Language Studies A study of the strategies used to assist pupils with English as an additional language at an English comprehensive school. Essay

Language Studies A study of the strategies used to assist pupils with English as an additional language at an English comprehensive school. Essay


The aim of this assignment is to study the strategies used to assist pupils with English as an additional language at an English comprehensive school. The term English as an Additional Language (EAL) is now preferred to English as a Second Language (ESL) as it indicates that pupils may use two or more languages other than English in their every day lives; it also suggests that learning English should be viewed as adding to a pupil’s language repertoire, rather than displacing languages acquired earlier (Teachernet, 2007:1). Enlargement of the European Union has meant that there are now around 700,000 pupils in the UK who have a language other than English as their mother tongue; this accounts for more than 10 per cent of the school population. Given that this trend is set to continue, and that it generally takes beginners five to seven years before they can function academically on a par with their monolingual peers, added to the fact that most jobs nowadays require at least minimal communication skills in English, it is imperative that comprehensive schools build in effective strategies for EAL children if they are to reach their potential within the education system (Roberts, 2005:1). This assignment will assess the various strategies that have emerged throughout education in order to assist the needs of bilingual children and the adequacy of these strategies, taking into account the cultural and social contextual issues at play and the way in which bilingual children learn. It will also address the need to ensure that bilingual children are not viewed as one homogenous group and that every effort is made to cater for the needs of the individual child as well as the importance of collaborative partnership working between schools, LEA specialists and parents and will consider the difficulties encountered putting the policy recommendations into practice.

Historical Context

Rattansi (1992, cited in Smith, 2003:4) argues that language became a focus for educational responses to the evolving multicultural society in Britain with the publication of English for Immigrants (1963). Around this time, the priority in relation to the immigrant population was to ensure that their presence did not disrupt education for the majority of white monolingual pupils. Based on Piagetian theories, the political ideology of assimilation underpinned approaches to minority ethnic pupils in schools. According to Wallace (1987:112) it was assumed that English should be taught to those non-native speakers of English who needed to know the language in the same way as it was taught to native speakers. Emphasis was placed on learning through discovery and exploration and suggestions that bilingual children would learn a new language by being immersed in a rich language environment.

Over time, concern about the underachievement of ethnic minority pupils in British schools lead to an emergence of alternative responses to childrens development. In the early days of EAL provision, beginners were often withdrawn from mainstream lessons for intensive language instruction and some LEAs set up specialist centres outside schools (Mills and Mills, 1993, cited in Smith, 2003:4).

These separate lessons however, ignored the existence of the childs first language and frequently bore little resemblance to the childs curriculum in class (Mills and Mills 1993, cited in Smith, 2003:4). Thus, what was initially intended to be a form of positive discrimination had gradually turned into one of negative discrimination by the fact that it denied the students who attend such centres normal access to the school curriculum and the community. Although there are inevitably strong administrative justifications for this approach, these must not be given priority to the detriment of the social and educational progress of the learner. In 1985, the Swann report, Education for All recognised this problem and recommended that EAL pupils be taught in the mainstream classroom, asserting that they would make better progress through mixing with their monolingual peers (Roberts, 2005:2).

Logically, placing bilingual pupils in mainstream classrooms will place demands on the classroom teacher to carefully consider the language needs of the bilingual child in relation to curriculum content (Smith, 2003:4). This may have had some impact on the decision in more recent years to exercise some degree of withdrawal within mainstream schools, now often termed induction. Most beginners spend one or two terms on the programme with the main focus of induction being that of helping them to acquire English (Roberts, 2005:2).

In summary, this section has looked at how the strategies employed for assisting bilingual children in schools has evolved over the years from an immersion method which teaches non-native speakers of English in the same way as native English speakers to a more flexible approach which recognises the importance of teaching children with English as an additional language in a mainstream school with additional support by means of induction programmes. The next section will look at contemporary teaching strategies in more detail and attempt to gain an understanding of the learning processes that underpin these strategies.

