Supporting an effective transition for EAL pupils

Written by: Kamil Trzebiatowski | Published:
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Continuing our series on supporting learners with English as an additional language, Kamil Trzebiatowski looks at how we can best help EAL pupils to prepare for their transition to secondary school

Every year the transition from primary to secondary school is an important stepping stone for all year 6 pupils. Although many may be initially excited about starting secondary school, research provides evidence of numerous negative effects of this transition, such as lower self-esteem, lower academic achievement and higher levels of anxiety and depression (Bailey & Baines, 2012). West et al (2008) found that such negative effects can persist throughout secondary school and even beyond.

While transition programmes are commonplace nowadays, many professionals also understand that more tailored transition programmes need to be put in place for certain pupils to prevent negative outcomes.

One such group of learners is those categorised as having English as an additional language (EAL). Pupils from certain non-White ethnic groups, with low socio-economic status as well as those with EAL have been found to be at greater risk at the time of transfer to secondary schools (Graham & Hill, 2003; West et al, 2008; Galton et al, 1999).

This article focuses on practical ideas, tools and approaches for primary schools to help prepare pupils with EAL for the transition process to larger secondary educational establishments. It is important to remember that the particular challenge for this group of learners is that they need to continue to learn English while simultaneously needing to learn subject content through English. This sets them apart from First Language English (FLE) learners and therefore any transition programme that schools develop for EAL learners needs to be cognisant of this extra demand placed on pupils with EAL.

In order to ensure as smooth a transition to secondary school as possible for learners with EAL, schools need to work not only with the pupils themselves but also it is equally important to establish clear lines of communication both with the secondary schools, sharing as much information about the learners as possible, and also with their parents or carers. Only when all stakeholders work together for the benefit of the pupils can a successful transition occur.

Working with pupils

Schools need to ensure that pupils with EAL are aware of how primary schools are different from their secondary counterparts long before a transition day occurs. It is vital that learners with EAL become gradually accustomed to the idea that their new setting is going to be radically different to the current one and that they are able to understand how. It may help to:

  • Provide EAL learners with a booklet with accessible information about the similarities and differences between primary and secondary schools. Alternatively, in collaboration with local schools, provide more specific information about individual schools. This information may need to be translated for some of the learners and their parents (Mantra Lingua provides a translation service into any language for schools). If the booklet is written in English, care should be taken that the language used is comprehensible and that it does not include complex terminology. If such terminology is necessary, then provide a glossary or footnotes explaining them in comprehensible English.
  • Invite a member of staff from one or more of the secondary schools to talk to the pupils. If the school in question has an EAL co-ordinator, invite them to assure both pupils and their parents that EAL provision is going to continue in the new school.
  • In many cases, secondary schools educate many learners who will share the pupil’s first language(s). Work with those schools and invite their EAL learners to your school to answer your pupils’ questions about their experience – the meeting can be conducted in the first language of the pupils from both schools. Pupils can prepare questions, or assumptions, about life in secondary schools in their shared language ahead of the meeting and the older secondary pupils can then respond to the questions and prove/disprove assumptions.
  • Primary school pupils can create an All About Me booklet to tell their future schools and teachers about themselves. Twinkl has some excellent resources for this purpose. Ensure that the All About Me resource selected allows the bi/multilingual learners to include information about their languages, their previous education and which countries they lived in before arriving in Britain.

Working with secondary schools

In order to allow secondary school staff to support your EAL learners well, as much information as possible about your learners needs to be passed on to the schools where your pupils will continue their education. Such information needs to be available to the prospective schools before the pupils’ first day at the new school, as sharing it at the end of an academic year can be too late to make adequate arrangements.

What kind of information should be shared with secondary schools? Here are a few ideas – the list is not exhaustive (for further information, try the Transition arrangements for EAL learners guidance from Babcock Prime Education Services and the question prompt sheet from Wiltshire Council – see further information).

