Blog: Four A’s for New Arrivals with English as an Additional Language (EAL)

This post gives some practical advice on meeting the needs of EAL learners who are newly arrived from abroad.

The first blog in this series examined how the simplicity of the term ‘English as an Additional Language’ (EAL) masks the complexity and diversity of this group of learners, and new arrivals are no different. Their language proficiency can range from ‘New to English’ to ‘Fluent’¹. The young person can arrive at any age and with widely different socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Some students may come from an advantaged context with a high standard of education; others may have had little or interrupted schooling or experienced traumatic events. A new arrival could for example be a refugee from a war-torn country or a child of a German banker working in the City of London.

This post gives some practical advice on meeting the needs of EAL learners who are new arrivals in school.

1. Admissions and Induction

Children learn best when they feel secure and valued, so the first action should be to make new arrivals feel welcome and help staff to make appropriate plans to include them.

  • Initial admissions meeting
    Think about who should conduct the interview and if an interpreter is needed. Also consider what questions should be asked in order to gather information that will be useful in supporting the pupil’s learning and well-being e.g.

    • What languages does the pupil/family speak (read and write)?
    • What is the pupil’s proficiency in English?
    • What is the pupil’s learning history?
    • What is the country of origin and other countries of previous residence?
    • What are the family details?
    • Other information e.g. SEND, health issues, separation or trauma, interests, strengths
  • Welcome
    What systems are in place that will make the pupil and their family feel welcome in the school? Is there information for parents on the school website? Provide a guide for parents with useful information e.g.: the school day, classroom routines, homework, term dates and uniforms. This guide should be written in clear and simple English with helpful illustrations. Some schools have translated welcome booklets² .
  • Preparation and planning for the new arrival
    If possible, arrange for the child to start school three to four days after their admissions meeting. This gives both the school and the family time to get organised. Ensure that the class teacher and any other key adults are supplied with relevant information gathered at the admissions meeting. Make sure the class teacher will be in the class on the pupil’s first day and start with a half day until lunchtime.
  • The first days and weeks
    Make efforts to pronounce and spell names accurately. Organise ‘peer mentors’ for the new arrival and brief them carefully. It is advisable to share the mentoring role between two or three pupils. It is helpful if the mentor can speak the new arrival’s first language, but it is more important that they are empathetic and have the necessary emotional intelligence.

2. Assessment

The Bell Foundation highly recommends that schools establish, through assessment, both a learner’s proficiency in English and also their knowledge and competence in a subject.  For example, a learner may have covered the content in their home country but may lack the vocabulary to express it, or alternatively may have had limited prior education in their country of origin.  So, it is key to establish a real understanding of the learner’s competencies and abilities through assessment.

Observation and informal assessment can be carried out from day one, but any formal testing of the pupil’s English should be postponed for two to three weeks. Once they have had a chance to settle, then consider conducting a standalone baseline initial assessment of their English proficiency using appropriate assessment tools.  For pupils who are at the early stages of acquiring English, it is not recommended to use age-related school-wide assessments (such as spelling and reading tests) as gaps in vocabulary and cultural references can lead to skewed results which do not provide a meaningful level or adequate information for supporting the pupil.

If a first language assessment is possible, that is very helpful. If not, it is still worthwhile to ask the learner to write and read something in their first language. A general impression of a young person’s literacy skills can be gained from seeing how confidently they approach the writing task and how fluently they write. It can also be useful to ask the pupil to read a text aloud.

A best-fit judgement of a pupil’s English proficiency level can be arrived at by using an evidence-based assessment framework, such as The Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework for Schools which is free to download. The Framework supports the teaching and learning of EAL pupils: it is designed so that English proficiency can be easily assessed within the context of the curriculum and the level descriptors can also act as targets for pupils to progress to the next level. For every proficiency band, there is a set of strategies and recommended resources for supporting pupils within that band.