Teaching strategies

Developments in linguistic theory up to the early seventies underlined the importance of grammatical structure in language learning theory. Chomsky asserted that the basis of planning could be seen as a structure list plus vocabulary which can inform the building of a course design based on structural grading plus situational structure (Alexander, 1981, cited in Wallace, 1998:122). One of the most significant characteristics of a structural approach in language teaching is its step-by-step approach; learners begin with fairly simple syntactic structures and then proceed to the more complex ones (Wallace, 1998:123). According to Gravelle (1996:19) there is a particular order in which items of English are acquired and little point in attempting to teach forms for which the learner is not ready. Correct word order in simple and compound sentences seems to be acquired early. Irregular past tenses are acquired late. In order to provide language that is understandable, the teacher must not only have an idea of what the pupil can already understand but also of what the next item might be according to the natural order (Gravelle, 1996:19).

A possible criticism of the structural approach is that it can place too much emphasis on formal accuracy to the detriment of the learners fluency (Wallace, 1998:122). Insufficient attention to the communicative context of language acquisition can also serve to undermine the learners confidence in their ability to communicate in another language (Wallace, 1998:123).

It is important to consider that effective communication does not only take place through verbal language acquisition but that learners need to make meaning of the language they hear around them through what is referred to as comprehensible input. These are meaning utterances that are supported by extra-linguistic clues to make their meaning clear and can take the form of gestures, practical activities, and pictures indeed anything that makes the meaning of the words more understandable (Gravelle, 1996:19).

Davies (2005:10) highlights an example of what could happen if verbal learning is not supplemented with other forms of communication. She uses an example of an Asian child called Rahul, whose classroom is a very language intense one. His teacher talks to the class a lot and does not use visuals, or any other technique. Consequently, Rahul finds it difficult to follow what the teacher is saying and gets bored and agitated easily. If Rahuls teacher placed more emphasis on the use of the extra clues proffered by Gravelle above it is more likely that Rahul would get more out of his lessons and progress at a faster pace.

More recent educational rhetoric has been influenced by Vygotsky who emphasised the influence of social interaction, cultural context and language in cognition and the role of a more experienced person in supporting childrens learning through scaffolding in the Zone of Proximal Development (Gibbons, 2002:45). Teachers can arrange effective learning by challenging the childs current level of understanding through the location of the zone of proximal development, which is the distance between a pupils current level of understanding and the level of potential development as determined by an individuals problem solving through interaction with others. The teacher provides the scaffolding so that the student is working within their zone of proximal development and when learning is successful, that support is removed so the child can then complete the same task independently (Baker, 2006:304).

As well as linguistic knowledge and understanding, Vygotsky (1962:45) also emphasised the need to make links with prior cultural and curriculum knowledge and understanding viewing them as interdependent and interactive factors if bilingual pupils are to learn effectively in schools.

Thus, it is important that teachers gather relevant information about the pupils linguistic, cultural and educational background, which teachers can then use to set themselves targets. Teachers can find written examples of the languages which the child experiences at home and display these in the classroom as well as incorporating the names the child uses for family members into stories that are told and in various contexts across the curriculum (Smith, 2003:10). As Wallace, (1998:119) asserts, teachers in a multilingual school need to have an increased awareness of the role of language in relation to both the community and the individual, and an awareness of the languages of their pupils.

In summary, this section has discussed the importance of considering how children absorb linguistic information effectively in the comprehensive school as well the influence of prior cultural and curriculum knowledge and understanding to learning outcomes. However, as well as considering how children learn in a second language there are a number of other issues that teachers need to take seriously if EAL pupils are to be able to progress effectively in mainstream schools. This next section will discuss the relevance of native language support to the development of the bilingual child in comprehensive schools.

Native Language Support

According to UNESCO (1953, cited in Baker 2006:29), the use of the mother tongue in education is important for a childs achievement, self-esteem and learning of the majority language. Their report asserts that it is important that every effort should be made to provide education in the mother tongue on educational grounds we recommend that the use of the mother tongue be extended to as late a stage in education as possible (Baker 2006:29). When the mother tongue is not used, the childs culture is denigrated and they can be made to feel inferior, and backward. (Centre for Applied Linguistics, 2001, cited in Baker, 2006:29). Alternatively, those who see their bilingualism as an asset are likely to have higher self-esteem and educational aspirations. Schools should therefore ensure that the linguistic capabilities of their pupils are recognised, that they have the opportunity to gain qualifications in their community languages, and that they have role models in the form of bilingual teaching staff (Baker, 2006:29).

