Who are our EAL learners?

The numbers of multilingual learners and the range of languages spoken in UK schools have risen substantially in the past 15 – 20 years. In England, in 2023, 22% of primary and 18% of secondary pupils have EAL, meaning that at least one in five pupils is multilingual. However, their language learning backgrounds are by no means the same; in fact this group is extremely heterogeneous.   

This means that schools and teachers need to be sensitive to differences beyond language differences and avoid the assumption that being a multilingual learner of itself is the only aspect of a child’s identity that needs attention. Multilingual learners are also navigating different social and cultural norms in classrooms that may not reflect their home lives (Heineke & Vera, 2022). There are some key areas of pedagogy that will support all EAL learners, but the most useful starting point, as with all pupils, is to understand something of their home background, languages, previous education and other aspects of social/cultural identity. The chart below identifies the wide variety of experiences your multilingual learners may have. 

The Background and Experience of EAL Learners (Source: Pim, C (2010) How to Support Children Learning English as an Additional Language, Hyde: LDA) 

Born in the UK ←---------------------------------------→ Completely new arrival in the UK
Family intends to stay in the UK permanently and has the legal right to do so ←---------------------------------------→ Status to remain in the UK is uncertain or time limited
Uninterrupted education from starting school to current time ← Experience may depend on school starting age in home country → No school or very interrupted and piecemeal education
Bilingual or multilingual; orally fluent and fully literate in one or more languages other than English ← Background experience lies across spectrum → No literacy in first or other languages
Orally fluent and fully literate in English ←---------------------------------------→ Very limited oracy and no literacy in English
No specific learning difficulties ←---------------------------------------→ Evidence of some specific learning difficulties
Stable background - intact family and emotionally secure ←---------------------------------------→ Fragmented family background or unaccompanied minor; possible experience of trauma