3. Acquiring English, Accessing the Curriculum and Aiming High

  • Grouping: Remember that if the school uses sets or groups, the higher the group/set the pupils are placed in the more likely they are to encounter good models of English and of learning
  • Management: Appoint a senior member of staff to have responsibility for new arrivals.  This person should ideally have had additional training in EAL pedagogy, so they can support and advise staff as well as monitor pupil progress.
  • Build on the student’s first language: Make sure staff, pupils and parents realise the importance of maintaining and building on the new arrival’s first language, at home and at school.
  • Smart phones or tablets: Where possible allow access to these in class so that new arrivals can use online translation software and learner dictionaries. This will enable those who are literate in their first language to translate key words, hear correct pronunciation of words they look up, and build their own subject-specific glossaries.
  • Additional support: Those EAL learners who have limited literacy in their first language can benefit from one-to-one or small group intensive literacy support. This support should be linked to the curriculum as far as possible and focus on language that pupils already know in English.
  • In-class support:  EAL is not a subject, like History, Maths or Spanish. EAL learners have a double job to do: learn English and learn through English at the same time.
  • Aim high: As with all learners, high expectations are key, and it is important not to underestimate a new arrival’s potential. This can be easy to do as some students have a much higher level of proficiency than is first apparent and may be adjusting to English that sounds very different from what they were taught in their country of origin. A good rule is to always expect the student ‘can do more than you currently imagine, and you will probably be proved right.’ (Monaghan 2004).

4. Advice

Teachers’ Standards (2012) make it clear that it is the responsibility of all teachers, whatever their subject, to ‘adapt their teaching to the strengths and needs of all pupils’ including those with English as an Additional Language.’ At the same time, research suggests that the majority of teachers lack confidence and feel unprepared by their training to meet the needs of EAL learners (Brentnall 2015, Starbuck 2018). The following may help:

  1. Positive and welcoming body language. A beginner new arrival will depend more than usual on reading your expression.
  2. Use practical activities, visuals and real objects to demonstrate the context to the new arrival
  3. Place the student near you and with a group of supportive peers
  4. Be conscious of your own language; try to avoid colloquialisms, speak clearly and give instructions one at a time
  5. Ask peers who share a first language to translate for the new arrival where needed.
  6. Look at the resources for beginners on this website. The teaching notes show how to plan lessons integrating language and curriculum objectives. There are lots of visual resources, suggestions and examples of how to include new arrivals in mainstream classes. Plan for, teach and model vocabulary and language structures needed for the task/subject.  Teach key words and phrases and use Directed Activities Relating to Text (DARTs).
  7. Encourage new arrivals to keep a bilingual glossary for each subject where they note down key words and phrases in English and make notes in their first language to help them remember subject content
  8. If the class is writing an extended piece of text encourage new arrivals to draft it in their first language before trying to write in English
  9. Plan differentiated homework tasks where appropriate, e.g. give a list of ten key words to look up and regularly send home visual vocabulary flashcards starting with school and classroom language (available from British Council’s Learn English Kids website)
  10. When going round class, have a mini whiteboard or notebook to hand for quick drawings, to create ‘choices’ in order to prompt a response or to reinforce key words and allow the learner thinking time before answering questions
  11. Communicate with home: keep parents informed of topics being covered in class (to research and discuss in their home language); give parents useful websites such as British Council’s Learn English Kids and BBC Bitesize KS1


Supporting newly arrived EAL learners requires accurate initial assessment identifying the right level of support for each individual learner.  Involving parents and providing a whole school inclusive culture, a welcoming induction and an appropriate learning environment are also important.  This means ensuring that teaching staff have access to professional development that will empower them to feel confident to integrate language and learning objectives, use teaching strategies that promote language development and use EAL-sensitive assessment tools to help them recognise learners’ achievements, needs and progress.


This post is a synopsis of two articles, the first written by Dr Ruth Wilson, Bell Foundation Associate for SecEd (for secondary schools) and the second by Emma Parsons, Bell Foundation Associate for HeadTeacher Update (primary schools) in September 2018.

This is the second post by The Bell Foundation, a charity which aims to overcome exclusion through language education both within the criminal justice and education sectors.  Each month the Foundation will publish a new thought leadership piece on one of these areas.  If you would like to sign up to receive notifications of new posts please complete the ‘Contact Us’ form.

¹ The Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework
² Mantra Lingua, for example, have developed a welcome booklet app in 30 languages