Six ways to build a supportive, language-rich EAL community

Supporting EAL students is personal to this assistant headteacher. Here she gives her six tips to ensure these students – and their families – get the right assistance

Anoara Mughal

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Feeling scared and nervous about her first day at school, she reluctantly got ready. 

What was the point of going to school? She had never been to school before. 

She couldn't even speak the language. How would she understand what was being said? How would she communicate? 

The other children would laugh at her. They would think that she was stupid. Why does she have to go through this? 

As she entered her new classroom, with all the children already at their seats, she was gripped by the paralysis of fear. She was unable to move or speak. The nerves got the better of her as she suddenly she realised just how full her bladder was. As her eyes scanned the classroom for a picture of a toilet, her bladder decided to release itself. 

She felt so embarrassed and ashamed about being different and speaking a different language. She wanted to be like everyone else. She wanted to fit in but she couldn't. 

At that very moment she decided never to speak again.

Thankfully, that story is from a long time ago and that five-year-old did speak again and went on to have a successful career. 

That five-year-old was me. 

A community in need of support

Thousands of children unable to speak, read or write English start our schools every day, up and down the country, at various ages and stages of their education. Because of funding cuts, many schools no longer have an EAL co-ordinator. The job of integrating pupils successfully increasingly rests on the shoulders of the classroom teacher. 

This is the wrong approach. There needs to be a whole-school approach to building a language rich, EAL community.

So how do we do that? Here are a number of things that should be the start of any whole-school push to better support EAL students. 

1. Embed into school development plan

Parental engagement must be strategically planned and embedded into the school development plan. Initial needs must be assessed, regularly monitored and their impact evaluated and reviewed. Data collection of EAL families must include attainment and outcomes, behaviour, attitude of parents towards education, barriers to parental engagement, parental attendance and details of support networks.

2. Proper training 

It is imperative that schools build teacher's knowledge and confidence in this area. Staff must be given training. There are many organisations that have information online and can provide CPD such as: Naldic, Hounslow Language Service and Solihull EAL services and the British Council EAL Nexus.

3. Regular visits home

Home-school visits should not only be confined to the Early Years. Home visits should be conducted for all EAL pupils as a way of building up trust. There is overwhelming evidence that highlights the positive impact of such collaboration, particularly the improvement of literacy levels. In addition, efforts to assist parents should include translators, flexibility of parent evenings and topic sheets in a variety of languages. 

4. Collaboration is key

It is vital that schools work in collaboration with services in the community, such as social services, the police, mental health, nursing, counsellors, community support workers and the voluntary sector.

Also, a cluster of schools could employ one person with a specialist interest in this area and expertise could be shared.

5. Be aware of isolation and stigmatisation

In providing support for EAL families, schools need to consider the fear of stigmatisation, which can lead to social isolation for many. A sensitive approach to providing support would be recommended. Some examples of what schools have put in place include organising a whole school picnic and running international evenings where cultures are explored and celebrated.

6. Make guidance specific

Parents will need specific, not general, advice. Bearing in mind that many parents may not be able to read in English, rather than encouraging parents to listen to their children read, parents should be taught specific reading strategies. Examples would include: teaching parents how to play communication games, providing parents with learning support packs and asking parents to analyse picture books using their own language. 

Anoara Mughal is an assistant headteacher at a primary school. She tweets @anoara_a

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