A BBC News (2003) report by Casciani (2003:1) supports UNESCOs views and found through a pilot study of children in Leicester that children who study the language and culture of their immigrant parents are more likely to achieve more and become more involved citizens. It is argued that this system strengthens communities and reinforces the importance of education in the minds of the young.

Developing heritage cultural awareness alongside first language teaching is also an important element in minority language education. Classroom activities should foster minority language cultural awareness and include the enactment of social conventions, cultural rituals and traditions. There can also be an emphasis on developing heritage cultural awareness in mathematics, technology and science. For example, in Wales, students study mathematicians such as William Jones who invented the pi symbol (Baker, 2006:298).

It is noteworthy, that the development of a cultural awareness alongside first language teaching will not only help nurture the EAL childs individual development but could also help to shape the views of their monolingual peers which could potentially break down barriers in understanding between the two groups and go some way to tackling racism and feelings of isolation highlighted by Davies (2005:9), which can also hinder a childs educational progress in the mainstream classroom.

This section has examined the role that native language support can play in ensuring the educational progress of the EAL child. It also recognizes the need for teachers to ensure that the classroom environment is one that embraces the social and ethnic diversity of the pupils within it; this awareness may in turn help nurture an understanding between monolingual children and their bilingual peers and thwart off incidences of prejudice and racism experienced by a number of EAL pupils.

Recognising Individuality Amongst EAL Pupils

Although there are a number of teaching strategies that can be undertaken in order to help with the childs development it is equally important that the teacher recognises that bilingual or multilingual children are not all one homogenous group but experience situations differently according to their cultural and social backgrounds. Teachers subsequently must make every effort to ensure that the childs individual needs are catered for in the mainstream classroom and this next section will evaluate the various strategies employed to ensure that individual needs and varying levels of advancement are accommodated for.

A number of factors will have an impact on the development of pupils’ language skills and their ability to apply these skills to their learning across the curriculum. These will include; the age at which pupils enter the educational system; their previous experience of schooling; their knowledge, skills and understanding of languages and the school curriculum; home and community expectations; and support structures for language development at home and at school (Roberts, 2005:2).

Given the diversity of factors that can impact on a childs learning, it is evident that children will come to school with varying levels of language development. However, regardless of the stage in which pupils are at, all childrens needs should be catered for equally. Specialists are often concerned that beginners are prioritised at the expense of pupils in the later stages of learning EAL which can be to the detriment of the more advanced learner. This view is supported by a 2003 Ofsted report which found that support for more advanced learners is often inadequate and can lead to underachievement (Roberts, 2005:3). As Wilkins asserts I’d be more concerned about a Year 10 pupil who is intellectually capable of getting good GCSEs but is in danger of underachieving without language support than I would about a Year 7 beginner who is likely to achieve competency by the time they get to GCSE (Wilkins, 2005, cited in Roberts, 2005:2).

Although it may be tempting then to focus resources on the children that seem to need it the most, it is clear that schools need to ensure they do not overlook the needs of some pupils at the expense of others. According to Roberts (2005:3) the Aiming High initiative is attempting to address this problem through Making the Grade, an action research project being carried out across four London boroughs which focuses on the challenges faced by bilingual pupils in academic writing and aims to identify specific ways to raise their achievement.

The need to cater for the individuality of childrens learning experiences is particularly relevant for isolated learners. Davies (2005:4) refers to isolated learners as learners whose first language is not English and who are learning in schools and settings where few other pupils share their first language (Davies, 2005:4).

