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EAL specialist teachers and support staff

EAL teaching and learning in UK schools takes place within the context of the mainstream curriculum and often involves collaboration between a number of adults at a school and classroom level. Many schools make additional provision for EAL learners. Some schools (or local authority services) finance additional specialist teachers and support staff including:

  • EAL (or Ethnic Minority Achievement EMA) consultants
  • EAL co-ordinators
  • EAL teachers
  • Bilingual teaching assistants, EAL teaching assistants and Higher Level Teaching Assistants
  • NNEBs, learning mentors and learning support staff as well as other staff who address the specific needs of pupils learning EAL

This diversity of titles, roles and responsibilities in relation to additional support for EAL learners has the potential to confuse. These staff may be located within a specialist team or department (particularly in secondary schools with a significant percentage of EAL and ethnic minority learners) or within SEN, Inclusion or Pupil Support teams or departments. School based specialist staffing is largely limited to schools with significant numbers of bilingual or ethnic minority learners. In some areas, specialist consultants, teachers and support staff employed by the local authority may undertake short term placements, peripatetic support in schools or offer advisory visits when a new pupil learning EAL is enrolled.

School census data suggests that workforce remodelling and other factors resulted in a fall in the number of EAL specialist teachers but a rise in the number of other staff who have a role in EAL teaching. For example, the number of teaching assistants employed in relation to minority ethnic learners more than doubled between 1997 and 2007.

EAL (or EMA) Consultants and Advisory Teachers

EAL primary and secondary consultants are usually employed by the local authority and generally focus on whole school development and particularly mainstream teacher professional development rather than the provision of specialist teaching support for EAL learners. The role of the EAL (or more usually EMA) consultant was strengthened by National Strategy initiatives to promote the use of consultants to assist schools to address the needs of EAL and ethnic minority learners, particularly those at a ‘more advanced’ stage in their learning of English. Since the demise of the National Strategies and local authority funding cuts, the numbers of EAL and EMA consultants has decreased significantly. In some areas similar services may be offered by commercial or 'not for profit' educational consultancies. EAL advisory teachers employed by a local authority are more likely to provide direct pupil support

EAL Co-ordinators

Many schools employ teachers who have prime responsibility for EAL learners or manage a team of bilingual and EAL specialist assistants and other support staff. Many such specialists will be called EAL co-ordinators. In some schools this role is carried out by the SENCO, Inclusion manager or another member of the senior leadership team. SENCOs and Inclusion managers will not necessarily have EAL specialist expertise.

In 2006, the Primary National Strategy guidance (DfES,2006) outlined possible responsibilities for this role including:

  • data collection, analysis and interpretation
  • advising on specific provision for underachieving children learning EAL
  • targeting resources including the deployment of bilingual and EAL support staff, the organisation and design of interventions, etc.
  • advising on CPD for all staff
  • completion of action plans and targets linked to school improvement
  • planning and teaching with colleagues in order to develop expertise in meeting the language and learning needs of bilingual children
  • supporting the adaptation of intervention programmes
  • working with colleagues to develop appropriate resources
  • supporting colleagues to develop their knowledge of the linguistic, cultural and religious backgrounds of children and their families and the social and political factors which affect their lives
  • devising and enacting strategies to ensure that parents and carers understand the school’s approach to learning and teaching and can participate as key partners

Source Appendix 2 Coordinating the provision for children learning EAL Introductory Guide - Supporting School Improvement Excellence and Enjoyment:Learning and teaching for bilingual children in the primary years DfES, 2006

Specialist EAL Teachers

Specialist teachers of EAL work with class and subject teachers by drawing on their specialist knowledge and understanding of second language learning and bilingualism to develop the English language skills pupils need for social interaction and for learning. These specialist teachers’ additional knowledge of teaching and learning strategies makes an important contribution to the planning and delivery of a curriculum which draws on bilingual pupils' prior experience, is culturally relevant and meets their English language learning needs.

Specialist EAL teachers use strategies and skills to support the learning of English as an additional language in a curriculum context. They understand how to draw on: pupils' prior knowledge, including their proficiency in their first language and English; socio-economic and cultural background; their motivation and attitude to English and learning; their learning styles; personality and sense of identity. EAL teachers will take account of the academic and social purposes for which learners need to use English, the time it takes to gain proficiency in spoken and written language, whilst at the same time, recognising the need for pupils to learn the curriculum content. (South, 1999)

Although there are no official national standards for EAL specialists, NALDIC published The EAL teacher: Descriptors of Good Practice (Franson, 2002) which described a common core of knowledge, skills and understanding. This publication was commissioned by the DfES and articulates the specialist teacher's role in:

  • the teaching and learning of pupils with EAL
  • the assessment, monitoring and recording of EAL pupils' progression
  • the wider professional role of the EAL specialist

In 2005 NALDIC published a statement on Promoting EAL Teacher Professionalism which highlights five aspects of the specialist EAL teacher's knowledge and skills in relation to:

  • Patterns of complex additional language development and bilingualism
  • English as a complex linguistic system
  • Language as part of social, cultural and multimodal practices
  • Classroom (school) as a language ecology
  • Teaching as community building and resource management

Bilingual teaching assistants, EAL teaching assistants and Higher Level Teaching Assistants

In investigating the roles of bilingual teaching assistants, Martin-Jones and Saxena (2003) observed bilingual teaching assistants acting not only as a bilingual resource for teachers in working with pupils at an early stage of learning English, but also as providers of valuable support for learners; making links between home and school based contexts for learning. Bilingual teaching assistants who share a language and cultural heritage with pupils are uniquely able to build on forms of knowledge and cultural experience brought from pupils' homes, so activating their prior knowledge and enhancing their access to the curriculum. Bilingual teaching assistants need to apply considerable skill and expertise in their work. Many have already qualified as higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs).

