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New study published on English language fluency

Research into “English as an Additional Language: An empirical study of stages of English proficiency” shows the time to acquire English Fluency in Lambeth schools and its implications for raising achievement. The research was carried out by Feyisa Demie, Head of Research and Statistics.

The aim of the research is to examine EAL pupils English proficiency. Key questions raised in the research include how long does it take to acquire English fluency for bilingual EAL pupils? What is the relationship between stage of English language acquisition and attainment?

The main empirical basis for this research is the data collected annually in January on language spoken by EAL pupils and the assessment information on four stages of levels of fluency in English in the case study Local authority over twenty years, ranging from beginner to fully fluent in English. The sample for performance analysis consisted of 2,409 pupils who had completed KS2 and 1563 students who completed GCSE and 14,103 EAL pupils in the LA. Each pupil in sample has a unique pupil number, and this is used to match socio-economic information with KS2 and GCSE results.

Two complementary methodological approaches were used to analyse the empirical data. First, using longitudinal match data of all year 10 EAL pupils in the LA who are fully fluent in English, we tracked backward, year by year, to establish how long it took in each of the stage of fluency English and to reach fully fluent stage from the time they were first assessed as beginner when they started school in LA. Second, KS2 and GCSE statistical patterns of performance of EAL pupils are analysed by levels of fluency in English to illustrate differences in attainment and the association between stage of fluency in English and attainment using multiple regression statistical method.

The main finding of this study suggests that language barriers remain the key factor affecting the performance of English as An Additional Language (EAL) pupils in British schools. The study shows that it takes about 6-8 years on average to acquire academic English proficiency. However, the speed of English language acquisition varies between stages of levels of English. On average pupils are classified at stage 1 (beginner) about a year and a half, before moving to becoming familiar with English stage (stage 2) where they typically remain for about three years. It takes about another three years at stage 3 (becoming confident in English) before they can then be classified as fully fluent.This paper also 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. This finding offers much encouragement for policy makers and demonstrates that once the disadvantage of language is overcome, it is possible to attain high levels of achievement. This also underlines the importance of additional targeted support for EAL pupils to improve their levels of fluency in English.

Copies of the research report are available from Lambeth Research and Statistics Unit, International House, Canterbury Crescent, SW9 7QE. For further information on research methodology and validation of findings, contact fdemie@lambeth.gov.uk