Blog: Quality Teaching for EAL Learners in the ITT Core Content Framework

This post provides advice to support ITT providers as they design appropriate curricula for their student teachers in the contexts in which they will be teaching with respect to subject, phase and age range.

Last November, as Initial Teacher Education (ITE) providers were drawing the Autumn term to a close - in what now feels like a completely different age before anybody had heard the words COVID-19 - ITE tutors and mentors learned that the Department for Education had released the new ITT Core Content Framework, months ahead of its planned publication in Spring 2020. One feels tempted to remember with nostalgia the face-to-face events where the new framework was presented and the conversations about it with colleagues standing or sitting close to one another before the notion of social distancing existed.

Following its launch, it became clear that the ITT Core Content Framework, which builds on and replaces its predecessor, the Framework of Core Content for Initial Teacher Training (DfE, 2016) had been created to align with the Early Career Framework (DfE, 2019) and had been developed to:

  1. Lead coherently into the Early Career Framework, with both frameworks together establishing an entitlement to three or more years of structured support for entrants to the teaching profession
  2. Ensure consistency of course content among ITT programmes, leading to a shared knowledge base for all newly qualified teachers

The ITT Core Content Framework does not set out the full ITT curriculum – in fact, it explicitly states that it ‘deliberately does not detail approaches specific to particular additional needs’ (DfE, 2020:6). Instead it devolves responsibility to individual providers for designing appropriate curricula for their student teachers in the contexts in which they will be teaching with respect to subject, phase and age range. Hence, it is crucial not to take the ITT Core Content Framework as the ultimate checklist or syllabus for ITE programmes or to read it in a contextual vacuum. This is because the framework is situated within a complex national educational context - even more so now as the UK transitions out of lockdown - and defines the minimum entitlement of all student teachers who will work within that context.

With respect to the context which both informs the ITT Core Content Framework and in which the framework is embedded, it is important to note that nearly half of all teachers in England will be teaching pupils from diverse backgrounds, and that superdiversity in schools is becoming the norm. National statistics reveal that there are over 1.5 million pupils in England recorded as having a first language known or believed to be other than English, and that the proportion of pupils who use English as an Additional Language (EAL) has more than doubled over the last two decades, with 21.3% of primary and 16.9% of secondary school pupils using a home language other than English (DfE, 2019). This means that 27% of teachers in England work in classrooms where at least 10% of the pupils use a first language that is different from the language of instruction (OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey, Country note, 2019). Between 2013 and 2018, the share of teachers working in schools with multilingual settings increased by 13 percentage points, from 28% in 2013 to 41% in 2018 (ibid.). Figures related to nursery-aged children show that 29.7% of pupils in nurseries speak languages other than English, and according to the national statistics on pupils in schools in England (DfE, 2019b:9)1  ‘… this increase in pupil numbers is largely driven by increases in the birth rate rather than direct current immigration’. This means that most of the EAL pupils in nurseries, who will be the pupils that the next generation of student teachers will teach, were born in the UK, and this is unlikely to change significantly with Brexit. Therefore, ensuring that student teachers are adequately prepared to work with increasingly complex school populations and meet the needs of EAL pupils from diverse backgrounds as part of their initial teacher education is essential, due to the need to ensure that their teaching practices are fully reflective of diversity, equity and inclusion.

According to the ITT Core Content Framework student teachers ‘will continue to be assessed against the Teachers’ Standards only’ (p6), and standard 5 specifies that teachers must  ‘adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils’ and states that teachers must ‘have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including  […] those with English as an additional language […]; and be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them.’ It is therefore important to take this assessment requirement into account when designing new ITE curricula, which points to the need to include content regarding teaching approaches and strategies that are particularly impactful for pupils from diverse backgrounds.

Research commissioned  by The Bell Foundation (Foley et al., 2018) has found that the increasing responsibility that student teachers face in meeting the needs of diverse learners within classrooms impacts on their confidence as professionals. In the study, ITE student teachers reported feelings of being de-skilled and disempowered as they applied a known context-specific pedagogy to multilingual and multicultural classrooms. They felt they needed a broader knowledge base in terms of theory and practice that would allow them to meet the needs of a diverse range of learners more effectively.

The combination of the ITT Core Content Framework - which embodies generic principles underpinning professional practice and pedagogy and does not specify the distinctive teaching approaches that student teachers will be expected to use to support EAL pupils- along with research findings that student teachers felt limitations in their agency and knowledge in relation to meeting the needs of EAL learners have led The Bell Foundation to develop guidance for ITE providers. The guidance is designed to support tutors and mentors as they review and redesign their organisation’s ITE curriculum in line with ITT Core Content Framework, focusing on preparing student teachers to work in diverse multilingual classrooms and to meet the learning needs of their current and future EAL pupils.

Designing New ITE Curricula: EAL Content Recommendations offers evidence-informed content recommendations, references and further reading related to EAL for inclusion in ITE curricula. It is organised to make it easy for the reader to see the correspondence between the minimum content entitlement described in the ITT Core Content Framework sections, the corresponding sections of the Teachers’ Standards used to assess all student teachers, and the minimum content recommendations in relation to EAL in ITE programmes. The EAL content recommendations are further subdivided into ‘Learn (that)…’ and ‘Learn how to…’, following the layout of the sections in the ITT Core Content Framework.

The content included aims to provide minimum core content that enhances the generic statements included in the ITT Core Content Framework with reference to EAL and is by no means exhaustive. ITE programme leads and tutors are encouraged to engage with it critically and to add to it where necessary or desirable to ensure that their curricula address the specific features of the contexts in which their student teachers will be working. Also, the recommended content does not follow a pedagogical sequence, allowing the individual ITE providers to decide how this content can be best integrated sequentially in their programmes.

If you would like to find out more about how the content recommendations in the Designing New ITE Curricula: EAL Content Recommendations can be used to design a coherent ITE programme, watch the webinar recording Quality Teaching for EAL Learners in the ITT Core Content Framework, presented by Dr Jean Conteh, until her recent retirement, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Leeds University; Naomi Cooper, Senior Lecturer Primary ITT Courses in the Teacher Education department at Sheffield Hallam University; and Silvana Richardson, Programme Quality Manager at The Bell Foundation.

Author: Silvana Richardson, Programme Quality Manager, The Bell Foundation.

1 See ‘Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics 2019