Improving support for pupils with EAL

Published: 14 July 2016 at 15:51

Excited school children

New research on pupils who speak English as an additional language

A new report on UK school pupils who speak English as an additional language (EAL) argues that their progression in English language proficiency, academic achievement and social integration are closely linked and that a strong professional knowledge base is needed in schools to support the pupils. The authors also argue that parents are an “untapped resource” for support and social integration. The report makes a series of policy recommendations.

The report Language development and school achievement identifies opportunities to target outreach to parents of EAL pupils, and develop frameworks and qualifications for English language support specialists to enable better assessment of language proficiency among pupils.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University, were commissioned by the Bell Foundation to conduct a two-year longitudinal study of secondary schools in the East of England between 2013 and 2015.

The project, which took a new cross-disciplinary approach and linked quantitative and qualitative methods, involved a regional survey of 46 secondary schools as well as tracking the progress of 22 newly-arrived EAL students at two case study schools over a two-year period and interviewing dozens of teachers, parents and carers.

Diane Sutton, Director of the Bell Foundation, said: 

“Crude headlines which assert that EAL children either outperform others or are a drain on scarce school resources miss the point. The picture is mixed, complex and nuanced, as this and previous research shows.”

The new research highlights the benefits which such children receive from growing up in mixed-language social groups, and gives an impression of the pace at which they start to feel a sense of belonging as well as academic achievement.

But the survey found that EAL support was uneven across different schools. While some have qualified “EAL coordinators” managing schoolwide support, others have teaching assistants covering the role, and some have an already overstretched subject teacher subbing in.

Key recommendations in the report include:
• “EAL coordinators” within schools should be part of a national framework of support for children for whom EAT is an additional language.
• A model of accountability should be established, similar to Pupil Premium support for those eligible for free school meals, in which resource from the national budget is contingent on pupil progress.
• Embedding EAL training in teacher training programmes, and including EAL inductions as part of the school orientation for newly-qualified teachers.
• Encouraging parental involvement.

Dr Claudia Schneider, Principal Lecturer in Social Policy at Anglia Ruskin, said: 

“Schools should take advantage of the opportunities offered by high levels of parental interest, by developing information and communication strategies which reflect an ‘outreach mentality’.

“Target strategies for encouraging community and parental networks could, for example, offer bilingual support by sharing translations of routine school information. Parents of EAL students are significantly underrepresented in school structures, and such cost-effective networks could help integrate this untapped resource.”