In the United Kingdom today there are approximately 10 per cent of pupils who are in the process of learning English as the language of instruction at the same time as they are learning subject content. These pupils are dispersed unevenly throughout our schools, and come from many different linguistic, social and educational backgrounds. The challenges for effective provision are considerable whether a school or local authority caters for a stable, sizeable population of minority ethnic pupils or for just a few new learners of English.
Building on the work of a conference last April, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority is taking forward the task of developing national policy guidelines for teaching and learning English as an additional language (EAL). Guidelines will be available later this year.
The major themes to be addressed are: the importance of ensuring that pupils for whom English is an additional language become competent in its use as quickly and effectively as possible; ways of making use of opportunities in the national curriculum for planning and teaching EAL; what makes for effective teaching of EAL, using the spoken and written resources of the classroom to best advantage; assessment and record keeping; using resources to meet identifiable needs.
Last year's conference brought together a wide range of people from different parts of the UK and abroad, and included representatives from the Department for Education and Employment, the Office for Standards in Education, the Teacher Training Agency, teacher unions and professional associations. Speakers represented papers from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, France, Switzerland and Germany. How these different countries tackled the issues helped to sharpen the nature of the debate within the UK.
It was the overwhelming view of the conference that a national policy framework was need to guide practice at LEA and school level. Delegates emphasised that the professional knowledge of teachers should be enhanced through appropriate qualifications.
There was also a strong feeling that information about the attainments of pupils learning English as an additional language should be more systematically gathered. And since there is considerable uncertainty from year to year about additional funding to support the teaching of English, delegates argued for a rationalisation of current arrangements and a clear commitment to pupils' language needs at all key stages.
A report on the international conference, Teaching and Learning English as an Additional Language: new perspectives, has been published as SCAA Discussion Paper No 5. Available from SCAA Publications, PO Box 235, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1HF. Order reference: COM95371. Price Pounds 4: schools and educational establishments receive 50 per cent discount Janet White is professional officer for English at SCAA.