Bilingual teaching assistants and HLTAs work under the direction of class and subject teachers. The National Occupation Standards for Teaching Assistants and Professional Standards for Higher Level Teaching Assistants provide a background to teachers to manage the classroom participation of these staff effectively and draw on their expertise in addressing the needs of pupils with EAL. Specialist teachers of EAL and bilingual and specialist teaching assistants work with class and subject teachers to develop the language and learning of bilingual pupils and make an important contribution to equality and inclusion.

Other support staff

In recent years, the range of additional adults working with EAL and bilingual learners in classrooms and schools has expanded. These adults may include monolingual teaching, learning or support assistants, learning mentors, learning support staff and NNEBs.

Many schools, particularly where there are few bilingual learners, rely on general teaching or learning assistants. These staff are often managed by the SENCo.

Effective collaborative working practices

The class or subject teacher and the specialist need to agree on a collaborative approach to pupils with EAL. The support continuum ranges from partnership teaching to withdrawal of pupils for individual support.

Schools with significant numbers of bilingual pupils are more likely to have specialist EAL teachers deployed over longer periods of time. Partnership teaching in these contexts may be easier to deliver than in schools with very few bilingual pupils, where a peripatetic language teacher may provide support for a very limited period. On the other hand, experienced peripatetic EAL teachers may consider that the most effective way of enabling teachers to work with isolated bilingual pupils is through working in partnership with class teachers to model inclusive strategies which can be continued in their absence.

EAL teachers may vary their role within one school, according to the teaching and learning context. Collaboration between the teachers is necessary for planning, delivery and feedback. The models of support may include

  • team teaching, both teachers engage in a dialogue with each other and with pupils from the front of the class
  • role reversal, the class teacher works with a group of bilingual pupils and the language support teacher works with the rest of the class
  • observation, either teacher acts as an observer in the whole class context with an agreed focus. The other teacher maintains an interactive role, encouraging, explaining or reinforcing. The observation focus might also be on assessing particular teaching strategies by observing the pupils' responses
  • working with target groups, the language support teacher will focus support on a specific group of pupils
  • one to one support, the EAL teacher may occasionally when specific difficulties and misconceptions arise, need to provide individual support
  • effective withdrawal for specific curriculum purposes of individuals or groups of pupils for finely-tuned, time-limited withdrawal support
  • resource provision and development, the language support teacher may collect, suggest, modify or design resources to meet the needs of bilingual pupils
  • monitoring progress of bilingual learners
  • advice on the implications of general assessment measures for bilingual learners and provision of more detailed diagnostic linguistic analysis where required
  • planning support to be delivered by teaching assistants and monitoring its impact

Class or subject teachers and specialist EAL teachers need to agree which model of collaboration delivers the optimum support to the pupils within a particular learning context. In the primary context staff may agree to focus future support on a particular year group to address a need identified by the data analysis. In the secondary context subject departments may bid for EAL teachers to work in partnership with subject teachers to raise attainment of a particular group of pupils.

Alternately in schools where there are several EAL staff, members of the EAL team may work closely with a small number of key staff over a period of time. An example of good practice cited in Unlocking Potential: Raising Ethnic Minority Achievement at KS3 (DfES, 2002) refers to EAL teachers in a school acting as part of a teaching and learning focus group which regularly reviews leading practice and disseminates this practice to other members of staff.

The importance of planning

Effective planning is a vital component of quality support. EAL staff need access to and involvement in planning. Planning is necessary for supporting individual pupils and for collaborative teaching. In such collaborations, the role of the class/subject teacher is to share information about:

  • curriculum content, knowledge, understanding and skills
  • learning objectives
  • teaching activities
  • teaching resources
  • tasks to be completed by pupils
  • pupil targets
  • assessment opportunities

The role of the specialist EAL teacher is to:

  • share opportunities to draw on pupils' prior experience and first language
  • contribute to the targets of pupils with EAL
  • analyse language demands of the lesson
  • identify and plan for language learning opportunities within the lesson
  • share and agree teaching strategies that will address pupils' needs including collaborative work between pupils
  • provide or develop visual materials and prompts to support pupils' learning
  • provide or develop differentiated resources to ensure pupils' access to the curriculum and development of EAL
  • enable pupils with EAL to transfer skills from one topic/subject to another.

The role of both teachers is to:

  • define their roles in collaboration or support
  • agree flexible groupings of pupils for different purposes
  • agree behaviour management strategies
  • agree assessment/marking responsibilities and practice
  • monitor, evaluate and review the teaching collaboration/support

Many teachers have found the development of planning grids which identify the language components of a curriculum or subject lesson to be essential in planning collaboratively to meet the needs of bilingual learners.


DfES (2002) Unlocking Potential: Raising Ethnic Minority Achievement at KS3. Nottingham : DfES.
DfES (2006) Excellence and Enjoyment: Learning and teaching for bilingual children in the primary years (Ref: DfES0013-2006PCK-EN)
Franson, C. et al. (2002) The EAL Teacher: Descriptors of Good Practice. NALDIC : Watford
MartinJones, M Saxena (2003) Bilingual Resources and ‘Funds of Knowledge’ for Teaching and Learning in Multiethnic Classrooms in Britain, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 6, 3 / 4, Special Issue, 267282.
NALDIC (2005) Promoting EAL Teacher Professionalism http://www.naldic.org.uk/Resources/NALDIC/Home/Documents/PromotingEALTeacherProfessionalism.pdf
South H (1999) The Distinctiveness of EAL Working Paper 5 NALDIC : Watford

Nicola Davies

Hugh South

Last updated
June 2012