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Pupils with EAL - a challenge and a gift

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The term EAL is used to describe a wide group of pupils for whom English is an additional language. The government’s definition of an EAL learner includes anyone who has been exposed to a language other than English during early childhood “and continues to be exposed to this language in the home or the community.” Diane said that pupils with EAL will have a vast variety of needs, and will have strengths and weaknesses in different skills.

She recommended having an initial meeting with the parents of a pupil with EAL, using an interpreter if necessary. This is important to understand the pupil’s starting point and context, and to get to know them as an individual.

The school should try to find out about the pupil’s:

  • Personality, for example whether they are normally shy or outspoken
  • Proficiency in their native language, and whether they have any issues with articulation or fluency
  • Educational background, including whether they have attended school before and whether they may have an existing special educational need (SEN)
  • Experience of language at home, including how proficient the pupil's parents are in English
  • Such factors will help the school identify the skills that the pupil needs to develop in order to effectively access the curriculum. She added that these pupils' needs will also be informed by the demands of the curriculum.

Diane recommended seating new learners who have EAL with the most fluent English speakers in the class. She cautioned against seating all EAL pupils together, as this will not help develop their English language skills. She said that support from another EAL learner with the same first language can be useful to a new pupil with little to no English, particularly where the other pupil has a much higher fluency in English.

Diane also recommended that whole-school activities were adapted to individual pupils. Class teachers must ensure that they are maintaining a high level of cognitive challenge while also allowing pupils to access the same content as the rest of the class.

They could allow pupils to express their learning in a different way, for example by using visual cues, gap-fill exercises, sentence frames and word cards.

Many of the techniques aimed at teaching EAL learners can also be beneficial to pupils who do not have EAL, particularly in a primary school setting where all children are learning literacy and language. She added that allowing pupils to express some ideas in their first language can help motivate pupils and move learning forwards.

Members of The Key for School Leaders have access to a range of resources on supporting pupils with EAL on

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