According to Davies (2005:5) increasing global mobility has meant that there are an increasing number of bilingual learners in UK schools with sixteen per cent of learners of English as an additional language (EAL) in England currently being educated in areas where less than six per cent of all pupils are learning EAL. The schooling of bilingual pupils is thus not only a concern of educators working in areas of ethnic diversity but also for those working in predominantly white areas. These bilingual learners can be isolated in a number of ways. They can be linguistically isolated in that few learners in their setting share their first language, educationally isolated in that few learners in their setting are acquiring EAL and culturally isolated in that few learners in their setting share their ethnic, religious or cultural views.

Catering for these learners can prove challenging in schools. According to Davies, 2005:5) in Devon, bilingual learners comprise of only one per cent of the school population; EAL staffing levels are typical of an authority with few ethnic minority pupils: a head of service manages four advisory teachers, one of whom is bilingual, as well as eleven teaching assistants. Service head Loraine Davis says Many schools lack experience of EAL pupils and this can result in low expectations and their being put into inappropriate ability groups. In this situation you have to work on changing the whole school approach, with advisory teachers going in to raise awareness about language acquisition and ways of including bilingual pupils in the curriculum.

This section has discussed the need to be aware of the fact that bilingual children are not one homogenous group and that the childs individuals needs should be given serious attention if they are to flourish within a mainstream classroom environment. This can be difficult for all those involved, particularly in schools which are characterised by a small percentage of isolated bilingual learners and can put a strain on existing resources.

So far, this assignment has attempted to study the various teaching strategies that can be employed in order to ensure that bilingual children learn effectively in a mainstream comprehensive school. It has emphasised a need to consider how children learn in a second language, as well as the cultural and social context of learning and a need for native language support if the child is to progress at a good pace within the education system. It has also looked at the need to embrace a childs individuality, particularly in schools which are characterised by a small proportion of isolated learners.

Given the need for teachers to take on board so many issues with regards to bilingual teaching and learning, it is unlikely that they will be able to comprehensively cater for the childs needs unless they endeavour to forge effective and collaborative relationships with all those involved in the childs learning. This next section will look at the role that other agencies play in the childs progress and the importance of developing effective partnerships between these agencies.

Partnership Working

This section will examine the importance of teachers working in partnership with LEAs, specialist language consultants and parents in order to fully comprehend and cater for the needs of the bilingual child.

In order for teaching strategies to be truly effective they must involve the role of the ESL teacher. The role of the ESL teacher does not appear to possess any real status in comparison with other subject teachers positions but the service they provide is invaluable. ESL teachers can provide a wide-ranging picture of individual students, and thus assess their individual needs more accurately. The Bullock report (1975) recommended the appointment of specialist language consultants in schools, who would collaborate with other subject teachers in the provision of support where needed. At certain stages of development, all second language learners can display deceptive fluency which often masks their continuing specialist language needs; a consultant would be there to advise on the linguistic difficulties encountered by these pupils at these stages.

ESL teachers can also help to discern differences between a slow learning native speaker and a second language learner. This may prevent the unnecessary streaming or banding of pupils normally done on the basis of language ability into classes of low ability with heterogeneous linguistic backgrounds where teachers tend to have remedial specialist training rather than ESL training (Wallace, 1998:116).

Thus, if ESL teachers are allowed to become part of the system this will also enable a clearer picture of the expectations of the subject teacher and allow them to provide more appropriate assessment tools for students (Wallace, 1998:120). According to Wallace (1998:121), if schools do not allow ESL to become an integral part of the curriculum, they can be accused of burying their heads in the sand and ignoring a large minority of our population.

Home-school liaison and partnership with parents has also become an increasingly recognised aspect of the EAL childs learning in the UK. Crozier and Davies (2007) research with Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage parents found that educational professionals often referred to South Asian parents as hard to reach even though the findings revealed that these parents, in many cases were not at all difficult or indifferent as the term hard to reach implies but that the schools themselves simply needed to make more of an effort to make themselves more accessible for certain parents and take a proactive approach in engaging with parents who may otherwise feel socially and culturally excluded from the school and its values.

