How a profusion of EAL pupils is no hindrance

30th January 2015 at 00:00
Native English speakers' progress does not suffer, research finds

The academic achievement of native English speakers does not suffer if they attend schools with a high proportion of pupils who speak a different first language, according to a report.

The research highlights that the number of children who speak English as an additional language (EAL) has more than doubled since 1997, with 16.2 per cent of all pupils in England categorised as EAL in 2013, up from 7.6 per cent.

More than one million EAL pupils now attend schools across the country, attracting an additional pound;243 million in funding. But the academics behind the report are calling for a rethink on how the money is allocated, saying that a bilingual child of a French banker is attracting the same funding as a Somali refugee who speaks no English.

The timing of the report is significant: immigration and its effect on public services are likely to be key issues in the run-up to the May general election.

But despite an increase in the numbers of EAL children, the research states there is "no evidence" to suggest that this is having a negative impact on their peers.

The authors of the report, Professor Steve Strand and Professor Victoria Murphy of the University of Oxford, argue that the percentage of EAL pupils has "minimal association" with student attainment.

"Some media coverage has suggested the possibility that high concentrations of EAL learners needing extra help in primary schools might have negative consequences for first-language English speakers in those schools," the report states.

"However, in the current study we found that the percentage of EAL students in the school had minimal association with student attainment or progress when controls for student background were included.

"The finding was consistent at both key stage 2 and key stage 4. Thus, this analysis gives no evidence that [English as a first language] students suffer from attending a school with a high percentage of EAL students."

According to the data, one in 12 schools in England has a student body that is predominantly made up of EAL students. Nearly half these schools are located outside London, with high numbers in areas such as the West Midlands, the North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The study shows that, on average, EAL students catch up with their peers by the age of 16, with 58.3 per cent achieving five A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 60.9 per cent of native English speakers.

The report was jointly funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and charities the Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy. Dr Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, said the aim of the report was to debunk some of the "myths" surrounding schools that have high numbers of pupils who do not speak English as their first language, as well as to spread best practice.

"When we analyse the data we can show that it has no impact on the attainment of children with English as a first language, but also show that there are huge variations within the group, so we need to understand what more we can do to spread what is working," Dr Collins said.

"The key point is that whatever the policy on immigration is, schools have a vital role to play in ensuring these children are integrated into our society and can play a part in our cultural and economic life," he added.

`Having more than one language seems to accelerate their cognitive progress'

Mark Keary, principal of Bethnal Green Academy in East London, a school where more than 70 per cent of students speak English as an additional language, believes multilingual pupils are more "voracious" in their approach to education.

"I think there's something about having more than one language that seems to accelerate their cognitive progress - it really seems to help. This then has an effect on the other students whose first language is English," Mr Keary says.

The progress made by all his students is way above the national average, he adds, which he puts down to the school's focus on language as means of improving attainment.

"As with any school, you have to manage your minority students, and in our case it can be white British students. But we focus on language and, by doing so, all our students are so focused on what is going on and switched on by the approach."


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