English as an additional language

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Main text: Caroline Roberts

Illustration: Kevin O'Brien

Additional research: Sarah Jenkins

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Around 700,000 pupils in the UK have a language other than English as their mother tongue; that's more than 10 per cent of the school population. They range from those who were born here - and have been using English alongside their community language from early childhood - to beginners who have recently arrived in the country. Enlargement of the European Union has brought an increasing number of arrivals from abroad, and the trend looks set to continue. Although beginners can often acquire conversational English in a relatively short time, it generally takes five to seven years before they can function academically on a par with their monolingual peers, and they will require specialist help if they are to reach their potential within an English medium education system.

The right terminology

Pupils for whom English is not a first language are often referred to as "bilingual", a term that recognises their ability to speak more than one language. However, this can be a misnomer. For many pupils, a more accurate term is "multilingual", as they may speak several other languages, or dialects of languages, although they may not be literate in all of them.

For this reason, "English as an additional language" (EAL) is now preferred to "English as a second language".

EAL provision

The Government first provided funding for specialist staff to meet the needs of EAL pupils through section 11 of the Local Government Act of 1966.

The aim was to help pupils from "New Commonwealth" backgrounds, and LEAs received funding based on the number of these pupils on roll. Inevitably, schools with pupils from countries that were not former colonies lost out, but it wasn't until 1993 that funding was extended to cover all EAL pupils.

In 1998, section 11 was replaced by the ethnic minorities achievement grant (EMAG), which provides funds to support both EAL pupils and those from minority ethnic groups who have English as a mother tongue but are recognised as underachieving nationally. Total EMAG funding for 2005-06 is pound;168 million; half of this comes from the Department for Education and Skills and the rest is provided by LEAs, which must match the amount they receive from central government. In 2004-05 a funding formula was introduced to replace the bidding process used previously. Allocation is based on the number of EAL learners plus those from underachieving ethnic groups. Social and economic deprivation is taken into account by factoring in the number of pupils receiving free school meals. LEAs can use their own formula to distribute money to schools according to specific local needs, and up to 15 per cent of funding can be retained to pay for a centralised language service. In 2003, the DfES launched the Aiming High strategy to raise the achievement of ethnic minority pupils. This involves a number of initiatives including action research projects, work on assessment, and the provision of EAL consultants and advanced skills teachers to train mainstream staff.

Teaching methods

In the early days of EAL provision, beginners were often withdrawn from mainstream lessons for intensive language instruction and some LEAs set up specialist centres outside schools. However, in 1985, the Swann report, "Education for All", concluded that beginners made better progress if exposed to English through mixing with their monolingual peers and recommended that they should be taught in the mainstream classroom, supported through collaboration between subject teachers and language specialists. Around the same time, a report from the Commission for Racial Equality also raised concerns about the marginalisation of ethnic minority pupils. As a result, withdrawal came to be seen as ethically and methodologically unsound and there was a shift towards all EAL pupils being included in mainstream classes.

However, in recent years schools have tended to adopt a flexible approach and some degree of withdrawal, now often termed "induction", has again become acceptable. By law, all pupils must have access to the national curriculum and many specialists believe that induction programmes should be closely linked to curriculum content. The DfES advice states that EAL pupils should not be categorised with those with special needs and schools should ensure they are provided with appropriately challenging work rather than a simplified curriculum.

How does it work in practice?

Park View academy in Haringey, north London, is typical of an ethnically and linguistically diverse inner-city school. Sixty-six per cent of the pupils are EAL learners and 4 per cent arrive at the school with little or no English. The EMAG department runs an induction programme of up to five hours a week for which small groups are withdrawn from mainstream lessons.

Most beginners spend one or two terms on the programme. Drew Wilkins, EMAG co-ordinator, says: "Pupils can't access the curriculum without the language, so the main focus of induction has to be helping them to acquire English. However, we do teach transactional language for core subjects and we're working towards an arrangement where induction would top and tail the day. This would mean the first session could be used to prepare them for the coming lessons and the last to review what they've learnt."

The department takes a pragmatic approach to mainstream support. Mr Wilkins believes that collaborative teaching involving an equal partnership between subject and EAL specialist is the ideal, with the latter assessing the linguistic demands of the lesson and providing the scaffolding that pupils need to access learning and complete tasks. Monolingual pupils in the class can also benefit from language development activities included in the lesson.

However, time spent planning together is crucial to success, and lack of this can determine the way EAL teachers work, he says. "Sometimes it's more practical for the language specialist to play a supporting role, which can involve withdrawing EAL pupils for part of a lesson to give intensive help.

There's no point in a pupil sitting in a class not understanding what's going on just because withdrawal is frowned on, when 15 minutes outside could get them back on track. You've got to respond to the individual situation or you're doing the pupils a disservice."

What about more advanced EAL learners?

Specialists are concerned that beginners are often prioritised at the expense of pupils in the later stages of learning EAL. Mr Wilkins says:

"I'd be more concerned about a Year 10 pupil who's intellectually capable of getting good GCSEs but is in danger of underachieving without language support than I would about a Year 7 beginner who is likely to achieve competency by the time they get to GCSE."

A 2003 Ofsted report found that support for more advanced learners is often inadequate and this can lead to underachievement. A research study by Dr Lynne Cameron of Leeds University that accompanied the report analysed academic writing at GCSE and found that EAL pupils tended to have more errors at word and phrase level, even at the higher end of achievement. It is clear that schools need to ensure they do not overlook the needs of these pupils. The Aiming High initiative is attempting to address the problem through Making the Grade, an action research project being carried out across four London boroughs. The project focuses on the challenges faced by bilingual pupils in academic writing and aims to identify specific ways to raise their achievement.

