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EAL Achievement

The latest information on how well EAL learners do in standardised assessments compared to all students

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The issue of EAL or bilingual achievement calls into question many of the assumptions made within our education system - How do we define 'EAL' or 'bilingual' pupils? and How do we assess and measure pupil achievement? There are more than a million children between 5–18 years old in UK schools who speak in excess of 360 languages between them and are at varying stages in their learning of EAL, from newcomers to English to fluenty bilingual students.

The resources available on this page generally focus on the narrower question - How well do EAL learners do in standardised assessments compared to all students?


In England, the results of standardised and statutory assessments undertaken each year are published by the Department for Education. These statistics include figures for children and students who do not have English as their first language. Links to the latest figures on the performance of bilingual pupils in standardised assessments can be found to the right. Use the tabs at the top of each spreadsheet to compare years and different performance measures. A summary of the findings can be found below by each relevant key stage.

In 2013 the attainment data showed an enduring difference in attainment between bilingual pupils and their English speaking peers. Whilst analysis shows that differences between the attainment of bilingual learners and mother tongue English speaking pupils have narrowed over time, the statistics also show very wide regional variations. Differences are largest in the Early Years Foundation Stage and narrow significantly by the end of Key Stage 4. Overall differences are smallest in inner and outer London.

Early Years Foundation Stage

In 2013, 44 per cent of EAL and bilingual children achieved a good level of development in the EYFS compared to 54 per cent of children whose first language is English. The difference between bilingual children meeting this benchmark and mother tongue English children had been narrowing since 2007 but the introduction of new assessment arrangements has shown an increase in this 'gap' .

There is also variation in the first language attainment gaps (comparing those pupils whose first language is English and those with first language other than English) when looking at the 17 Early Learning Goals. The widest gap is in speaking 19 percentage points lower for pupils whose first language was other than English.The narrowest first language attainment gap is seen in moving and handling where the attainment gap is just 2 percentage points.

Achievement in Early Years Foundation Stage Profile teacher assessments by first language and local authority 2008 to 2012

Key Stage 1

In 2013, a lower percentage of bilingual pupils achieved the expected level (Level 2) in reading, writing, mathematics and science at Key Stage 1 compared to pupils whose first language is English. These gaps have narrowed over time. In reading, the difference was only 3 percentage points in 2013 compared to 7 percentage points in 2008. In writing, there was a 4 percentage point difference and in mathematics 3 percentage points. As in previous years, the difference between EAL learners and mother tongue English speakers is most pronounced in science. The percentage point difference was 10 percentage points in 2008 and now stands at 6 percentage points based on teacher assessment.

As in 2012, 90% of pupils whose first language is English achieved the expected level in speaking and listening. In 2013 only 83% of those pupils whose first language is not English achieved the expected level.

Phonics Screening Check

Since 2012, six year old pupils have been asked to decode 40 words phonetically. Pupils need to read 32 out of the 40 words correctly to be considered to have met the required standard. The outcomes of this check showed almost no difference between the decoding ability of bilingual learners and mother tongue English learners. 69% of both bilingual and mother tongue English learners were able to decode 32 or more of the words.

Key Stage 2

In 2013, the local and regional tables show that 73 per cent of EAL and bilingual pupils achieved the expected level (Level 4) in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2 compared to 76 per cent of pupils whose first language is English. The percentage point difference has narrowed since 2007 when it stood at 7 percentage points to the current level of 3 percentage points.The national tables show that only 72% of bilingual pupils reached this benchmark in 2013. This difference is because the national figures include over 2,000 ‘overseas pupils’ who were subsequently discounted as they had been in England for less than two years. These pupils are not included in the local and regional figures. Therefore local and regional figures do not sum up to the national figures. As expected, bilingual pupils slightly outperformed monolingual pupils in the grammar, spelling and punctuation task. 66 percent attained a 4B or above in this task compared to 64 percent of monolingual pupils.

Comparing English only and Language other than English data in English regions and authorities, nationally in the Local Authority Tables, 76% of all pupils achieve level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths. For pupils with a language other than English this figure is 73%; a gap of 3%.
There is considerable variation across the regions of the UK. Yorkshire, Humber and the East of England are the lowest achieving regions with 74% in R, W, M. Whereas London; both inner and outer are the most successful regions with 80 and 79% respectively.
Within the regions some LAs are doing very well for their EAL population. For example, in Bolton 80% of EAL pupils reached level 4. This is better than the English only population in that authority. However, there are only 19 Local Authorities outside London where EAL learners achieve better than the national average.(76%)
The gap between EAL and non EAL learners is considerable in some areas and clearly has an impact on the overall results. In Peterborough for example, 76% of English only pupils get level 4, but only 61% of EAL pupils do. The overall percentage for the authority is 71% which suggests that getting it right for the EAL learners would have considerable impact in this city. On the other hand, Leicester has a positive gap of 3% which has a 2% positive impact on the city’s results.
Other LAs where the gap is high as well as its impact (because of high numbers of EAL learners) include: Bradford, Sheffield, Calderdale, Derby, Northampton, Luton, Haringey and Enfield. Interestingly many of these areas have recently disbanded their EAL consultant and advisory teams and no longer provide guidance and training to their Primary schools.

