7th February 2018

Headline Government figures on children with English as an Additional Language misrepresent pupil performance

The Education Policy Institute and The Bell Foundation have today published a new report on the educational outcomes of children with English as an Additional Language (EAL). The report demonstrates that the diversity of this cohort is the reason why the average attainment figures for this group are misleading.

Headline figures published by the Department for Education show that, on average, in 2016 EAL pupils performed well – with similar attainment scores to the national average, and greater than average progress during school. They were also more likely to achieve the English Baccalaureate than those with English as a first language (28 percent versus 24 percent). However, these figures obscure significant disparities in performance – and are also distorted by missing or misleading prior attainment records.

Three of the key findings from the report are that attainment is affected by first language, arrival time of children and the decline in policies supporting specialist expertise in English schools. Firstly, with learners’ first language, there are marked differences between, for example, Tamil and Chinese speakers who perform better than Pashto and Turkish speakers irrespective of when they arrive in the system. Prior education and where they live in England all impact on attainment.

Secondly, attainment is affected by arrival time. There is a severe attainment penalty for pupils arriving late into the English school system. For example, at GCSE level, pupils with EAL scored an average grade of a C if they arrived between reception and Year 7. This decreased to a grade of around a D if they arrived in Year 8, 9 or 10 – falling further to below an E if they arrived in Year 11.

Thirdly, there is a lack of specialist expertise compared to other countries – with England’s system for developing support for EAL pupils through specialist roles insufficient. As a result of funds no longer being ring-fenced for EAL pupils and overall budgetary pressures, the supply of EAL expertise in schools has declined significantly.

The report concludes with a number of key recommendations which include:

  • With current funding provision for pupils arriving late into the English school system inadequate, a ‘late arrival premium’ is needed in the national funding formula for schools to provide intensive support, and, in particular, to help address the large attainment differences between those arriving in Year 7 and those arriving later in Year 10 or 11.
  • The government should develop new policies to generate and maintain EAL expertise in schools. Lessons can be drawn from other English-speaking jurisdictions – where there are effective policies for establishing specialist EAL roles, programmes for staff development and graduate level specialist qualifications.

Jo Hutchinson, report author and Director for Social Mobility and Vulnerable Learners at the Education Policy Institute, said:

“This report refutes the popular notion that pupils with English as an Additional Language always perform better at school than other pupils. Beneath average figures showing high performance, a far more complex picture emerges of a group of pupils displaying enormous disparities in attainment – determined by their language skills, prior educational experiences, and time of arrival into the English school system.

The government should pay greater recognition to the huge range in performance of EAL pupils – and reflect this in its recent reforms to the school funding system. In particular, it should provide more intensive support to children arriving late into the school system – to ensure that the time they start their education in England is not a significant barrier to achievement.”

Diana Sutton, Director of The Bell Foundation, commented:

“This report shines a light on the misconceptions around learners with English as an Additional Language. This group ranges from children who are British citizens who speak another language at home, to those that are from refugee and migrant families. This diversity means that average attainment scores of EAL pupils are deeply misleading and conceal considerable variation.

The report also provides clear recommendations for improving education policy and funding. The introduction of new codes, regarding a child’s proficiency in English, which schools report on annually, is a positive step. However, compared to other countries, England’s system for supporting EAL pupils is insufficient. Regions within other English-speaking countries, such as America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have far more extensive EAL policies. We now need to build on these successful strategies and develop a comprehensive approach to assessment and policy for this group of learners. No child should be prevented from reaching their full potential because of special educational need, where they live, low income, or lack of support to develop English language proficiency.”

Read ‘Educational Outcomes of Children with English as an Additional Language’ Report

NOTES TO EDITORS:

The following are illustrative examples of the diversity of pupils in this group:

Xin is the daughter of an English father and Chinese mother. Xin has been schooled entirely within the English school system, however, as both English and Mandarin are spoken at home she is recorded as an EAL learner. She attends a school rated Good by Ofsted, is achieving above average attainment for her cohort and is also taking exams in Mandarin. Xin is classed as Band E (fluent) on the Department for Education (DfE) English proficiency scales.

Amira’s mother moved to England 7 or 8 years ago after separating from her husband, but Amira has only recently arrived and has been enrolled in a good school. Whilst in Hungary Amira was not exposed to English but her mother has learnt rudimentary English and is keen to support her daughter to settle in and do well at school. However, she works evenings and struggles to get in to school to discuss her daughters progress with her teachers. Amira would be classed as Band B (early acquisition) on the DfE scales.