Hall (2008:1) points to an example of a school which has won a national award for responding to its local community. In this school, the parental community had lost its trust in the school and felt that it was not listened to. The parents had to be given the confidence to speak out because of the terrible things experienced in their countries of origin. The school actively encouraged parents to tell them what they wanted and tried their best to provide it by facilitating an open door approach and by inviting groups of parents into school.

Parent councils are another way of encouraging parents to get involved in school life. These are informal forums where parents are able to raise issues and be consulted on school policy. This helps them not only to develop close relationships with the school, but also encourages the development of close relationships with other parents. These parent councils will need to develop new ways of communicating and involve a shift from passive information to active consultation making sure that parents are fully consulted from the start and that there are enough financial and teaching resources to be able to communicate with parents effectively (Teachernet, 2007:1).

This section has emphasised the need for teachers to work in partnership with ESL specialists, the community and parents if it is to ensure a truly holistic approach to the bilingual childs learning. The various strategies that are recommended for teachers to employ will be very difficult to implement effectively if they do not also take on board the role of all of the other agencies involved in the childs educational progress. The extra work however that teachers will need to put in to catering for the EAL childs education in a mainstream setting where teachers have to abide strictly to the National Curriculum agenda will undoubtedly make it very difficult to consistently put policy recommendations into practice. This next section will examine the potential barriers to implementing policy and how these can be overcome.

Putting Policy Into Practice

Although a number of recommendations have been proffered to facilitate the teacher in assisting the bilingual childs learning, there are a number of factors that may hinder the educational progress of the child in a mainstream comprehensive environment. To begin with, the National Curriculum makes only token acknowledgement of the existence of bilinguals, apart from those that speak Welsh, despite the fact that a number of individuals at the consultation stage have asked for explicit guidance on using the time released by the slimmed down National Curriculum to provide learning opportunities for bilingual pupils (Gravelle, 1996: 3).

Funding for EAL pupils is also limited. The ethnic minorities achievement grant, (EMAG) provides funds to support EAL and minority ethnic groups who have English as a mother tongue but are underachieving nationally. However, allocation is based on the number of EAL learners plus those from underachieving ethnic groups (Roberts, 2005:1). This means that those with a low percentage of isolated bilingual learners in predominantly white mainstream schools are unlikely to benefit from the funding programmes available. It also implies that the needs of more advanced EAL pupils may be neglected in favour of bilingual students with more obvious needs.

Another organisational issue which could hinder the EAL childs educational progress is evident through an examination of the comprehensive schools assessment procedures. School effectiveness research focuses primarily on outcomes, in terms of measurement of learning success. Some criteria of success is decided upon and schools are then measured against these criteria; the researchers then attempt to identify features which those that score well have in common. Success criteria must be easy to measure and compare across a wide range of different schools but this neglects the voice of the participants specifically those who may have very different success criteria from the majority of mainstream pupils such as members of the bilingual community (Gravelle, 1996: 4).

Most other English-speaking countries have nationally agreed assessment scales specifically designed for EAL learners, and Naldic would like to see a similar system implemented in the UK (Roberts, 2005:4). In 2000, in an attempt to bring assessment in line with the national curriculum, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority produced A Language in Common, which introduced four steps to reflect the progress of EAL learners working below national curriculum level 2, after which they would be assessed according to the English subject criteria. However many schools have chosen not to adopt this system and the English criteria are designed for monolinguals so do not reflect the stages of language acquisition particular to EAL learners (Roberts, 2005:4).

Another criticism that has been pitched at tests developed for ESL used in comprehensive education is that they are too formal and biased towards the discovery of grammatical rather than communicative competence which imparts no real knowledge about how capable the child is of handling language in a real situation (Tomlinson and Fitzgerald 1983, cited in Wallace, 1998:120).

The individual perception and prejudices of teachers can also be a barrier to an EAL childs learning. Smith (2003:6) asserts that ESL teachers understanding of language acquisition as a two way process of negotiated input and output led them to utilise additional contextual support for the bilingual pupils. On the other hand, mainstream teachers had no clear beliefs about language acquisition which meant that they had lowered expectations of the bilingual pupils. Indeed, the National Foundation for Educational Research 1976 found that the majority of teachers were cynical about bilingual children being able to acquire sufficient knowledge of English in mainstream classrooms, and this attitude is still prevalent among many teachers today who are not taught effectively how to address the need for bilingual pupils (Smith, 2003:7).

