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Writing in English as an Additional Language at KS4 and post-16

A research study investigating the writing skills of more advanced learners of English at KS4 and post-16 (Cameron L, 2003)

This study was commissioned by OfSTED as part of a study of support for KS4 and post-16 EAL learners.The research study investigated the writing skills of more advanced learners of English at KS4 and post-16. Pupils targeted had been in the country for five years or more and were deemed to be underachieving. Through analysing the features of English that caused difficulty for bilingual pupils, the study aimed to provide information that would enable teachers to address these issues in their teaching. Common weaknesses identified included the quality of content, sentence structure, and word level grammar as well as difficulties in organising and writing extended texts and writing in a range of genres.

The focus group of school pupils were between 15 and 16 years of age, in key stage 4, used English as an additional language, and had been in UK education for at least 5 years. Major home languages were Gujerati, Bengali and Punjabi, with small numbers of a range of other languages. Their writing, at the GCSE C/D borderline, was compared with higher grade EAL writing and EMT (English as mother tongue) students’ writing at the GCSE C/D borderline.

Mock GCSE scripts in English and a Humanities subject were analysed for each pupil. The analysis considered the quality of the whole text – use of genre, ideas, paragraphing – and the use of English in developing ideas at sentence, clause and word level. It also looked at accuracy in articles, word endings, spelling and punctuation. The scripts of a similar, but smaller, group of college students (16-19 year olds) were also analysed, with largely similar findings.

  • At whole text level, less successful EAL and EMT writing both lacked content, and did not use paragraphing well to organise content. The less successful EAL group had more difficulties in finding and using ideas in writing.
  • Some less successful EAL writers seemed to have ideas but did not express them clearly.
  • Within the text, the writing of both less successful EAL and EMT groups tended to lack detail, and used simple sentence and phrase grammar to express connections.
  • The strongest differences between the less successful EAL writing and EMT writing were found within texts, at the level of words and phrases, particularly in the use of ‘small’ words such as prepositions, delexical verbs (e.g. do, make, put) and in aspects of word grammar such as agreements and endings.
  • EAL and EMT writing at the C/D borderline showed similar patterns of problems with punctuation – quite severe and including problems with capitals and full stops – and spelling, where a few pupils produced the majority of errors
  • High EAL writing was characterised by having more content and developing content to a more detailed level, although there was room for more effective use of paragraphing and of supplementary materials in English exams.
  • As well as being more accurate, High EAL writing made greater use of grammar resources, with more variety of clause and sentences types.
  • A small number of within text language features remained somewhat problematic in some High EAL writing: prepositions, articles and Subject-Verb agreements.

The key findings of this document and the samples of writing included in the appendices are a valuable resource for use in teacher training contexts at secondary level.