NALDIC urges the department of education to take heed of these continuing gaps in attainment at KS2 and seeks to draw attention to the fact that some local authorities seem unable to respond to rapid demographic change and may need additional funding and guidance to provide appropriate training for their teachers in order to reverse this picture.

2008-2012 KS2 Outcomes

Key Stage 3

Key Stage 3 tests have been optional since 2008. Statistics are therefore no longer collected. However How do Pupils Progress During Key Stages 2 and 3 presents statistical analysis of pupils’ progress in reading, writing and maths during years 3-9, based on a sample of termly teacher assessments for over 70,000 pupils in 10 Local Authorities. This research report suggests that EAL and bilingual learners tend to 'catch up' in this phase, particularly in reading, by making more progress from their lower than average KS2 results.

Pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) make more progress in all three subjects. This represents “catching up” with other pupils, who tend to have higher prior attainment levels at Key Stage 1. The biggest difference is in reading, with smaller differences in writing and maths. Most of the differences between pupils with and without EAL occur in the proportions making 2 or more sub-levels of progress, rather than at the margin between any progress and no progress. Pupils with EAL tend to be more likely to make more than one sub-level of progress per term, but in years 8 and 9, this becomes mixed with higher proportions dropping backwards over the year.

Source How do Pupils Progress During Key Stages 2 and 3

Key Stage 4

In 2013, the national figures show that 58.3 per cent of EAL and bilingual learners gained 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Mathematics compared to 60.9 per cent of English only students. This is a difference of 2.6 percentage points, almost unchanged from the 2.5 percentage point difference recorded in 2007.

The regional and local figures (which do not include students who are 'discounted' from the results as they have been in the country for less than two years) show a smaller difference - 58.1 per cent of EAL and bilingual learners gained 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Mathematics compared to 59.2 per cent of English only students. The figures for any 5 good GCSEs were 84.4 per cent for bilingual students and 83.0 per cent for English only students. Bilingual students in Outer London were most likely to achieve 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Mathematics, whilst those in Yorkshire and Humber were the least likely to do so. The Yorkshire and Humber region has the largest and most persistent attainment gap, followed by the South West, and East of England.

As in previous years, a higher proportion of bilingual students achieved the expected level in progress in English and mathematics than those whose first language is English.

Information obtained by NALDIC as part of a recent Freedom of Information request showed that in 2011 the average point scores for bilingual pupils were higher in the following subjects: Biology; Chemistry; Physics; Mathematics; Statistics; Religious Studies; French; German; and Spanish. In contrast, bilingual pupils average point scores were lower in: Additional Applied Science; Geography; History; English; English Literature; PE/Sports Studies and Music.

Additional Information

langdive lmu.jpgLanguage Diversity and Attainment
The research indicated that there is considerable regional variability in outcomes for bilingual pupils at 16 and a dearth of information examining which specific linguistic groups are attaining less well at school, and where they are located in the country.

Research by Feysie Demie shows the importance of stages of English language learning in attainment.

This paper confirms that there is a strong relationship between stage of fluency in English and educational attainment. The results suggests that the percentage of pupils attaining level 4 or above at KS2 and 5+A*-C at GCSE increased as stage of proficiency in English increased. Pupils in the early stages of fluency performed at low levels, while EAL pupils who were fully fluent in English far outstripped those of pupils for whom English was their only language.

United Kingdom

PISA reading tests provide an insight into the performance of pupils by migrant background across OECD countries. Education at a Glance: OECD Indicator A5 'Does student background affect student performance' compares the performance of students in PISA reading tests by migrant background as well as by socio economic background.

For the United Kindom the report indicated that:

  • There is little difference in performance in reading between UK second generation students (1) and students without a migrant background (2 )
  • There is a significant performance difference (more than 30 points) between UK first generation (3) students and students without a migrant background
  • The strength of the relationship between performance and socio-economic background not statistically signicantly different in the United Kingdom from the OECD average impact.
  • An enduring difference remains between migrant and non-migrant background UK students even after they are matched by socio-economic status (4) although this difference is below the OECD average

1. Second generation students are defined as those who were born in the UK but whose parents were born overseas
2. Students without a migrant backgrond are defined as those were were born in the UK and whose parents were born in the UK
3. First generation students are defined as those who were born overseas and whose parents were born overseas
4. Socio-economic background is measured by the PISA index of social, cultural and economic status, which is based on information, provided by students, about their parents’ education and occupations and their home possessions, such as a desk to use for studying and the number of books in the home.

Historical Data

National Curriculum Assessment, GCSE/GNVQ attainment by pupil characteristics in England 2002 (Final) and 2003 (Provisional) DfES SFR 04 2004
Covering 2002 and 2003 attainment information by ethnicity and EAL. Figures also available at LEA level.

Pupil Progress by Pupil Characteristics 2002
Analysis of the progress made by pupils in each Key Stage leading up to 2002 KS assessments for English, mathematics and science as well as analysis of progress between Key Stage 3 and overall GCSE/GNVQ attainment. Details progression of pupils by gender, eligibility for FSM, ethnicity, SEN and EAL nationally for the first time.