How do we effectively meet the needs of children with EAL in the classroom?

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During her PGCE Primary Full-time student at Canterbury Christ Church University, Victoria Spencer taught in a year group where one pupil was newly arrived to the UK and had little English. She felt the need to research how those with EAL can be accommodated in the classroom. A course on her Primary PGCE that requires practitioner based research provided that opportunity.

Coloured pencils in a circleAre children with EAL accommodated in the classroom? Is school policy sufficient? Is this our problem? I wish to argue that it is. As teachers we have a duty to provide an education for all of the pupils in our classroom, helping them to overcome any barrier to learning they may face. According to the Department for Education, 17.5% of primary school pupils were recorded as having English as an additional language (EAL) in 2012: I would like to outline some of the ways research can help us to identify what good practice can look like in providing a successful learning environment for pupils with EAL.

In 2003 the Government at the time defined pupils with EAL as those ‘who use or have access’ to multiple languages (DfES, 2003). More recently it was suggested that EAL encompasses those ‘whose first language is not English’ (Ofsted, 2012). The attainment gap between pupils with EAL and those with English as their first language is narrowing. In Secondary, in 2011 a higher percentage of EAL pupils got 5 A*-C GCSESs than their non-EAL peers. In primary, both 58% of pupils with English as a first language and pupils with EAL achieved the expected level in the ‘Phonics Screening Check’ (DfE, 2012). And although at Key Stage 2, 5% more native English speakers reached the expected level than those with EAL), it is interesting to note that 2% more pupils with EAL than those with English as their first language progressed by two National Curriculum levels between Key Stages 1 and 2 (DfE, 2012).

So how do we ensure that pupils with EAL continue to make progress and ensure their attainment levels are on a par with monolingual pupils?

School policy and classroom practice is vital in ensuring that pupils with EAL have access to the National Curriculum alongside their monolingual peers, particularly in light of the fact that Government policy states this explicitly and schools are accountable for this (Overington, 2012). An important consideration though is how do we ensure that an inclusive school policy transfers to inclusive teaching practice?

Consider the use of a second language in the classroom, this provides a significant learning opportunity for monolingual pupils to learn about a new language and culture. This also provides an opportunity to raise a more accepting generation in a culturally rich environment. ‘The National Strategies’ suggested that children should be able to use their first language in the classroom to develop their ideas as it will also aid English acquisition (Great Britain, 2011). Leung (2001) suggests that bilingual pupils will be more likely to understand that writing is a code which differs from spoken language which may mean that they are more able in writing than their monolingual peers. Skills developed in a first language can be transferred to other languages, and so it appears to make sense that pupils need to be given the opportunity to develop their first language alongside learning English. It is not just the responsibility of the community to ensure that the mother tongue is maintained and developed, but the school’s. Despite benefits to bilingualism, research testing skills found that pupils with EAL were less able to comprehend words despite reading them accurately and were less able to make use of resources to help them (Burgoyne et al, 2009; 2011). Such findings raise questions about the assessment of pupils with EAL alongside their monolingual peers.

Furthermore, does school policy and practice need to focus upon recognising the individual needs of pupils with EAL?  Parker-Jenkins et al (2007) highlight the importance of an initial language assessment for pupils when they first arrive at the school to encourage quick integration. However, it must be considered how this can be done in a way that does not intimidate the new pupil. The Department for Education and Employment (Blaire et al, 1998) highlighted the importance of recognising and including the child’s identity through their language, culture, history and religion. If the pupil is newly-arrived to the country, they already find themselves in an unfamiliar situation and they may feel unsafe. Attempting to remove their language may be detrimental to their self-esteem due to the fact that it is an important element of their identity.

Low self-esteem in a pupil may then have a detrimental effect on their academic achievement. Government policy stresses the importance of pupils with EAL spending the majority of their time in the mainstream classroom (Overington, 2012); however, this needs to be handled carefully as the new cultural environment may be intimidating for the pupil (Frederickson and Cline, 2009). In order to accommodate this, a ‘buddy’ system can be a good idea, pairing the pupils with another pupil ideally speaking the same language to help to integrate the pupil into school life (Parker-Jenkins, 2007; Ofsted, 2011). To overcome this, it needs to be ensured that the classroom, including the pupils and teacher, is a welcoming environment in which all pupils feel safe and secure. Being immersed in a language in a safe environment may indeed prove to be the most conducive to learning a new language rather than being consistently removed from the classroom. Surely it is more beneficial for interventions to take place in the mainstream rather than a child being removed from the classroom, their peers and their teacher.

As teachers we do not solely interact with the children. What about parents or carers and the role they have to play in the child’s education? It is vital that there is high quality communication with parents in order to develop understanding and co-operative relationships which will be of benefit to the child. We are aware that there is strong correlation between the relationship with parents, carers and communities of the child to the pupil succeeding in school and Ofsted (2009, 2011) have found that practice is most effective when parents are engaged in school life, understanding that they do not have to speak English at home and that their first language is valued. Ofsted found that pupils are more likely to learn through socialisation and interaction with pupils and it is important that parents understand this.

In conclusion, whilst bilingualism in the classroom can be a positive attribute, it largely depends upon how the school policy and its implementation accommodate the pupils with EAL. Research shows that there is a need for sensitivity in the school policy alongside a whole school approach with the individual pupil and their needs at its heart. Ensuring our lessons are planned to effectively meet the needs of pupils with EAL will mean that more pupils are enabled to access the curriculum.

Additional References

  • Frederickson, N. and Cline, T. (2009) ‘Language’, in Special Educational Needs, Inclusion and Diversity. 2nd edn. Berkshire: The Open University Press, pp. 239 – 272.
  • Leung, C. (2001) English as an Additional Language: Language and Literacy Development. Herts: UKRA.
  • Parker – Jenkins, M., Hewitt, D., Brownhill, S. and Sanders, T. (2007) ‘Supporting EAL Pupils’, in Aiming High: Raising Attainment of Pupils from Culturally Diverse Backgrounds. London: Paul Chapman  Publishing, pp. 19 – 34.

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