Language and learning loss: The evidence on children who use English as an Additional Language

About the study

The Bell Foundation has published a report which draws on teachers’ perceptions based on their observations of pupils’ interactions, work and behaviour in class, collected through the National Foundation for Educational Research Teacher Omnibus Survey Spring 2021 (NFER, 2021).

The report’s purpose is to identify and understand the extent and nature of English language learning loss for pupils who use EAL across the four skill areas: listening, reading, writing and speaking. The research asks further specific sub-questions:

  1. How does language learning loss manifest in the classroom?
  2. How have pupils using EAL fared in general learning impact (i.e. not language specific loss) and how does that compare to their English-speaking peers?

The survey was administered in March 2021, shortly after schools re-opened. The responses therefore draw on both observations from the autumn term (following the first school closure) and from the return of all pupils from March 2021 (following the second closure).

Key findings include:

  • Of teachers who were able to report on the impact on the English language skills of pupils who use EAL, 74% of primary teachers and 59% of secondary teachers reported observations of language loss in one or more language skill areas.
  • Of the secondary school teachers who reported a negative impact on the language learning of their pupils, over one in five (22%) reported that their pupils who use EAL had lost confidence to speak to their peers or in class.
  • Of the primary school teachers who reported a negative impact on the language learning of their pupils nearly one in six (15%) reported that their pupils using EAL had lost confidence to speak to their peers or in class.
  • According to teachers, the family’s proficiency in English had a significant impact on the language and learning loss of pupils who use EAL. This was particularly pronounced in the primary school sector where 25% of teachers who reported loss cited the ability of the family to support home learning as a factor.
  • One in twelve teachers reporting language and learning loss in pupils using EAL thought that they had been explicitly disadvantaged compared to their English-speaking peers due to the challenges of remote learning.


Key Recommendations for the Department for Education:

  • As proficiency in English is the major factor influencing the educational achievement and the degree of support a pupil using EAL may require during and after the education recovery phase, the Department for Education (DfE), in line with the devolved nations and other countries, should introduce a statutory requirement for schools in England to assess and record (for their internal monitoring purposes) pupils’ levels of proficiency in English using the DfE’s previously-used five-point assessment scale. The five-point scale was introduced temporarily in England for two years and is currently in operation in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The reintroduction of proficiency scales would also support teachers in identifying pupils most in need of language support.

Key Recommendations for teacher educators and CPD providers:

  • Initial Teacher Education providers should ensure that their new curricula based on the generic ITT Core Content Framework includes content on how to promote the rapid academic and social linguistic development of pupils using EAL who have been adversely affected by language loss.
  • As the Early Career Framework (ECF) promotes ‘quality teaching for all’ with no consideration for the needs of specific groups, there is currently a risk that the distinctive language learning loss experienced by many pupils who use EAL may be rendered invisible within a generic framework, leaving a generation of entrants to the profession ill-equipped to support these disadvantaged learners appropriately through the recovery phase.
  • Guidance and training for National Tutoring Programme trainers should include a focus on EAL to ensure that tutors are equipped with the skills they need to support the catch-up of disadvantaged pupils who use EAL.

Key Recommendations for schools:

  • Ensure new arrivals and pupils nearing high stakes examinations have the targeted language support they require to catch-up lost language and ensure they have a fair and equitable opportunity to express their subject content knowledge through the medium of English.
  • Focus in school training on the contribution that multilingual parents can make to their children’s education which will help maximise parents’ impact. In addition, ensure that parents who do not have English as first language are able to access resources for, and communications about, home learning in order to support their children’s education.
  • Provide EAL learners with wide opportunities to learn and develop language outside of the classroom through sport, drama, artistic pursuits and play.
  • Ensure pastoral care providers in schools are aware of the increased risk of social isolation if pupils who use EAL have lost confidence to speak to their peers and within the classroom.