EAL learners have experienced language loss in addition to learning loss during school closures, teacher survey finds

A new report ‘Language and learning loss: The evidence on children who use English as an Additional Language’ has been published by The Bell Foundation

“We have observed a significant and tangible loss in learning in the majority of our pupils where English is an additional language.” Senior leader, primary school, South East

A new report¹ ‘Language and learning loss: The evidence on children who use English as an Additional Language’ has been published by The Bell Foundation today. The report, which is based on a recent teacher survey², finds that 74% of primary school staff and 59% of secondary school staff³ reported a negative impact of school closures on pupils who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL) in one or more of the four strands of language use (listening, speaking, reading and viewing, and writing). This means that in addition to learning losses, as identified in the recent reports from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)⁴ and the Education Policy Institute (EPI)⁵, teachers have observed language loss in some EAL learners. A Department for Education (DfE) report published on 4 June also found that ‘pupils with English as an additional language experienced a learning loss of approximately 2.3 months for secondary aged pupils, this compares to average learning loss in secondary reading of around 1.7 months'⁶. It is disappointing that, despite this finding, the DfE’s education policy paper⁷, published on 11 June, makes no specific reference to EAL learners.

The Bell Foundation’s new report draws on teacher observations of the extent and nature of language and learning loss among EAL pupils as a result of school closures. The data was collected through the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) Teacher Omnibus Survey Spring 2021². Findings from the survey include:

  • Over two thirds (69%) of teachers across primary and secondary schools reported a negative impact on the English language skills of pupils who use EAL following the disruption to education caused by Covid-19
  • Of the teachers who reported a negative impact on the English language skills of their EAL pupils, over one in five (22%) of secondary teachers and nearly one in six (15%) of primary school teachers reported a loss in confidence in speaking to their peers or in class
  • One in twelve teachers reporting a loss in the English language skills of their EAL pupils thought that they had been explicitly disadvantaged by online learning compared to their English-speaking peers due to the unsuitability of remote learning across a language barrier
  • In the primary school sector 25% of teachers who reported loss cited the ability of the family to support home learning as a factor
  • Across all schools, within the four strands of language use, teachers reported:
    • 54% saw a loss in writing skills
    • 50% saw a loss in speaking skills
    • 41% saw a loss in the reading skills
    • 36% saw a loss in the listening skills

“EAL children in the first lockdown were the children least likely to complete home learning and therefore, they were among those invited to go back to school in small bubbles during the latest lockdown” Classroom teacher, primary school, East of England

“Students find it harder to start talking in English again as they haven't really practiced speaking it in months. Can affect their confidence, as students that were once confident to answer questions in class are a bit more shy and reserved in case they say the wrong thing” Classroom teacher, secondary school, London

As there are almost 1.6 million learners recorded as using ‘EAL’ in England, which is just under one-in-five (19.5%) of all pupils aged 5-16, many teachers will be working in or will experience teaching multilingual classes. However, it is important to note that the EAL cohort is heterogeneous, as it includes, for example an advanced bilingual child of a high-income family, and a refugee with no prior education living in a deprived area, which makes aggregated data on this group of pupils potentially misleading.

“This new survey shows evidence of both language loss and learning loss. It is disappointing that the recent education recovery announcement and policy paper has overlooked this group of learners. As one of the teachers in the survey said “they are left behind” and without explicit support they will fall further behind. The loss of language skills is particularly worrying for EAL learners as previous research⁸ found that proficiency in English is the major factor influencing educational achievement and levels of need among pupils who use EAL.” Diana Sutton, Director, The Bell Foundation.

The Bell Foundation has identified a number of key recommendations which include:

  • For the Department of Education: Schools should be provided with guidance from the DfE on undertaking robust and consistent assessment, moderation and recording of proficiency in English levels to ensure they can conduct valid and reliable assessments using appropriate tools. If schools can accurately establish a learner’s level of proficiency in English during their initial assessment, then they are better able to determine the type of support required to meet their language development needs and help mitigate language and learning loss experienced during school closures. There should also be explicit acknowledgement that continued language support is essential in the school system, particularly for those learners who have experienced significant language and learning loss during school closures.
  • For teacher educators and CPD providers: 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.
  • 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.

The following resources and guidance have been designed to provide teachers with the support needed to put the above recommendations into practice:

  • Advice and suggestions for senior leaders and teachers on how to ensure the best outcomes for learners using EAL within teacher assessments. There are also guides for parents/carers and learners which have been translated into 17 languages.
  • Guidance flyers in 17 languages that can be shared with parents to support parental involvement.
  • Guidance and resources for schools and teachers to support pupils who use EAL and their families to help mitigate any learning and language loss experienced during school closures.
  • Use initial and on-going assessment of both language proficiency and cognitive skills to establish the level of need among individual learners. Use evidence-informed tools and resources, for example The Bell Foundation’s award-winning EAL Assessment Framework and digital Tracker, to undertake robust and consistent assessment, moderation and recording (for internal purposes only) of proficiency in English levels.
  • Set tailored targets and support strategies for teaching and learning to support learners to progress to higher levels of proficiency. Strategies and interventions focusing on the development of academic language alongside curriculum learning will be beneficial for all groups of pupils, not only those using English as an Additional Language. Through achieving academic linguistic proficiency learners will be able to fully participate in school and access the curriculum and, as a result, to fulfil their academic potential.

As a result of the teacher survey, the report concludes that ‘Across the country there was a clear pattern of English language loss observed by school teachers in both primary and secondary phases. Many pupils at the early stages of English language acquisition did not have opportunities to hear, speak or read in English during school closures’.

¹ ‘Language and learning loss: The evidence on children who use English as an Additional Language’, The Bell Foundation, June 2021
² ‘Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey’, National Foundation for Educational Research
³ 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.
⁴ ‘Impact of Covid-19 disruptions in primary schools: attainment gaps and school responses’, Education Endowment Foundation, May 2021
⁵ ‘Education recovery and resilience in England‘, Education Policy Institute, May 2021
⁶ ‘Understanding progress in the 2020/21 academic year. Complete findings from the autumn term’, Department for Education, Renaissance Learning and the Education Policy Institute, June 2021
⁷ ‘Education Recovery. Support for early years settings, schools and providers of 16-19 education’, Department for Education, June 2021
⁸ Strand, S. & Hessel, A. (2018) ‘English as an Additional Language, Proficiency in English and pupils’ educational achievement: An analysis of Local Authority data’, University of Oxford, The Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy

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