The role of home languages

It is recognised that bilingualism has cognitive benefits and it's important that EAL pupils develop and maintain literacy in their home languages. Those who see their bilingualism as an asset are likely to have higher self-esteem and educational aspirations. Ideally, schools should ensure that the linguistic capabilities of their pupils are recognised, that they have the opportunity to gain qualifications in community languages, and that they have role models in the form of bilingual teaching staff.

At Park View academy, 56 per cent of the staff are bilingual and some are using their skills to take part in the Minority Ethnic Achievement Project (MEAP), a strand of the Aiming High strategy intended to raise the status of community languages. The school has a large number of Turkish-speaking pupils and the language is now being offered at key stage 3 for three periods a week. As well as developing the pupils' literacy skills in their home language, the lessons are also used to increase their competence in core curriculum subjects by covering some content in Turkish. Some of the pupils also support bilingual reading in local primary schools. This has proved popular and further boosted the status of the language.

The pilot has been running for a year and, according to Janev Christofides, the assistant head who designed the scheme of work, the positive effects are already becoming evident: "It's relatively easy for the pupils to develop their literacy in Turkish as it's written as it sounds. We've already noticed that both language acquisition skills and the confidence they've gained are being transferred to other subject areas. One pupil who previously had particularly challenging behaviour has made huge improvements and has recently achieved level 7 in the maths Sats."

Isolated learners

Sixteen per cent of EAL pupils are at school in mainly monolingual areas and catering for them can be a challenge for schools. In Devon, for example, isolated learners are the norm, with bilingual students comprising only 1 per cent of the school population. EAL staffing levels are typical of an authority with few ethnic minority pupils: a head of service manages four advisory teachers, one of whom is bilingual, as well as 11 teaching assistants based in schools. Service head Loraine Davis says: "Many schools lack experience of EAL pupils and this can result in low expectations and their being put into inappropriate ability groups. In this situation you have to work on changing the whole school approach, with advisory teachers going in to raise awareness about language acquisition and ways of including bilingual pupils in the curriculum."

Developing pupils' first language skills is a particular problem. Devon is addressing this by using videoconferencing to enable isolated bilingual pupils to link up with those in other schools. "The local authority has been very supportive in our work in this area and we're seeing great benefits," says Ms Davis. "Staff have commented that it's good to see bilingual pupils who are normally very quiet chatting away happily in their first language. It gives them a real sense of self-worth when they know that their linguistic skills are recognised."

Teacher training

Although EAL pupils are mainly concentrated in large cities, it's likely that most teachers will encounter them at some point in their careers and many feel poorly equipped to meet their needs. A survey last year by the Teacher Training Agency found that only about a quarter of NQTs feel they are adequately trained to cater for bilingual pupils. Lack of training does not just affect mainstream teachers; for some time, it has also been an issue for those hoping to specialise in EAL. Until the late Eighties it was possible to gain QTS through the diploma for teaching English overseas, which was run along similar lines to a PGCE course, with teaching practice supporting EAL pupils in schools (see case study). A Royal Society of Arts diploma also provided a solid grounding in EAL methodology, but this was disbanded in 1997.

The lack of a professional training route has obviously had a detrimental effect on the status of the specialism. However, the Government has now awarded two contracts for the provision of accredited EAL training: one course is run by London University's Institute of Education in partnership with Redbridge LEA, and the other, offered by Birmingham University, is for distance learners. The courses count for one third of a master's degree.


Until 2000 there was no national standard for assessing the progress of EAL pupils, although many local authorities used systems based on a four-stage model devised by Hilary Hester in the late Eighties. Then, in an attempt to impose uniformity and bring assessment in line with the national curriculum, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority produced "A Language in Common", which introduced four "steps" to reflect the progress of EAL learners working below national curriculum level 2, after which they would be assessed according to the English subject criteria.

Early this year, a further QCA document, "Marking progress", provided more guidance on describing the language development of EAL pupils. However, the system is not statutory and many schools have chosen not to adopt it. The National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (Naldic), an organisation that provides a voice for EAL specialists, points out that there are flaws in the system. The English criteria are designed for monolinguals and do not reflect the stages of language acquisition particular to EAL learners; nor do they provide a context in which to view their achievement in other subjects. This method of assessment also makes it harder to track the progress of EAL pupils as a discrete group.

Most other English-speaking countries have nationally agreed assessment scales specifically for EAL learners, and Naldic would like to see a similar system introduced here. Spokesperson Nicola Davies says: "Children and teachers deserve better than the ad hoc assessment arrangements we have at present. EAL should be seen positively, as a subject in its own right with its own set of assessment criteria, rather than an obstacle that pupils need to overcome in order to access the rest of the curriculum. They get recognition for learning modern foreign languages so why not for EAL?"


* General information on ethnic minority achievement, including the Aiming High strategy, can be found at www.standards.dfes.gov.ukethnicminorities raising_achievement.

* The QCA website also has a useful section on EAL at www.qca.org.uk10013.

* www.naldic.org.uk, the website of the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum, has a wealth of information, news and research.

* www.multivers.ac.uk, part of the Initial Teacher Training Professional Resource Network, has a selection of resources focusing on ethnic minority achievement.

* Details of the new postgraduate certificate in the teaching of English as an additional language can be found on the Institute of Education website www.ioe.ac.uk.

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