Ofsted’s EIF and the place of EAL education

Written by: Katherine Solomon & Silvana Richardson | Published:
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The new Education Inspection Framework makes no reference to pupils who use English as an additional language as a distinct group. This does not mean, however, that schools should stop considering the distinct learning needs of pupils with EAL. Katherine Solomon and Silvana Richardson advise

Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) came into effect this month. In addition to the overall effectiveness grade, schools will receive a graded judgement for:

  • Quality of education.
  • Behaviour and attitudes.
  • Personal development.
  • Leadership and management.

A change that has drawn substantial attention is the “quality of education” judgement, which takes a holistic approach to assessing education by combining a consideration of curriculum, pedagogy and outcomes, and assigning a judgement that focuses on a provider’s educational “intent, implementation and impact”.

This article will consider what “quality of education” might mean for pupils with EAL, and what school staff should consider when designing and implementing their curriculum with EAL pupils in mind.

Language development in the curriculum

In England, the curriculum is almost entirely delivered and assessed through the medium of English language. Therefore, language development must form a key component of a school’s curriculum, so that all pupils can both access the curriculum and demonstrate what they have learnt. If appropriate language use makes learning visible – in other words, it is the “primary evidence for learning” (Mohan et al, 2010) , then successful learning should translate into every pupil’s ability to articulate their knowledge and understanding appropriately, and the curriculum must take account of this fundamental need.

This is important for all pupils, but particularly so for those who can only access the curriculum to a limited degree because they are also developing their competency in English and are therefore less likely to perform to their full potential.

A key consideration for school staff in curriculum design and planning is how to ensure English language development in the curriculum is effective and sufficiently rapid for pupils with EAL.

There is now an increasing body of research which schools can draw on to guide decision-making and identify what language support is needed. For instance, research shows that specific categories of pupils are at risk of low attainment:

  • Pupils who are new to English or with low proficiency in English. This is because a pupil’s likelihood to succeed is strongly influenced by their mastery of the language of instruction (Strand & Hessel, 2018).
  • Pupils belonging to language groups that have attainment below the national expected standard – e.g. Pashto, Panjabi, Turkish, Portuguese, Czech and Slovak (Hutchinson, 2018).
  • Pupils arriving in England late in their schooling, if they have not been schooled in English medium (Hutchinson, 2018).
  • Attainment data for key stage 2 (from 2017/18) shows that EAL pupils who arrived after Reception were less likely to reach the expected standard than pupils whose first language was English, with the likelihood of meeting this standard declining the later they arrived. Similarly, attainment data for key stage 4, shows that Attainment 8 scores declined noticeably for EAL pupils who arrived after year 8.

High-quality education for pupils with EAL

The quality of education judgement assesses leaders on their ability to offer high-quality, inclusive education and on the extent to which they construct a curriculum that gives all learners the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.

Providing equal access to high-quality education means establishing systems that ensure any learners falling behind get the support they need. For pupils with EAL, this means supporting the learning of the most linguistically disadvantaged pupils at risk of achieving below the national average.

Research shows that multilingual pupils’ attainment increases with greater English proficiency, indicating a strong link between proficiency in English and educational achievement, with EAL pupils who are either new to English or at the early acquisition stage of their language proficiency in English scoring significantly below the national average (Strand & Hessel, 2018).

To target appropriate language support, there must be a clear understanding of a pupil’s starting point, and where they need to be to reach their full potential. If not, the curriculum is not sufficiently inclusive. To address this, schools should prioritise establishing assessment processes to help understand the language learning needs of their pupils with EAL and target appropriate support.

Knowledge about the language proficiency, as well as cognitive skills and previous educational experience, can inform individually tailored targets and support strategies for teaching and learning, ultimately allowing learners to develop their language skills to fully access the curriculum and participate actively in school (a freely available and useful tool to support the assessment process is The Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework for Schools).

Designing a curriculum that facilitates and accelerates equal access for pupils with EAL requires a clear and explicit focus on the language demands made by the subjects taught, including the demands of the assessment.

Different types of knowledge require different kinds of language for constructing and deepening learning regardless of the subject. Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010) have identified three key types of language knowledge that pupils need to master to succeed in education. These are often referred to as “the language triptych”:

  1. Language of learning – i.e. the discipline, field and subject-specific language needed for all pupils (including first-language English learners) to access the necessary concepts and skills of a subject and topic. This language is “nobody’s mother tongue”, is predictable and should be planned as part of the curriculum.
  2. Language for learning – i.e. the kind of cross-curricular language that all pupils need in order to complete tasks they are given in different contexts, including formal academic registers. For example, for presenting evidence, writing a simple research report, project work, while working in pairs/groups, for asking questions, debating, enquiring, and thinking. Language for learning can also be identified and planned.
  3. Language through learning – i.e. emergent language linked to pupils getting actively engaged in using the language and thinking, for example, using feedback, questioning/answering, etc. This language is unpredictable, and teachers should be able to respond to it flexibly when opportunities arise.