Adequate professional training would inevitably be a factor in helping teachers to reassess their perceptions of bilingual learning although it is evident that there is still a lack of a professional training route for many teachers and this has had a detrimental effect on the status of the specialism. The Government has recently awarded two contracts for the provision of accredited EAL training and the course counts for one third of a masters degree although there is still a paucity of materials in the further stages of second language teaching (Gravelle, 1996:8). According to Wallace (1998:121) although some publications have been developed and published by the National Book League and the National Association for Multiracial Education, on the whole there is very little by way of professionally-finished teaching material for ESL learners in comprehensive schools.

This section has evaluated the potential barriers that may be encountered in ensuring the educational progress of the bilingual child. These barriers can come in the form of organisational barriers, assessment flaws, lack of training and the individual attitudes and perceptions of teachers themselves.


In conclusion, this assignment has attempted to assess the various teaching strategies that have evolved in order to assist pupils with English as an additional language. In doing so, the study has examined how children learn in a second language and the importance of considering the cultural, social and ethical contexts that these children find themselves in. It has also addressed the need to ensure that bilingual children are not treated as one homogenous group and that every effort be made to cater for the needs of each individual child. In addition, it has clarified the importance of ensuring that teachers work closely with ESL specialists and consultants, the community and the parents themselves if they are to have a truly holistic approach to the child’s learning environment. It is likely that the lack of support by central government and the various organisational barriers, testing procedures and obsession with strict adherence to curriculum content will put extra strain on teachers time and resources and they will have to make every effort to ensure that the rhetoric of good practice for bilingual learners being good for all does not become a bland truism and used as an excuse for unspecific support which lacks either language or curriculum. Nevertheless, if schools, parents, teachers, ESL specialists and the community are enthusiastic about working together to assist the child with English as an additional language they can be confident that the child will develop effectively, not only in terms of linguistic development and education but also as a confident, self-assured individual who enjoys both the learning experience itself and the learning environment in which it takes place in.


Alexander (1981) cited in Wallace, C (1987) Issues in Teaching English as a Second Language in Aburdarham, S (1987) Bilingualism and the Bilingual an interdisciplinary approach to Pedagogical and Remedial issues, Windsor: NFER Nelson.

Baker, C (2006) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 4th eds, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Casciani, D (2003) Bilingual Asian Children do better, BBC News

Centre for Applied Linguistics (2001) cited in Baker, C (2006) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 4th eds, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Crozier, G and Davies, J (2007) Hard to reach parents or hard to reach schools? A discussion of home-school relations, with particular reference to Bangladeshi and Pakistani parents British Educational Research Journal 33 (3) 295-313

Davies, N (2005) NALDIC Working Paper 8 Teaching isolated bilingual learners

Gibbons, P (2002) Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom, Portsmouth: Heinemann

Gravelle, M (1996) Supporting Bilingual Learners in Schools, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books Ltd

Hall, A (2008) The Conversation: Community cohesion(2008 date of access, 23/02/08)

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Rattansi (1992) cited in Smith, G (2003) Helping Bilingual Pupils to Access the Curriculum, London: Fulton Publishers

Roberts, C (2005) English as an additional language;_type=print (23/09/05, date of access 22/02/08)

Smith, G (2003) Helping Bilingual Pupils to Access the Curriculum, London: Fulton Publishers

Teachernet (2007) Teaching English as an Additional Language: The challenges for classroom teachers

Vygotsky, L.S. (1962) Thought and Language, Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Wallace, C (1987) Issues in Teaching English as a Second Language in Aburdarham, S (1987) Bilingualism and the Bilingual an interdisciplinary approach to Pedagogical and Remedial issues, Windsor: NFER Nelson.

Wilkins (2005), cited in Roberts, C (2005) English as an additional language;_type=print (Date accessed 22/02/08) (Date published 23/09/05)

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