Skip to main content

Rise in non-native English speakers places 'unfair burden' on schools, teachers warn

Schools with growing numbers of students who speak English as an additional language (EAL) will face an “unfair burden” unless they receive extra funding, a conference has heard.

Delegates at the ATL teaching union's annual conference were told that areas which previously had very few EAL pupils were struggling to cope with increases in their numbers.

Diane Wilson, a teacher from Oxfordshire, said that without “appropriate funding”, schools were unable to provide specialist support staff to work with those students.

Teachers were spending increasing amounts of time adapting classes for EAL students, she said, meaning that their English-speaking students were not receiving a “fair share” of time.

She said she had stayed up until midnight writing individual lesson plans for her EAL students and had translated resources into Hungarian and Portuguese using Google Translate.

“All this is against a backdrop of expansion in housing developments and ever-increasing numbers of students arriving with English as a developing second language,” she said. “No one wins.”

Joy Wilson, also from Oxfordshire, said funding for EAL students was “small” and not ring-fenced to meet the needs of bilingual pupils.

“We need funding to train and support teachers to meet the needs of this growing group of learners,” she said.

“EAL pupils are arriving with increasingly complex needs, such as speech and language communication disorders, autism [and] moderate learning difficulties, which take longer to unpick when you have language as a factor.”

Heather Emerson, a teacher from Salford, said: “It’s hard not just for the teachers but for the children as well, and we need to be able to support them.

"Sometimes it’s not just that English is another language, it’s that English is no language for them at all."

She added: "I’ve learnt how to speak a little bit of Urdu, a little bit of Persian, a little bit of Spanish, and I’m currently learning Arabic."

She added that older children within the school were supporting new pupils who spoke the same language, but that this was unfair because they had to miss out on lessons to do so.

Malcolm St John-Smith, from Wakefield, said some pupils had only a “rudimentary” understanding of English. Unless their parents were encouraged to speak English to children at home, he said, extra money for schools would have only a limited effect.

During the conference, teachers also raised concerns that some schools were asking parents to pay for re-marks of their children’s exam papers.

Colin Cranmer, a Humberside-based teacher, told the conference that a “public perception of incorrect and inconsistent marking” was a “widespread concern”, with parents increasingly paying for re-marks.

“What if your family is on universal credit, or you’re a looked-after child?” he said. “It’s tough luck if you happen to be poor.”

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “It’s regrettable that schools sometimes feel they have to ask pupils’ parents to fund the cost of a re-mark.

“For children whose parents don’t have the money, what we could well see – and what one delegate had seen – is them being denied access to the fair rewards for their efforts. They’re being denied access to justice in our education system.”

Being denied an exam re-mark could have a “profound effect” on a student’s life, Dr Bousted said, such as preventing them from getting a place at college. 

Related stories:

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you