Blog: ITT and EAL – how to assess learners using English as an Additional Language

In this blog, Emily Curran, provides a summary of a webinar which launched The Bell Foundation’s new ITT module on the assessment of learners using English as an Additional Language (EAL).

In November 2022, The Bell Foundation launched its third and final module for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) providers. Module Three focuses on assessment of learners using English as an Additional Language (EAL). To accompany the launch of the module, the Foundation ran a webinar to explore the materials in more detail.

This blog is a summary of the webinar, presented by Emily Curran, and Sheila Hopkins, trainers at the Foundation.

This blog explores the following key points from the webinar:

Why it is important to consider EAL in ITT

The webinar began by exploring why it is important to consider EAL in ITT. As Professor Leung states: “Ethnolinguistic diversity and EAL can now be fairly regarded as ordinary and permanent features of schooling education.”

Sheila Hopkins explained how this is good news for schools. As many teachers have testified, multilingual learners are an asset to their school. They help to create thriving, diverse school communities, and extend aspirations in the broader school body.

To illustrate the diverse landscape in schools, findings from the 2022 DfE School Census were shared, which show that 19.5% of all learners in the UK were recorded as using English as an Additional Language[1] (EAL), almost 1 in 5 of all pupils. Sheila then pointed towards the TALIS survey, which indicates that nearly half of all teachers will be teaching pupils from diverse backgrounds[2].

Next, some key findings from a research study (Foley et al., 2018) of ITE and EAL were shared, which showed that “many student teachers and teacher educators across the teacher preparation routes feel that they lack confidence and experience as they work to address pupils’ needs within linguistically and culturally diverse settings”[3]. This highlights an explicit need for EAL pedagogy (approaches to teaching and learning relating to learners who use EAL) to be further embedded within ITT programmes.

Towards the end of the webinar, I picked up on this point again, explaining that the Foundation has developed three ITT modules to support teacher educators to give student teachers a grounding in specific EAL knowledge and strategies. Although these individual EAL-focussed sessions are useful in providing that grounding knowledge, the Foley et al. report suggests that the bulk of input and requirements for reflection and action should be infused throughout individual subjects and across all core concerns of an ITE programme. For example, when looking at scaffolding or assessment in ITE programmes, it is useful to bring in an EAL lens and consider how to scaffold content for learners who use EAL, or how to assess learners who use EAL.

What is covered in ITT Module Three

The webinar then provided an overview of the design features and content of the ITT modules:

  • Module One: 'Understanding EAL: Contexts, policies and pedagogy'.
  • Module Two: 'Language for Learning'.
  • Module Three: ‘Assessing Learners who use EAL’.

We then focused specifically on Module Three, providing an outline of the module and explaining that, on this course, student teachers learn briefly about the different levels of proficiency in English, and why it is important to understand a learner’s proficiency in English. The module then goes on to explore practical strategies for assessing the following:

  • Proficiency in English.
  • Curriculum knowledge.
  • Home language.

Module Three is underpinned by research, and it is linked to the standards that student teachers are assessed against (i.e. the Teachers’ Standards and ITT Core Content Framework).

It contains optional pre- and post-session tasks, which can be set by tutors to support student teachers to further engage with and embed EAL assessment within their own teaching practice.

Why it is important to understand and assess proficiency in English of learners who use EAL

During my explanation of the content, I also touched upon the reason why it is important to understand and assess proficiency in English of learners who use EAL. As Strand and Hessel’s research (2019) shows, “proficiency in English is central to understanding achievement and levels of need among pupils with EAL”. In fact, the research found that low proficiency in English is the single most important reason for low attainment and accounted for 5% of the variance in attainment for a child who speaks EAL, compared to the 3-4% variance associated with race, gender, or free-school meals. Therefore, ongoing assessment of a learner’s proficiency in English is essential.

The Teachers’ Standards, Section 6, notes that teachers must “make use of formative and summative assessment to secure pupils’ progress”. If we consider Strand and Hessel’s research, we can see that progress is linked to proficiency in English, and therefore to be able to secure pupil’s progress, teachers need to be able to formatively assess a learner’s proficiency in English and be able to make use of these assessments to appropriately support and challenge learners.

How to carry out assessments of learners using EAL

In the final part of the webinar, I talked through some ideas presented in Module Three of how to assess a learner’s proficiency in English, curriculum knowledge, and home language. The key points covered can be summarised below:

Formatively assessing proficiency in English

Teachers should:

We also introduced a practical suggested procedure of how to carry out formative assessment of proficiency in English, thinking about stages before, during and after the lesson.

For more detailed information on this topic, see the blog post by Caroline Bruce on ‘Why it is important and how to assess EAL learners’.

Assessing curriculum content

Assessments designed for first language English speakers are not appropriate for learners who use EAL and are new to English. This is because these assessments test understanding of English as well as curriculum knowledge. If learners have not yet developed the English to access the assessment, they will not do well. However, we know that learners bring knowledge with them (for example, they may have studied particular curriculum content in their home language), so tests designed for first language English speakers do not allow learners who use EAL to demonstrate what they know and can do in relation to the curriculum.

Instead, teachers can use activities that are ‘English-light’ for learners who are new to English, e.g.:

  • Matching activities.
  • Identification activities.
  • Labelling activities.
  • Using closed questions.
  • Allowing learners to use their home language.

These activities help provide the support to ensure that the learner is evidencing their knowledge of the curriculum, not the English language.

Assessing home language

Assessing a learner’s home language is important because it can help teachers to understand in what way they can make use of the learner’s home language to support their learning. For example, if a KS2 learner has age-expected reading, then they may be able to use a bilingual dictionary. However, if this learner’s home language literacy is not at age expected levels then they may need further support to access translations, e.g. by listening to the word being spoken aloud on Google Translate.

Carrying out a first language assessment can provide information about a learner’s progress regarding age-expected outcomes. This, along with finding out information about the learner’s prior schooling, will give information which might also highlight possible special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). For example, if a learner’s reading age in their home language is lower than you would expect, given their schooling history, then this could suggest a specific learning need (as opposed to an English language-only related need). For further information about the intersectionality of EAL and SEND, see this guidance page. To assess a learner’s home language:

  • Speak to the learner’s parents/carers.
  • Find out information from the learner’s prior schools if available.
  • Use a suitably qualified interpreter.

How to access the ITT modules

ITT/ITE providers:

To access the ITT modules, please email, including the name of the accredited ITT/ITE provider you represent. Please note: if you have already been given access to Module One and/or Two, you will automatically receive access to Module Three.

If you would like your trainee teachers to be taught using The Bell Foundation ITT modules, but do not want/are unable to deliver them yourself, please email for information on delivery through Bell Foundation Licensed Practitioners.

Trainee teachers:

If you are a trainee teacher, or you work in a school which supports trainee teachers, please let the teacher training provider know about these resources and ask them to visit this website or email

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