Speaking English as an Additional Language combined with refugee status is a key factor in absence from mainstream classrooms, charity warns

In evidence to the Education Select Committee, The Bell Foundation has warned that speaking EAL combined with refugee status is a key factor in absence from mainstream classrooms.

Speaking English as an Additional Language (EAL) combined with refugee status or late arrival into the UK system are key reasons why children are absent from the classroom and not accessing the mainstream curriculum, The Bell Foundation has stated in evidence to the Education Select Committee today.

“Withdrawal” practices, whereby pupils have reduced access to the mainstream curriculum, are increasingly being used in schools for pupils who arrive late into the UK and are not proficient in English, despite Government policy stating that integration into the mainstream is the correct approach.

A survey conducted by the Foundation with 52 respondents from schools and local authorities, found that 73% of respondents were aware of practices where learners using EAL are withdrawn from mainstream lessons to attend out-of-class language interventions.

Diana Sutton, Director of The Bell Foundation, said: “Schools have told us that these ‘withdrawal’ practices are increasingly being used and that they lack the expertise to support new arrivals. Multilingual classrooms are increasingly the norm, but most teachers are not trained, and schools are not supported to integrate children who speak English as an Additional Language, particularly those that arrive later in secondary school. We know from schools that a lack of prioritisation and guidance is leaving teachers often unprepared and unsupported. There is an urgent need for guidance, training, resourcing, and sharing of good practice to ensure that this group of children are able to access education. We call on the Government to ensure that schools are provided with clear guidance on integrating EAL pupils into the mainstream and on assessing proficiency in English, and on communicating with families.”

Responding to the Committee’s inquiry about what works, the Foundation asked what worked to manage absence for pupils who speak EAL. More than 70% of those who responded reported that communication and developing meaningful relationships with families was key to improving absence rates. This includes, for example, using translated information, interpreters, or community cohesion officers.

“With an increasing number of free online translation tools, some solutions can be effective and cheap. Schools have told us of the importance of building relationships with families and making sure key school information about the education system is available and expectations are clear. Using the home language if possible and making sure that the school website is accessible to families whose first language is not English are also key” said Diana Sutton, Director of The Bell Foundation.

One in five pupils in state-funded schools in England now speak EAL. However, despite the fact that evidence shows that it is proficiency in English that has the strongest relationship with attainment for pupils who speak English as an Additional Language, schools do not assess this, nor is it data that is routinely collected.

As the definition of EAL includes both a child of a French banker who has a high level of English, as well as a newly arrived refugee from Somalia, who has experienced disrupted schooling and may be new to English, it is essential to assess proficiency in English, as well as the child’s experience of education.

Aggregated data for the EAL cohort hides as much as it tells us, and policy cannot be driven by this alone. The evidence is clear that language proficiency is key to a child’s attainment, and policy must reflect this to enable all children to achieve their full potential. The ability of schools to provide effective support for multilingual pupils is undermined by a lack of guidance for schools, the removal of EAL from the Ofsted inspection framework, and a reduction in specialist support previously available from local authorities, following the removal of the ringfenced Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant funding in 2011.

In evidence to the Education Select Committee, the Foundation also called for improved data on EAL pupils, including the reintroduction of statutory assessment of English language proficiency in England, and for an increased focus on how to integrate pupils who speak English as an Additional Language who arrive in Key Stage 4.



  • The survey conducted by The Bell Foundation with 52 partners from schools and local authorities was conducted and the findings analysed in May 2023.
  • Late arrivals into the school system are defined as those who arrive in Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 5.
  • “Withdrawal practices” are when a pupil is removed from mainstream classes and instead receives out-of-class support. The exact nature and duration of these practices varies from school to school, but for speakers of EAL, this will typically involve a focus on language learning, with reduced access to the mainstream curriculum.

Media enquiries regarding this announcement should be directed to Emma Lloyd, emma.lloyd@bell-foundation.org.uk or 07713401468.

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