Blog: Top five actions for early career teachers working with EAL learners

In this blog, we explore the key actions for early career teachers (ECTs) working in multilingual classrooms and take a look at our new EAL and ECT training series.

Teacher in an orange jacket stood in front of a board and clock speaking to a class of six children seated at a desk.

Just over one in five learners in schools in England these days are using English as an Additional Language (EAL), yet early career teachers feel least prepared to teach in multilingual classrooms compared to other training areas. How can early career teachers support the wealth of cultural and linguistic backgrounds in their classrooms? How can they cater for children who have recently arrived in the country and are new to learning English, as well as those who come from families who have lived here for generations and are fluent in English?

Undoubtedly, initial teacher training (ITT) programmes can never fully prepare trainees for all the various responsibilities and realities they will face in UK classrooms, or for lessons that can only be learnt on-the-job during those first few years of teaching.

There are however some key actions for ECTs to take as they enter into the multilingual environments of UK schools, and here we take a look at our top five:

1. Find out who is responsible for EAL in your school and seek out their support. This person may be an EAL coordinator, department head, an inclusion lead, or the SENCO. They may be able to point you toward EAL instructional resources, EAL policies and procedures in your school, other staff who have EAL expertise, or available CPD opportunities.

2. Get to know your multilingual learners who use EAL. Find out about their educational background, family, and home or other languages they may know. Make use of all their language resources in the classroom, for example, use bilingual dictionaries or translation tools, partner learners who share a common home language, or have learners complete tasks in whatever language they prefer.

3. Think about the language demands and key messages of your curriculum. What vocabulary will need to be taught so learners can understand key messages?  What language structures will need to be highlighted or modelled for learners to communicate those key messages, for example, the use of past tense in recounting an historical event.

4. Practice using a language support strategy. There are many distinct EAL strategies you can use to support language development through your curriculum. Our Great Ideas page offers a comprehensive list with easy explanations for classroom use. These include strategies such as barrier games, extending conversations, using sentence frames or substitution tables, using visuals, and much more. Keep an eye out for our updated “Classroom guidance and support strategies for EAL learners” available at the end of September 2023.

5. Work with your ECT mentor to incorporate EAL into your induction programme. Consider asking for guidance in how to:

  • Make your lessons and language more comprehensible for learners who are new to English;
  • Assess learners who may not yet be able to demonstrate their knowledge in English;
  • Use a learner’s home language or other languages they may know to support learning;
  • Support learners at different levels of English language proficiency;
  • Find information about your learner’s level of English language proficiency and why this is important;
  • Welcome a newly arrived child who is new to English.

The ECT and EAL series

As an ECT entering into the profession, you will find that the level of EAL support and training on offer varies considerably across schools, and ITT providers. EAL is not mentioned in the Early Career Framework in the first place, and ECT mentors themselves may also not have had opportunities to receive EAL training or work extensively in multilingual environments.

According to a Department for Education survey, 2/3 of ECTs felt that too much content is repeated from their ITT content, whereas half found it hard to take on alongside their workload, and thought the programme did not respond to their immediate needs, skills and context of their school. Our new and free ECT and EAL series aims to bridge this gap by specifically supporting ECTs and their mentors when working with learners using EAL. We have created eighteen short EAL topics that ECTs and their mentors can either dip into if needed or work through in chronological order.

The series signposts teachers to a wide range of EAL teacher resources, strategies, and tools. It is up to the mentor and ECT to determine how and when they want to engage with the materials. In this way, the series can be:

  • Embedded into an existing ECT mentorship programme;
  • Used as personal learning for EC teachers or mentors;
  • Used as part of a school’s larger induction programme for EC teachers.

We hope that this new resource will help to build confidence and joy in working with multilingual learners and teaching English as an Additional Language, and ultimately, improve the outcomes for all EAL learners across UK schools.

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Department for Education (2023), Evaluation of the national roll-out of the early career framework induction programmes

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