Blog: Five ways you can support EAL learners in your school

As the new school year starts, in this blog we look at five simple, but effective ways you can support learners using English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Teacher helping a student with her work

Misconceptions about pupils who use English as an Additional Language (EAL) are widespread and enduring. In England, there are more than 1.7 million EAL pupils in primary and secondary schools. Much discussion focuses on EAL learners as one homogenous group, but behind the headlines of “average statistics” lies a huge level of complexity.

“EAL learners” include pupils ranging from British citizens who may speak another language at home (i.e., advanced bilingual learners) to newly arrived EAL learners with little or no prior knowledge of speaking English.

Making assumptions based on averages can be misleading, verging on meaningless. We know that English proficiency explains up to 22% of the variation in EAL pupils’ achievement. Aggregate data, however, masks the considerable variation in performance within this group of learners.

As we head into another school year, we have curated five simple but effective things you can do to support all EAL learners in your school.   

1. Create a learner profile

Learner outcomes for EAL pupils are as varied as the outcomes for all other groups in the school system. It is essential that you conduct thorough and evidence-informed assessments of each EAL learner to establish their current proficiency in English and their cognitive abilities. The learner profile should include a pupil’s:

  • Background;
  • Previous education;
  • Level of literacy in their first language;
  • Level of proficiency in English;
  • Strengths and interests.

One size most certainly does not fit all, and this information will enable you to develop tailored targets and support strategies, enabling pupils to hone their language skills and fully access the curriculum.

Crucially, this profile and any insights or information gathered must be passed on to all teachers that the child has contact with.

Check out our guidance to find out more about creating a learner profile.

2. Develop a whole school culture

And with whole school, we mean everyone: from the breaktime staff to the senior leaders, making sure newly arrived children and their families are warmly welcomed and feel safe in the new school environment. You could, for example:

  • Use visual signage around the school to help EAL learners connect meaning to language.
  • Encourage all school staff to speak clearly and use gestures and actions to support understanding in English.
  • Make sure that the learner’s linguistic and cultural background is reflected in the school environment (e.g., classroom displays could be written in the scripts of the languages spoken by children in the class).
  • Communicate with parents to establish the best ways of supporting learning for newly arrived pupils.

3. Be inclusive

All pupils have the right to access the national curriculum. A key principle to follow is that provision for learners using EAL is not separate but integrated into all subject areas. Integration into mainstream classes, with adequate support and good language models, will promote rapid language development.

Plan teaching and learning experiences that enable all pupils to fully access the curriculum and to apply their learning in a supportive and inclusive environment. This can include making simple adaptations to classroom teaching, such as:

  • Adjusting seating plans;
  • Consciously modelling and recasting language;
  • Utilising the wealth of strategies and resources available, such as flashcards, graphic organisers, and word banks.

Take a look at our Great Ideas, for more suggestions on how you can support your learners using EAL within an integrated classroom.

4. Champion the value of multilingualism

Multilingualism is a huge asset. It improves thinking skills, memory and brain health in EAL learners, and unlocks wide ranging employment and social opportunities. Multilingualism also benefits the whole school as it fosters a better understanding of different cultures and encourages second or third language development amongst peers.

It is important to understand and convey to parents of EAL learners the value of maintaining home language as an enabler for learning English and/or subsequent languages (and potentially getting a qualification in it). Using mixed language and same language peer groups can help develop confidence in speaking in different languages, improve vocabulary and skills, as well as develop a better understanding of, and empathy with, diversity in the classroom.

5. Make use of free tools and resources

We have a wide range of free tools, resources, and guidance available for use by schools:

  • Access our award-winning EAL Assessment Framework with its accompanying support strategies.
  • Explore over 200 free resources for use in the classroom.
  • Download our evidence-based guidance, including advice on welcoming refugees and information for parents, translated into up to 22 languages.

Multilingual classrooms are the norm across the UK, with roughly one in five pupils speaking EAL. By creating an inclusive school environment that celebrates and champions multilingualism, we can ensure that all children, regardless of language, can thrive in education.

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