Blog: Working with parents to support the learning of EAL pupils

This blog highlights some of the particular challenges that parents of EAL learners may face at this time of school closures and signposts practical steps that schools can take to ensure EAL families know how to support the learning of their child.

This blog highlights some of the particular challenges that parents of EAL learners may face at this time of school closures and signposts practical steps that schools can take to ensure EAL families know how to support the learning of their child. The child and parents’ home language(s) are a resource that can be used to support learning.  This is particularly important at a time when schools are closed, but it is valuable at any time, to support what children are learning in school.

According to research, parental involvement is effective in supporting children’s learning overall.  However, although the association between parental involvement and a child’s academic success is well-established, evidence in the EEF’s Toolkit suggests that there is surprisingly little robust evidence on which approaches are most effective in improving parental engagement, particularly for disadvantaged families.

For parents of children with EAL, there are additional challenges to parental participation. Evans et al (2016) found that staff can make incorrect assumptions about parental interest and, at times, interpret lack of achievement by pupils as lack of parental interest.  Rodriguez-Brown (2009) found that certain linguistic minority parents (those speaking a language different from the one spoken by the national majority), whilst holding great respect for teachers and education, felt anxious because of their own lower levels or lack of formal education.  Evans et al (2016) also noted that parents of pupils with EAL, especially those who have low levels of English and/or are new to the English school system, face a range of specific barriers including a lack of understanding of the English school system and, therefore, difficulties in supporting children in things such as homework and assessment tasks.

What are the potential challenges for parents of EAL learners?

  1. The parents of EAL students, especially those who have low levels of English and/or are new to the English school system, may not understand how the English education system works (Evans et al 2016), what the curriculum comprises or how specifics are taught, e.g. phonics in reading or calculation strategies in Maths. This may be because education systems are very different in families’ home countries.
  2. There may be additional and very important information going home at this time on health issues (e.g. social distancing), expectations about which children are invited to attend school and procedures for home learning. These messages may ordinarily be discussed in the playground in first languages, but this support is not currently available.
  3. EAL parents and carers will undoubtedly want to support their children with home learning but may lack the English language skills to access activities, tasks and curriculum content.
  4. Some EAL families may be missing equipment, and so are not able to engage fully in home learning. This not only includes internet access, but may also potentially include access to hardware, such as speakers and printers.

How can schools help?

  • Provide parents with key information about curriculum topics and up-to-date teaching approaches with translations if possible, if not then written in clear simple English with visual support. See The Bell Foundation’s guidance on making home learning accessible for the parents of EAL learners.
  • Use extra audio or video messages as well as written information to ensure those families who are New to English, or not literate do not miss out on key messages. This may also help to build confidence in engaging with the school.
  • If there is a member of staff who shares the same language as the parents ask them to help translate key messages both verbally and in written form. Alternatively seek to use a translation and interpreting service to help.
  • Find out if there are family members - older siblings, parents or grandparents – with good levels of English, who can help their children through translation to understand the tasks sent home by school. Additionally, they may have multilingual skills including English fluency which means they can explore similarities and differences between English and other languages.
  • Highlight the value of multilingualism. Research shows that the maintenance of the first language has been found to accelerate the process of learning a second language (Cummins, 2017; Baker, 2001; Dressler and Kamil, 2006). Many parents of learners with EAL might not be aware of this so it is important that schools remind and inform parents of the importance of bilingualism, multilingualism, and home language maintenance.
  • Communicate to parents that pupils can still learn the curriculum content in their first language, and that the school encourages this. EAL parents and carers are likely to have fluency in their first language or languages, with which to support their child’s learning. For example, parents can read at home in the first language and use their first language to help their children with homework. See The Bell Foundation’s guidance on using an EAL learners first language.
  • Ensure parents of EAL learners have a voice by helping to establish parent networks in which they can use their first language. These networks can help parents of EAL students to understand the school system and provide opportunities to contribute their own language, values, skills and recommendations (Evans et al 2016).
  • Where possible, provide EAL families with the learning materials, equipment and technology they need to participate actively in home learning. The Government announced a package of support, including additional funding and high-quality resources, to help schools deal with the challenges posed by Covid-19 here.
You may also be interested in:

Author: Katherine Solomon, Training Manager, The Bell Foundation

  • Cummins, J. (2017) Teaching for Transfer in Multilingual School Contexts. In O. Garcia, A. Lin and S. May (eds.) Bilingual and Multilingual Education (3rd ed.). New York: Springer
  • Desforges, C. & Abouchaar, A. (2003) The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review. Research Report RR433. Department for Education and Skills
  • Dressler, C and Kamil. M. (2006) First- and second-language literacy. In D. August and T. Shanahan (eds.) Developing literacy in second language learners. Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. (pp.197-238) Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Education Endowment Foundation (2019) Working with parents to support children’s learning
  • Evans, M. Schneider, C. Arnot, M. Fisher, L. Forbes, K. Hu, M. and Liu, Y. (2016) Language development and school achievement. Opportunities and challenges in the education of EAL students.