Global migration has increased the number of non-English speaking pupils in UK schools, challenging a system which is politically and ideologically monolingual. This article examines how staff at a UK primary school positioned newly arrived pupils and their families, both culturally and linguistically, in terms of Cummins’ educator role definitions. Drawing on vignettes from a critical ethnography, the research highlights issues raised from pupils’ experiences and juxtaposes them with teachers’ perceptions of the school’s culturally diverse community. The article concludes with reflections on educational strategies, practices and behaviours that could make the experiences of pupils more inclusive and empowering.