Sahra is a Somali refugee who has fled war and persecution and is recovering from trauma. She has had limited education and has limited literacy in her first language. She has had no exposure to English and is struggling to understand lessons and to fit in and be accepted in her new environment. The school ethos is welcoming but she attends school in a poorly performing area where achievement is low for all children. Sahra would be classed as Band ‘A’ (new to English) on the DfE scales.


Key messages from the report:

Performance of EAL pupils

  • Average attainment scores of EAL pupils are deeply misleading and conceal considerable variation.
  • Headline figures published by the Department for Education show that, on average, in 2016 EAL pupils performed well – with similar attainment scores to the national average, and greater than average progress during school. They were also more likely to achieve the English Baccalaureate than those with English as a first language (28 percent versus 24 percent).
  • These figures, however, obscure significant disparities in performance – and are also distorted by missing records – estimated at nearly a third of EAL primary pupils, and one tenth of secondary pupils, who have absent attainment records due to late arrival to the English school system.

Primary performance

  • Looking beyond headline figures, this new analysis finds that some groups, including those with a first language of Pashto, Panjabi, Turkish, Portuguese, Czech and Slovak, perform below national standards in primary assessments – despite having entered the English school system at an early stage as infants.
  • Conversely, other groups, including Tamil, Chinese and Hindi pupils, perform above national standards at primary – despite having arrived in the school system as late as Year 5.

Secondary performance

  • Some EAL pupils, such as late arrivals with Pashto as a first language, score, on average, between an F and an E at GCSE in Attainment 8 having arrived into the English school system in Year 9.
  • At the other end of the scale, children with Chinese as their first language perform well, averaging between a B and a C at GCSE in Attainment 8 – despite having also entered secondary school in year 9.

Arrival time of children vs. attainment

  • There is a severe attainment penalty for pupils arriving late into the English school system. At primary and secondary level the time at which the average EAL pupil enters school reliably predicts attainment levels.
  • In Key Stage 2 assessments, on average EAL pupils in reception scored 2 points above the expected standard in reading and maths. However, performance declines to 2 points below the expected standard by Year 3, and continues to fall to a striking 17 points below for pupils arriving before exams in Year 6.
  • At GCSE level, pupils with EAL scored an average grade of a C if they arrived between reception and Year 7. This decreased to a grade of around a D if they arrived in Year 8, 9 or 10falling further to below an E if they arrived in Year 11.
  • These penalties apply to all language groups. Even for groups that seem to perform well when arriving late, such as Chinese pupils – attainment is still greatly affected, with performance significantly worse than early arriving Chinese pupils.
  • Our analysis also finds that the ability of different regions to support late arrivals in the EAL group varies substantially, with the North lagging well behind the South.

Funding for EAL pupils

  • When examining the government’s new national funding formula for schools (NFF) we find that overall, deprived urban schools in areas of high ethnic diversity will face losses – while schools outside of London and other large urban centres are set to see increased levels of funding.
  • While local authorities have flexibility over allocations, the NFF overall translates to an increase in funding following the average secondary pupil with EAL of 48 per cent in 2019-20. EAL primary school pupils, (who account for the bulk of EAL funding) face an average reduction of 10 per cent – with reductions expected even if these pupils live in the most deprived neighbourhoods, or are on free school meals (FSM).
  • Taking into account pupil performance, is it also evident that funding in the NFF specifically targeted to EAL pupils does not adequately support the development of academic language proficiency. The NFF allocates funding to each EAL child in each of their first three years in school in England – yet the attainment profile for EAL pupils strongly suggests that it takes longer than three years to become fully proficient in English.

Specialist expertise in English schools

  • Compared to other countries, England’s system for developing support for EAL pupils through specialist roles is insufficient. English-speaking jurisdictions, such as New York State, Minnesota, Alberta, New South Wales and New Zealand promote far more extensive EAL policies.
  • As a result of funds no longer being ring-fenced for EAL pupils, and overall budgetary pressures, the supply of EAL expertise in schools has declined significantly. There is a noticeable absence of any mechanism which generates specialist expertise on EAL education, with England lacking national oversight or provision of professional qualifications, staff development and specialist roles for teachers and staff working with EAL children.


Further notes

As this report uses data from 2016, the pre-reform points system is used – with alphabetical GCSE grades represented.