Samantha Torr, Alpha Teaching School Hub, UK
Context and demographics
In line with increases in the number of EAL students across the country (Demie, 2017 Department for Education - a ministerial department responsi..., 2015).), the ATSH has experienced a significant increase in students with EAL in schools within the areas that it serves.
This has led to project involving 11 schools across primary, secondary and post 16; reviewing into evidence-informed practices, specifically:
- admissions procedures and processes, especially mid-phase admissions
- support for students in their first days of schooling
- training and support for leaders in schools responsible for EAL
- Quality First Teaching, which uses adaptive teaching strategies to ensure inclusive teaching for all pupils in a class
- integration strategies for pupils and families.
Aims and rationale
This article focuses mainly on points 1-3 above. It was felt by the group of schools involved that it was important to collect information about pupils as they arrive in schools to support conversations in academic progress, behaviour, interpersonal and social interactions. The project tracks a sample of EAL pupils, with outcomes acting as a gauge to measure the effectiveness of how whole-school continuing professional development (CPD) impacts on the integration of inclusive practice. Particular focus is placed on admissions procedures, policies and training and support for leaders of EAL. The project then used a feed forward approach and measures the impact of adaptive teaching strategies on the progress of pupils with EAL across all subjects.
Use of expertise
Soofia Amin from Tapscott Learning Trust, an EAL specialist collaborating with ATSH in the review process, provided training in targeted pedagogies. The training built on the BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) model, representing the language necessary for day-to-day living, including conversations with friends and other informal interactions, and the CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) model, representing the language necessary to understand and discuss content in the classroom (Cummins, 2019). This evidence base was used to train and support leaders of EAL pupils.
Phase 1: Identification
A focus group, consisting of headteachers and EAL leads from 11 schools within the ATSH area, compared and reviewed the status and progress of EAL pupils to establish starting points for their school, which included:
- the existing processes of student integration
- whole-school EAL approaches
- the effectiveness of established ‘adaptive’ teaching in developing skills and confidence in the use of English.
Particular focus was given to students who joined English schools with limited or no knowledge or command of the English language.
A further focal point addressed monitoring, assessment and involvement of parents as pivotal in the impact of strategies used within schools for pupils with EAL.
Phase 2: Training
Admissions procedures and processes, including mid-phase admissions
The first training day structured as a workshop for EAL leads focused on how pupils are admitted and supported at the start of their school experience, with specific consideration of the effectiveness of mid-phase admissions. The style of training enabled a review of policies and the action steps specific to each school.
Findings in a small research project carried out in Lambeth (Demie, 2017) indicated that detailed background information upon entry ensures effective pupil tracking and monitoring to review the impact of provision for EAL pupils. This informed the focus group’s agreement that greater awareness of the environment surrounding the pupil was needed, with specific and targeted strategies to identify emerging educational and pastoral needs. Consequently, more detailed admissions criteria included:
- previous education
- medical history and current issues
- experience and extent of trauma
- reason for arrival (e.g. immigration or asylum)
- existing support networks for the family and pupil.
The categories above were included in the admissions criteria to establish prior knowledge and academic experiences. Culture, religion, family circumstances all support the decisions the school and the classroom teacher make take in the communication with the family and the pupil. Gaining this prior knowledge establishes starting points for EAL pupils to ensure targets are relevant and needs are being met. Examples of questions that schools used to gather the data included: What are the main languages used at home? Who in the family can read and write English? Do you require school communications to be translated? If so into which language? Do you require a translator for school communications and/or meetings?
It was discussed that parents and carers would need to sign a data protection form before the first meeting. The information should then only be shared with the class teacher and senior team. There would need to be consent in collation of the information for the school for GDPR purposes. Due to ethical considerations, it was decided not to explicitly ask questions in relation to past trauma and instead ask questions in relation to the journey to the UK and check the adults who are at the interview. Any information that is disclosed that is sensitive then would pause the interview and invite safeguarding lead to support. General information is stored in a protected file that SLT have access too. The class teacher will get this information before the arrival of the child. Any sensitive information recorded and actioned within the safeguarding systems.
It would be important for the senior team to be trained and on hand to support safeguarding leads in the event of staff needing to read traumatic accounts. For any additional staff support, expertise would need to be secured from counselling service. Therefore, the whole school approach becomes very more important so that staff do not feel that they are alone.
