Blog: The three admission phases for new arrivals using 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 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 ‘Fluent¹’. The young person can arrive at any age, and different learners come from different socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Some 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 newly arrived pupil 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 newly arrived from abroad.

1. Before the first day

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

a. Initial admissions meeting
Think about which staff member is best placed to conduct the admissions interview and if an interpreter is needed.  If possible, find a pupil who speaks the same language as the newly arrived pupil and their parents to help with the school tour. Also consider what questions could 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 English¹?
  • 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

Such information should be shared with other relevant school staff before the learner’s first day in the form of an EAL pupil profile. Every setting is different, but typically this will include the learner’s tutor, subject teachers and pastoral mentors.

b. Preparation and planning for the new pupils
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 all school staff are aware of the new pupil and how best to support them, particularly in the early days. Make sure the class teacher will be in the class on the pupil’s first day and start with a half day until lunchtime. This is to avoid overloading the pupil with too much information. Ensure that the learner’s buddies, preferably pupils who have one or more languages in common with the new pupil, are empathetic, and have the necessary emotional intelligence, know what to do and where to be at specific times in the school day. Supplying buddies with a checklist of their tasks is a helpful approach here. The Young Interpreters Scheme² can be a very useful tool to prepare young people in your school for such a role.

2. After admission

a. Welcome
It might be helpful to consider the following questions when preparing to welcome new pupils:

  • What systems are in place that will make the pupil and their family feel welcome in the school?
  • Is there accessible information for parents on the school website?

It is helpful to 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. Consider sending letters home translated into the parents’ first language³. Equally, the pupil can be given a visual timetable for the week with some content such as the names of the subjects translated into their own language. Some schools have translated their welcome booklets(4).  On the first day, have buddies to greet the pupil and take them to their class.

b. The first days and weeks
Make efforts to pronounce and spell names accurately and make any arrangements needed, for example, a place to pray and PE kit concessions. If the pupil is New to English, be certain to establish an EAL induction programme for them, but ensure they are never withdrawn entirely from mainstream lessons, the programme does not last longer than 12 weeks, and that the language skills taught link to the mainstream curriculum. Some resources that can be used to compile such a programme are Bristol Secondary EAL Induction Pack(5), New-to-English Learning Journey(6), Racing to Literacy (a phonics-learning programme for EAL learners)(7) and Racing to English (a CD full of resources for beginner EAL learners)(8).

3. Beyond Admission

a. 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.  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 assessment 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 baseline 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. Assessing the learner’s maths skills is also useful – the Bristol Secondary EAL Induction Pack includes an example of a less-verbal heavy maths assessment for EAL learners.

A best-fit judgement of a pupil’s English proficiency level can be arrived at by using an evidence-informed assessment framework, such as The Bell Foundation’s award-winning EAL Assessment Framework for Schools and new interactive digital Tracker, which are free to download and have been designed with busy teachers in mind. These resources enable teachers to establish the English language proficiency of their EAL learners and provide tailored support strategies so that the learner can develop their proficiency, enabling them to access the curriculum and therefore to succeed. The assessment fits alongside other termly assessments and generates a progress report, which can be shared with teachers, pupils and parents.  The companion Classroom Strategies document, linked to the Assessment Framework, contains numerous ideas for support and low-preparation differentiation for learners at different stages of English language acquisition.

b. 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 pupil’s first language, at home and at school.
  • Mobile devices: Where possible, and in line with school policy on mobiles, allow access to smart phones or tablets in class so that the young person 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.
  • 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 if they have had exposure to English previously, they may be adjusting to a different variety of English to the one 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).

c. Useful tips and resources
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, Foley et al, 2018, 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 pupil.
  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 young person where needed.
  6. Explore 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 pupils 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 pupils 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. 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.

If this post has been of interest you may also be interested in:

This post is a synopsis of two articles, the first written by Dr Ruth Wilson for SecEd (for secondary schools) and the second by Emma Parsons for HeadTeacher Update (primary schools) in September 2018.   It has been updated in 2020 by Kamil Trzebiatowski, Digital Resource Developer, The Bell Foundation.

Further Reading:

  • Adi, 2016 Eight things new arrivals need to know about England’s schools system. TES
  • Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF), 2007, Primary and Secondary National Strategies: New Arrivals Excellence Programme Guidance
  • EAL Academy team, 2018, Meeting the needs of new arrivals, EAL Journal, Spring 2018, National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC).
  • Gould, M. (no date), Bristol Secondary Schools EAL Induction Pack, Cabot Learning Federation
  • Hounslow Language Service (HLS), S1 Initial EAL Assessment for New Arrivals in Secondary Schools
  • Fearn, H., 2013, Overall and grassroots excellence winner: Hampshire County Council, The Guardian
  • Hampshire County Council, EMTAS website: Supporting languages

1 The Department for Education’s five-point Proficiency in English Scale (now withdrawn) ranged from ‘A’ New to English, through ‘B’ Early Acquisition, ‘C’ Developing Competence, ‘D’ Competent, to ‘E’ Fluent
2 Young Interpreters Scheme
3 Translated Letters for School: An EAL Resource
4 Welcome booklets: Mantra Lingua, for example, have developed a welcome booklet app in 30 languages
5 Bristol Secondary EAL Induction Pack
6 New-to-English Learning Journey
7 Racing to Literacy
8 Racing to English