Coping With The Rising Number Of EAL Pupils In Primary Schools

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Published: 17th August 2014
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The number of children entering UK schools who have limited English or who can't speak it at all is increasing. This means that language barriers in classrooms are becoming an ever more common problem, one which head teachers and staff will have to work hard to address to keep their school's standards high and avoid criticism from Ofsted.

The growing number of pupils whose first language is not English has seen some schools in certain regions come to comprise of more non-native English speakers than English-speaking children. In schools where there are such statistics teachers are likely to find it a struggle to get their pupils to the required standards especially as sometimes children who can't speak English may have limited opportunities to speak with fluent peers.

In February, the papers were all talking about the first discovered primary school to have an entire student base made up of pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL), which, despite the hurdles and challenges it faced, managed to achieve a 'good' rating from Ofsted. If Gladstone Primary, with 450 pupils speaking 20 different languages managed to overcome its previous 'inadequate' Ofsted rating after just over a year, then surely there are some practices schools can employ to make sure all their pupils, whatever their mother tongue, can do their best?

Methods for helping EAL pupils
Some practices which Gladstone Primary and other primary schools with a diverse student body have used to good effect include buddy systems and mentoring. Gladstone's buddy system partners pupils with English speaking pupils from other schools so that they can play and learn together in each other's schools once a fortnight. For the English speaker, this helps them to learn about other cultures while the non-English speaker benefits from learning English from a peer in a casual and fun environment where they are less shy. Schools which have a mixture of English speakers and non-English speakers can do this within their own school to encourage integration. In Cambridge, the Bell Foundation has launched an initiative to have sixth formers from local private secondary schools trained to act as special mentors.

Other outside help some schools use are teaching assistants. Some primary schools have employed people from the community who speak one or more foreign languages to assist in classes and help children having any difficulty with the English so that they can follow and keep up with the lesson.

Teachers themselves can also do a lot to help their students with limited English. Aside from being encouraging and approachable, there are various techniques teachers can use to lighten the environment so that children aren't afraid to ask questions. Running through the English vocabulary for a new topic at the start of the lesson suggests to children that they are not expected to know every word so they don't have to worry if they stumble across something new. Equally, providing a running commentary through lessons ensures that teachers help students to match objects to words.

Lastly, the schools which are really successful when it comes to integrating their EAL pupils and helping them with their English are those which reach out to the parents. Having a good website, language help for parent's evenings and parent workshops encourages foreign parents to take an interest in their child's learning without feeling intimidated.

Hannah McCarthy works for Education City which offers curriculum-based modules in maths, science, English and foreign languages. Education City's website offers resources for teachers and materials for learning English as an additional language.

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