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Gauging EAL pupils’ English ability ‘vital’

New findings prompt more calls for DfE to restore assessment of English proficiency to school census

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New findings prompt more calls for DfE to restore assessment of English proficiency to school census

Leading academics are today calling on the Department for Education to restore data on pupils’ proficiency in English to the school census.

The "proficiency in English scale" is central to understanding achievement and levels of need among pupils with English as an additional language (EAL), say academics from Oxford University and The Bell Foundation charity in research published today.

Earlier this year, experts warned that dropping the requirement for schools to assess pupils’ proficiency in English could harm the education of EAL pupils

And today, Steve Strand, one of the report's authors, echoed this view, saying the decision to withdraw the scale was “a retrograde step, and potentially a damaging one”.

Professor Strand added: “The scale is the best predictor of EAL learners’ educational attainment, and therefore I strongly urge the Department for Education to reconsider this decision and to include the data in the National Pupil Database so that further research can be conducted.”

Today’s report, also produced by private grant-making foundation Unbound Philanthropy, finds that proficiency in English can explain 22 per cent of the variation in EAL pupils’ achievement compared with the typical 3-4 per cent that can be statistically explained using gender, free-school-meal status and ethnicity.

It identifies EAL students as a heterogeneous group with a vast range of language skills, from pupils who have had little exposure to English through to those brought up in a multilingual home. 

In February, the Education Policy Institute estimated that attainment data was missing for three in 10 EAL children in primary schools. The thinktank also stated that one in 10 in secondary schools have had little exposure to English.

Diana Sutton, director of The Bell Foundation, said there was a need for “valid and reliable assessment” for EAL pupils, which, alongside other background information, could inform individually tailored targets and strategies to allow them to develop language skills and fully access the curriculum.

The report also recommends that the DfE provides guidance on best practice in EAL assessment to enable schools to understand the variability in EAL pupils’ educational achievement and to plan targeted support.

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