The EIF does not reference the need for teachers to have knowledge of the language that pupils need to understand and use. However, to implement a linguistically rich and accessible curriculum teachers must be aware of, plan for and respond to the linguistic demands of the subjects they teach.

The EAL Nexus website has examples of teaching resources, all accompanied by teaching, notes showing how to integrate language objectives and curriculum objectives into lesson planning.

Inclusion and support for pupils with EAL

The curriculum must both support language development and respond to the academic and cognitive potential of learners. To do this learning should take place within mainstream lessons and be designed to match academic ability rather language proficiency. Placing EAL pupils in classes based solely on their English language proficiency may prevent them from working to the level of which they are capable, and can result in unlawful discrimination, contrary to the Equality Act (2010). The EIF states that schools should have the same academic, technical or vocational ambitions for all learners, and this is not possible if EAL learners are placed in inappropriate classes based only on their proficiency in English.

In working within inclusive mainstream classrooms, it is important that teachers are alert to any behaviours that might exclude pupils with EAL. As Leung and Creese (2010) highlight, “unless properly resourced with appropriate teacher expertise and knowledge, inclusive pedagogies may fail the very students they set out to support”.

This requires schools to critically assess the breadth of their curriculum for EAL pupils and the extent to which these pupils are encouraged or discouraged from taking academic subjects.

A linguistically rich and deep curriculum

Presenting subject matter clearly, and promoting appropriate discussion about taught content, requires language and content to be accessible for EAL pupils. This can mean making small adjustments to ways of communicating and presenting information to learners.

Helpful strategies include:

  • Grading language – e.g. through slower rate of delivery, shorter sentences, grammatically simpler sentences, fewer abstract or difficult words.
  • Giving short and simple instructions – one sentence for each key piece of information.
  • Using practical activities, visuals and real objects to demonstrate the context so pupils can start to build on prior knowledge.

Responding to the needs of EAL pupils does not always require elaborate or differentiated approaches. There are many things teachers can do that will benefit all pupils with EAL and that do not rely on the production of specialised materials.

Some useful ideas include:

  • Integrating activities that provide opportunities to think and share existing knowledge at the beginning of a topic such as mind maps and KWL charts (what we Know, what we Want to know, what we have Learned).
  • Using graphic organisers to better enable pupils with EAL to access information and then focus on transferring it into speech or writing.
  • Creating opportunities for pupils with EAL to work with peers who can provide good models of English.
  • The Great Ideas pages on EAL Nexus provide approaches and strategies that are particularly important for EAL learners.

Final thoughts

This article has explored some key issues for schools to consider within the context of providing “quality education” for pupils with EAL. It has presented a case for making language development central to the curriculum in order to facilitate and accelerate equal access and ensure pupils with EAL are given every opportunity to fulfil their potential. 

  • Katherine Solomon is training manager and Silvana Richardson programme quality manager at The Bell Foundation. The Bell Foundation is a charity working to overcome exclusion through language education. Visit www.bell-foundation.org.uk

Further information & resources

  • To download the Education Inspection Framework’s final documents, go to www.gov.uk/government/collections/education-inspection-framework (Ofsted, May 2019)
  • Sociolinguistic competence and Malaysian students’ English language proficiency, Mohan et al, English Language Teaching, 2010.
  • English as an additional language, proficiency in English and pupils’ educational achievement: An analysis of local authority data, Strand & Hessel, University of Oxford, Unbound Philanthropy, and The Bell Educational Trust, 2018.
  • Educational outcomes of children with English as an additional language, Hutchinson, Education Policy Institute & The Bell Foundation, 2018.
  • The EAL Assessment Framework, The Bell Foundation: http://bit.ly/EALassess
  • Content and Language Integrated Learning, Coyle, Hood & Marsh, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • The EAL Nexus, The Bell Foundation: http://bit.ly/EALnexus
  • English as an additional language: Approaches to teaching linguistic minority students, Leung & Creese, 2010.
  • Great Ideas Page, The Bell Foundation: https://ealresources.bell-foundation.org.uk/teachers/great-ideas-pages

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