How can e-learning help to support EAL reading and language skills in UK schools?

The background for EAL within the UK

Official figures from the Department for Education in 2014 showed that over 1 million pupils in the UK speak English as an additional language (EAL), and this figure has grown in subsequent years. Such pupils now form a majority in one in nine schools in England; the number has risen by 20% during the last five years.

How do schools currently manage the needs of EAL students?

As outlined by The Guardian’s Nick Morrison, there are a variety of different approaches taken by schools to integrate EAL students into the classroom.

Intervention or intensive English classes:  Some schools opt to place children into intervention classes where there is a focus on practical, everyday English. This allows students to gain a basic grasp of English before entering mainstream classes. This generally lasts half of the first term (around six weeks), and children are still encouraged to take part in standard PE, maths and art classes.

Buddy systems:  Other schools use a buddy system, pairing EAL pupils with two buddies; one that speaks their home language, and another who is a fluent English speaker. This provides a balance between making children feel welcome, and also helping them transition out of their linguistic comfort zone.

Learning by example:  Schools have also placed pupils in the middle and top sets with a buddy who doesn’t necessarily speak the same home language. This aims to encourage learning by immersion with the “good language” skills of their peers.

Rewriting schemes of work:  Some teachers rewrite schemes of work to accommodate lower levels of English ability, but staying faithful to curriculum content and academic rigour. This usually involves more of a visual focus with delivery of vocabulary to support EAL students.

What is the best practice for schools?

Whilst there is much debate about what constitutes best practice for supporting the learning EAL students, common themes seem to emerge about what doesn’t work:

  • It is not about reducing the standard of learning to accommodate non-English speakers, as this reduces the level of challenge presented to students, and can also be to the detriment of English-speaking peers.

  • Likewise, complete isolation from English-speaking peers is not the answer as this takes away the opportunity for EAL students to learn by example, and deprives them of everyday social interaction that also forms a vital function within language learning.

Efforts should instead be focused on ways to support the unique language needs of these students. Lessons still need to be cognitively, but not necessarily as linguistically challenging, and teachers (as well as fellow students) have a part to play when integrating new EAL students into their school community.

Parents have a responsibility for learning at home

Parental involvement is highlighted as a key component of language learning by Professor Catherine Wallace, who specialises in EAL at the Institute of Education, University of London. As Professor Wallace explains; “fluency in one language often helps in learning another, so schools should encourage parents to continue using the home language at home”.

Equally, researchers at the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University have identified the importance of learning with families at home, as described by Cambridge’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz; “the report underlines the need for a holistic approach to EAL children’s experience, involving parents as well as schools”.


What’s unique about e-learning support for EAL?

Here at 3P Learning, we believe that e-learning also has a part to play in supporting EAL students, across a range of aspects.

The universal language of technology:  Computer technology is increasingly becoming a universal language that spans different countries and cultures. Children of a primary school age have grown up surrounded by smart phones, tablets and alike, and take to new apps and programs instinctively. Where barriers to language do exist, visual learning can be thoroughly supported by computer technology.

Differentiated learning:  Online learning tools enable children to work on language and reading skills at their own pace. Particularly for EAL students, this limits any potential negative impact on classroom peers who may otherwise be held back by reduced levels of English proficiency.

Using e-learning also removes the need for teachers to re-write schemes of work according to English language ability, and learners can be matched with an appropriate level of difficulty, which can be gradually increased to challenge students as they progress.

Parental engagement:  Online learning resources have the added benefit of being flexible for working in and out of the classroom. This means that students can continue to work on reading and language skills beyond the reach of the classroom.

As a homework tool, e-learning resources can also promote parental engagement, encouraging the continued speaking, reading and learning of English in everyday life at home.

Want to find out more about e-learning?

To find out more about how e-learning resources can support the development of differentiated reading and language skills for EAL students in your school, visit our Reading Eggs website below.

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