An issue emerged: for pupils who can speak effective English on arrival, assumptions are made that parents have the same level of English. Where this is not the case – for example, parental English being weaker or non-existent – communication between home and school becomes reliant on the pupil. Arnot et al. (2014, p. 86) suggested that ‘A major barrier to successful communication between the school and EAL students and their parents was the lack of staff knowledge of students’ and families’ background.’ The focus group agreed that a renewed emphasis on engaging with families at the point of admission could help to understand any parental barriers and minimise negative impacts on pupils. This led to actions in reviewing the initial meetings with parents and guardians and considerations of sourcing interpreters and ensuring the question on admission forms enabled early identification.
Information gathering is also key to effective integration of students within their programmes of learning. Frederickson and Cline (1991, 2015) suggest that a comprehensive framework of information gathering is required when assessing whether an EAL student is experiencing curriculum difficulties due to special education needs or due to a need for linguistic and socio-cultural adjustment. The focus group felt that only when such questions are effectively explored can approaches and structures for the individual pupil be designed, implemented and tracked.
Phase 3: Implementation
Admissions, integration and progress
Following the training, participants implemented a series of actions, including:
- reviewal of admissions forms
- creation of specific interview questions for new arrivals
- identification and adaptation of appropriate admissions assessments to establish levels of English skills and cognitive ability.
EAL pupils, like their non-EAL peers, can be given individual learning plans (ILPs) with specific individualised targets and supporting work (Arnot et al., 2014). The information gathering process from the admissions process can support the target setting for the ILPs. Results in Arnot et al.’s study using this method showed that ‘EAL achievement in the primary school was similar to non-EAL students, if students had arrived in the early years’ (p. 37). One of the schools within the ATSH carried out its own similar study in a secondary setting by comparing the CAT (Cognitive Abilities Test) scores of non-EAL students and EAL students. The mean difference in CAT score outcomes showed an insignificant difference of -0.77, also reflected in teacher assessments in Year 8 following intervention. The study enabled the EAL leads to establish current status and consider ILPs as next steps for EAL pupils.
Interventions and inclusivity
Cummins (1999) and Demie (2017) suggest the importance of linking EAL provision to a diverse curriculum. Schools who make successful progress with EAL pupils have strong leadership in equality and The recognition of individual differences in terms of race, .... Best practice requires an emphasis on inclusivity across all strands of EAL pupils’ experience, including an understanding of pedagogy that targets support towards their progress.
Mid-term admissions adjustments addressed the need for inclusivity and bespoke interventions in the classroom, through:
- further research into the use of BICS to assess levels of language skills to meet day-to-day living, including conversations with friends and informal interactions
- the application of measures for CALP to establish the extent to which students have the language necessary to understand and discuss content in the classroom
- the reviewing of timetables
- reviewing the teaching structures of grammar at beginner and entry level.
Intervention planning focused on 30-minute interventions set at appropriate levels in phonics knowledge, use of a cumulative structure for language, and ILPs to tailor learning goals for the pupil. Separate research on EAL interventions supported an increase of 33.6 per cent in average pass percentage rates in primary entrance tests within four weeks (Adams, 2020).
Summary of findings and further recommendations
Early findings support the maxim that a focused, individualised (rather than a ‘one size fits all’) approach is beneficial to all students, not least to those with EAL. However, given that the project and the DfE designation of Teaching School Hubs are in their infancy, this case study hopes to provide a basis for building on existing research and practice in approaches to An approach where a school aims to ensure that all children ... and support of pupils with EAL.
Current outcomes reinforce the need for teachers to take lead roles in their classrooms and use strategies that are evidence-informed, including collaborative learning and a focus on talk and vocabulary. Creating environments that allow EAL pupils to develop and rehearse their English in a non-threatening way and promote their first language should be supported by curriculum development.
As some of the research cited in this case study is based on studies within smaller schools and primary settings, more extensive, longitudinal studies are required into the experiences and progress of students with EAL joining later in their educational journey.
The Alpha Teaching School Hub (ATSH) is a collaborative network working in partnership with schools, teacher training providers, local authorities, other specialist hubs and research schools across Tendring, Ipswich, Colchester and Babergh.