'How we transformed GCSE English results for EAL learners

Working with the EAL Academy, CONEL turned around outcomes for GCSE resit students who were non-native speakers

Graham Smith and Sheila Rai

esol english eal gcse college resits FE

Michael Gove introduced the requirement for young people who do not pass English and maths GCSE to resit the exams. For further education colleges, that has posed a major challenge. The young people who have failed exams have to resit them at least once, and usually twice – still without success, in many cases. In addition, there are some young people who have not previously sat the exams at all. They may be very new to the country or have arrived the beginning of Year 10 and spent their time studying English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) in an FE college.

At the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, known as CONEL, in 2017, just 11 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds achieved a level 4 or better in English. The principal, Andy Forbes, decided to sit in on some English classes in September 2017. What he found was large numbers of learners with English as an additional language (EAL) and no specific support for them or their teachers.

He also invited the EAL Academy to come and see what was happening. By October 2017, the vice-principal, Kurt Hintz, had completed a language survey, which found that around half the students were EAL. At that point, the EAL Academy's Graham Smith spent two days in the college looking at English lessons and talking to staff and students.

He found the full range of EAL students, from UK-born and Haringey-educated Turkish speakers to very recent arrivals with little English and everything in between. He also found some good teaching and some motivated students. But there were things that needed to be emphasised more: structured opportunities for speaking and listening and a stronger focus on vocabulary development.

A new project structure

In conversation, the two of us agreed a project structure consisting of four half-day EAL training sessions for the English team and seven days in-class coaching for four English lecturers, two on the Tottenham site and two and the Enfield site. We also agreed a target for 2018 of 20 per cent of the cohort achieving level 4+.

It was a project focused both on professional development and student outcomes, and very light on bureaucracy, with the scope set out as follows:

  • Professional development
    • intelligent conversations between highly skilled professional educators
    • classroom collaboration
    • bespoke training
  • Significant impact on outcomes through
    • rich, shared data
    • shared resources
  • Project management
    • a short, weekly email from coach to lecturer about what has happened/will happen

No project ever goes completely smoothly and this one needed careful management, which it had with the help of Alia Bano, the English manager. The commitment to rich, shared data meant that, in February, we were able to analyse mock results showing that the overwhelming majority of students within a few marks of level 4 were on the Enfield site and that we therefore needed to switch one of the EAL Academy coaches from Tottenham to Enfield. 

One effective teaching partnership had to end early, but it made the difference. When the dust settled on the results, 11 per cent in 2016 turned to 27 per cent in 2018. There is still more to do, but a great start has been made.

Sheila Rai is head of school for English and maths at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, and Graham Smith is managing director of the EAL Academy

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Graham Smith and Sheila Rai

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