Closing the linguistic learning gap

The Bell Foundation has released a statement in regard to the 2020 GCSE results which includes a recommendation that as schools prepare for the start of the next academic year, that there is renewed attention paid to how to support EAL learners in order to close the learning gap.

The Bell Foundation has released the following statement in regard to the 2020 GCSE results:

The GCSE results published today are based on teacher assessment grades.  Guidance issued by Ofqual earlier this year on how to assign pupil grades stated ‘For students with English as an additional language (EAL), schools and colleges should consider the likely language acquisition a student would have made by the time of the exam, and any increased ability to demonstrate subject content knowledge, as part of this and reflect this in their judgement. They may seek further information from specialist EAL teachers as part of this.’

To supplement the Ofqual advice we published useful resources including guidance documents which provided support for teachers who were involved in the allocation of exam grades for pupils using EAL to ensure fair and objective grade allocations for these students.

Whilst the outcome of this process has now been published it is important that schools continue to focus on this group of learners. As schools prepare for the start of the next academic year, we recommend that there is renewed attention paid to how to support EAL learners in order to close the learning gap.

This is because research¹ shows that learners using EAL are a hugely diverse group with time of arrival in the English school system, country of origin, first language spoken, previous education and background all contributing to that diversity and the tailored support each learner will need in order to succeed.

Our series of research publications shows that it is the learner’s proficiency in English that is central to understanding educational attainment and the type and length of support needed.  Research demonstrates that proficiency in English can explain 22% of the variation in EAL pupils’ achievement compared to the typical 3-4% that can be statistically explained using gender, free school meal status and ethnicity².

However, by September EAL learners will have missed almost four months of formal education in school.  Whilst schools were closed many of these learners will not have had access to models of good, or possibly any, English language, or exposure to extended reading, listening and speaking opportunities particularly in regard to academic English.  As a result, many EAL learners, and particularly those with the lowest levels of proficiency, are likely to have experienced limited progress in developing their English language proficiency during school closures.

Therefore, as preparation for the Autumn Term gets underway, we recommend that schools ensure there is a focus on closing the linguistic gap for learners using EAL and we encourage teachers to assess and record their proficiency in English as well as assessing a learner’s cognitive skills and previous educational experience.  This will enable schools to identify need and provide targeted support strategies and learning objectives tailored to the individual pupil.  The aim is to support the learner to regain any linguistic ability lost and enable the learner to progress to higher levels of proficiency, gain academic linguistic proficiency which will enable them to fully access the curriculum and, as a result, fulfil their academic potential.

The Bell Foundation’s award-winning EAL Assessment Framework and digital Tracker which provides tailored support strategies and records progress for each learner, are free for schools to download.

Teachers can also download guidance on how to support EAL learners who are entered for Autumn GCSE exams.

Teachers looking to develop their knowledge and expertise in supporting learners who use EAL might be interesting in the Foundation's  courses and webinars.

¹ Jo Hutchinson (2018), ‘Educational Outcomes of Children with English as an Additional Language‘. Education Policy Institute, The Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy
² Strand, S. & Lindorff, A. (2020) ‘English as an Additional Language: Proficiency in English, educational achievement and rate of progression in English language learning’, University of Oxford, The Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy

About The Bell Foundation

The Bell Foundation is a charity which aims to overcome exclusion through language education by working with partners on innovation, research, training and practical interventions. Through generating and applying evidence, we aim to change practice, policy and systems for children, adults and communities with English as an Additional Language in the UK.

The EAL Programme aims to improve the educational outcomes of children with English as an Additional Language in the UK to benefit the individual child and society as a whole. The Foundation works in partnership with a range of organisations across the education system, to provide training and resources in order to build capacity, develop and evaluate models of good practice, and provide thought leadership.

Media enquiries regarding this announcement should be directed to Julia Shervington, Communications Manager,  or 01223 275501.