  • The current level of the English language proficiency of your pupils. Secondary schools need to be aware of the English language levels of the learners in order to plan the levels of support needed accordingly. You could use The Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework for Schools (free of charge).
  • Profiles for EAL learners with information about the languages the learners speak, read and write, their date of arrival in the UK, history of prior schooling (if any), including any breaks in education and any SEN issues. An example of an EAL pupil profile pro-forma is available from Bracknell Forest Council (see further information).
  • Details of what EAL support from English-speaking or bilingual adults has been provided.
  • Information about whether the pupil uses a dictionary or electronic translator.
  • Specifics of any previous English language and/or literacy interventions.
  • The school’s insights on how the pupil might be doing in different subjects if they were currently learning through their first language.
  • Which strategies have proven successful in terms of language development and accessing the curriculum.
  • The school’s view on which secondary sets/bands the learners should be placed in.
  • Information about parents’ ability to communicate in English with the school.
  • Any resources previously used in the primary school that might continue to be useful.

The above calls for a well-established, close and regular collaboration between schools. Therefore, it is crucial that primary schools have a nominated member of staff responsible such as a learning mentor or a family support worker for collaboration with secondary schools and that a detailed schedule and plan of action is agreed as soon as secondary school places are allocated so that these discussions can take place.

It is important that such collaboration between schools is not limited to the respective EAL co-ordinators or teachers, but that members of senior leadership teams are involved as well as other relevant staff, who have first-hand experience and knowledge of these learners.

Working with parents

Working with EAL learners’ parents is also crucial for the transition process to be successful. Parents’ voice needs to be heard and they need to be able to ask questions throughout the transition process. Most parents tend not to seek advice or help from their secondary school due to potential language barriers and the fact they may be less familiar with the new school than with their primary school.

Throughout the year invite parents to informal tea/coffee meetings where parents/carers and the staff can discuss and address issues, including those to do with transition, in a non-threatening and welcoming environment.

Provide the parents with translated information about the nature of education at secondary schools, including similarities and differences between primary and secondary education (see About the English education system on The Bell Foundation’s EAL Nexus website). It is a good idea to send this information out first by post or email and follow it up with an invitation to a meeting at the primary school where further questions can be asked to clarify issues. Such a meeting can be attended by a member of staff from a secondary school as well. It may be easier for the parents if the meeting takes place in the primary school they know. If possible, arrange for interpreters to attend the meeting.

EAL transition event

This work should culminate in an EAL transition event for both the EAL pupils and their parents. It is ideal if schools have access to interpreting services, although it is understandable that it might not be possible due to school budgetary constraints. This event should be separate from the regular transition day for all primary school pupils and may be held after school hours.
Ideally, the event should be held at the secondary school and it is best if it is attended by members of senior leadership teams – primary and secondary – and a selection of teachers from both schools in order to demonstrate to the pupils and their parents that their schools are working together for the benefit of the learners.

Give pupils a chance to explore the school through an engaging activity such as a Treasure Hunt, to help them locate and familiarise themselves with different areas of the school. This activity could be done with their bilingual peers (often speaking their own language) at a time when the school is quiet. In the meantime, the staff and the parents are in a meeting where the new school staff, answer questions about the school, supported by the primary school staff.


Many EAL pupils can experience negative outcomes following primary to secondary school transition. However, a well-structured, tailored EAL transition programme can help make this transition smooth. By actively involving pupils as well as their parents in the process and ensuring that primary and secondary schools collaborate in the process and share detailed information about the pupils with secondary schools, the adverse effects can be avoided, leading to the pupils’ higher achievement and increased school experience satisfaction.

  • Kamil Trzebiatowski is the digital resource developer at The Bell Foundation, a charity working to overcome exclusion through language education by working with partners on innovation, research, training and practical interventions. Visit



  • The impact and risk of resiliency factors on the adjustment of children after the transition from primary to secondary school, Bailey & Baines, Educational and Child Psychology, Vol 29, 2012:
  • The impact of school transitions and transfers on pupils’ progress and attainment, Galton, Gray & Ruddock, Research Report 131, DfEE, 1999:
  • Negotiating the transition to secondary school, Graham & Hill, Spotlight 39, University of Glasgow: The SCRE Centre, 2003:
  • Transition matters: Pupils’ experiences of the primary/secondary school transition in the West of Scotland and consequences for well-being and attainment, West, Sweeting & Young, Research Papers in Education. iFirst article, 2008:

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