A backwards step for EAL

New research provides evidence on why the decision taken by the Department for Education (DfE) in June to withdraw the requirement for schools to record the proficiency in English of their English as an additional language (EAL) learners in the School Census is a retrograde step (Strand & Hessel, 2018). SecEd reports.

This and previous research, provide evidence on the diversity of the EAL cohort. The term EAL encompasses pupils with a wide range of language skills, from new arrivals to the country with little or no English to third generation students with a heritage language but also fully fluent in English.

This range of language skills among students with EAL will be well-known to classroom teachers, but until recently schools in England were not required to assess this.

While the DfE proficiency scale essentially provides a screening tool which assesses learners on a band from A (New to English) to E (Fluent), its introduction ensured that schools began to take a more robust approach to the assessment of EAL learners. This five-point scale has been in use in all schools in Wales since 2009 and remains a statutory requirement in Wales.

Although reporting on “proficiency” has been removed, schools are still required to report on the number of EAL learners in order to calculate the funding that is allocated to schools through the EAL factor in the funding formula. 

This additional funding (£515 per primary and £1,385 per secondary pupil) allows teachers to target tailored support for EAL pupils. However, since the removal of the ringfence in 2011 this is mainstreamed into general schools’ funding.

Although the requirement to record proficiency in English was in place for two years the data was not made available in the National Pupil Database (NPD) and so it is not possible to access the requisite detail to answer key questions like:

  • What factors are associated with the proficiency in English of EAL pupils?
  • Is the proficiency in English of EAL pupils linked to their educational attainment at age 5, 7, 11 and 16?
  • How much of the variation between EAL pupils’ in their attainment can be explained by their proficiency in English?

The new report set out to answer these questions. The findings and recommendations are relevant to all teachers of EAL learners as they provide robust evidence and show a conclusive link between proficiency in English and educational attainment. It makes clear that continuing to assess the proficiency in English of EAL learners will help schools to provide tailored support. 

Another finding was that speaking more than one language, for those rated as Competent or Fluent in English, can have a significant positive association with achievement. However, low proficiency in the language of instruction can be a barrier to learning. Therefore, pupils need to be supported adequately so that they can acquire the proficiency in English they need.

The report concludes by urging the DfE to review the evidence in the report and to reconsider their decision to withdraw the requirement for schools to assess a child’s proficiency in English for the purpose of transmitting it to the DfE via the School Census.

Read the full article A backwards step for EAL

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin



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