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Supporting EAL learners in mainstream classrooms

The aim of these materials is to provide practical advice on how teachers might best support EAL learners (and particularly newly arrived pupils) in their classrooms. The new teachers' standards apply to all teachers in England from September 2012, regardless of their career stage. They define the minimum level of practice expected of teachers from the point of being awarded QTS. Within these standards every teacher must: 'Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils' . They must 'have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs; those of high ability; those with English as an additional language; those with disabilities; and be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them'. (Standard 5).

The period since the Second World War has been marked by shifting political environments, the voluntary and enforced migration of people, and the increasing spread of English as a world language. One of the benefits of this for the UK’s cultural and economic landscape has been the arrival of people from all over the world to spend longer or shorter periods in the UK. This has been thrown into sharper focus for many schools and teachers with the arrival of many new pupils from the 2004 EU accession countries. By far the largest national group migrating to the UK in recent years are the Poles, of whom an estimated 423,300 were resident in the UK in the second quarter of 2007.

Whilst many families come to this country as a positive choice others do so because they are fleeing difficult circumstances in their home country or because they have been posted here by the company they work for. In the early 2000s, for example, there were over 50,000 Japanese living in the UK, 10,000 of whom were of school age. Most of these will stay for three or four years before returning home. Some come to fill urgent vacancies in our schools and hospitals and may leave again or decide to stay permanently; others come to be reunited with their families, intending to remain permanently; and others again will come as temporary visitors such as diplomats or students. They may arrive at any point in the year, intending to spend indefinite periods of time here, and they may choose to place their children in school for the length of their stay. Understanding something of how a child came to be in a particular classroom is an important aspect of planning for their education whilst they are there.

Whilst there are specific issues that need to be addressed in terms of EAL learners, it is impossible to disagree with the fundamental view of the National Union of Teachers in their report ‘Relearning to Learn’ (2002: 2):

In many ways, the task faced by teachers is the same with regard to all new children. They have to make them feel welcome, provide support, encourage friendships, make sensitive assessments of their current levels of attainment and learning needs, and provide a curriculum that meets those needs.

Teachers should not feel that they are facing an impossible task in supporting new arrivals and they are more likely to succeed in this if they are not left to cope alone. Taking a positive approach to the task is best. Student teachers should always expect that the child before them can do more than they currently imagine and they will be probably be proved right. When assessing their abilities, they should start from what the child can do rather than what they can’t, and what more they can do today than they could yesterday. That way their real progress will become clearer and the route to it easier to map out.
Student teachers should be encouraged to make the maximum use of the human resources at their disposal, starting with the EAL learners themselves. The other children in the class are the next source of support. If they are aware of the issues and determined to be good hosts then they will provide the sort of role models that will help the child not only fit in but stake out an appropriate place for themselves and all they have to offer. The child’s parents are also key in this; it would be shameful to waste the knowledge and skills they bring with them and in helping them to help their child the student teacher will undoubtedly be helping them too.

Section Editor and Author

Frank Monaghan

On this page you will find web pages from the archived ITTSEAL site for teacher educators new to initial teacher training. Much of this material has been substantially rewritten and incorporated into our new site but we have maintained this archive to support referencing and site users.

The PDF pages are arranged in the same structure as on the original site. Please note that embedded hyperlinks in the documents will not work and external weblinks are no longer necessarily live. If you are searching for a particular resource which you cannot find, please contact us and we will try to help.

Supporting EAL learners in mainstream classrooms

Initial language assessments
Maintaining first languages
Language strategies for the mainstream classroom
Isolated bilingual learners