The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage has been published with only slight wording changes to the controversial requirement for providers to assess bilingual children's communication, language and literacy skills in English only. Paragraph 1.8 of the document notes that:
1.8 For children whose home language is not English, providers must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home. Providers must also ensure that children have sufficient opportunities to learn and reach a good standard in English language during the EYFS, ensuring children are ready to benefit from the opportunities available to them when they begin Year 1. When assessing communication, language and literacy skills, practitioners must assess children’s skills in English. If a child does not have a strong grasp of English language, practitioners must explore the child’s skills in the home language with parents and/or carers, to establish whether there is cause for concern about language delay.
Only 45% of those responding to the September 2011 EYFS consultation agreed that the original papragraph struck the right balance between support and recognition of home languages and support of English language learning. Some respondents were concerned that this might entail an increase in the level and range of support which providers would be expected to offer. For example, some asked if this meant securing translation assistance for every individual child whose home language was not English, or if settings were required to recruit staff fluent in different languages. They highlighted particular challenges for settings where children speak multiple languages, if this were the sort of expectation being set.
Our concern was that we do not believe that Communication, Language and Literacy can or should be assessed only through English. To do so, and to mark bilingual children against age related expectations would mean that a high proportion may ‘fail’ and this would have hugely negative consequences for bilingual children, their families and staff who work with these families. This approach is unhelpful in diagnosing real language delays within the bilingual population and is wasteful of resources as the vast majority of bilingual children could be falsely identified as having a language delay when in fact they are learning EAL but are being assessed as English mother tongue speakers. This is true both for the end of EYFS assessment and the 24-36 month developmental assessment .
The government responded within the consultation findings that:
'the new framework does not prescribe that specific resources should be made available, nor does it advocate increasing the level and range of support which providers are expected to offer. The intention is that providers continue to take reasonable steps, consistent with current good practice, to support language development in home languages, as well as English, in discussion with parents. Providers are asked to judge what is appropriate and what can be reasonably managed, taking account of the range of languages children in their setting use and the language skills of their staff'.
Within this statement we do not detect any movement by the government towards fully adopting the recommendations of the Tickell report to ‘investigate urgently how the development of children’s English language skills can be effectively supported and assessed’.
What is however clear from the new Framework is that practitioners must review children's progress between two and three and provide a short written summary to parents of their progress in prime areas. This must include a description of activities and strategies the provider intends to adopt to address any issues or concerns. For children who do not have a strong grasp of English, this therefore should include the strategies and activities the settings will undertake to promote English language development. Similarly providers with bilingual children aged 3-5 must take reasonable steps to support home language development and English language learning.