English as an Additional Language, proficiency in English and pupils’ educational achievement: An analysis of Local Authority data

The University of Oxford, with The Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy, has published a report which finds that it is proficiency in English that is central to understanding achievement and levels of need among pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL).  As the research demonstrates, 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 ethnicity.

The report, written by Professor Steve Strand and Annina Hessel, Department of Education, University of Oxford, analyses data from six Local Authorities on the Proficiency in English (PIE) of pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) as recorded in the January 2017 School Census.  The analysis answers three questions:

  1. What factors are associated with the proficiency in English of EAL pupils?
  2. Is proficiency in English linked to educational attainment at age 5, 7, 11 and 16?
  3. How much of the variation between EAL pupils’ attainment can be explained by their proficiency in English?

Key findings include:

  • English as an Additional Language is a poor indicator of pupils’ likely level of educational achievement, instead, it is their proficiency in English that is central to understanding achievement and levels of support needed
  • Although English language support is most needed in the early years and Key Stage 1, there is also a need for support at later ages for some pupils.  The key is to assess proficiency in English language and to develop tailored support when a pupil first arrives in school, at whatever age, to enable them to access and achieve through the curriculum.
  • Being bilingual can have positive associations with achievement as pupils rated Competent or Fluent in English typically have higher educational achievement than monolingual peers.  However, pupils who are New to English, Early acquisition or Developing competence will need support to acquire the proficiency in English they need to develop to their full potential.

Key Recommendation for schools:

  • The report urges schools to continue to assess and record the proficiency in English of their EAL pupils and to use the data to identify need and target support

Key Recommendations for the Government:

  • The evidence makes a clear case for the Department for Education to reconsider the decision to withdraw the Proficiency in English (PIE) Scale, which is a valuable indicator to understand EAL language proficiency and to predict attainment
  • The DfE should go further and ensure that School Census data is made available in the National Pupil Database so that it can provide researchers with the vital data they need to truly understand this heterogeneous group
  • The report is clear on the need for guidance on best practice in EAL assessment to enable schools to understand the variability in EAL pupils’ educational achievement and to plan targeted support.