge of the Polish culture.

It is estimated that there are almost one million Poles living in the UK, and according to House of Commons library figures last year 66,000 live in the East of England. There are about 30,000 UK-based businesses which have been started by Polish nationals in the UK.

Mr Rzegocki said they were trying to encourage Polish communities around the country to organise events about Polish heritage day on May 6 and 7 to mark Polish Heritage Day.

'It is a huge task for us to know each other better and to really make our societies even closer than they are now,' he said.

As well as teaching more about Polish heritage in British schools, he wants Polish to be offered as a foreign language in schools in the way languages like French or German are.

As well as helping children from mixed families to learn their mother tongue, he thinks it would be a good opportunity for British students to learn the largest Slavic language, which is understood by about 300 million people across Europe.

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'We have much more knowledge about Britain and Scotland in Polish schools, so we need to make it more equal,' he said.

Mr Rzegocki took up his post the day Polish national Arkadiusz Jozwik, 40, was killed outside a takeaway in The Stow in the Essex town of Harlow.

While he praised British ministers for the way they reacted to the killing, he said it was hard to predict if there would be more incidents of hate crime.

'We are trying to cooperate closely and encourage Poles and the British to cooperate, and to also make better communications between the Polish community and local authorities.

'It is very important. We are trying to encourage for example police to publish some information in Polish.

'The most painful problem is some hate crime incidents, but also modern slavery. Modern slavery is about people who don't speak English and are less educated and have problems reporting it.'

While both the British government and key figures on the side of the remaining European Union 27 states say securing the rights of existing EU citizens living abroad, Mr Rzegocki said the uncertainty for Polish nationals living in the UK was a 'real problem'.

'This is one of the most sensitive things because it is very important for families and individuals who should know how they can run their business in the next two, four or five years and how they can organise their lives, like buying houses and having children in schools.

'Poles have created 30,000 businesses here. We haven't got statistics yet, but there are more and more signals that people are starting to think about coming back to Poland, which is good for Poland.

'We are trying to encourage them because we need our people and workers.'

He said that the economy had not stopped growing in Poland since 1992 and employment was at its lowest level for 25 years.

But he said that while the gap between Polish and British salaries was getting smaller and smaller, people could still earn more in the UK.

Surveys still suggest that the majority of Poles want to stay in the UK, the ambassador said - but pointed out that it was still hard to predict how many might return to Poland.

In a bid to encourage their nationals back to Poland, the government is trying to make it easier for entrepreneurs to set up and run companies in Poland, by cutting bureaucracy.